Different Aspects of Nature: Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course

Graduate students, enrolled in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) are assigned readings and discussion topics to influence their daily classroom work. They use these readings and discussions to influence the experiences they offer in the classroom, outdoors, and in the community, then submit reflections that integrate their practical and academic research. Graduate students’ reflections are read, and feedback is offered by course instructors and classroom mentors. In this way, graduate students are offered space for theory to inform practice and practice to inform theory.

For the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum (DAC) course, graduate students,, observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester. To read an in-depth description of this course, refer to this blog post: Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course. Part IV of the DAC course asks graduate students to examine ways to extend the curriculum outdoors and into the community.

The following post is taken from a paper written by Meghna Gopal, graduate student in the 2017-2018 cohort, for the DAC course, Part IV.


In a world where violence appears to be on the rise, and media outlets are casting a negative outlook on the future, fear has begun to control the actions of society. In many cases, it seems that people are so focused on the negativity existing in the cultural environment, they are unable to enjoy themselves and take advantage of all the good life still has to offer. Unfortunately, this type of mentality is especially impactful on our youngest citizens. Parents seem hesitant to allow their children to play outside for extended periods of time or to wander too far out of their sight. Thus, many children are now spending more waking hours inside of their homes, as opposed to exploring the outdoors.

In addition, the rapid growth of technology and emphasis on standardized testing in schools have played a role in limiting children’s contact with nature. It is common to see young children staring at a digital screen for hours on end or having their recess compromised for more instructional time in the classroom to prepare for state testing. Given this, it is no wonder that a large percentage of children are suffering from sensory-related issues. Spending time outdoors gives children opportunities to freely release their energy, foster creativity, and enhance self-control. (Natural Learning Initiative, 2012). For this reason, it is crucial for both educators and parents to provide opportunities for young children to actively connect with and learn more about the natural world.

In my own classroom, I was considering ways I could create a palpable experience for the children to further discover the different aspects of nature. How could I bring the learning that was happening indoors into the outside environment? Over the past couple of months, the children have been extremely interested in the exploration of clay. My mentor teacher and I have designed various provocations involving clay, paired with other materials that could be incorporated into the experience. On one occasion the children explored natural materials, including pine cones, wood, shells, and rocks, with the clay. While the children seemed to enjoy deepening their understanding of the versatility of clay, they also actively engaged with the natural materials, pressing the materials into the clay to make imprints. Given their attraction to the natural materials during that particular experience, I decided to recreate the same provocation, but in an outdoor setting. I thought that the learning could be more meaningful if the children engaged with the natural materials while in a natural setting.

I chose to set up the provocation on a table located in the garden. The children often view this outdoor space as a peaceful escape from the action of the other outdoor classrooms. I felt that the calm atmosphere would offer them the chance to focus and fully participate in extending their learning.

To prepare for the provocation, I laid out clay boards on the table. I cut slabs of clay and placed one on each board. I also gathered a variety of natural materials, including pine cones, rocks, fall leaves, and sticks, that could be found in the garden. I placed the materials in the center of the table, as well as on the clay boards. I was curious to see how the children would interact with the materials in an outdoor environment, and whether or not they would draw inspiration from the previous provocation.

On a Friday morning, four children were invited to explore the materials that had been arranged in the garden. Almost immediately, they each picked up a stick and began poking the clay to create holes. One child also used the stick to create lines in the clay. The children made imprints with the rocks and pine cones, as they had done in the earlier experience.

Maya discovered that the pine cone could also be rolled back and forth on the clay to produce a pattern.

Moving the pine cone in this manner inspired her to explore rolling the clay itself. She folded her clay slab in half and began rolling it back and forth across the board. Two of the other children took notice of what she was doing, prompting them to also experiment with moving their clay in a back-and-forth motion. It is noted that toddlers tend to mimic the actions of their fellow peers, as well as adults (Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines, n.d.).

Perhaps, the highlight of the provocation was the creation of clay birthday cakes. Maya positioned a pine cone and a stick on her clay piece and started singing “Happy Birthday” to herself. Once she had finished singing, she pretended to blow out the candle, which she had represented with the stick. Not surprisingly, this resulted in the other children also wanting to construct cakes. They started shaping their clay and gathering the natural materials they wanted to use in bringing their creation to life. After the cakes had been made, they took turns singing “Happy Birthday” and pretending to blow out the candles. They each sang “Happy Birthday” to Maya, and not to themselves as she had done. Perhaps, this was their way of acknowledging that Maya was the one who had inspired them to create their own cakes. Or maybe they were following her lead and singing for her as she had done. Either way, it seemed as though Maya was able to celebrate her birthday a few months early with clay cakes.

It was certainly interesting to see how different each child’s representation of a cake was. While Maya’s cake was fairly simple, with just a stick and pine cone, Anna wrapped her clay around a pine cone and added leaves on top, possibly as decoration. Both Anders and Eli used a single pine cone for their piece of decoration. Eli had lines on his cake that he had drawn earlier with a stick, adding a little more intricacy to his creation.

Juniper, an older sibling who joined the experience, neatly arranged each material on her clay piece. She placed a big and small pine cone toward the center of the clay and added rocks and leaves in the spaces around the pine cones.

According to the Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines (n.d.), toddlers “use abstract things to represent other things in pretend play” (p.78). In this experience, the children were using their imaginations to depict the clay as cake. They also most likely used the natural materials to signify decorations, using the sticks for candles.

Looking back on this provocation, I was impressed by the children’s creative utilization of the natural materials presented to them. They were able to guide the exploration of these materials in ways that gave purpose and meaning to their learning. When the children were using the pine cones, rocks, and sticks to produce clay imprints, it is possible that they were connecting to a previous experience in which they also made patterns in the clay with similar materials. When Maya rolled the pine cone back and forth in the clay, she broadened her awareness of how the pine cone can be used with the clay.

I noticed that the children were far more engaged with the natural materials than they have been in the past. While they had explored the imprints that could be made with the various materials in a prior experience, they seemed more interested in the versatility of the clay itself. Their actions primarily consisted of squishing, flattening, and rolling the clay into the desired object. Thus, I concluded the natural materials simply did not yield as many possibilities as the clay. The hard surfaces of materials like pine cones and rocks prevented them from being easily manipulated into different shapes or objects. However, after observing how the children interacted with these same materials out in the garden, I have been reconsidering this earlier assumption. What was it about the experience that made the natural materials more attractive to the children? Did the outdoor setting play a role? Perhaps, the children were inspired by their surroundings.. In the movie, Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten, it is mentioned that nature has positive effects on a child’s creativity. The large spaces give children more freedom and opportunities to express themselves (Richter & Molomot, 2013). For this reason, being outside could have helped the children be more creative in their use of the natural materials, incorporating them into the making of the clay birthday cakes. The environment is often referred to as the third teacher and often greatly influences the learning that occurs during a particular experience.

In planning for future provocations, I want to continue integrating the outdoors . Given that nature plays such a big role in ensuring the healthy development of a young child (Natural Learning Initiative, 2012), it is important for children to have plenty of opportunities to fully understand and appreciate what it has to offer. Perhaps, I could present the same provocation to a different group of children or even in a whole group setting. Would the children be as interested in the natural materials as the first group was? How does a large group differ from a small group in terms of how the children interact with the materials?

In addition, I could offer the same provocation, but in a different outdoor space. How would materials in that space contribute to the children’s explorations? Natural materials could also be used with forms of media other than clay. For instance, a painting provocation in the garden could offer the children the experience of exploring how paint and natural materials interact, as well as the possibility of expanding their own interpretations of them on paper.

Additionally, I could take the children on a nature walk through the school neighborhood. We could collect various objects that we find along the way and add them to our classroom to produce a more natural look. Seeing these objects on a daily basis may also provoke the children to talk about their experiences on the walk.

Moreover, I would like to find a way to involve parents in the children’s learning. Maybe, we could organize an event at a local park where families could explore different classroom provocations in a community setting. Materials of interest to the children, such as clay, paper, and drawing utensils could be set up with more natural ones found in the park. How might the children extend their learning beyond the school environment? How might their families learn alongside them? Bringing the learning into this type of space would offer the children the opportunity to make connections between their experiences at school and in the community, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the world in which they live.

I feel it is imperative to expose young children to the outdoors. Nature allows children to process thinking and learning in ways that the inside classroom simply cannot. As mentioned earlier, the children in my class were able to more readily connect with the natural materials and use them to enhance their clay experience, something they had not quite done when engaging with the same materials inside. For this reason, I think educators and parents need to take into consideration the many benefits of nature to a child’s learning and development, and spend more time exploring the outdoors with children. In today’s society, it is becoming easier for our youngest citizens to lose touch with the natural world. Rather than let that happen, we should help them in cultivating a respect and love for the beauty and wonder that is nature, which will hopefully be passed onto future generations of children.

References

Colorado Early Learning & Development Guidelines (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/early/eldgs

Natural Learning Initiative (2012). Benefits of connecting children with nature: Why naturalize outdoor environments. Retrieved from https://naturalearning.org/sites/default/files/Benefits%20of%20Connecting%20Children%20with%20Nature_InfoSheet.pdf

Richter, R. (Producer), & Molomot, L. (Director). (2013). School’s out: Lessons from a forest kindergarten (Motion Picture). United States: Bullfrog Films

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A Change in Plans

Boulder Journey School classroom teachers, mentors and interns, compose blog posts for the families in each classroom 3 – 5 times weekly. These blog posts offer reflections on daily experiences, question possibilities for future research, and form connections between home-life and school-life.

The following reflections are from a classroom blog post shared with families, composed by Cassie Sorrells, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher in a toddler classroom.


 

I had big plans for today, plans that I put in place almost a week ago when I filled out our Weekly Planning Document.

The planning document is a shared document that is filled out by all classroom teachers and directors. The document is printed and posted for families in the classroom. After the planned experiences, teachers reflect on the document and use their reflections to plan the following week’s experiences.

 Today I planned to invite a group of friends to take pictures with an old digital camera. I was so excited to see the fine motor skills they used to manipulate the camera, to watch what objects they chose to photograph, and to see how they behaved socially when they viewed the photos together later. I was planning to project the images in the classroom, inviting my friends to revisit the experience.

But my friends didn’t want to explore the curriculum ideas that I had in mind for today.

​They wanted to run outside, play, and enjoy the beautiful weather.

​So I listened. I put away my agenda. And we had the most incredible day.

I’ll put the digital camera experience back on the planning document for a later date. It was a good idea – just not the best idea for today.


 

How often do we allow our adult agendas to take precedence over organic moments of learning?

How often do we honor our vulnerability and allow ourselves to reflect on moments that confused us, surprised us, shook us from our plans?

Resiliency and Humility are part of the professional qualities that we seek to support our graduate students in developing throughout their 12 month teaching and learning experience. The ability to recognize when our intended path must diverge, and to continue learning and growing with the new path is a quality that is useful in the classroom and beyond.

Mandalas in the Classroom: How PD Influences Classroom Work

Boulder Journey School classroom teachers, mentors, and interns compose blog posts for the families in each classroom 3 – 5 times weekly. These blog posts offer reflections on daily experiences, question possibilities for future research, and form connections between home-life and school-life.

In a previous blog post, we shared educators’ experiences in a workshop on mandalas. Here we explore classroom work inspired by that workshop.

The following reflections are from a classroom blog post shared with families, composed by Kirsten Zimbelman, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher.

 


Last night I had the opportunity to co-present a workshop on mandalas and their role in mindfulness practice in early learning. We worked with educators from several schools to discuss ways in which we could incorporate this kind of intentional work into our days with young children. Today, we decided to bring our research into our classroom.

Mandalas are best known for their use in the eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The word mandala is a Sanskrit word, and the literal translation means circle. However, if you break the word into parts its translation can change. Man is the Sanskrit word for mind, while the word da in Sanskrit can be translated as maintenance. So mandala can also mean maintaining the mind.

What does this have to do with preschool? Well, according to research, mindfulness has been linked to children being more positive, having better moods, and increasing their ability to focus. It has also been shown to help children build empathy and connections with peers by helping them process their own feelings. These are both crucial pieces of toddlers’ development, as they, like all of us, are developing their understanding of how their actions affect one another.

We began by looking at images of mandalas composed of natural materials and found various items. We also looked at a mandala built by teachers in our studio.

We discussed the shape of the mandalas as well as the materials used to make the ones in the images.

We offered the children materials such as leaves of varying colors, shapes, and sizes and a collection of man-made loose parts.

We intentionally selected circular boards to offer as a base or frame for the children’s work.

We observed forty uninterrupted minutes of children busily working on their own or collective mandalas.

Tuck, age 2, selected a frame and grape leaves for his work.

Linnea, age 3, added leaves to her composition.

Yana, age 2, and Tuck worked together to build a mixed media mandala.

Throughout the morning, several mandalas were built. Then, in the true spirit of the art, they were wiped clean to begin again.

During their work the children were always in motion; however, the motion was one of focus and intentionality. While we have not yet introduced the word ‘mindfulness’, or the language that accompanies conversations about mindfulness among adults, the children remained focused and engaged throughout the time spent in this endeavor.

“The Mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the self” ( C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, pp. 401 – 402).

In what ways do you observe your children being mindful?

Can You Feel the Beat? Technology in Preschool

This blog post examines classroom work stemming from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) Fall course, Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum. Intern Teachers observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester. Read more about the course here.

Learn more about applying to join the BJSTEP today!

The following reflections were offered by Mollie Lyne, a graduate student in the 2017-2018 BJSTEP cohort.


 

“Technology use in formal early childhood education (ECE) settings, such as preschools and child-care centers, may help shrink the digital divide in terms of both access and use for children in low-income families.”

Throughout studies in early childhood, technology has been a big uncertain topic within many generations. Often, the following question is asked:

 

Should we allow technology in the classroom?

At Boulder Journey School we say yes!

Technology can be found everywhere.

​In the year 2017, we have everything from television programming at gas stations, digital readers on the bus, cameras in our cars, and iPads at the library. We are in the digital world, and we need to find ways for children to engage with it, to form healthy relationships with technology.

 

The 3-year-old children in Room 13 have been fascinated with music lately.

We have experienced it through the computer, on our record player, through the iPad at nap time, with a visitor bringing a guitar, with Sam, a teacher from another classroom, playing his ukulele outside, and through sharing our favorite songs.

 I wondered how to offer a new form of music experiences to these children who are so widely experienced in music. This wondering let me to my roommate Jefferson.

 Jeff is originally from Washington D.C. and moved to Boulder a couple years ago. In his free time he DJs at local venues and enjoys laying down new beats.  

Question:

What would it look like for the children to experience Jeff’s turntable?

Answer:

Ask Jeff to present to the class how music can be manipulated and moved to create sounds that we have never heard before.

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When we offer children the environment to engage with technology and explore it in their own time and space, a whole new understanding arises.

It is important for children to have the connection to technology to have a sense of how it works and in what ways we can manipulate and play.

When Jeff arrived, he did just that for us!

He showed us what buttons we could push.

When we pushed them the music moved.

 

“Woah, it squeaked!” -Nico

“I can hear the noises.” -Micah

“Can I push this one?”- Alexis

 

We spun the disk.

We pressed the on / off button.

We hit other buttons over and over again.

We twisted the knobs.

Then…

We listened.

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We watched.

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We tested.

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We asked questions.

 

“Where does the music come from?”

“Why do you need headphones?”

“Why do you turn it all the time?”

“How can you make the music do that?”

 

We danced.

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We were inspired.

 

We explored.

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As a community we want to keep asking about technology in the classroom to help us comprehend the affordances of various technologies.

 

“Technology has great potential for supporting the learning needs of all young children ….”

-​ Using Technology in Reggio Emilia-Inspired Programs, Linda M. Mitchell

 


 

How do you embrace and explore technology with young children in your context? What technologies are you excited to use?

Tea Time at Aspen Grove: A Community Ritual – Story from a Practicum Site

Tea Time at Aspen Grove: A Community Ritual

Aspen Grove is a small preschool, located in Nederland, CO, a former mining town tucked into the mountains just to the west of Boulder.

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One 2016-2017 graduate student teacher and one mentor in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program are members of a community of teachers and children who participate in a daily ritual called “Tea Time.”

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During Tea Time, all members of the school community gather around the fireplace, located in the center of the school. Each person is offered a small cup of herbal tea, and a candle is lit. Children participate in all aspects of the preparation, including heating the water, choosing the tea flavor, and choosing books to read together. While the tea is enjoyed, everyone chats and stories are read. As the children finish their tea and feel ready for nap, they excuse themselves to find their mats.

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Rituals can be defined as special actions that help us navigate emotionally important events or transitions in our lives as well as enhance aspects of our daily routines to deepen our connections and relationships. (Gillespie & Petersen, 2012, p.76)

This daily ritual is an important part of Aspen Grove’s culture, and supports the children’s cognitive, physical, and social development in complex ways. The taste and scent of the tea, along with the physical warmth, serve as signals that it’s time to relax for nap. The children’s natural rhythms are respected, as they are empowered to head to the nap room when they are ready. In addition, the social aspects of this ritual deepen the school community members’ connections with one another.

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So often transitions are viewed as times to simply “get through”; this story can serve as a reminder to us all to celebrate the opportunities for learning, development, and community-building that are present in every moment throughout a day.

Tea Time is a reminder of the special nature of transition times.

  • What are the rituals that are unique to your classrooms and school?
  • How are they indicative of the cultural identity of your school community?
  • What are ways to build upon and share these unique moments that make your school special?

References

https://www.naeyc.org/yc/files/yc/file/201209/Rock-n-Roll_YC0912.pdf

The Child’s Right to Risk: Reflections from the 2017 Boulder Journey School Summer Conference

Boulder Journey School (BJS) hosts an annual two-day conference to support participatory exploration of topics related to quality and innovation in education. The conference welcomes participants from around the world to visit, engage, participate, and explore. Below is a reflection by Paige Laeyendecker, 2016 – 2017 Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate student.

As a first time participant in the Boulder Journey School Summer Conference, I was both excited to meet with educators from around the country and nervous to share the work from my classroom. Once the conference was in full swing, all my nervousness disappeared. I grew energized by all of the participants sharing their stories. The excitement in the building was palpable.

Over the course of the two days, the conversations surrounding environments, physics, bridging nature and technology, and children’s rights, among others, were so rich and deeply inspiring.

The topic I found to have the greatest impact on me were the many discussions, presentations, and debates around risk. Risk is a very hot topic in the field of education, and many of us were eager to hear and discuss the different perspectives around this controversial topic. In our society today, we have developed an intense fear when it comes to children and the communities of which they are an essential part. I’ll be the first to admit that this fear of the unknown is powerful, especially when working with the children who you love so much.

Granted, safety is and should be top priority when working with children of any age, but do we go too far? Are we keeping children too protected, and is that impacting the way that children are growing and learning?

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As part of my role as a BJSTEP graduate student, I was asked to facilitate a small group discussion around risk. I soon discovered that my colleagues’ thoughts around this topic added layers and layers to what I was prepared to share. Joining us from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, some of the participants shared their concerns around the different levels of risk taking in different areas of the world and even just our country.

What do safety concerns and risk evaluations look like in areas with low socio-economic statuses? How does the conversation change when a family does not have access to health insurance? I was left speechless.

Following this extremely insightful and eye-opening discussion, our discussion group heard a presentation from Meagan Arango, a mentor teacher at Boulder Journey School. Meagan has engaged in advocacy for the rights of children, specifically in taking risks. One major point that Meagan made was the distinction between a risk and a hazard.


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A two-year-old child examines the climbing wall. She stays close to the ground while, together with her teacher, she determines whether climbing is a risk or a hazard.

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A three-year-old child takes the risk of going high on the climbing wall. He has enough experience working in this space to know what the hazards are and where his personal limits lie.

 

 

 

 


Meagan explained that a hazard is something harmful about which we do not have the knowledge to make a safe judgement. When we offer our children experience in assessing their environments and strategies for identifying the hazards around them, we provide opportunities to learn about taking risks and pushing boundaries; we support their confidence to explore their limits and to break through them.

When we look at risk through this point of view, it solidifies my belief that risk is a right of all children no matter their different cultural and societal backgrounds. One of our jobs as adults is to guide children through the difficult decision making tasks of assessing risk. This is a life long learning practice that begins at the earliest of ages.

Being able to work through this complex topic with so many educators from so many different perspectives was an experience I will never forget. It is now our responsibility to extend these discussions through the rest of our careers and lives with children.

How do you feel about the children’s right to risk? How can we keep this discussion going?

Camden and Olivia Use a Tool

As a school, we use video documentation to guide our work with children. One crucial piece of working with video is revisiting the video, analyzing it to pull out questions for further research or to reach new understandings of children’s and teachers’ motivations. We practice analyzing videos with interns and mentors.

Below is a video and write-up that we have shared with Videatives, an organization with whom we partner.

Camden and Olivia Use a Tool

Camden and Olivia, both 3, are on their third day of school. Both are brand new to an already established class of children. While using the outdoor classroom, they have discovered a tool is needed to move the handle of the zip-line to the rider’s position.

 

Olivia, who is next for a turn to ride, is actively cheering Camden’s efforts.

 

Camden is using a tool that is appropriate for the job, however tripped up, literally, by an extra material on the ground.

 

At 0:44, Camden realizes the white tube lying on the ground is playing some part in his setbacks. At 0:54, the white tube does not act as he is expecting, and he throws it to the ground, his face conveying that he is on the verge of frustration and giving up. He makes a brief moment of eye contact with the teacher (behind the video camera).

 

Consider: According to the Zone of Proximal Development, this would be an ideal moment for scaffolding from the teacher. In this instance, the teacher chose to remain silent – ultimately a decision that paid off for Camden. Did the eye contact act as the teacher’s scaffolding (did it communicate, ‘I’m here, I’m present, you can do this’)? How could the teacher’s interaction here have altered Camden’s next steps? As a first experience at this school, how will this interaction shape Camden’s sense of self-efficacy within the school community?

 

At 1:00, Camden revisits his initial strategy with the longer black tube. He is successful, now that the white tube is gone. At this point, the teacher joins in with a cheer.

 

Consider: How did Olivia’s encouragements act as scaffolding? Did the teacher’s voice become stronger because she added it as a collaborative celebration rather than a top-down instruction?
Also consider: When Camden switched to using the white tube, was his motivation that he recognized the white tube was a key ingredient in some way and did not recognize that its role was merely to be moved?