ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

February 21, 2017
by Rebecca Smith
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Interpretations and Representations of Mushrooms and Fungi found at the Wald

The children visit the forest each week in our Waldkinder sessions. These encounters form the basis for building knowledge and making links to our How the World Works Unit of Inquiry. This is a yearlong unit in which we explore how ‘All living things go through a process of change’.

Through provocations, discussions and experiments we build theories and show our ideas connected to

  • Living things change over time.

  • There are factors that affect life cycles.

  • Ideas and explanations can be communicated in a variety of ways.

The children in EY2RS were fascinated with the mushrooms we found in the forest. The children had many wonderings, and we made plans to explore and learn more about mushrooms. Throughout our inquiry we worked as scientists by closely observing specimens in their natural habitat and a lab setting that we created in the classroom. We consulted many nonfiction books to research and find information to answer some of our questions. When growing our own mushrooms we used scientific and mathematical thinking to record, interpret and compare data. We were artists as we made observational drawings, visual and 3D representations of mushrooms using a range of materials. We were authors and performers when we told, retold and acted out stories about the environment and forest animals. We were architects, engineers and builders when we designed models of mushrooms using the wooden blocks and other construction materials.

Mathematical Thinking

Building experiences to create the forest storytelling light area, and prompts such as constructing 3D representations of mushrooms encouraged the children to explore and develop mathematical understandings. These included recognising that attributes of real objects can be compared and described. We practiced identifying, comparing and describing the attributes of real objects. While building the children compared the length of objects using non-standard units. The children were also encouraged to describe observations about objects in real-life situations.

When growing our own mushrooms the children were encouraged to recognise that information can be obtained in different ways. We collected data and represented this information in a variety of ways, including through pictographs and tally marks. The children described, sorted and labelled real objects by their attributes. These included real mushroom specimens, other objects found in the forest and 3D representations of mushrooms made from clay.

Observational Drawings of Mushrooms found in the forestYodai 

Scientific Thinking 

The children were encouraged to make meaning connected to the Living Things learning outcomes through a number of invitations;

Exploring in the forest during Waldkinder sessions using tools, such as magnifying glasses.

Closely observing specimens in the forest and a research setting to make observational drawings.

Ask questions, inquiring to find answers and devise theories.

By growing our own mushrooms the children were able to recognise and understand about the life cycles of a living thing. They were asked to document how living things change over time, while observing and describe how life cycles can be affected.

To watch the life cycle of the mushroom in real time we conducted an experiment to grow our own and documented the growth and changes over time. The children recognised that information can be obtained in different ways. We held group meetings to discuss our observations and about the ways we could record the data and made a system to show who would be in charge of watering the boxes each day. We created a chart to show this information. Each child made their own Mushroom Journal, which they worked on over the two week period to document, visually through drawings and with simple writing, showing the life cycle of the mushrooms.  

Language Skills

There were many occasions for the children to be readers and develop their reading skills. Opportunities such as listening to stories and reading books invited the children to explore and develop reading skills, such as understanding where one should start reading in printed text. They learned how to handle books, and show an understanding of how a book works, for example, the cover, beginning, directional movement and end.

In German sessions the children were invited to distinguish between pictures and written text. They again, explored how to handle books and revisit the different parts of books in German language. They were encouraged to locate and respond to aspects of interest in self- selected texts (pointing, examining pictures closely, commenting) and show curiosity and ask questions about pictures or text.

Through the learning experiences the children explored how people can express themselves in writing. Opportunities for drawing, identifying and labelling mushrooms encouraged skills such as using their own experience as a stimulus when drawing and “writing.” We asked the children to participate in shared writing sessions, where they were invited to observe the teacher’s writing and making suggestions.

The classroom learning experiences, materials and layout were designed to encourage the children to interact effectively with peers and adults. The children were expected to ask questions of others to learn more or to obtain simple information, to understand simple questions and to respond to these with actions or words. Through meetings and demonstrations the children practiced using gestures, actions, body language and/or words to communicate their needs and to express their ideas. Listening and responding to picture books was a daily choice in our class. The children were invited to share their perspectives by showing pleasure, and demonstrating their understanding through gestures, expression and/or words.  

The children would tell their own stories using words, gestures, and objects/ artefacts, for example, devising forest scene and forest animal stories in the light area, or with the puppets and natural materials. The children could use their mother tongue (with translation, if necessary) to express needs and explain ideas.

Arts Experiences

Throughout this Unit, the arts have been powerful symbolic languages for the children to express their developing ideas and theories. They built understandings by working with a diverse range of creative materials including drawing instruments, paints, clay, blocks, light/shadow table as well as felt and clay. Within the context of the Unit of Inquiry, the children have been supported with developing an understanding that the arts are a means of communication and expression.

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

As part of kindergarten’s first unit of inquiry, Who We Are, initial encounters between children and educators, as well as families, began with sharing information about ourselves, developing agreements and spending time together in the spaces of our learning community.

Through a transdisciplinary lens, we have embraced the arts as symbolic languages for children to be creative, collaborate with peers, build and demonstrate conceptual understandings as well as support unit and arts learning outcomes. The Who We Are central idea, Interactions influence our relationships, required thoughtful consideration of meaningful opportunities for children to engage with one another.

Dance, drama, music and visual arts have a long tradition of acting as outlets for personal, collective and historical narratives about different peoples in a broad social context. We felt that collaborative engagement in creative spaces had great potential to draw the kindergarten community together while supporting the concepts and lines of inquiry (People have a responsibility when interacting with others within communities, Connections with the wider community help us learn about each other, Reflection on experiences helps us to understand ourselves and others)  in this unit.

Kinesthetic Identity

Initial learning proposals focused on music and movement. Music representative of the diverse cultural experiences of the children was shared. It became clear that the group felt a strong connection to different types of music through their movements and experienced joy and connection by sharing space in a purposeful kinesthetic way. As an international community the children exchanged stories of how different musical styles were familiar to them. We invited families to share personally significant music as well as research about and listen together to rhythms relevant to the group’s global ties. Music became a way of knowing about each other and our experiences.

As a community we learned about one another’s movement preferences and then developed a word bank of collaboratively generated dance words.screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-09-37-12One parent–a professional ballerina–joined us to help explore the children’s words related to movement. Children demonstrated ways they like to move when alone as well as with friends. A shared movement space provided the opportunity to consider ways our physical interactions influence others. The children often imitated one another and demonstrated joy and respect for different dance styles. To further explore this thinking, wire was offered as another way to represent and build understanding about the diversity in movement preferences. As the children created sculptures reflecting movement preferences they consolidated thinking about the fluid, abstract movement words into a tactile visible creation.p2060798p2060792

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Playing in a Band

Building on the initial movement explorations, a group of children was particularly interested in the idea of creating a “band”. A shared understanding emerged that there were certain essential components that made a band work. The children engaged in dialogue about different roles and responsibilities.

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“If there’s only a singer or only instruments then there wouldn’t be all the things to make the sounds.” Nikita

“Like us three boys we could set up a band. It’s like lots of people singing together on the same team.” Aaron

“There’s music and if there’s somebody singing too and the people who is singing has to follow the direction of the music with their voices.” Isabella

“The boss [has a microphone]. He knows what to sing and the whole band can quickly play with him.” Kai

img_6499-2Through dialogue, drawings and interactions the children developed ideas about a band as a group where collaborations, rights and responsibilities were key. A group list of “items needed by a band”, which included but was not limited to: hair gel, cool vests, a drummer and a microphone, was compiled. From there, we aimed to create opportunities in dramatic play for the children to explore pretend band play as well as engage with various musical experiences.

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Building on the interest and success of these inquiries, the kindergarten community is currently in the planning stages for a “Design Studio”. Plans include transforming a dramatic play space into an area where children can create design plans and experiment with mixing fabrics, basic sewing and costume/ fashion design.

In the true spirit of the PYP as a framework for learning, the children’s interests and ideas are driving this inquiry in a truly transdisciplinary way, while at the same time supporting the broader conceptual understandings and learning outcomes rooted in the UOI as well as the arts.

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