ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

April 17, 2015
by Rajeshree Rao

Creating a Dinosaur Museum

As part of our trans-disciplinary unit, How We Express Ourselves, we are inquiring into how we can create and share stories in different spaces. Our Early Years Programme has a strong emphasis on child-initiated inquiries based on the belief that children learn best when their interests are acknowledged as worthy of investigation. Children’s thinking is not only valued but supported and extended through the class community.

For some days the children had been playing with toy dinosaurs, building homes for them using wooden blocks and logs. Exploring this interest through drawing his ideas, Alex shared a picture of skeletons in a museum. He then posed a question, asking if we could construct a dinosaur museum in the class. His drawing and enthusiasm inspired the children leading to a shared class curiosity to discover more about dinosaurs.IMG_9928In order to share our thinking, and to ascertain what we already knew about dinosaurs and museums, we brainstormed, coming up with some ideas as to what we would need to make a dinosaur museum.

With books from the library, we were able to explore different aspects of the life sciences such as meat eaters, plant eaters, tall dinosaurs, feathered dinosaurs, etc. and sharing our theories of extinction. The children demonstrated an understanding of perspective in our class discussions that some meat eating dinosaurs were stronger than the plant eating dinosaurs. They felt that the plant eating dinosaurs would have feared the meat eating dinosaurs. These observations came through in their stories and drawings. We also explored earth science through sharing thoughts around volcanoes, and climate changes.IMG_9942Pic_0132In order to share our understandings through many different modes of expression, children created puppets, engaged in dramatic play and used materials such as clay and paints.IMG_0015IMG_0312IMG_0340Our visit to the dinosaur museum encouraged the children to think creatively. Our guide shared with the children that no one lived at the time of the dinosaurs and that what we know are only ideas as to how these creatures looked and sounded. This knowledge excited the children and  encouraged them to undertake research in order to support their theories and make their own conclusions. Acquisition of new vocabulary was embedded in this  inquiry with children including words like “enormous”, “extinct”, “paleontologist”, “ferocious”, and “fossilized”, as well as including names of dinosaurs into their conversations.IMG_0854IMG_0999IMG_0870Through story telling with puppets and shadow puppets the children were able to understand that people listen and speak to share thoughts and feelings. They were also able to express their ideas and emotions by making story books and drawings depicting dinosaur stories.IMG_0128IMG_0125 (2)Children were fascinated when they realized how big (or how small) some of these dinosaurs were! We compared the heights of dinosaurs using uniform and non-uniform tools of measurement, such as our bodies and wooden block. We checked if our collective height was more than the tallest dinosaur, further exploring mathematical concepts such as measurement and estimation  in our inquiry.IMG_1188IMG_1494Through communication, collaboration and negotiation the children were able to explore constructing a dinosaur museum together.Our successful opening of the Dinosaur Museum was the result of a variety of activities initiated by the children in the class.IMG_0031IMG_0118IMG_1973IMG_1976IMG_1850On the Open Day, the children shared their knowledge with their families about dinosaurs. Through story telling with props and self-created shadow puppets they were able to express their ideas and emotions.IMG_1914IMG_1109IMG_2028We asked the parent community to share their thinking and reflections on the dinosaur museum:

“A fantastic opening for your dinosaur museum!”  “You are very knowledgeable about dinosaurs and shared a lot of information!” “Wow!! Amazing, well done.”  “The children were incredible. A very high level of creativity!”  “I have learned a lot about dinosaurs from you!!”  “The dinosaur museum included all the important elements a museum should have: pictures, stories, fossils, eggs, dinosaur skeletons, performances and music. The children worked very hard together.”

Reflecting on our activities leading up to the open day, the children said: “I now know the names of different dinosaurs.” “To make the museum we had to share our ideas with each other and we had to work together.” “At the dinosaur museum we got to see how the bones looked and touch the footprints and T-Rex teeth.” “We know  that the Sauroposeidon was 20 metres tall and our classroom was only 3 metres tall. “The dinosaurs were much taller than our school.” “Some dinosaurs had mouth like ducks’ and  some with feathers to keep themselves warm or cool because they lived in the desert.”

Our exploration leading to creating the dinosaur museum and the open day covered a wide spectrum of skills. The children collaborated to suggest ideas for the museum; they researched dinosaurs by referring to library books and asking the museum guide; involved maths by comparing the height of  dinosaurs with the combined height of the children and used uniform and non-uniform tools of measurement; they enhanced their vocabulary with new words; they could express their ideas through drawings, puppets and self-created stories; giving flight to their imagination – a hotel near the museum would help the visitors to spend more time at the museum, without having to drive. A simple idea to build a dinosaur museum initiated by a child resulted in a major exploration for the whole class which was appreciated by colleagues and parents.

October 20, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao

Developing Language and Mathematical Skills using Stories


As a class we read and enjoyed Julia Donaldson’s picture book ‘Stick Man.’ The rhyme within the text is simple and repetitive, allowing the children to join in with the ‘reading’ and predict and identify rhyming words within the story. The fact that the story begins in autumn and finishes in winter is represented by the eye-catching illustrations.  These allow the children to make connections between elements of the illustrations and the seasons of the year. It also helped to form understandings related to our year long Unit of Inquiry,  ‘How the World Works’, in which the children are exploring  how changing seasons affect the environment.

After we read the book several times, the children drew their own ‘stick man’ from their perception and understanding of the story.

The children planned to make these drawings come to life, and to collect natural materials to create their own ‘stick man’. Before heading off to the forest, there was a class discussion about the kinds of things that would be needed.

These were some of the children’s ideas:

‘We need long sticks to make the daddy, small sticks for the children and middle size sticks for the mummy’

‘We need a big stick to make a family home’.

After a successful time in the forest gathering all they needed, the children then made their own individual members of the stick family, adding detail such as eyes, hair and hats.

These explorations not only helped children to develop their language and communication skills, but also evolved into mathematical thinking, as the children counted and compared the lengths of the sticks as needed.

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November 11, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao

Integrating the IB Learner Profiles through Stories

Last week in EY2RR, we read the book, ‘Owl Babies’, by Martin Waddell. This delightful story tells the tale of three baby owls who wake up one night to find their mother gone from the family’s nest. This well-written and beautifully illustrated book has many relevant themes as well as opportunities to build understandings about language.

Bill’s repetition of ‘I want my mummy’!, is a familiar sentiment with which most young children can identify. The class eagerly predicted what Bill would say and joined in with the story. The book covers a range of themes such as separation, relationships, fear and anxiety. It was clear from the children’s engagement that they were able to make many meaningful connections. Some of those connections were related to the Learner Profile. We noticed the owls wereThinkers’ as the text tells us, “Owls think a lot”. We brainstormed about what the owls might be thinking. Here are our ideas:

Ffion: They were thinking and missing their mummy.
Annabel: The mummy has gone to look for food.
Karson: Mummy could have gone too far and got lost
Alexander: Mummy could have been eaten by a bad fox.
Zane : A bad owl ate her

Could the owls be ‘Risk- Takers’?

Nicolas: Even though they were frightened, they still waited outside their homes for their mummy.

The owls were ‘Caring’.
Walker: Sarah looked after Percy and Bill when their mother was away.
Amy: Sarah shared her branch with Percy and Bill.

After reading the story, we created a class book. The children were inspired by the life-like illustrations in the book. All were eager to take part and the teachers transcribed the children’s texts. Here is some of our work:

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.

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

March 21, 2013
by Rebecca Smith

How We Express Ourselves

How We Express Ourselves

EY have been exploring and expanding our ideas related to the Central Idea that There are different ways and reasons for sharing stories.

The experiences we have engaged in were designed to help us to develop questions, theories and understandings focused on the Key Inquiry areas:

  • Stories can be shared in different ways
  • Stories are shared for different reasons
  • How stories express different perspectives

Please click on the following link to view a movie which shows many of these learning experiences (in EY2 Yellow) and how they encouraged us to make discoveries and meaning throughout this Unit Of Inquiry.


To view the video you must use the password: 4eyparents

March 8, 2013
by Andrea Mills

A Trip to the Theatre

As part of our Unit Of Inquiry, “How We Express Ourselves”, EY2 is exploring stories. We had a wonderful opportunity to take the learning outside of the classroom and experience a live performance in a theatre.

On a chilly February day, we ventured out to the Forchbahn for the journey to Hechtplatz in Zurich for a performance of “Pippi in Takka Tukka Land”.  As we left school, the children excitedly told everyone we met, “We’re going to the theatre”! Each child came with different background knowledge about what a stage performance might be like. For some, it was a unique experience and for others a more familiar one. The children shared their expectations and thoughts.

The entire experience was exciting and significant, from waiting in line with our tickets, sitting in our seats with programs and waiting for the lights to dim. The performance was in Swiss German dialect yet most had no trouble following the plot. Back in the classroom the next day, we drew our reflections from the show. It was interesting to note what was memorable for different children.

As we hoped, this trip was a successful addition to our unit. The children visibly built their understanding of another medium to tell a story through dramatization. Perhaps equally meaningful was the shared experience of this special event beyond the classroom walls. Sharing the journey and the performance as an EY2 group meant that the children could benefit from conversations and interactions with each other, which helped to construct more sophisticated understandings. The children and their teachers will have memories of a beautiful afternoon spent together sharing a meaningful experience, which ultimately enriches our learning community.

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