ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

November 7, 2016
by Andrea Mills
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Who We Are: Transdiscliplinary Explorations of Identity, Perspective and Relationship Building

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.

Kinesthetic Identity

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.screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-09-37-12One 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.p2060798p2060792

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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.

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“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

img_6499-2Through 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.

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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.

March 8, 2016
by Andrea Mills
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How The World Works: Developing Theories About the Winter Forest Through 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(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.”

 

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(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

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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. 

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“These are the tallest trees talking and they’re connected.”  Jackson

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(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 ideas and 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.

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(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.”  

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(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 

 

October 14, 2014
by Andrea Mills
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Listening and Wondering on a Sound Walk

Music is a source of great joy, inspiration and learning opportunity in the Early Years. Integrated music enables our students to experience  music as an integral component of many aspects of our program. We have been learning new songs, engaging in rhythm games and exploring the different sounds instruments can make.

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During a class meeting, we wondered together if we could hear sounds better if we made our ears larger.

Recently, we have been inquiring into the sounds the children may encounter as part of daily life as well as reflecting on the many places we experience music. During a group meeting, children shared ideas and music memories.

Aaron “I heard music at a parade. It had these funny like armies. They had mud over their clothes. They were like funny music”.

Melvin“At my house we got a CD players with songs from Cars”.

Lola “When Mommy vacuums, she turns on music to clean my room”.

Izumi“At the circus! The beat was like stop and on”.

Aaron remembered, “at the other campus there was music. When I went downstairs I could hear the beat of music”.

Charli“I saw music in the city and there was a guy waving a big flag and doing tricks. He did it around his back”.

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We listened carefully and shared our ideas.

It became clear that the children had a strong sense of where and how they experienced music outside of school. Many spoke of performances, movies or soundtracks from beloved movies. Children from each class also spoke about sounds they heard outside.

Owen“Airplanes flying are making a noise in the airport like music”.

Thomas“I heard music at a festival in England and there were tents and wooden houses and there was music and other noises”.

The children were asked to consider if all sounds are music. There were many different ideas and as the teacher, I proposed we take a “Sound Walk” to the forest. The children were enthusiastic and we set off to discover the sounds of the outdoors. We discussed what might help us to hear better, including closing our eyes to focus on the sounds and making our ears “bigger” by adding a hand to extend size. In the EY1 Sound Walk, Izumi kindly reminded her friends that “if we all just calm down we’ll hear stuff”.

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We set off to the forest to focus on the sounds we hear outdoors.

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We sat together, closed our eyes and noticed that we hear more when we don’t see.

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We all listened for the sounds of the pond.

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Everyone shared his/her ideas about sounds with a friend.

We were astonished to discover how many sounds we heard including funny airplanes, a tractor with a car, cowbells, birds, foxes, a telephone, an airplane, kids, frogs, cars, kling klong sounds, grass, trees, a stream, water, leaves moving, swooshing, rain, dinosaur, bears, foxes and much more. In both groups, there were discussions about real sounds and sounds from our imaginations.

The Sound Walk was a joyful, multi- sensory way to bring our music learning outdoors. As the children focused on forest sounds, they developed listening skills in an environment that naturally cultivates a sense of curiosity and wonder.  Many used sophisticated language as they shared their ideas with friends and teachers. Over the next weeks, the children will be making more connections to our Who We Are Unit of Inquiry with a focus on ways we use our bodies to learn about the world.

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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