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.
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 forest – Yodai
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.One 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.
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.
“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
Through 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.
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.
The children in Early Years 1 have a strong relationship with the nearby forest as we spend weekly time exploring there. This natural ever changing setting provides countless opportunities to develop and explore theories connected to our unit of inquiry’s central idea that The Earth’s natural cycles influence the activity of living things.
The Language of Photography
With the intention of inquiring into natural cycles and patterns of behaviour in living things, we took some time to observe the children’s self-initiated interests during forest explorations. One morning, it was proposed that the children use cameras to take photographs of whatever they found compelling. In this way, the language of photography became a tool for the children to demonstrate their interests by sharing what they were drawn to through the literal lens of the camera. It quickly became clear that trees were a strong source of fascination and possible entry point for this exploration.
(Photo by Felipe Early Years 1)
Back at the classroom, we met, shared the images the children had captured as well as the children’s ideas about the trees. One child remarked that, “It looks like the branches are talking to each other.” The children were engaged with this idea and we wondered together what the trees might say if they could indeed talk. As a team of educators, we found this a powerful and significant approach to making sense of their images of winter trees. In their poetic way, the children seemed to be giving a “voice” to the trees.
Emma: “He’s saying Daddy or Mommy or baby.”
Felipe: “Maybe it’s a storm.”
Neela: “Like he says his clothes are falling down like he’s so skinny and spiky because there’s no leaves and maybe he wants to take a bath.”
(Sharing ideas about the children’s tree photographs)
Through their words, the children expressed some discoveries about ways trees are affected by winter in our local context including leafless branches and windy storms. The children were given opportunities to explore their initial ideas with diverse materials and through multiple symbolic languages. We wanted to support the children with their exploration of the concept of causation and their wonderings around “Why is it like it is”?
The Language of Clay, Sculpture and Design
Typically, journeys to the forest include bringing back some natural treasures like branches, greenery, pinecones and acorns. Back in the classroom, we proposed these materials to the children together with clay. Some children chose to recreate the forest as they experienced it. Others represented the stream with clay and yarn. The nature of the work was highly collaborative with rich discussion and interaction. Amelie shared, “It’s the water when it’s moving.”We noticed that several children incorporated sound into their narrations. The children expressed their impressions of the tree sounds with the words “swish,” “bwaaaa,” “shhhhhhh” and others. Many used shivering body language indicating they had made a connection about the cold, windy weather and how it impacts them, supporting a developmentally appropriate understanding that we live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others.
“These are the tallest trees talking and they’re connected.” Jackson
Graphic Representations of Talking Trees
(Observing, thinking, drawing and narrating about “the talking trees.”)
The children’s initial theory about talking trees was both beautiful and significant. The reproposal of this idea through graphic representation provided a way for the children to build the understanding that in art people make choices to construct meaning about the world around them. As the children drew they narrated:
Emma: “This is a storm and the tree is falling down in the storm.”
Neela: “Like a little girl was walking down the street and she heard the crunchy things and then saw the tree and the bird and she loved it.”
Felipe: “It’s falling down like that one.”
Billy: “These are all the leaves. They’re twirling only at the bottom.”
Throughout all of the proposals, the children’s narrations, work (photographs, videos, sculpture) and previous ideas were presented back to them. During meeting times and before experiences with new materials, the children were given an opportunity to remember and reflect as teachers shared the work that had happened previously. In this way, the adults supported a deepening of thinking by acting as keepers of the children’s ideasand theories always supporting with extending connections and making learning more meaningful and relevant.
The Language of Sound
The children had already identified sound as an important component of the winter forest. It was proposed that we record some sounds together that might be significant for the children. We shared the recordings back at the classroom and the children shared their reactions:
Jackson: “It’s a crunch, crunch, crunch” (walking in snow).
Felipe: “I hear the river song.”
Leila: “You can hear the snow.”
The idea that the forest has sounds particular to a season represented another way of knowing and making sense for the children.
(Exploring the sounds of the stream in winter)
Consolidating Ideas through the Language of Dance and Movement
Throughout these experiences there seemed to be several threads that emerged for the children. The ideas of storms and wind were strongly represented in the children’s drawings, narrations and sculptures which may reflect the children’s own experiences with winter in Switzerland. Sounds of the winter forest, particularly the sound of snow, as well as the “voice” of the trees were other points of interest and exploration. It was proposed that the children might explore these ideas with dance and movement. With a particular focus on the children’s observations about sound as well as the “voice” they had given to the trees, we wondered together how the winter forest might move or dance.
Amelie: “We would have to be really high” (demonstrating with her arms and tippy toes).
Leila: “We would go fast.”
Ridley: “The snow might be quiet.”
(Using movement to represent understandings about the winter forest)
The children joyfully used their bodies to dance and move as they perceived the trees might with many stretching high, creating a storm by gracefully shaking the dancing ribbons and making blowing movements. Their discoveries about sound and movement to express creative ideas were pathways for the children to make sense and communicate understandings in a kinesthetic way. The children gave each other feedback when we viewed video footage of these experiences. One child commented that her friend “was storming very fast”.
The Arts as Symbolic Languages to Build Understandings
Throughout this inquiry the children used the arts as symbolic languages to build understandings about the natural cycle of the winter forest. The children’s strong relationship with the forest was key to supporting their theories about natural phenomena in a relevant way. As they were given opportunities to express ideas with clay, drawing, sound and dance, they were inquirers and their ideas evolved in a transdisciplinary manner.
Through listening, speaking and sharing their thoughts, observational skills developed. The children had a sense of agency as they were empowered to make choices about their work and interactions supporting the understanding that art has meaning as well as potential to support with making sense of ideas. The arts became a powerful vehicle to explore scientific concepts. The understanding that art has meaning as well as potential to support with making sense of ideas was very present in this exploration of natural phenomena. The theories, ideas and discoveries that came from the children will be explored further as we transition into spring supporting the children with developing an understanding that the earth’s natural cycles influence living things.
“We are – and we must be convinced of this – inside an ecosystem: our earthly journey is a journey we make along with the environment, nature, the universe. Our organism, our morality, our culture, our knowledge, our feelings are connected with the environment, with the universe, with the world. And here we can find the spider web of our life.”
– Loris Malaguzzi
This project was collaboratively supported by Andrea Mills, Early Years Atelierista, Aisling Broderick, EY1 Teacher, and Lisa Rosado Darham, EY1 Teaching Assistant
Unit Of Inquiry: How We Express Ourselves October – December 2015
Background: Children connected strongly with teacher sharing of experiences in Iceland. With the intention of building on this interest through the lens of our UOI How We Express Ourselves, various learning proposals were explored.
Returning to school after the break, we met for our morning meeting to share stories of the places we visited and adventures we had over the autumn holiday. Teachers modelled how to recount orally by using gestures, actions, body language and words to share an experience of visiting Iceland. We showed the children images of the dramatic landscape, and shared about a favourite experience, visiting an Icelandic Forest Kindergarten as part of a professional development experience (Images above: Iceland and(Víðivellir) Kaldársel Preschool, October 2015). The adventure included joining a group of young children on a journey across lava fields, foraging for berries and magical treasures in the moss undergrowth, as well as venturing down into dark caves and cracks formed by volcanic eruptions. These stories captivated and excited the children. From discussions, we realised that the children were very knowledgeable about volcanoes, and that they were interested to find out more about these powerful occurrences.
In order to take their initial interest forward, a small group visited the library. Ms. Judith showed us how to use the catalogue and numbers to find books on a particular topic. We checked out many nonfiction books about volcanoes and Iceland, which we were able to use for research. The metaphorical eruption of interest surrounding volcanoes quickly spread through EY2. Children from other class groups came into the Language Arts Atelier to share their knowledge, to read and research the books and ask questions. We also used technology to view short National Geographic documentaries. The children found the video clips of erupting volcanoes highly engaging and exciting.
Through our learning experiences we built a vocabulary list of keywords related to volcanoes. One keyword that we selected was ‘Lava’. We made a connection that lava has the same sounds as in our friend Lola’s name. As we continued our research we added important words to this list. In creating the word list the children have participated in modelled and shared writing experiences as well as observing teachers’ writing. The children experimented with symbols and letter writing to label diagrams, pictures and collage artworks. We talked and shared about our work to help other people to understand and enjoy them.
Through informal conversations, small group discussions, researching in nonfiction books and viewing of NationalGeographic videos, the teachers gathered data about the children’s prior knowledge.
Listening to Children’s Voices and Identifying Threads of Interests: Scientific Processes, Power and Sound
The children engaged in much dialogue and exchange throughout the research. As we listened to their ideas and thinking it became clear that there were several threads of emerging interest that we wanted to explore further.
Much of the resource material we explored from the library and online included scientific phenomena as well as images of scientists investigating and making discoveries. As the dialogues below illustrate, the children were intrigued by scientific processes as well as the role/job of scientists.
Maxi: “The five people are going to put the fire out. Aaron knows they come if they stand at the volcano around the crack it and fall into the lava. Why does the lava out up?”
Izumi: “Maybe the pressure?”
Aaron: “It wants to get out of the storm and it explodes if you put water in a volcano it will then even more bad. See, I told you they can live in volcanoes (scientists at volcano footage).”
Mouza: “The volcano is erupting.”
Maxi: “You have to (be away from) the rocks to be safe.”
Finlay: “Volcanologists are doing research for volcanoes.”
Mathilda: “How does the lava come up to the volcano?”
In order to support the children’s thoughts around ways scientific theories can be developed as well as expand their thinking about scientific wonderings in real life contexts with scientists, we took several steps. First, we added a science lab to the dramatic play area with magnifying glasses, samples of volcanic rock, crystals and more. Interested children visited the ICS High School science lab to learn more. We also invited Professor Dr. Orlando Scharer to visit the EYC and share about his job and his laboratory as well as answer the children’s questions. In response to questions about how to be a scientist he shared that he felt it is very important to have curiosity about how things work and to be open to new ideas.
Another thread that came through strongly in the children’s narrations was the allure of what they perceived as “powerful.“ The children shared these impressions:
Owen: “These are the bullets that shoot out the volcanoes the white thing is the explosion.”
Jack: “The hottest thing in the whole wide world.”
Paolo: “This is lava that shoots up from the volcano and it’s really fast.” (translated from Italian)
Jack: “Very fiery!”
As we listened to the children discussing their ideas, words connected to the bigger ideas of power became important to them.
We developed a new list of vocabulary words which we heard repeatedly from the children.
The Atelier of Visual Arts: In Dialogue with Colour
It was felt there was a possibility to add another layer to the children’s thinking about power in ways that stretched and added to their scientific interest in volcanoes. The aim was to propose ways for the children to creatively express and build on their identified ideas about “power” through multiple symbolic languages/mediums.
Mixing Powerful Colours
With the goal ofbuilding on the children’s interest in and observations of the stunning colours of lava in books and video clips we planned for a variety of experiences:
One proposal in The Atelier of Visual Artswas an exploration of “powerful colours”. The children were invited to consider if colours might convey properties of power. We set up a paint mixing experiment with opportunities to create new colours. The children used new vocabulary, well-developed language as well as scientific thinking in these interactions. There was a high level of peer engagement as the children co-constructed group understandings of what properties constitute a powerful colour.
Some reflections made by the children:
Billy: “I made yellow, yellow, because of the sun ‘ton ilio’ the sun.” (translated from Greek)
Nikolai: “Maybe red, because red is like a volcano. Turn into light red. I did do it really fast. ‘Captain America Red’.”
Kasper: “Red because the red can show lava. It is powerful, it be in lava. First use red, then pink, then yellow, next white. Now this makes ‘dark weird pink’. Coconut milk drink. Could we add this white. Yummy and tasty coconut milk drink. It is super good and super tasty.”
Tuur: “‘Strong’ colour because it’s very dark. I started with orange. I could open them. I add red. I did some yellow cause it makes orange. Add, I think it is pinky red. What if I do a little bit of pink?”
Taking it Further: Scientific Thinking and Experimentation with Potion Mixing in the Classroom Laboratory
We wanted to continue to build on the children’s interest in scientific processes and also provide opportunities to test out their theories about colour mixing in another context with an added layer. With this aim in mind, the classroom was reproposed as a laboratory to include potion making. Professor Orlando brought lab supplies like test tubes which we included in the lab space as well as glass jars, food colouring, eye droppers, water, measuring containers and clipboards with writing materials. The children were invited to collaboratively create colourful potions. This became a popular work space in The Atelier of Visual Art with frequent visits. We observed much curiosity, collaboration and creative thinking in the development of various potions. The children were innovative with their use of language in naming the potions.
Exploration with Wire, Sculpture and 3 Dimensional Representations of Thinking
We also added wire and collage/recycled materials to the The Atelier of Visual Arts as an invitation to represent ideas connected to power with the intention of providing a space for additional perspectives with new and different resources. Interested children used wire to create powerful sculptures.
Looking at Powerful Colours through the Lens of Light
The light table included diverse materials and textures to create and experience collaboratively. The children were invited to interact with these resources and each other. Interested children worked together to create designs.
The Language of Sound
Another thread which was ever present for the children was the importance of sound. Throughout the encounters early on with images and videos, the children creatively vocalised their interpretation of volcanic sounds. It wasproposed that we might record these and the children were enthusiastic. After much experimentation with creating sounds and listening, a sequence of volcanic sounds created by the children was put together. The children also commented and critiqued extensively on the use of sound, sound effects and music in the video clips they viewed demonstrating an understanding that sound can convey messages and add meaning.
The Language of Dance and Movement: Power Posing through Mining, Dance and Photography
The children were also invited to explore through the language of movement. We played a game where children mimed the act of lifting heavy and light objects. The children interpreted the task in different ways and shared their ideas about ways bodies can communicate actions and feelings with a particular focus on powerful movements. A part of one classroom was reproposed as a movement area with mirrors, a visualiser and simple black and white scarves and fabrics. It became a space for the children to freely explore interpretations of powerful movement.
Another component to this exploration was documentation through the language of photography. Initially, the teacher acted as the photographer and documenter of children’s powerful poses and movements.The children were highly engaged with the printed images of themselves and their peers with much reflective dialogue about the power posing. After some time though, the children were invited to take an active role behind the camera lens. At “Special Someone Morning”, the children captured their families’, teachers’ and each other’s poses.
To extend our explorations about “power,” we proposed an experience which would incorporate the power of the mind and body; the practice of yoga. There was much background knowledge given the numerous encounters and mediums in which the children had previously accessed to explore these ideas throughout the term. To begin the yoga sessions the children were invited to listen to some tranquil music, use a mindfulness bell to settle their bodies and minds and then to explore different poses with yoga cards. The children were excited and motivated to try out different positions and many were open-minded and risk takers with embracing new ways to move their bodies. The children were dedicated to the practice and highly motivated to create their own yoga poses. There was much joy throughout this experience and children worked collaboratively in a kinesthetics mode to develop unique poses. They used new language in labelling their pose for our own version of a yoga card game.
From our perspective, the experiences that have been proposed throughout this inquiry have profoundly supported the children’s inquiry into ways that imagination can inspire us to create. We could not have predicted that our teacher sharing of experiences in Iceland would be something the children connected with so strongly. The proposals and projects are meaningful investigations into ways we can express ourselves; our thoughts, ideas and feelings, through multiple symbolic languages including art, movement and music. We observed thoughtful interactions where collaboration and communication has been overwhelmingly abundant. The time and experiences together have invited us to learn more about each other and to grow as a group. The many encounters required extensive mathematical, scientific, artistic, physical and language skills, all of which were woven throughout the experiences. Throughout this learning, the children have been active protagonists in building their ever expanding understandings.
Compiled by Rebecca Smith (EY2 Teacher) and Andrea Mills (Atelierista) in collaboration with Christina Ntagkouli (EY2 Teaching Assistant)
“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
In an international context such as ours, students, families and educators bring the richness of diverse cultures, identities and influences of a global community. Working and learning together, we inevitably draw on individual backgrounds to create our own identity as an international community. Building on this idea, we also recognise how important it is for children to make authentic connections to local culture, geography and values of our host country of Switzerland. These connections play a significant role in shaping ways we live and learn together at school.
As a PYP school based in Switzerland, we recognize the importance our host culture places on children spending dedicated periods of time in the outdoors. The connections we have made with the local forest through our weekly visits have become deeply rooted in the identity of our learning community. Each of our EYC classes has a year long unit of inquiry into the laws of the natural world through the transdisciplinary theme How the World Works. The forest learning space has become central to the deep, rich inquiries of these units of exploration. Therefore, time in the forest, throughout the whole year and in all weathers is an integral part of the programme.
Time spent in the forest is planned for by teachers with learning opportunities connected to the children’s current interests. We aim to develop children’s ideas and theories by re-proposing and connecting threads of learning in both the classroom and forest context. Encounters in natural spaces support the children to deepen their understandings about the world and are reflected upon when the children return to the classroom. This provides a platform for teachers to plan for further learning. It is important to us to ensure connections between the forest and classroom continue to flow back and forth between the two spaces. When observing the children as they explore the forest together what often strikes us is the remarkable opportunities the outdoors has for developing the PYP attitudes in an organic and meaningful way
As children set out for a morning of forest exploration the air buzzes with anticipation. The children and teachers alike are inquirers anticipating a morning full of awe and wonder as we embark on a shared learning journey. As the children work together both independently and in collaborative groups, we observe and document their emerging theories and their connections to the Units of Inquiry.
The forest also provides a wealth of opportunities for the children to demonstrate and practice the attributes of the IB Learner Profile in a way that cannot be replicated in a classroom setting. As children climb trees and explore physical challenges they learn to develop their own understandings about boundaries and explore what it means to be courageous risk takers. The children are knowledgeable as they ask questions and build their own theories about the changes they observe in the natural world. They carefully consider what inquiries are personally relevant and meaningful and how they can extend their knowledge back in the classroom. Or as they work together to build a shelter they communicate their ideas with their peers, solving problems and thinking through possible solutions. They demonstrate their caring, principled outlook on the world around as they truly become stewards of the earth.
For the community at ICS, the forest is not just an additional learning environment, it is an essential part of our identity. It is a place where we can truly come together as a group to work and play in harmony with the natural world.
“Let nature be your teacher.”
Kate Bowen, Andrea Mills, Rebecca Smith and Victoria Newman
It is a new school year filled with wonder, curiosity and hope. Many children have joyfully reconnected with familiar friends and we have had many new faces join our Early Years community as well. As we embark upon our first Unit of Inquiry, Who We Are, we have carefully considered what types of experiences and environments might best support us with exploring the central idea Through Sharing Experiences in Our Community We Can Learn About Ourselves and Others.
In preparing the learning spaces for the children, we considered ways we might invite children to collaborate with the intention of exploring ideas around our classroom as a community. In the Early Years Centre, we share a strongly held belief that children have a multitude of symbolic languages with which they make meaning and demonstrate understandings. We value a kinesthetic style of learning and considered ways we might provide opportunities for the language of movement.
An invitation to collaborate and connect through dance and movement with colourful props
In our back courtyard space, we have a sloping grassy patch where we set up some colorful fabrics attached to trees and fencing in an inviting display. We also provided some dancing scarves, music and at times different instruments with the intention of creating a whimsical space where the children could explore movement. We felt the natural environmental influences of wind, light and shadows would add another meaningful component to the learning experiences. This quickly became a popular area and we noticed the children were naturally drawn to running and dancing through the fabrics.
Natural environmental influences like wind, light and shadowsadd an additional layer to children’s explorations
The space was popular with the children who had previously established friendships as well as those new to our school. Many took great pleasure in making a game of running through the fabrics. There was much laughter, smiling and connecting. We were struck by the way a group of children who are new to our community interacted with each other in this joyful and physical way. Although there was not yet a common spoken language among several of the children, the language of movement was a way to get to know each other through a shared physical experience. The interactions in this space were poignant in that upon careful observation, we noticed that the children were moving with each other in very social ways. We wanted to explore that idea.
We observed that there were several distinctive ways the children interacted collaboratively:
One game that quickly emerged was hiding behind a piece of fabric attached to the fence. We know that children often seek out cozy, private spaces for a variety of reasons. It can feel comforting to have a secret space away from an activity hub. Even in a traditional playground space, many teachers have noted that they often find children rejecting the conventional equipment in search of a hidden leafy patch. The game that we observed began as one child experimenting with hiding behind the fabric. She was slowly joined by another and then another. The group was happy to be hidden altogether in a quiet space. They shared a physical closeness and at the same time were visibly developing a connection with each other. This same group came together in this way for the entire week.
Hiding together in a cozy nook
Twirling/ Dancing/ Imitating
Different materials including dancing scarves and musical instruments were set out daily. The children quickly used the materials to twirl, dance and skip. We remarked how children’s movements often seemed like invitations to friendship. A child’s gaze toward another indicated an openness to companionship. We observed children mirroring each other’s movements as well as engaging in collaborative, orchestrated dancing. Again, we were struck by the way a shared kinesthetic experience served as a platform for relationship building. It was a way for individuals to come together and form a group in a very physical sense through the language of movement.
Invitations to dance and move collaboratively led to an emerging sense of connectedness through meaningful encounters. These experiences support our learning goals defined in ICS’s scope and sequence by developing the idea that children should recognise the value of interacting, playing and learning with others. We want students to understand that participation in a group can require them to assume different roles and responsibilities and a willingness to cooperate. In this space, we explored these concepts in a very kinesthetic sense. Most significantly, we are reminded that there are many ways to know, to learn and to express understandings.
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred…
From the poem “No way. The hundred is there.” by Loris Malaguzzi.
Ms. Claire surprised us with an overflowing bag of apples from a tree at her house. We presented the apples to the children in a basket in an inviting display. There was much interest and excitement with many children sharing that they found apples delicious to eat. Rebecca shared that she thought this type of apple was meant for baking because they were sour, but the children had another idea. Lance offered, “I want some bitter. I like it!”
These exchanges became a perfect connection to our Who We Are unit of inquiry as we explore the idea that by sharing experiences within our community we can learn about ourselves and others.
The teachers agreed that the children could taste the apples and decide for themselves. We feel that children should know that an exchange of viewpoints is highly valued in our context. We asked who wanted to be a taste-tester, and proposed that the children calculate how many slices would be needed. MA counted “1-2-3-4-5″ taste-testers volunteered. There was some negotiation while the teacher began to cut an apple, first in half. Jack noticed that, “We need(ed) to make them (the slices) littler,” anticipating that by cutting the apple only in half, we would not have enough slices for one for each of the taste-testers. The group agreed that five slices per apple would be enough and we cut as the children had suggested.
The children shared their different reactions to the tasting.
Jake:“It is yummy!”
Finlay: “Quite sour, but yummy.”
Lance: “Can I have more because I LOVE it!”
We noticed that some of the children’s words of praise for the sour apple taste differed from their facial expressions.
Rebecca proposed that we might use the apples for some cooking and the children enthusiastically agreed. We wondered where we might find a recipe and we organised a trip to the library to find some cookbooks. Andrea, Lance, Finlay, Eleonore and Clara met with Ms. Jayne who gave us a tour of the library and specifically where we could find what we needed. We noticed that there were different types of pies we might bake and took a selection of books with different recipes. The children promised Ms. Jayne that we would return with a slice of pie to share with her.
We shared the recipes during meeting time. Sanela helped us to make a list in German of the needed ingredients, using German for a meaningful purpose.
Apple Pie Ingredients/Apfelkuchen Zutaten
Pastry/Teig, Apples/Äpfel, Marmalade/Konfitüre, Brown Sugar/Rohrzucker, Honey/Honig, Cinnamon/Zimt and Lemon/Zitrone
The children graphically represented the ingredients needed for the recipe.
We also read a book called Apple by Nikki McClure, following the life of an apple and exploring the cyclical patterns in nature. We will explore these ideas further in the context of local harvest in our own community, with a visit to an apple tree in Maxi’s Opa’s garden.
Eleonore, Clara, Lance, Owen, Albert, Smilla and Mathilda met in the kitchen to prepare for baking the pie. First we used the apple peelers to prepare the apples with much discussion about safety. The children were careful to hold the peelers in the correct direction. We washed the apples and measured the ingredients. Some children helped with poking holes in the pie crust. We read to find out how long we had to wait for the pie to cook. Elena helped by setting a timer and joyfully informed us when the bell sounded.The entire EYC enjoyed the smell of the pie baking.
We shared the final product with the children and teachers in the Early Years Centre. Here are some of their reflections:
Lance: “A bit burnt smelt pizza. Tasted good.”
Owen: “It was crunchy, tasty crunchy.”
Jake: “It will taste really yummy. It did yummy.”
Maxi: “I thought it was good.”
Ellen: “It was tasty and yummy.”
Kasper: “It was delicious and smelled really good.”
MA: “I like the crusty thing.”
Elena and Owen: “Apple and crusty and inside.”
A Visit to Opa’s Garden
Maxi’s Opa maintains a beautiful plot in the local community garden. We were fortunate to be invited for a visit. We tasted tomatoes, dug for potatoes and cut lettuce and kale. The children were highly engaged with the environment, each other as well as Maxi’s grandparents.
Lance: “It’s a cool garden. Look at those growing things. Mine (a tomato) is tasty and juicy.”
Elena: “I saw one (a potato)! It’s there. That’s a big one.”
Paolo: “Una potato.”
Zeena: “I got some fresh potato today.”
Izumi: “I found a baby potato. Someone nibbled it! The bees are sucking pollen.”
KA: “I see a green tomato. When its green it’s not ready.”
Aaron: “Those worms are good for the plants.”
These encounters represented the meaningful ways that children can drive their own learning. As we shared experiences around the apples, there were abundant opportunities for rich learning connected to our unit. Children needed to integrate mathematical thinking for a purpose as they predicted, calculated and compared during the tasting and cooking. Literacy was valued in a real life context as the children were motivated to write for a purpose. Communication skills like listening and speaking were required and valued for participation. These experiences were a beautiful platform to develop the children’s sense of themselves in our group, their place and the reasons why particular places are important to people.
Photographs by Rebecca Smith – ICS Early Years Teacher
The Early Years classes have been exploring the relationship between spaces and how people use them as part of our unit, Where We Are in Time and Place. Throughout this inquiry, the children had many opportunities to build understandings about how people use different spaces as well as our responsibility in sharing spaces with others. We chose to focus on the context of different atelier/ studio spaces offered in a free flow environment. These spaces were open to all of the early years children who were asked to make a choice about where they wished to spend time at the beginning of each morning.
In the Atelier of Light, the children were offered time and space to carry out their own research into various aspects of the phenomenon ‘light’. The space was designed for interactive inquiry and for individual and group experimentation. The environment was organised around light sources, Light boxes, OHP (Overhead Projector), LED strings of lights and technological tools such as Visualiser cameras and an Interactive Whiteboard, which were paired with a variety of tools and materials. The invitations were presented in visually pleasing ways and an atmosphere of intrigue and beauty was ever present. The inviting workspaces created the drive for exploration and construction of hypotheses and theories.
We observed and documented how the children operated in the spaces, how they responded to changes in the environment and how newly introduced articles altered, changed or enhanced their play and research. An example of changes to the physical environment, was an increase in the number of light boxes from one to three. While the children were always captivated when attempting to build taller structures, we found that with the addition of the bigger work space the children’s structures evolved from being built on a single box to become bigger and elaborate designs that covered across more than one box. Adding the LED strings of light were a popular addition to The Atelier of Light. The children’s explorations transferred from working with the materials and light on flat surfaces (light boxes and OHP) to exploring light with their whole bodies. Aaron made a discovery about the light from the LED strings, “It goes through your fingers,” Aaron. “Does it go through my head? Can you look?” asked Tuur. A new question which required further research was formed.
Exchange and comparison of viewpoints was valued in this space. Sometimes children chose to research alone, and later shared thinking with peers and teachers. Sometimes they reported back in a whole class meeting, enabling the children to investigate the concept of light and the role of space and environment from different point of views. Again, we noticed the children responding to the changes to the environment. The addition of a second overhead projector, placed next to the first one, encouraged children to work in parallel or join together to create collaborative designs across the two work surfaces. The environment encouraged the children to discuss their thinking, plans and processes. Additionally, the thinking created in this space embraced imagination, promoted narrative as a form of interpretation and explanation, and offered interaction with scientific forms.The children were invited to make connections to this unit’s central idea about ways we use space in the context of the Atelier of Light. It became clear that children built understandings about ways to make artistic and scientific discoveries in this space through the lens of light.
By adding the Visualiser Camera to the space the children were able to see themselves at work in the learning environment in real time. This offered the children an interesting way to reflect and assess how they operated and learnt in the space. Some reflections about changes made to the learning environment of The Atelier of Light;
“It looks much cooler like that(with the new setup.)(He turns the lights on and off at the light table)I like just the LED lights on.” Aaron
“I want to go in this classroom because there’s light. Light table.That is why. I like that it is dark.” Owen
After spending the morning sessions in The Light Atelier Daisy asked, “Miss Smith, can I have snack in your room? I like the light boxes. I like the light when they shine.”
Izumi explained, “I like that I can see the different lights and different colours. We make decorations (by hanging the CDs) on strings. If you put it (a CD) next to the light it turns to shine rainbow-y (colours).”
“I like to play with light.Then (I)make something beautiful with the blocks on the light table. When it is dark, I can see much better the light,” shared Eléonore.
‘The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.’
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.
Grade 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.
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.
When investigating into our unit of inquiry ‘Who We Are ‘, we explored about ourselves through the Central Idea, “We use our bodies to learn about the world.” The children were invited to participate in a variety of learning experiences that encouraged them to wonder, explore and build understandings related to the different parts of the body, the five senses and how we can learn through using our senses.
The exploration of play dough by the children in EY1RS was an experience that the children came back to re-visit many times throughout the inquiry. In order to support and develop the interest and wonderment about this material, changes to the play dough were considered as a provocation to further exploration. Engaging the sense of smell, the play dough began to yield different aromas of essences, scents, herbs and spices. Our sense of sight was stimulated through the addition of natural colours and dyes, with sensory exploration also being awakened through the addition of olive oil and jelly crystals. This slowly changing and transforming material, simple in its initial form, repeatedly engaged the children’s senses through play.
Making play dough engaged all of our senses
Sense of Sight
The children used their sense of sight to gather the equipment and and measure out the ingredients. It was also required to observe changes in the mixture as the recipe was followed.
Sense of Hearing
It was important to listen to the directions to be able to follow the recipe. The children used their sense of hearing to listen to the questions and ideas of both their peers and teachers as they worked together to make and play with the play dough.
Sense of Smell
The children used their sense of smell to test and compare the various flavours or scents that we added to the play dough, these included citrus fruit juices, jelly crystals, olive oil, herbs and spices.
When working with the cinnamon flavoured play dough the children were inspired to cook a variety of “cakes”, “cookies” and other edible delights. These treats often required baking in the Home Corner oven.
Tuur explained that we added the spice “to make mine smell yummy.” He encouraged other children to use their sense of smell to test smell of the dough. While shaping her baking items Izumi remarked, “its cinnamon. I love cinnamon.” She and Tuur agreed that the cinnamon play dough smelt “yummy.” As did Maximilian who shared, “Yeah, mine smell(s) yummy too.”
Sense of Taste
While we of course did not suggest that the children taste the play dough, some children did like to test the taste of the ingredients we used, from the flour, salt, lemon juice and the spices of nutmeg and cinnamon.
Sense of Touch
Play dough invites you to use your hands to feel and shape the dough into endless ideas. Through the use of our sense of touch we discovered that while different ingredients could change the colour and scent of the dough, often they also changed the texture. Adding lots of salt makes the dough feel grainy and by adding cornflour it produces a softer and smoother consistency.
We experimented by adding too much water to one dough mixture. This made the texture ooey-gooey and slimy. Owen excitedly suggested that we add even “more water!” The children played with the mix using their hands. Izumi commented, “It feels dry (before adding the water.) It feels funny. It feels too sticky. Look at my hands! It’s so slimy.” Many of the second language learners (with little or no English) made facial expressions that showed that the texture was sticky and felt interesting to them. Maximilian exclaimed, “Look at my hands!” Melvin commented, “It feels like flour. (Add) more water! Look at my hands!” Nikita added, “The flour feels very soft.” After adding lots of water, Nikita thought that it felt “goopy!”
We needed to add hot water from the kettle to make a play dough mixture. Aaron explained how he could use his senses to observe the steam rising from the hot water. We tested his theory that we could tell the water was hot by holding our hand over the jug. Aaron shared his understanding that if we touched the hot water it would hurt us. Aaron made connections between how we can use our senses to recognise danger to keep ourselves safe.
By engaging with these provocations, exploring teacher-guided questions and participating in small or whole class discussions, the children were able to exchange ideas and build new understandings related to how “We use our bodies to learn about the world.”
This is our favourite Play Dough Recipe
3 Cups Plain Flour
3 Cups Hot Water
2 TBSP Salt
2 TBSP Cream of Tartar
2 TBSP Cooking Oil
1 Packet of Jelly Crystals or a few drops of food colouring
Mix all of the dry ingredients and oil together in a bowl and stir.
Add jelly crystals or food colour to the hot water.
Add the liquid to bowl and stir.
Let cool. If the mixture is sticky add extra flour.
When you are finished playing, store in an airtight container. It should keep for a few weeks.
Photographs by Rebecca Smith (ICS Early Years Teacher)