Children in the 5-Day class come to Preucil Preschool every day. They have musical activities every day either in small groups or in the classroom. The art studio is available with endless creative possibilities and with the opportunity to extend projects day-by-day. It is open every day for creative expression and guided exploration. We know children learn best through play, and so classroom play, investigations, and discovery happen continuously. Mid-morning we come together for a meeting to discuss our projects, read and share stories, and learn about each other. Outdoor time is an important time for children to use their big body movements or to daydream under the tree we've named "Opportunity." Because we are here together every day, strong friendships and bonds are built and there are ample opportunities to develop the social skills of negotiation, compassion, empathy, and community building. Our time together also allows us to dive into projects and inquires in an in-depth manner, extending learning over time. Ideas are acted upon and projects emerge that involve either the whole classroom, small groups, or individuals. We become a community of learners, all actively participating. Please browse the posts for documentation and reflection on some of our whole class projects.
"Knowledge of how to use stories to negotiate experience and society at large is essential to human development. It is how we learn to empathize and gain empathy. It allows us to stay connected to home though we must leave it, and to make ourselves known when we return."
Literacy learning and pedagogical purpose in Vivian Paley’s ‘storytelling curriculum’ Patricia M. Cooper
In my November 2017 blog I discussed the importance of storytelling in my classroom. Now it’s six months later and we’ve journeyed into the depths of storyland to discover stories are all around us and in our minds, imaginations, and hearts. Stories were told verbally, and through song, dance, puppetry, theater. We invited community storytellers to tell their stories. We learned that listening to other people's stories is as important as telling our own.
One can speak to the literacy learning that takes place by dictating stories and dramatizing them. I mentioned Vivian Paley in an earlier post. She was a kindergarten teacher during the time that kindergarten was seen as a valuable time for children to be children and learn through play. It was a time before No Child Left Behind. She has written several books telling of her use of dictation and dramatization in her classroom. Paley did not see this practice as a method to teach reading, rather she saw it as play—valuable and important unto itself. As we know, children learn best through play. Cooper reminds us that Paley “cautions us not to forget that fantasy play, including the stories children make-up and dramatize, is the ‘glue’ that binds all early academic learning.” Cooper’s article, written in the height of NCLB, goes beyond the play aspect to analyze the benefits that storytelling has on early literacy and reading development. She studied Paley’s storytelling practices and found six literacy skills gained through this process:
1. Oral Language: expression, home language, syntax, vocabulary, and sentence patterns
2. Narrative Form: knowledge of how stories work, where stories come from, what stories are composed of, sequencing, plot development, characterization, writing process, authorial intention, and use of imagination
3. Conventions of Print: knowledge of how print functions, including directionality, spaces between words, letters, words, and punctuation
4. Code: encoding and decoding
5. Word Study: sight words, phonics, spelling, and decoding
6. Reading for Meaning
If interested in learning more about these benefits, you can read the artice here:
All of these important literacy skills developed in the preschoolers. But for me, there is so much more gained in this communal experience of sharing stories. If one digs a little deeper and looks more closely at the experience, we can see that storytelling helps us to understand our world, ourselves, and one another. In his analysis on the impact of storytelling on human emotion throughout history, Cody C. Delistraty points out that “Stories can be a way for humans to feel that we have control over the world. They allow people to see patterns where there is chaos, meaning where there is randomness. Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives—a form of existential problem-solving." Storytelling this year allowed for us to come together as a community of tellers and listeners. Problems were worked out through our stories, fears were explored, and of course, the age-old dilemma of sorting out good vs. evil, fighting vs. playing, love vs. hate.
Our storytelling routines provided comfort and excitement. The simplest stories often received the highest compliments “That was a REALLY nice story!” Laine told Callum one day after his 3 sentence story about a giraffe in Africa. Laughs were shared when Chris created a story about Lucky Ducky, Bucky Ducky, and Ducky Ducky--these quickly became favorite communal characters. We began to learn and understand each other’s stories—Cece’s stories would always have a polar bear or police dog, Callum’s stories were short, Violet’s stories had fairies, and Chris’ stories made us laugh. Storytelling brought us together in ways books and videos cannot. Storytelling is a shared experience. And when it is sustained over time, it becomes a character itself—The Story. The Never-Ending Story, Stories are always happening...
To read more in-dept about our Where the Wild Things Storytell project, click here;
Cooper, PATRICIA M. “Literacy Learning and Pedagogical Purpose in Vivian Paley’s ‘Storytelling Curriculum.’” Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. 229–251.
DELISTRATY, Cody C. “The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling Why, throughout Human History, Have People Been so Drawn to Fiction?” The Atlantic, 2 Nov. 2014, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/.
In Reggio Emilia, the assumption is that children from their very beginnings are active contributors to the life of a community.”
John Nimmo, The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach
Last fall as we studied trees in preschool, I often told the children to listen to them, hear what they want to say. They would press their ears on the tree trunks and tell me “I heard it!” or sometimes, “trees don’t talk.” One night as I was scrolling through facebook, Prompt for the Planet rolled across my newsfeed. I took one look at it, and immediately knew I wanted to engage the preschoolers with this prompt. I wanted to give our trees a voice. The project is focused on young adults, but I knew our preschoolers had something to contribute to this. I clicked “contact” and shared a few examples of our work. On the receiving end was someone who valued the children’s words and work, Dave Gould (“Your student voices are nothing short of inspiring.”--Dave). He connected me with Shannon, the U of Iowa student who initiated Prompt for the Planet as her senior project.
I left school one morning, telling the preschoolers that I was leaving to have a meeting with Shannon, someone who wanted the preschoolers help (would there be hot cocoa? No, coffee at this meeting!). The next week, Shannon came out to Preucil to have a meeting with the preschoolers (yes, this was a hot cocoa meeting!). And, our collaboration with Shannon and Prompt for the Planet began. Their prompt was: "What if (insert a natural element) could talk? What would it say?” We started with trees, but as usual, the children showed me the direction they wanted to take.
The children have amazed me with their wisdom and sincerity in giving voice to our Earth. But the larger take-away they constructed is that their voices are powerful, their thoughts and ideas are important, and their words matter. They know they can share their voice. We are one small part of Shannon’s larger project, but we had our own experience at Preucil of collaboration, community, and focus. For now, I will let the children tell you about the project—it is their story to tell.
Shannon and Dave have invited the children to the community events celebrating the project. On April 22, Earth Day, the preschoolers will see how their work is combined with that of others’. They will see members of our community—adults young and old—consider their work and words. They will experience the sharing of their voices and see the way in which they have potential to impact the world.
“Bringing children into the public sphere celebrates their potential to contribute and lets them feel the pulse of their future lives”.
John Nimmo, The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach
Why: Cece’s love of polar bears and it was cold and snowy outside
What: polar bear study, polar bear play, polar bear drawings, creation of The Polar Bear Song in afternoon Songwriters, snowflakes, northern lights collaborative art, iceberg and glaciers art
Why: We learned that there are no penguins in the Arctic (they are too slow and would get eaten by polar bears!), so we decided to go to Antarctica to find the penguins
What: penguin study and drawings, revisiting The Penguin Story
Why: Children playing that they are searching for lemurs and discussion about where lemurs live
What: lemur study, lemur drawings
Why: Nuha’s homeland, children playing that they are travelling to Africa to see the animals
What: Brady told an African tale, reading of other African tales, exploration of African animals, tasting Sudanese food cooked by Nuha
Why: interest in dragons, dragons as key characters in our storytelling, Chris and James’ giant cardboard dragon creation right around the time of the Chinese New Year
What: Chinese New Year study including the use and meaning of dragons during Chinese New Year’s celebrations, incorporation of our red color study because red is considered a lucky color at Chinese New Year, stories about the Chinese New Year, a story about Ping the dragon painter, dragon paintings, Chinese music for our lunch-time listening. We also learned that Panda bears live in China and read some stories about Pandas.
Why: Chris is leaving for a two month visit to Korea; Emily’s grandparents live in Korea and she will be visiting this summer. Both Chris and Emily speak Korean with their families and each other.
What: finding out what Chris likes in Korea (tunnels in the mountains), tunnel creations using cardboard tubes, mountain/tunnel paintings, creation of snowboards and skies to pretend we were at the Olympics in Korea, reading some Korean tales including one Chris brought about the Sun and the Moon.
Why: A book read, Georgia in Hawaii--we learned about artist Georgia O’Keefe’s visit to Hawaii. She was asked to visit Hawaii to paint pineapples, but after being told she couldn’t live near the pineapple fields she decided to tour Hawaii and paint other things. She eventually did paint pineapples
What: choosing to paint pineapples or other things from Hawaii, exploring pineapples through looking, touching, tasting, and smelling; some of us used pineapples as paintbrushes.
Why: a classmate visited there
What: a story about the life of a girl living in Jamaica, Bob Marley exploration--learning a bit about his life and listening to his music, singing and drawing Three Little Birds, Jamaican beach paintings, beach day, making and tasting fried bananas (or at least plain bananas),
Since learning about maps a few weeks ago, the preschoolers and I have been “travelling” the world! We have traveled to walk with penguins, search for lemurs, paint pineapples, honor the Chinese New Year, and drive through the Korean mountains. There is no itinerary, rather our curiosities and experiences guide our journeys. All of our travels begin with a concrete interest—a conversation about where lemurs live, a fascination with dragons, a classmate’s travel, a teacher’s native land. I am positive that a pre-packaged world studies preschool curriculum would not look like this. But I believe preschoolers learn best when the material is meaningful to them, And so, we are discovering the world though our own unique curiosities. My goal is to have children explore a world larger than themselves, their neighborhoods, and their city. I hope that children will understand there are different ways of doing, of thinking, of believing, but that we are all on this planet together. I think this happens by learning that there are places all over the world with people, animals, and nature for us to learn about and take care of. By bringing these places closer to children’s minds, I hope it will bring them closer to their hearts. We are doing this through music, stories, art, and the animals and people in these regions. Along the way, we are learning some pretty cool things about our world which I will post about individually in the coming days and weeks.. Grab your passports and travel boots and come along with us!
Louisa's mom, Maggie, came to talk to us about maps. Before she arrived, I asked the children to tell me about maps.
--They can bring you where you need to go.
--You can find out where you're going with them.
--They can spin!
--He's thinking of the ball like we have one over there (points to the globe) that tells us everywhere in the world.
--It's something that you can see where you're going so you won't lose your way.
--Siri tells my Dad where to go.
Most seemed to have some understanding that maps show us where to go. We need them so we don't get lost. Freida assured us that Siri will help if we get lost, but we found out that Siri needs a map too! They also understood that the "spinning ball" (i.e., globe) was a map of the whole world. But that was pretty much the extent of map knowledge...until Maggie arrived. She showed us that maps can tell us about animals and people, and even our own houses! Maps are NOT just something adults use when we get into cars, Children can use maps too-- to see where the swimming pool and parks are in Iowa City, to find where moms go when they travel (Pennsylvania), to find the warm state our friend just moved from (Texas), to see where our teacher's mom lives (Sudan), to locate where penguins live (under the equator), to see where there are earthquakes (not in Iowa, whew!).
We got busy looking at maps, making maps, and playing with maps. Although the children seemed to always have had an understanding that the world is much larger than our school and community, exploring all of these maps seemed to broaden their world view. We talked about how maps can be of our school/house, our neighborhood and city, our state....and just keep expanding to the whole world.
Normally on Martin Luther King Day I think about celebrating individual diversity. The standard has been to talk to children about our individual differences and celebrate each and every one of us for who we are. I’ve just come from a MLK Unity March in my own local community and it has me thinking less about individuals and more about group and community. We walked a mile together in -12 degrees windchill. Many of us as different as could be, but yet together. Smiles, hugs, handshakes, song, and laughter were shared. An important part of my classroom has always been to build community. But right now, this seems more urgent and important than ever. It will be through group action and community that we stand up together to do what is right, to care for one another and our planet, and build a better world. We can’t do it alone. Community in the preschool classroom is when Freida’s stuffed kitty is lost and we all help look for her. It’s when Violet’s dog died, and we give her hugs. It’s when Laine’s baby sister was born, and we all celebrate. Community for preschoolers is seeing it snow for the first time and we all jump up and down, smile, and hug each other as we rush to pull on our boots and chatter about the snowflakes. Community is saying yes to someone who wants to join the game, it’s helping open someone’s cheese stick wrapper, it’s getting help when someone is hurt. Preschool community is learning about sharing and making sure everyone gets a turn to be line leader. Community in preschool is really much the same as it should be in our adult world—being there for one another, ready to celebrate together or share sorrow. It’s about making mistakes, and fixing those mistakes together. It’s making judgments about others, but spending time to get to know one another and having those judgments dissolve in a belly laugh. And once you build community and group spirit, you stand together on the same boat and navigate the journey together.
"When I woke up this morning I was SO angry that it wasn’t Christmas today."
"When I woke up I was SO tired that it wasn’t Christmas I wanted to just stay home."
"I’m going to my Grandma’s tomorrow for Christmas." (it turned out, “tomorrow” was quite a few days away).
Me: It’s hard to wait for something
"Yeah, like you just wait and wait and it still doesn’t happen."
Me: What do you do when you are waiting?
"Oh, I just do stuff."
"I’m just SO SO angry of waiting."
"I’m so tired of waiting. I want Christmas now."
"But you have to be good waiting. You have to be nice, not naughty."
This was the discussion we had on Monday, 7 days before Christmas. Children came into preschool that morning very… well, let’s just say it was a difficult morning. I know this can be a hard time of year for children. We like to think of it as magical, and it definitely is. But it is also full of anticipation, expectations, disrupted schedules, busy parents, etc. I wanted to hear from the children what was going on. Waiting. Waiting is hard. Waiting is especially hard at Christmas when along with the waiting are expectations to be “good” so that Santa will come. And so, we counted the days until Christmas and counted how many of those days would be school days.
Me: We are going to be in school together for 5 days, waiting. Will it help if we wait together? Can we help each other wait?
"Yes, like we can do stuff together."
"If we wait together then we are playing and waiting at the same time."
"We can paint and make stuff to wait. We can make Christmas paintings so when we don’t want to wait we just look at the painting and pretend it’s Christmas."
"Oh, we can play family and pretend it’s Christmas now! I’ll give out the presents."
"If L is angry to wait, we can give her a smile and she will feel better."
The rest of the week went much better. We played, created, and sang together. We gave each other smiles and hugs when the waiting got hard. On Friday we toasted our waiting success with hot cocoa. We hung in there together –a community of waiters.
As part of our storytelling project, Calvin, Univ. of Iowa dance major, came and “told” a story by using his body (no words). He told the story of Where The Wild Things Are. The children immediately recognized that he was Max.
Later, he asked them if they could guess who he was thinking of as the Wild Things
Calvin: Who do you think in my mind the Wild Things were?
Vioet: In your imagination?
Calvin: Yes, do you remember when I stopped moving and looked at you in the audience?
Louisa: We were the wild things!
We got into a movement circle and work-shopped with Calvin about how Wild Things might move. How would their hands look? How would they move to show roaring without making noise? How would their bodies move through space to show a wild rumpus and swinging on trees? Then he invited us to rumpus with him!
Calvin came back another time, and invited the children to help tell the story. We became the story.
This was the beginning of what is becoming a wild adventure. We have re-told the story many many times in our classroom. Louisa has made puppets and a boat for Max that we often use. We have made movement drawings to document the movements that we work-shopped with Calvin. We've gotten into our movement circle to work on our Wild Things moves. We've had wild rumpuses at school and at Harvest Preserve. Now, we want to invite Calvin back to help us tell our story to the other classes. It started with a story, and grew into an adventure--let the wild rumpus start!
"Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in heart forever.” – Native American Proverb
Early in my teaching journey, I discovered Vivian Paley, an early childhood educator, researcher, and author. My first Paley book was Wally’s Stories in which she describes using storytelling and acting in her kindergarten classroom. It is her second of 13 books, written in 1981, but still very relevant today. I went on to read and integrate many of Paley’s works, but Wally has always remained close in my mind. I incorporate storytelling in some form in my classroom, some years much more so than others. Each time, it takes on a different direction, but always the stories are the focus.
This year, It started with a remembered story, written last year by Louisa, Charlie The Troll. I had loved this story as it was being told to me. So simple, yet so eloquently told by a 4-year-old. "There once was a troll who walked through 100 forests for 1000 years." My own mind's eye could picture this ancient troll, roaming the forests, alone for a 1000 years. Then, he met another troll and what happens next in the story is something I wish more humans could do. "The troll said, 'we may not be alike, but we are both trolls.' They became friends." This year, I knew I wanted to explore storytelling in-depth with the children, but we needed a story to start with. I pulled out Charlie the Troll in the early weeks of school and we acted it out. Stories flowed from there. We've had stories about penguins, polar bears, birds, mermaids…and often, dragons. Not all have told a story yet, some aren't ready. But all have participated in the magic of making a story come alive either by being an active listener, acting out a part, or giving feedback.
Children feel valued and validated when they tell their stories and people listen. When they see their stories come to life through action--by acting it out, or through puppetry, movement, or song--they see their ideas come to life in a concrete way. They know their creative ideas are valued by others, their inner thoughts are important. But more importantly, their stories become a vehicle to self-expression—a way of explaining themselves, their world, and their thoughts and imaginations to one another. But I want to do more than storytelling this year. I want to also focus on story-listening. While it is so important to tell our own stories, it is equally important to listen to others’ stories. I want the children to see that stories come in all sorts of forms—a movement, a quilt, a song. I want them to see and hear the stories all around them in their world, to pay attention to the real and imagined stories they encounter every day. I’m asking and hoping for our community to join us in storytelling. My hope is that children will see adults participating in the very important work of creating and telling stories.
“Stories are a communal currency of humanity." --Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights