The Forest is our Classroom!

With the advent of warmer, drier weather, we have been spending even more time outdoors than we usually do, and it has become much more feasible to bring tools for learning outside with us. Simple additions of drawing materials and measuring tools have provoked immense curiosity for the children, and have added a new dimension to our outdoor explorations. Read on to take a peak!

Colored pencils and clipboards have been used to record observations of features of the woods and meadow. However, children have also used these materials to develop ideas all their own. Last week, writing materials inspired children to write their own "reports," which evolved into map drawing, which then evolved into the creation of passports. "What's a passport?" one child asked. "A passport is what you use when you need it," another replied. As there still seems to be a lot of space for curiosity and learning about passports, adding materials for investigating and creating passports to our indoor space will be a next step for learning. When we follow children's questions and curiosities, rich, authentic literacy learning about the world emerges. 

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The addition of rulers and measuring tapes has led to discussions about size and units of measurement. "You're 55 tall!" one child exclaimed, while running a tape measure along my back. Children initiated the ideas of measuring rocks, sticks, and the circumference of trees.

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Math and literacy understandings go hand in hand with scientific questions and deductive reasoning. One of our children asked that we make another visit to the pond, since we hadn't been there since March. He wanted to look for the turtle nests that he remembered discovering last spring. We didn't find turtle eggs that time, but we did have the chance to be led on an adventure by one of our six-year-olds, and to pretend to be tigers, and try to catch butterflies by "planting" a flower in a handful of dirt. Did it work? Not this time...further experiments await...

On another walk, we discovered tracks next to the pond, and children discussed what might have made them. "I think they're deer tracks!" "No, they're wolf tracks." "They look like duck tracks." "No, they're not wolf tracks. They're too small." "I see the part that looks like a hoof." "No, I see a hole that looks like a wolf claw." "What made the hole? Maybe it was an ant." "Maybe it was a worm." "No, a worm is too small."

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But perhaps the most valuable aspect of all is the experience of joy. Listening for bird songs, chasing butterflies, trying to make friends with turtles...these threads weave the fabric of our days. We couldn't be luckier!

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Teamwork!

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Our sandbox has been in dire need of refreshing, and now that warm weather is finally starting to appear, it was time. Thanks to a determined parent, fifty bags of sand soon made their way to our schoolyard.  Once the sand had arrived, the children took on the serious task of refilling their sandbox. They attempted numerous strategies for moving the bags of sand from the play yard gate where it had been dropped to the waiting box. They tried dragging it, working together to try to lift it, and attempting to push it up into one of our wagons. Thanks to our strong parent sand mastermind, they were provided with enough assistance to successfully move the bags. Once they got them over to the sandbox, they took over from there. They tried numerous methods for opening the bags. Poking them with a stick was found to be most effective. Once the bags were opened, teams of children worked together to empty the sand out of the bags. Groups of children worked at this task each time we visited the yard, returning of their own accord each time. The sandbox became a hub of activity, it hummed with busy-ness, a clear sense of purpose and satisfaction was evident. Since the new sand has arrived, the sandbox has continued to be a social hub of the yard, creating a gathering point for both children and adults to enjoy the first warm days of spring.  

As an observer, these hours of work in the sandbox made me really proud. It was exciting to watch members of our school community (the parent and the children) take leadership, to identify a goal that was important to them and to take the initiative to make it happen, overcoming obstacles as they did so. It was deeply nourishing as a teacher to watch them work together, to negotiate different ideas and different strategies, to cooperate, to ask for help when they needed it. Moments such as these, in which kids collaborate to tackle an ever-shifting array of challenges are, to me, the heart of our work.

 

The Elves and the Shoemaker

For months the older children had been working on creating a production of The Elves and the Shoemaker with Chantal. Even though so much time had passed since they began children remained dedicated to the process and performance. Children created the set, people puppets, elves, and other props in addition to learning the story and lines.

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Children were so excited and proud to share their rendition of The Elves and the Shoemaker with the younger children that they asked if they could perform again for their parents. So a date was chosen and children performed once more for a larger audience.

I interviewed the children after the play to find out what they thought and how they felt about certain aspects of the process and production. I recorded their responses and was able to play the recording back for them to hear. They were excited to be interviewed as if they were at a newspaper. Seeing the children's expressions as they heard their own voices was quite interesting. There were smiles and giggles and comments about their own voices.

 

K: I sound like Z.

R: That doesn’t sound like me. I sound like me cousin.

How did it feel to perform for your family and friends?

I: Well it felt okay and it was really like fun and interesting and kind of a teensy bit scary. But it doesn’t matter if it's scary or not. Umm I liked to uhh saying things. And I really really liked to like do other things too. And my favorite part when R said, “No, I want this cape.” (I pauses to giggle) And P wanted the pink one but R wanted the pink one too and Piper had the pink cape in all the rehearsals. And that's it.

P: It felt like I was doing something kind of scary but not so scary.

Z: Great. Just great.

R: I feeled like I was one of the elves in the book. It was exciting. I never did a show for my mom like that.

R: Good.

What was your favorite part in getting ready for the play?

I: Okay my favorite part of getting ready was making a crown for her and then it fell off and I well, that part was not liking but it's still okay. And I liked to make my puppet and I really really like to um do the things that I did. And after we did the rehearsals we played some games. And that was pretty fun too. And that we got to make the shoe puppets. Mine was a Christmas shoe. And I really really like it. All of it. All of it was pretty fun. And it was the Elves and the Shoemaker but you already know that right (I said while laughing).

P: I liked making the shoes a lot. And I also liked making my people puppet. Chantal like cut out lots of shoes and we stuck a popsicle stick on. And I colored one whole side pink and the other whole side like all different colors. I put a Christmas-y ribbon one side and then like a rainbow ribbon on the other side and a button on the side with the rainbow ribbon. (For the puppet) So we had a paper plate. We cut like parts of the plate and we made them for the ears. We got a round piece of paper and another round piece of paper and put eyeballs inside. And how we made the hair like with cotton and then how we like  stuck it on how necks with that we always tie Christmas presents with. And we made the dresses out of fabric.

Z: Umm making our people puppets. We used glue, cloth, and paper plates, and tissue paper.

R: Umm like getting the elf. And waiting for my mom coming.

K: I really liked making my puppets. It was really fun when I got to make the clothes for them and the faces. We used for the clothes fabric and glued little pieces of cloth, rainbow, pink and purple cloth. And for the clothes when it was poor, when they had raggedy clothes. And when them had pretty clothes we used rainbow buttons and sparkly ones and glittery ones and a piece of fabric. And for the faces we used a white ball that was really hard and we wrapped orange tissue paper on and for the hair we used brown reddish wool. And to hold it up we used a stick, a wooden stick.

Z: Making my puppet. We used a ball for the face of the elf and wool for the hair and string for the mouth and a piece of fabric for the eyes and I put a silver gem on both of the eyes that was the same. I used a stick for the body and a pipe cleaner for the arms and for the hands I did wooden beads. Fabric for the dress.

R: Making the puppets. I took a piece of cloth. I laid it on a plate that I decorated. And then I glued it on and I put some hair on. I made a mouth a mustache and a beard.

Were there any challenging or hard parts about getting ready or performing?

I: Well when I was saying something it was a little scary but I got to say something and it felt a little good. It felt good.

P: Well maybe the shoes kind of was. It took really long to put all the paper around the shoes and put the buttons on and the ribbons on.

R: No, its so easy.

K: There was kind of but not a lot. The shoes was kind of hard. We needed to put the tissue papers down and it took me a long time.

Z: No.

R: Yeah, painting the boxes.

 

Who were you most excited about having at the performance?

I: I really really liked to be there with my mommy watching me.

P: My mom and my dad. And they did come!

Z: My mom because I love her.

R: My mom and C (his brother) cuz I wanted them to come and I wanted them to see the play.

Should we have more performances here at Catskill Wheelhouse? What should we perform?

I: Well I would like to do maybe like Big Al again because I still have my fish puppet, my marionette fish puppet. I wanna do that again. It was fun last time.

P: Yes and the one that I want to do is Ariel. You know what the part I least like is the wizard under the water cuz she said if she wants feet it has to feel like needles are poking her. And she still even danced. And what I want to do also is I wanna do like my ballet performance. I would have to have my ballet teacher that I had last time to come and all the other kids that were with me, if they wanted to come to the ballet performance. I remember toy store, that's one of the dances and scarf dancing.

R: Yeah yeah yeah yeah!! I want another show that's different.

K: Maybe like a fairy one and everyone will dress up like fairies and use fairy wings. I have my rainbow ones at my house. Some can be butterflies, some can be birdies, some can be maybe princesses, some can be flowers, some can be crickets, some can be caterpillars. There would also be puppets.

Z: Yes, like any play.

R: Yeah.

Self esteem and confidence were built as children became comfortable enough with their parts to perform them for an audience.  Children developed their social skills, concentration and cooperation as they chose their parts, worked on the props, and took part in rehearsals.  Improvisational skills were stretched as children adapted to changes in the play as people were absent or things went differently than originally planned.

Families be on the look out for more Catskill Wheelhouse performances! 

Do your children perform for you at home? What do they like to perform for you and your family?

 

 

 

Tea party: The story in words and pictures.

The idea of having a tea party where we invited everyone, came from the children. It all started in the play kitchen in the nest, where Maya and Rosie were playing together. Maya really wanted real tea with water, and all to happen in the play kitchen. While this is something we sometimes do, the opportunity to make real tea is never passed on at Wheelhouse. We have some tea loving teachers at school, and will often add tea to our morning snack, specially on chilly mornings. So when Maya ran into the sink to get water for pretend tea; I said, Hey, Maya you know we can make real tea at school. Her response: "Yeah!! A tea party, we can invite everybody." 

And that is how it all started. The days that followed were spent learning about the teas we had already at school, taking them in with all of our senses. Smelling them, noticing what happened when the tea bags went into the water. And tasting them to decide what was coming to the tea party. 

The children were really into the process of smelling and identifying what the teas smelled like: 

Karika: This one is sweet! 

Marian: Mmm berries! Can you warn all the mothers to come and stay because the tea party is today?!!!

Kora: I think daddy is going to come. 

Rylee: Mine smells like broccoli. I like broccoli. 

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ABOUT PEPPERMINT...

Claire: It go into my nose and my boogers turn into minty spicy!

Throughout the mornings others joined in to the tea exploration. And the thought of more foods to have at the party came up. We started planning for a menu and children wrote down the names of foods they wanted to have at the tea party. We talked about it together and finally settled on:

Chocolate cookies

Gluten free cookies

Fruit salad

 and of course tea. 

 

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Karika: Sleepy tea! I know this one! Do you want us to sleep?? (All laugh :) 

Rylee: I have tried peppermint before, you are going to love it Marian!

Irina: And what do you think of chamomile? 

Marian: Uhhh is disgusting! 

Karika: Is yucky, is spicy.

Claire: Mmmm is like chocolate. 

After smelling the teas present at the table we decided to get cups and hot water and actually make the tea. We talked about how when you keep the tea for a longer time in the water, the tea can taste stronger and that removing it earlier makes it more mild. 

Marian: I want not spicy.

Rylee: I like mine that taste like leaves.

 

 Menu writing and drawing.

Menu writing and drawing.

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What I love more about this project , is how throughout the week, different children participated in the process, and how some of those children drove the experience sometimes and other times other children drove the experience. By the day when we made cookies in the cafe, destined to be served at the tea party, we noticed the word had travel. There was a big group of children interested in being part of the tea party planning. 

Through all of it, we were able to facilitate a sensory exploration when tasting the teas and smelling them.

By writing menus, children worked on literacy skills in emergence and with a purpose, rather than just because those skills are important to learn. By facilitating daily experiences of life in which children can practice all kinds of skills, literacy, sensory, gross motor, we adjunct to the idea of learning as living and the idea that we are all learning everywhere all the time. Also there was a sense of community of all working towards one goal together, and taking it to the end result: Having the tea party at pick up time, when families stayed a little longer to enjoy tea and cookies with us.

 Unfortunately, we don't have any images from the actual tea party, but we do have a video of children making cookies that I think you will enjoy. We look forward to continue to create projects like this, within our Wheelhouse community of children and families. 

 

 

 

 

Getting to Know our Pond

Inspired by two favorite stuffed animals, a turtle and an alligator, children have become interested in learning more about water habitats. We have begun by starting a study of the pond near our school. In just two initial visits, children have already made all kinds of fascinating observations about the natural world nearby. 

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Plants

One of the most readily observable features of our pond during this chilly end-of-winter time is the plants.

“I see grass! Oh wait...it’s the stems of cattails.”

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“There’s little black things...they’re the tips of plants.” 

“Look what I found! A gigantic leaf!” 

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“It’s clover! Look, a rainbow clover!” (describing clover leaves with reddish-brown edges and a yellow-tinged middle stripe)

 

Animals

 

They have also started thinking about animals, and wanting to know more.

“There’s a spider in the water. Oh, it went down.”

“Not spiders. Water skippers. They go on top of the water and they make ripples.”

“Where’s the frogs?”

“Are there frogs? Oh, no, they’re hibernating under the mud.”

“I found a feather! Maybe a vulture? Or a duck?”

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Physical Properties

They have made discoveries about the physical properties of water, and applied their prior knowledge to this new situation.

“Hey, it’s turning brown! Cause I’m mixing the dirt around.”

“Look, it makes a track.”

“When it rains, it will explode. Cause I see it’s high. The water. It’s gonna come out of the hole and go over the grass.”

“From here, it looks like the whole pond is covered with snow. It looks like a giant bottle of seltzer. Because it looks like white on it.”  (observing the ripples on the pond on a very windy day)

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Concepts of size and measurement

Children naturally observe and remark on mathematical relationships as they observe the world around them.

“It’s as tall as my papa!”  (describing the tall phragmites stalks that children found)

“I can be five steps back from the water and still reach!”

"Who has the longest one?"

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Creativity

And snippets of poetry and creative stories have been inspired…

“I’m painting the clouds!”  (waving a phragmites stalk in the air)

“What if the water exploded so much that we all had to swim, and we had to swim to our cars, and we had to swim to our school!”  

“Little plants...they look like fairy plants...maybe fairies live in there…”

These types of experiences are important because they incorporate many types of learning while promoting an authentic connection to nature, which serves both children and the ecological environment. Children hone their observational skills, engage in scientific inquiry, and explore botany and zoology. Opportunities for measurement, collecting data, and gathering information to answer their own questions abound. Opportunities for creativity and poetry are intertwined, as children are inspired by what they see to capture the world with novel words, and to create their own drawings and artwork.

As we continue with our pond investigation, we will weave in opportunities for children to represent their thinking through drawing, writing, and we plan to eventually use found materials to create our own pond complete with plants and wildlife on a big piece of cardboard. We will integrate the languages of math, science, and art, as children learn about and share their knowledge of the world around them. We look forward to sharing our continued learning with you!

It's Electric!

Thanks to some parent input and donations the older children have been exploring electricity. We were able to explore electricity through voice, art, movement and experimentation.  

Children were able to teach each other the knowledge they had about the topic.  

M- “Electricity goes into the light switch and powers into the light bulb.”

M- “The switch goes down, something that blocks the electricity goes down, and electricity goes into the light bulb.”

M- “The little line in the light bulb that the swarm of electricity goes into creates force to power it.”

Z- “At my house there is a light without a light in it and I can see the wires.”

R- “Metal conducts electric.”

R- “There is one power plant for each country.”

Some children were interested in creating artwork showing their knowledge of electric.

 K- “This is a yellow light inside a light bulb. The light is so huge. The wire is green and it's going to a place in the switch. The green is in the wall and the light bulb is on the ceiling.”

K- “This is a yellow light inside a light bulb. The light is so huge. The wire is green and it's going to a place in the switch. The green is in the wall and the light bulb is on the ceiling.”

 M- “This is a green sun powered with so much electricity nobody can look at it. And this is a light bulb. Its (the sun is) powering the light bulb.”   

M- “This is a green sun powered with so much electricity nobody can look at it. And this is a light bulb. Its (the sun is) powering the light bulb.”

 

 Z- “This is a light bulb and those are the wires inside.”

Z- “This is a light bulb and those are the wires inside.”

We were able to explore static electricity through balloons and other found objects. Children were intrigued by how this type of electricity was formed and how it could be used to attract objects, including their hair! We also had a little hand eye coordination fun as we played “keep it up”, as the children called it, with the balloons! It is always lovely to allow for those spontaneous moments of growth!

We began exploring current electricity as well. Using graphite, tape, LED lights, and 9V batteries we were able to create our own circuits. What a wonderful use of persistence, patience, teamwork, and problem solving skills!

I plan to continue our study of electricity this week where we will create playdough circuits and potato circuits!

What have you heard your child say they are interested in learning about? Share in the comments below!

 

 

 

* Snow Days *

Hello Everyone!! Today is another snow day, so I thought it would be a fun moment to share with you some of our snow explorations together at school!!

We've had a lot of snow this winter, which has meant lots of different types of explorations for the children- sledding, snow angels, snow sculptures, shoveling snow, eating snow, and experiencing the various states of water that can occur as it snows, rains, experiences of wintery mixes, and the types of snow and ice that form.

One thing I am personally grateful for is the terrain of the land we are on.  There are rolling meadows, wild forests, and some nice small hills.  There are a few spots that we've found with the children that are perfect for sledding. 

Sledding together is an amazing experience as a class.  It involves many different types of social skill building, physical work, sensory experiences, and, pure joy.

Socially, the children are figuring out a system of sharing the sleds, working out where are the places to walk up and where to sled down, bonding together as they share a ride together, and especially as they talk each other through moments of intense feelings about the experiences.  Many times, a child may feel a little overwhelmed with the excitement, the cold, the energy of the others, and its in these moments you see the children step in to help one another, really showing how they care for one other.

One of the best parts of the sledding experience as a class is that though they each get to take a ride on the sled, they really enjoy chasing the sled as it goes down the hill!! For many children, this was more exciting and fun, as they squeal with glee, running together as fast as they can.

Enjoy the slideshow below of one of our sledding days !!!

We love our snowy days of winter, but are definitely feeling ready for spring!! Perhaps today will be our last snow day, but maybe not.  Either way, enjoy it while you can.

Post in the comments below your child's favorite snowy day activity!!
Do you have any special family traditions around snow days? 

Child-led Literacy, Numeracy, & Projects

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been working on a few projects that were initiated by children, and that are great examples of how rich literacy & numeracy learning can emerge naturally from children's interests.

One of these projects involves the creation of a giant puzzle. Children have been showing interest in using the big space that we have available to us in lots of different ways, such as building a train track that stretches across all three rooms. After some of these explorations, one child came up with the idea of creating a puzzle that stretched all the way across the school. 

To start working on the puzzle, a group of children gathered together to share ideas about what it could look like. Several ideas were offered...all the children in the school at a party! The characters from PJ Masks! All the colors of the rainbow! An owl eating grass! We soon realized that we could combine these ideas into one cohesive whole by creating a party scenario with both human and animal guests. I sketched out a layout, and children chose sections of the party to begin working on. Later, other children joined in as well, excitedly drawing a self-portrait to add themselves to the party.

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Projects such as this one benefit children for many reasons. As an activity that places their ideas as the centerpiece of a learning experience, it provides a sense of empowerment and the capacity to be an active agent in the world. The aspect of telling a story and representing ideas visually is a cornerstone of literacy development, as well as artistic expression. As the project evolves, opportunities for measurement, math concepts, and spatial awareness also come into play, as we try to figure out where exactly the puzzle will fit in our school. 

Another child-initiated project stemmed from the eternal and important questions of "Who's bringing snack today?" "When is it my turn to bring snack?" I shared with children that we have a snack calendar on the computer, and families write their name down on different days. We decided to make a calendar that we could have in our classroom that children could look at. Two children began working steadily on making calendar boxes and writing the numbers. Sometimes they got stuck, and weren't sure how to write the next number. When that happened, another child working on something else nearby would chime in to help them out. 

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The intrinsic motivation that is evident in these activities makes them powerful learning experiences, and mean that the new information that children encountered in their work is more likely to be retained and integrated into the children's knowledge base. 

We are looking forward to showing you our work when it's finished!

 

Celebrating Pongal festival with Sita's family!

Last week the older group of children had a visit from one of our parents, Sowmya. Sowmya is Sita's mom. Sowmya came to tell us about a Festival they celebrate in the region of India were she and her family are from, Tamil Nadu. The name of the festival is Pongal festival: or harvest festival. Sowmya told us about  how this is a time when people thank the sun for a successful harvest. The children saw and touched some crops typical in India that are harvested during this time.  Sowmya brought with her some turmeric, tamarind, rice and raw sugar. Some children announced they knew what turmeric was, some had never heard of tamarind. Some were surprised to learn how sugar came from Sugar cane and how it was harvested by squeezing the juice out of the cane. They were also surprised to see sugar in a block:

Z: It smells sweet

K: It smells like maple syrup.

 

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We imitated the growth cycle of these plant foods as Sowmya asked the children to lay down and become seeds, then with water and care and the sun, they grew until we got these beautiful "plants": :)

 

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We learned how festivals are very popular in India and how there are many festivals throughout the year. How some festivals like Pongal last 4 days or more. Pongal happens every year from January 14th to January 17th. During those 4 days of the duration of the festival, people do different activities each day. 

We also heard how people decorate their homes with beautiful "Kolam" designs. Typically they make intricate beautiful paintings on the ground outside their doors. Usually these designs include sugar cane sticks, as seen in this precious one Sowmya made for us.  

 

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Another friend who wasn't with us during this activity came into the nest later and was pleasantly surprised by it and said: "Wow, that is beautiful, who made that?"

The word Pongal means "overflowing". And on the second day of the festival, people boil a pot of milk to share and celebrate the bounty of the harvest. The pots they boiled the milk in, we learned, are also beautifully decorated. The children got a chance to recreate the experience of decorating the pot with construction paper. They loved the wonderful assortment of little things that Sowmya kindly brought for them to use. You can see some of the intricate patters children designed.  

  Ronan really enjoyed making his pattern. And I caught his picture before he stacked his pot in the cubby to take home. :)

Ronan really enjoyed making his pattern. And I caught his picture before he stacked his pot in the cubby to take home. :)

We are really grateful to Sowmya and Sita for sharing some of their experiences with us and the children. Since Sita joined us, the children have been curious about her and her heritage and Sita has been happy to answer and share her culture with us. Tell us if you do, how do you share other people's experiences and cultures with your children? 

A Peek Inside the Afternoons of the Older Children

In the afternoon the older group carried out some projects that were peer led and facilitated. This has been a great way to develop leadership qualities as well as improve group dynamics. One day “I” set out many different items and asked if they could be used to create something as a group. We talked about the different items that could be used and ones that couldn’t and why.  I offered some other materials similar to the ones chosen and a project was born.  Once the other children arrived in the room I informed the children that “I” had thought of a project for us all to work on as a collective and let her take it from there. She was able to lead the group with teacher guidance when needed. It was beautiful to see the children work together, look to another child to lead, and encourage each other. While the project did not turn into the working helicopter that they had first imagined it was the process that was truly magical.

I: “Me and Z’s is the main part. My crayon will draw the thing we are going to head into. This part is the small finding place, like if we find a small pocket watch or a phone that still works! The stick part tells you when danger is coming. We put a bell right here and it will mean we’re in danger.”

K: “It’s a propeller for the side, like to spin on the side because “I” said that was a good idea.

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Children were able to use their prior knowledge to offer ideas to better the project.

R: “I am going to make a gas tank. Actually I am going to make as many as I can so we can go really far.”

Z: “ Maybe that could be a computer P!” P: “Yeah!!”

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Another peer led project began with K asking if I would learn how to make a specific origami flower she had made at home and teach the other children to make them.  She kept meaning to bring the one she created in so I could see what she had in her mind and she would keep forgetting. One day after about a week of her talking about it I set out a bunch of different types of origami paper and asked her to take the lead on teaching her friends how to make the flower.  K jumped right in to the leading role in such a gentle and kind way. She was comfortable sharing her ideas. Two other children, M and R, decided to join her.  It was beautiful to see the other children listening so intently and asking clarifying questions.

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As the school year continues I plan to offer more opportunity for peer originated, led, and facilitated projects. There are so many wonderful benefits to this approach. The development of social skills, conflict resolution, teamwork, confidence, leadership, interdependence, and independence are abound here at Catskill Wheelhouse!

 

Our living world...

With warmer days upon us the children in the older Crickets group have been spending a great deal of their work time outside.  Some of the natural discoveries they've made have led us to further discussions and reading about our living world.   

 One Turkey Vulture Egg found in the first week of May.  

One Turkey Vulture Egg found in the first week of May.  

Our first find was a Turkey Vulture nest with one egg in it, this was in the first week of May. We asked first; Who does this egg belong to? "Maybe a robin?" -K "No they have their nests in trees." -L  "Maybe a hawk?" -Z  "No, they have nests too."  We then shared with the children that something we knew, was that turkey vultures do make nests in fields and who happen to be circling above us that day...many turkey vultures!  I asked them if they would like to look for a picture of a turkey vulture egg and we could see if it looked like what we had here.  The reply was a definite "yes!"

 The following day during meeting I shared the picture of what looked like the identical egg.  "It's  a turkey vulture!" they all yelled.  We looked at pictures of turkey vultures and did some spotted while we were outside.  When we visited the nest a week later, the egg was gone.  "It hatched!"  They all agreed.  

Yesterday (some two weeks later), we were on a rain hike and we found what looked to be the same egg, on the other side of the forest.  Shell crumpled, the children responded quickly with; "Something ate it!"  "How do you know?"  We asked.  Their response; "..because the hawk probably carried it over here and then it fell out of it's claws." -Z  "Because birds don't hatch like that the shells are in half, like this.."-P (my friend shows their hands as if they are holding two egg shells)  "I just know something ate it, just look at the shell!" -LWe continue now with more questions and investigations- Who are the turkey vultures predators?  Would the mama vulture try to move the egg?  What does the shell look like after the baby vulture is born?

 Observations and recordings in the forest

Observations and recordings in the forest

In the forest... the older Crickets have been eager to find living creatures and observe (love!) them closely.  Teachers work together to find the most respectful way to do this and work with the children, so that they continue to remember that this is a life in their hands.   We acquired some observation boxes and so far they've really helped children's loving fingers from not loving too hard and also allows for many children to observe one creature all together.  The salamander we found was identified by the children, using a field guide, they took notes, and drew pictures,  A few friends just needed to "gently" hold and kiss the salamander.  " Oh, I love you so much, you smell like Zion!" -B (Zion is their dog)  "It's a red-striped salamander!" -I

 Planting the three sisters and of course, brother Nastursium

Planting the three sisters and of course, brother Nastursium

After hearing the story; The Three Sisters, children were invited to plant their own garden with the three sisters.  We decided together that we should also have brother nasturtium.   At the end of the planting we gathered hands and promised to water the sisters and brother.  "Power to the plants!"   

  Making happy potion with some of our harvested lemon balm

Making happy potion with some of our harvested lemon balm

Along with planting we've also been harvesting and exploring already harvested herbs.  With collected lemon balm, chamomile, lavender, lemon juice, and lemon zest we made...HAPPY POTION!  We bottled and labeled it.  "I'm so HAPPY!" -L declared.   We also carefully packed jars with dried calendula flowers and filled them with oil, so that we may use it in the weeks to come for other herbal recipes.   Hooray for all these gifts of life as they nourish us through body and mind.  Thank you, great earth...we love you so!  

Our Town

Since returning from our February break, the kids have been working on building a town. This has involved creating a road, as well as other buildings to add to our town. We've also been using pictures of familiar places in our block area. As children engage in this work, they have been working on representing their ideas symbolically. Their knowledge of themselves in relationship to their world is being refined and expanded as they think about the different locations in their town, and what people do there and how they work together. In addition, children have also been working on spatial concepts, measuring, and other math concepts as they create buildings. We are excited to continue to put together our town in the play room over the coming weeks. What locations do you like to visit in your town? We would love for you to send us pictures of some of your favorite places so that we can add them to our work!

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Maple Forest Adventures...

It's difficult not to explore sugaring time when Forest Day turns into a discovery of blue pails and hoses running through the woods!

 Finding buckets and hoses...."What are they!' Children call out as the run through the woods.

Finding buckets and hoses...."What are they!' Children call out as the run through the woods.

Once children found out that the buckets were collecting the sweet sap from the maple tree, they pleaded to be lifted up to see inside of them.  They quickly put little fingers under the drip, drip, drip of the sweet sap that dripped from the spout.   "mmm..." they sighed.  Others ran to find where the hoses led them.  

 Hoses leading to the giant trough of sap and then it will be poured into....

Hoses leading to the giant trough of sap and then it will be poured into....

 The Evaporator!

The Evaporator!

Our next visit to the woods I asked the children if they would be interested in helping to gather twigs for the fire that would burn under the evaporator and turn the maple sap into maple syrup!   

 I had a handful of very dedicated helpers.

I had a handful of very dedicated helpers.

 In just a short time we had filled the tarp with twigs.

In just a short time we had filled the tarp with twigs.

 Delivering twig offerings to the evaporator for our friends (or Dad for some!) C & R to find.

Delivering twig offerings to the evaporator for our friends (or Dad for some!) C & R to find.

 Tasting maple sap, palate cleansing....

Tasting maple sap, palate cleansing....

Our day ended with children taste testing maple sap and a story.  Some loved the maple sap and insisted, "it's better then maple syrup and french toast!"   Others were not fans and felt they might need to cleanse their palate with a maple leaf

 and story time!

and story time!

After our taste testing children gathered to hear the story....Gluskabe Changes Maple Syrup.  An Abenaki legend about how Gluskabe helps his village appreciate the coming of maple syrup.   After our story we headed back to our school on a most delightful "spring like" day!  I'm now posting this blog entry just two days after...almost 30 degrees colder and 2 inches of snow!   What will our next Forest Day bring?

Food Fridays!

The process of making food together has been a big part of Catskill Wheelhouse since it was first imagined. We took a bit of a break from that this past fall, but began cooking together again last week. It's been so much fun to enjoy food together again. We started off by making banana chocolate milkshakes last week. Today, we squeezed lemons to make lemonade.

We love the sense of community and collaboration that cooking projects provide. Older children have been helping younger children, allowing them to feel knowledgeable and competent while the younger ones get to have the experience of a supportive older peer to learn from.

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Opportunities for language and literacy development abound. Describing tastes and smells, reading recipes, understanding a sequence of events...all of these elements provide the foundational experiences that contribute to strong communication skills.

Mathematical understandings naturally make their way into our cooking activities. Counting ingredients supports quantitative understanding, cutting a banana into two pieces provides learning about fractions; measuring cups and spoons help children to learn about volume and measurement. 

As we cook together, we learn about one another and our world. We learn about likes and dislikes, how we are all different, yet there are some things that we share. We learn about the process and effort that goes into creating the food that we consume. As the weather grows warmer, we will look forward to connecting with seasonal changes and the land around us through produce that we grow and prepare. As we cook and eat, we enjoy sensations, and one another's company.

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What are some of your favorite cooking activities to do at home? Would you like to plan one of our Food Fridays?

Morning meeting!

Every morning after playing outside, we come together as a group for "meeting time". In our meeting we give time to check in with each other with a greeting song, a message from the teachers, and a provoking closing : a question for the children. Their answers to simple questions such as: What is your favorite forest animal?, What is your parents job?; can be not only amusing, but so informative of what children already know, what they would like to learn about and do, and influence where the curriculum and activities we present to them might be going.

Also, since the start of the school year we have been thinking about how to incorporate Spanish to our days. Naturally the children already notice my accent, and discussions about words pop up here and there. The children have always been wildly curious about how words are said in Spanish. Is wonderful to see their excitement as they hear and repeat words they want to learn or already know in Spanish.  As a response to their curiosity, we now have a Word Wall as inspiration with an Spanish side and an English side. 

Our greeting song offers the opportunity to learn feelings words in Spanish:

Hola como estas?

Hola como estas?

How are you today?

In the past few weeks, we have also been talking about Martin Luther King and many conversations have come up, some about big themes on how to be fair, and free and a good leader. 

As part of the explorations of fairness, leadership, social movements and Martin Luther King, we have asked the children big questions such as:

If you were in the place of Martin were you saw something you didn't agree with, what would you do?

B: I would make art.

Z: I would talk to them.

L: I would tell them is wrong.

As the fact that we have a new president in the country came up during meeting and how he is the leader of the USA, we asked children what makes a good leader? Their answers are inspiring and informative of how it is possible to have big conversations with small children. :)

A good leader...

P: They let you choose what you want to do.

B: They tell good words to people.

I: They let people go places they want to go.

Z: They lead the parade :).

Tell us if any of these conversations have come up at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late December Morning...

It's Friday morning just before we break for Holidays.  The day is amazingly mild for late December.  The children work at a small patch of ice in the play yard.  I take my typical approach to free play and try and busy myself with adult work, putting toys back in their place, checking on the garden, the compost, and really anything that will keep me from disrupting their play.  I'm not ignoring the children, but rather giving them space to be their authentic selves.  I am listening all the while, but making sure not to interrupt their play.   This is truly my most favorite time with children, when they are just exploring the freedoms of life.

There is a large stump that's being used as a stovetop.  With a metal pot filled with melting ice and mud.  The cook is calling out. "I'm poor, can you give me anything?"

 

Two other children are sliding on the ice patch close by when they call out to me, "Cammy, come quick, we found a track, we found a track on the ice."  I come over and they show me a shape melted out in the ice.  "It's a rabbit foot print, no, it's a squash!  We can put it in the soup!"   They fall over laughing at the thought and then get to work trying to chop the shape out of the ice with their sticks.  

The cook continues to stir their soup, and calls out again, " I'm poor, do you have anything for me?"   I offer a chunk of ice I've freed from a container and they thank me for it.  

I go and check the branches on our mulberry bush.   Another child has joined the group on the ice patch.  There are five now, all within a few feet of each other.  I'm really enjoying this scene.  The past couple of weeks have been rough for these children, their caregivers, and most likely their parents too!   It's December and now late December and celebrations are in the air.  These celebrations making everyone a little, well, as one child put it best when they said, "everyone is bitza, bitza, bitza!"  They even demonstrated the "bitza, bitza," and lay on their back and rolled around shaking they're arms and legs.  "Yes, we all have been a little bitza, bitza! " I reply.  

Today though, was especially low-key, not that I don't love a little "bitza", but today had this lovely little hum to it and no “bitza”.  From the very beginning, to the very end of our day, children were so at ease, so very comfortable with what they were up to.  We continued inside with free play and again all these delightful Crickets settled into the playroom, amongst one another, but mostly working on their own.   The serenity in the room was tangible.   I wondered whether it came from the safety of the space, the bond the Crickets had with one another, or the pure happiness in their own self.  I knew It was something very present and it filled my heart.

Impromptu exploring of the ukulele was just what one Cricket had been hoping for and some wintry carol singing ensued as well.  All these blissful moments wrapped up together became clear to me as the gift of “us”.  Each one of us tangled together by our moments with each other, we seemed to have arrived at this spot of unspoken feelings of trust and support.

This day was special in so many ways; it also happened to be our winter solstice celebration and Crickets worked on decorations for the occasion. Threading needles ever so carefully they made edible garlands of popcorn and cranberries to hang outside for our bird friends.  

They also worked on decorating the school for the festivities that would come later in the day.   Snowflakes carefully cut out over the past couple of weeks, were hung for all to see.

At the end of our day, families joined us outside to decorate our mulberry bush with all the edible lovelies. 

Then it was back inside for a story, songs, and most definitely dancing!

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We ended this day with gingerbread decorating (& eating!), a forest adventure, and a hot chocolate toast to an almost sunset. 

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Many thanks for these delightful Crickets, their light radiating more bright than any sunset!