The last week of school is upon us! As we prepare to say goodbye for the summer and reflect on the year, we also wrapped up our Spring Investigation with a field trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory. The weather couldn't have been better for us. The sun was shining and upon arrival we enjoyed a snack on the grounds outside the conservatory.
There was so much to explore once we entered the conservatory. Using scavenger hunt cards, we explored and searched for plants from various climates. From desert succulents, to palms, and exotic botanical plants, each room was more intriguing than the next! The exhibits indoors evoked our various senses of smell, touch, and sight as we gently felt the various textured plants, and noticed their brightly colored leaves. We were surprised to see banana and pineapple plants as well! We couldn't believe that a flower petal from a banana flower was bigger than our heads!
A favorite attraction was watching the large koi swim in the "Persian Pool" lagoon. The children curiously watched these large fish swimming near the waters' edge looking for some food. Many children noticed the patterned stripes and distinguished coloration of these fish, in addition to their "very large mouths!"
Outside of the Children's Garden, we were fortunate enough to meet the resident beekeeper who was preparing the hives for a training presentation. He spoke to us about the many bees buzzing around, assuring us that bees generally don't want to bother or harm us. To show us the intricate work that they do, the beekeeper brought a hive panel for us to see and touch. Some friends even got to taste the honey off of a fresh honeycomb!
Before we ended our fantastic morning, the children explored the Play and Grow Garden, an incredible nature play space. A tree stumps obstacle course, pebble pool, and wooden xylophone are just some of the many invitations for nature play in this space. Not to our surprise, inspired by the recent events of the morning, the PK children used the pebble pool as a beehive, making honey for the queen bee.
The conservatory is truly a gem, just outside the city. Free 365 days a year, we recommend adding it to your list of family outing locations! To read more about the Garfield Park Conservatory and their hours, click here.
After preparing the paper using Eric Carle's painting techniques and with the design templates completed for our flower, bee, and butterfly, we were ready to begin the process of transferring these drawings to our painted paper, and then onto the canvas. The PK drawings were copied onto a transparency to be used with an overhead projector. Through this process the images were enlarged and projected onto a large piece of tracing paper. The children worked to trace these images. Natural problem solving occurred as they quickly moved and adjusted their bodies to adjust for the shadow. This process provided both fine and gross motor challenges as students worked to combine whole arm movements with controlled fine motor tracing.
During a group discussion, the children agreed that the canvas should be painted blue, as to represent the sky. Students mixed and blended various shades of blue acrylic paint and coated the canvas with large brush strokes. A few mixed in swirls of white and also used the opposite end of the paint brush to make swirls and scratches in the sky.
With teacher support, the large traced flower and insects were traced onto the painted sheets of paper.
After being cut out, the children worked to assemble the collage, laying out each petal and pasting the pieces onto the canvas as if they were completing a puzzle.
This project took over three weeks from beginning to end. As it evolved, and the impact of each step became clearer to the children, their excitement and pride in their work increased. To imagine a flower was not only a journey of collaboration but also an exercise in creating a communal piece of art that required planning, revising, consulting, and cooperating.
We have fallen in love with Eric Carle and his wonderful stories! Can you blame us? The beautiful illustrations and endearing animal characters make storytime magical. Following our herb and vegetable planting experiences described in our last post, we were eager to try our “green thumbs” at planting seeds. We planted wheat berry seeds in recycled pop bottles to create a vertical hanging garden. Take a peek at how quickly wheatgrass sprouted! We’re busy trimming and measuring the grass.
We then asked the children what they noticed about Eric Carle’s illustrations. Some of the comments included: “He mixes his colors up," "He makes scratches in the pictures," and “The sunshines have a face.”
We decided to explore the author and illustrator’s process for making pictures in order to create our own Eric Carle inspired spring canvas of a sunflower. This would be a multi-step process. The first step was to learn how to make the paper that the flower would be made of. During Morning Meeting we watched a video on how to make painted colored paper, like Eric Carle, which included mixing bright colors and adding those unique “scratches.” You can watch the how to video here.
We read the beloved Eric Carle story, The Tiny Seed, to explore the life cycle of a seed. The children observed similarities in the illustrations to those of other Eric Carle stories we had read, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and A House for Hermit Crab. We gave each child an Eric Carle book and asked them to explore the illustrations and share what they noticed about them. You can see the energy and excitement in the video below.
While Eric Carle uses tissue paper, our motor skills are more adept at working with a thicker style of paper, so we chose to paint on white drawing paper. The children observed illustrations of the sunflower from The Tiny Seed, and stated the many colors that they thought made up each part. For example, they noticed the red petals were made using red, yellow, and orange paint. The children next selected these colors from oil pastel paints, a new medium for us. Using a palette, the children worked to make the desired colors. Before the paint had dried, they quickly used a fork, craft stick, or other end of the paint brush to make the “scratches” and mixed lines that Eric Carle so regularly does. We soon had a large stack of colorfully blended paper.
Our next step was to draw the sunflower and some insects to serve as the template for our painted paper. Our classroom is full of budding illustrators and we asked a few students who often spend Indoor Exploration time creating art, to draft a sunflower, butterfly, and bee. Each of these three children worked diligently to create their image. To encourage the drafting and revision process, we asked these children if there were aspects of their drawing they thought were the best and aspects that they’d like to improve upon. Using Eric Carle’s illustrations as references, the students remarked on areas they could improve, such as making a wing pointier, or the petals wider. The artists created multiple drafts until they were satisfied with their very best work. Even at a very young age, it is important to emphasize the drafting and revision process as this builds focus, planning, and intentionality. To see more of what this powerful feedback and revision process can look like with young children, view the famous educational clip, Austin’s Butterfly.
Next up: the final drafts are ready to be enlarged and transferred to the painted Eric Carle inspired paper. We can’t wait to see the finished product...stay tuned!
Last week, with the help of a PK parent, who is also a seasoned gardener, the children embarked on planting their very own classroom garden. This project was inspired by the discussions of spring and changing weather that were occurring both in the classroom and on daily walks to the park. After noticing many signs of spring both at home and school, the class made a collective list of what they had been observing. Many of these items focused around plants and flowers, leading us to create our own classroom garden.
As teachers we first wanted to introduce the children to the important responsibility that comes with caring for a garden. Because of this we decided to first plant already potted plants before planting from seed. The children worked in pairs to plant a variety of herbs and lettuce for the classroom garden. We also planted some sprouted pumpkin seeds, brought to us from a PK family.
PK children have a growing vocabulary and use language for a many purposes. Throughout the planting process, the children used a variety of positional and descriptive words to communicate their actions. Through authentic, meaningful experiences, children gain the understanding of the power of words.
After the herb and vegetable boxes were planted, the children emphasized the fact that we needed to make signs to mark which plant was which. Having read some gardening and planting books in the classroom, the children were familiar with the practice of marking plants with sticks and labels. We provided some paper, writing implements, and the correct spelling of each plant and let the children add their personal touches to each sign. In the early stages of writing, it is common for children to experiment with letters, often adding animism to them, such as hearts for dotting eyes, faces in the letter O, etc. The sign makers exchanged quite a few laughs as they made silly E's with eye lashes, and H's with arms and feet! On Friday, the children shared their planting and signage at our All School Meeting.
This week the children have been watering and caring for our herbs and vegetables. On a recent walk to the park, we observed a beekeeper and gardener working atop Carnivale's rooftop. This led to a thoughtful discussion of why a restaurant would need to keep their own bees and grow a garden. The children have been generating ideas of how we will use our garden in a purposeful way as it continues to grow.
Throughout our Ocean Exploration, the children have enjoyed spending much time playing at the water table aquarium. Thinking about our discussions of submarines and in observing this play, we decided to engage in a Sink/Float experiment to understand what they knew about the properties of water and objects that come in contact with it. In our research on submarines, the children learned that submarines have large tanks that fill with water, causing them to become heavy and sink. We were curious to see if the children would build any connections to weight of items placed in water and their sink or float outcomes.
We decided to use natural materials that the children were familiar with in our first experiment. We collected rocks, seashells, sea coral, tree blocks, pine cones, and corks. In small groups, we worked with children in the TinkerLab. We began by discussing the definitions of sink and float.
“Sink is when it goes to the bottom.”
“Sink means it goes down.”
“Float is you’re going up.”
“Floating is coming up on the top of the surface.”
“When I go swimming I float!”
Preschoolers have rapidly developing vocabularies. Day after day they build their semantic knowledge, which is their ability to make meaning of words. Children build their language upon prior knowledge and experiences, therefore, many of the children connected floating to swimming - an activity they are familiar with. Listening to a peer explain what it means for something to float, combined with a child’s existing understanding, enhances their semantic language.
After the children agreed with each other on these definitions, we set up towels and labels to classify each item after it was tested.
Before testing each material, we asked the children to state their hypotheses: Will it sink or will it float? As the children made their predictions, they justified whether the object would sink or float depending on its size or weight, often using the word big to imply size as well as weight. However, the children did not always believe that a heavier item would sink.
“The rocks will sink because they’re not very big.”
“These are big enough to float.”
“The pinecones are loose enough to float.”
One child hypothesized that the small size of the rock would cause it to sink quickly. While their predictions of the objects that did sink were often accurate, the children were often unsure whether particular items would float, such as the tree blocks, pinecones and corks.
After each item was tested, the children classified the object by placing it on either the sink towel, or the float towel. Upon finishing the experiment, the students concluded that the weight of an object definitely impacted whether the item would sink or float.
“When they’re too heavy something will sink.”
“Stuff that belongs in the ocean will sink, too, just like it does in the water table.”
“If it doesn’t float, it will sink.”
These conclusions provided the right start for us to read more about what causes items to float or sink. We read the nonfiction book Tell Me How Ships Float, by Shirley Willis. We learned that if an object is light it will float. Even if the item is big, it can still be light. This explained why our tree blocks floated, even though they are big.
In reading, we also discussed the properties of air in relation to an object’s ability to float. When something is filled with air, it can float. Many children shared stories about using floaties in the water to help them float. They were able to make the connection that because floaties are filled up with air, this causes them to float.
When something comes in contact with the water, the water will try to push it back up. We learned that this push is called the water’s upthrust. Light objects are pushed back to the surface by an object’s upthrust. If the item is too heavy, the upthrust will not be strong enough to push it up, causing it to sink.
After reading the story, the children suggested we experiment with different items from our classroom, such as paper, Legos, scissors, Magna-Tiles, and balls. With strong background knowledge under our belts we were ready for round two.
In the second round of experiments, the children applied their newly learned vocabulary in their predictions.
“The paper is light. It will float.”
“I’m trying to push it down. The upthrust pushes it up!”
The children now paid closer attention to the object’s weight in their hands as well as the material of the object. For example, many children noted that the scissors are made of metal and the metal is heavy, causing the scissors to sink.
There were still items, however, in which they struggled to apply these newly learned rules. For example, we tested three different balls: a whiffle ball, a medicine ball, and a soccer ball. While the children relied on the weight of the whiffle and medicine ball to make their predictions, they struggled to look past the size of the soccer ball, predicting that because it was so big it would sink. Preschool children are perception bound thinkers, and often cannot focus on more than one aspect of a problem. They could examine the size of the soccer ball, yet looked past the importance of it's weight. This is because they cannot simultaneously focus on both size and weight.
Preschool children learn through observing and acting on their environment. Through these experiments they were able to make meaning from their experiences by describing, talking, and thinking about what happened. In turn they generated explanations and communicated conclusions about their world.
Our latest investigation is taking us under the sea! In the weeks following our culminating Harvest Fest, we observed the children spending a great deal of time engaging in pretend play involving pirates, mermaids, and submarines. We viewed this as an opportunity to use the environment as a provocateur. In Reggio inspired settings, the environment is viewed as the child’s Third Teacher. Reggio inspired teacher, Julianne Wurm, explains it well when she says, “this concept of the environment as a participant in the educational experience opens up the possibility for students to engage the environment with their peers and respond to thoughtful decisions made by the educators in an effort to support student engagement. This calls on the adults to render the environment a living space that actively participates in the educative process.” In looking to “set the stage” for more underwater play, we found that the placement of materials, as well as an imaginative backdrop, were instrumental in expanding the children’s interest and levels of engagement. You can read more about the environment as a Third Teacher here.
The dramatic play area of the room, in addition to the loose parts of ocean animals, shells, stones, and jewels, inspired more underwater play. The children began to use the classroom bus as a submarine to explore the animals of the sea. Observing the children’s interest in sea creatures and the idea of exploring provided us with a clear direction. With their consent, it was agreed that the bus would turn into a submarine. The children helped remove the articles that gave character to the bus and brainstormed what we would need for a submarine.
After reading the book, Super Submarines, we knew our submarine needed windows to see out of and enough room for a crew. We asked the children if they thought we would have more room if the wardrobe was standing up or turned on its side. The children agreed that if it was turned on its side, it would be wider and therefore more children could fit inside of it.
We spent the following days painting and assembling our submarine. The students made a list of sea creatures they imagined they would see out of a submarine window and assembled photographs of these animals on the windows. The children were also inspired to create sea creatures to attach to the west wall of our classroom that was recently covered with blue fabric to create an underwater setting.
We have been partnering with the SK students and Mr. Reynolds in the TinkerLab to create sea animals using various materials - including construction paper, cardboard, egg cartons, tape, tissue paper, bubble wrap and more! In this process, the children are engaging in problem solving as they collaborate with an older peer. The SK students have been mindful to listen to the ideas of the PK children and then provide suggestions of materials and methods for the design process.
As we create each sea creature, we are researching facts and information about each animal and posting them on the sea wall near the animal displays. The children have also experienced meaningful writing as they write the animal’s name on a large sign for the wall.
Up next, the children are eager to design periscopes to help them see above their submarine and onto the surface of the water...
Last week’s Harvest Fest was a great culmination to another successful trimester. The PK children were eager to share a past classroom experience with their families - making homemade juice, because as one child stated, “We’ve done it with us kids but not with our families.” That was reason enough for us. This time, we decided to let the children choose the type of fruits they’d like to use, as we thought this may open up the opportunity for more research, math, writing and experimentation.
Each child had an opportunity to look through a fruits and vegetables book for inspiration before deciding upon what juice they’d like to make. Although many had their minds made up much earlier! Next, we asked each child to create a recipe. For some, this meant using the internet with a teacher to research just how many strawberries or apples were needed. For others, such as those who decided to make orange juice again, it meant recalling the steps taken previously, and determining just how many oranges they thought they would need to serve themselves and a parent. In all cases, we were able to push the children to reflect upon the orange juice project and adapt those steps to create a recipe for their chosen fruit. In addition to dictating the necessary steps for the recipe, each child drew illustrations of the fruits that they selected.
The day before the Harvest Fest, we determined that we should have a market set up in the classroom with all the fruits the children had listed. Two children worked together to make a large sign welcoming families to the market, and were careful to include a drawing of every fruit their peers had selected.
After counting down the days until our parents and grandparents would visit, Harvest Fest finally arrived. The children were thrilled to participate in a full morning of school with their loved ones. In addition to making juice, students explored clay and Legos in the TinkerLab and relaxed with yoga in the Indoor Play Space.
Observing the children take the lead in the classroom and guide their visitors through the juice making process was truly powerful. Our PK students are building their self-confidence and sense of self, and it was truly evident as they selected and weighed their fruits, helped peel and chop, and fed their fruits through the juicer. The children also measured their finished product, engaging in delightful numeracy conversations.
The morning ended joyfully with an All School Story and Family Lunch. When mentioning to outsiders that we have three Harvest Festivals a year, we often hear, “isn’t winter a bit late in the year for a harvest?” However, we were very intentional about choosing the word harvest, as in its true sense of the word-it really is a gathering and sharing of the knowledge and experiences that have been had over the course of the trimester.
After a splendid trip to our neighborhood market to purchase oranges, we were ready to make orange juice together! We were grateful to receive various juicing mechanisms from our classroom parents, such as handheld juicers, blenders, and electric juicers.
We showed the children the various juicing tools that we would be using, giving a brief demo of each. We asked the children which tool they thought would produce the most juice. Many were unsure and therefore eager to begin making the juice. We split the class into three groups; a group to juice by hand, a group to juice with a blender, and a group to use an electric juicer.
Before each group began to juice, we explored a kitchen scale and the effects of placing our oranges on it. We observed that adding one orange made the red needle on the scale move closer to the 1lb mark. As we slowly added more oranges, we watched the weight become greater and greater. This exploration provided a great opportunity to make predictions and test our hypothesis.
Next, it was time to follow the recipes. Some children needed to peel their entire orange, while others only needed to slice the oranges in half and start squeezing. To test which method would produce the most juice, each group used a total of 4 oranges. The children found the first method, the handheld juicer, to be challenging. It also produced very little juice, only 2 ounces!f Four oranges in a blender, however, produced over 20 ounces of juice! Finally, the electric juicer produced 8 ounces from a batch of four oranges.
Each group graphed their results on a large bar graph in the shape of a glass to help us visualize which method produced the most juice. Using words like most, least, and medium, our PK students had a great discussion at the end of the day about which method worked best. Comparing two measured amounts proved simpler for the children than comparing all three amounts at the same time. Rather than seeing the electric juicer as making more juice than the handheld method, but less juice than the blender, it was easier for the students to refer to the electric juicer as the medium amount. We also shared these results with the JK and SK children during All School Morning Meeting on Friday.
During snack time, and during each juicing session, the children taste-tested their method. The blender group was disappointed in the amount of pulp that came through in their juice and were surprised to learn that the OJ from the electric juicer did not taste the same. Overall, the class loved the juice that came from the electric juicer. One student shared, “This is the most delicious orange juice I’ve ever had!”
This project came entirely from the children, from the initial idea to the steps involved, they were active participants in this very meaningful science and social studies experience. While we could have easily redirected the children as they were squeezing their oranges into cups that morning during snack and reminded them that oranges were for eating, we decided to listen and respect their ideas. We are, after all, co-learners with them in this experience.
Meg Fitzgerald is the lead teacher and Madeline Wadington is the Apprentice teacher in the PK classroom at Bennett Day School in Chicago, IL.