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)

September 11, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Making Connections through the Language of Movement

It is a new school year filled with wonder, curiosity and hope.  Many children have joyfully reconnected with familiar friends and we have had many new faces join our Early Years community as well. As we embark upon our first Unit of Inquiry, Who We Are, we have carefully considered what types of experiences and environments might best support us with exploring the central idea Through Sharing Experiences in Our Community We Can Learn About Ourselves and Others.

In preparing the learning spaces for the children, we considered ways we might invite children to collaborate with the intention of exploring ideas around our classroom as a community. In the Early Years Centre, we share a strongly held belief that children have a multitude of symbolic languages with which they make meaning and demonstrate understandings. We value a kinesthetic style of learning and considered ways we might provide opportunities for the language of movement.

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An invitation to collaborate and connect through dance and movement with colourful props

In our back courtyard space, we have a sloping grassy patch where we set up some colorful fabrics attached to trees and fencing in an inviting display. We also provided some dancing scarves, music and at times different instruments with the intention of creating a whimsical space where the children could explore movement. We felt the natural environmental influences of wind, light and shadows would add another meaningful component to the learning experiences. This quickly became a popular area and we noticed the children were naturally drawn to running and dancing through the fabrics.

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Natural environmental influences like wind, light and shadowsadd an additional layer to children’s explorations

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The space was popular with the children who had previously established friendships as well as those new to our school. Many took great pleasure in making a game of running through the fabrics. There was much laughter, smiling and connecting. We were struck by the way a group of children who are new to our community interacted with each other in this joyful and physical way. Although there was not yet a common spoken language among several of the children, the language of movement was a way to get to know each other through a shared physical experience. The interactions in this space were poignant in that upon careful observation, we noticed that the children were moving with each other in very social ways. We wanted to explore that idea.

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We observed that there were several distinctive ways the children interacted collaboratively:

Hiding Together

One game that quickly emerged was hiding behind a piece of fabric attached to the fence. We know that children often seek out cozy, private spaces for a variety of reasons. It can feel comforting to have a secret space away from an activity hub. Even in a traditional playground space, many teachers have noted that they often find children rejecting the conventional equipment in search of a hidden leafy patch. The game that we observed began as one child experimenting with hiding behind the fabric. She was slowly joined by another and then another. The group was happy to be hidden altogether in a quiet space. They shared a physical closeness and at the same time were visibly developing a connection with each other. This same group came together in this way for the entire week.

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 Hiding together in a cozy nook

Twirling/ Dancing/ Imitating

Different materials  including dancing scarves and musical instruments were set out daily. The children quickly used the materials to twirl, dance and skip. We remarked how children’s movements often seemed like invitations to friendship. A child’s gaze toward another indicated an openness to companionship. We observed children mirroring each other’s movements as well as engaging in collaborative, orchestrated dancing. Again, we were struck by the way a shared kinesthetic experience served as a platform for relationship building. It was a way for individuals to come together and form a group in a very physical sense through the language of movement.

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Invitations to dance and move collaboratively led to an emerging sense of connectedness through meaningful encounters. These experiences support our learning goals defined in ICS’s scope and sequence by developing the idea that children should recognise the value of interacting, playing and learning with others. We want students to understand that participation in a group can require them to assume different roles and responsibilities and a willingness to cooperate. In this space, we explored these concepts in a very kinesthetic sense. Most significantly, we are reminded that there are many ways to know, to learn and to express understandings.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred…

From the poem “No way. The hundred is there.” by Loris Malaguzzi.

Translated by Lella Gandini

 

June 28, 2015
by Rebecca Smith
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The Atelier of Light: Exploring Relationships between People and Spaces

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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‘The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.’

Loris Malaguzzi

Photos by Rebecca Smith

Text a collaboration by Andrea Mills and Rebecca

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