Today we’re featuring Connie Giles, one of the teachers of the three-year-old Wallaby class. The class had been busy exploring a water unit, and I joined them for a lesson about rivers at the National Gallery of Art. Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from Connie.
The museum or community destination of the day is not the only place where we can learn. We often stop to look at other things and have many interesting experiences along the way. On this particular day, we had some extra time and were able to travel slowly and enjoy the journey more than usual. I had wanted to take the students to this fountain at some point and had not been able to yet, so this was the perfect opportunity for them to see it, hear it, and experience something new. It was also a chance to review the tranquility concept we had learned during an earlier lesson and would be reviewing again at the end of this river lesson.
To choose this piece, I looked at several paintings with a few criteria in mind. I wanted a piece we had not seen before. I also wanted it to be large with many details so there would be lots to observe. I would have preferred a painting that depicts both sides of a river to point out the difference between a river and other bodies of water, but I finally settled on River Landscape with Ferry because it had lots of details to help with our “careful looking” activity. Before discussing an object, we often take time to look carefully at it as careful looking strengthens the early cognitive skills of examination, observation, and concentration.
Children need to move after being still, but also, movement is a way to experience and learn something in a different way than through hearing, speaking or seeing. It is important for the brain to be stimulated in as many different ways as possible to create deep understandings of concepts. Movement is another way for the students to make a connection to the art and put their own personal touch on the describing and interpretation of it.
At the beginning of the year the group always had plenty to say, but their observations were almost solely of things they could see. Gradually, I helped them expand into how it made them feel, what it reminded them of, and what they could imagine was there. I did this through modeling this myself and also giving them prompts to help them get started like, “It makes me feel….” or “It reminds me of….” Gradually the children grew their observations into deeper and more expansive descriptions and explanations of their thought process. Now, I often hear them describe something that is not seen, but imagined or say that something reminds them of something else. Sometimes, on their own, they begin with a phrase like, “It makes me feel…” It has been a great process to watch grow.
One moment from this section of the lesson I have reflected on a lot is how I respond to the children’s responses. I stopped one student a little prematurely because I felt she was repeating what the previous student said instead of sharing an observation of her own. I wanted to give this student more time to think of her own special thought, but she did not want to. I wish I had seen how important it was to her to share her almost identical thought. I have to remember that a thought that seems identical to another child’s isn’t copied, it is simply that the students had the same idea and both want to share it in their own way. Fortunately, when we came back to her, she shared her thought, and while some elements were similar to another student’s thought, there were many parts that were different.
Technology is another way for children to absorb information, it allows them to see actual photos or a video of what they are learning about which takes the teacher’s verbal description one step further. In my experience, technology also seems to enhance concentration, as students seem to become very interested and focused when the iPad, cell phone or laptop comes out.
Literacy is everywhere and should be a natural and constant part of every child’s day. I try to incorporate literacy into almost every lesson in the form of reading books, sounding out words, talking about letter sounds and letter recognition. I also like to incorporate a specific new vocabulary word about once a week by emphasizing the word, spelling it out, and reviewing it many times. The kids love to learn new words as it makes them feel powerful. The children’s interest in letter sounds has peaked in the second half of the year, so we have increased our spelling and sounding out of words even more and added additional letter related activities for classroom playtime as well.
I wanted the students to learn one main thing about rivers: that river water is always moving and that it is always moving in one direction. I approached this concept from four different angles to help the children gain a deep understanding of the concept: the videos, the finger walk, the marble roll, and the acting out. It is important for kids to learn by doing, to truly experience the feeling of something rather than just hearing it described or looking at pictures. It is always important to teach a concept in several different ways in order to reach several different learning styles as not all children learn best in the same way.
When doing activities in a museum space, I consider how to situate ourselves to ensure a successful experience, while also keeping the gallery safe. In a museum, we sit in a tight circle and keep all activities inside of it. Throughout the year we have also discussed, practiced and reviewed our museum manners such as, quiet voices, walking feet, and calm bodies. With these systems in place, the marble rolling and body pushing activities were no problem at all and disturbed no one. In fact, some people stopped to watch with smiles and one even complimented us on the way out. You can use museum spaces in many ways, you just have to plan carefully and set expectations with the kids.
Knowing how to self-regulate and how to calm your body when excited are skills that young children continue to develop well beyond preschool. All year long we have worked on understanding that different places, activities, and times of day influence expectations for how we control our bodies. I found that studying fountains earlier in our water unit was a wonderful opportunity to introduce the idea of water as having a calming effect. During these lessons we learned the word “tranquil” and talked about other words like “peaceful”, “calm”, “mellow” and “relaxed”. We talked about how fountains are often peaceful places. I found that revisiting this concept at the end of the river lesson allowed the children to reconnect with the idea of water as a calming influence as we finished our lesson and prepared for our walk back to school.
I set out a “theme choice” every afternoon, which is an activity that is related to the lesson topic of that day. I do this to solidify what was learned and to allow the kids to explore their new knowledge on their own through play. Oftentimes not all students get a turn with an activity during a lesson, but placing the same materials out for free exploration allows them all to get a turn later in the day.