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.
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 forest – Yodai
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.One 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.
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.
“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
Through 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.
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.
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.
(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.”
(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
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.
“These are the tallest trees talking and they’re connected.” Jackson
Graphic Representations of Talking Trees
(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 ideasand 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.
(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.”
(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
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.
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 NationalGeographic videos, the teachers gathered data about the children’s prior knowledge.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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 ofbuilding 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 Artswas 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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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 wasproposed 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
‘The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.’
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.
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Text by Andrea Mills
Photos by Rebecca Smith, The Early Years Centre team and ICS Grade 11 students
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.
Grade 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.
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.
As part of our trans-disciplinary unit, How We Express Ourselves, we are inquiring into how we can create and share stories in different spaces. Our Early Years Programme has a strong emphasis on child-initiated inquiries based on the belief that children learn best when their interests are acknowledged as worthy of investigation. Children’s thinking is not only valued but supported and extended through the class community.
For some days the children had been playing with toy dinosaurs, building homes for them using wooden blocks and logs. Exploring this interest through drawing his ideas, Alex shared a picture of skeletons in a museum. He then posed a question, asking if we could construct a dinosaur museum in the class. His drawing and enthusiasm inspired the children leading to a shared class curiosity to discover more about dinosaurs.In order to share our thinking, and to ascertain what we already knew about dinosaurs and museums, we brainstormed, coming up with some ideas as to what we would need to make a dinosaur museum.
With books from the library, we were able to explore different aspects of the life sciences such as meat eaters, plant eaters, tall dinosaurs, feathered dinosaurs, etc. and sharing our theories of extinction. The children demonstrated an understanding of perspective in our class discussions that some meat eating dinosaurs were stronger than the plant eating dinosaurs. They felt that the plant eating dinosaurs would have feared the meat eating dinosaurs. These observations came through in their stories and drawings. We also explored earth science through sharing thoughts around volcanoes, and climate changes.In order to share our understandings through many different modes of expression, children created puppets, engaged in dramatic play and used materials such as clay and paints.Our visit to the dinosaur museum encouraged the children to think creatively. Our guide shared with the children that no one lived at the time of the dinosaurs and that what we know are only ideas as to how these creatures looked and sounded. This knowledge excited the children and encouraged them to undertake research in order to support their theories and make their own conclusions. Acquisition of new vocabulary was embedded in this inquiry with children including words like “enormous”, “extinct”, “paleontologist”, “ferocious”, and “fossilized”, as well as including names of dinosaurs into their conversations.Through story telling with puppets and shadow puppets the children were able to understand that people listen and speak to share thoughts and feelings. They were also able to express their ideas and emotions by making story books and drawings depicting dinosaur stories.Children were fascinated when they realized how big (or how small) some of these dinosaurs were! We compared the heights of dinosaurs using uniform and non-uniform tools of measurement, such as our bodies and wooden block. We checked if our collective height was more than the tallest dinosaur, further exploring mathematical concepts such as measurement and estimation in our inquiry.Through communication, collaboration and negotiation the children were able to explore constructing a dinosaur museum together.Our successful opening of the Dinosaur Museum was the result of a variety of activities initiated by the children in the class.On the Open Day, the children shared their knowledge with their families about dinosaurs. Through story telling with props and self-created shadow puppets they were able to express their ideas and emotions.We asked the parent community to share their thinking and reflections on the dinosaur museum:
“A fantastic opening for your dinosaur museum!” “You are very knowledgeable about dinosaurs and shared a lot of information!” “Wow!! Amazing, well done.” “The children were incredible. A very high level of creativity!” “I have learned a lot about dinosaurs from you!!” “The dinosaur museum included all the important elements a museum should have: pictures, stories, fossils, eggs, dinosaur skeletons, performances and music. The children worked very hard together.”
Reflecting on our activities leading up to the open day, the children said: “I now know the names of different dinosaurs.” “To make the museum we had to share our ideas with each other and we had to work together.” “At the dinosaur museum we got to see how the bones looked and touch the footprints and T-Rex teeth.” “We know that the Sauroposeidon was 20 metres tall and our classroom was only 3 metres tall. “The dinosaurs were much taller than our school.” “Some dinosaurs had mouth like ducks’ and some with feathers to keep themselves warm or cool because they lived in the desert.”
Our exploration leading to creating the dinosaur museum and the open day covered a wide spectrum of skills. The children collaborated to suggest ideas for the museum; they researched dinosaurs by referring to library books and asking the museum guide; involved maths by comparing the height of dinosaurs with the combined height of the children and used uniform and non-uniform tools of measurement; they enhanced their vocabulary with new words; they could express their ideas through drawings, puppets and self-created stories; giving flight to their imagination – a hotel near the museum would help the visitors to spend more time at the museum, without having to drive. A simple idea to build a dinosaur museum initiated by a child resulted in a major exploration for the whole class which was appreciated by colleagues and parents.
“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.