ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

December 17, 2015
by Rebecca Smith
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Exploring Children’s Theories About Power Through Multiple Symbolic Languages

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.

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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 National Geographic videos, the teachers gathered data about the children’s prior knowledge.

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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.

Scientific Processes

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.

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Power

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!”

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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. 

spewing

exploding

burning

melting

hotter

disintegrating

cracking

smoke

grappling hook


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 of building 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 Arts  was 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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 was  proposed 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.

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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.

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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.

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Yoga Poses

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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.

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349 Yoga Poses for wall

In Reflection:

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)

January 22, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Snow as a Natural Resource for Joyful Learning

 

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

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

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

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

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We trekked up the snow hill altogether.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snow as a natural resource for joyful learning.

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Making discoveries and exploring ideas in a changed environment.

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

ICS Early Years Teachers and Teaching Assistants

 

June 23, 2014
by Andrea Mills
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Early Years Bike Day

 

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

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Everyone brought “wheels” to school

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

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Adding streamers to make our bikes festive

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

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Getting just the right balance

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We all wore helmets for safety

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

Alex- “I liked racing with my friends”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew- “I liked sharing bikes with William”.

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

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

106Lining up at the petrol station

P1240137EY1 students at the Bike Wash

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Bike Day was a special event to share with friends

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Moving our bodies makes us feel joyful and healthy 

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Preparing  to ride

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Enjoying our bikes together with teachers

Photographs by the ICS EY Teachers

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

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

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

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

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Finding the way with a blindfold

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

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Climbing through hoops was a fun challenge.

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We all took a turn.

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

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.

November 5, 2013
by Andrea Mills
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Valuing Home Languages and Cultures in the Early Years Classroom

Last Friday morning, Early Years families joined us  for some shared classroom time, community singing and a presentation about our program. As members of an international school community,  we have the unique experience of learning together with children and teachers from all over the globe. As an educator, I have found this to be one of the most rewarding aspects of this work, mostly because of the countless opportunities to share in other cultural traditions and make meaningful connections with families from diverse backgrounds.

P1100816Getting to know families by sharing experiences together builds relationships and home- school connections.

For children who attend our school, cultural and linguistic diversity becomes a normal part of school and community life. At ICS, we actively cultivate a respect for each child’s home language and culture by seeking to learn about families, inviting them to participate in school life and encouraging children to share their home languages and cultures with us.

IMG_0158Bom Dia! These friends come from different places but share a common language, Portuguese.

In my role integrating music into the Early Year program, there are many opportunities to share and collaboratively create different global sounds and rhythms. At our Early Years Open Morning, the children sang “Good Morning” greetings to their families in seventeen languages. Amazingly, each of these languages is represented by one or more children in the Early Years program. The children’s pride in sharing their own language as well as demonstrating knowledge of friends’ greetings was evident in the joyful singing. Smiles from the audience of families were abundant, and at the end, one parent excitedly shared that she was a native Irish speaker. Of course, we were thrilled to add a new greeting to our repertoire.

imageGreeting families in nineteen different languages.

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)

 

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