What’s Next?

 

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The weather has been glorious, the children curious and engaged, my co-teachers filled with laughter (and always ready to lend a hand) and each and every day spent in The Garden Classroom has been a delight.

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This is the time of year where things start to get really exciting! I have certain children (either individuals or groups) who come almost daily seeking certain activities or wanting specific materials.  Prompted by the children’s interests, some long term projects have started percolating in my head.

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Based on the children’s enthusiastic reactions to our fantastic monarch caterpillar hatching and growth in the first few weeks of school, I think it is time to revisit that experience and have the children reflect on the parts of the metamorphosis that we were able to witness. While we did not actually observe a monarch butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, we did see one that (we think) may have recently emerged and several empty chrysalides.

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Starting this coming week, I will be offering an invitation to all of the children in our 3 Day (morning and afternoon) and 5 Day programs to join the “Monarch Committee.” I will be meeting with small groups of 3-4 children in the Art Cottage. Using pictures that I took of the butterflies, eggs, caterpillars and chrysalides, books about monarchs and plastic models of the various stages of the monarch, I hope to have the children tell the process of a monarch metamorphosis in their own words. Eventually, the story could be interpreted though their interests or as the educators from Reggio Emilia say, “languages.” Possibilities include the story being represented in colored pencils, paint, dance, clay, drama, collage, construction, or even as ambitious as a mosaic. The children in the Transition classes will also take part in the process and be represented in the final project. 

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With the kind and enthusiastic support of my co-teachers, I will be setting on this new adventure with the goal (fingers crossed!!!) of having a piece of art to be displayed in the Annual Hanna Fenichel Art Show and for the first time, auctioned off to benefit the school!

Stay tuned for updates!

 With Joy!

Francie

 

Belonging

One of the reasons that I don’t feel that spending time on Facebook is a total waste of time (besides staying connected with family and friends) is how much inspiration I receive from the early childhood community who post on Facebook. Finding this quote from a longtime favorite educator and inspirational advocate for young children is one wonderful example.

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After seeing this beautiful photo that features a quote from Bev Bos on Facebook early Friday morning, I had an opportunity to celebrate such a sense of belonging on that very same day.

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As I spotted K and E carrying the HUGE branch across and over The Garden Classroom, I will admit I was feeling a bit apprehensive about their actions. Yet seeing the determined look on their faces, I didn’t interfere and allowed them to continue with their task.  Besides, I was curious  as to what their plans were. It was very obvious that they did indeed have plans.

Unfortunately, my pictures don’t show the results to the best advantage because of the spotty sunlight, but the girls laid the branch across the entrance and blocked the opening to the deck and Art Cottage.  Okay…I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to ask, what was going on!

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K: We’re keeping the boys out. We’re letting in all the girls and half the boys.

E (asking her twin): You mean “B” don’t you? Don’t you?

K ignored her but started grabbing paper and crayons and began creating signs. E also began to create signage and both girls taped their signs on to the branch.

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Soon other girls joined them on the deck writing and stamping papers and taping signs.

I approached K again and asked her, “What is so special about the Art Cottage that you want to keep some boys from going in?”

I suspect she did not have a clear answer to that question, but I have to hand to her when she responded to me very confidently and even fiercely, “That is something only girls and not teachers can know.” Yowzers! Now that is what I call ownership!

As I was watching the activity on the deck, I commented to K how hard the “crew” was working. K responded to me, “That is the girl crew working to keep the boys out!”

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I invited another teacher over to help me to find out more information and she also got snubbed. All we could do was stand back and observe. With amazement.

Stand back and feel pleased that these strong and determined young girls and future leaders, teachers, astronauts or whatever, took ownership of the space and materials to claim independence and show off their confidence.

With Joy!

Francie

P.S. The “No Boys” rules was very lenient. They did not actually bar any boy from physically stepping over or crawling under the branch and onto the deck and into the Art Cottage.

Fall is Here! Or is it?

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After spending my childhood in San Diego and a few other mild climates, I spent three years in the Midwest and discovered and truly experienced the four seasons. It was during this time living in the tri-state area of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin that I fell in love with the beauty of autumn.  (Winter: not so much.) 

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I came back to Southern California, first to Los Angeles where my husband attended graduate school and finally back to San Diego in 1981. I remember how dismayed I was by the annual presence of the Santa Ana winds and the accompanied fire threats. While living in the Midwest, during the same period, the air would be chilling and the leaves turning beautiful colors. It made sense that all the stores were filled with clothing featuring layers and wool. Trips to the pumpkin patch involved REAL pumpkin patches on farms out in the country. Celebrating fall in Southern California seemed so artificial and out of touch to me. 

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The traditional approach to teaching in the 1980’s and early 90’s when I returned to the classroom involved using “themes” so our topics would be “apples” and “fall leaves” in September and October. It didn’t make sense to me, so I didn’t do it. I do remember taking a class on a field trip to San Clemente Canyon off 52 where giant, native sycamores grow and drop their dry, yellow and brown leaves starting in November. It was a genuine fall experience that filled our senses with sound, texture and smell.

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Since those days, I have learned to appreciate that Southern California does experience a change of season that goes beyond the threat of wildfires. Although much more subtle than what I experienced in the Midwest, the climate does cool and changes can be observed.

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One simple observation may be a new phenomenon not available when I was growing up. Just like the jacaranda trees (whose purple flowers herald spring) liquid amber trees have been planted everywhere and we can all witness the change of seasons throughout the year. We at Hanna are so lucky to have a small grove available right on our block! If you take a close peek, you will see some leaves where the edges are turning a reddish brown and others have turned a beautiful yellow. Each day as I walk by, I pick up the yellow leaves that have dropped on the ground. Even the leaves on our very own grape vine found along the fence separating the lower and Garden Classroom are changing colors due to the shortened hours of each day.

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These leaves, along with some small pumpkins, and a pomegranate that I received as a gift served as the inspiration for our “fall pallet” that was mixed by the children.  Besides being a tangible concept of autumn, the beautiful jewel tones of the paints is another way for the children to connect with nature and appreciate all the earth has to offer.

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Yes, we can all take the drive to our local mountains to pick some apples or gather acorns (which I do!) but I like looking for the small signs in the trees or even in our own backyards, where the tomato plants are starting to wither (this is one great advantage of living in San Diego) and a new crop of “winter vegetables” can be planted.

Meanwhile, I have to go outside and water, Santa Ana winds are coming. Sigh…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle…

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When you were a kid, what kind of adventures did you go on when you played?  Where did these adventures take place? Chances are, many of your adventures took place in a “jungle.” Was I right?!!

There is just something so mysterious, dangerous and still so inviting about the jungle or as we call it now, the rain forest. Those fearsome animals, dark, deep shade created by the thick canopy and the incredible, constant, piercing high sounds induced by birds and insects.

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Of course, my images were all fueled by frequent visits to the old Jungle Ride in Disneyland. Most of my games excluding the stereotypical game of “cowboys and Indians”, definitely took place in this land of danger and intrigue, most common being war games (I played with a lot of boys) and as a very young teen, “missionary nun” who tool care of sick patients in jungle dwellings akin to Deborah Kerr in “The Nun’s Story.”  (I was a weird kid, what can I say?)

For today’s kids, who are so knowledgeable, know the rain forest as a place of wonder and beauty. It is the sacred home of many delightful animals and plants. They are also aware that the rain forest is essential to our existence. Wyatt (Rm 3) told me, “The rain forest has lots of trees. The trees give us oxygen.”

If you walk around the back fence in The Garden Classroom, you will see our own little rain forest. It started out simply with some plastic animals that live in the rain forests of South America and Africa. (I also share with the children that these animals are endangered animals because of the loss of their forest homes. Doing things like reusing paper helps the animals.)

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I have also added other animals over time including some butterflies, frogs and a complete gorilla family. The children are starting to peek in the sensory table just to see what is new. It just so happened, at the same time I put these animals out, the children in Room 3 decided to do a play based on a story that takes place in the Amazon Rain Forest called The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry. I became involved with their project after helping several children mix up some green paint to paint the leaves for the prop in their play. (Of course, this segues right into our “Tree Project!”)

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I invited some children to use the left over green paint used for the “great kapok tree” to paint a piece of paper. I hung up some soft, furry yarn and then invited some of the kids to cut out leaves and attach them to “the vines.” I hauled in a branch of an exotic looking tree branch with some interesting seed pods that I found down the street and laying on the ground. I hung it up with the vines. All I need now is to get a recording of wild screeching birds, insects humming and perhaps the rumbles of a jaguar!

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Meanwhile, I kept thinking how several children from the Transition class were on hand while the older kids were mixing up their jars of green paint for the play. I could see how anxious they were to have the same experience.

Inspired by a book I own about the rain forest called The Green Room by Jane Yolen and illustrated (beautifully) by Laura Regan,  I invited several Transition children to help create a green palette. Each child was given their own small  jar and allowed to mix up a batch of green of any shade they wished. Such fun and excitement!

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We looked at the picture, filled with a lovely variety of green leaves, back lit by sunshine. My only instruction on mixing up the green is asking each child, if they wanted to mix a “light” green or a “dark” green. I explained that it is easy to make a color dark but harder to make it lighter so it is important to start out with the lightest color first then add the darker color sparingly, a little at a time. I love the looks on their faces as the yellow turns green when the blue is added and the “magic” happens! Now, children from all three programs are involved with this project.

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We are starting to get many wonderful shades of greens that reflect the great variety of greens in an actual rain forest!

This is a project that has many possibilities and will continue for a long time.

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Please share your childhood experiences in the “jungle” and any inspiration as to where our exploration can go!

With Joy!

Francie

P.S.

Do you have any tropical plants in your yard such as fan palms? I would love any donations if your plants need trimming!