“As children observe, reflect, record, and share nature’s patterns and rhythms, they are participating in a process that promotes scientific and ecological awareness, problem solving, and creativity.”
Deb Matthews Hensley, Early Childhood Consultant
Eagerly we had been watching the weather and waiting for the slightest hint that winter was on the turn. We decided the time was right to start talking to the children about our new impending season and all its wonderful attributes. Spring had not yet sprung but was slowly opening one eye and deliberating whether or not to turn over and have one last nap, buds had begun poking up from the ground, worms were wriggling to the surface and snails had commenced slithering across the leaves.
In EY2 we had decided that we were going to become gardeners this spring and summer. This was a collective decision that was originally initiated by William one very cold and snowy Wednesday in January. We were walking past the school’s garden which was covered in a thick layer of snow and he asked if we could grow strawberries as they were his favourite thing to eat and he never got them when it was winter. The children then started a discussion about what they would like to grow which included Sophie who wanted to grow Broccoli and Amanda who wanted to grow pineapples.
The children were given a choice of vegetables that we could grow and would be ready before the end of the school year, they chose broccoli and lettuce. In small groups the children worked together to put some soil in their propagation pots. They gently placed their seeds questioning when they would begin to grow and how long it would take before we would be eating the broccoli. They covered the seeds with soil and patted them down, Ansh said “Goodnight seeds”. Gustavo looked at the sky and asked the sun to help the seeds grow. The children took turns to water their pots and then we put them in our window. Our children being so naturally inquisitive checked the pots hourly but it was a whole three days before eagle eyed Joao shrieked in delight at the discovery of some shoots in our propagation pots. This was the commencement of the children’s journey into the magical world of plants, what joy there was in our classroom as we gathered round to look and gasp in amazement at these green shoots in their tiny pots. The children are learning through experience they are sharing their planet with many living and growing things.
Collecting and playing with sticks is invariably a favourite pastime for the children in EY. The teacher used this natural curiosity and affinity to invite the children to explore and explain their understandings related to the mathematical concept of ‘Measurement’.
During a Waldkinder session the teacher invited the EY1 children to each collect a stick. A challenge was then posed:
‘Can we arrange the sticks in order from longest to shortest?’
This task offered the children the opportunity to identify items that can be measured. They were able to listen to the ideas of others and develop their own understanding of how measurement involves the comparison and ordering of objects. We observed as the children worked with excited enthusiasm collaborating with each other to identify, compare and describe attributes of these real objects to complete the challenge.
With the Spring weather having arrived here in Switzerland, we’ve finally had a chance to get dirty in the Early Years Mud Kitchen.
We collected donated pots, pans and crockery to stock our kitchen. Our School Caretakers helped us attach the wall racks for hanging equipment on and to arrange the wooden benches to make lots of spaces for us to work in.
“I cooking ice cream. I take chocolate and sand to (make) chocolate ice cream.”Wille
“I cooking. Chocolate cookies. So many. So yucky! Then yum yum yum (pretended to eat). ” Diego
“I’m making cupcakes.”Molly
Our next job is to plant herbs in the surrounding gardens and in pots. We hope that the herbs will arouse our senses further and enhance our potion concoctions and muddy cupcake, chocolate cookie and ice cream mixes.
For more information about creating a Mud Kitchen visit Muddy Faces here.
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 extendedthrough 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.
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.
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.
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.
This child initiated inquiry helped in connecting the children with nature. This experience is part of our yearlong Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’.
Each week we visit the forest by our school for our Waldkinder, or ‘forest children’ explorations.
This week it felt as if the winter had melted away. We spent a perfect morning exploring an area of the forest that we had not visited before. There were tall trees and a rushing stream. The children experimented with ‘force’ by floating leaves and holding sticks in the flowing water. We collected big sticks and worked together to carry them. We dragged the sticks through the squelchy mud to make marks.
Some children recalled previous experiences that we’ve had in the forest. They collected sticks and built ‘fires’.
In our ‘Sharing The Planet’ Unit of Inquiry we are wondering about how animals and humans interact. On this day we searched for animals and insects in the forest. We found some earthworms in the soil by the stream. We are now planning to research to find out more about worms.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
In Early November we held the annual Early Years & Kindergarten Families Lantern Walk. This community event provides an opportunity for children to build their understandings of this German autumnal tradition, interpreted in our unique way. It provides an opportunity for the EY children to explore ideas related to our Who We Are Unit of Inquiry, examining how ‘Through sharing experiences within our community we can learn about ourselves’.
In preparation for the Lantern Walk, the children were involved in a number of experiences and projects in collaboration with different teachers and classes in the Primary School.
In EY1 we talked about fire safety. We read stories and non-fiction books about fire, camping and the forest. We set up a pretend fire and camping area in our classroom to encourage dramatic role play. The children spent much time watching and tending to the (pretend) fire, using flashlights, and experimenting with new vocabulary to warn and remind their peers about how to be safe near the fire.
During their weekly German lesson with Frau Skender, the children learnt and sang songs about Autumn time and the Lantern Walk in German. We practiced singing these songs with friends from Kindergarten (KJM).
The EY2 and Kindergarten children explored and practised through hands-on tasks the German vocabulary appropriate for talking about Autumn weather, the colours we can find in nature during this season and the clothing we wear during the different seasons.
All of the children worked to create paper lanterns to carry to light our way during the Lantern Walk. In EY1 the lanterns were decorated with a marbled effect made with marbles and paint. Stamped leaves decorated the EY2 lanterns and Kindergarten made gorgeous pin-punched owl designed lanterns.
The children from all EY classes prepared dough to turn into bread rolls. The EY1 children joined with friends from KJM to knead and shape the dough. We sang German songs and played together with our friends while we took turns at making the bread rolls. Sharing this task with the Kindergarten children was a lovely occasion. We observed that many children from across the classes who share the same home language worked and played together. We also watched as many new friendships were formed through the interactions and shared task. We proudly enjoyed the baked bread rolls with our friends and family members at the fire in the forest on the Lantern Walk evening.
The Lantern Walk was a beautiful event. We paraded with our friends and families to the forest arriving at a beautiful fire built by some Kindergarten fathers for us. We sang both English and German songs together around the fire. It was a wonderful opportunity to build and share community spirit.
The event required collaboration between the Early Years and Kindergarten classes along with the German Department. This collaboration reflects the value we place on interdisciplinary learning and community-building.
Water play is an essential component of a quality Early Years program, offering interesting and dynamic opportunities for learning and interacting. At ICS, we feel strongly it is important to provide children with rich outdoor sensory experiences, in addition to those offered by the conventional classroom water table. Some may be tempted to peek out the window and view today’s rain and wind as a deterrent to the great outdoors. It was inspiring to look at the three years olds in Rebecca Smith’s class, who clearly recognise the possibilities of a rainy morning. Children develop problem solving skills as they explore concepts like floating and sinking as they build understandings about how and why thing happen.
Some wise person once said, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. We are fortunate that children in our program come prepared for outdoor learning in most weather. Rainy day outdoor water play offers countless learning opportunities without the constraints of space and worries about spills. Young children are natural scientists and explorations in the rain promote an authentic sense of wonder in a unique way that is unmatched by an indoor space. Water is an ideal substance to learn about concepts of more/less, empty/full, before/after as well as principles of physics like water force, effects of gravity and much more. Children must utilise complex mathematical/ scientific thinking.Water play promotes language development as children learn new vocabulary like funnel, measuring cup, sieve, moisture, etc. They are also actively using language with peers and teachers to make sense of their experience. These children were required to use language abundantly and develop negotiation techniques to navigate complex social situations including sharing space/materials and working together toward common goals and shared ideas. The success of these rich, rainy day explorations is clear from the children’s engagement with the materials and each other. We teachers also feel refreshed and inspired after some joyful outdoor learning time.
The Early Years children along with their teachers and some parent volunteers visited the Jucker Farm on a field trip. Each year the farm displays sculptures made from pumpkins. This year the exhibition’s theme was “Fairytales”. The children were delighted to see some pumpkin sculptures of kings, queens, knights on horseback and a giant frog prince wearing a golden crown.
On display were some impressively carved pumpkins which made funny and scary faces, and some HUGE pumpkins that were almost as big as we were in size.
The trip was an opportunity for the children to explore and participate in a Swiss community activity. It also helped for the children to form understandings related to our ‘Who We Are’ Unit of Inquiry, in which the children are exploring about how we can learn about ourselves through shared experiences with others.
The children had a wonderful time climbing hay bales, pretending to drive the tractor and visiting the goats in the animal petting area.
We shared a snack of fresh apples, cider and roasted pumpkin seeds from the farm, while taking in the beautiful view of the lake and mountains.
After our snack each child chose a small pumpkin to take back to school. This was not an easy task as there were so many pumpkins to choose from all differing in shape, size, colour and texture. As a group we chose one large pumpkin to turn into a Jack-o-Lantern for our Halloween celebrations for the coming week.
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.
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.
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.
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.