About Shannon Earle

I am a mother of three girls, conservationist, vegan chef, world traveler, lover of mushrooms and everything Earth, educator, writer and reader. I want my children to grow up knowing they are connected deeply to our planet, to each other and to their community.

Oaks News from the Wild #13

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The week before spring break brought us a last blast of winter. Finally, snow and school together. The Oaks enjoyed a just-right sledding hill and learned to roll giant snow balls to make a fort. A few children shaped snow into their special animals, including a chomping crocodile, a panda playing with a ball, and a 2D colobus monkey. Snow play is so great for gross motor development, along with all the social skills practice in negotiation, turn-taking, communication and more.

 

We finished up our long-term animal project before break, putting finishing touches on murals and animal books. The children were overjoyed to learn they could take their animals home to KEEP!

 

Inside, stories flow through the children’s minds and into their dramatic play, building and art. Talking with each other and with adults about their stories and ideas is so important to development at this age.

Outside, Hilltop Home is HOME, a place they know as well as the classroom, and a place where they turn to each other in cooperative play. Games that started there a week ago pick up and shift with new ideas. Lava, ice and fire ninjas have given way to Lizard Ninjas. Powerful Cats can be found prowling and making homes here, on the play-yard and in the classroom.

After a week home with family, the Oaks returned to Real Spring.

 

We spent an afternoon at the Children’s Garden, where we planted the kale, chard and lettuce we started from seed a few weeks ago, checked on our pea sprouts, and enjoyed the smells and feel of freshly turned earth.

 

The children love the area around the Tree-Friendly Rain Garden and the magnificent walnut tree. At least two different group games got going involving panthers, lizard ninjas, and many other changing roles and rules. Negotiating these games with each other, without adults directing the play, is so important for both social emotional growth and for language development. The story-lines are rich and completely theirs. And this space is so enticing for both the open space to run AND all the hiding places.

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Decorating the classroom for our Spring Celebration was one way the children thought about symbols of spring. They made flowers for our branch, and created a flower for our window.

Caroline continues to guide the Oaks in weekly mindfulness lessons. She read Anh’s Anger and Steps and Stone to talk about how to calm your mind and body when feelings are overwhelming.

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This week we started a magical tales (fairy tales, myths and legends) unit. We’ll be talking about story elements, like characters, setting, plot. The children will be working together to create their own tales to share with the class.

The Spring Celebration brought families together to celebrate the warmth of the returning sun and the warmth of community.

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Songs we sang:

Books/stories we read:

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henke

Anh’s Anger and Steps and Stones by Gail Silver

The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci

Sleeping Beauty

Signs of Spring (adapted from an Equinox reading)

And many, many more…

 

Oaks News from the Wild #11

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Oaks News from the Wild #9

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Woodend continues to provide endless opportunities to explore and learn. From the icy pond to the inside of a giant tulip tree, there is always something new in nature.

Animals, Animals!

We’ve been learning about habitats as part of our on-going animal project. Each child learned about the habitat of their chosen animal, added a habitat page to their books, and created habitat paintings. The paintings were created by looking at pictures in their animal books, then drawing what they saw and imagined of their animal’s habitat. Afterwards, they painted their habitats, then cut out and added collage elements. Next up, life cycles!

We played a few animal games, including one we called Habitat, Habitat based on Mother May I. “If your animal lives in the ocean, swim three times. If your animal lives in the trees, move two times.”  Fox (and Hawk) and Rabbit was fun to play in the tall meadow grass. Rabbits had to decide whether to hide and freeze, or try to bolt for the rabbit warren.

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Our guest naturalist Nancy brought us a real squirrel drey to examine, then we went out drey-hunting on our longest hike to date. The Oaks spotted 15 dreys in the tree-tops on a full-circle hike of Woodend.

Mapping

After mastering 3D model maps, the Oaks moved on to 2D maps on paper. We created a map of the play-yard, and played the treasure hunt game again. The children hid small animals, marked them on the map, then sent their friends off to find them. Pretty soon, they could play the game completely independently. Taking it to the next step, the Oaks created a map of the preschool playground. Each child added elements to the map, talking with the teachers and each other about where things should go and how big they should be. “The stumps are actually behind the play structure.” “Where should this tree go?” Then they hid shiny gemstones for the Saplings to find, added Xs to mark the spots on the map, and got some help from a visiting third grader to write a poem with clues.

After a rain, we donned our gear and decided to hike the creek bed from one side of Woodend to the other. We brought along a laminated map of Woodend, so the children could check our location in the creek bed as we went along and add important missing elements to the map, like the one part of the creek that usually actually has water (or at least mud!).

Next up with mapping: creating sequencing maps of the route from the Oaks classroom to Hilltop Home.

Play!

In the classroom and outdoors, the Oaks continued the real work of early childhood – play! So much negotiation, problem-solving, language development, risk-taking, creativity and imagination.

Read, Read, Read

The Oaks LOVE books, anywhere, anytime, any kind. So we bring along stories wherever we go. We’ve really enjoyed our person-of-the-day favorite book parent visits. Nothing is better than your favorite story read by your favorite person and shared with friends.

This week, we started reading a series of books dealing with social emotional issues. These stories sparked animated discussion and sharing about feelings and how to manage them. We’ll continue with these books next week, giving us a shared language to use when problems arise.

Inside the classroom, the Oaks waited excitedly for the Mr. and Mrs. Penguin to lay an egg. Then they waited patiently for the egg to hatch. After three days, Little Waddle emerged from his/her shell! S/he is being well taken care of by the children, who are fully immersed in the magic.

Mindfulness is part of every day, as we learn to slow our engines down with breathing exercises, visit our sit spots at Hilltop Home, and practice mindful bodies, mindful listening, mindful seeing and mindful breathing.

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Books we read:

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

The Hat from Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (in honor of a class birthday)

Various books on the children’s individual animals and their habitats.

And many many more!

Oaks News from the Wild #7

 

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Life is precious. This time of early childhood is precious. We feel so grateful to share the children’s joy at such a magical time in such a magical place.

The Oaks have been practicing mindfulness. We ring a chime inside or chant an ohm outside to start and end our morning circle meeting. When we line up to go inside, we practice breathing visualizations to slow our engines down for inside time. At Hilltop Home, the children have quiet Sit Spot Time. And to bring this all together, parent volunteer Caroline has been leading the class in mid-day mindfulness sessions. The children have practiced having mindful bodies (still and quiet), and mindful listening. While children are often naturally “in the moment”, the language we use with them helps them pay attention to what’s happening in their brains and bodies. This is one of the important components of self-regulation  – one of the most important skills young children are working on developing.

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Mindful listening with Caroline

Our adventures outside have included exploration of the pond before and after the hard freeze.

With the cold, we also had our first campfires. We talked about fire safety, roasted apples and bananas, and enjoyed stories around the fire. The area around the campfire circle is also full of fun places to explore and climb.

At Hilltop, new forts arose and the fairy playground got spruced up for winter.

We’ve been talking about animals preparing for winter the last two weeks. Nature is the best teacher, so we were thrilled when the children discovered a hibernating bat inside a new tree cave by the pond!

With our guest naturalist, we learned about which birds stay around for the winter, and which fly south. The children made suet bird feeders as a gift to our resident Woodend birds.

Inside, we worked on habitat murals. Together the children made the Meadow, Pond and Creekbed, and Hilltop Home/Forest. Each child chose a stuffed Audubon animal, drew it’s picture, cut it out and found it a snug hiding place in one of the murals. Puffy paint snow turned our murals into winter wonderlands.

Lots of animal play ensued inside the classroom, including the construction of a natural history museum with the animals sorted into taxonomic groups. A pet shop opened, selling all kinds of wildlife (I know! But I promise these children will grow up loving and doing right by wildlife…). This kind of play springs entirely from the children’s imaginations, aided by props we bring. A new cash register and money appeared when the “shop” play arc began, and the new props sparked new play and drew in new children to dramatic play. Outside, we retold the story of the The Mitten with our Audubon animals.

We created beautiful snowflakes to decorate our classroom for our Winter Celebration and winter cards. A Gingerbread family moved into the classroom and left notes for the children each day. They also hid the children’s special animals each night. The Gingerbreads had to move to a bigger house to make room for a gingerbread baby, so the Oaks got to eat their old house at our final campfire.

The play-yard is always a great place for imaginative play.  We had fun with ice and snow, forts and obstacle courses get built and rebuilt, and we even built a “telephone” to send messages between two forts. When play inspires the need to write, that’s emergent literacy at its best!

And in a final burst of love and light, we gathered with families for the Winter Celebration. We sang songs, decorated lanterns and star cookies, and walked with our lights through a sparkling star labyrinth singing “This Little Light of Mine.” May the light of your little ones always shine brightly in your lives.

Oaks News from the Wild # 3

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The very tricky lava ledge pass.

One day we headed out to a “mystery location” in Woodend. Last year’s class had a name for this particular tumble of fallen logs, but we have purposefully NOT named some favorite destinations yet this year. The children will find their own names, and in the naming, make these places their own. They are not the same places after all. Wood decomposes and bark falls off, new trees fall, new animals move in, and the children bring their own transformative ideas.

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There are definitely zombies living inside this hollow tree. But they are apparently known to bury treasure right at the just-safe-enough-just-scary-enough opening.

As teachers, we bring our own ideas, but we also leave big spaces open for the children to explore. We often find something interesting and bring it to the play-yard or the classroom – a new wooden pallet, flexible tubing, stumps, boxes, concrete blocks. “What is this for?” a child asks. “I don’t know. What would you do with it?” And his face lights up, and the ideas pour out. And then another child joins, and the ideas join and change. And at some point, the whole thing comes down to make space for something new.

We went on our first class field trip, to the Patuxent Research Refuge and the National Wildlife Visitor Center. Highlights of the trip included a tram ride around the refuge’s wetland habitats, an education program on otters, and a hike to a pond.

On our return we lucked into some rain and a lot of puddles. The children are learning to manage their outdoor gear, and to assess their own comfort level with exploring nature’s gifts of water and mud. Some jump right in, while others watch and dip their toes.

We enjoyed our first visits with our volunteer naturalist Nancy, who joins the Oaks on Wednesday mornings to explore Woodend. A parent volunteer, Nikki, demonstrated a home-made water rocket, which shot high above the Oaks play-yard to squeals of amazement and delight.

Our program is so much about choice, about honoring children’s interests while at the same time offering them space to stretch and grow. On a visit to the “Pooh Tree” the children remembered learning about beech trees on their field trip. They noticed that people had carved letters and names into the tree, and were inspired to make signs to protect the tree. This is emergent literacy – seeing a reason to write, wanting to write, making your mark (just not on the tree!).

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At the same time, some children just need to climb the tree and give it a hug. All are equally important!

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We continued to explore the theme of friendship through stories, games, and of course play – inside and out. It is primarily through play that children gain the robust oral language that underlies literacy, along with key social emotional skills – self regulation, collaboration, negotiation, empathy and much more.

We have some avid artists in the Oaks class, so drawing happens anywhere, anytime. Lately, they’ve been working on large-format collaborative art. Just imagine the discussions as they each add their piece and explain how it all comes together in a story. Emergent literacy again.

On one hike, we collected acorns, chestnuts, redbud seed pods and many other natural treasures. Back in the classroom, the Oaks sorted and counted their finds. Math foundations at this age include counting with one-to-one correspondence, sorting items, recognizing and making patterns, being able to know how many items are there without counting, one-digit addition and subtraction, and numeral recognition. Any time you can count things with children, do!

This week, we started a unit on insects and other arthropods. They are the creatures we see most often at Woodend, so we wanted to learn a bit more about them. We sang the Insect Body Parts song, adding new verses each day. We searched for insects in the woods, under logs, in the meadow and even in the trees using a “beater tray”  –  a white sheet on a frame that catches insects as they fall from tree branches.  We observed insects in the classroom with magnifiers. The children made fingerprint bug art, play-dough insects, and wrote about their favorite insect in their journals.

We conducted a science lab on pill bugs, practicing asking questions, making testable hypotheses, setting up an experiment, recording our observations and making conclusions. One Oak stated, “I think pill bugs will like the dark more than the light, because when I find them, they are usually hiding underneath things like logs.” How can we find out? We used a special tray and covered one side, then counted the pill bugs. This led to more and more questions, as science often does. Do they like sand? Or sand and soil? Or just soil? How about wood? How about plants and soil together? How moist do they like the soil? What do they eat?

The children take time each day at Hilltop to visit their “Sit Spots”, observing what has changed, and taking a few minutes to sit in silence outside.

If you visit Hilltop Home, you will find an elaborate and ever-changing fairy adventure playground. The project started with a few Oaks and some stumps and twigs, and has now expanded to a whole-class design crew armed with color, sparkle and a lot of ideas. There are swings, a zip line, a tight rope, slides, bridges, a ladder, an underground lava-heated pool, and even anchors to keep it in place until the builders return. Notes have been left for the fairies who are sure to have a great weekend of play.

And then we explored, and played and climbed some more!

SONGS We Sang

I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

The Insect Body Part Song (to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes)

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

Compound eyes and an exoskeleton

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

(additional verses)

Some have wings and antennae too

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

They come from eggs and

Most have a larval stage

Head, thorax, abdomen

Six legs!

 

Books we read:

Wetlands

Rain Song by Lezlie Evans

The Surprise (Frog and Toad) by Arnold Label

Big Wolf and Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec

I Will Surprise My Friend (Elephant and Piggie) by Mo Willems

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

Bug Hunt by Neecy Twinum

Bugs – A Closer Look

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Hank’s Big Day  – the Story of a Bug – by Evan Kuhlman

Fly Guy stories by Tedd Arnold

The Amazing Book of Insect Records