We started the year learning about ourselves, each other, and our school. Next, we ventured out of our building and walked on the sidewalks next to our school. We had several discussions about whether schools could have neighborhoods, and it was decided that yes, indeed they could. From then on, we felt more of a belonging to this space in which our school sits. But still, we didn't feel a connection. We wondered what was inside those buildings--were there people in there? What were they doing?
We should just go inside and see!--Jane
We decided to write a note to the people in the buildings. We started with "Hello," because it's always friendly to say "hello." We told them who we are, making sure to note that we are their neighbors. We added a few questions, and then signed our names. We decided we needed to deliver the notes ourselves (we discussed putting them in the mail box, but we realized we wouldn't know who's name to put on the envelope). We set out, with our notes in hand, to get to know our neighbors. As we entered the buildings, the people smiled and were happy to tell us a little about their work and what happens in their building.
The Sleep Center
People sleep here! It's like a little hotel. Some people have trouble sleeping, getting to sleep, or snore too much while sleeping. They come here to get help.
We learned a new word: Architect
An architect is someone who designs (makes plans) for buildings. We saw a big room with a very long table!
There are doctors in this building who help people who have broken bones or sore muscles.
They asked for a song, so we sang "Twinkle."
There are dentists in this building that help when people have problems with their teeth.
They work to make sure people can go to the doctor when they need to.
They also asked for a song and again, we sang "Twinkle."
The next week, Bobbi, a nurse from Oral Surgeons, called and asked if she could come for a visit. She loved our note and wanted to meet us. When she came, she told us a little bit about her job and what happens in her building. She even brought us a special snack!
As we walked into our neighboring buildings, the children heard me say, "Hello, we are out getting to know our neighbors and community."
"What's a community?" Callum finally asked.
When we went back to school, we looked this word up on our Ipad dictionary and James came up with this way of explaining it:
"It's a group of people that talk and have some ideas and things that they do that are kind of the same but maybe a little different. They live or work in the same place." --James
"Maybe it's like a family." --Jane
This fall, we were invited to engage with our community on a musical journey. As with all projects, it’s often the sideroads and scenic stops that are most mesmerizing.
We would meet Rachel Ries and collaborate with her, create our own song, share it with our city, and engage with our community. But first, we needed to know Rachel. So, we introduced her through her music. We watched her video Words. This video is full of whimsy and delight, but it was the planting of words and the growing of a “word bird” that so fascinated the children.
Birds don't really grow and it feels like magic.
Do you think the seed was magic and it grew a bird?
Or do you think her words were magic and told the bird to grow?"
--Callum, age 4
Some of the children tried to replicate. But day after day, no word bird grew. We knew we were missing something.
We wrote a note to Rachel and asked her Callum’s question. She replied simply,
“The magic comes from everywhere.”
Hmmm....that was not quite the concrete answer we were hoping for, but we started to look around us, searching for magic. We didn’t find any that day. But while we were looking, Brooks, age 3 clutched his belly and shouted, “The magic is IN me!” We all stopped in our tracks, looked at Brooks jumping up and down and one by one the others clutched their bellies, started jumping and gleefully shouting and giggling, “It’s in me!” “It’s in me too!” “Me too!” “Magic is in me!” It was a moment of pure delight that couldn’t have possibly been planned—a group of small children joyfully discovering magic within themselves.
But we had to come back to Rachel’s statement that the magic was all around. Since we couldn’t see it, we decided we needed to sniff it out. We grabbed a bucket, went on our playground, and started searching for magic. Suddenly, an ordinary leaf, when smelled, touched, and examined carefully was not an ordinary leaf, but a magical one. We had to find just the right ones--not all leaves, petals, acorns, sticks, and stones are magical. We discovered we could find them by their smell and touch. Magic ones smell good and feel,,...magical!
So, we had our bucket of magic from around us. Next, we needed to add the magic from within us. We used Rachel’s video as a cue. We reached into our minds, hearts, and bellies and got our magic out and put it onto paper. We wadded up our magical words and planted them in our pot with the magic from around. We added a little dirt and water. Still nothing.
One day, while reading a book we had read many times before, something caught our attention. A page in the book reads “Music fills our lives with magic….music is a magic potion.” That’s it, that’s what we’d been missing, the magic of music! It was just days before Rachel would be visiting. We wrote her a quick note asking her about this idea and her response:
"Music is indeed a special kind of magic which lives inside each of us."
On the day she arrived, we had much to do—practice our song with her, draw pictures to give to her, prepare a snack of jam and bread, get coffee ready for Dave. But perhaps the most important was to get our pot of magic ready for the final thing—Rachel’s magical music and the music inside all of us.
Things moved pretty quickly after that—we got our voices, buckets, and hearts ready for our big night. It was an amazing event—the Englert stage made a beautiful and magical final destination to our musical journey. But the magic was just beginning because the next day something was stirring in our pot. Each day, a little more happened until finally, an actual “word bird” popped out! We couldn’t believe our eyes! Was it magic? Would it fly? Why did it look different from Rachel’s? Was it shy or afraid of us?
We kept a careful eye on it until one day, it was gone from the pot! We searched and searched and finally found it outside, perched upon a branch in Opportunity (the name of our biggest playground tree, so named by a past preschooler).
What is magic? As adults, we throw the term around loosely—we often use it when we don’t want to go through a long explanation to questions we don’t quite know the answers to (It’s magic!”). The term is used sometimes to elicit good behavior—the “magical” elf on the shelf that is watching closely at Christmas time. But what is magic for children and why is it important? I’m not quite sure I know the answer to that question yet, but I know this magic didn’t just happen. No, we needed to create the magic here by looking for it around us and inside of us, and finding the tools to make it grow.
We aren’t sure what will happen next. Will she have babies? Will she fly south? Will she nest for the winter? While Word Bird’s future is uncertain, one thing is for sure:
MAGIC is indeed around us and in us, and today a bird grown from magic and music sits in a tree named Opportunity.
.What is a neighborhood?
--Where somebody lives.
--It's super super long.
--It's houses on the same street that your house is.
--They live next to you.
Do neighborhoods only have houses?
--Sometimes it might be other things.
--Maybe if it was a big neighborhood it would have a grocery store.
Does our school have a neighborhood?
--No, I don't see any houses.
--There's a house (pointing to the far-away farm house).
--That is your neighbor (pointing to the building next door).
--If they live next to us, then they are our school neighbor.
We decided to take a walk and see if our school has a neighborhood. We discovered a lot of buildings and had ideas about each building:
Maybe we should go in some buildings to see who is in there!
When we got back, we looked at a picture of our school and the buildings taken from above. We figured out which photo we took went with each building. I asked again, does our school has a neighborhood? There was a lot of discussion about houses being in neighborhoods and whether people have to live in a place for it to be a neighborhood.
--But there aren't houses and we we don't live here.
--You can work in a neighborhood.
--Yeah yeah, a neighborhood is a place where you live....or something.
Live or SOMETHING! Yes, that was it.
What is our "something" here?
--There's living neighborhoods and other "something" neighborhoods!
What should we call our school neighborhood?
There were lots of ideas--deerhood, schoolhood, happyhood. I liked all of these, but then someone shouted, "The everyone everywhere neighborhood because everyone can be in it!" "Yeah, and we come from everywhere in Iowa City!"
This felt perfect, our Everyone Everywhere Hood.
Developing Self-Identity/Developing Community: Getting to know one another by getting to know ourselves
As I start another year at Preucil, my 17th class of preschoolers, I look out at this group and wonder who they are. What will the year bring, what will I learn about them and from them? What will I learn about myself as a member of this group? I could make guesses and theories based on our week together--and of course I do. T likes to check in and tell me what he is thinking, B is quiet, but observant, J is a bit shy but happy-silly when with a friend, and on and on. But I think the best way to get to know another person is by learning what that person knows, thinks, imagines about themselves. And by understanding who we are--our "self"--and understanding the other "selves" we are with, we begin to understand our new community and our place in it.
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.
5 day teacher