Why Is It?

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As some of you may know, I drive through some pretty horrendous traffic each morning as I commute 21 miles one way, to get to school. And, I’m not the only one! Several staff members approach Hanna from both the north and south, traveling many miles each week to earn a living. Obviously, we make this drive (Did I mention the traffic?!) for many reasons beyond just earning a paycheck. I don’t know many early childhood centers I pass, to get here, yet I continue to make this drive despite frequent bumper-to-bumper traffic. Why? Because, once my feet touch our whimsical, jewel-embedded hopscotch and I pass through that funky, spring-loaded gate, my heart sings. I know that all of my beliefs regarding (Caution: buzzword!) “best practices” make up the framework for this school. Starting with a very strong and cohesive emphasis on social-emotional development, our children are happy, cooperative and collaborative. This makes it very easy to do the work I love doing, and that is following the practices inspired by the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  Each day, the children and I work and play together while creating and making new discoveries. Because of this playful approach to learning, intelligence is being developed because teachers are asking questions and our curious children are testing things  out – trying this way and that, and coming up with conclusions.  

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So how does it work? How does a philosophy inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy translate into my daily life here at Hanna?

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~ Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, it gets exciting when plans take an unanticipated turn! Whereas in a traditional school setting, the teacher makes all the plans: here at Hanna, the child is the protagonist. 

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Certainly, there are moments when the teacher is clearly in charge. Such as making decisions regarding children’s safety. But when designing curriculum, the greatest success means following the lead of a child.Such was the case when Dane found sticks in the Garden Classroom, and used them to make some shapes. Dane illustrated to us, the great potential of these sticks and how they could contribute to the 3 Day Afternoon Class study of lines. 

~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, a small group of children gathered together to solve a problem. 

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We have a great group of scientists who visit the Science Lab daily. Although they are always very excited and enthusiastic about whatever materials are available, they are not always very careful or respectful while using the substances and tools. Instead of banning these boys from the area, I turned the “problem into a project.”  I have met with this group several times, and they have come up with a list of ways on how to handle  the tools so items don’t break and various substances (such as colored water) last longer than a few minutes.

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~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I challenged the “fort builders” to design their forts before building them.

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By drawing out the plans ahead of time, this “fort builder” used his drawing skills to think and plan. His fort turned out remarkably like his plans!

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~ Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, our study of monarchs continues to engage and evolve. 

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Unlike traditional schools where a minimum time is spent on a single topic before turning to a new one, a topic (for example, our study of  monarch butterflies) can turn into a project that can go on for months and months.  After their visit with us in the fall, I had no idea where our study of monarchs would lead us. Now, more than five months later, the children are using mosaics to recreate the beautiful forms of the monarch butterfly. So far the mosaics are made out of paper, but we will soon be creating a real mosaic using ceramic plates! 

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~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I coach even our youngest artists and scientists how to use tools, instruments and materials with care because children are so capable.

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Some members of the transition class have been creating some beautiful art with watercolors.while being instructed how to clean the brush before choosing a new color and tapping the brush on the jar of color before painting to minimize drips and splattering.  

~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I continue to rejoice in being surrounded by nature and especially LOVE the beautiful gifts given to me by children gathered on their walks. 

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 Although I have always had an appreciation for nature, I never really saw the wonderful advantage of using natural materials in a classroom (other than the obligatory “science table”) before becoming a student of Reggio Emilia. Not only have I become a fan of using beautiful acorns, seedpods, stones, etc for building, art, decor and even “cooking” in the mud kitchen, many of my young students acknowledge my love of natural items and share the enthusiasm. I often receive gifts from the children with a message, “I know you will like this!”  I have received MANY gifts from Claire. She often collects pine cones and seed pods from magnolias while taking walks and then brings the treasures to me. The most recent gift was an enormous piece from a palm tree. I really need to find out what this part is called. Claire calls it a boat. This piece got a lot of attention from the recent rain after the rainwater from the roof of the Art Cottage fell into it.  We floated little bits of this and that in the water. Right away, I saw this as a piece to be filled with soil. Then it came to me, this would be the perfect container for a fairy garden! Stay tuned! 

For me, teaching at Hanna is a dream. It is not always easy work. Often, the work is slow to develop because certain children who inspired the work in the first place, don’t make it up to the Garden Classroom. There are plenty of activities going on in the lower playground that are just as meaningful and engaging. If that happens, I leave it for another day or see who else might find it interesting. Other times, I can’t keep up! Children are engaged and wanting to share their ideas left and right! I have a pile of notes waiting to be transcribed and matched up with specific projects for documentation.

 

So come tomorrow morning, I will once again buckle myself into my Toyota and head up Interstate 5. And WHEN (not if) I find myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic I won’t be upset. I will be wondering what new adventures await me beyond that sparkly hopscotch.

 With Joy! 

Francie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you may know, I drive through some pretty horrendous traffic each morning as I commute 21 miles one way, to get to school. And, I’m not the only one! Several staff members approach Hanna from both the north and south, traveling many miles each week to earn a living. Obviously, we make this drive (Did I mention the traffic?!) for many reasons beyond just earning a paycheck. I don’t know many early childhood centers I pass, to get here, yet I continue to make this drive despite frequent bumper-to-bumper traffic. Why? Because, once my feet touch our whimsical, jewel-embedded hopscotch and I pass through that funky, spring-loaded gate, my heart sings. I know that all of my beliefs regarding (Caution: buzzword!) “Best practices” make up the framework for this school. Starting with a very strong and cohesive emphasis on social-emotional development, our children are happy, cooperative and collaborative. Which makes it very easy to do the work I love doing, and that is following the practices inspired by the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  Each day, the children and I work and play together while creating and making new discoveries. Because of this playful approach to learning, intelligence is being developed because teachers are asking questions and children are testing things out and coming up with conclusions. 

So how does it work? How does a philosophy inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy translate into my daily life here at Hanna?

~ Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, it gets exciting when plans take an unanticipated turn! Sticks Dane child as protagonist

 

Certainly, there are moments when the teacher is clearly in charge. Such as making decisions regarding children’s safety. But when designing curriculum, the greatest success means following the lead of a child.

 

~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, a small group of children gathered together to solve a problem. Science rules

 

~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I challenged the “fort builders” to design their forts before building them.

~ Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, our study of monarchs continues to engage and evolve. Mosaics

~ Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I try very hard to be patient and WAIT for the children to initiate an activity.  Carrots

~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I coach even our youngest artists and scientists how to use tools, instruments and materials with care because children are so capable. Paul painting at Light Table

~Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, I continue to rejoice in being surrounded by nature and especially LOVE the beautiful gifts given to me by children gathered on their walks. Palm Parts.

 

For me, teaching at Hanna is a dream. It is not always easy work. Often, the work is slow to develop because certain children who inspired the work in the first place, don’t make it up to the Garden Classroom. There are plenty of activities going on in the lower playground that are just as meaningful and engaging. If that happens, I leave it for another day or see who else might find it interesting. Other times, I can’t keep up! Children are engaged and wanting to share their ideas left and right! I have a pile of notes waiting to be transcribed and matched up with specific projects for documentation.

 

So come tomorrow morning, I will once again buckle myself into my Toyota and head up Interstate 5. And WHEN (not if) I find myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic I won’t be upset. I will be wondering what new adventures await me beyond that sparkly hopscotch.

 

 

 

 

 

Going Smaller – or Bigger

 

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What to do when one activity, which had been fueled by lots of imagination, cooperation and  enthusiasm becomes stagnant and uninspired, yet children still insist on “playing the game” or using the materials? I change the scale!

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We have a group of horse-crazy girls who have insisted on riding the hobby horses every day they are at school. EVERY DAY! They are the best of friends and love to gallop around the lower playground. They are happy and engaged with each other. Yet, the play was the same and there wasn’t any new ideas or problem solving. I invited them up to the Garden Classroom, but nothing really grabbed their attention. I got together with their teachers and we decided to gather the girls and have a meeting. We called this gathering, the “Horse Committee.” After drawing pictures, the committee members shared some interesting facts, such as…

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Horses eat hay, horses have manes, the farmer takes care of the horses, horses can be a boy or a girl and they live in a stable, and stables are made out of wood. Lesser known facts include, horses and mice are good friends.    

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Using this valuable information, I gathered up some materials and let the girls help me create a “small world” of horses.

We started with the materials I had on hand and continued to meet with the original group and others to find out what else is needed.

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One of the most important items had to be made. Air-dried clay was purchased and given to the committee to be made into small mice.

 

As time went on, other animals were added.  A “farmer girl” and her chicken were purchased and instructed to take “care of the horses.” The original “Horse Land” is now a farm and all animals are welcome.

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 I am still gathering information and adding materials. Soon, a stable will be built. Meanwhile, other children have enjoyed interacting with “The Farm” and adding their own bits of knowledge and experiences.

And the original “horse girls?” They will ride up to the back fence in the Garden Classroom, hitch their horses up, and visit to see what is new and play with their favorite horse.  We check in with each other on the progress we are making and see what materials are still needed. As you can see, this little committee had a great time together while expressing their knowledge and using their imaginations. They created a “small world” that expresses their passion and deepened their understanding of their trusted steeds!

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Meanwhile, I had a group of fort builders that started last year with Justin – then in the 3 Day program. He became an expert at pinning cloth together onto branches and loose parts such as tires. He taught this skill to others. The activity continued after he returned as a member of the 5 Day class. Others joined the team and took on different roles. Some built the main structure, using branches or tires, others pinned the clothes together, while others added different accessories such as pillow and books for reading.

Over the weeks, enthusiasm waned, and other activity centers such as writing and the Map Center were drawing a good portion of the “fort builders” away. (Typical for this time of year as the older boys start to show a greater interest in drawing and writing.)  The fort building became more of a solitary activity and I realized something needed to be done to extend the learning and fire up some social interactions.

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After refusing to bring out the cloths one day (YES I DID!) I invited my lone fort builder over to the rug, where lots of natural materials are available for building and one other child was already engaged. He stood there for a moment, and then I offered him some cloths – smaller- but similar to what he had been using before and his eyes lit up. He knew “the language” of cloth and set to work. Same as before, just a smaller scale. The advantage of this new venue, was a greater variety of materials, and possibilities. (I believe I have shared this photo before, but I wanted to tell the “backstory.”)

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One interesting result of this collaboration, was a return to the big fort building, but in a new location. This time, they are using the large branches in a new formation.

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This is fun stuff.  If the activity starts out big- go small. Or, if the activity starts small –go big. I love it!

 With Joy!

Francie

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

For those of you who follow Reflections of the Garden Classroom, you are indeed getting another email featuring the same story that I published yesterday. After I published the story, I realized I that I had not included the title. Somehow, when I went to correct it, I managed to lose the complete post and had to do it all over again. For those of you who know me well, you know how much I love technology. Grrrrr…..

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Do you remember the ad on television featuring a parent pushing a shopping cart down the aisle at Staples Office Supplies and gleefully tossing school supplies into the cart? Meanwhile, a couple of kids are walking behind the parent all glum faced, with the classic holiday song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing. I laughed every time I saw it! As a parent with teenagers at the time, I will admit I was a bit relieved they were returning to school. Now, you may be wondering how a teacher feels about returning to school after a break.

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September is exciting. While I am, personally, a bit reluctant to leave my lazy days of sleeping in and lots of opportunities to go camping, I really look forward to reuniting with my co-teachers and welcoming our young students back to our beautiful, clean and organized classrooms. But let me tell you what “the most wonderful time of the year” is: RIGHT NOW!

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Every teacher I have ever worked with will agree with me that welcoming our students back to school in January, after the holidays is the best time of year. The children are all feeling confident and demonstrating a huge leap in abilities and skills. Nowhere is this more apparent than with our current group of 5 Day kiddos!

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First of all, this group of children resides in a special place in my heart. They are the very first group of Hanna students to have have experienced the Garden Classroom in Transition, and 3 Day, and now in the 5 Day program. They not only know the Garden Classroom, they OWN it! So it is bringing me such pleasure to be looking around each day and see that these children are totally engaged and learning and, and many cases, showcasing their abilities. I wish I had thought last week to take a picture looking across the entire Garden Classroom, so you could see how there were small groups of children engaged in every center and activity.

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So here’s to the most wonderful time of year, where the children are not only busy building, creating, experimenting and communicating, but also exhibiting the skills that come from our having given them the time, materials and belief that play is essential to a child’s growth and development.

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 With Joy! 

Francie

 

This entry was posted on January 28, 2014. 3 Comments

Little Moments – Little Joys

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I think I can speak for everyone here at Hanna Fenichel who returned to our daily routine after the holidays: it was filled with cheerful   greetings of “Happy New Year” and pleasant reunions. We shared stories about our travels and adventures, family gatherings and the delicious calories consumed. I will be honest- I did not return to school filled with a great deal of energy or any creative ideas  What activities that did  take  place in the Garden Classroom had a common theme: easy and fun!

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I set up some  attention-getting/no-fail activities starting on Monday with what my young scientists called, “purple,” “explosion,” “volcanoing,” and “volcano eruptions” science.  In laymen terms, colored vinegar and baking soda. This has to be the BEST scientific experience for young children. They never tire of the seemingly magical, colorful bubbles and exciting eruptions.  Unfortunately, I ran out of baking soda, but that wasn’t the end of the excitement or learning possibilities.

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I filled up our “lab table” with a ton of corks and water and outfitted the center with some tools that the scientists called, “pinchers,” and “catchers” and some nets. Again, simple ingredients combined with the joyful curious minds of young learners created an opportunity for learning AND they had a blast!

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This science was called “up science” by Cameron. Which makes perfect sense. He and his fellow scientists experimented with the corks and water displacement. While using the scientific method and learning about water displacement and buoyancy, they got so excited when the corks popped up!  I think I will be adding some metal items to the corks on Monday and see how our scientists react to these new properties of density and weight.

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Along with the excitement happening in the Science Lab, several of our nature lovers helped me fill up the birdfeeders and made sure the birdbath was filled with water. (This is a very simple birdbath using a lid from a pot and placed upside down on some bricks.) I assured everyone that we get feathery visitors every day.

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I have seen lesser goldfinches, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, a dove, hummingbirds, sparrows, and the most common of all- crows, after the children leave and the Garden Classroom gets very quiet.

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Wyatt enjoyed looking at my favorite book for young birders, Smithsonian: The Bird-watcher and saw where former student and artist Livvi Belle got her inspiration for the birdfeeder we are still using. It uses a plastic water bottle. Wyatt drew a design for the decoration he will add to the birdfeeder he is looking forward to making. He also shared with me how he has a birdbath at his home and how his mother fills it with a hose.

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After we hung up the birdfeeders, one last chore remained. Luella needed to hang up the sign she created last school year (with the help of some friends) that invited the “birdies” to come and eat.

As the week concluded and the creative juices started kicking in, I began to see where we can begin to build on these little moments of joy as we start to think more seriously about our annual Art Show and what kind of lasting memories these children will leave behind as they move on to elementary school. I see the possibilities of a book featuring our favorite science experiments to share with future students. I would LOVE to make a more permanent and beautiful birdbath for our lovely, feathered visitors.

I am NOW filled with energy and my creative juices are running, thanks to my wonderful, exuberant students! Happy New Year!

With Joy!

Francie

Tingles!

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No matter what holiday you are celebrating this time of year, it probably involves gifts, lovingly selected and purchased, or homemade.  Personally, I don’t think it so much matters what a person receives. Truly, it is being remembered, and in many cases, appreciated. I received many of those types of gifts from children and families this past week. I love every single gift, either homemade or purchased. I really enjoyed the kind notes and seasonal greetings. Holiday cards featuring photos of the children are especially delightful! I’m looking forward to writing out thank you notes and passing on my own thoughts of gratefulness and New Year greetings in return. 

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As I opened the gifts and admired each one and noted the particulars in a special Christmas notebook I keep, one card that featured dictation from a child created an unexpected stir in my soul. First of all, I appreciate that this child’s mother took the time to record her little girl’s personal and meaningful message. The content was an unexpected gift. Before I reveal Isla’s message, I need to share some backstory. 

Several weeks ago, the children and I mixed up a special palette featuring paints that would represent the colors of the monarch caterpillar and butterfly. While the children used the monarch palette to create pictures of the monarch caterpillar and its metamorphosis, the paints were used to create pictures featuring other subjects, which was just fine.

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At one point, I was looking for new inspiration to create an entirely new palette to add to our existing tray of colors when another teacher and I noticed a consistent theme in one of our artist’s paintings: dragons. Shazam! Here was the inspiration I was looking for.

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With Asa the dragon painter as our lead and using paint chips from Home Depot, we created a new palette that could be used in painting dragons and other beasts, mythical or real. Asa’s personal contribution was “smoke blue.”

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Now artists had a choice in creating their own palette from our monarch or dragon palettes.

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Now I want to share the rest of the story. Isla loves to paint at the easel in our Outdoor Atelier, which she does just about each and every day that she is in school. Her paintings fill the page, are full of detail and usually are accompanied by very creative stories.

So it was no great surprise that her holiday note mentioned her appreciation of painting. Or, that she said “I like your house,” perhaps meaning the art cottage or even the pepper tree, since she wrote a story about how I sleep and eat in the tree. (Another wonderful gift, a story dictated to another teacher featuring my nights spent in The Garden Classroom.) 

But the most delightful point made in her note was, “I want you to teach me how to make dragonfly colors.” This took my breath away. I loved that she seemed to be acknowledging the presence of our monarch and dragon colors. Not only that, she made a personal request and reveled her own knowledge about other possibilities. Tingles!

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I will be perfectly frank, and admit I am very thankful and relieved that I will be having a two week break/vacation. But at the same time…I am very excited about getting back to school and meeting with Isla. I will be armed with questions about dragonflies and my supply of paint chips.

Wishing all of you, a very happy and healthy 2014!

With Joy,

 Francie 

Unexpected Delight!

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As I start each day by opening up the Art Cottage, removing plastic tarps and uncovering the sensory table, I frequently experience a feeling of apprehension. The feeling comes from fear that I won’t have it right. Fear that the materials or activities I have chosen will not appeal to the children. There will be nothing that sparks their curiosity or sense of wonder. It will all fall flat. A total fail.

Well, it is usually not that much of a fiasco!  There will always be an activity that appeals to certain children. The Mud Kitchen or Science Lab will usually draw a crowd.

 

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The challenge is to stimulate an ongoing investigation. An investigation that becomes real learning experience filled with the children’s enthusiasm, ideas and theories.  Such was our Black & White Investigation that took place two years ago. (The culminating project, “Gray Clouds in a Rainy Sky” can be seen inside the Art Cottage.) This was a project truly led by the children and their ideas.

 We are now working on the Monarch Project. This project involves reflecting on our own experiences when we welcomed monarch butterflies to the Garden Classroom, and how to commemorate that wonderful event.

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 So far, our investigation has been interesting and captivating for several groups of children.   We started a collection of art representing the life cycle of the monarchs (using paint specially mixed to create a “monarch palette”) and we are starting to get some ideas about  what kind of home monarchs prefer and where they reside: not  “facts,” but  real creative, inventive type of information that involves some critical thinking. For instance, my friend Colton shared with me that a monarch lives “Up in the sky, flying so high!”

 So here is the challenge. And, my unexpected delight!

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 I want to involve our wonderful and exuberant 2 year old “Trannies” (Transition Class) in a way that is authentic, where the children make a real contribution, and not just a token representation. The challenge is representing their curiosity and intellect in an innovative manner that doesn’t necessarily depend on language or representational art.

 Last week, after careful consideration, I presented some materials to our youngest naturalists. Using a large mirror as a base, I added some flubber (school glue mixed with an equal amount of liquid starch) and my collection of plastic monarch models, some books on butterflies and other elements to make it beautiful and enticing.

 

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 It didn’t fail to attract. The first group of children focused on the flubber and interacted with it in the expected manner by stretching it. Then, one child, and then another, started pressing the butterflies and caterpillars into the flubber.  They noticed the impressions left by the models and reacted with absolute delight! Several children took photos using their classroom cameras.

 

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 Then something totally unexpected happened. Miles brought over a metal set of tongs from the science table where it was being used to pick up corks and other floating objects in the water.

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I was thrilled to see him use the tongs to pick up a butterfly and proceeded to lift it up as high as he could reach and made the monarch “fly.” This was an authentic representation of this young student’s understanding about butterflies and their locomotion.

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As others joined him with their own sets of tongs, I joined in on their laughter and delight as butterflies (and even a caterpillar!) flew all around me.

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I finished the day feeling very satisfied. This was a day where curiosity, creativity and wonder fueled the imagination and inspired me for what steps to take next. Certainly, success and not failure!

 With Joy!

 Francie

Our Journey of Discovery: Monarchs

 

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“The butterfly came down from the cocoon. It probably went on a trip with its family.” ~ Chloe (3 Day PM)

 The last few weeks have been busy, to say the least! For those of you who follow The Garden Classroom on Facebook or know of the activities taking place in your child’s classroom, you are aware that our days have been filled with parades, picture days and parent-teacher conferences. In between those activities, I have carved out little bits of precious moments where I met with small groups of children to reflect on our experiences with the monarchs.  We call these little gatherings the “Monarch Committee.”

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Beginning with our 3 Day programs in Room 1, I made a small presentation inviting them to join the Monarch Committee. I asked them if they remembered when the monarchs came to The Garden Classroom. The event was just as special to them as it was to me. I shared with them the preserved monarch butterfly that was given to me and pictures that were taken of the event.I told the children there were many different ways to tell the story of  their visitation. I invited them to share with me and each other their own version of the story.

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 I was very eager and curious to see, not so much what the children “remembered” about the monarch experience but what was it that caught their fancy concerning the experience. Our time spent together was precious and so fulfilling.

There were some delightful surprises. I love how Davis referred to the caterpillar as a tadpole. Yes, the two are different kinds of beasties but they both share the process of metamorphosis. I felt he brought a new dimension to the discussion.

After reviewing the process of metamorphosis of a butterfly with the same group of children, we decided to act out the process. It took me a few seconds to figure out what the actors were doing when we came to the part where the “Mommy (their description) monarch butterfly laid her eggs.” I had expected them to squat like a chicken. After a moment of hesitation, with Molly as the leader, they pantomimed the process of laying an object on the table! Oh my goodness! Such creativity in spite of not being familiar with the process!

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Several children made references to the butterflies being members of a family. This is such a sweet reference to the children’s most precious relationships. 

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The Story of “The 5 Little Chrysalis Hanging in a Tree” being acted out by Brodie and Max

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After extending the same  invitation to the children in Room 3,Tiffany, Meghan and I were positively floored when Brodie burst out in rhyme as he told us and all his classmates his tale of “5 little Chrysalis Hanging from a Tree.” He was quite eager to join me in the Art Cottage where he completed the poem and later, drew a chrysalis to illustrate it

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Several 3 Day and 5 Day children were quick to pick up on the concept of symmetry and were VERY successful in drawing absolutely, gorgeous, easily recognizable monarch butterflies. As careful observers, the children noted where the eyes were situated on the butterfly and carefully drew the black veins found on the wings. After spending lots of time in the beginning of the year mixing colors in the Art Cottage, our artists were able to successfully mix the watercolors to create just the right colors found on the wings of a monarch butterfly.

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We are now taking that ability of color mixing to our palette of tempera paint available to the children painting at the easel located in the Outdoor Atelier.  After enjoying a tray of colors inspired by fall, several color specialists are working together to create a monarch palette. I love how children are noticing the finer details found on the butterfly. Did you know that there are little white dots that appear on a monarchs wings? It was essential that white was added to the palette.

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“We need an orange and a darker orange.” ~ Sophie 

In the week to come, I will be offering an invitation to the Day children in Room 2 and the children in Room 4 to join the Monarch Committee. What do I expect, want, or hope to learn from the children about the monarch?   Really, none of the above. It is all a wonderful journey, with the destination unknown and new surprises around every bend!  

With Joy! 

Francie