ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

March 27, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao
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Child Initiated Inquiry: Building Bird Nests.

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 extended through 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.

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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.

Materials used:

  • 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.

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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.

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This child initiated inquiry helped in connecting the children with nature. This experience is part of our yearlong Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’.

 

March 23, 2014
by Andrea Mills
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Communicating Ideas and Feelings through Music

 

As part of our transdisciplinary unit, How We Express Ourselves, we have been inquiring into ways we can communicate ideas and feelings through music. The children have been building their understandings around this idea through many exciting experiences and interactions with each other.

During music, we have had many class discussions about the different ways we can express our responses to music and sounds. We wondered together how music makes us feel. The children had quite a bit of background knowledge about instrumental sounds from exploring with musical instruments. We have also spent lots of time listening and dancing to many different kind of music. Some children shared musical experiences they had from home and other settings.

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Sharing books about instruments and experimenting with making different sounds.

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Ms. Curnow shared her guitar and we all had a turn strumming.

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Many children had strong background knowledge about instruments and sounds from our regular explorations during music sessions.

During group meetings, classes reflected on how the different sounds made them feel. Here are some of their words:

Nicky- “The fast music make me feel like dancing like crazy, like crazy, like so fast”

Letizia- “Sometimes the music at night makes you want to go to sleep. What’s that called”? Teacher- “A lullaby”? Letizia- “Yes. like that you can put the babies to sleep”.

Zane- “If I was mad it would hit the drum so hard”.

Ffion- “It makes me want to dance”.

We also thought about how objects make sounds and wondered if we could create our own instruments. The children drew their plans and ideas for this project. We used recycled materials collected from home and experimented with these objects to create different kind of sounds and handmade instruments.

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The children first drew their ideas about instrument making.

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Children worked collaboratively and experimented with different materials to create different sounds. William shared his observation with Wille that the rice and pasta sounded different inside the bottle.

We will share our learning and use our newly created instruments to express our joy through some spirited singing at the Early Years/ Kindergarten assembly next week.

March 17, 2014
by Heidi Harman
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A Class Inquiry into Dinosaurs and Fossils

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Photos by Heidi Harman

 

February 23, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao
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Animals in Winter

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.
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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.

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  •  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.IMG_4906

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  • 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.

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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.

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December 8, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao
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Exploring Water Beads

Children are naturally curious about their world. They wonder, question, discuss and make discoveries. We felt that water beads would be an ideal way to provide our little scientists with an opportunity for discovery.

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We began our experiment by placing a handful of small water beads into a large bowl. We then asked the children to predict what would happen if we added water to the bowl.

We had some interesting predictions.

Walker: “They will change colour.
Nicolas: “They will stay the same.”
Annabel: “They will get mashed up.”
Ffion: “It will sink.”
Karson: “They will just roll in the water.”

After a couple of hours the children noticed that the water level was decreasing as the size of the beads were increasing.

Edward: “I wonder what will happen to it tomorrow when we come back to school”.
Alexander: “They will explode.”
Wren: “No they will get bigger and bigger.”

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The next morning, we placed the beads on our table for the children to explore. It was interesting to listen to them describe how the beads felt to each other.

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These are some of their observations:

Noemie: “It feels squishy.”
Anika: “It feels soft.”
Wren: “I think it feels slimy.”
Nicolas: “It feels a little bit funny and gloopy.”

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Using mathematical language as they make patterns and discuss about the shape of the beads.

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Handling beads helps develop fine motor skills. Using pincers to pick up the beads helps develop hand eye coordination.

Water beads promote learning and development in a number of ways: from fine motor and sensory skills to science and maths.

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December 3, 2013
by Andrea Mills
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Teachers as Learners

Recently, two of our Early Years teachers spent time learning, exploring and inquiring into our teaching and learning practices with Kath Murdoch in London. Kath is an international presenter and expert in inquiry -based learning and integrative curriculum. (More about Kath here: http://kathmurdoch.com.au/index.php?id=22)

‘Pedagogy should, at its best, be about what teachers do that not only helps students to learn but actively strengthens their capacity to learn.’

David Hargreaves, Learning for Life, 2004

It was impossible to spend time in her presence without feeling inspired and motivated to reflect on our teaching practices and consider the powerful role inquiry plays in learning.IMG_0582

(Inquiry Based Learning with Kath Murdoch)

Professional learning for staff at ICS takes many forms, including formal courses and workshops or online classes, school visits and partnerships with other nearby international schools, staff meetings, readings and professional dialogues. All teachers in the Early Years team make time to invest in this kind of professional development. Just as the children in our care are on a learning journey, we teachers strive to keep an open mind, reflecting consistently on our practice and building our understandings of teaching and learning.

In the past year, several teachers spent time in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia, learning about their world-renowned approach to early learning. Others have attended PYP courses and a workshop about outdoor learning led by an expert in the field.  Additionally, we have ongoing in-house professional development where we share with each other on a variety of topics.

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(Networking and sharing teaching practices with colleagues at The International School of Zug and Luzern)

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(All of the Early Years teachers have had the exciting and rewarding opportunity to participate in Study Groups at the world- renowned preschools and kindergartens of Reggio Emilia)

Opportunities to dedicate time and space to professional learning and reflecting as teacher learners are invaluable to improving our practices as well as strengthening our learning communities. Life- long learning is a model we embrace and whatever the professional development opportunity, we invariably return back to the classroom motivated to integrate new ideas and build on current practices.

November 26, 2013
by Heidi Harman
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Creating Homes for Forest Animals…in the Classroom!

Within our year-long unit of inquiry, Sharing the Planet, we are inquiring into the different animals in our lives and our responsibility in caring for living things and the environment.

Last week the children were given some recycling materials and they began to use them to create homes, nests and dens for our toy forest animals. We decided to use our nature corner of the classroom to set up this project. The children’s enthusiasm and excitement was both infectious and inspirational and they devoted the whole morning to their project. In fact, they were so engrossed that they didn’t even want to break for snack time!

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It was delightful to observe the collaboration taking place while everyone worked together, shared resources and helped each other. As the children created, constructed and built, they spoke about caring for the animals and all the things which the animals would need and want and how they would go about making these things for them.

Tomy said, “The animals need a bed and something to play with. The hedgehog wants a picture on the wall. A drink and food.” Tomy then proceeded to draw a picture to hang on the wall of the hedgehog’s nest and he drew ‘a photograph’ of the hedgehog to hang up too. He completed the nest by making a sign reading ‘Hedgehog’s Home’.

Mats, Tyler and Matilde used cardboard to make lots of owls to sit in our big tree and keep guard over the animals sleeping below.

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Some children drew pictures of trees to create a ‘forest feel’ and Matilde wrote ‘sh’ to remind us to be quiet when playing near the animals.

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Many children felt that the homes needed windows to create light and they even added cardboard tubes to serve as ‘look-out’ holes so that the animals can look out and find their lunch without having to go outside!

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The children realised that we needed lots and lots of leaves to make soft beds and also to create a true forest floor in our classroom, so we quickly put shoes and coats on and went outside to gather leaves.

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Our collaborative project is still ongoing. Masha brought in a toy from home for the animals to play with and she also made a book for the animals to read. Maebh collects acorns from the playground each day for the animals to eat and Nicky, Villum and Mats made a small trough using foam bricks to store the acorn food. We are continuing to make more elaborate nests and dens and we are using air dry clay to make mice, birds and hedgehogs:

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October 9, 2013
by Andrea Mills
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Collaboration in Music Making

These last few months, the children have spent time joyfully exploring sounds, songs, fingerplays and rhythms as  part of our inquiry into ways we can create music and have musical experiences collectively.  One of the many advantages of  integrated specialist classes like music is that the concepts we explore during our weekly sessions can be extended and supported back in the classroom with the class teacher, specialist teacher as well as peers. It is a frequent occurrence that a child or group of children further their understanding through song, dance and rhythm outside of the designated music session.

Music enriches our lives in countless ways and we believe that the creative process in music involves joining in, exploring and taking risks. We have been wondering about ways we can create music and have musical experiences collectively. As the teacher, I strive to offer a diverse variety of rich, interesting songs and experiences with a balance of teacher and  child-directed  ideas.

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(Dorian, Maebh, Anna, Villum and Lin acting out Five Little Monkey Jumping on the Bed)

We enjoy experimenting with musical instruments, marching in a parade, dancing with scarves and exploring different sound patterns with rhythm sticks. These open-ended experiences allow children to develop their cooperation skills as they must negotiate which instrument to use, who will be the parade leader, how to share space, take turns and much more.

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(EY2 HH experimenting with different clapping rhythms)

The Early Years groups are always eager to learn new songs, particularly those we can act out. These types of musical experiences encourage problem solving and negotiating. We need to speak, sing and listen at the appropriate time to make the song make sense. Often, the children must negotiate for a turn to play their favorite part, like monkey, doctor or pumpkin, in tunes like ‘Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’, ‘Sleeping Bunnies’, ‘Five Little Pumpkins’ and many more. It can be challenging to wait for a turn to be the monkey or doctor but as children negotiate with one another and the teacher, they are learning that collaboration is valuable and the song is more fun and works better when everyone plays their role.

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(EY1 children working together to explore sounds with a drum)

 

October 3, 2013
by Heidi Harman
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Supporting students’ personal inquiries and curiosity

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Villum  was excited when his family found an old bee hive and honeycomb at his home and he decided to bring these interesting objects into school to share them with us all. There was much interest and curiosity in both the items, but everyone appeared particularly fascinated by the honeycomb. The children spent much time examining the objects and began talking to each other about what they could see and what they believed the objects‘ functions to be. It was delightful to see the children sharing their ideas and their wonderings and it was clear that we needed to do some research and investigating to satisfy our curiosity and to discover and learn more about these objects.

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We visited Ms. Judith in the library and she helped us to find factual books about bees and wasps. The children couldn’t wait to look at the books and they remained a great source of interest to us for quite a few days. Some children felt inspired to draw and paint pictures of bees and it was decided to cut out the bee pictures and hang them up near Villum‘s bee hive and honeycomb and also near our Sunflower paintings, as we had learnt that bees need flowers for all the jobs they have to do.

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We were intrigued by the hexagon shapes of the honeycomb and how the hexagons tessellated together and so we began looking for hexagon shapes in our environment. We had fun making our own honeycombs by drawing around wooden hexagon shapes and by painting bubble wrap and printing the painted bubble wrap onto paper.

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We were amazed to learn how bees make wax to construct their honeycombs and how they make honey and what the honey is used for. We also enjoyed tasting some honey in the classroom!

It was wonderful to see the great learning taking place throughout our inquiry. The children’s search for knowledge, meaning and understanding were profound, particularly as the inquiry was both relevant and genuinely connected to the world around us. Here are some of the children’s comments about bees:

“The Queen Bee lays eggs and the other bees build new cells. They make honey. I like honey sandwiches.” – Nicky

“Bees make honey and they like flowers. They make honey in their home so bears don’t see it, because bears like to eat honey.” – Masha

“Bees can sting sometimes. When the bees come back they put the honey in there (honeycomb) and the eggs are in there too.” – Lin

“I saw in the book from Ms. Judith that the stinger goes in the honeycomb. I’ve never seen a bee stinger before. At the flowers the bees take it all up and then it is honey.” – Villum

Bees and wasps remain a source of inquiry to us and we continue to be intrigued by them whenever we see them outside. Our year-long unit of inquiry, Sharing the Planet, where we are learning about how sharing and taking care of living things and the environment impacts experiences and quality of lives, will provide more opportunities to progress further with this inquiry.

 

June 20, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao
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Exploring our Sense of Touch

Unit of Inquiry Who We Are: ‘We use our bodies to learn about the world’.

The children in EY2 Red have been exploring touching different materials and objects in the classroom, school and at Waldkinder.

One morning when the children came to school, they found various provocations – trays with different material like soil, bubble wrap, hay, plastic chains, playdoh, rocks, cotton, bark of a tree, and a blind fold. IMG_8017
The children showed they were good communicators when they discussed with their friends what they observed and how the objects felt.IMG_8022 IMG_8025

After observing (Sense of sight) and exploring the objects (Sense of touch) with her friends, Morgan came up to me and said “Mrs. Rao, can we touch and feel things with our feet too. Maybe we could try it? Could we use the blind fold?” A few other children joined in this conversation:
Ana: “We could try this new experiment”.
James: “Mrs. Rao can hold us so we do not fall and hurt ourselves.”
Lily: “I do not think we can feel with our feet like our hands”.
Vincent: “We have skin in our body and I know we can feel even in our feet”.
Mariana M: “When we get an ouchi in our body we can feel it because it hurts”.

This activity promotes exploration, investigation and language for thinking.IMG_7499IMG_7478

We encouraged the children to feel the objects with their feet and talk about what they thought they were stepping on and how it felt:
Vincent: “It feels hard and pokey is it the chains we play with for measuring things”
Mariana E. “It feels soft: It is what we used for our winter trees.”
Oliver: “It feels ticklish; it is hay we used it to make the little pigs house.”
Lenny: “It feels little soft and hard. It is playdoh.”
Gabby: “It is the soil we used for planting our bean plants”.
Vinicius: “It is bubbly; I like to pop it”.IMG_7464IMG_7431

The children enjoyed this experience through play. They were able not only to identify the objects, but could also connect them to the time they had used the objects in class. Through this activity the children realized that one could feel an object not only with one’s hands but also with the feet and other parts of the body.IMG_7722
The five senses lend themselves to science activities that require children to make observations with their eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Further more, they are able to communicate their observations (hot/cold, prickly/soft/sticky, etc.) to others.

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