ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

October 10, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Block Play in Early Childhood Development

In our class blocks have been a hotspot of inspiration and learning. Playing with blocks keeps children very engaged and interested. Using blocks creates challenges and repeated use inspires children to be more creative and work on more complex structures.

Through block play children learn:


(Image sourced from: http://www.stevenscoop.org/news/article/index.aspx?linkid=60&moduleid=39) 


Ffion, Alex, Walker and Nicolas decided to draw a plan on how to use the blocks to build a train, plane and a castle. In order to put their plan into action, there was a lot of sharing of and building on ideas.

When building with blocks the children are not only using their imagination but are also able to describe and narrate their story.

Here are some of their descriptions:

“A very tall tower for all of us to live in and hide from the baddies.” Karson and Walker
“A scary dinosaur castle and the dinosaurs are looking for children to eat.” Edward
“A castle with wheels.” Alexander
“We can do a train and also a bridge.” Edward, Walker and Nicolas
“A garage for the trains.” Ffion, Anika, Edward




The range of math skills the children are exploring are: counting, measuring, comparing length and width, names of shapes, and how to combine some geometric shapes to make other shapes. They are even learning the basics of addition when they discover that two short blocks will be the same length as big block.


“Look Mrs. Rao, if I put two small blocks they are the same as the big one.” Karson

“Two small rectangle blocks are the same as the big rectangle one.” Walker


“We have 13 blocks and you have more.” Edward.

“I am taller than this tower.” Zane
“I am taller than the tower, but shorter than Zane.” Amy
“I am shorter than the tower. I cannot see Zane.” Annabel


“Thank you for sharing the blocks with us.” Nicolas


Children experiment with science concepts such as forces, when they learn how to balance the blocks to avoid their constructions from falling.


They learn the use of simple machines such as ramps and slides through their buildings.

Here the children are experimenting to discover:

How many blocks until it topples over?

What can we do to make it balance?

What will slide down easily and what will not move when we put it on the ramp?


Block play encourages healthy social development among children. When groups of children play with blocks together, they learn how to share, cooperate and build on each others ideas.

October 3, 2013
by Heidi Harman

Supporting students’ personal inquiries and curiosity


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.


June 20, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Exploring our Sense of Touch

Unit of Inquiry Who We Are: ‘We use our bodies to learn about the world’.

The children in EY2 Red have been exploring touching different materials and objects in the classroom, school and at Waldkinder.

One morning when the children came to school, they found various provocations – trays with different material like soil, bubble wrap, hay, plastic chains, playdoh, rocks, cotton, bark of a tree, and a blind fold. IMG_8017
The children showed they were good communicators when they discussed with their friends what they observed and how the objects felt.IMG_8022 IMG_8025

After observing (Sense of sight) and exploring the objects (Sense of touch) with her friends, Morgan came up to me and said “Mrs. Rao, can we touch and feel things with our feet too. Maybe we could try it? Could we use the blind fold?” A few other children joined in this conversation:
Ana: “We could try this new experiment”.
James: “Mrs. Rao can hold us so we do not fall and hurt ourselves.”
Lily: “I do not think we can feel with our feet like our hands”.
Vincent: “We have skin in our body and I know we can feel even in our feet”.
Mariana M: “When we get an ouchi in our body we can feel it because it hurts”.

This activity promotes exploration, investigation and language for thinking.IMG_7499IMG_7478

We encouraged the children to feel the objects with their feet and talk about what they thought they were stepping on and how it felt:
Vincent: “It feels hard and pokey is it the chains we play with for measuring things”
Mariana E. “It feels soft: It is what we used for our winter trees.”
Oliver: “It feels ticklish; it is hay we used it to make the little pigs house.”
Lenny: “It feels little soft and hard. It is playdoh.”
Gabby: “It is the soil we used for planting our bean plants”.
Vinicius: “It is bubbly; I like to pop it”.IMG_7464IMG_7431

The children enjoyed this experience through play. They were able not only to identify the objects, but could also connect them to the time they had used the objects in class. Through this activity the children realized that one could feel an object not only with one’s hands but also with the feet and other parts of the body.IMG_7722
The five senses lend themselves to science activities that require children to make observations with their eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Further more, they are able to communicate their observations (hot/cold, prickly/soft/sticky, etc.) to others.

June 5, 2013
by Rebecca Smith

Experimenting with our Sense of Smell

Sense of Smell

The children in EY2 Yellow have been exploring how their sense of smell can be active in play and their daily lives. (Who We Are Unit of Inquiry: We use our bodies to learn about the world’.) We gathered herbs from the ICS Garden and from our very own Sensory Garden in our courtyard area. We used mortar and pestles to grind and to combine these fresh ingredients together. We discovered that by mixing different leaves and herbs together we could make different smells.

Selecting fresh herbs to use in the mortar and pestle

Selecting fresh herbs to use in the mortar and pestle

Gathering herbs from our Sensory Garden in the courtyard to use for our smelling activity

Gathering herbs from our Sensory Garden in the courtyard to use for our smelling activity



 “(Are) you making a stinky salad?” Noa

“Mehr krauter (More herbs).” Moritz

“This soup is so yummy… Green is yummy soup!” Dayou

Fresh herbs collected from our Sensory Garden in our courtyard and the ICS Garden

Fresh herbs collected from our Sensory Garden in our courtyard and the ICS Garden

Selecting fresh herbs to use

Selecting fresh herbs to use

Smelling the different herbs

Smelling the different herbs

Selection of dry ingredients to use in the mortar and pestle.

Selection of dry ingredients to use in the mortar and pestle.

Working together to use the mortar and pestle to grind ingredients

Working together to use the mortar and pestle to grind ingredients

After experimenting with the fresh herbs the children were invited to use the same technique and equipment, but with a variety of dry ingredients. The smells that the children created with the dry ingredients were far more powerful and varied than the ones made from the fresh ingredients. Some of these scents reminded the children of familiar people, places or foods from their daily lives.

 “Ahhhhhh!” Maxi G

“Yummy?” Dayou

“Yes … It smells like some food. I know what it is … It smells so yummy. I forgot. No it’s a food … FRIED RICE!” Maxi G


(Password 4eyparents)

Exploring with our Sense of Smell from Rebecca Smith on Vimeo.

Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Exploring together

Exploring together

Sharing discoveries and experiences together

Sharing discoveries and experiences together

There was lots of discussion related to smelling and how we use it in our daily lives. It was impressive to observe the level of collaboration between the children as they worked with commitment and purpose throughout the time that the mortar and pestles were available.

Grinding ingredients together in the motar and pestle

Grinding ingredients together in the motar and pestle

Through seven figures come sensations for a man; there is hearing for sounds, sight for the visible, nostril for smell, tongue for pleasant or unpleasant tastes, mouth for speech, body for touch, passages outwards and inwards for hot or cold breath. Through these come knowledge or lack of it.


June 2, 2013
by Heidi Harman

Learning About Mathematics and Science Through Cooking


Cooking is always a popular learning experience for our Early Years students. Not only is it a fun activity where we get to eat and enjoy what we have made, but it is also a wonderful way to learn some mathematical and scientific concepts and skills.



As we read the recipe together, we do a lot of counting out loud. We count how many people we are cooking for, how many items are on our list of ingredients and how many spoons, cups etc. of each item we need. The children are also involved in measuring out the ingredients., whether it be spooning them out or placing them on the weighing scales. We use mathematical language, such as ‘more‘ and ‘less‘, which when used in context, helps the children gain a better understanding of these terms.


Each cooking lesson is like a science experiment. Solids sometimes become liquid if we heat them or mix them with other ingredients and vice versa. We also like to make predictions as to what we think may happen when we add or combine ingredients. We experiment and learn together. Some of our experiments work out and taste better than others, but the whole cooking experience is usually a happy one where everyone is involved.

Participating in these real life maths and science experiences helps the children to learn in a meaningful way.


May 27, 2013
by Rebecca Smith

A Provocation for Exploring Our Senses

How Do We Use Our Senses in Play?


Upon arriving to the classroom one morning the children were presented with a provocation;

A tray filled with empty glass jars, a jug of water, coloured food dyes and metal spoons

What should we do with this?

Can I pour water in?

Whaooaa …. Look!!! Whoosshhh!!

More, more, more … now it’s your turn (to pour.)

The children began by pouring water from the jug into the jars. It was exciting to change the amount of water in each jar, they observed the rise of the water levels with their sense of sight. The children took turns to pour more and more water into each jar. When adding water to the jars, the sense of hearing was active as we listened to the water gurgle as it was poured in, mix and drops splash out.

P1030112P1030149Next we added some coloured food dye to the water in the jars. With our sense of sight we watched the drops of the coloured liquid mix and swirl to slowly spread through all of the water in each jar. The children used the metal spoons to stir the water.

The children concentrated intently, spending much time and effort to transfer the water, teaspoon by teaspoon, between the jars. This action required that the children’s sense of sight and sense of touch to work in combination together. The children observed the changing colours as they added and mixed in water from the different jars. Observing the changes in the colours and level of the water required the use of the sense of sight.P1030125P1030154

The children used their sense of hearing when stirring and tapping the jars with the metal spoons. We discovered that we could make music together by knocking the jars as they each made a different.

Throughout the play episode the teachers asked the children to identify which senses they were using.

Click this link to view a short movie of us in action exploring and experimenting by using our senses with these materials.

Password: 4eyparents



May 24, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Life Cycle of a Frog

Exploring and learning about life cycles through observation and illustration is important for children to help them respect and care for the living things around them.
Inquiring into life cycles within a context that children will understand and recognize is best done by observing and discussing the life cycles of flowers, butterflies, frogs and chickens. It allows children to understand that with growth there is change.
We in EY2 Red are observing the life cycle of a frog. IMG_6378
Before we brought the tadpoles to class we had a class discussion about frog eggs, tadpoles and frogs. The children shared their thinking and personal connections about these:
• I have never seen a frog egg or a baby frog.
• I have seen big black frogs in my grandma’s garden.
• When we are quiet we can hear the frogs singing in the pond.
We then followed up by reading the book “Oscar and the frog” and a few books about the life cycle of frogs, to deepen and challenge the children’s thinking and provoke more discussion.
We were lucky to find tadpoles in our school pond. We scooped out a bucket full of tadpoles with water from the pond and brought it to our class. Before we moved them into the tank we put some rocks, weeds and pond plants. IMG_6389IMG_6390

It was wonderful to see the excitement on the face of the children!
“Come and see it looks like a fish and swims like a fish too”.
“I wonder if they have eyes (we know that worms do not have eyes)”
“I like to see his tail wiggle. The tail is a little bit bushy”.
The children come to school every day excited to see if the tadpoles have grown. We are waiting to see the back and front legs to appear, facts discovered during the children’s research.IMG_6448 IMG_6547
They continue to observe and discuss the changes whilst referencing the books available to them. The children have shared their learning and theories with their Grade 3 reading buddies and some Grade 5 students visiting our class. IMG_6686 IMG_6841
This experience has provided opportunities for language development (learning new vocabulary) maths (numbers, size) and science (life cycle).
If we want children to respect the natural environment, we have to give them opportunities to connect and experience it.

May 15, 2013
by Fiona Affleck

Planting sunflowers and appreciating nature

As part of our year long unit about how the world works we have been inquiring into the different seasons and how different forms of life are affected. We noticed that buds had started to form on the trees and that flowers were beginning to grow in the garden. Many of the children became fascinated by the changes they could see in our environment and we thought that this was the perfect opportunity to foster this appreciation for beauty in nature. Miss Suzy helped us to  recreate blossom on our classroom tree and we each planted our own sunflower seeds and alphalfa sprouts.  By doing this we were able to recreate aspects of nature and bring the outdoors into the classroom for the children to experience. Some children helped to plant bulbs and seeds in the garden which we are now observing as they grow. The children felt a sense of responsibility whilst planting the seeds which showed in their enthusiasm and engagement with the activity. By planting the seeds and watching them grow the children developed a respect for nature and an understanding that living things need to be cared for. Some children guessed that we need to provide sunlight and water for the plants to grow and this inspired them to paint a big sun and some rain to hang above the plants.  The children have thoroughly enjoyed watching the seeds grow and checking on them each day to observe the changes.

May 7, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Inspiring Interest in Growing Plants

Throughout the year, as part of our inquiry into the ways seasons affect life, we have been observing weather based changes. We thought springtime would be a perfect opportunity to explore plants in the classroom. We hope that involving children in growing plants provides a chance to experience the lifecycle process as well as develop a beginning understanding of where food comes from.

As a provocation, the teacher put out a bowl containing beans. The children shared their thoughts together as a class.  We had some interesting ideas including worm eggs, dinosaur eggs, bird eggs, sunflower seeds, nuts, but a few knew that these were beans that could be cooked and eaten.

We then read “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jasper’s Beanstalk”, books about beans seeds and growing to stir our imaginations further. We used the children’s observations to begin our experiment. They wondered if we planted a bean, would it grow as tall as the one in the story?  We planted the bean, not in the soil like Jasper, but in a zip lock bag so that we could watch it grow. The children were intrigued when they found out that the bean could grow without any soil nor in a pot.

We wet a tissue, placed a bean in it and put it into the bag. We hung it on the window to allow ample sunlight. After the weekend, the children were excited to see that the beans were bigger and within days, they noticed that some of the beans had roots, shoots and a leaf.

The children have been recording their observations  in plant growth journals, documenting the bean’s development as the experiment progresses. We also planted  beans in glass jars, marigolds and dahlias in compost to observe the different ways plants grow.

Children learn through hands- on experiences. For example,observing actual plant parts and exploring similarities and differences between plants such as colours, shapes, size and textures will enable the children to build their understanding of the plant lifecyle.  They will also observe the effects environmental elements like  light, water and temperature have on the growing process.

Soon we will transfer the bean plants into soil. Then we will be able to see how tall they grow. We are excited about the many maths opportunities as well. We will measure the plants, count the leaves and observe the changes that happen. At some point in time, the children will take the plants home to share learning with their families.

These experiences support the children in building the knowledge of the world around them, raising their sense of inquiry. With their drawings and presentations, they learn to communicate their findings to others. They also listen to other children and realize that others too have different points of view. And they learn to care about the plants.

I am looking forward to sharing more about these exciting learning experiences.

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