Someone asked me recently, “How do you plan lessons that reach all the children, with such a big age and developmental range?” So many thoughts flew through my brain as I figured out my response. Part of me wanted to say, “I don’t plan lessons” and this is both true and not true. We do plan some teacher-directed learning activities that are what would be traditionally recognized as lessons. But mostly, we plan experiences that create opportunities for learning. We take the children to the garden with a plan to plant peas. We go on a long walk to look for signs of spring. We spend an afternoon at the pond. These experiences create opportunities to wonder, to think, to ask questions, to explore and yes, to learn.
But not necessarily to learn what we plan for them to learn. As teachers, we bring our knowledge and ideas to the children all day long – but we are also listening to theirs. We ask questions, we explore together, we drop new words and concepts into their open minds, we observe and guide. We support the children who need support, we challenge the ones who need to stretch. We know and love the children.
I could have spent several days talking educational philosophy, but instead gave the example of the gardening experiences we include in our spring curriculum. This week, we went to the garden, harvested compost, prepared the garden bed by turning over the soil. We looked for critters in the compost and in the soil, we noted what had decomposed and had not, we examined sprouting pea seeds for roots and shoots, we measured the depth and distance for our holes, we felt the damp soil, we set up a trellis, we planted peas. We also looked at the plants that had made it through the winter, tasted sorrel, imagined what our peas would look like. On the side, rousing imaginary play soared and crashed and soared again as roles and story-lines were negotiated. Some children stayed with every moment of the gardening experience, others popped in and out.
Back on the play-yard, we started some kale, chard and lettuce seedlings in pots. Some children planted two seeds, some twenty. Some wrote labels, others went back to play. To keep track of our seedlings, we made a grid to match our planter and mapped the location of all our seeds with a K, C or L. This mapping component was not planned – the experience called for it. Now we watch our seedlings – planted in soil and in the children’s minds and hearts – grow!
Outside on the play-yard, we set up an obstacle course for the children’s return last Monday. The children, of course, altered the course and added important story elements – a bridge over poison water and lots of hot lava.
Inside, a newly expanded dramatic play structure, new peg dolls and construction materials sparked new play. The Reggio Emilia philosophy recognizes the environment as the Third Teacher. By offering new materials, new spaces or twists on the known environment, we create new opportunities for play and learning.
Our marvelous intern Meredith has been working on math games with the children, which in turn sparked independent math play. Each child also added a page to their animal research project book about their animal’s body parts.
And since the interest in Ninjago is still going full force, some children offered Ninjago drawing lessons. Just in time to make a birthday book that doubled as a Ninjago manual for the birthday girl. (ps, Ninjago is a Lego ninja storyline, brought from home and fully owned and expanded by the children’s imaginations)
We celebrated two half-birthdays in this short week, celebrating the children’s trips around the sun with their families.
Books we read:
Inch by Inch: The Garden Song by David Mallett
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz (a new chapter book)
Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch it, Shape it by Dr. JoAnn Deak
And many many books about animals and animal body parts
Songs we sang:
The animal body parts song (to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, and sung cumulatively):
Some animals have very special parts,
yes, some animals have very special parts.
I have fingers, I have toes
On my face I have a nose,
but some animals have parts like their…
teeth – chomp, chomp
fins – swish, swish
wings – flap, flap
tails – wag, wag
We also sing versions of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and Boom, Chicka Boom for each Person of the Day’s animal.