Archive | September 2013

The Mud Kitchen: The Reviews Are In!

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If you would walk up into the Garden Classroom any morning or in the early afternoon on Monday or Tuesday, you would find yourself in a whirl of activity! Young naturalists, scientists, gardeners, artists, builders, cooks and adventurers are pursuing their passions. These young learners are engaged in a variety of activities such as exploring the source of “why the sticky stuff (goop) melts” (not my words), working together to make a “fort” out of cloth and clothespins, carefully observing and noting the changing chrysalides, combining primary colors to create an original paint chip/sample and, in the most active place of all, cooking up a storm in the newly opened Mud Kitchen.

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The newest Solana Beach eatery, located near other, more established restaurants, has received 5 star reviews from chefs and customers alike. Once a neglected planter, the Mud Kitchen has slowly evolved over the last couple of years from a simple place to dig featuring a few pots, pans and utensils, to a fully stocked kitchen featuring a stove and any tool needed to make an individual snack or feed a crowd. With the addition of several canisters featuring ingredients such as fresh rosemary, sand or coffee grounds all seasoned with a few shakes of birdseed, wonderful culinary delights are available for your dining pleasure!

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Often dressed with a lovely orange blossom (freshly plucked from the ground), bowls of fragrant soup, entire cakes, and cups and bowls of coffee are lovingly prepared for any passing customer. These chefs are so enthusiastic about their cooking, they will actually search out customers and entice them back to the Mud Kitchen with an inviting culinary masterpiece.

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These dishes often start out in a massive pot, with lots of contributors. The chefs need to negotiate their use of space, ingredients and equipment. While they are “cooking” important life skills are being practiced.

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As ingredients are being mixed together, a chef becomes a scientist as she attempts to dilute the sand or coffee grounds with water or reverse the process by adding more solids. This simple manipulation of liquids and solids is captivating and an indispensable lesson in chemistry. This principal needs to be understood as a first step in becoming a world class chef! Others have been observed pouring water back and forth between two containers while exploring the properties of water in its liquid state.

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As spoons were stirring, coffee pots dripping, and cakes baking, one chef realized the public needed to be informed about this dining endeavor. I pointed out that there was a chalkboard available and she proudly wrote out, “Our Coffee Shop.” I’m wondering how the sign will be used in the future. A menu perhaps?

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As the Mud Kitchen starts to close down for the day, some challenges arise where our cooks need to work together to get through their shift successfully. Ingredients start to get low, and there won’t be a delivery until the next day! They do get creative and look for other sources. Wood chips are popular and add some unique texture to the dishes. Mud is also interesting and adds a dark, rich color. Sometimes, one of the chefs will volunteer to get more sand and happily share it with everyone else.

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I watched as the coffee grounds were close to running out at the end of one shift this week and pointed out that there was no more available. One chef looked up at me as she was scooping the grounds from the canister into a bowl. I suggested that she check in with her partner to see if it was okay to take more. The other chef was amicable to the request. It is important to be kind and considerate, and sometimes a little reminder is needed.  Practice makes perfect!

After the closing of the Mud Kitchen at the end of each shift, clean up starts. Everyone pitches in. (Sometimes a “supervisor” has to search for the cooks. There isn’t a separate crew for washing dishes, although sometimes a bystander will volunteer.)

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Some wash and others put the pots, pans, utensils and plates away. The supervisor helps in this step. While keeping everything nice and tidy, following directional cues, such as put that “little bowl inside the big bowl,” put that pan “underneath” the shelf, put the tea pot “on top” of the bench, is the real focus and purpose of this job. (Besides if everything is “in its place” the chefs will know where their favorite tool is stored.) Every few moments, the jobs switch. The supervisor also lets the crew know how much the next shift of chefs will appreciate how clean the Mud Kitchen was left for them.

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So, what rating will you give this new and up and coming dining option? Please stop by and try it yourself and see what is on the menu and more importantly, what the “chefs” are learning about science, math, language, literacy and working together.

If any member of the Hanna family or a friend of The Garden Classroom wishes to help out, we could use any type of spice that you may be needing to throw out because it has lost its flavor or scent. This is a fun addition to cooking with mud and sand. 

With Joy, 

Francie 

 

Thrills Found in the Unexpected

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So much of what we do as early childhood educators is provide provocations using some interesting materials in an inviting setting, and step back and observe. No pre-conceived notions; no goals; no expectations. We just provide some open-ended materials that children can interact with using their own ideas to discover and to create. Hopefully, with a little bit of scaffolding on our part (or not) new learning and a greater understanding or appreciation of such things as nature, physics, or math will occur.  I literally hold my breath when a child approaches a table presented with such things as a lump of clay and some seed pods or drawing materials and a magnifying glass near something interesting such as our resident monarch caterpillars and chrysalides.

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Sometimes the expected happens, as when clay was presented last spring and the children designed sculptures using the seed pods. But then the extraordinary happened! After I had explained to the children how slip is used (liquidized clay used as a “glue” to hold pieces of clay together) they started picking up leaves off the ground and painting them with the slip! The results were stunning! Totally unexpected and their discovery inspired me to make these leaves into a permanent art installation. You can see the finished piece in The Garden Classroom on the back fence near the Mud Kitchen.

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The new school year has begun with new materials being presented and old materials presented in new ways. Last year’s newly created Science Lab, this year’s addition of the Mud Kitchen, the Art Cottage and Outdoor Atelier continue to engage and delight the children.

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While I continue to create what I think are inviting provocations, not all are initially observed or get positive reviews There have been two wonderful exceptions (So far!) that have left me feeling really excited. I see lots of potential for artistic endeavors, creative thinking and problem solving.

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From the moment I spotted the little holes in the leaves of our milkweed plants, I knew that a marvelous journey was beginning and all of us at Hanna would be have a grandstand view of the life cycle of one of earth’s most amazing creatures – the monarch butterfly. We have not been disappointed! Most of the children knew that the caterpillars would turn into butterflies, and knew the basic biology of how that happens. Good grief!  These kids were raised on Eric Carle’s great children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar! No need to dwell on this concept. What I was looking and hoping for was a “how” or a “why” to explain and explore the process. The response I got was MUCH different and so lovely. Actually, I was enchanted.“L.” is 4 years-old and attends our 5 Day program.  After drawing a newly discovered monarch chrysalis or “cocoon” as she called it, I asked her about her drawing and this is what she shared with me, without any other prompting.

“It’s a cocoon! Maybe tomorrow it’s going to get into a butterfly.

We need to make a room for it for it to live. There are all kinds of things caterpillars need when they wake up.

A leaf for their bed. There’s a nest where they poo and pee, There’s food. They can have food in a little cup.”

How profound!

This brought out all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings in me. First of all, she pretty much summed up what Abraham Maslow described as the basic, biological and physiological needs of people, not only to survive but which must be met before they can be motivated to achieve the next level of needs.

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Second, I was so taken with L’s feelings of compassion that she expressed through her list of “needs” for this tiny, little creature. She had formed a relationship with the chrysalis, which although quite beautiful, also appears quite lifeless. L saw the potential and appreciated the future of this little green package. I’m not sure that L’s proposal of a “room” for the chrysalis/caterpillar will be very practical, but I was very excited and filled with anticipation as I approached L several days later to get more details from her.

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She was eager to draw out a plan for the room. Choosing oil pastels, L began by drawing a few rainbow hued, rectangles and enclosed them in with a square box. Besides the rainbow, it features a large window. So far, the most significant part of the window is a “rug” just like the one that covers up the window in her bedroom that she “rolls it up and down so I don’t get scared like in the middle, middle dark night.” Oh my!  We’ll talk more on Monday. I’m hoping that another naturalist and artist, B (who is also in the 5 Day program) who was representing the life cycle of the monarchs with oil pastels while L was drawing her room, will join the discussion. I wonder where this investigation will go next! It’s all pretty amazing!

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The second discovery is more serendipitous and took place in a center I created over the summer and expanded this fall. This is actually my favorite part of the Garden Classroom. It features an old-fashioned, maple, colonial style coffee table that you are more likely to find in your grandmother’s living room than in an outdoor classroom. It is now hosting a variety of natural materials such as stones, sticks, seed pods and pinecones. (I received some of them as gifts from my friends C and H in the 3 Day program.) It is also where last year’s leaf creation is being displayed.

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It was here, in this setting against the far back fence where I created what I hope was an opportunity to create without an additional enticement of glue, or clay or even play-dough.  No instructions, just a sheet of black paper behind a matting. I did provide a bit of inspiration by propping up a large format book featuring the art of environmentalist artist Andy Goldsworthy.  The cover features rocks placed in a spiral. I was just hoping that a child would discover the items and appreciate their beauty and see the potential.

 “J” from the 3 Day PM class found these items on his first day of school. I watched from afar as he placed first one stone and then another down on the black construction paper. He framed the stones with some sticks and then added a few more sticks. He was very focused and engaged and working very intentionally. None of the placements was random. Then he walked away.

I went up and admired his work and took several pictures of it as a way to create a permanent record of his lovely art. And then I walked away. 

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An hour or so later, I started to remove J’s arrangement and made a discovery. The center had lost its shade and the paper had been exposed to the sun’s rays. The sun had faded the paper around  the arrangement and created an actual memory of where J had placed the stones and sticks! Now, besides having a digitalized recording, there is an actual piece of art to share with J! J and his family have been on vacation and I have not had a chance to share his new, permanent piece of art with him. I have shared it with some other children and they have created new pieces of faded art. (For lack of a better name or at least until a name is decided by the children.) While not quite as serendipitous as J’s piece, it is still an intriguing art form. I am hoping to gather a group of children to discover their hypothesis as to how this is happening and what else is possible. I’m trying to formulate some questions to get this investigation started. Any ideas?!!!

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This is the type of work that thrills me: provoking a child’s curiosity, to get them thinking creatively and being inspired to go beyond the unexpected! 

With Joy!

Francie 

Wonder and Amazement!

 

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I just returned home from a morning spent at our annual school Pancake Breakfast.  This breakfast is more than a breakfast, it is really a celebration! We gather together each year on the first Saturday following our first week of school. We reconnect with continuing families, meet the new families, feel incredulous how former students and siblings of present students have grown and admire all the new babies who are our future students! Oh yes! We do indeed eat pancakes! Delicious ones in fact. This all has the same feeling as a family reunion. Which in fact, we are. We are a school family.

As I stood around, talking to children and parents, watching other children run around with gleeful peals of laughter, I was feeling an unusual amount of excitement and anticipation. The anticipation of new adventures! New discoveries!  New relationships with friends and materials!

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This year has a special tingling feeling to it! Three years ago Marta and Eva, the beloved teachers in Room 4, planted a butterfly garden with the help of their 2010 “Surfing Seals.”. Besides planting fennel to attract swallowtails, they planted milkweed which is the host plant for monarch butterflies. They also painted a beautiful mural featuring colorful butterflies and flowers. What a lovely invitation! Alas, we never had a butterfly stop and lay an egg. Our luck changed after a parent brought in another milkweed plant as food for some hatching butterflies in a classroom. (Thank you Brandy!) I planted the milkweed last June. We kept the plants watered over the summer break, and VIOLA! After returning to school after our break, we spotted the little, teeny, tiny caterpillars. We were thrilled! And we could not wait to share these precious creatures with the children.

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Our first week of school was spent observing, drawing, and being amazed at the rate of growth. Although the children were very tender, we had to warn them that the caterpillars could not be handled. Holding them obstructs their breathing. I provided small decorative butterflies and models representing the stages of a butterfly that could be handled. We are also making our own little caterpillars out of paper- mache.

Meanwhile, “mommy” monarchs continue to deposit more eggs. We have been delighted by their fluttering, bright copper dance as they circled around the Garden Classroom for a delicate landing on the milkweed to lay one more egg.

As the week progressed our caterpillar “nursery” got demolished by the youngsters. (I purchased two more plants, so we have four milkweeds in all.) They nibbled the leaves down to the bare branches. Marta reassured me that we do not need to purchase any more plants and the plants we do have will grow back.

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On Friday, we spotted our first chrysalis. It is a beautiful green with golden spots. We suspect there will be more on Monday.  The caterpillars are starting on their individual journeys up the wall and down to the ground.  I was able to watch a small group of Transition kiddos observing a caterpillar travel down a board and over the cement barrier. Barely two years old and these young naturalists were sharing their hypotheses on where it was going. One child said, “To work.” And of course, he was right! It’s GOT to be hard work to metamorphosis into a butterfly!

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I read where it takes an egg approximately 30 days to develop into a butterfly. As is our practice, I will be refraining from giving this information to the children and have them record and hypothesize about their development instead. Although the children knew right off that these were caterpillars and they will turn into butterflies, I am hoping that I can have some conversations with the children where we can pursue their ideas, not just factual but also fanciful of how this process works. While the monarchs have given us an amazing opportunity for study, I hope they can serve as an opening to inspire deeper thinking, greater creativity and a chance to wonder and be amazed.

 “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

                                                                                                 Albert Einstein

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I am so glad that I had a chance to spend time with some of you at our Hanna Open House and Pancake Breakfast.  It was such a pleasure to share with you the excitement of the monarch caterpillars. But really, the caterpillars only serve as another opportunity to touch the heart and mind of the children who enter the Garden Classroom. I’m looking forward to celebrating each and every day spent with the children in my “school family.”

With Joy and Anticipation!

Francie