While setting up the Garden Classroom each day I don’t always know how the children will interact with the materials or where an investigation will go or what the outcome will be. Really, each day could be compared with a birthday party filled with surprises! As the children arrive and look around for what is familiar or new, I am eager (as any of the wonderful teachers I work with) to support or challenge the children to gain new skills or reach another developmental milestone. The greatest thrill for me is for a child to get excited about learning.
As two of my mentors have reminded me through attending their workshops, reading their books and even an onsite, Hanna Workshop with one of these amazing educators, Deb Curtis and Margie Carter really emphasize that school is for learning and it is not a teacher’s role to be passive. While not enough can be said about the importance of giving children time to have fun with open-ended materials, and being successful at playing well with other children for an extended amount of time (authors and educators Betty Jones and Gretchen Reynolds call the children who have this ability, “master players,”) it is still important to step in at the right moment and do what Curtis and Cater call “coach children to learn about learning.” *
As I watched one of our bright, young learners enthusiastically illustrate his building after being offered a clipboard; I was reminded of other incidents where a child went deeper with his or her thinking, was able to solve a problem or make a new discovery after being given a tool or coached by a teacher. I was able to capture several of these instances that illustrate some of Curtis and Carter’s principals and make my days more satisfying and fulfilling.
Help children use reference materials to support their learning After the “Rainbow Committee” decided which color chips should represent the colors of the rainbow based on personal knowledge and supported by research, the next step was choosing the appropriate tint for each color. Avery compared the selection on the red chip and to the picture of an actual rainbow in the book. After choosing the correct shade, she added white to lighten our paint sample.
Teach children to look closely I have been inviting children to take a closer look at the hummingbird nest that I found in the Garden Classroom after the pepper tree was trimmed to see what the nest was made out of. The next step will be to provide the birds with some of the items to help them make new nests.
Teach children to draw in order to see more clearly When asked how we can entice the birds to eat the sunflower seeds we provided, Luella suggested that we make a birdhouse and create a sign that would say, “Birdies have food there!” I asked her to draw the birdhouse that she had in mind, and interestingly, it looks like it could be made out of a gourd. We happen to have several that dried out since we received them in November!
Support children to learn from their friends Bennett knew that birds need food AND water. He discovered a plan for creating a simple bird bath in a book on bird watching. After I brought the needed items from home, he proceeded to set up the bath but couldn’t quite get the pan lid to sit on top of the bricks. We invited Nathaniel to look at the book and he helped Bennett place the bricks closer together to support the pan lid. This coming week, we will work on placing the bird bath in a safe place where we can watch the birds.
*Curtis and Carter, Learning Together with Young Children (2008)