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.

March 8, 2016
by Andrea Mills
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How The World Works: Developing Theories About the Winter Forest Through 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(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.”

 

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(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

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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. 

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“These are the tallest trees talking and they’re connected.”  Jackson

Graphic Representations of Talking Trees IMG_4755

(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 ideas and 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.

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(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.”  

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(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 

 

October 29, 2015
by katebowen
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International Schools in Host Culture Contexts: Supporting exploration of the PYP learner profile through outdoor learning

“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.”

David Polis

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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.

Autumn

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. 

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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.”

William Wordsworth

Kate Bowen, Andrea Mills, Rebecca Smith and Victoria Newman

ICS Early Years Teachers

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)

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