ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

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.

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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

October 1, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Den Building

Connecting Threads of Learning in Different Spaces

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As our class groups develop a growing sense of community, we intentionally plan learning provocations based on children’s interests which promote connections among our environments both indoor and outdoor. We aim to have threads of learning which are expanded upon in multiple spaces offering opportunities to scaffold and consolidate ideas.

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In the past weeks, there has been an emerging interest among a group of children around den building in the classroom as well as the courtyard space. The children have used large building blocks, fabrics, clothes pins and tape to work together to create a wide range of dens, tents and houses. We observed several components to this work.

First, there was the challenge of the actual construction of the structures. One group worked together to brainstorm and problem solve around the best way to build their den in a way that would be stable. A short exchange of dialogue and viewpoints illustrates the importance of the social context in which these children built understandings.

Izumi: The pegs won’t work! They just won’t work. You have to get something else.

Aaron: Maybe those long sharp ones that you put in like this. (hammering gesture)

Teacher: Nails?

Aaron: Yes, nails

Teacher: Hmmm, nails might not be ok for this floor. I wonder if there’s something else we could use?

Nikita: Cello tape?

Aaron: Yeah, cello tape and pegs.

Teacher: Should I get you some

Izumi: We can use the pegs for these like because it’s small enough but the tape for parts it won’t fit.

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The children used scientific thinking to collaboratively find a solution. Like engineers, they problem solved to figure out ways to successfully achieve their goal. They worked together to support the fabrics among the blocks to create a structure that was agreed upon by all. When they were successful, there was a sense of teamwork and group achievement. The child-driven nature of this collaboration added a heightened sense of investment. This particular experience was motivated by a small group. Yet, as other children passed by they offered help, suggestions and feedback, becoming part of the collective experience.

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The children sought out spaces for den play in the back courtyard as well, indicating to us that this was an idea the children were invested in and worthy of further exploration. Some common threads emerged as considerations for the children in their constructions. The ideas that seemed important to them included:

safety

hiding

protecting (babies, robbers)

being together

making spaces for activities like eating together and sleeping

The themes of the children’s narratives around what is valued in the  constructions give us a lens into the children’s thinking.  Play is a way for children to make sense of their world. As such, play enables a sense of empowerment  to explore emotions, fears, theories and ideas in a world where children are working out their place. We saw this clearly in the den projects.

Building on this interest, we reproposed the idea of structure building during a visit to the forest. Spending dedicated time learning in nature is an intentional decision in the Early Years. The encounters and interactions with each other and the environment become rooted in our EYC identity as the children and teachers form strong connections to this space. As such, it was a natural choice for a reproposal of  these interests. We wondered if these same themes would emerge and how children might work together and build on their thinking in the forest context.

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Waldkinder

Upon arrival at the forest, we met altogether and shared materials including fabrics, chicken wire, rope and strings, clothes pegs and more that we brought along for the day. The children were asked about their ideas for using the materials and shared thoughts:

Cloth

Lance: Make the top of the den

Mouza: We could use it to hide with

Lola: We could use it as a roof

Again, we noticed the narratives around safety, hiding and protection.

Chicken Wire

Fred: To do on the top of the sticks… a net

Finlay: You could use it if you see a bear, you could use it like a net

Owen: You could catch dinosaurs. You can put dinosaurs in the net

Jake: That’s not a net!

Rope and String

Khalid: I see cotton

Lance: Climbing mountain rope

Tuur: ‘String”

Jack: A rope

The Building

Using the materials and their ideas the children began constructing. Mouza asked for teacher help with placing the materials higher to create a bed to climb up. The children were required to problem solve as the materials began to move. Smilla and Mathilda thought the rope would be useful. They found a “rainbow branch” and Smilla, who is learning English, showed us by using her arm in a circular movement that she wanted it tied up. The teachers secured a knot so it was safe.  Mathilda felt the rope was too long for a swing when she saw Khalid use it. Giulia had an idea with the orange string. She began to knot the rope and together they worked to secure it. Izumi intervened by bringing strings and offered to climb a tree to stop it from falling. This was an opportunity for the children to explore ideas around structural integrity in the context of construction. They listened and cooperated around a shared goal.

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The children demonstrated sophisticated communication skills, accessing multiple verbal languages within the group to reach a shared goal around how to tie the string so that it is attached securely.

Elena: Was ist deine Idee? (What is your idea)

Eleonore: Das ist nicht schwierig (It’s not hard)

Elena: Das ist nicht zu haben (You shouldn’t use this)

Elena: Machst du das Giulia? We need a tighter knot, a very tight knot. What do the ties do?

Nikita: This is a really tight and close so the knot doesn’t come undone.

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There was also some dialogue around friendships and power structures.

Jake: We are chiefs from Giulia (Jake and Aaron)

Aaron: Yeah; we are searching for our friends from other countries.

Lance: We found a white special rock, because it looks like a diamond.

Finlay: I found something that is quite strange! Come, we found a new house. It’s a lot of sticks in here!

Lance: I will close the gate. I have security guards.

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The reproposal of den building with new materials in the forest was an opportunity to revisit play themes that were important to the children.  As the children engaged in tying knots, manipulating yarn around branches and constructing with diverse materials, they were actively  building their fine motor skills in a self motivated way. Physical activities requiring gross motor competencies like climbing, jumping, walking and running are promoted naturally in the forest environment. The ongoing den project illustrates why we are committed to offering children diverse opportunities to consolidate and expand their ideas, thinking and theories. We look forward to building on these interests and experiences in familiar and new contexts over the next weeks and months.

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“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer the experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds of combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers and adults”.

– Loris Malaguzzi

Photographs by Rebecca Smith – ICS Early Years Teacher

June 25, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Arts Fest: Exploring our Group Identity, Creating and Exploring with Found Natural Materials

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The forest is a special place which has become deeply rooted in the identity of the Early Years Centre learning community. Each class spends weekly time dedicated to exploring the outdoor environment where children are able to learn with and through nature.

The focus of the school wide Arts Fest this year, “Collabor-Art” was an opportunity to work together across the Early Years Centre with children, teachers, as well as the grade eleven students who supported us with the documentation of these experiences.

Our aim was to explore the sharing of thinking that the children have around the time that they spend in the forest. We took time to listen and to identify their emotions, as well as observe their explorations while engaged in outdoor experiences. There was much dialogue during forest encounters as well as connections made through reflections back at the classroom.

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Some children reflected on how they might feel in the forest while others considered the types of sounds they might experience.

Masha: “I heard birds, maybe little birds”

Jake: “Peeping and clacking”.

Naomika: “Sounds like different kinds of birds. Yeah, I hear, one goes, cheep, cheep, one goes cheap tweet tweet. Like a blackbird, a crow, a woodpecker”.

Eleonore: “We could make a nest for the birds. They’re chirping”.

Izumi: “I feel happy (in the forest) because it’s dark and we can play there”.

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The auditory component of the forest environment emerged as an important theme for many of the children. Some groups visited the forest in different types of weather to observe and experience how rain, wind and other natural forces might effect the way the forest sounds. The grade eleven students recorded and videoed these observations.

Children also reflected on how they like to spend time in the forest.

Alex: “Building dinosaur dens with my friends and also balancing on the big log and jumping from the log. I also liked when we built a bridge on the stream”.

Adeline: “I like building little tents so we can have our snacks inside it. It’s so fun to carry the big heavy sticks to build the big tent”.

Oliver: “I like building a tent and also a bridge on the stream. I like to make a rainbow with sticks in the forest”.

The children’s comments expressed their clear ideas about how they like to make choices about spending time in the forest. They demonstrated strong understandings of opportunities in the forest setting as well as a sense of personal agency.

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The multi-sensory and beautiful woodland setting inspires a sense of wonder and creativity. During our visits leading up to the arts days, we listened for the rich dialogue, meaning making and theory building of the children.

Charles: “My boots can stick on the surface (of the wet, squelchy mud)”.

Wille: “There is a baby goat near my home. I’ll feed him with these flowers (indicating the dandelions and buttercups he has picked)”.

Lily: “These flowers are for my clay forest. The purple are the most beautiful ones because they love the sun. They love everything. Can we bring clay to the forest? I want to make my clay forest now. Look how many flowers I have! It’s going to be a true forest”.

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As a teaching team, we spent time considering our observations and discussing how we could re-propose what we had seen in the forest back to the children upon their return to school.  We had noticed previously how the children enjoyed bringing  items back from the forest and placing them in the courtyard.  Taking this interest in mind, wooden boxes were provided, and we invited the children to leave their forest treasures with the growing collection of natural materials following each forest visit. Soon we had abundant pinecones, grasses, rocks and sticks of all shapes and sizes.

Creating Day

The re-proposing of the interests that the children had demonstrated in the forest provided an opportunity for the creation of art installations reflecting our connection with the forest. The Early Years Centre classes collaborated with some Grade 11 students, who documented the process with technology, including stop motion video of two installations, a slide show of a photo compilation and a film.

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https://vimeo.com/131404930

Password: ArtsFest

Key Points of Interest

In the forest, we observed that some key points of interest emerged. The children engaged in wrapping, threading, creating designs/structures and noticing details in different ways. The invitations to revisit these themes in a different context back at school provided the children with opportunities to build on their ideas and create deeper shared understandings. There was a sense of synergy as the group collectively worked toward larger creative goals connected to our group identity.

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Celebrating our Work and Identity with Families

After the Creating Days, the children were highly motivated to share about their experiences. We invited families to a special evening of forest inspired installations as well as a walking visit to our forest space. The classes prepared delicious snacks including guacamole, homemade bread, fruit kebabs and more. We noticed a pride and commitment to describing the project and the ways the art and forest were present throughout the Early Years Centre.  The children eagerly showed their families around our shared spaces and it was a beautiful evening of shared connection built around the children’s work and our identity as a community.

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Text by Andrea Mills

Photos by Rebecca Smith, The Early Years Centre team and ICS Grade 11 students

Videos by ICS Grade 11 students

October 20, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao
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Developing Language and Mathematical Skills using Stories

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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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March 3, 2014
by Rebecca Smith
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Waldkinder: Explorations in the Forest

 

Each week we visit the forest by our school for our Waldkinder, or ‘forest children’ explorations.

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This week it felt as if the winter had melted away. We spent a perfect morning exploring an area of the forest that we had not visited before. There were tall trees and a rushing stream. The children experimented with ‘force’ by floating leaves and holding sticks in the flowing water. We collected big sticks and worked together to carry them. We dragged the sticks through the squelchy mud to make marks. 

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Some children recalled previous experiences that we’ve had in the forest. They collected sticks and built ‘fires’.

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In our ‘Sharing The Planet’ Unit of Inquiry we are wondering about how animals and humans interact. On this day we searched for animals and insects in the forest. We found some earthworms in the soil by the stream. We are now planning to research to find out more about worms.

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Photographs by Rebecca Smith (ICS EY1 Teacher)

 

Life is Affected by the Seasons

May 30, 2013 by Fiona Affleck | 0 comments

An inquiry into the natural world

We explored our surroundings with a focus on how the natural world, including animals and plant life, is affected by the seasons.

This short video displays some of the things we have been doing in our class to explore these ideas and observe changes in our natural environment.

Password: icsz

April 28, 2013
by Andrea Mills
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Worms, Wet Weather and Wonderings: How Waldkinder Supports the Learner Profile

As part of our PYP Unit, How the World Works, we are exploring how each season affects people, animal, and plant life.  A rainy spring morning provided the perfect opportunity to observe ways wet weather impact worms. In previous Waldkinder sessions, the children noticed there was less snow. After wondering all winter what was happening underneath the snow, we finally had a chance to find out.  A group of children found some worms near puddles on the path to the forest. We all enjoyed observing, carefully handling the wiggly creatures and worms became the focus of many conversations as well as integrated into play.

Another teacher thoughtfully remembered our interest in worms and shared one of her favorite stories, ‘Yucky Worms’ written by  Vivian French.  The story allowed the children to build on their knowledge of worms and to generate more questions; Why do worms like it when it’s wet? Why are worms slimy?  Some children were particularly interested in the ways worms help soil to become healthier.  These questions came from the children and as the teacher, I was able to help make connections about ways springtime, warm and wet weather affect the ways worms live. We shared a beautiful, wet morning with our friends in EY2 Yellow making discoveries about the worms. The children’s interest didn’t end in the forest. Even back in the classroom, worms continued to be a topic of interest. Some children created a community of “worm families” from clay.

It was serendipitous that the children’s natural interest in the worms supported our inquiry into the impact of weather although not surprising. Time spent in nature enables children to develop a sense of wonder in an authentic and beautiful environment.  We often find that the outdoors is the ideal setting for child-driven questions with abundant opportunity for children to find answers in a multi-sensory, independent way.

The Worm Inquiry also enabled children to demonstrate and develop some Learner Profile attributes.

Knowledgeable: Children expanded their understanding of worms and weather. Through their own observations, the worm story and discussions with teachers/ peers, we built our understandings of characteristics of worms as well as the impact of wet weather.

Risk Taker: Some children were initially squeamish about picking up slimy worms. The teachers reassured children it was alright to just observe. Still, it was clear several children felt proud when they took a risk and chose to handle the worms.

Principled: We talked about how it’s alright to handle the worms carefully for observation but that it is important to return them to their home safely. Naturally, some children wanted to bring the worms back into the classroom and others reminded them of our discussions about what worms need as well as how important they are for making healthy soil. Many children took the principled action and returned the worms to the soil.

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