Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Power of Books

For many, many weeks now the boys have been bringing books in to share with each other.  It has become a daily ritual for them, as you have probably noticed in the pictures from each week.  They go out into the hallway and pile on the pillows with one, or several books, usually about star wars, legos, and/or ninjago. These themes and characters have become a common culture for the group, a shared mythology.  

In previous years it has been Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, Transformers, and Star Wars, Greek myths and fairytales. There have been many incarnations of superheroes.  Who doesn't love stories of trials and triumph, power, magic, make-believe, fear, good and evil?  Every year we see it in one form or another because these myths explore the  big themes children wrestle with:  good and evil, power and vulnerability, danger and safety, heroes and villains, strength and weakness, challenge, growth, and transformation.  Maybe making sense of all these things, both symbolically in fiction, and in our real world, is the beginning of their own hero's journey.
Although we sometimes worry that the commercialization of these stories may lead to scripted play, we want to provide an environment where children can process their questions within the framework that captivates and makes sense to them.  Their careful study of these books, their loud and active role playing, and their studio work (representing what they know and theorize) are all methods to understand these big issues.  Having a shared mythology with other children, regardless of the origin, gives them a sense of belonging and community.  And having other children to process the story with, also helps them co-construct a shared understanding of the larger, real-life issues that these myths represent.

Just as the characters in these stories each have their roles and their trials and traits, the children in the Meadow Room find their place within the group.  Micah has found his way to a central place using these books. Often pre-readers will memorize the words of a story and then, using the pictures as cues, will learn to recite the story from memory.  This is one of the early stages of learning to read.  The other children are very compelled by Micah "reading" the stories that they just can't get enough of.  His ability also adds to the group's independence.  Children at this age usually enjoy a little more separation from the teachers, which is why the physical layout of our room works so well for this age children.  Micah's ability to read to the group takes this independence one step farther.  The other day as I was listening to them when they were all crowded together, Micah had a book that he said he couldn't read yet and so I offered to read it for them, but they said no.  This was so interesting since in most circumstances they love to be read to.  I took that to mean that this was their space, like a fort where grown-ups don't intrude, or maybe it is their story and I am outside of the culture.  Maybe they are feeling strong and confident; becoming the heroes of their own story.  The books bring power to real life in many ways it seems.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Testing the Waters: Beginning Learnings about Color Mixing

We had two tubs of water out for the children to use: one with pink water color added and one with purple.

Z patiently transferred all the pink water into the purple tub, using a pipette, a sponge and a bottle.

When G came over, he noticed the empty tub and said, "Where did all the pink go?"

The teacher said, "The pink is gone?  Where do you think it went?" G said, "Maybe someone threw it in the trash can."  The teacher replied, "Do you want to look and see if it is in there?"  G did, and said, "It's not there.  Where did it go?"
Z said, "We put it in here!" (pointing to the purple tub). G peered in and said, "It disappeared!"
"It's in here!" said, Z, holding up a bottle.  "It's under the water!"

I wonder what made Z say that the pink was under the water.  We couldn't see any pink anymore, but Z had watched it pool into the purple.  Did Z think the pink was hiding under the purple?  Was that the only explanation that made sense to him?  What would happen if we poured pink water into purple while G was looking? What do these beginning explorations tell us about children's ideas of permanence and impermanence?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pedagogista: Our Secret Strength

When I first conceived this post I entitled it immediately.  Then, feeling the enormity of the task of doing justice to the title "our secret strength" I was daunted and didn't add any text.  The posting sat overnight in the preschool blog draft box where one of the faculty members saw it, opened it to read the draft (we have long since given each other permission to read drafts and comment) only to be amused that "Our Secret Strength" was apparently so secret that it couldn't be made visible or written about.  This interchange tempted me to change the article and write about our secret strength as "collaboration" or "sharing without emotional investment" .  Or perhaps,  even better yet,"humor"! 

But, while all of those describe us,   I must take on the original task, large as it is, because, truly, it defines the culture of our school and maps the foundations and boundaries of our community.  But let me take it on this images.

Have a look...
what do you see imaged here as the backbone of our community? 

Creating a lovely box for a classroom's Tool Box of ideas to negotiate social/emotional challenges.

Collaboratively writing and illustrating a story with images of all the children in a classroom. 
Celebrating a child's birthday by sharing a favorite story with the whole class.

Creating beautiful arrangements for Teacher Appreciation Day
Cutting the wax for holiday candles while Star Parenting.

Greeting and engaging the accreditation team. 
Thinking with others about the image of the three year old child. 

Exploring and creating a surprise for the the classroom with the materials the children used in a school-wide year of Tinkering.    

The phrase , "our secret strength" comes from Lella Gandini, the U.S. Liaison to Reggio Children and emerged when she was visiting us several years ago.  At some point during the course of her visit she leaned over to me and whispered, "Your parents are your secret strength."  She is so right! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Forest Room: A View From The Missing Gate

Discovering the missing gate leading to the labyrinth has been new and exciting!  The view from inside the opening has changed as the children have shifted their awareness from noticing what is close to them to thinking about the mall far off in the distance. As they stood there peering out on tiptoes, I asked, "What do you see?"  

B  "A boat!"

Me "Where is the boat?"

B "On the lake!"

Their attention then shifted to a cottage close by and they wondered who might be inside. Just then, middle schoolers began appearing with backpacks on and made their way inside the cottage.  "Why are they going in there?" some of the children asked, although it fell as a rhetorical question.  Some of the middle schoolers said "Hi!" and we did the same.  Others walked inside the building, appearing not to notice us. 

When the middle schoolers came back out of the building, most appeared without their backpacks and some of them had small bags in tow.

I asked, "Why are they leaving the building?  I notice they don't have their backpacks on now." 

One of the children answered, "Oh, I know, they are going to have lunch!"

The search for the missing gates has allowed us to embark on a journey to new play areas and to the cottages at the back of our campus. The children are making new connections and constantly increasing their spatial awareness of our campus and beyond as well as the landmarks around us. These beginning forays into the geography of our area lay wonderful foundations for later skills, such as geometry,as the children move from one point (place) to another. 

The children seem to have a new found understanding of how the places they know connect to the unfamiliar places they are discovering. These realizations can also lead them to the process of mapping our school as they notice the their relationship to new landmarks as well as the habits of the older children on our campus.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Forest Room: The Missing Gates

One day last month we went out to the Garden and discovered, to our great surprise, that the gates were gone. We teachers could see Pippin trudging down to his workshop with a tattered gate in his arms but the children missed this. We stood back, waiting to see what they would notice and what they would surmise about where the gates went. They were quite intrigued by this mysterious disappearance, so much so that they decided to hunt for the missing gates.

Together we ventured outside the garden walls, often holding hands, and with excitement noted such finds as the cottages, the faraway mall, the parking lot.

We never did find the gates, but our wanderings led us to a doorway leading back into the other side of the garden, a place we had not visited as a group before.  The children swarmed around each new delight:

                                                       letters in the pathway,

                                    small mounds of dirt just perfect for climbing on,

old logs conveniently available for standing on and jumping off. With joy they race down the hill, create "Falling off the Log" games as well as Hide and Seek and running games. The Garden looks completely different from this new angle.

The children now play in almost every area of the Garden, and are more aware of what lies beyond the doorways of the garden. We wonder what they will think when the new gates are installed later in the year. For now, new places, new challenges and new sights provide daily charm for the children in our classroom.