ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

October 29, 2015
by katebowen

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.


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.”

William Wordsworth

Kate Bowen, Andrea Mills, Rebecca Smith and Victoria Newman

ICS Early Years Teachers

March 17, 2014
by Heidi Harman

A Class Inquiry into Dinosaurs and Fossils

When a child in our class (EY2HH) drew a picture of dinosaurs alongside some fossils, it sparked a new inquiry for us. As he showed his friends his drawing, some were curious about fossils and there was much interest in finding out more about them. We visited Ms. Judith in the library and she helped us to find non-fiction books about fossils (and dinosaurs).

We felt inspired to try to make our own fossils! We made some salt dough and pressed our small dinosaur/ animal/ insect figurines into the soft dough to make an imprint. We then baked the salt dough in the oven until it was hard like stone and the imprint looked like a fossil. We liked to trick visitors to our classroom into believing we had found real fossils while outside during one of our Waldkinder outdoor learning sessions!

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After doing some research and learning more about dinosaurs and how they once lived, we set up an area in our classroom to recreate dinosaur habitats.

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We thought carefully about which dinosaurs preferred to live together and which liked to be alone. We considered the various types of food the dinosaurs liked to eat and we used play dough to represent some of these foods.

We also used play dough to make dinosaur eggs, but these were too soft and kept getting squashed flat, so we discussed what other materials we could use to construct eggs, which were more life-like. We decided to use a sticky mixture of mud, salt, sand and water. We moulded the sticky mud mixture around our toy baby dinosaurs until they were completely hidden and then we let the ‘eggs‘ dry and become hard. We thought that these eggs looked quite realistic and after a few days we wanted our baby dinosaurs to hatch. Some eggs cracked open easily while others needed tools to help break them open.

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One of the children took action with her learning and continued with our inquiry at home. She bought a ‘real‘ dinosaur egg from the shops, placed it in water and, after a few days, the egg cracked and the dinosaur hatched out! We were kept updated with the egg‘s progress with photographs and the baby dinosaur was also brought to school once it had finally hatched.



This personal inquiry has tied in perfectly with our year-long unit of inquiry, Sharing the Planet, where we are learning about animals, habitats, relationships, characteristics, need and interactions.

Photos by Heidi Harman


May 29, 2013
by Andrea Mills

A Trip to the Zoo, Using our Senses to Learn about the World

Spotting colourful animals using our sense of sight!

Spotting colourful animals using our sense of sight!

We have been exploring the five senses as part of our PYP unit of inquiry, ‘Who We Are’. We have been thinking about the Central Idea, “We use our bodies to learn about the world”.  As a learning community, we have been inquiring into how our senses help us to learn.  We wanted to take our ideas about how our senses and bodies work beyond the classroom and out into the real world of the Zurich Zoo (http://www.zoo.ch/.)

The children had a lot of background knowledge about the five senses before our trip.  Our inquiries have already led to many discoveries through learning experiences in the classroom like creating a Senses Courtyard Garden, Taste Testing, Sensory Explorations and much more. Many children had also been to the zoo previously with their families and friends. We wondered what new connections the children would make in the context of our unit.

Looking for animals at the zoo (sense of sight.)

Looking for animals at the zoo (sense of sight.)

Observing and listening at the Orangutan Enclosure.

Observing and listening at the Orangutan Enclosure.

Vera listening to the otters communicating with each other (sense of hearing.)

Vera listening to the otters communicating with each other (sense of hearing.)

A station to listen (sense of hearing) to the different roars of lions.

A station to listen (sense of hearing) to the different roars of lions.

Sense of touch was active when petting the baby goats.

Sense of touch was active when petting the baby goats.

The children were asked to consider how their senses helped them to learn about the animals and other experiences at the zoo. These are some of the children’s reflections:

Vera- “I did hear the penguin. I heard him in the water. Bloop Bloop Bloop. Like that”.

Hugo- “I heared (point to ear) the elephants before see them”.

Natalia- “I saw the zebras with my eyes. I smelled the poo of the goats but I heared them and I liked the way they felt, soft”.

Zara- “When I saw some elephants, I learned they looked funny, especially their bottoms. I used my eyes to learn that because I had to look at them”.

Noa- “I liked the orang-utans. (They used their) hands and sense of touch to hang. They taste and (were) eating tomatoes and grass from the tree.” 

Maya – “I liked it when we had ice cream and we were using (our) sense of taste.”

Tommaso – “I liked it when we pat the goat and gave them food. We used our sense of touch.”

Maxi V B – “I liked when we saw the monkeys. They were using their hands and feet. They were using sense of touch.”

We were lucky with a beautiful sunny day for our journey and the weather surely contributed to the already sensory- rich excursion. We were happy to share this experience with parent helpers, who actively engaged with the children by using  vocabulary connected to our Senses Unit and supporting their learning with rich conversations about the animals, playgrounds and other learning opportunities at the zoo.

We look forward to sharing ways we will build on the children’s understandings from this trip back in the classroom.

Elephants are loud and smelly!! (Senses of hearing and smell were active.)

Elephants are loud and smelly!! (Senses of hearing and smell were active.)

At the Hippo Enclosure we could touch to feel replicated skin samples.

At the Hippo Enclosure we could touch to feel replicated skin samples.


Enjoying the taste of an ice cream at the end of the day at the zoo.

Enjoying the taste of an ice cream at the end of the day at the zoo.

This experience was documented with photos in collaboration with my teaching partner Rebecca Smith.

April 8, 2013
by emmahorsey


During the last week of term all three EY2 classes demonstrated how they share learning within their communities.  Inviting parents in to see the evidence of learning that is taking place helps to communicate how and what  children are learning and assists in strengthening relationships as parents are involved in the  process.  After attending all 3 sessions I was struck by the sense of joy, participation and community, it was truly a delight to attend these occasions.  We hope that by holding morning such as these, inviting parents to be involved in the daily program and through the Blog and newsletters we continue to build these relationships!

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

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