The Storyteller, September 2016
Observations and Reflections
“Connecting through Caring and Learning Spaces”
(Lella Gandini, in The Hundred Languages of Children, 2012)
You go inside the place. . .and after, your body decides whether to receive it or not” (Pietro, age 4 years).
“You recognize a place by the air” (Matteo, age 5 years).
“To listen to a place, you have to call your brain” (Lucia, age 4 years). ”
A place is here” (Benedetta, age 2 years, 3 months).
Dear Families and Friends,
As one of our first professional development experiences during the weeks before the start of school, teachers and I researched and discussed together one of the essential elements of our Reggio inspired approach: the environment as the third teacher. At the beginning of the school year, as children and adults enter our spaces, how do our environments support the development of a sense of place—a sense of community and comfort, a sense of harmony and pleasure–and also of curiosity?
We consulted an inspiring reference: Children, Spaces and Relations: metaproject for an environment for young children (Reggio Children, 1998). We discovered key words and metaphors used for “formulating general criteria and contexts” in the attempt to identify the desirable characteristics for an environment of young children: overall softness, relation, osmosis, multisensoriality, epigenesis, community, constructiveness, narration, rich normality. These words describe an environment that is an “ecosystem,” where inhabitants can be a part of a group or find privacy, an environment “characterized by the relations it is able to stimulate or permit,” an environment connected to the world outside, rich with sensory experiences, a space that is “flexible over time”—modified by children’s learning processes—a place for children and for adults to connect as a community, a space that supports investigation and constructivism, an environment that documents the processes of learning and communicates the values of the educational project, and, finally, an environment that represents a balanced interaction of materials and produces a “symphony of the individual parts.”
As we create our environments, we consider the effect of light, color, materials, smell, sound and the microclimate on our lives within the school and the impact of these elements on children’s overall comfort, happiness and learning—their willingness to enter into a relationship with the environment and its inhabitants. As we come together during the first weeks of the school year, we hope that we will encounter together a serene, amiable, joyful and livable place.
Sending warm wishes,
Click on the links below or scroll down for this month’s topics:
The Welcoming Process
“In the first days of the ‘settling in’ period, in the center, the goal is to create an atmosphere that builds relationships and binds together all of the subjects involved” (Spaggiari, 2015).
We are all, at this moment, participants in a welcoming process that helps to define the start of a new school year at Palisades Preschool. The two-weeks of professional development experiences for teachers in August, parent orientation meetings, communications from our PPS Board President, modified days for the Cherry Blossom and Rosemary children, conversations about separation strategies, Home Visits, “clay on the floor” and shared canvases, a water table for collaborative play with water and sand, a new atelier of taste for small group investigations, the Family Picnic, Back to School Nights, and Exchange Conferences– all are events, materials and experiences that support the developing sense of place and sense of community for children, parents and teachers. Making the new community visible, documentation, too, becomes a part of our welcoming process.
There is a tremendous amount of intention on the part of teachers and directors in creating the opportunities that mark the beginning of our school year together. Thinking deeply about the values that shape our work at PPS, we imagine strategies, materials, settings and language that will express our invitation to enter into a relationship–with one another, with environments, with materials, with ideas and theories, and with beauty. We understand that there is also a great deal of intention on the part of parents and children in responding to our invitations and in offering a reciprocal welcome to enter into a relationship. Smiles, laughter, and participation tell a story of developing trust and affection.
Why is the relationship-building process so essential to our play and work? Social constructivist theory affirms that individuals scaffold one another’s understandings, leading to the construction of theories and knowledge within the group. Additionally, the group supports the learning of each individual (Vygotsky, 1930). –Reggio educators further explain that the environment acts as another scaffold or teacher. In order for us to be able to work and play closely together, expressing thoughts and feelings through the “hundred languages of children,” we need to know one another—and trust one another. We have to feel comfortable in order to take a risk and try something new—whether it be a friendship, watercolor paint, the ravioli lunch, the slide on the play yard, or expressing an idea in the reflection meeting.
What does it mean to learn together? Beyond the beautiful “projects” that will emerge during the course of the school year, much of our learning occurs in all the moments we will spend together–in our daily life together. This is true for adults, as well as for children at our school. Even in the most “ordinary” moment, we may find that something very special is taking place.
We thank you for your—and the children’s– enthusiastic participation in the welcoming process that is in progress at our little amiable school. We look forward to getting to know each of you as a very unique individual—and to your membership in our community of learners.
Proposed Curriculum Intentions for the School Year: A guide for listening
Each year we try to select a topic or topics upon which to focus our study in classrooms, studios and outdoor spaces. Based on observations of children over past years and with thoughtful consideration regarding professional development opportunities for teachers, we have chosen once more to make transformation an area of focus in our research with the children throughout the current school year. We know from our experience, that children are fascinated by the changes they observe in themselves and in their environment—and in producing changes in their environment. Children’s physical growth, observation of the changes in season, color-mixing, cooking and juicing, play with light and shadow, water play, and experimentation with digital landscapes are just a few examples of experiences with great potential for creating and observing transformation. Applying this “lens” to our observations, interpretations and reflections– we intend to offer materials and settings that will provoke play and conversation about a very complex process. What questions might we ask that will support children’s language and thinking about what they do and observe? The research will require that teachers think carefully about their own understandings and language.
One important aspect of the investigations will be the suspending of our own adult knowledge about transformational processes in order to act as co-researchers with the children—resisting the temptation to give explanations. Instead, we want to know what children think. What are their theories? How can we help them to explore their theories and make adjustments in their thinking if necessary?
As part of our professional development opportunities prior to the start of school, teachers, atelieristi and the pedagogista engaged in discussions and workshops related to transformation and to our experiences in Reggio Emilia in May, 2015. Subjects included: living organisms (plants and flowers and their transformation over time), the exploration of mark-making and story-telling, and color-mixing. We were very privileged to have Hirokazu Kosaka, Master Artist in Residence at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, speak to us in August about Haiku—”simple” poems that we believe children are capable of understanding and composing. Teachers’ professional development regarding these topics will continue throughout the school year and also include play with microlandscapes and digital landscapes.
A continued subject of study this year will be children’s experience of time. We are wondering about “lived time,” “intuitive understanding,” “measuring time by action sequences,” and children’s belief that “everything has its own time” (Simms, 2008). The Child in the World (Simms, 2008) provides some very interesting proposals about the ways in which children experience time and we would like to use Simms’ perspective as a point of reference for our observations, interpretations and responses. –And, children’s experience of time might have a relationship with their thoughts about transformation.
“Young children have a clear sense of time, but it is intuitive rather than logical-operational: ‘It is now afternoon because I have had my nap.’ Temporal scripts or frames allow children to grasp the order of events and, to a certain degree, predict the future. Time is tied to action sequences that are enacted repeatedly in particular places, and it is a function of the rhythms of daily life. For the young child, time exists not as the abstract measure of clock or calendar, but as rhythmic action time that encompasses a remembrance of the past, an easy flowing along with the present, and an anticipation of the future” (Simms, 2008, p. 159). However, we have observed that some children, at about the age of five years, become interested in systems for telling time—and part of our intention for the research with time might include invitations to Sunflower children to create their own strategies for naming and telling time.
As part of the systems we have developed over the past year and in previous years, we plan to continue with the exploration of identity, story-telling, and the language of flowers. Last month we invited our mentors from the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of Los Angeles to return to our school to share more with teachers about this traditional Japanese art form—whose emphasis on intentionality, beauty and appreciation of nature reminds us of Reggio inspired values. Again, we anticipate possible relationships between transformation, children’s experience of time, identity, story-telling/poetry, living organisms and the language of flowers.
As we begin to shape curriculum at the start of the school year, it is important for parents to know that the teaching teams in each classroom work closely with the support teacher, the studio teacher(s) and the pedagogical coordinator (pedagogista). Individuals and teams do not work in isolation. In this collaborative system of working, we attempt to balance the interests, skills, experience, talents, education background, observations and perspectives of each person on our faculty with those of colleagues. This approach to our educational project makes for increased breadth and depth in our understandings—and for some lively conversations after school.
Each classroom team meets once a week with the atelierista and pedagogista—either as a separate classroom team or as a part of the age group team (e.g., Sunflower and Lavender or Cherry Blossom and Rosemary). Additionally, many informal discussions take place throughout the week for idea sharing and the exchange of observations about children. –Even some of the smallest details are decided upon and realized in a collaborative manner.
On most Friday afternoons, our faculty meets as a whole group in the library from 1 to 3 p.m.—sharing documentation, discussing specific readings, evaluating logistics and environments, planning events, engaging in studio explorations, and many other large and small aspects of our work with young children.
The purpose of our lunches served Monday through Thursday of most weeks is to create a sense of community in each classroom as children share meals at the table. We also wish to offer healthy seasonal and mainly organic foods to the children, to add culinary investigations to children’s experiences at our school, and to enhance children’s “table manners.”
Our caterer, Jessica Alexander of Bean & Thyme, will publish the lunch menus at the beginning of each month and teachers will be observing carefully, recording children’s eating habits during the first weeks of school. Chef Jessie has been very accommodating regarding special diets and will not be including any nuts, seeds, nut/seed oils or nut/seed flours in any of the lunches . You will see that she generally offers a fresh fruit, salad or steamed veggie with each lunch and children who cannot eat the chicken or turkey on Thursdays are offered a grilled cheese sandwich. Arrangements to bring a lunch from home may be made for children with other special diets, such as those who cannot eat dairy foods or eggs—or for children who demonstrate over the first weeks of school that they have very particular tastes and are not eating their lunch.
We thank you for your support of our intentions behind the lunches and ask that you be sure to communicate any concerns or questions.
The Sunflower and Lavender lunches started on Aug. 25. Lunches for Cherry Blossom and Rosemary children will start on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Karen has included the cost of the lunch on the September invoice.
Please be sure that Karen has your current address and other contact info as well as the names and contact info for the people you authorize to pick up your child from school. She will need to have licensing forms on file in order for you to leave your child in our care. This is a legal issue and we appreciate your cooperation in making sure that we are in compliance with state regulations. Thank you.
We thank parents who would like to volunteer to serve as Room Parents this school year! We plan to hold our Room Parent meeting in the Library on Thursday, Sept. 15 from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. –Class Coffee meetings begin the week of Sept. 19 through the first week of October (at the preschool or at the home of a Room Parent). The Class Coffee meetings help to launch efforts to collect items for the Silent Auction Class Baskets and to organize funds for teacher gifts during the holidays and at the end of the school year.
Thank you for choosing a committee or committees on which to serve this year! If you have not had the opportunity to join a committee, please speak with Karen. The Hospitality and Housekeeping committees could use more membership!
Another way to be a part of your child’s classroom experience is to choose a holiday or tradition that you would like to share with the children. For example, if your family celebrates Chinese New Year, we would love to learn about how you observe this holiday in your family. Books, music, clothing, photos, and/or a special snack are possible items to bring to the classroom. We ask that you only choose holidays or traditions that are actually a part of your family’s culture. In other words, not every class will celebrate all the possible holidays that occur throughout the year—just those that are represented by the families in the class.
This month we will place a list of holidays on a clip board at the entrance to each classroom (or outside by the Sign-In sheets). Often, two parents will collaborate to share a celebration. Please be sure to talk with teachers to decide upon a date and time for your celebration. We generally use the snack time for these activities, but occasionally a time after lunch can also work. We also ask that you talk with teachers about what you are planning to share—especially the food you are considering. Children with food allergies must be carefully considered in advance of the celebration. Thank you.
Thank you for adding your name to the list of parents who will be bringing weekly fresh flowers to the classroom. As our spaces our small, one large bouquet or a couple of small bunches of flowers are usually enough to make the rooms beautiful. Children and teachers will collaborate to arrange the flowers during the indoor play time.
Parents and children in the Cherry Blossom and Rosemary rooms can bring flowers into the classroom before going out to the play area. We have small buckets that can be filled with a little water to keep flowers fresh until they can be placed in vases. Thank you!
Back to School Nights:
Sunflower/Lavender—Wednesday, Sept. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Rosemary/Cherry Blossom—Thursday, Sept. 22 from 5 to 7 p.m.
These are parent-teacher-director meetings that begin in the Parish Hall and then move to the upstairs spaces and the outdoor play area. The topics for this year are in development. . . related to the Intentions described earlier in this newsletter. We hope you will join us!
Friday, Sept. 30 for all families. These 30 minute individual family/teacher meetings give parents and teachers an opportunity to discuss how each child is making the adjustment to classroom/outdoor settings and allow parents a time to share any additional information that will help teachers better understand their child. The preschool will be closed on the 30th, but we will provide child care for the time of your conference. A sign-up sheet for appointment times will be available later this month.
Stay & Play and After-School Classes
Stay & Play begins on Monday, Sept. 12, from the time children are dismissed in each class until 2:30 p.m. Stay & Play is offered Monday through Thursday of most weeks. Parents can indicate on the Sign-In sheet if their child is to stay after school—or can call Karen to let her know. Karen will bill for Stay & Play each month according to use at the rate of $18 per use. (Generally, the Cherry Blossom/Rosemary children do not stay after school until they are well adjusted to the preschool routine—but children are welcome to try the experience and we can observe how they do.)
Starting on Monday, Sept. 12
In this fall session we will be offering:
- Ballet on Monday afternoon from 1:45 to 2:30 with the ballet specialist, Laura Mazur
- Yoga on Tuesday from 1:45 to 2:30 with Sunflower teacher, Ashi Mitchell
- Percussion & Movement on Wednesday from 1:45 to 2:30 with music/drama specialist
- Karate on Thursday from 1:45 to 2:30 with specialist, Carol Genovese
The size of each class varies, but is generally limited to no more than 8 to 10 children. Please check with Karen about cost and enrollment for each class. (Some classes are limited during this first part of the school year to the 4 and 5 year old children.)
- Thursday, Sept. 1—No classes for Cherry Blossom/Rosemary so we can focus on Home Visits
- Friday, Sept. 2—Preschool closed for Labor Day holiday
- Monday, Sept. 5—Preschool closed for Labor Day holiday
- Wednesday, Sept. 7—Regular daily schedule begins for Cherry Blossom & Rosemary classes (with lunch)
- Monday, Sept. 12—Stay & Play and After-School Classes begin
- Thursday, Sept. 15—Room Parent meeting in Library from 9:15 to 10:30
- Wed., Sept. 21—Back to School Night (Sunflower/Lavender) from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Thurs., Sept. 22—Back to School Night (Cherry Blossom/Rosemary) from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Thursday, Sept. 29—Parent Information Meeting: Elementary Schools—9:15 to 11:00 a.m.
- Friday, Sept. 30—Exchange Conferences—Preschool closed