“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play”
To learn through laughter, to explore without expiration and to follow ones curiosity to wherever it may lead, these are just some facets to the methods of teaching young children through play. When a group of EY1 children spend a happy hour splashing in puddles, an observer may see it just as a play scene, however if one looked a little closer at this scene there is much learning and exploring taking place.
In EY1 the children spend every Thursday morning in the forest. On a rather rainy day when enthusiasm for rain clothes was at a particular low the children looked a little incredulous at the thought of going outside in torrents of rain we set off as a group of brightly coloured waterproofed children to the forest. The children soon began to warm to the experience of rain sliding off their jackets and the sound as it dripped onto their hats. “Its tickling my nose” said Fred, “I can drink the rain, it tastes good” Jake announced. Encouraged by their teachers, the children jumped in the puddles. For some this was a new experience and they were initially hesitant, but watching their friends they were eventually compelled to join in. They splish-splashed and waded in their wellies through the water. They felt the water on their hands and faces. Shrieking with delight they formed groups, and jumped together, curious to see if the splash would be bigger “We can make a big splash with all of us “ said Mouza. Smelling the puddles the children reflected the water smelt like old rain, flowers and mud “It smells like flowers but muddy flowers” said Lola. They made wet rain angels in the grass and delighted in the patterns they left behind “Mine is a rain horse” Nikolai decided. We then waded into stream where they felt the resistance of the running water as they tried to make their way upstream, testing how waterproof their boots really were. “I feel the water when I walk, its not letting me go” Khalid cried out. Our group of tired children made their way back to school chattering about the size of the splashes they made and the sensation of the water against their bodies.
The children in EY1 are currently inquiring into how we use our bodies and senses to learn about the world (Who We Are Unit of Inquiry). In this learning experience the children were discovering how water felt and smelled and were building this understanding through the work of play.
After observing the children engaging in ‘restaurant role play‘ over a period of a few weeks, it was clear that this was yet another wonderful opportunity to encourage and foster their interest and embark on a class inquiry into restaurants. Following some whole class discussions we decided to plan and set up our own ‘real‘ restaurant. There was much interest in how restaurants function and what would need to be done to set one up. We began our planning by talking about and making a list of what was required and the many jobs to be done before we could open it to customers. Here are some of our suggestions, proposals and independent actions:
Christopher drew a picture of a sunflower to decorate a dining table.
Wille made a drinks menu and said that we needed lots of pictures of food to show what was in the restaurant.
Jeremy thought we should hang up balloons and have policemen standing at the doors in case there were any naughty people.
Pippa wanted to make golden stars as decorations, which would hang down on string. Lily thought that this sounded like a good idea and said she would add paper hearts onto the string, while Nicky thought that red paper circles should also be added.
Thomas said that it was important to have a book area for the young children while they wait for the older children to finish eating.
Before we set to work on our planned tasks, we talked about who we should invite to our restaurant. It was decided to send invitations to our friends in EY2RR first of all and then we would invite our families for the second opening of the restaurant. We wrote our invitations and personally delivered the them to our friends, who seemed really excited about coming to our restaurant.
We spent the next few days hanging up the decorations we had made and completing our preparation work. Then we visited the local supermarket to buy the food, plates, cups and cutlery. We were very lucky, as Pippa had taken action and brought in many of these items from her home for us. Our visit to the supermarket was a success and we bought every item on our shopping list.
Choosing flowers to decorate our dining tables.
Selecting fruit to serve at the restaurant.
The day of the restaurant opening finally arrived and we were all so excited. Thomas began the morning with a surprise for us all; he had spent the previous evening making a colourful and extremely long paper chain to hang up as an additional decorative feature. He had also made some blue paper shapes to hang on string. We were all grateful to Thomas and pleased that he took the initiative and the time to do this for us all. Now it was time to prepare the food before the restaurant opened at 9:45. Once that was done, we trimmed and arranged our cut flowers for each dining table. Our last job was to set the tables beautifully. We ensured each place setting had a hand-made placemat, which was decorated with drawings of different foods and drinks, and we also laid the crockery and cutlery neatly on the table. Then we placed cut-out drawings of different foods as a final adornment to each dining table.
Preparing the fruit.
Preparing the cheese and crackers.
Setting the dining tables.
The waiters were ready with their clipboards and note pads and the chefs were ready in the kitchen. We just had to wait for our guests to arrive.
At 9:45 our friends arrived at the restaurant. We handed them menus to peruse before seating them at their tables. Once they were seated, the waiters came to take their orders and the restaurant suddenly became very busy. The waiters were giving the orders to the chefs, who quickly prepared the plates and handed them to the waiters for service. The diners seemed very satisfied with their meals and continued to order quite a lot of food. Once everyone was full and satiated, it was time for our guests to pay for their meals. Thankfully our friends had brought (hand-made paper) money with them to pay with at the cash register.
Taking food orders and serving the meals.
Our busy restaurant.
Once our customers had left and we had cleared the tables, we took a moment to reflect on the huge success of our restaurant. We agreed that we had collaborated and worked together extremely well with the planning and the final implementation of our restaurant. There was much passion and fascination throughout this inquiry, and the children clearly enjoyed learning more about the workings of a restaurant. In our everyday lives we delight in being the diners in restaurants and it was interesting to compare the differences in roles between organising and working in a restaurant and enjoying the leisure time of a diner. Examining these different roles led to some interesting questions related to why we have restaurants.
Our restaurant success was repeated a week later when our families came to visit. This inquiry ties in perfectly with our current unit, Who We Are, which has a focus on how our senses help us to learn.
We are now in our second week together for the school year. The first few mornings in EYRS1 have been full of excitement, trepidation, joy and fun!
It can also feel a little daunting for the children as they find themselves in unfamiliar environments, encountering different materials, interacting with new classmates and learning about new routines. The teachers are focused on helping the children through this period of transition so that they may settle happily into EY1 life.
We have observed the EY1 children finding their own special items and safe places within these new spaces.
A special item from home, such as mummy’s scarf, encourages children feel safe and helps them to settle in.
Feeling hidden behind a (see through) barrier can be a comfort.
A safe place can be on someone’s lap or sitting snuggled in next to friends.
Examples of special and safe spaces for play and learning in the outdoor environment
Forts can provide a cozy respite from the busy activity and routine of life in the Early Years.
As teachers, we spend a lot of time thinking about and developing optimal learning environments. In a continuous effort to respond to children’s social, emotional and cognitive needs, we strive to actively create safe, inspirational and thoughtful spaces. We look forward to getting to know this group of learners and collaboratively developing spaces that support both individual and group needs for this unique learning community.
(Fort images from last years EY1 class, 2013-14)
Photographs by Rebecca Smith, ICS Early Years Teacher
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.
Finding the way with a blindfold
The older students patiently explained the activities to eager EY children.
Climbing through hoops was a fun challenge.
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.
“Superworm is super-long, Superworm is super-strong. Watch him wiggle! See him squirm Hip, hip hooray for SUPERWORM!”
Superworm, by Julia Donaldson
One crisp Spring morning as the children were putting on their outdoor clothes to go and do some weeding in the communal EY2 garden patch we let them know that instead of weeding we would be collecting underground superheroes for our outside plant pots as the flowers were looking as if they needed saving.
The children’s attention was immediately piqued and as their interest grew questions flew as to whether it would be Spiderman or Batman who was going to swoop in and rescue our flailing flowers.
We explained that the superheroes that we would be collecting would be worms. These champions spend all their time busily underground tunneling through the earth making channels for water and roots to pass through as well as cleaning the soil.
Off we set with our magnifying jars to the garden. There the children spent a blissful time digging through the earth with their trowels and their hands putting their faces to the soil to see if they could get a closer look for the elusive worms. As they dug deeper into the earth and their excitement heightened the worms obliged and wriggled one by one to the surface to a chorus of delight. Each one was examined in the magnifying jars. “They have no mouths” said Amanda. “Where are their eyes, how do they see in the dark?” asked Drew. The children had so many questions. “This one is the biggest superhero, he will make the flowers really good” said William. “It’s their poo that cleans the soil” said a very well informed Joao.
The children collected many worms popping each into their magnifying jars whilst marveling and comparing the diversity of each worm that squirmed and twisted out of the ground. “How many worms are there in the ground?” asked Sophie. “I have a whole family of worms all different shapes and sizes” said Lilly.
Walking back to the school the children cautiously carried their superheroes, they eagerly dug holes in their outside flower pots and amid some gasps they dropped the worms in the pots and covered them over in soil.
Our children have become captivated by worms and their super powers which has led us down a whole new path of inquiry. In a world where children are bombarded by plastic superheroes with unrealistic powers it is a reminder to us all that one of the greatest natural superheroes is constantly wriggling beneath our feet.
Collecting and playing with sticks is invariably a favourite pastime for the children in EY. The teacher used this natural curiosity and affinity to invite the children to explore and explain their understandings related to the mathematical concept of ‘Measurement’.
During a Waldkinder session the teacher invited the EY1 children to each collect a stick. A challenge was then posed:
‘Can we arrange the sticks in order from longest to shortest?’
This task offered the children the opportunity to identify items that can be measured. They were able to listen to the ideas of others and develop their own understanding of how measurement involves the comparison and ordering of objects. We observed as the children worked with excited enthusiasm collaborating with each other to identify, compare and describe attributes of these real objects to complete the challenge.
With the Spring weather having arrived here in Switzerland, we’ve finally had a chance to get dirty in the Early Years Mud Kitchen.
We collected donated pots, pans and crockery to stock our kitchen. Our School Caretakers helped us attach the wall racks for hanging equipment on and to arrange the wooden benches to make lots of spaces for us to work in.
“I cooking ice cream. I take chocolate and sand to (make) chocolate ice cream.”Wille
“I cooking. Chocolate cookies. So many. So yucky! Then yum yum yum (pretended to eat). ” Diego
“I’m making cupcakes.”Molly
Our next job is to plant herbs in the surrounding gardens and in pots. We hope that the herbs will arouse our senses further and enhance our potion concoctions and muddy cupcake, chocolate cookie and ice cream mixes.
For more information about creating a Mud Kitchen visit Muddy Faces here.
In our Early Years Programme there is a strong emphasis on child-initiated inquiries as we believe that children learn best when their interests are acknowledged as worthy of investigation. Children’s thinking is not only valued but supported and extendedthrough the class community.
Walker, in our class, brought in a picture of a nest he had built with his family. This photograph inspired the children and they were curious to discover more about nests. Walker’s enthusiasm and experience, as well as books Ms Judith gave us from the library, raised the children’s interest in nest building.
As a class, we discussed the reasons birds need nests and building materials.
Walker: Birds build nests to protect their eggs.
Alex: They need a home to lay their eggs.
Ffion: Eggs stay warm.
Nicolas: To hide the eggs from bad animals and birds.
Amy: To feed them.
Wren: To take care of the babies till they grow.
Walker / Alex: Sticks and bark at the bottom to make the nest strong.
Edward: Leaves to keep the nest soft.
Annabel / Ffion: Dry grass and moss to cover the eggs to keep warm.
We used our Waldkinder exploration to collect materials, which the children had decided they would need. We were very fortunate to spot a little nest being built on a tree on our way to Waldkinder. This helped them to closely observe the materials used and the shape of the nest.
The children engaged in collaborative dialogue to agree on how to use the materials. They were observed not only expressing their ideas, but in addition being receptive to the ideas of others. They built nests and decided together where within the school grounds they would like to place them. From their learn they are keen to take some action; by taking care of the birds by regularly putting out bird feed or bread for them.
This child initiated inquiry helped in connecting the children with nature. This experience is part of our yearlong Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’.
When a child in our class (EY2HH) drew a picture of dinosaurs alongside some fossils, it sparked a new inquiry for us. As he showed his friends his drawing, some were curious about fossils and there was much interest in finding out more about them. We visited Ms. Judith in the library and she helped us to find non-fiction books about fossils (and dinosaurs).
We felt inspired to try to make our own fossils! We made some salt dough and pressed our small dinosaur/ animal/ insect figurines into the soft dough to make an imprint. We then baked the salt dough in the oven until it was hard like stone and the imprint looked like a fossil. We liked to trick visitors to our classroom into believing we had found real fossils while outside during one of our Waldkinder outdoor learning sessions!
After doing some research and learning more about dinosaurs and how they once lived, we set up an area in our classroom to recreate dinosaur habitats.
We thought carefully about which dinosaurs preferred to live together and which liked to be alone. We considered the various types of food the dinosaurs liked to eat and we used play dough to represent some of these foods.
We also used play dough to make dinosaur eggs, but these were too soft and kept getting squashed flat, so we discussed what other materials we could use to construct eggs, which were more life-like. We decided to use a sticky mixture of mud, salt, sand and water. We moulded the sticky mud mixture around our toy baby dinosaurs until they were completely hidden and then we let the ‘eggs‘ dry and become hard. We thought that these eggs looked quite realistic and after a few days we wanted our baby dinosaurs to hatch. Some eggs cracked open easily while others needed tools to help break them open.
One of the children took action with her learning and continued with our inquiry at home. She bought a ‘real‘ dinosaur egg from the shops, placed it in water and, after a few days, the egg cracked and the dinosaur hatched out! We were kept updated with the egg‘s progress with photographs and the baby dinosaur was also brought to school once it had finally hatched.
This personal inquiry has tied in perfectly with our year-long unit of inquiry, Sharing the Planet, where we are learning about animals, habitats, relationships, characteristics, need and interactions.
In our year-long Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’ we, in EY2 RR, have been researching animals that hibernate and those that live in the Arctic. We have also been looking at the relationship between animals and people.
We compared and discussed how we, as people, stay warm in winter and the ways in which animals, in the Arctic, stay warm.
These are the questions that helped us start our discussions and thinking:
How do we keep warm in winter outside and at home?
Walker: We cover ourselves with a blanket.
Anika: We need a scarf, hats and gloves.
Zane: Snow boots.
Wren: Neck warmers and warm clothes.
Annabel:At home we have a fire to keep us warm
How do animals stay warm in winter?
Nicolas: They have hot skin.
Alex: They have fur.
Walker: Some have a special skin to keep them warm.
Amy: They have special oil in their skin, which keeps them warm.
After these discussions, which demonstrated what the children already knew about the topic, we concluded it would be fun to do a science experiment to discover how it would feel to be an Arctic animal swimming in icy water. This experience would not only help in the children’s understanding but also give a practical hands-on experience, which they would love.
First, each child put their bare hands in a tray of ice. We counted to see how long they could hold it in there. Some could keep their hands in the ice until we counted to 75 and we had to stop them.
Zane: It is really, really very cold.
Ffion: It is slippery and cold.
Annabel: It is freezing
Next, we put on thin rubber gloves for the children and covered the gloves with fat. The children, then, put their hands into the icy water. The fat protected their hand from the cold water.
Ffion: It is not cold now. I can keep my hand in here for a long time.
Edward: I like it now. My hands are not freezing. Mrs. Rao, do the animals have the sticky thing (fat) on their body?
Walker: Yes, animals that live in the cold places have special skin and also fat to keep them warm.
Edward: The cream we have on our gloves, I think, helps the cold to just fall down.
Mrs.Rao: What do you mean?
Edward: I think now, that the cream protects them from the cold.
The children agreed that their bare hands felt very cold but with fat it felt warm. This experiment helped the children to become scientists, make predictions, observations and understand how the layer of fat, that some animals have, keep them warm in winter.