Tag Archive | Monarchs

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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