ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

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 

 

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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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

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

 

June 25, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Arts Fest: Exploring our Group Identity, Creating and Exploring with Found Natural Materials

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The forest is a special place which has become deeply rooted in the identity of the Early Years Centre learning community. Each class spends weekly time dedicated to exploring the outdoor environment where children are able to learn with and through nature.

The focus of the school wide Arts Fest this year, “Collabor-Art” was an opportunity to work together across the Early Years Centre with children, teachers, as well as the grade eleven students who supported us with the documentation of these experiences.

Our aim was to explore the sharing of thinking that the children have around the time that they spend in the forest. We took time to listen and to identify their emotions, as well as observe their explorations while engaged in outdoor experiences. There was much dialogue during forest encounters as well as connections made through reflections back at the classroom.

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Some children reflected on how they might feel in the forest while others considered the types of sounds they might experience.

Masha: “I heard birds, maybe little birds”

Jake: “Peeping and clacking”.

Naomika: “Sounds like different kinds of birds. Yeah, I hear, one goes, cheep, cheep, one goes cheap tweet tweet. Like a blackbird, a crow, a woodpecker”.

Eleonore: “We could make a nest for the birds. They’re chirping”.

Izumi: “I feel happy (in the forest) because it’s dark and we can play there”.

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The auditory component of the forest environment emerged as an important theme for many of the children. Some groups visited the forest in different types of weather to observe and experience how rain, wind and other natural forces might effect the way the forest sounds. The grade eleven students recorded and videoed these observations.

Children also reflected on how they like to spend time in the forest.

Alex: “Building dinosaur dens with my friends and also balancing on the big log and jumping from the log. I also liked when we built a bridge on the stream”.

Adeline: “I like building little tents so we can have our snacks inside it. It’s so fun to carry the big heavy sticks to build the big tent”.

Oliver: “I like building a tent and also a bridge on the stream. I like to make a rainbow with sticks in the forest”.

The children’s comments expressed their clear ideas about how they like to make choices about spending time in the forest. They demonstrated strong understandings of opportunities in the forest setting as well as a sense of personal agency.

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The multi-sensory and beautiful woodland setting inspires a sense of wonder and creativity. During our visits leading up to the arts days, we listened for the rich dialogue, meaning making and theory building of the children.

Charles: “My boots can stick on the surface (of the wet, squelchy mud)”.

Wille: “There is a baby goat near my home. I’ll feed him with these flowers (indicating the dandelions and buttercups he has picked)”.

Lily: “These flowers are for my clay forest. The purple are the most beautiful ones because they love the sun. They love everything. Can we bring clay to the forest? I want to make my clay forest now. Look how many flowers I have! It’s going to be a true forest”.

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As a teaching team, we spent time considering our observations and discussing how we could re-propose what we had seen in the forest back to the children upon their return to school.  We had noticed previously how the children enjoyed bringing  items back from the forest and placing them in the courtyard.  Taking this interest in mind, wooden boxes were provided, and we invited the children to leave their forest treasures with the growing collection of natural materials following each forest visit. Soon we had abundant pinecones, grasses, rocks and sticks of all shapes and sizes.

Creating Day

The re-proposing of the interests that the children had demonstrated in the forest provided an opportunity for the creation of art installations reflecting our connection with the forest. The Early Years Centre classes collaborated with some Grade 11 students, who documented the process with technology, including stop motion video of two installations, a slide show of a photo compilation and a film.

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https://vimeo.com/131404930

Password: ArtsFest

Key Points of Interest

In the forest, we observed that some key points of interest emerged. The children engaged in wrapping, threading, creating designs/structures and noticing details in different ways. The invitations to revisit these themes in a different context back at school provided the children with opportunities to build on their ideas and create deeper shared understandings. There was a sense of synergy as the group collectively worked toward larger creative goals connected to our group identity.

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Celebrating our Work and Identity with Families

After the Creating Days, the children were highly motivated to share about their experiences. We invited families to a special evening of forest inspired installations as well as a walking visit to our forest space. The classes prepared delicious snacks including guacamole, homemade bread, fruit kebabs and more. We noticed a pride and commitment to describing the project and the ways the art and forest were present throughout the Early Years Centre.  The children eagerly showed their families around our shared spaces and it was a beautiful evening of shared connection built around the children’s work and our identity as a community.

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Text by Andrea Mills

Photos by Rebecca Smith, The Early Years Centre team and ICS Grade 11 students

Videos by ICS Grade 11 students

June 1, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Empowering Students as Researchers

EY1 enjoys a weekly collaboration with some students in Grade 7. Sometimes the older students read books to the younger children. Other times, the students collaborate on learning experiences including construction, clay and gardening. They have also helped us to maintain our outdoor spaces with community service work like sweeping and cleaning.

As one might imagine, there are many benefits to mixed age groups. The older students often embrace a leadership role and the Early Years children enjoy the special relationships that exists with those who, though not adults, possess some literacy and other skills that they often seek out from teachers and other adults in classroom life. This weekly contact also builds a caring community with a sense of connection beyond grade levels.

gr 7 light 2Grade 7 and Early Years students collaboratively exploring color, texture, shape and design

As an IB school, we are consistently asking students to be inquirers and researchers. We value child-initiated questions and encourage students to embrace a sense of curiosity about the world. We teachers are always seeking ways to hone our own research skills in the context of student learning. In early childhood, this often means challenging ourselves to be attentive listeners, keen observers and competent analysers. Children have become accustomed to educators, clipboard in hand, recording the dialogue, facial expressions and social interactions that happen during play and other learning experiences. Children learn best and make sense of the world in contexts that make sense to them.  Naturally, documentation of play narratives is an important part of our research into what and how our students are building understandings.

As part of our collaboration, we proposed that the Grade 7 students might join us as researchers in documentation. On this particular morning, the class was spending time in the Atelier of Light, exploring the color blue through light, texture and shape. Armed with the research tools of notebook, pencil and a commitment to observing and listening, the older children eagerly agreed to spend a morning recording their observations the EY1 children.

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Notes taken by Grade 7 student: 

Castle, pirate ship. Akivia likes knights and castles etc. Jake likes pirates. Bottle caps = stars. Paper = sky/water. Paper and bottle caps = shooting star. A house. Rocket ship. They are building a castle and they add some details to the castle. Some of the kids are putting shiny things on the light surface.

The students took their role seriously and carefully took down notes and observations about the children’s play and encounters with materials. We noted that some students naturally took on the role of documenter while others supported the children’s work. We were impressed with the commitment the older students demonstrated to finding out about the play narratives and explorations. Their observations included details about materials children chose, ways they used resources as well as interpretations of theories.

This collaboration is an example of one way we actively seek to build a culture of research in our learning community. As the teachers and older students inquired about and documented the younger children’s theories, the EY1 children learn that their ideas are taken seriously. Play is the powerful work of childhood and our message is that theories are worth revisiting and expanding. We found the younger students were particularly motivated to articulate about their learning during this collaboration, possibly because they found the Grade 7 students’ interest very motivating.

The social context of learning has a profound impact on the way children construct understandings. In our school community we are committed to creating an environment where relationships are central to learning. By empowering the grade seven students to take an active research role in the Early Years class, they embraced a shared sense of ownership of the important play/work that happens in the classroom.

Photographs: Rebecca Smith

Text: Andrea Mills

January 22, 2015
by Andrea Mills
1 Comment

Snow as a Natural Resource for Joyful Learning

 

As teachers, we spend a lot of time and thoughtful consideration when choosing learning materials. This week, however, nature did the planning for us. We were all delighted to arrive to a schoolyard covered with snow. Snow is the ultimate, natural, multi-sensory resource offering countless, open-ended opportunities for exploration and  playful learning. The winter outdoor environment supports many aspects of our units of inquiry as well as our PE unit.

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Arriving to snow covered school grounds was a special kind of magic.

In the Early Years, we have been carefully observing and experiencing seasonal changes in our environment throughout the year. Snow excitement was palpable as Jacob in EY2 eagerly greeted me Monday morning by inquring if  I had seen the snow and would we go out to play in it?  The children had already made many discoveries about the changing properties of snow, weather and the impact the cold has on the way we need to dress.

Naturally, opportunities to build gross motor skills are abundant during snow play. This was evident as we trekked up the snowy hill for some sledding adventures. The children acted as scientists as they collaboratively developed theories about ways to make the sleds go faster. Lola experimented with using the same patch of hill over and over again until she picked up some speed. Another group of children observed her work and then slowly joined in. Eventually, the group was successful in creating a path that supported their shared goal of sledding faster.

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We trekked up the snow hill altogether.

Another group  had the idea to make a “Snow Family”. There was negotiation about what that family should look like with rich discussion and debate about how many snow children and where “the snow baby” should sleep. Some children immediately began working on the “mama”. Akiva carefully made  a “baby”. After mixed success with creating another grown-up snow person (the big balls kept falling apart upon assembly), Daisy shared her idea that the balls be a “a baby bed” instead. The others agreed and soon the baby snowman had a place to sleep as well as a birthday cake  at the suggestion of Letizia. Along the way, there was investigation about how best to create bigger balls for the snow people. It was necessary to compromise, be flexible and to accommodate and build upon the emerging narrative of the “snowman family with a baby who has a birthday”.

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The children worked together to build theories about ways to make the sleds ride faster.

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Snow is an ideal learning material because it is completely open-ended with limitless possibilities. The children had agency over their play narratives and created their own opportunities for language , storytelling, scientific discoveries, mathematical thinking as well as social and physical development. We teachers were there to support the children to develop their theories and build their understandings, but mostly found that it was best to let the children do the driving.  As our youngest learners explored the familiar themes of families, birthdays, fastest/ slowest sledding, the children constructed their own learning in a meaningful way.

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 The children negotiated about what kind of Snow Family to create.

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Cooperation and perseverance were in abundance for a shared goal of creating a Snow Family.

Equally significant is the social context of this outdoor snow exploration. Arriving together to the familiar space of our school field, now  transformed to a particular kind of winter loveliness and the child-initiated experiences that followed, are shared moments in time that become part of our collective experience.  Joyful  memories filled with beauty and connections which are unique to our learning community.

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Snow as a natural resource for joyful learning.

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Making discoveries and exploring ideas in a changed environment.

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Photos by Rebecca Smith, Andrea Mills, Renata Andrez and Eva May Ernst

ICS Early Years Teachers and Teaching Assistants

 

October 14, 2014
by Andrea Mills
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Listening and Wondering on a Sound Walk

Music is a source of great joy, inspiration and learning opportunity in the Early Years. Integrated music enables our students to experience  music as an integral component of many aspects of our program. We have been learning new songs, engaging in rhythm games and exploring the different sounds instruments can make.

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During a class meeting, we wondered together if we could hear sounds better if we made our ears larger.

Recently, we have been inquiring into the sounds the children may encounter as part of daily life as well as reflecting on the many places we experience music. During a group meeting, children shared ideas and music memories.

Aaron “I heard music at a parade. It had these funny like armies. They had mud over their clothes. They were like funny music”.

Melvin“At my house we got a CD players with songs from Cars”.

Lola “When Mommy vacuums, she turns on music to clean my room”.

Izumi“At the circus! The beat was like stop and on”.

Aaron remembered, “at the other campus there was music. When I went downstairs I could hear the beat of music”.

Charli“I saw music in the city and there was a guy waving a big flag and doing tricks. He did it around his back”.

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We listened carefully and shared our ideas.

It became clear that the children had a strong sense of where and how they experienced music outside of school. Many spoke of performances, movies or soundtracks from beloved movies. Children from each class also spoke about sounds they heard outside.

Owen“Airplanes flying are making a noise in the airport like music”.

Thomas“I heard music at a festival in England and there were tents and wooden houses and there was music and other noises”.

The children were asked to consider if all sounds are music. There were many different ideas and as the teacher, I proposed we take a “Sound Walk” to the forest. The children were enthusiastic and we set off to discover the sounds of the outdoors. We discussed what might help us to hear better, including closing our eyes to focus on the sounds and making our ears “bigger” by adding a hand to extend size. In the EY1 Sound Walk, Izumi kindly reminded her friends that “if we all just calm down we’ll hear stuff”.

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We set off to the forest to focus on the sounds we hear outdoors.

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We sat together, closed our eyes and noticed that we hear more when we don’t see.

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We all listened for the sounds of the pond.

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Everyone shared his/her ideas about sounds with a friend.

We were astonished to discover how many sounds we heard including funny airplanes, a tractor with a car, cowbells, birds, foxes, a telephone, an airplane, kids, frogs, cars, kling klong sounds, grass, trees, a stream, water, leaves moving, swooshing, rain, dinosaur, bears, foxes and much more. In both groups, there were discussions about real sounds and sounds from our imaginations.

The Sound Walk was a joyful, multi- sensory way to bring our music learning outdoors. As the children focused on forest sounds, they developed listening skills in an environment that naturally cultivates a sense of curiosity and wonder.  Many used sophisticated language as they shared their ideas with friends and teachers. Over the next weeks, the children will be making more connections to our Who We Are Unit of Inquiry with a focus on ways we use our bodies to learn about the world.

June 23, 2014
by Andrea Mills
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Early Years Bike Day

 

The Early Years classes have been inquiring into different forms of transport found in our community. In PE, we have been exploring the different ways we can move our bodies and build our physical abilities. These two units provided the perfect opportunity to further our understandings with a fun-filled “Bike Day” event at school last week.

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Everyone brought “wheels” to school

The children were invited to bring their “wheels” to school. Students arrived with bicycles, tricycles, scooters and other child- powered transport. We brainstormed together ways to set up our outdoor space so that we could participate joyfully and safely. We agreed that traffic should flow in the same direction and a group of EY2 students and teachers marked the bike path with sidewalk chalk. We also included a refuelling station, bike decorating table and “Bike Wash” to the space.

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Adding streamers to make our bikes festive

Naturally, this was a very physical day and provided many opportunities to build gross motor ability, spatial awareness skills and to engage in a healthy and fun activity. The experience of collaborating together to make a big event like Bike Day happen successfully also enabled the children to use and develop many other skills. As children negotiated about sharing space, they were building their repertoires of social skills including concepts like working together, compromising and listening to the ideas of others. There were countless language opportunities as children engaged in rich dialogue about their experiences including specialised transport vocabulary.

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Getting just the right balance

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We all wore helmets for safety

Complex, meaningful opportunities to engage in multi-layered learning like the many components of Bike Day,  fosters children’s social, emotional and physical development. Here are some of the students’ reflections on the experience:

Alex- “I liked racing with my friends”.

Ffion- “It was fun. I could go fast on my bike”.

Nicolas- “I could ride my bike on the gravel with my friends”.

Letizia – “The part that I liked was when I ride my bike, cleaned it and got gass”.

Oliver – “My bike I have cleaned, then again and again. I get my bike dirty”.

Pippa – “I liked that Letizia gave me her bike. I liked to ride her bike because mine was too hard. I washed Letizia’s bike”.

Charles – “On the bike Diego he play with me. He love me. Chloé hugged me. Chloé hold the scooter for me. She played with me”.

Mats – “Bike Day was the best day ever! I want to do it every day”.

Villum – “I think I will bring my bike again tomorrow. I think Mr. Moynihan will let me”.

Drew- “I liked sharing bikes with William”.

Amanda- “Me and Gushi went really fast on our scooters”.

Kirsty- “I liked it when Lilly cycled on Clara’s two wheeler even though she thought she couldn’t”.

106Lining up at the petrol station

P1240137EY1 students at the Bike Wash

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Bike Day was a special event to share with friends

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Moving our bodies makes us feel joyful and healthy 

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Preparing  to ride

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Enjoying our bikes together with teachers

Photographs by the ICS EY Teachers

June 4, 2014
by Andrea Mills
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EY2 and Grade 10 Share Outdoor Learning Experiences

The Early Years classes have been exploring the different ways our bodies can move with the central idea that, “Through a range of physical activities we are able to explore our body’s capacity for movement”.

The children have been involved in many different movement activities including sliding down both snowy and grassy hills, balancing activities, animal charades, scooters and much more.

Recently, Mr. Febrey and the grade 10 students supported our inquiry by inviting some EY2 students to participate in a series of outdoor obstacle course activities. This multi-age collaboration proved to be a delightful and enriching experience for the whole community. The older students patiently and carefully explained and supported the Early Years children as they were invited to climb through hoops, balance across ropes, navigate a path with a blindfold and play jungle animal games.

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Finding the way with a blindfold

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The older students patiently explained the activities to eager EY children.

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Climbing through hoops was a fun challenge.

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We all took a turn.

The older students, younger children as well as the teachers have enjoyed spending time learning from and with each other. We are fortunate to have such a bucolic natural learning space easily accessible to school. Our forest provides endless opportunities for children to develop physical capabilities as well as instill a sense of wonder.

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