ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

June 1, 2015
by Andrea Mills
0 comments

Empowering Students as Researchers

EY1 enjoys a weekly collaboration with some students in Grade 7. Sometimes the older students read books to the younger children. Other times, the students collaborate on learning experiences including construction, clay and gardening. They have also helped us to maintain our outdoor spaces with community service work like sweeping and cleaning.

As one might imagine, there are many benefits to mixed age groups. The older students often embrace a leadership role and the Early Years children enjoy the special relationships that exists with those who, though not adults, possess some literacy and other skills that they often seek out from teachers and other adults in classroom life. This weekly contact also builds a caring community with a sense of connection beyond grade levels.

gr 7 light 2Grade 7 and Early Years students collaboratively exploring color, texture, shape and design

As an IB school, we are consistently asking students to be inquirers and researchers. We value child-initiated questions and encourage students to embrace a sense of curiosity about the world. We teachers are always seeking ways to hone our own research skills in the context of student learning. In early childhood, this often means challenging ourselves to be attentive listeners, keen observers and competent analysers. Children have become accustomed to educators, clipboard in hand, recording the dialogue, facial expressions and social interactions that happen during play and other learning experiences. Children learn best and make sense of the world in contexts that make sense to them.  Naturally, documentation of play narratives is an important part of our research into what and how our students are building understandings.

As part of our collaboration, we proposed that the Grade 7 students might join us as researchers in documentation. On this particular morning, the class was spending time in the Atelier of Light, exploring the color blue through light, texture and shape. Armed with the research tools of notebook, pencil and a commitment to observing and listening, the older children eagerly agreed to spend a morning recording their observations the EY1 children.

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Notes taken by Grade 7 student: 

Castle, pirate ship. Akivia likes knights and castles etc. Jake likes pirates. Bottle caps = stars. Paper = sky/water. Paper and bottle caps = shooting star. A house. Rocket ship. They are building a castle and they add some details to the castle. Some of the kids are putting shiny things on the light surface.

The students took their role seriously and carefully took down notes and observations about the children’s play and encounters with materials. We noted that some students naturally took on the role of documenter while others supported the children’s work. We were impressed with the commitment the older students demonstrated to finding out about the play narratives and explorations. Their observations included details about materials children chose, ways they used resources as well as interpretations of theories.

This collaboration is an example of one way we actively seek to build a culture of research in our learning community. As the teachers and older students inquired about and documented the younger children’s theories, the EY1 children learn that their ideas are taken seriously. Play is the powerful work of childhood and our message is that theories are worth revisiting and expanding. We found the younger students were particularly motivated to articulate about their learning during this collaboration, possibly because they found the Grade 7 students’ interest very motivating.

The social context of learning has a profound impact on the way children construct understandings. In our school community we are committed to creating an environment where relationships are central to learning. By empowering the grade seven students to take an active research role in the Early Years class, they embraced a shared sense of ownership of the important play/work that happens in the classroom.

Photographs: Rebecca Smith

Text: Andrea Mills

March 17, 2015
by Heidi Harman
4 Comments

Listening to Children’s Theories and Ideas About Our World

How do you know the wind is there?

Frequently perceptible, but often invisible, the wind can be a fascinating weather phenomena. Its mysterious nature can bring the languages of science and imagination together. When thinking about the question, ‘How do you know the wind is there?‘, the children‘s voices and illustrations were inspirational. They motivated us to explore the science of wind while relishing in the magical fantasy of it.

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We read many fictional books about the wind. A favourite was ‘Millicent and the Wind‘ by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Suzanne Duranceau. In the story the wind adopts a human persona and becomes Millicent‘s friend. We all particularly enjoyed the stories where the wind is portrayed as a living being with its own personality and thoughts, and some of the children felt motivated to create their own fantasy fictional tales and story pictures related to the wind. A strong thread, which ran through many of the children’s stories, was the power of the wind and its sometimes unforgiving nature.

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Pippa’s drawing to illustrate that the wind is there.

“Trees are windy. The leaves blow off. The tree is bending. See her hair like that? That’s the wind.“ – Pippa

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Jacob’s illustrations of how an artist may convey “twisty wind that goes round and round like a hurricane”.

To begin to learn about the power of wind, we have been experimenting and playing with wind in the classroom. We observed how the fast moving blades in electric fans generates wind and how we can produce a gentle current of air by blowing through straws. We had an amazing time trying to paint using wind from different sized fans, hairdryers and by blowing through straws. It was interesting to observe the children quickly learning how to gain a certain amount of control of these different types of wind forces either by pointing the equipment in the desired direction or by holding them closer or further away from the paint.  We also tested to see if any of these winds were strong enough to make certain objects fly across the room.

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Our experiments led to the question, “why is the strong wind from the hairdryer more successful than the strong wind from the fans when blowing the paints across the paper?“ Some theories included:

“It‘s easier to hold the hairdryer close to the paint.“Thomas

“The hairdryer is stronger. I mean the hairdryer wind is stronger.“Jack

“It‘s smaller, that‘s why it‘s better.“Wille

We now have an anemometer, which we can use to measure the speed of wind. This may help us to discover whether the wind from our hairdryers is moving faster than that from our fans.

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While continuing to consider the question, ‘how do you know the wind is there?’, we decided to construct wind chimes to hang outside in our Early Years courtyard, so that we could look and listen to observe and hear whether there is a wind causing them to move and make different sounds. Everyone brought in various re-cycled materials from home to make our wind chimes. These objects were carefully selected for their beauty and/or interesting form or for their ability to make a sound when moving or knocking against another object. Our completed beautiful outdoor wind chimes, are a perfect way to help us know whether the wind is present.

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After reading information books about the wind and the various forms it can take, we researched some more on the internet, and we particularly enjoyed listening to the range of sounds different types of wind make. We focused on the noises created by a strong wind, a hurricane, a gentle breeze and a tornado. While listening to these different sounds, we each had ideas about how the winds look and make us feel. Letizia said that, “The hurricane sounds like a dragon. It sounds like a dragon screaming. The tornado is a bit like a train.” Pippa liked the gentle breeze as, “It makes me rest.” As we concentrated on each wind noise, we made marks or drew images on paper, which we felt represented each sound. Some drawings were our ideas of how an artist may convey wind, while others were illustrations inspired by the sounds. Afterwards we each put our completed drawings together and made them into individual wind books, which depict our unique interpretations of the different wind sounds.

Building on the children’s interest and reflections about wind sounds, we took it a step further during a music session. The proposal was to create wind stories with musical instruments. Our hope was that the musical materials would provide another way for the children to express their understandings. A group was invited to explore different types of sound makers and share ideas about how the wind might tell a story. The children shared and developed their ideas with each other.

Ellen chose scarves and shared, “I’m doing ballet wind.” She then elaborated by adding, “The day the wind was really strong she pushed us away.”

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 Sharing a story about “ballet wind”.

Jacob chose a black scarf and used it to represent “a scary black wind.” He then blew into a tube and suggested this sound could be the “hurricane roaring like a dragon.”

Lily chose some triangles and told us, “That’s a gentle breeze. It’s only winding.”

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                    Exploring sounds to create musical wind stories. 

When discussing the different wind noises, opinions were mixed as to which was our favourite sound. Some preferred the calmness of the gentle breeze rustling the leaves, while others loved the excitement of the roaring tornado or the screeching hurricane. We now have a graph in our classroom to document and display which wind noise we each like the best. We have recorded each wind sound on separate recording devices, so that visitors to our room can also listen and then add their preference to our graph.

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Jacob chose to explore the science of tornado winds further and read some information books about tornadoes and how they are formed. Jacob then drew his own picture representing how a tornado is formed. After discovering that both hot air and cold air are involved when a tornado forms, Jacob wondered whether he could cause his picture to turn into a tornado! To test his theory, Jacob placed part of his drawing on the warm light of the overhead projector (in the ‘hot air’) and left the remaining part off (in the ‘cold air‘). “Look! My picture will turn into a tornado!“ Jacob cried.

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Our class inquiry into both the science and mystery of wind is still on-going. We have observed the children continuing to choose to look at wind-related books and including the idea of wind in their imaginative role play games. Unexpectedly the concept of feelings was explored fairly deeply during this project. This was particularly evident when we considered the different emotions wind sounds can evoke and when the wind assumed a character in our fictional stories.

Text and photographs by Heidi Harman and Andrea Mills.

November 13, 2014
by aislingabroderick
0 comments

The Importance of Splashing

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“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play”

Heraclitus

To learn through laughter, to explore without expiration and to follow ones curiosity to wherever it may lead, these are just some facets to the methods of teaching young children through play. When a group of EY1 children spend a happy hour splashing in puddles, an observer may see it just as a play scene, however if one looked a little closer at this scene there is much learning and exploring taking place.

In EY1 the children spend every Thursday morning in the forest. On a rather rainy day when enthusiasm for rain clothes was at a particular low the children looked a little incredulous at the thought of going outside in torrents of rain we set off as a group of brightly coloured waterproofed children to the forest. The children soon began to warm to the experience of rain sliding off their jackets and the sound as it dripped onto their hats. “Its tickling my nose” said Fred, “I can drink the rain, it tastes good” Jake announced. Encouraged by their teachers, the children jumped in the puddles. For some this was a new experience and they were initially hesitant, but watching their friends they were eventually compelled to join in. They splish-splashed and waded in their wellies through the water. They felt the water on their hands and faces. Shrieking with delight they formed groups, and jumped together, curious to see if the splash would be bigger “We can make a big splash with all of us “ said Mouza. Smelling the puddles the children reflected the water smelt like old rain, flowers and mud “It smells like flowers but muddy flowers” said Lola. They made wet rain angels in the grass and delighted in the patterns they left behind “Mine is a rain horse” Nikolai decided. We then waded into stream where they felt the resistance of the running water as they tried to make their way upstream, testing how waterproof their boots really were. “I feel the water when I walk, its not letting me go” Khalid cried out. Our group of tired children made their way back to school chattering about the size of the splashes they made and the sensation of the water against their bodies.

The children in EY1 are currently inquiring into how we use our bodies and senses to learn about the world  (Who We Are Unit of Inquiry). In this learning experience the children were discovering how water felt and smelled and were building this understanding through the work of play.

October 29, 2014
by Heidi Harman
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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.

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Choosing flowers to decorate our dining tables.

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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.

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Preparing the fruit.

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Preparing the cheese and crackers.

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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.

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Taking food orders and serving the meals.

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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.

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The restaurant is open to our families.

 

May 6, 2014
by aislingabroderick
1 Comment

The Underground Hero

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“Superworm is super-long,
Superworm is super-strong.
Watch him wiggle! See him squirm
Hip, hip hooray for SUPERWORM!”

Superworm, by Julia Donaldson

One crisp Spring morning as the children were putting on their outdoor clothes to go and do some weeding in the communal EY2 garden patch we let them know that instead of weeding we would be collecting underground superheroes for our outside plant pots as the flowers were looking as if they needed saving.
The children’s attention was immediately piqued and as their interest grew questions flew as to whether it would be Spiderman or Batman who was going to swoop in and rescue our flailing flowers.
We explained that the superheroes that we would be collecting would be worms. These champions spend all their time busily underground tunneling through the earth making channels for water and roots to pass through as well as cleaning the soil.
Off we set with our magnifying jars to the garden. There the children spent a blissful time digging through the earth with their trowels and their hands putting their faces to the soil to see if they could get a closer look for the elusive worms. As they dug deeper into the earth and their excitement heightened the worms obliged and wriggled one by one to the surface to a chorus of delight. Each one was examined in the magnifying jars. “They have no mouths” said Amanda. “Where are their eyes, how do they see in the dark?” asked Drew. The children had so many questions. “This one is the biggest superhero, he will make the flowers really good” said William. “It’s their poo that cleans the soil” said a very well informed Joao.
The children collected many worms popping each into their magnifying jars whilst marveling and comparing the diversity of each worm that squirmed and twisted out of the ground. “How many worms are there in the ground?” asked Sophie. “I have a whole family of worms all different shapes and sizes” said Lilly.
Walking back to the school the children cautiously carried their superheroes, they eagerly dug holes in their outside flower pots and amid some gasps they dropped the worms in the pots and covered them over in soil.
Our children have become captivated by worms and their super powers which has led us down a whole new path of inquiry. In a world where children are bombarded by plastic superheroes with unrealistic powers it is a reminder to us all that one of the greatest natural superheroes is constantly wriggling beneath our feet.

March 31, 2014
by Rebecca Smith
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Early Years Mud Kitchen

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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.

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“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

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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.

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Herbs planted by EY2 FA.

Photographs by Rebecca Smith (EY Teacher ICS)

March 27, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao
0 comments

Child Initiated Inquiry: Building Bird Nests.

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 extended through 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.

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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.

Materials used:

  • 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.

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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.

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This child initiated inquiry helped in connecting the children with nature. This experience is part of our yearlong Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’.

 

March 17, 2014
by Heidi Harman
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A Class Inquiry into Dinosaurs and Fossils

When a child in our class (EY2HH) drew a picture of dinosaurs alongside some fossils, it sparked a new inquiry for us. As he showed his friends his drawing, some were curious about fossils and there was much interest in finding out more about them. We visited Ms. Judith in the library and she helped us to find non-fiction books about fossils (and dinosaurs).

We felt inspired to try to make our own fossils! We made some salt dough and pressed our small dinosaur/ animal/ insect figurines into the soft dough to make an imprint. We then baked the salt dough in the oven until it was hard like stone and the imprint looked like a fossil. We liked to trick visitors to our classroom into believing we had found real fossils while outside during one of our Waldkinder outdoor learning sessions!

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After doing some research and learning more about dinosaurs and how they once lived, we set up an area in our classroom to recreate dinosaur habitats.

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We thought carefully about which dinosaurs preferred to live together and which liked to be alone. We considered the various types of food the dinosaurs liked to eat and we used play dough to represent some of these foods.

We also used play dough to make dinosaur eggs, but these were too soft and kept getting squashed flat, so we discussed what other materials we could use to construct eggs, which were more life-like. We decided to use a sticky mixture of mud, salt, sand and water. We moulded the sticky mud mixture around our toy baby dinosaurs until they were completely hidden and then we let the ‘eggs‘ dry and become hard. We thought that these eggs looked quite realistic and after a few days we wanted our baby dinosaurs to hatch. Some eggs cracked open easily while others needed tools to help break them open.

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One of the children took action with her learning and continued with our inquiry at home. She bought a ‘real‘ dinosaur egg from the shops, placed it in water and, after a few days, the egg cracked and the dinosaur hatched out! We were kept updated with the egg‘s progress with photographs and the baby dinosaur was also brought to school once it had finally hatched.

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This personal inquiry has tied in perfectly with our year-long unit of inquiry, Sharing the Planet, where we are learning about animals, habitats, relationships, characteristics, need and interactions.

Photos by Heidi Harman

 

December 8, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao
0 comments

Exploring Water Beads

Children are naturally curious about their world. They wonder, question, discuss and make discoveries. We felt that water beads would be an ideal way to provide our little scientists with an opportunity for discovery.

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We began our experiment by placing a handful of small water beads into a large bowl. We then asked the children to predict what would happen if we added water to the bowl.

We had some interesting predictions.

Walker: “They will change colour.
Nicolas: “They will stay the same.”
Annabel: “They will get mashed up.”
Ffion: “It will sink.”
Karson: “They will just roll in the water.”

After a couple of hours the children noticed that the water level was decreasing as the size of the beads were increasing.

Edward: “I wonder what will happen to it tomorrow when we come back to school”.
Alexander: “They will explode.”
Wren: “No they will get bigger and bigger.”

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The next morning, we placed the beads on our table for the children to explore. It was interesting to listen to them describe how the beads felt to each other.

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These are some of their observations:

Noemie: “It feels squishy.”
Anika: “It feels soft.”
Wren: “I think it feels slimy.”
Nicolas: “It feels a little bit funny and gloopy.”

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Using mathematical language as they make patterns and discuss about the shape of the beads.

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Handling beads helps develop fine motor skills. Using pincers to pick up the beads helps develop hand eye coordination.

Water beads promote learning and development in a number of ways: from fine motor and sensory skills to science and maths.

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November 26, 2013
by Heidi Harman
0 comments

Creating Homes for Forest Animals…in the Classroom!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

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