ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

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 

 

February 23, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao
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Animals in Winter

In our year-long Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’ we, in EY2 RR, have been researching animals that hibernate and those that live in the Arctic. We have also been looking at the relationship between animals and people.

We compared and discussed how we, as people, stay warm in winter and the ways in which animals, in the Arctic, stay warm.

These are the questions that helped us start our discussions and thinking:

How do we keep warm in winter outside and at home?

  • Walker:     We cover ourselves with a blanket.
  • Anika:        We need a scarf, hats and gloves.
  • Zane:          Snow boots.
  • Wren:         Neck warmers and warm clothes.
  • Annabel:    At home we have a fire to keep us warm

How do animals stay warm in winter?

  • Nicolas:     They have hot skin.
  • Alex:           They have fur.
  • Walker:     Some have a special skin to keep them warm.
  • Amy:          They have special oil in their skin, which keeps them warm.

After these discussions, which demonstrated what the children already knew about the topic, we concluded it would be fun to do a science experiment to discover how it would feel to be an Arctic animal swimming in icy water. This experience would not only help in the children’s understanding but also give a practical hands-on experience, which they would love.
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First, each child put their bare hands in a tray of ice. We counted to see how long they could hold it in there. Some could keep their hands in the ice until we counted to 75 and we had to stop them.

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  •  Zane:             It is really, really very cold.
  • Ffion:             It is slippery and cold.
  • Annabel:        It is freezing

Next, we put on thin rubber gloves for the children and covered the gloves with fat. The children, then, put their hands into the icy water. The fat protected their hand from the cold water.IMG_4906

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  • Ffion:          It is not cold now. I can keep my hand in here for a long time.
  • Edward:     I like it now. My hands are not freezing. Mrs. Rao, do the animals have the sticky thing (fat) on their body?
  • Walker:      Yes, animals that live in the cold places have special skin and also fat to keep them warm.
  • Edward:     The cream we have on our gloves, I think, helps the cold to just fall down.
  • Mrs.Rao:   What do you mean?
  • Edward:     I think now, that the cream protects them from the cold.

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The children agreed that their bare hands felt very cold but with fat it felt warm.
This experiment helped the children to become scientists, make predictions, observations and understand how the layer of fat, that some animals have, keep them warm in winter.

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March 24, 2013
by Rajeshree Rao
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Maths and Science Provocation

As a teacher at times you have a plan, an intention. On this occasion my intention was a maths experience. I used snow, weighing scales, funnels and measuring jars as a provocation, to spark an interest in the children. After preparing the materials, I then stood back and watched how the children would use them. The children started by weighing the snow, making connections between the scale going up and down and the weight of the snow. The children came up with the conclusion, if the snow is heavy, the scale goes down. As they were doing this there were measuring volume, seeing how much snow they could put into the scale, balance was the goal!
One child began to put snow into the funnel, the question was asked, ‘Why doesn’t the snow come down the funnel?’ The children persisted in their efforts to get the snow through the funnel, until eventually the snow started melting. A ha! A discovery! The children were excited to report to the teachers that ‘If it is water it will come through, but it is something hard it won’t come through the funnel!’
I am continually impressed by the ability of my students to experiment and come up with their own theories. In this case the maths intention turned into additional learning about science concepts. Solids, liquids, theories and experiments all in a morning in EY2 Red.

February 28, 2013
by Rebecca Smith
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Snow Ice Cream Restaurant

We believe in the importance of bringing the beauty and wonders of nature from the outside environment into our indoor learning spaces. This week EY2 Yellow were presented with an icy scene of snow and winter creatures. The initial play centered around the strength of the different species, their abilities to live and provide for their animal families and friends and how they made discoveries in the snowy environment. With the introduction of some new tools, a large plastic strainer, two smaller metal strainers and funnels of varying sizes, the direction of the play changed. The children explored how to use the tools with the ice and snow. They discovered by rubbing the strainers over the icy surface they could ‘shred’ or ‘grate’ the snow. The station soon became a ‘Snow Ice Cream Restaurant’. With the funnels acting as the cones for the ice creams. Perhaps we could explore further to use the same methods to try to make our own edible snow cones…

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