Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Wheels of Change

The wheels are literally turning in the classroom with our three year olds. The teacher in this classroom is experimenting with Emergent Curriculum for the first time this year.

Her class so far has studied Babies since so many of the children’s mothers were pregnant. The day they did their research on the live baby was quite interesting! I’m glad they had a very brave mother willing to help out with that endeavor.

They also studied Paint including a discussion of Rembrandt followed by painting under the tables to simulate painting the Sistine Chapel.

They are now undergoing an investigation of Wheels. I asked the teacher how this started in her class and she explained to me that several of the children had been bringing in cars from home to show her each day. She had put out various cars in the block area to recognize this interest and the children became enthralled. Adding a few ramp blocks increased the interest exponentially and a new idea for investigation was born.

She then brainstormed with the children different objects in the world that use wheels and the operators of those vehicles. The children came up with quite interesting answers including steering wheels and baby carriages.

We then had a discussion of how to generate questions that the children might have about wheels or vehicles. It is very hard to sit three year olds down and ask them if they have any questions. Usually when you do this, they will tell you something about themselves. “My car has wheels.” “I like race cars” “I have a red car.”

As we were discussing this, one of the staff asked, do children have questions about this? My father likes to tell the story of how as a young girl of three or four, we went on a very long hike for several hours and I proceeded to ask questions the entire time, absolutely exhausting him. Young children do have questions and will ask them, but not when you sit them on a rug in isolation and ask them what they are.

For young children you need to expose them to objects and experiences and then listen to them. What are they noticing and asking at the time? Put out books and materials and touchable objects for them to react to and then record their wonderings.

I suggested taking a walk through our upper parking lot to look at the various vehicles that the staff drives and noticing the different wheels that each has. As the children notice things or ask questions aloud, record these thoughts. Then later, they can be shared with the group. “We noticed that not all the wheels were the same size, why are some wheels bigger?” “We noticed that the motor cycle only has two wheels, does every vehicle have 4 wheels?” (we are a really cool staff, but, alas, it is our neighbor who has the motorcycle.)

Then these questions can be the basis for your discoveries.

It is a work in progress as we try this new approach in this classroom. It is important to point out the importance of reflection and collaboration. It can be disconcerting to leave behind the comfort of what you “have always done” to embrace the direction the children are taking you. I applaud this teacher and all risk takers willing to embrace change. Keep those wheels turning!

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