ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

June 25, 2015
by Andrea Mills
1 Comment

Arts Fest: Exploring our Group Identity, Creating and Exploring with Found Natural Materials


The forest is a special place which has become deeply rooted in the identity of the Early Years Centre learning community. Each class spends weekly time dedicated to exploring the outdoor environment where children are able to learn with and through nature.

The focus of the school wide Arts Fest this year, “Collabor-Art” was an opportunity to work together across the Early Years Centre with children, teachers, as well as the grade eleven students who supported us with the documentation of these experiences.

Our aim was to explore the sharing of thinking that the children have around the time that they spend in the forest. We took time to listen and to identify their emotions, as well as observe their explorations while engaged in outdoor experiences. There was much dialogue during forest encounters as well as connections made through reflections back at the classroom.


Some children reflected on how they might feel in the forest while others considered the types of sounds they might experience.

Masha: “I heard birds, maybe little birds”

Jake: “Peeping and clacking”.

Naomika: “Sounds like different kinds of birds. Yeah, I hear, one goes, cheep, cheep, one goes cheap tweet tweet. Like a blackbird, a crow, a woodpecker”.

Eleonore: “We could make a nest for the birds. They’re chirping”.

Izumi: “I feel happy (in the forest) because it’s dark and we can play there”.


The auditory component of the forest environment emerged as an important theme for many of the children. Some groups visited the forest in different types of weather to observe and experience how rain, wind and other natural forces might effect the way the forest sounds. The grade eleven students recorded and videoed these observations.

Children also reflected on how they like to spend time in the forest.

Alex: “Building dinosaur dens with my friends and also balancing on the big log and jumping from the log. I also liked when we built a bridge on the stream”.

Adeline: “I like building little tents so we can have our snacks inside it. It’s so fun to carry the big heavy sticks to build the big tent”.

Oliver: “I like building a tent and also a bridge on the stream. I like to make a rainbow with sticks in the forest”.

The children’s comments expressed their clear ideas about how they like to make choices about spending time in the forest. They demonstrated strong understandings of opportunities in the forest setting as well as a sense of personal agency.


The multi-sensory and beautiful woodland setting inspires a sense of wonder and creativity. During our visits leading up to the arts days, we listened for the rich dialogue, meaning making and theory building of the children.

Charles: “My boots can stick on the surface (of the wet, squelchy mud)”.

Wille: “There is a baby goat near my home. I’ll feed him with these flowers (indicating the dandelions and buttercups he has picked)”.

Lily: “These flowers are for my clay forest. The purple are the most beautiful ones because they love the sun. They love everything. Can we bring clay to the forest? I want to make my clay forest now. Look how many flowers I have! It’s going to be a true forest”.


As a teaching team, we spent time considering our observations and discussing how we could re-propose what we had seen in the forest back to the children upon their return to school.  We had noticed previously how the children enjoyed bringing  items back from the forest and placing them in the courtyard.  Taking this interest in mind, wooden boxes were provided, and we invited the children to leave their forest treasures with the growing collection of natural materials following each forest visit. Soon we had abundant pinecones, grasses, rocks and sticks of all shapes and sizes.

Creating Day

The re-proposing of the interests that the children had demonstrated in the forest provided an opportunity for the creation of art installations reflecting our connection with the forest. The Early Years Centre classes collaborated with some Grade 11 students, who documented the process with technology, including stop motion video of two installations, a slide show of a photo compilation and a film.



Password: ArtsFest

Key Points of Interest

In the forest, we observed that some key points of interest emerged. The children engaged in wrapping, threading, creating designs/structures and noticing details in different ways. The invitations to revisit these themes in a different context back at school provided the children with opportunities to build on their ideas and create deeper shared understandings. There was a sense of synergy as the group collectively worked toward larger creative goals connected to our group identity.


Celebrating our Work and Identity with Families

After the Creating Days, the children were highly motivated to share about their experiences. We invited families to a special evening of forest inspired installations as well as a walking visit to our forest space. The classes prepared delicious snacks including guacamole, homemade bread, fruit kebabs and more. We noticed a pride and commitment to describing the project and the ways the art and forest were present throughout the Early Years Centre.  The children eagerly showed their families around our shared spaces and it was a beautiful evening of shared connection built around the children’s work and our identity as a community.


Text by Andrea Mills

Photos by Rebecca Smith, The Early Years Centre team and ICS Grade 11 students

Videos by ICS Grade 11 students

October 29, 2014
by Heidi Harman

Fostering Children’s Passions: Setting Up A Restaurant

After observing the children engaging in ‘restaurant role play‘ over a period of a few weeks, it was clear that this was yet another wonderful opportunity to encourage and foster their interest and embark on a class inquiry into restaurants. Following some whole class discussions we decided to plan and set up our own ‘real‘ restaurant. There was much interest in how restaurants function and what would need to be done to set one up. We began our planning by talking about and making a list of what was required and the many jobs to be done before we could open it to customers. Here are some of our suggestions, proposals and independent actions:

Christopher drew a picture of a sunflower to decorate a dining table.

Wille made a drinks menu and said that we needed lots of pictures of food to show what was in the restaurant.

Jeremy thought we should hang up balloons and have policemen standing at the doors in case there were any naughty people.

Pippa wanted to make golden stars as decorations, which would hang down on string. Lily thought that this sounded like a good idea and said she would add paper hearts onto the string, while Nicky thought that red paper circles should also be added.

Thomas said that it was important to have a book area for the young children while they wait for the older children to finish eating.

Before we set to work on our planned tasks, we talked about who we should invite to our restaurant. It was decided to send invitations to our friends in EY2RR first of all and then we would invite our families for the second opening of the restaurant. We wrote our invitations and personally delivered the them to our friends, who seemed really excited about coming to our restaurant.

We spent the next few days hanging up the decorations we had made and completing our preparation work. Then we visited the local supermarket to buy the food, plates, cups and cutlery. We were very lucky, as Pippa had taken action and brought in many of these items from her home for us. Our visit to the supermarket was a success and we bought every item on our shopping list.


Choosing flowers to decorate our dining tables.


Selecting fruit to serve at the restaurant.

The day of the restaurant opening finally arrived and we were all so excited. Thomas began the morning with a surprise for us all; he had spent the previous evening making a colourful and extremely long paper chain to hang up as an additional decorative feature. He had also made some blue paper shapes to hang on string. We were all grateful to Thomas and pleased that he took the initiative and the time to do this for us all. Now it was time to prepare the food before the restaurant opened at 9:45. Once that was done, we trimmed and arranged our cut flowers for each dining table. Our last job was to set the tables beautifully. We ensured each place setting had a hand-made placemat, which was decorated with drawings of different foods and drinks, and we also laid the crockery and cutlery neatly on the table. Then we placed cut-out drawings of different foods as a final adornment to each dining table.


Preparing the fruit.


Preparing the cheese and crackers.


Setting the dining tables.

The waiters were ready with their clipboards and note pads and the chefs were ready in the kitchen. We just had to wait for our guests to arrive.

At 9:45 our friends arrived at the restaurant. We handed them menus to peruse before seating them at their tables. Once they were seated, the waiters came to take their orders and the restaurant suddenly became very busy. The waiters were giving the orders to the chefs, who quickly prepared the plates and handed them to the waiters for service. The diners seemed very satisfied with their meals and continued to order quite a lot of food. Once everyone was full and satiated, it was time for our guests to pay for their meals. Thankfully our friends had brought (hand-made paper) money with them to pay with at the cash register.


Taking food orders and serving the meals.


Our busy restaurant.

Once our customers had left and we had cleared the tables, we took a moment to reflect on the huge success of our restaurant. We agreed that we had collaborated and worked together extremely well with the planning and the final implementation of our restaurant. There was much passion and fascination throughout this inquiry, and the children clearly enjoyed learning more about the workings of a restaurant. In our everyday lives we delight in being the diners in restaurants and it was interesting to compare the differences in roles between organising and working in a restaurant and enjoying the leisure time of a diner. Examining these different roles led to some interesting questions related to why we have restaurants.

Our restaurant success was repeated a week later when our families came to visit. This inquiry ties in perfectly with our current unit, Who We Are, which has a focus on how our senses help us to learn.


The restaurant is open to our families.


January 14, 2014
by emmahorsey

The Importance of Slowing Down and Self-Directed Play

Welcome back and a Happy New Year to all. Everyone looks so well and rested after three weeks of winter break. Some are a little jet lagged (as expected) but as I spend time in classrooms and chat to staff, children and parents in the hallways, I notice people are feeling refreshed and happy after enjoying much needed time relaxing and spending holidays with loved ones.


Photo by Rebecca Smith


I myself soaked up every minute spent with family and friends during the holiday, particularly with my 20 month old son. We really enjoyed the opportunity to slow down a little and enjoy simple things. Taking time to experiment with and smell various plants in the garden kitchen, hours spent playing in the sand and water at the beach. As I began to think about the year ahead, the busyness it will inevitably bring,  this idea of slowing down, appreciating the simple things is appealing and the desire to hang onto this relaxed feeling is very strong.


Photo by Emma Horsey


I came across this article recently, which I found thought provoking.


As a parent, questions I have recently asked myself and would encourage you to also consider are:


Significant questions in a world where children more often have schedules as busy as most adults.

November 14, 2013
by Rebecca Smith

A Community Event: A Forest Lantern Walk

P1110424In 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.

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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.

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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.

Watch a short video of the event below:

Password is: Lantern Walk

Lantern Walk from ICS Early Years on Vimeo.


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.


 Photos by Rebecca Smith (ICS EY Teacher)

June 26, 2013
by emmahorsey

Reflections of Our Year and Looking Forward

When we reflect on the achievements this year, there is much to celebrate! The learning communities of the Early Years have shared a wonderful year of learning and growing.  Through many purposefully planned and recognized incidental learning experiences teachers, students and families together have shared in a tremendously successful year.  We have been pleased to launch the Early Years blog you are reading now, to share our learning and vision with families and those interested. We believe this has played a role in helping us achieve our goal to strengthen community and communication.

There is also much excitement about the year to come. With Kindergarten joining the Early Years team and our Early Years 1 classes located at the main campus in Zumikon, we look forward to many wonderful opportunities. Recently during an EY1 transition morning in the EY2 classrooms, we had an insight into the hugely beneficial cross-aged learning opportunities that we know all being on the one campus next year will promote.

During this morning many of the children of EY2 took on the role of leader to share their knowledge and experience of being ‘at the big school’ with the children of EY1. The EY1 children were risk takers and inquirers as they sought to find out more about their new environment and all that EY2 has in store for them.

We were also pleased to host a coffee morning for families with children enrolled in the Early Years during 2013/2014 school year. The students and staff of the current EY team went to great efforts to show their learning through beautifully presented documentation in the courtyard.  We welcome new families and returning families as we shared our philosophy and excitement for all that is to come next year.

P1040543 P1040535 I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members of our community; staff, children and parents, for their contribution to this successful year and wish you all a safe and enjoyable Summer break.

May 29, 2013
by Andrea Mills

A Trip to the Zoo, Using our Senses to Learn about the World

Spotting colourful animals using our sense of sight!

Spotting colourful animals using our sense of sight!

We have been exploring the five senses as part of our PYP unit of inquiry, ‘Who We Are’. We have been thinking about the Central Idea, “We use our bodies to learn about the world”.  As a learning community, we have been inquiring into how our senses help us to learn.  We wanted to take our ideas about how our senses and bodies work beyond the classroom and out into the real world of the Zurich Zoo (http://www.zoo.ch/.)

The children had a lot of background knowledge about the five senses before our trip.  Our inquiries have already led to many discoveries through learning experiences in the classroom like creating a Senses Courtyard Garden, Taste Testing, Sensory Explorations and much more. Many children had also been to the zoo previously with their families and friends. We wondered what new connections the children would make in the context of our unit.

Looking for animals at the zoo (sense of sight.)

Looking for animals at the zoo (sense of sight.)

Observing and listening at the Orangutan Enclosure.

Observing and listening at the Orangutan Enclosure.

Vera listening to the otters communicating with each other (sense of hearing.)

Vera listening to the otters communicating with each other (sense of hearing.)

A station to listen (sense of hearing) to the different roars of lions.

A station to listen (sense of hearing) to the different roars of lions.

Sense of touch was active when petting the baby goats.

Sense of touch was active when petting the baby goats.

The children were asked to consider how their senses helped them to learn about the animals and other experiences at the zoo. These are some of the children’s reflections:

Vera- “I did hear the penguin. I heard him in the water. Bloop Bloop Bloop. Like that”.

Hugo- “I heared (point to ear) the elephants before see them”.

Natalia- “I saw the zebras with my eyes. I smelled the poo of the goats but I heared them and I liked the way they felt, soft”.

Zara- “When I saw some elephants, I learned they looked funny, especially their bottoms. I used my eyes to learn that because I had to look at them”.

Noa- “I liked the orang-utans. (They used their) hands and sense of touch to hang. They taste and (were) eating tomatoes and grass from the tree.” 

Maya – “I liked it when we had ice cream and we were using (our) sense of taste.”

Tommaso – “I liked it when we pat the goat and gave them food. We used our sense of touch.”

Maxi V B – “I liked when we saw the monkeys. They were using their hands and feet. They were using sense of touch.”

We were lucky with a beautiful sunny day for our journey and the weather surely contributed to the already sensory- rich excursion. We were happy to share this experience with parent helpers, who actively engaged with the children by using  vocabulary connected to our Senses Unit and supporting their learning with rich conversations about the animals, playgrounds and other learning opportunities at the zoo.

We look forward to sharing ways we will build on the children’s understandings from this trip back in the classroom.

Elephants are loud and smelly!! (Senses of hearing and smell were active.)

Elephants are loud and smelly!! (Senses of hearing and smell were active.)

At the Hippo Enclosure we could touch to feel replicated skin samples.

At the Hippo Enclosure we could touch to feel replicated skin samples.


Enjoying the taste of an ice cream at the end of the day at the zoo.

Enjoying the taste of an ice cream at the end of the day at the zoo.

This experience was documented with photos in collaboration with my teaching partner Rebecca Smith.

May 22, 2013
by emmahorsey



At this time of the year it’s possible to hear parents and teachers conversing about readiness.  Readiness to move to Kindergarten, readiness for the next school year.

We know research is continually telling us that children learn through play, we also know that learning their ‘A, B, C’s’ is not considered essential for EY students to know in order to transition to the Kindergarten year successfully. So how do we know children are ready for the next stage in their learning journey? How can we, teachers and parents together, support children?

The following article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), written by Dr Dan Gartrell talks about relationships and a ‘healthy state of mind’.

A thought provoking read for parents and teachers!


April 23, 2013
by Fiona Affleck

Student-led Conferences and the Importance of Reflection

As a PYP school, we encourage students to become reflective learners as part of our curriculum and the IB learner profile:

“Students give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experience. They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations in order to support their learning and personal development”  International Baccalaureate Organisation

The student led conferences provided an opportunity for shared reflections. We are delighted that so many of you have participated. The teachers have all commented on how proud the children were to share their work and it was rewarding to observe the children’s developing language and enthusiasm towards their learning. We hope that by sharing their experiences and reflecting together with parents that the children’s understandings are deepened and become more meaningful.  We believe in the power of connecting learning and by sharing our portfolios in this way we are able to further connect with parents and families and strengthen experiences by revisiting the children’s ideas.  As the children get used to talking about their achievements like this they become interested, excited and motivated about their discoveries. This in turn helps them to take responsibility and become more independent in their learning. Thinking about our experiences together also allows children to verbalise their thoughts and further inspire their inquiries by sharing ideas with a wider audience.  Whilst the teachers have used the portfolios to document the children’s progress, some of the work in the portfolios was selected by the children and I know that some children were even able to justify these choices. The children feel extremely proud to be able to lead you through their portfolios and are still asking if they can look at their ‘special books’ and share them with their friends. We are looking forward to documenting the children’s learning for the remainder of the year.

April 8, 2013
by emmahorsey


During the last week of term all three EY2 classes demonstrated how they share learning within their communities.  Inviting parents in to see the evidence of learning that is taking place helps to communicate how and what  children are learning and assists in strengthening relationships as parents are involved in the  process.  After attending all 3 sessions I was struck by the sense of joy, participation and community, it was truly a delight to attend these occasions.  We hope that by holding morning such as these, inviting parents to be involved in the daily program and through the Blog and newsletters we continue to build these relationships!

March 8, 2013
by Andrea Mills

“Raising Your Spirited Child” Parenting Book Group

We hope you will join us for a spirited discussion of “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka on Thursday, 21st of March at 7pm in the Primary Library. The book offers strategies for parenting a child who is “more intense, sensitive, persistent, and energetic” and the information in the book is helpful to anyone who lives, works or spends a lot of time with children. There are still places available. Contact Andrea Mills amills@icsz.ch if you would like to join.

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