ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

November 4, 2013
by Heidi Harman

Mathematics in the Early Years – Data Handling

In Early Years 2 we are learning that data can be recorded, organised, represented and summarised in a variety of ways to highlight similarities, differences and trends.

After children from the Kindergarten classes visited us to ask us some survey questions, the children in EY2HH felt inspired to create their own surveys. At first our surveys were about favourite foods, just as the Kindergarten surveys had been. Then, after some discussion, we decided to create our own survey relevant to our current Unit of Inquiry, Who We Are. Within this unit we are inquiring into cooperation, fair play, team work and our interactions with others both within our class community and the Early Years community as a whole. We agreed to design a survey about what we like to do with our friends and we chose 4 activities; holding hands with our friends, playing games together, reading books together and fighting / arguing with them We hoped that nobody would say that they liked to fight with their friends! We had a wonderful time visiting the EY1, EY2 and Kindergarten classes to ask them our survey questions. In fact we enjoyed it so much we decided to walk around the whole school and ask whether other teachers and older students would like to complete our survey.





Back in our classroom we looked at our recorded survey results to see which were the most popular answers and which were the least popular. Thankfully fighting with friends was the least popular answer! Reading with friends was the most popular. We then thought it would be a good idea to ask each other the same questions to see how our class results compared with the others. We discovered our most popular and least popular answers were the same! We then made a graph to represent our results and displayed it on the wall.





October 10, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Block Play in Early Childhood Development

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

Through block play children learn:


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


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

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

Here are some of their descriptions:

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




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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

Here the children are experimenting to discover:

How many blocks until it topples over?

What can we do to make it balance?

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


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

October 9, 2013
by Andrea Mills

Collaboration in Music Making

These last few months, the children have spent time joyfully exploring sounds, songs, fingerplays and rhythms as  part of our inquiry into ways we can create music and have musical experiences collectively.  One of the many advantages of  integrated specialist classes like music is that the concepts we explore during our weekly sessions can be extended and supported back in the classroom with the class teacher, specialist teacher as well as peers. It is a frequent occurrence that a child or group of children further their understanding through song, dance and rhythm outside of the designated music session.

Music enriches our lives in countless ways and we believe that the creative process in music involves joining in, exploring and taking risks. We have been wondering about ways we can create music and have musical experiences collectively. As the teacher, I strive to offer a diverse variety of rich, interesting songs and experiences with a balance of teacher and  child-directed  ideas.

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(Dorian, Maebh, Anna, Villum and Lin acting out Five Little Monkey Jumping on the Bed)

We enjoy experimenting with musical instruments, marching in a parade, dancing with scarves and exploring different sound patterns with rhythm sticks. These open-ended experiences allow children to develop their cooperation skills as they must negotiate which instrument to use, who will be the parade leader, how to share space, take turns and much more.

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(EY2 HH experimenting with different clapping rhythms)

The Early Years groups are always eager to learn new songs, particularly those we can act out. These types of musical experiences encourage problem solving and negotiating. We need to speak, sing and listen at the appropriate time to make the song make sense. Often, the children must negotiate for a turn to play their favorite part, like monkey, doctor or pumpkin, in tunes like ‘Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’, ‘Sleeping Bunnies’, ‘Five Little Pumpkins’ and many more. It can be challenging to wait for a turn to be the monkey or doctor but as children negotiate with one another and the teacher, they are learning that collaboration is valuable and the song is more fun and works better when everyone plays their role.

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(EY1 children working together to explore sounds with a drum)


September 27, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Stories Help Us In Building Our Community

A new school year means reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. We are working on building new friendships and discussing our roles within our community. We have started working on our first Unit of Inquiry, ‘Who We Are’, the Central Idea being ‘Through sharing experiences within our community we can learn about ourselves’.

To support the children’s social and emotional development, we have been reading books about building friendships and sharing. Reading the same book a several times helps develop a sense of confidence and competence in children. They are able to point at and label pictures, discuss the story, predict what will happen next, learn new vocabulary, talk about their own experiences in relation to the story and even create their own story.

EY2 RR have been inspired by a number of books including, ‘The Giving Tree’, ‘There is a dragon in my school’ and ‘The Rainbow Fish’. The common theme across these books were friendship. The connections made were, school as a community, and sharing. ‘The Giving Tree’ inspired us to make our own friendship tree. ‘The dragon in my school’ inspired us make our own class story book.

‘The Rainbow Fish’ is a beautiful book with an important message. When the other fish asks to share his special sparkly scales, the Rainbow Fish realizes that making friends is important and sharing is a good feeling. This book has been a great way to discuss making new friends, caring about each other’s feelings, sharing and playing together in a group. rainbow-fish
After reading the story, the children discussed the occasions when they didn’t feel like sharing. To provoke thought and discussion, we asked the children how they would feel if they were the Rainbow Fish. Would they want to share their pretty scales with their friends? What if they were the Rainbow Fish’s friends? How would they feel if the Rainbow Fish didn’t want to share his scales with them?

The children came up with some thoughtful responses:
“If I had a lot I would share.”
“It is nice to share and be kind.”
“I let Walker take it home to play and give it back the next day.”
“Maybe I would let them have it for some time and then when they had enough they could give it back to me.”
“If it is a new toy then I would like to play with it for some time.”

The stories and our discussions have made the children aware of the consequences of their actions in relation to other children in the class. The stories have also provided opportunities for developing an understanding of language and maths concepts.

IMG_9984 IMG_9989
Reading and discussing the stories give children the opportunity to both tell and hear stories. It encourages them to develop active speaking and listening skills. Storytelling fuels the imagination and allows children to develop their own mental images of the story.

As part of a maths experience, the children counted the number of scales on the rainbow fish and discussed as to how many fish he could share his shiny scales with.
– “If he did not have enough then maybe he could share with the others later”.
– “The little fish could have it for 5 minutes and then give to the other fishes”.

While making our Friendship Tree, the children counted the number of fingers on the hand prints and also the number of hand prints put up as leaves on the tree. IMG_0286
The Rainbow Fish display has been a collaborative project. The children came up with an idea of painting the ocean. We provided them different brushes and art materials to help them think and depict how they visualised the ocean. Further, they made their own little fish by painting bubble wraps. Lastly, each child added to the ocean scene with drawings of weeds, rocks, caves, octopus and starfish..IMG_0342
Our learning experiences in the first month of school have helped the children to realize the impact of their actions on others, the concept of sharing and friendship, collaborative playing and improve their language skills. We will continue with this Unit of Inquiry throughout the school year. IMG_0360< IMG_0419 IMG_0509

September 24, 2013
by Fiona Affleck

Becoming a Community

We have spent the first weeks of school fostering a sense of community in the classroom. In the Early Years at ICS we believe that a strong sense of community and a supportive emotional environment provide a solid foundation for future learning and collaborative projects. This is something that we will be exploring in more detail throughout the year as we begin our first unit of inquiry about ‘Who we Are’, where our central idea is ‘Through sharing experiences within our community we can learn about ourselves’.

In the first weeks of school the Early Years staff dedicated their time to building positive relationships with students where trust and openness are key ingredients. Our classroom already feels like a positive space where children feel comfortable expressing themselves in a variety of different ways with adults and their peers.

Increasingly, the children  feel  comfortable with the adults in our school community as well. The benefits of strong relationships with many teachers is clear. The class engages with Ms. Mills in a joyful and familiar way, which is an advantage of having her for  Music, PE as well as during opportunities for other shared learning experiences. The children enjoy spending time with Frau Skender during German classes. We have even enjoyed reading stories as a large group with Miss Judith the librarian. We are building relationships with the cleaners who help us after lunch as well.

Miss Judith the Librarian reading to EY2

Miss Judith the Librarian reading to EY2

The teachers have been planning many opportunities for shared experiences during free play based on our Early Years learning outcomes. Spending time carefully designing the learning environment to invite spontaneous collaboration between the children, has encouraged them to build relationships and work together in a variety of different ways.

Using natural materials and small world animals to promote collaborative play

Using natural materials and small world animals to promote collaborative play

When reflecting on the idea that our friends are a part of the classroom community, the children had many kind words to say about each other. After making a note of these comments the children helped to decorate my annotations and attach photos of themselves. Everybody was involved with hanging the photos and comments onto a branch which we have called ‘The Community Tree’.

Amanda hanging her image on the community tree

Amanda hanging her image on the community tree

To extend the children’s understanding of what it means to work collaboratively and help others in the community, the children have been invited to take photographs of their friends being helpful and working together. We then plan to add these photos to the tree increasing the sense of involvement and ownership from the children.

Working together to paint our community tree

Working together to paint our community tree

We are looking forward to growing together and learning more about ourselves through working as a community throughout this year long unit of inquiry.

September 15, 2013
by Heidi Harman

Fostering language development in the Early Years




In the Early Years we have many learning outcomes related to the four language strands of reading, writing, listening and speaking, and viewing and presenting (some outcomes addressed in this experience are listed below). Our class recently engaged in a wonderful learning experience, which helped to facilitate the development of some of these goals in all the four language strands. Together we read the lift-the-flap book, ‘There‘s a Dragon at my School’ by Philip Hawthorn and Jenny Tyler, which Ms. Judith in the library had ordered specially for us. During this shared story time, the students were encouraged to participate as active listeners. They also had the opportunity to help with the story-telling by taking turns to come and lift the flaps in the book and talk about what was happening in these hidden pictures. The story has repetitive phrases running through it, which while helping to develop language for all children, is particularly helpful for children learning English as an additional language (EAL). It wasn‘t long before everyone was joining in with these familiar phrases and we were all reading aloud together. We all agreed that we wouldn‘t want this dragon at our school, as he was always breaking the school rules! The children were encouraged to draw their own picture of a dragon at school and everyone was incredibly enthusiastic to make their dragon as naughty as possible! The children showed a real desire to draw and write and were keen to dictate the meaning of their picture stories. We put all of our drawings together to make one story book and we even made it into a lift-the-flap book! Everyone was so excited to share and present the page they had contributed to our re-told dragon book and it has been delightful to see the children imitating adult demonstrated reading behaviours as they share it together. Our book has now become part of our classroom library and is a very popular read!

Here is the link to a video of some of the children reading the book:

The password to view the video is: icsz

Language learning outcomes

Speaking and Listening

Look at the speaker when they are listening in a pair, small group or large group

Participate as speakers and listeners in group activities

Retell or tell a story with regard to sequence of events



Understand that both illustration and text carry the message, but that the reader is reading the words

Demonstrate conventional book handling skills   eg. Turning pages carefully, pointing to text, understanding left to right directionality



Continue to convey meaning through drawing which may then be described in dictated text where an adult scribes

Respond to correct pencil grip (when drawing)



View and listen to media

June 20, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Exploring our Sense of Touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 2013
by Rebecca Smith

Sound Wall

sound wall

We had a meeting about our Senses Garden, the space in the courtyard we have beautified by adding sensory elements like flowers, plants and herbs. The children shared their understandings of the senses we use in the garden. Many noted we need our sense of sight to look at the flowers. We could smell the herbs and flowers. We can touch the leaves of the plants. Some of the herbs are edible so we can use our sense of taste. Ms. Smith asked the children to wonder about how we might use a sense of hearing. The children offered some suggestions about sounds we could hear. Butterflies ‘te-te-teee’ Every time they fly. Birds, Sparrows and blue tits, ‘chhhrr’ – Sumedha. ‘Cheep cheep’ bell ringing ‘…zizzzzznng’, motorbike ‘drowwwmmmm’, bird flying pick, pick, pick’– Dayou. ‘Arkkhh-arkkhh’ birds and bell ‘dinnnnnggggg’ – Tommaso. People ‘yah yah’  and cars ‘brmmm broommmm’ – Noa.  Outside noise, rain ‘tap, tap, tap’ – Arjun. ‘Quark quark’, butterflies and ducks – David. School bell – Marc-Philippe. Rain ‘zizz -zizzz- zizzzz’ and lightning ‘buowff – boff’– Maxi G. The teachers suggested we add more sound in the form of a “Sound Wall” to the garden as well.


We had read about other schools and environments where recycled materials had been used to create “Sound/Music/Banging Walls”. We thought this could be an exciting and relevant experience for our Who We Are Unit, exploring the ways we learn through our senses. We asked families to contribute any recyclable materials like old pots/pans, coffee tins, broken silverware, loose parts, etc. Dayou shared his contributions and the children thought about ways these items could be used to make sound/ music.

We shared some images of Sound Walls with the children and asked the children to consider how we might create our own in the courtyard. We took a walk in the courtyard and determined where might be a good place. The children drew their ideas for what the project might look like.





Finally, we gathered altogether on a sunny afternoon for a final check in before constructing the sound wall. The children were excited about the many different objects we would integrate into our project. Ms. Johnson, our music teacher, joined us and helped with the wire required to fasten our sound makers.  As the wall grew, children experimented with the sound of wooden spoons against the many items on the wall. Some children impressed us with their rhythm as they kept the beat. Others found new ways to make different sounds. This collaborative project was extremely successful as evidenced by the children’s enthusiasm in sharing their knowledge about the sense of sound with other members of our school community. We invited other classes, teachers and administrators to visit our Sound Wall and the children articulately shared about the experience.




P1040530Words by Ms Andrea Mills

Photographs by Miss Rebecca Smith


May 6, 2013
by Heidi Harman

Encouraging and Supporting Children’s Individual Inquiries

Supporting Our Personal Inquiries and Wonderings — Cracks in the mud inquiry

In the Primary Years Programme, we believe that optimal learning takes place when it is genuinely connected to the world around an individual student. Acquisition of both knowledge and skills and the search for meaning and understanding are most successful when done in relevant contexts.

Edward, Karson, Daniel, Villum and William found some cracks in the ground and wondered how they got there.


Karson, “there must be some pipes under the ground, and they’re getting bigger, so the ground is opening up”.

Edward, “no, there is something bad under there and it wants us to fall in”.

Daniel, “I think someone has been digging. Come, look. There is mud under the cracks. Maybe someone used their nails”.

Mrs. Harman is wondering if the ground is dry and that is why the cracks are there. Maybe if it had rained, the cracks wouldn’t be there? Karson has the idea to put water on the cracks to see if they stay or go away. Karson and Villum went to fetch the jugs of water while Edward, Daniel and William guarded the cracks in the earth. Karson and Villum poured water onto the cracks and we all noticed the cracks begin to disappear!

We could make the cracks disappear even faster by rubbing our fingers over them.

Edward began digging with his stick once the earth became wet mud and decided to dig for treasure.

He says he will continue to keep digging every day until he finds the treasure.

Edward, “we need to put lights on our hats so we can see when we go down”.

Karson, “when we see an X on a treasure map, that is where the treasure is”.

The children  felt inspired  to create treasure maps to help them find the ‘Diamond Castle’ under the cracks.


The cracks remain a source of inquiry to us. Why are they only located in this part of the playground at the top of the slope under a tree and nowhere else in the playground? This led to discussions about shelter from the rain and where rain water goes.

April 23, 2013
by Rebecca Smith

Following and Building on Childrens Interests and Ideas

The teachers came across a large empty cardboard box. Without a defined plan we presented it to the children and watched how they chose to use it. At first a number of children decided to paint the box with the painting materials (these are always available for the children to use as they please.) The cardboard box became a collaborative canvas, as they took turns to add their own marks offering a surface for expression and shared storytelling. The children showed true ownership and pride of this shared artwork/object. Once the box was dry it became a fixture in other play episodes for over a week. It was transformed to be a variety of things from transport vehicles to a Chinese Takeaway Shop.

The teachers observed the children playing ‘shops’, the box was a tiny space overflowing with objects (heaped with as many toys as could be grabbed and contained in the space), at times it also included two or more small bodies depending on how many customers wished to visit the shop. Everyone wanted a turn, but the space was just too small. The teachers chose to present an idea to the children, ‘Would they like to make a bigger shop in our classroom?’ The children responded enthusiastically to this idea and working on this project. At a class meeting we talked about the items we’d need to make our shop – an apron for the shopkeeper, things to buy, money and cash register. The children were asked to share our idea at home. This was a lovely opportunity to talk about the learning happening in the classroom with our families and to ask for their involvement by helping us to collect food packaging to stock our shop.

Building and playing in the shop has offered the children the opportunity to develop and strengthen their skills in a variety of areas:

Mathematical – counting out money, giving prices to products, counting objects, recognising number numerals (number fans, 100’s charts and 200’s charts), sorting and ordering objects by attribute, taking turns using the sand timer (5 minute blocks)

Literacy – writing signs, writing numerical prices, listening to and reading books (independently, in pairs, small groups and whole class) about shops and shopping experiences

Social Skills – taking turns to carry out different roles – being the shopkeeper or a customer, and learning how to work together to make our shop successful and fun.

Some of our favourite stories about shopping:

Don’t Forget the Bacon

Sheep in a Shop

Fairy Shopping

Ten Dogs in the Window

To Market, to Market

These books can be borrowed from the ICS Library.

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