Teachers need to plan. We have requirements both from our governing bodies, expectations from parents, and… don’t go into a day full of preschoolers without some plans! However, there comes a moment, or several moments, where the children are captivated by something that is happening that has absolutely nothing to do with the teacher’s plan.
This is what happened when our children returned from our winter “hibernation” to a land of frozen ice. Learning Tree Farm’s 85 acres were covered with frozen delights in every shape, thickness, and mix imaginable. Sure, we thought we’d notice it and then move on to the amazing things that we had planned out in the woods. But, the children needed this time with the ice.
What resulted was 45-60 minutes of uninterrupted exploration that covered nearly every standard and topic that is taught in any preschool. This extended to five weeks of a loose topic that fascinated the children.
We huddled up with the children and made some ground rules that would keep us safe. This meant using sticks to explore the ice and water when we were far away from the school building, and saving wet play for right before we were going inside for the day. The skills we worked on were building initiative, curiosity, planning, action, attention, persistence, innovation, and invention. Next came the actual doing. Language and social emotional skills were needed at every step of the way. An enormous amount of new vocabulary was used during this process. Modeled by our teachers and the older students in the group, the younger children soaked it up while working together with peers and using self-regulation, self-awareness, a sense of competence, positive peer interactions, deepening of relationships, and empathy for our classmates and local animals. Science and math concepts abounded as we discovered-with all of our senses-the states of matter, our natural world and living things, weather, making inquiries, as well as cause and effect.
Then the ice transformed into MUD! A theme or project was emerging organically for our group as we explored our environment. The following weeks brought in the arts with painting with ice, painting with mud, painted on the snow, making snow balls, making mud men, made snow angels, made mud angels, and ‘cooked’ with mud.
We learned to use maps to get us to and from the mud and ice and made maps of our own to all of our favorite spots. We checked the impact of the snow and ice on our gardens as we weeded and did our first early spring planting of spinach that we will eat later this year. We’ve been using simple machines and engineering to move our ice, mud, and water from one part of the playground to another.
Lastly, we learned about how March sometimes comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. One of our students, in particular, is fascinated by weather and is reading a lot of books at home about storms and tornados. We chose to expand on this learning by passing the power over to this young meteorologist. As a younger member of our class he was able to share his passion and knowledge and connect with the others in his group. We are now searching for funders for our very own permanent weather station for our outdoor classroom.
The teachers in our program are leading and measuring learning and growth, constantly monitoring needs and challenging children to push for new knowledge. From the child’s perspective, it is super neat that we get to play outside a bunch. And that’s just the way we ALL like it. We all feel very fortunate to be working and playing together in ways that are developmentally appropriate and FUN!