Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eyes in the afternoon

Z came into studio quietly and looked around at the other people already working.  He walked over to the aprons and donned the familiar garment.  He continued to watch the others in the studio before coming over to see me.  I asked him about his weekend and while we talked I was struck by the colorful display of beauty in the iris of his eyes.  I asked him if he had ever really looked at his eyes.  He said he had not, together we found a mirror and walked over to a nearby window where he examined his eyes for the first time.  As he looked a smile spread across his face.
I asked him if he might like to use colors and see if he could find all the colors in his eyes and draw them.  His smile broadened with a "yes".  Several of the children had stopped their work and were eagerly watching Z's discovery.
Soon a small group of interested children were examining and drawing their eyes.
Conversations emerged as they discovered unexpected colors in one anothers eyes: "Your eyes look like the ocean.", "Your eyes look like a sky.", "Your eyes are GOLD!", "Your eyes are blue and green and brown and yellow and orange!"
There was a tangible excitement with each new discovery.
And the completed drawings were evidence based communications of their detailed observations and discoveries.
H spent a full thirty minutes examining the shades of blue in her own eyes, the direction of the lines, the light reflected there and more.  She worked with pens, pencils and paper to communicate her observations.  When finished she proudly shared her findings with others.
 C studied his eyes and face and said looking at them as "parts" was "kinda creepy".
His drawing records the emotional experience of looking at his face, one part at a time..."kinda creepy".

This eye study continues in the studio and has begun to inspire other children from other classes as well.  S came in from the XP class and was intrigued by the idea of examining her eyes and the eyes of her classmates and her self portrait showcases the blue of her bright blue eyes.
The afternoon was filled with children looking deeply into one another's eyes and laughing together at the many things they had overlooked before--- and they call this work?

Toddlers and a box

Box provocation: A large box was placed in the toddler classroom as an open ended provocation by the Toddler teachers (Rose: “I sometimes have a hard time thinking what a toddler provocation might be and then I saw this box and said PROVOCATION!”).
Observation: N. is in the box laughing hard! K and J climb in.  D climbs on top of them.  I invite D to climb back out.  The play gets louder.  Rose invites the children to continue playing but asks them do so more quietly.  The play continues and the box rocks like a ship, the box "vroom-vrooms" like a car, "choo-choos" like a train and the box rips.  
Belle says, “Oh no the box ripped”.  

The toddlers look at the torn box with concern.  Together we talk about the tear and I ask how we might fix the box.  N says we need tape.  Several others agree. I offer to get tape and N says “I go too!” Together they work taping the box, the rip and their fingers.  When finished several carry it back into the classroom deciding on a "two in the box" rule to assure the longevity of the box.
Social constuctivism is noticeable in all open-ended activities with the children.  With the box the toddlers provided a beautiful example of shared experience and evolving social rules and expectations that adapt to meet the needs of the community.  Development is obvious across developmental domains as children work together to solve problems, navigate conflict and create shared understanding.
Possible Extensions:  
  • Read Antoinette Portis' book, Not a Box
  • Put out a box at home and see what happens

Putting the garden to sleep

It is that time of year again, as Fall begins to usher in cooler temperatures and a cacophony of color, the garden is ready for sleep.
To begin the process, the children helped me pull the giant sunflower stalks from their sturdy rooted home in the soil.
 In teams, they helped carry the large woody stocks to the dumpster.
Next, they gathered all of summers remaining bounty to be sampled, cooked and enjoyed in the days ahead.
As the children worked they shared many of their observations: from the heft of each plant to the texture of stems and leaves, from found bugs to underdeveloped plants.  Always questioning how or why or what with a stream of curiosity that inspires me.  We will continue to ready our gardens for sleep in the weeks to come.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Social Constructivism in the Toddler Environment

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that describes how groups construct learning for and with one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings (a shared artifact refers to the creation of an object or shared space collaboratively created). When immersed within a culture of this sort, we are are always learning how to participate in that culture on many levels. In social constructivism an emphasis is placed on the role culture plays in cognitive development. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky and it is a significant influence in the philosophies of Reggio-Emilia which inspire us as educators at Children's Garden Montessori School.  

In a toddler early learning environment there is a culture embedded within the small community that mirrors the larger cultural sphere of Children's Garden and Denver and Colorado and the United States.  When we view ourselves as researcher/educators learning alongside the children we can discover a great deal about how and what children learn within the microcosm of school.

With this in mind the toddler teachers and I decided to explore quantity as an open-ended provocation, inviting toddlers into collaborative work around a shared interaction.
 We purchased several new baby dolls in response to our earlier touchstone observations.
Together the toddlers explored the dolls, navigated conflicts and social expectations (i.e..  Rose steps in to clean the bottles and kindly states,  “These are for the babies mouth.  I am going to wash these so I keep all my friends healthy.  If you want to drink something you can get a cup of water.") and enjoyed the new addition to the classroom.

After reviewing pages of documentation taken during the first introduction of the doll provocation, the toddler teachers and I have decided to join together researching a common question:  How do we define and support social constructivism within a Montessori toddler environment inspired by the philosophies of Reggio-Emilia?
Stay tuned as our questions and observations continue to evolve in the weeks and months ahead.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sunflower investigations

The large sunflowers have been a great source of curiosity in the studio.  Now fully dry, their seeds are also enhancing the larger exploration of seeds that continues to evolve from week to week.
 Parents have been noticing the seed activities as well.  T's mom joined us in the studio and the following observations ensued:

  • Mom     Each tiny little seed has a place to live.
  • T            Nature is beauty.  I can use fingers like tweezers
  • Mom      The seeds are really protected.
  • T            Yes they are really protected and hard to get.
  • Mom      Are they hard for the birds to eat?
  • T            Yeah.  People too.  But we do eat them.  We can eat them and sunflower butter too!

Sunflowers were represented with oil clay and seeds...
 mathematical explorations...
and mixed media...
Then in response to the expressed interest in EATING sunflowers I brought in raw sunflower seeds, roasted and sun butter and we served it up with rice (a seed too) and apples from our neighbors tree.
There was a unanimous decision that roasted seeds tasted better than raw and sun butter was just like peanut butter only BETTER!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Supporting one another- we are all teachers...we are all students...we are all community

Opportunities often present themselves for peer supportive learning in our work with children. Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, developed Social Development Theory which states that social interaction often precedes development.  He introduced the observation that a More Knowledgable Other (MKO), which is anyone who has a better understanding or higher ability level than the learner, can support learning beyond the learners present level without assistance.
Vygotsky's theory challenges a transmission approach to learning in which teachers/adults transmit information to students/children.  Thus teachers collaborate with children to support peer learning AND become students themselves, learning alongside the children.
I am often amazed by the tender support and genuine kindness that the children offer one another when scaffolding learning experiences and social encounters.
This evident as the children enjoyed the grape stomping activity.  The extended primary child (S) in pink had already enjoyed the grape stomping earlier.
When one of the younger children (W) arrived in studio with an interest in stomping grapes but no experience having done so, S stepped forward and offered to help.  
S. walked W. through the process and shared warmly in the experience.
S. carefully washed W.'s feet upon completion and when finished they worked together to prepare the stomping area for the next stompers.  S. began another work in the studio and W. began a painting of grapes, animatedly talking about the way they felt beneath her feet.

grape stomping

Grape stompers in the studio.  Extending our grape exploration to include more of the senses we set up grape stomping in the studio.
Here are some of the words used to describe the sensation of grapes under bare feet.
  • squishy
  • slippery
  • slimy
  • ooey
  • fun
  • gross
  • wet
  • awesome...soooo awesome
  • messy

A few students took "painting the grapes" quite literally and soon many of the grapes were adorned with purples and greens and further used to make prints and stamps on paper.
A wonderful discovery occurred when a grapes was squashed and the dark skins were rubbed onto white paper... a pigment was transferred.
This led to mere exploration and questions regarding the possible use of other natural materials as pigment.

Friday, September 19, 2014

grape harvest

The grape vines in the back yard are dripping with beautiful, deep purple grapes made sweet by our recent cold spree and ripe for the picking.
The children worked together harvesting bundles of juicy goodness and loading a metal bowl to overflowing.
 There was such a sense of wonder and enthusiasm evident throughout the process and an eager anticipation of the day ahead.
 Beverly joined us in the studio for the day juicing grapes and sampling natures nectar.
An observational painting prompt was set up in the studio to facilitate further grape investigations and expression.
The children enjoyed touching and discussing the grapes, the juice, the harvest, the colors, the smells and more.