Wednesday, January 20, 2016


If you had to choose a personal symbol, what would it be?

This is one of the first questions we ask children when they start our preschool.  

While we use these symbols as a provocative bridge to literacy, they also serve the practical purpose of helping children find their hooks, mailboxes and belongings. We have come to see that these little symbols have a much deeper significance for the children.

From the first day of school symbols are placed around the preschool, conveying the message that each child is welcome and is a part of our school.  The symbols help to establish a strong sense of community.

The children take great delight in looking at each other’s symbols and it doesn’t take them long to learn the symbols of their classmates.   Symbols quickly become an important pathway to connection between the children. 

Every year the children come up with new and inventive ways to use their symbols.  This year,  the three and four year olds in the Garden Room created a beautiful “symbol tree”.  They enjoy connecting their magnetic symbols together with those of their friends -- a delightful way to depict developing friendships.

Children have also taken to attaching collections of symbols to their bodies, again, a charming way to represent their connection to their friends.  
  Symbols have even found a way into our curriculum this year as the children work together trying to figure out how to project symbols using an overhead projector, tying into our exploration of light and its properties. 
We have come to understand that the children’s symbols represent to them 
a strong sense of belonging.  This became very apparent last spring when a 
substitute teacher joined us for the very first time.   
Sarah was new to the school and so we invited the children to help her feel 
welcome.  When she worked with a group of children they explained that 
they each have a symbol and that they attach symbols to their completed work.   
The children then asked Sarah what her symbol was and when she replied 
that she didn’t have one, the children insisted that she needed one.   
Since Sarah had recently moved from Florida she drew a palm tree and 
colored it green.  Several children then took it upon themselves to carefully 
copy Sarah’s symbol so that she would have some extras.  Children also 
attached Sarah’s symbol to work that she helped them with.  

Children create copies of Sarah's symbol (original on right)

Later that day, long after the children had gone home, we discovered that 
the children had carefully arranged Sarah’s extra symbols in an empty 
compartment of the symbol storage box beside all of theirs.  The children 
had found their own way to make a place in our classroom for our new 
It seemed very fitting that the children welcomed this newcomer in the way 
that they themselves had been welcomed into our community – with a symbol.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Making Plans: Going a Step Beyond

We ask the children to draw a plan before they begin their day because it reduces impulsive thinking, helps children focus, and supports them in centering themselves. An added bonus is that drawing their plans hones their fine motor skills, while telling a teacher the plan and watching her write it down strengthens communication and literacy skills.
A child talking with a teacher about her plan 

This January, after winter break, we decided to expand on our idea of having each child make a plan. On our work day before the children returned from their two week holiday, my co-teacher Sarah Anne and I sat down together and talked about each child. We have observed the children, listened to them and worked with them for several months now. How well do we know them? What are each child's strengths, her passions, her enthusiasms? And once we discussed those things about each child, we talked about what our hopes are for that child: such things as connecting further with others, engaging more deeply in activities, strengthening certain skills, or feeling more secure in the classroom.

Our aim was to see what would happen if we teachers suggested a possible path for each child. So instead of asking children to draw a plan of where they would like to begin their day, we guided their thinking with suggestions based on what we saw as their deepest passions. After we had our suggestions ready for the children, we could hardly wait until they came back to school the next day.

We were not disappointed by the children's reactions to our preparations. We saw an explosion of activity, many eager faces, and a lot of dedicated work. It seems we were correct in our identification of the children's interests. These positive teacher-child connections nourish both the children and us. It is gratifying when we find a way to offer meaningful work for the children. We get excited too!
This child created his deeply cherished  lovey, "Tag," out of paper

One child has shown us repeatedly that he is quite adept at creating paper hearts, so we asked him if he would like to make a plan to teach others how to do this. He agreed with a smile, and a small group spent a long time creating and decorating hearts. What a sweet way for this child to take on a leadership role, share a skill, and connect with peers.
Demonstrating how to make a paper heart

The final heart, decorated

Another child planned to make a tea cup so she could have tea with her daddy, affirming Sabot's belief that children will engage deeply when the subject is meaningful to them.
Writing a note to our studio teacher to help the child complete her plan

The tea cup, finally finished

This child's face lit up when she drew her beloved gymnastics class; another way to connect life at home and life at school. Actually, we noticed that several children wanted to draw family members, those most important people in the lives of young children.
"I'm going to draw the roads. Gymnastics: it's really hard to get there."
Completing her plan: roads and three people. Is she thinking about how she and her friend ride to class with  a parent?

We are in the beginning stages of this expanded way of thinking about having children make plans. So far we have noticed deeper engagement from everyone as they follow through with their intentions, and this deep engagement spills over to the rest of the day. There is more buzz of conversation in the classroom, more interest in other children's work, and more sustained collaborative play. These relationships--among the children themselves, and between children and teachers-- are a foundation for social and democratic learning.

Another child begins to draw her family

Her family on the road, going to Little Einstein's

At the end of every day now, we think about the children again. What did they do with our guided suggestions? Were our ideas appropriate and have we correctly understood at least one of their passions? Do we need to revisit and rethink our ideas for anyone? How can we expand on what they have done so far?

This child's plan was to make a cake for her mother.

We have just begun to share their work with the whole group at circle time. Will the children's ideas and creativity impact their peers? Will we discover other areas of interest? Is there a small group with similar interests who might work together on a project? We don't yet know where this way of thinking will take us. But we wait enthusiastically to find out.
A group making a plane, with grass underneath; then cutting the grass

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rainbow Room/Our Richmond

The Rainbow room children, parents and teachers took an excursion through the city by bus, from Sabot to the City Hall observation deck. It was an opportunity to explore Richmond from a new perspective- seeing the city from above, or from the window of a slow moving GRTC bus. 
Charlie- I can't wait!  I'm going to close my eyes and dream about this!
Harry - Why are we going on the field trip?
John- To Learn!
Charlie- To see what's there!
What will we see?
Pierce- Buildings
Sam M - Trees, Leaves
Audrey - trees
Charlie - snakes and dinosaurs
Will- Will we make stuff at New City Hall?
How will we get to the observation deck?
"Elevators!" everyone shouts

Once on the observation deck, the children ran around and around, looking out the windows from all 4 directions. 
Earlier, Teachers asked "How will it look from the observation deck?"
Henry - People will look small like ants
Ila - We will see people and babies
Henry - When you go really high the ants will be really really small and you can't see them.  We might see dinosaurs and fossils!

The trip was a happy one. Children talked about what they noticed at circle the next day.
Sammy I heard feet running around
Miles I heard echoes. An echoes is when you say something and it  just bounces off of a wall!
Will I heard 'bum-ba-bum-ba-bum-ba-bum-ba-bum!' (moves his feet in time)
Henry I heard a Camaro!
Pierce I smelled good cooking french fries!
Audrey Cookies! Zoey I smelled ice cream
Ila I smelled bus gas. Elaine Did something surprise you? Pierce A ice skating rink. Harry I saw a dumptruck with stinky garbage. Ila I thought that Mommy was not living there, but her was.(Mommy's office).

We will see what will happen next as the children and adults continue to reflect on the trip and all that they saw, felt, heard and smelled. The teachers will take these threads that the children present and weave a project together with them.

But before the field trip, the children practiced for the ride on the bus!