ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

February 21, 2017
by Rebecca Smith
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Interpretations and Representations of Mushrooms and Fungi found at the Wald

The children visit the forest each week in our Waldkinder sessions. These encounters form the basis for building knowledge and making links to our How the World Works Unit of Inquiry. This is a yearlong unit in which we explore how ‘All living things go through a process of change’.

Through provocations, discussions and experiments we build theories and show our ideas connected to

  • Living things change over time.

  • There are factors that affect life cycles.

  • Ideas and explanations can be communicated in a variety of ways.

The children in EY2RS were fascinated with the mushrooms we found in the forest. The children had many wonderings, and we made plans to explore and learn more about mushrooms. Throughout our inquiry we worked as scientists by closely observing specimens in their natural habitat and a lab setting that we created in the classroom. We consulted many nonfiction books to research and find information to answer some of our questions. When growing our own mushrooms we used scientific and mathematical thinking to record, interpret and compare data. We were artists as we made observational drawings, visual and 3D representations of mushrooms using a range of materials. We were authors and performers when we told, retold and acted out stories about the environment and forest animals. We were architects, engineers and builders when we designed models of mushrooms using the wooden blocks and other construction materials.

Mathematical Thinking

Building experiences to create the forest storytelling light area, and prompts such as constructing 3D representations of mushrooms encouraged the children to explore and develop mathematical understandings. These included recognising that attributes of real objects can be compared and described. We practiced identifying, comparing and describing the attributes of real objects. While building the children compared the length of objects using non-standard units. The children were also encouraged to describe observations about objects in real-life situations.

When growing our own mushrooms the children were encouraged to recognise that information can be obtained in different ways. We collected data and represented this information in a variety of ways, including through pictographs and tally marks. The children described, sorted and labelled real objects by their attributes. These included real mushroom specimens, other objects found in the forest and 3D representations of mushrooms made from clay.

Observational Drawings of Mushrooms found in the forestYodai 

Scientific Thinking 

The children were encouraged to make meaning connected to the Living Things learning outcomes through a number of invitations;

Exploring in the forest during Waldkinder sessions using tools, such as magnifying glasses.

Closely observing specimens in the forest and a research setting to make observational drawings.

Ask questions, inquiring to find answers and devise theories.

By growing our own mushrooms the children were able to recognise and understand about the life cycles of a living thing. They were asked to document how living things change over time, while observing and describe how life cycles can be affected.

To watch the life cycle of the mushroom in real time we conducted an experiment to grow our own and documented the growth and changes over time. The children recognised that information can be obtained in different ways. We held group meetings to discuss our observations and about the ways we could record the data and made a system to show who would be in charge of watering the boxes each day. We created a chart to show this information. Each child made their own Mushroom Journal, which they worked on over the two week period to document, visually through drawings and with simple writing, showing the life cycle of the mushrooms.  

Language Skills

There were many occasions for the children to be readers and develop their reading skills. Opportunities such as listening to stories and reading books invited the children to explore and develop reading skills, such as understanding where one should start reading in printed text. They learned how to handle books, and show an understanding of how a book works, for example, the cover, beginning, directional movement and end.

In German sessions the children were invited to distinguish between pictures and written text. They again, explored how to handle books and revisit the different parts of books in German language. They were encouraged to locate and respond to aspects of interest in self- selected texts (pointing, examining pictures closely, commenting) and show curiosity and ask questions about pictures or text.

Through the learning experiences the children explored how people can express themselves in writing. Opportunities for drawing, identifying and labelling mushrooms encouraged skills such as using their own experience as a stimulus when drawing and “writing.” We asked the children to participate in shared writing sessions, where they were invited to observe the teacher’s writing and making suggestions.

The classroom learning experiences, materials and layout were designed to encourage the children to interact effectively with peers and adults. The children were expected to ask questions of others to learn more or to obtain simple information, to understand simple questions and to respond to these with actions or words. Through meetings and demonstrations the children practiced using gestures, actions, body language and/or words to communicate their needs and to express their ideas. Listening and responding to picture books was a daily choice in our class. The children were invited to share their perspectives by showing pleasure, and demonstrating their understanding through gestures, expression and/or words.  

The children would tell their own stories using words, gestures, and objects/ artefacts, for example, devising forest scene and forest animal stories in the light area, or with the puppets and natural materials. The children could use their mother tongue (with translation, if necessary) to express needs and explain ideas.

Arts Experiences

Throughout this Unit, the arts have been powerful symbolic languages for the children to express their developing ideas and theories. They built understandings by working with a diverse range of creative materials including drawing instruments, paints, clay, blocks, light/shadow table as well as felt and clay. Within the context of the Unit of Inquiry, the children have been supported with developing an understanding that the arts are a means of communication and expression.

November 7, 2016
by Andrea Mills
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Who We Are: Transdiscliplinary Explorations of Identity, Perspective and Relationship Building

As part of kindergarten’s first unit of inquiry, Who We Are, initial encounters between children and educators, as well as families, began with sharing information about ourselves, developing agreements and spending time together in the spaces of our learning community.

Through a transdisciplinary lens, we have embraced the arts as symbolic languages for children to be creative, collaborate with peers, build and demonstrate conceptual understandings as well as support unit and arts learning outcomes. The Who We Are central idea, Interactions influence our relationships, required thoughtful consideration of meaningful opportunities for children to engage with one another.

Dance, drama, music and visual arts have a long tradition of acting as outlets for personal, collective and historical narratives about different peoples in a broad social context. We felt that collaborative engagement in creative spaces had great potential to draw the kindergarten community together while supporting the concepts and lines of inquiry (People have a responsibility when interacting with others within communities, Connections with the wider community help us learn about each other, Reflection on experiences helps us to understand ourselves and others)  in this unit.

Kinesthetic Identity

Initial learning proposals focused on music and movement. Music representative of the diverse cultural experiences of the children was shared. It became clear that the group felt a strong connection to different types of music through their movements and experienced joy and connection by sharing space in a purposeful kinesthetic way. As an international community the children exchanged stories of how different musical styles were familiar to them. We invited families to share personally significant music as well as research about and listen together to rhythms relevant to the group’s global ties. Music became a way of knowing about each other and our experiences.

As a community we learned about one another’s movement preferences and then developed a word bank of collaboratively generated dance words.screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-09-37-12One parent–a professional ballerina–joined us to help explore the children’s words related to movement. Children demonstrated ways they like to move when alone as well as with friends. A shared movement space provided the opportunity to consider ways our physical interactions influence others. The children often imitated one another and demonstrated joy and respect for different dance styles. To further explore this thinking, wire was offered as another way to represent and build understanding about the diversity in movement preferences. As the children created sculptures reflecting movement preferences they consolidated thinking about the fluid, abstract movement words into a tactile visible creation.p2060798p2060792

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Playing in a Band

Building on the initial movement explorations, a group of children was particularly interested in the idea of creating a “band”. A shared understanding emerged that there were certain essential components that made a band work. The children engaged in dialogue about different roles and responsibilities.

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“If there’s only a singer or only instruments then there wouldn’t be all the things to make the sounds.” Nikita

“Like us three boys we could set up a band. It’s like lots of people singing together on the same team.” Aaron

“There’s music and if there’s somebody singing too and the people who is singing has to follow the direction of the music with their voices.” Isabella

“The boss [has a microphone]. He knows what to sing and the whole band can quickly play with him.” Kai

img_6499-2Through dialogue, drawings and interactions the children developed ideas about a band as a group where collaborations, rights and responsibilities were key. A group list of “items needed by a band”, which included but was not limited to: hair gel, cool vests, a drummer and a microphone, was compiled. From there, we aimed to create opportunities in dramatic play for the children to explore pretend band play as well as engage with various musical experiences.

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Building on the interest and success of these inquiries, the kindergarten community is currently in the planning stages for a “Design Studio”. Plans include transforming a dramatic play space into an area where children can create design plans and experiment with mixing fabrics, basic sewing and costume/ fashion design.

In the true spirit of the PYP as a framework for learning, the children’s interests and ideas are driving this inquiry in a truly transdisciplinary way, while at the same time supporting the broader conceptual understandings and learning outcomes rooted in the UOI as well as the arts.

March 8, 2016
by Andrea Mills
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How The World Works: Developing Theories About the Winter Forest Through the Arts

The children in Early Years 1 have a strong relationship with the nearby forest as we spend weekly time exploring there. This natural ever changing setting provides countless opportunities to develop and explore theories connected to our unit of inquiry’s central idea that The Earth’s natural cycles influence the activity of living things.

The Language of Photography

With the intention of inquiring into natural cycles and patterns of behaviour in living things, we took some time to observe the children’s self-initiated interests during forest explorations. One morning, it was proposed that the children use cameras to take photographs of whatever they found compelling. In this way, the language of photography became a tool for the children to demonstrate their interests by sharing what they were drawn to through the literal lens of the camera. It quickly became clear that trees were a strong source of fascination and possible entry point for this exploration. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Photo by Felipe Early Years 1)

Back at the classroom, we met, shared the images the children had captured as well as the children’s ideas about the trees. One child remarked that, “It looks like the branches are talking to each other.” The children were engaged with this idea and we wondered together what the trees might say if they could indeed talk. As a team of educators, we found this a powerful and significant approach to making sense of their images of winter trees. In their poetic way, the children seemed to be giving a “voice” to the trees.

Emma: “He’s saying Daddy or Mommy or baby.”

Felipe: “Maybe it’s a storm.”

Neela: “Like he says his clothes are falling down like he’s so skinny and spiky because there’s no leaves and maybe he wants to take a bath.”

 

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(Sharing ideas about the children’s tree photographs)

Through their words, the children expressed some discoveries about ways trees are affected by winter in our local context including leafless branches and windy storms. The children were given opportunities to explore their initial ideas with diverse materials and through multiple symbolic languages. We wanted to support the children with their exploration of the concept of causation and their wonderings around Why is it like it is”?

The Language of Clay, Sculpture and Design

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Typically, journeys to the forest include bringing back some natural treasures like branches, greenery, pinecones and acorns. Back in the classroom, we proposed these materials to the children together with clay. Some children chose to recreate the forest as they experienced it. Others represented the stream with clay and yarn. The nature of the work was highly collaborative with rich discussion and interaction. Amelie shared, “It’s the water when it’s moving.” We noticed that several children incorporated sound into their narrations. The children expressed their impressions of the tree sounds with the words “swish,” “bwaaaa,” “shhhhhhh” and others. Many used shivering body language indicating they had made a connection about the cold, windy weather and how it impacts them, supporting a developmentally appropriate understanding that we live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others. 

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“These are the tallest trees talking and they’re connected.”  Jackson

Graphic Representations of Talking Trees IMG_4755

(Observing, thinking, drawing and narrating about “the talking trees.”)

The children’s initial theory about talking trees was both beautiful and significant. The reproposal of this idea through graphic representation provided a way for the children to build the understanding that in art people make choices to construct meaning about the world around them. As the children drew they narrated:

Emma: “This is a storm and the tree is falling down in the storm.”

Neela: “Like a little girl was walking down the street and she heard the crunchy things and then saw the tree and the bird and she loved it.”

Felipe: “It’s falling down like that one.”

Billy: “These are all the leaves. They’re twirling only at the bottom.” 

Throughout all of the proposals, the children’s narrations, work (photographs, videos, sculpture) and previous ideas were presented back to them. During meeting times and before experiences with new materials, the children were given an opportunity to remember and reflect as teachers shared the work that had happened previously. In this way, the adults supported a deepening of thinking by acting as keepers of the children’s ideas and theories always supporting with extending connections and making learning more meaningful and relevant. 

 

The Language of Sound

The children had already identified sound as an important component of the winter forest. It was proposed that we record some sounds together that might be significant for the children. We shared the recordings back at the classroom and the children shared their reactions:

Jackson: “It’s a crunch, crunch, crunch” (walking in snow).

Felipe: “I hear the river song.” 

Leila: “You can hear the snow.”

The idea that the forest has sounds particular to a season represented another way of knowing and making sense for the children.

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(Exploring the sounds of the stream in winter)

Consolidating Ideas through the Language of Dance and Movement

Throughout these experiences there seemed to be several threads that emerged for the children. The ideas of storms and wind were strongly represented in the children’s drawings, narrations and sculptures which may reflect the children’s own experiences with winter in Switzerland. Sounds of the winter forest, particularly the sound of snow, as well as the “voice” of the trees were other points of interest and exploration. It was proposed that the children might explore these ideas with dance and movement. With a particular focus on the children’s observations about sound as well as the “voice” they had given to the trees, we wondered together how the winter forest might move or dance. 

Amelie: “We would have to be really high” (demonstrating with her arms and tippy toes).

Leila: “We would go fast.”

Ridley: “The snow might be quiet.”  

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(Using movement to represent understandings about the winter forest)

The children joyfully used their bodies to dance and move as they perceived the trees might with many stretching high, creating a storm by gracefully shaking the dancing ribbons and making blowing movements. Their discoveries about sound and movement to express creative ideas were pathways for the children to make sense and communicate understandings in a kinesthetic way. The children gave each other feedback when we viewed video footage of these experiences. One child commented that her friend “was storming very fast”.

The Arts as Symbolic Languages to Build Understandings

Throughout this inquiry the children used the arts as symbolic languages to build understandings about the natural cycle of the winter forest. The children’s strong relationship with the forest was key to supporting their theories about natural phenomena in a relevant way. As they were given opportunities to express ideas with clay, drawing, sound and dance, they were inquirers and their ideas evolved in a transdisciplinary manner.

Through listening, speaking and sharing their thoughts, observational skills developed. The children had a sense of agency as they were empowered to make choices about their work and interactions supporting the understanding that art has meaning as well as potential to support with making sense of ideas. The arts became a powerful vehicle to explore scientific concepts.  The understanding that art has meaning as well as potential to support with making sense of ideas was very present in this exploration of  natural phenomena. The theories, ideas and discoveries that came from the children will be explored further as we transition into spring supporting the children with developing an understanding that the earth’s natural cycles influence living things.   

“We are – and we must be convinced of this – inside an ecosystem: our earthly journey is a journey we make along with the environment, nature, the universe. Our organism, our morality, our culture, our knowledge, our feelings are connected with the environment, with the universe, with the world. And here we can find the spider web of our life.”

– Loris Malaguzzi

This project was collaboratively supported by Andrea Mills, Early Years Atelierista, Aisling Broderick, EY1 Teacher, and Lisa Rosado Darham, EY1 Teaching Assistant 

 

December 17, 2015
by Rebecca Smith
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Exploring Children’s Theories About Power Through Multiple Symbolic Languages

Unit Of Inquiry: How We Express Ourselves October – December 2015

Background: Children connected strongly with teacher sharing of experiences in Iceland. With the intention of building on this interest through the lens of our UOI How We Express Ourselves, various learning proposals were explored.

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Returning to school after the break, we met for our morning meeting to share stories of the places we visited and adventures we had over the autumn holiday. Teachers modelled how to recount orally by using gestures, actions, body language and words to share an experience of visiting Iceland. We showed the children images of the dramatic landscape, and shared about a favourite experience, visiting an Icelandic Forest Kindergarten as part of a professional development experience (Images above: Iceland and (Víðivellir) Kaldársel Preschool, October 2015). The adventure included joining a group of young children on a journey across lava fields, foraging for berries and magical treasures in the moss undergrowth, as well as venturing down into dark caves and cracks formed by volcanic eruptions. These stories captivated and excited the children. From discussions, we realised that the children were very knowledgeable about volcanoes, and that they were interested to find out more about these powerful occurrences.

In order to take their initial interest forward, a small group visited the library. Ms. Judith showed us how to use the catalogue and numbers to find books on a particular topic. We checked out many nonfiction books about volcanoes and Iceland, which we were able to use for research. The metaphorical eruption of interest surrounding volcanoes quickly spread through EY2. Children from other class groups came into the Language Arts Atelier to share their knowledge, to read and research the books and ask questions. We also used technology to view short National Geographic documentaries. The children found the video clips of erupting volcanoes highly engaging and exciting. 

Through our learning experiences we built a vocabulary list of keywords related to volcanoes. One keyword that we selected was ‘Lava’. We made a connection that lava has the same sounds as in our friend Lola’s name. As we continued our research we added important words to this list. In creating the word list the children have participated in modelled and shared writing experiences as well as observing teachers’ writing. The children experimented with symbols and letter writing to label diagrams, pictures and collage artworks. We talked and shared about our work to help other people to understand and enjoy them.

Through informal conversations, small group discussions, researching in nonfiction books and viewing of National Geographic videos, the teachers gathered data about the children’s prior knowledge.

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Listening to Children’s Voices and Identifying Threads of Interests: Scientific Processes, Power and Sound

The children engaged in much dialogue and exchange throughout the research. As we listened to their ideas and thinking it became clear that there were several threads of emerging interest that we wanted to explore further.

Scientific Processes

Much of the resource material we explored from the library and online included scientific phenomena as well as images of scientists investigating and making discoveries. As the dialogues below illustrate, the children were intrigued by scientific processes as well as the role/job of scientists.

Maxi: “The five people are going to put the fire out. Aaron knows they come if they stand at the volcano around the crack it and fall into the lava. Why does the lava out up?”

Izumi: “Maybe the pressure?”

Aaron: “It wants to get out of the storm and it explodes if you put water in a volcano it will then even more bad. See, I told you they can live in volcanoes (scientists at volcano footage).”

Mouza: “The volcano is erupting.”

Maxi: “You have to (be away from) the rocks to be safe.”

Finlay: “Volcanologists are doing research for volcanoes.”

Mathilda: “How does the lava come up to the volcano?”

In order to support the children’s thoughts around ways scientific theories can be developed as well as expand their thinking about scientific wonderings in real life contexts with scientists, we took several steps. First, we added a science lab to the dramatic play area with magnifying glasses, samples of volcanic rock, crystals and more. Interested children visited the ICS High School science lab to learn more. We also invited Professor Dr. Orlando Scharer to visit the EYC and share about his job and his laboratory as well as answer the children’s questions. In response to questions about how to be a scientist he shared that he felt it is very important to have curiosity about how things work and to be open to new ideas.

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Power

Another thread that came through strongly in the children’s narrations was the allure of what they perceived as “powerful.“ The children shared these impressions:

Owen: “These are the bullets that shoot out the volcanoes the white thing is the explosion.”

Jack: “The hottest thing in the whole wide world.”

Paolo: “This is lava that shoots up from the volcano and it’s really fast.” (translated from Italian)

Jack: “Very fiery!”

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As we listened to the children discussing their ideas, words connected to the bigger ideas of power became important to them.

We developed a new list of vocabulary words which we heard repeatedly from the children. 

spewing

exploding

burning

melting

hotter

disintegrating

cracking

smoke

grappling hook


The Atelier of Visual Arts: In Dialogue with Colour

It was felt there was a possibility to add another layer to the children’s thinking about power in ways that stretched and added to their scientific interest in volcanoes. The aim was to propose ways for the children to creatively express and build on their identified ideas about “power” through multiple symbolic languages/mediums.

Mixing Powerful Colours

With the goal of building on the children’s interest in and observations of the stunning colours of lava in books and video clips we planned for a variety of experiences:

One proposal in The Atelier of Visual Arts  was an exploration of “powerful colours”. The children were invited to consider if colours might convey properties of power. We set up a paint mixing experiment with opportunities to create new colours. The children used new vocabulary, well-developed language as well as scientific thinking in these interactions. There was a high level of peer engagement as the children co-constructed group understandings of what properties constitute a powerful colour.

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Some reflections made by the children:

Billy: “I made yellow, yellow, because of the sun ‘ton ilio’ the sun.” (translated from Greek)

Nikolai: “Maybe red, because red is like a volcano. Turn into light red. I did do it really fast. ‘Captain America Red’.”

Kasper: “Red because the red can show lava. It is powerful, it be in lava. First use red, then pink, then yellow, next white. Now this makes ‘dark weird pink’. Coconut milk drink. Could we add this white. Yummy and tasty coconut milk drink. It is super good and super tasty.”

Tuur: “‘Strong’ colour because it’s very dark. I started with orange. I could open them. I add red. I did some yellow cause it makes orange. Add, I think it is pinky red. What if I do a little bit of pink?”

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Taking it Further: Scientific Thinking and Experimentation with Potion Mixing in the Classroom Laboratory

We wanted to continue to build on the children’s interest in scientific processes and also provide opportunities to test out their theories about colour mixing in another context with an added layer. With this aim in mind, the classroom was reproposed as a laboratory to include potion making. Professor Orlando brought lab supplies like test tubes which we included in the lab space as well as glass jars, food colouring, eye droppers, water, measuring containers and clipboards with writing materials. The children were invited to collaboratively create colourful potions. This became a popular work space in The Atelier of Visual Art with frequent visits. We observed much curiosity, collaboration and creative thinking in the development of various potions. The children were innovative with their use of language in naming the potions.

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Exploration with Wire, Sculpture and 3 Dimensional Representations of Thinking

We also added wire and collage/recycled materials to the The Atelier of Visual Arts as an invitation to represent ideas connected to power with the intention of providing a space for additional perspectives with new and different resources. Interested children used wire to create powerful sculptures.

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Looking at Powerful Colours through the Lens of Light

The light table included diverse materials and textures to create and experience collaboratively. The children were invited to interact with these resources and each other. Interested children worked together to create designs.

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The Language of Sound

Another thread which was ever present for the children was the importance of sound. Throughout the encounters early on with images and videos, the children creatively vocalised their interpretation of volcanic sounds. It was  proposed that we might record these and the children were enthusiastic. After much experimentation with creating sounds and listening, a sequence of volcanic sounds created by the children was put together. The children also commented and critiqued extensively on the use of sound, sound effects and music in the video clips they viewed demonstrating an understanding that sound can convey messages and add meaning.

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The Language of Dance and Movement: Power Posing through Mining, Dance and Photography

The children were also invited to explore through the language of movement. We played a game where children mimed the act of lifting heavy and light objects. The children interpreted the task in different ways and shared their ideas about ways bodies can communicate actions and feelings with a particular focus on powerful movements. A part of one classroom was reproposed as a movement area with mirrors, a visualiser and simple black and white scarves and fabrics. It became a space for the children to freely explore interpretations of powerful movement.

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Another component to this exploration was documentation through the language of photography. Initially, the teacher acted as the photographer and documenter of children’s powerful poses and movements. The children were highly engaged with the printed images of themselves and their peers with much reflective dialogue about the power posing. After some time though, the children were invited to take an active role behind the camera lens. At “Special Someone Morning”, the children captured their families’, teachers’ and each other’s poses.

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Yoga Poses

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To extend our explorations about “power,” we proposed an experience which would incorporate the power of the mind and body; the practice of yoga. There was much background knowledge given the numerous encounters and mediums in which the children had previously accessed to explore these ideas throughout the term. To begin the yoga sessions the children were invited to listen to some tranquil music, use a mindfulness bell to settle their bodies and minds and then to explore different poses with yoga cards. The children were excited and motivated to try out different positions and many were open-minded and risk takers with embracing new ways to move their bodies. The children were dedicated to the practice and highly motivated to create their own yoga poses. There was much joy throughout this experience and children worked collaboratively in a kinesthetics mode to develop unique poses. They used new language in labelling their pose for our own version of a yoga card game.

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349 Yoga Poses for wall

In Reflection:

From our perspective, the experiences that have been proposed throughout this inquiry have profoundly supported the children’s inquiry into ways that imagination can inspire us to create. We could not have predicted that our teacher sharing of experiences in Iceland would be something the children connected with so strongly. The proposals and projects are meaningful investigations into ways we can express ourselves; our thoughts, ideas and feelings, through multiple symbolic languages including art, movement and music. We observed thoughtful interactions where collaboration and communication has been overwhelmingly abundant. The time and experiences together have invited us to learn more about each other and to grow as a group. The many encounters required extensive mathematical, scientific, artistic, physical and language skills, all of which were woven throughout the experiences. Throughout this learning, the children have been active protagonists in building their ever expanding understandings.

Compiled by Rebecca Smith (EY2 Teacher) and Andrea Mills (Atelierista) in collaboration with Christina Ntagkouli (EY2 Teaching Assistant)

October 29, 2015
by katebowen
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International Schools in Host Culture Contexts: Supporting exploration of the PYP learner profile through outdoor learning

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”

David Polis

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In an international context such as ours, students, families and educators bring the richness of diverse cultures, identities and influences of a global community. Working and learning together, we inevitably draw on individual backgrounds to create our own identity as an international community. Building on this idea, we also recognise how important it is for children to make authentic connections to local culture, geography and values of our host country of Switzerland. These connections play a significant role in shaping ways we live and learn together at school.

As a PYP school based in Switzerland, we recognize the importance our host culture places on children spending dedicated periods of time in the outdoors. The connections we have made with the local forest through our weekly visits have become deeply rooted in the identity of our learning community. Each of our EYC classes has a year long unit of inquiry into the laws of the natural world through the transdisciplinary theme How the World Works. The forest learning space has become central to the deep, rich inquiries of these units of exploration. Therefore, time in the forest, throughout the whole year and in all weathers is an integral part of the programme.

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Time spent in the forest is planned for by teachers with learning opportunities connected to the children’s current interests. We aim to develop children’s ideas and theories by re-proposing and connecting threads of learning in both the classroom and forest context. Encounters in natural spaces support the children to deepen their understandings about the world and are reflected upon when the children return to the classroom. This provides a platform for teachers to plan for further learning.  It is important to us to ensure connections between the forest and classroom continue to flow back and forth between the two spaces. When observing the children as they explore the forest together what often strikes us is the remarkable opportunities the outdoors has for developing the PYP attitudes in an organic and meaningful way

 As children set out for a morning of forest exploration the air buzzes with anticipation. The children and teachers alike are inquirers anticipating a morning full of awe and wonder as we embark on a shared learning journey.  As the children work together both independently and in collaborative groups, we observe and document their emerging theories and their connections to the Units of Inquiry. 

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The forest also provides a wealth of opportunities for the children to demonstrate and practice the attributes of the IB Learner Profile in a way that cannot be replicated in a classroom setting. As children climb trees and explore physical challenges they learn to develop their own understandings about boundaries and explore what it means to be courageous risk takers. The children are knowledgeable as they ask questions and build their own theories about the changes they observe in the natural world. They carefully consider what inquiries are personally relevant and meaningful and how they can extend their knowledge back in the classroom. Or as they work together to build a shelter they communicate their ideas with their peers, solving problems and thinking through possible solutions. They demonstrate their caring, principled outlook on the world around as they truly become stewards of the earth.

For the community at ICS, the forest is not just an additional learning environment, it is an essential part of our identity. It is a place where we can truly come together as a group to work and play in harmony with the natural world.

“Let nature be your teacher.”

William Wordsworth

Kate Bowen, Andrea Mills, Rebecca Smith and Victoria Newman

ICS Early Years Teachers

October 14, 2015
by katebowen
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Kindergarten Visit to Hof Narr Farm

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“Let nature be your teacher”

William Wordsworth

Our ongoing relationships with Hof Narr organic farm provides a wealth of learning opportunities for the children. Through their encounters with the animals, the orchard and the vegetable garden, the children explore big concepts such as change, growth and sustainability in an environment that is rich and engaging. As we move into the second year of our ongoing relationship, it was an exciting prospect to share this wonderful space with a new group of children. We considered what significant learning opportunities would arise from these initial encounters with the space and how this learning could be extended and taken forward as the children revisit the farm over the coming school year.

As we prepared to leave for our first visits the children buzzed with questions. This was a reminder of the significant opportunities for learning that can only be explored outside of the classroom context. The children wondered about what they would see and make connections to their current knowledge and understandings about farms.

Upon our arrival at the farm, we met with Sarah, the farmer. This was a first encounter for the children and it was important for her to share with the children about ways to keep safe when interacting with animals. The key concept she explored with the children was observation. She encouraged the children to observe the behaviours of the animals and let that guide interactions safely. By offering this responsibility to the children, she was empowering them as well as developing important skills which can be applied in different places they encounter animals. Her message to the children was clear; we have rules that I can share but I also want you to be in charge of your actions. An analogy she used to help them to connect to this understanding was to invite them to think about how they would want a visitor to come to their home.

The children shared their ideas:

“They should knock on the door.” Ellen
“Or ring the bell” Max
“They should come in slowly, not running.” Charles
The children then connected these personal feelings to the animals which guided their initial interactions.

As we visited each of the animals on the farm the children spontaneously asked questions they were curious about.

“Does the rooster wake you up every day? What time does he wake up?” Alex
“Why is Lucky the horse called Lucky?” Pippa
“Can the chickens lay eggs that make baby chickens?” Charles
“What do the pigs like to eat?” Jacob

These were all questions that the children were highly motivated to explore further. At this point, the teachers supported with questions and further development of the children’s ideas. This was an opportunity to find out what excites and interests children about the animals. What are their areas of interest? How can we provide experiences and opportunities both on the farm and back at school to help the children explore their questions further?

As we formed these basic agreements and listened for the children’s interests, we also began a process of creating a shared relationship with Sarah and a connection to a new space, the farm, which has the potential to become significant in our learning journeys.

We shared a snack prepared with ingredients harvested on the farm and then had an opportunity to explore the farm’s garden. The children were excited to encounter so many different fruits and vegetables.

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We visited the orchard and Sarah shared what fruits are ready to be harvested at this time of year. We had the opportunity to collect several types of apples and pears. We then visited the garden and observed broccoli, lettuces, squash, pumpkins and more. The children were impressed by the size of one large pumpkin. Sarah offered if we could lift it we might bring it back to school. The children embraced the challenge with the help of Max’s dad who supported us with transporting it back to school.

The children made a connection between the pear juice we had for our snack and the many pears we found at the bottom of the pear tree. It was suggested that we make our own juice back at school. Max’s dad offered to bring a juicer from home so we could explore the process the pears go through in order to be made into juice.

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On our walk back to the tram, Charles pondered what he had observed about life on a working farm.
“You know Sarah (the farmer) won’t even need to go to the shop will she? She will buy seed and then she just grows everything they eat.”

We will continue to build a relationship with the farmer, the animals and the farm as well as explore the rich opportunities for learning at the farm throughout this year.

 

October 1, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Den Building

Connecting Threads of Learning in Different Spaces

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As our class groups develop a growing sense of community, we intentionally plan learning provocations based on children’s interests which promote connections among our environments both indoor and outdoor. We aim to have threads of learning which are expanded upon in multiple spaces offering opportunities to scaffold and consolidate ideas.

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In the past weeks, there has been an emerging interest among a group of children around den building in the classroom as well as the courtyard space. The children have used large building blocks, fabrics, clothes pins and tape to work together to create a wide range of dens, tents and houses. We observed several components to this work.

First, there was the challenge of the actual construction of the structures. One group worked together to brainstorm and problem solve around the best way to build their den in a way that would be stable. A short exchange of dialogue and viewpoints illustrates the importance of the social context in which these children built understandings.

Izumi: The pegs won’t work! They just won’t work. You have to get something else.

Aaron: Maybe those long sharp ones that you put in like this. (hammering gesture)

Teacher: Nails?

Aaron: Yes, nails

Teacher: Hmmm, nails might not be ok for this floor. I wonder if there’s something else we could use?

Nikita: Cello tape?

Aaron: Yeah, cello tape and pegs.

Teacher: Should I get you some

Izumi: We can use the pegs for these like because it’s small enough but the tape for parts it won’t fit.

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The children used scientific thinking to collaboratively find a solution. Like engineers, they problem solved to figure out ways to successfully achieve their goal. They worked together to support the fabrics among the blocks to create a structure that was agreed upon by all. When they were successful, there was a sense of teamwork and group achievement. The child-driven nature of this collaboration added a heightened sense of investment. This particular experience was motivated by a small group. Yet, as other children passed by they offered help, suggestions and feedback, becoming part of the collective experience.

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The children sought out spaces for den play in the back courtyard as well, indicating to us that this was an idea the children were invested in and worthy of further exploration. Some common threads emerged as considerations for the children in their constructions. The ideas that seemed important to them included:

safety

hiding

protecting (babies, robbers)

being together

making spaces for activities like eating together and sleeping

The themes of the children’s narratives around what is valued in the  constructions give us a lens into the children’s thinking.  Play is a way for children to make sense of their world. As such, play enables a sense of empowerment  to explore emotions, fears, theories and ideas in a world where children are working out their place. We saw this clearly in the den projects.

Building on this interest, we reproposed the idea of structure building during a visit to the forest. Spending dedicated time learning in nature is an intentional decision in the Early Years. The encounters and interactions with each other and the environment become rooted in our EYC identity as the children and teachers form strong connections to this space. As such, it was a natural choice for a reproposal of  these interests. We wondered if these same themes would emerge and how children might work together and build on their thinking in the forest context.

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Upon arrival at the forest, we met altogether and shared materials including fabrics, chicken wire, rope and strings, clothes pegs and more that we brought along for the day. The children were asked about their ideas for using the materials and shared thoughts:

Cloth

Lance: Make the top of the den

Mouza: We could use it to hide with

Lola: We could use it as a roof

Again, we noticed the narratives around safety, hiding and protection.

Chicken Wire

Fred: To do on the top of the sticks… a net

Finlay: You could use it if you see a bear, you could use it like a net

Owen: You could catch dinosaurs. You can put dinosaurs in the net

Jake: That’s not a net!

Rope and String

Khalid: I see cotton

Lance: Climbing mountain rope

Tuur: ‘String”

Jack: A rope

The Building

Using the materials and their ideas the children began constructing. Mouza asked for teacher help with placing the materials higher to create a bed to climb up. The children were required to problem solve as the materials began to move. Smilla and Mathilda thought the rope would be useful. They found a “rainbow branch” and Smilla, who is learning English, showed us by using her arm in a circular movement that she wanted it tied up. The teachers secured a knot so it was safe.  Mathilda felt the rope was too long for a swing when she saw Khalid use it. Giulia had an idea with the orange string. She began to knot the rope and together they worked to secure it. Izumi intervened by bringing strings and offered to climb a tree to stop it from falling. This was an opportunity for the children to explore ideas around structural integrity in the context of construction. They listened and cooperated around a shared goal.

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The children demonstrated sophisticated communication skills, accessing multiple verbal languages within the group to reach a shared goal around how to tie the string so that it is attached securely.

Elena: Was ist deine Idee? (What is your idea)

Eleonore: Das ist nicht schwierig (It’s not hard)

Elena: Das ist nicht zu haben (You shouldn’t use this)

Elena: Machst du das Giulia? We need a tighter knot, a very tight knot. What do the ties do?

Nikita: This is a really tight and close so the knot doesn’t come undone.

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There was also some dialogue around friendships and power structures.

Jake: We are chiefs from Giulia (Jake and Aaron)

Aaron: Yeah; we are searching for our friends from other countries.

Lance: We found a white special rock, because it looks like a diamond.

Finlay: I found something that is quite strange! Come, we found a new house. It’s a lot of sticks in here!

Lance: I will close the gate. I have security guards.

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The reproposal of den building with new materials in the forest was an opportunity to revisit play themes that were important to the children.  As the children engaged in tying knots, manipulating yarn around branches and constructing with diverse materials, they were actively  building their fine motor skills in a self motivated way. Physical activities requiring gross motor competencies like climbing, jumping, walking and running are promoted naturally in the forest environment. The ongoing den project illustrates why we are committed to offering children diverse opportunities to consolidate and expand their ideas, thinking and theories. We look forward to building on these interests and experiences in familiar and new contexts over the next weeks and months.

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“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer the experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds of combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers and adults”.

– Loris Malaguzzi

Photographs by Rebecca Smith – ICS Early Years Teacher

September 11, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Making Connections through the Language of Movement

It is a new school year filled with wonder, curiosity and hope.  Many children have joyfully reconnected with familiar friends and we have had many new faces join our Early Years community as well. As we embark upon our first Unit of Inquiry, Who We Are, we have carefully considered what types of experiences and environments might best support us with exploring the central idea Through Sharing Experiences in Our Community We Can Learn About Ourselves and Others.

In preparing the learning spaces for the children, we considered ways we might invite children to collaborate with the intention of exploring ideas around our classroom as a community. In the Early Years Centre, we share a strongly held belief that children have a multitude of symbolic languages with which they make meaning and demonstrate understandings. We value a kinesthetic style of learning and considered ways we might provide opportunities for the language of movement.

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An invitation to collaborate and connect through dance and movement with colourful props

In our back courtyard space, we have a sloping grassy patch where we set up some colorful fabrics attached to trees and fencing in an inviting display. We also provided some dancing scarves, music and at times different instruments with the intention of creating a whimsical space where the children could explore movement. We felt the natural environmental influences of wind, light and shadows would add another meaningful component to the learning experiences. This quickly became a popular area and we noticed the children were naturally drawn to running and dancing through the fabrics.

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Natural environmental influences like wind, light and shadowsadd an additional layer to children’s explorations

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The space was popular with the children who had previously established friendships as well as those new to our school. Many took great pleasure in making a game of running through the fabrics. There was much laughter, smiling and connecting. We were struck by the way a group of children who are new to our community interacted with each other in this joyful and physical way. Although there was not yet a common spoken language among several of the children, the language of movement was a way to get to know each other through a shared physical experience. The interactions in this space were poignant in that upon careful observation, we noticed that the children were moving with each other in very social ways. We wanted to explore that idea.

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We observed that there were several distinctive ways the children interacted collaboratively:

Hiding Together

One game that quickly emerged was hiding behind a piece of fabric attached to the fence. We know that children often seek out cozy, private spaces for a variety of reasons. It can feel comforting to have a secret space away from an activity hub. Even in a traditional playground space, many teachers have noted that they often find children rejecting the conventional equipment in search of a hidden leafy patch. The game that we observed began as one child experimenting with hiding behind the fabric. She was slowly joined by another and then another. The group was happy to be hidden altogether in a quiet space. They shared a physical closeness and at the same time were visibly developing a connection with each other. This same group came together in this way for the entire week.

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 Hiding together in a cozy nook

Twirling/ Dancing/ Imitating

Different materials  including dancing scarves and musical instruments were set out daily. The children quickly used the materials to twirl, dance and skip. We remarked how children’s movements often seemed like invitations to friendship. A child’s gaze toward another indicated an openness to companionship. We observed children mirroring each other’s movements as well as engaging in collaborative, orchestrated dancing. Again, we were struck by the way a shared kinesthetic experience served as a platform for relationship building. It was a way for individuals to come together and form a group in a very physical sense through the language of movement.

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Invitations to dance and move collaboratively led to an emerging sense of connectedness through meaningful encounters. These experiences support our learning goals defined in ICS’s scope and sequence by developing the idea that children should recognise the value of interacting, playing and learning with others. We want students to understand that participation in a group can require them to assume different roles and responsibilities and a willingness to cooperate. In this space, we explored these concepts in a very kinesthetic sense. Most significantly, we are reminded that there are many ways to know, to learn and to express understandings.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred…

From the poem “No way. The hundred is there.” by Loris Malaguzzi.

Translated by Lella Gandini

 

September 3, 2015
by Rebecca Smith
3 Comments

Building Communities

appleMs. Claire surprised us with an overflowing bag of apples from tree at her house. We presented the apples to the children in a basket in an inviting display. There was much interest and excitement with many children sharing that they found apples delicious to eat. Rebecca shared that she thought this type of apple was meant for baking because they were sour, but the children had another idea. ​Lance offered, “I want some bitter. I like it!”

These exchanges became a perfect connection to our Who We Are unit of inquiry as we explore the idea that by sharing experiences within our community we can learn about ourselves and others.

The teachers agreed that the children could taste the apples and decide for themselves. We feel that children should know that an exchange of viewpoints is highly valued in our context. We asked who wanted to be a taste-tester, and proposed that the children calculate how many slices would be needed. MA counted “1-2-3-4-5″ taste-testers volunteered. There was some negotiation while the teacher began to cut an apple, first in half. Jack noticed that, “We need(ed) to make them (the slices) littler,” anticipating that by cutting the apple only in half, we would not have enough slices for one for each of the taste-testers. The group agreed that five slices per apple would be enough and we cut as the children had suggested. 

The Taste-Testing

The children shared their different reactions to the tasting.

Jake: “It is yummy!”

Finlay: “Quite sour, but yummy.”

Paolo: “Yummy.”

Lance: “Can I have more because I LOVE it!” 

We noticed that some of the children’s words of praise for the sour apple taste differed from their facial expressions.

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Rebecca proposed that we might use the apples for some cooking and the children enthusiastically agreed. We wondered where we might find a recipe and we organised a trip to the library to find some cookbooks. Andrea, Lance, Finlay, Eleonore and Clara met with Ms. Jayne who gave us a tour of the library and specifically where we could find what we needed. We noticed that there were different types of pies we might bake and took a selection of books with different recipes. The children promised Ms. Jayne that we would return with a slice of pie to share with her.

We shared the recipes during meeting time. Sanela helped us to make a list in German of the needed ingredients, using German for a meaningful purpose.

Apple Pie Ingredients/Apfelkuchen Zutaten

Pastry/Teig, Apples/Äpfel, Marmalade/Konfitüre, Brown Sugar/Rohrzucker, Honey/Honig, Cinnamon/Zimt and Lemon/Zitrone

The children graphically represented the ingredients needed for the recipe.

We also read a book called Apple by Nikki McClure​, following the life of an apple and exploring the cyclical patterns in nature. We will explore these ideas further in the context of local harvest in our own community, with a visit to an apple tree in Maxi’s Opa’s garden.

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Cooking Day

Eleonore, Clara, Lance, Owen, Albert, Smilla and Mathilda met in the kitchen to prepare for baking the pie. First we used the apple peelers to prepare the apples with much discussion about safety. The children were careful to hold the peelers in the correct direction. We washed the apples and measured the ingredients. Some children helped with poking holes in the pie crust. We read to find out how long we had to wait for the pie to cook. Elena helped by setting a timer and joyfully informed us when the bell sounded.  The entire EYC enjoyed the smell of the pie baking.

We shared the final product with the children and teachers in the Early Years Centre. Here are some of their reflections:

Lance: “A bit burnt smelt pizza. Tasted good.”

Owen: “It was crunchy, tasty crunchy.”

Jake: It will taste really yummy. It did yummy.”

Maxi: “I thought it was good.”

Ellen: “It was tasty and yummy.

Kasper: “It was delicious and smelled really good.”

MA: “I like the crusty thing.”

Elena and Owen: “Apple and crusty and inside.”

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A Visit to Opa’s Garden

Maxi’s Opa maintains a beautiful plot in the local community garden. We were fortunate to be invited for a visit. We tasted tomatoes, dug for potatoes and cut lettuce and kale. The children were highly engaged with the environment, each other as well as Maxi’s grandparents. 

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Lance: “It’s a cool garden. Look at those growing things. Mine (a tomato) is tasty and juicy.”

Elena: “I saw one (a potato)! It’s there. That’s a big one.”

Paolo: “Una potato.

Zeena: “I got some fresh potato today.”

Izumi: “I found a baby potato. Someone nibbled it! The bees are sucking pollen.”

KA: “I see a green tomato. When its green it’s not ready.”

Aaron: “Those worms are good for the plants.”

gardenThese encounters represented the meaningful ways that children can drive their own learning. As we shared experiences around the apples, there were abundant opportunities for rich learning connected to our unit. Children needed to integrate mathematical thinking for a purpose as they predicted, calculated and compared during the tasting and cooking. Literacy was valued in a real life context as the children were motivated to write for a purpose. Communication skills like listening and speaking were required and valued for participation. These experiences were a beautiful platform to develop the children’s sense of themselves in our group, their place and the reasons why particular places are important to people.

Photographs by Rebecca Smith – ICS Early Years Teacher

June 28, 2015
by Rebecca Smith
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The Atelier of Light: Exploring Relationships between People and Spaces

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The Early Years classes have been exploring the relationship between spaces and how people use them as part of our unit, Where We Are in Time and Place. Throughout this inquiry, the children had many opportunities to build understandings about how people use different spaces as well as our responsibility in sharing spaces with others. We chose to focus on the context of  different atelier/ studio spaces offered in a free flow environment. These spaces were open to all of the early years children who were asked to make a choice about where they wished to spend time at the beginning of each morning.

In the Atelier of Light, the children were offered time and space to carry out their own research into various aspects of the phenomenon ‘light’. The space was designed for interactive inquiry and for individual and group experimentation. The environment was organised around light sources, Light boxes, OHP (Overhead Projector), LED strings of lights and technological tools such as Visualiser cameras and an Interactive Whiteboard, which were paired with a variety of tools and materials. The invitations were presented in visually pleasing ways and an atmosphere of intrigue and beauty was ever present. The inviting workspaces created the drive for exploration and construction of hypotheses and theories.

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We observed and documented how the children operated in the spaces, how they responded to changes in the environment and how newly introduced articles altered, changed or enhanced their play and research. An example of changes to the physical environment, was an increase in the number of light boxes from one to three. While the children were always captivated when attempting to build taller structures, we found that with the addition of the bigger work space the children’s structures evolved from being built on a single box to become bigger and elaborate designs that covered across more than one box. Adding the LED strings of light were a popular addition to The Atelier of Light. The children’s explorations transferred from working with the materials and light on flat surfaces (light boxes and OHP) to exploring light with their whole bodies. Aaron made a discovery about the light from the LED strings, “It goes through your fingers,” Aaron. “Does it go through my head? Can you look?” asked Tuur. A new question which required further research was formed.

Exchange and comparison of viewpoints was valued in this space. Sometimes children chose to research alone, and later shared thinking with peers and teachers. Sometimes they reported back in a whole class meeting, enabling the children to investigate the concept of light and the role of space and environment from different point of views. Again, we noticed the children responding to the changes to the environment. The addition of a second overhead projector, placed next to the first one, encouraged children to work in parallel or join together to create collaborative designs across the two work surfaces. The environment encouraged the children to discuss their thinking, plans and processes. Additionally, the thinking created in this space embraced imagination, promoted narrative as a form of interpretation and explanation, and offered interaction with scientific forms. The children were invited to make connections to this unit’s central idea about ways we use space in the context of the Atelier of Light. It became clear that children built understandings about ways to make artistic and scientific discoveries in this space through the lens of light.

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By adding the Visualiser Camera to the space the children were able to see themselves at work in the learning environment in real time. This offered the children an interesting way to reflect and assess how they operated and learnt in the space. Some reflections about changes made to the learning environment of The Atelier of Light;

“It looks much cooler like that (with the new setup.) (He turns the lights on and off at the light table) I like just the LED lights on.” Aaron

“I want to go in this classroom because there’s light. Light table.  That is why. I like that it is dark.” Owen

After spending the morning sessions in The Light Atelier Daisy asked, “Miss Smith, can I have snack in your room? I like the light boxes. I like the light when they shine.” 

Izumi explained, “I like that I can see the different lights and different colours. We make decorations (by hanging the CDs) on strings. If you put it (a CD) next to the light it turns to shine rainbow-y (colours).”  

“I like to play with light. Then (I) make something beautiful with the blocks on the light table. When it is dark, I can see much better the light,” shared Eléonore. 

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‘The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.’

Loris Malaguzzi

Photos by Rebecca Smith

Text a collaboration by Andrea Mills and Rebecca

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