ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

Den Building

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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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Waldkinder

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

Author: Andrea Mills

Early Years Atelierista. I have worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for more than 20 years as a teacher, writer, workshop leader and learner. My passions include learning in natural spaces, community building in the school setting and international education.

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