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Sunflowers: The Exploration Continues

An invitation as simple as examining sunflowers allows us opportunities to 

  • Appreciate the Natural World. 
  • Support Scientific Exploration.
  • Connect with our Food.

Table Activity

Children share their observations and eagerly use tools– tweezers and magnifying glasses– to help them examine more closely. They make comparisons between the sunflower heads and the range of seeds they uncover. They notice various colors, sizes and textures. Some wonder out loud about the yellow part of the flower head and make guesses about it’s purpose and/or how it got yellow. One child muses, “Last time when I was in my back yard I touched them to see if  they were pokey. I figured out little white ones are not pokey.” Children take pride in their discoveries and a few identify as scientists while examining the flowers.  

                    

           

I share stories of squirrels and birds devouring these natural feeders in my yard. One child runs into the next room, bringing back three stuffed animal squirrels to share the bounty. The garden scene comes to life. A few children take turns with the squirrels nibbling at the seeds. 

             

At Circle

We turn ourselves into giant sunflowers. We imagine our feet are roots beneath the ground. Our legs and torso become solid sunflower stocks. We outstretch our arms mirroring huge sunflower leaves, hearkening back to our Sunflower Leaf song. Our faces turn toward the sun. We sway in the wind. As summer turns to fall, our sunflower faces begin to turn toward the ground to drop our seeds, replanting them into the ground. 

Snack

Some try gnawing the hard shell to uncover the the seed within. Others go for the hulled seeds ready-to-eat. We taste seeds straight from the flower head and compare them to seeds that have been roasted and salted. We try sunflower butter sandwiches and dip apples and celery into sunflower butter. Yum!

         

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Cooperative Learning

Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.”- Virginia Burden

At HFP, we invite children to work together. Children team up to try a range of practical, fun and hands-on tasks.These everyday classroom activities provide opportunities to cooperate, negotiate ideas, take turns, and make meaningful contributions to the group. Cooperative learning is demanding since it requires working closely with others, and it is deeply rewarding for the same reason. Children learn the value of shared investment and shared accomplishments — whether that is preparing snack, building a giant floor puzzle or filling an enormous bucket with sand and water. Working together is interesting, satisfying and fun. 

Preparing Snack

Peeling mandarin oranges. (above) Gathering frozen berries to the blend for smoothies. (below)

Mixing ingredients to bake pumpkin muffins.

Assembling Puzzles

Large floor puzzles beckon teamwork. Children can simultaneously search for matches . When one child finds a match, snapping two connecting pieces together, the picture grows clearer for everyone. One child’s success contributes to the group’s success. We celebrate our joint accomplishment. We may validate our work with “We did it!” or high-fives to reinforce connections and collective pride.

 

Water Play

Children gather water from the rain barrel several yards away from the sand box. They take multiple trips to fill and refill containers. Children transport and dump water into the huge bucket of sand to add each scoop. This rich sensory play satisfies. Each child is deeply invested. I’m impressed with how little support the group needs and how well they share space. It’s like a fluid, well-choreographed dance. This cooperative effort is clearly enriching for everyone involved–so much so that these children head straight to the sandbox on the following school day and begin transporting water. The project continues.

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Sunflower Leaf Big and Wide– Who Does It Hide?

“Sunflower leaf, big and wide– Who does it hide?”A child hides behind a sunflower leaf while we sing. We move the leaf to the side revealing a classmate’s face. When they peek out, we call out their name. This variation of hide-and-seek helps children to notice their classmates and to learn their names.This is a key to building classroom community. 

           

After I introduce the Sunflower Leaf interactive song, I use the Family Share to invite children to consider: When we look to find you behind the leaf, what color eyes will we see? What type and color hair will we see?

       

I then invite small groups of children to draw themselves. Most start by picking the oil pastel color closest to their own eye color and the shade closest to their own hair. I ask each child to look in the mirror and notice, What is a part of your real face that’s not yet a part of your drawing? Children notice more facial features and details, adding them as they continue to compare their reflection with their self-portrait. 

                             

   

I’ll encourage children to look closely at themselves, their families and their peers throughout the school year. We’ll appreciate our physical similarities along with our physical differences. In this way, we  support each child to delight in themselves, appreciate common traits, and to be comfortably curious about physical differences. This simple invitation paves the way for relaxed, open and honest observations of differences, rather than seeing it as taboo. Valuing difference is fundamental to an anti-bias education.

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Play Time IS Learning Time

“Play is not a specific activity, it’s an approach to learning, an engaged, fun, curious way of discovering your world.” Dr.Tamis-LeMonda.

At HFP, we trust children are intrinsically drawn to play. We provision the environment with a wide array of open-ended materials –limitless play options. We safeguard extended time for children to connect with new experiences, friends and story lines.  We know children cannot help but learn when they are given the space, materials and time to do so. As adults, we have the privilege of supporting and witnessing children’s unabashed expressions of play and we have the responsibility to protect their ongoing access to it.

Countless articles tout the value of play. The New York Times recent article “Taking Playtime Seriously” (1/29/18 by Peri Klass, M.d) recognizes play as “a universal, cross-cultural and necessary attribute of childhood, essential for development and essential for learning.” Klass warns that we are “encroaching more and more on [children’s] time for playing.”

 

Klass advocates, “As children get older, we need to keep an eye on whether their schools give them time to play, we need to help them go on engaging with the world around them, and we might even be able to make that world a better environment for learning and play. Again, this is not about walling children off into special places where they can play, it’s about helping them play and learn in the world, in the homes and schoolrooms and larger environments in which they live and grow.”

In addition to providing calming tactile sensations, sensory play is ripe with learning opportunities. Children practice turn taking, build language skills and use materials creatively. Children mix potions, pour cups of hot cocoa or bake tasty sand cakes to honor a parent’s birthday. They refine both fine motor skills and language skills as they exchange ideas and scoops treats. Best of all, they learn without strain or effort. This is not some adult imposed “learning time.” This is play– joyful, easy learning. I’m grateful to be a part of a preschool learning community that understands play time is learning time.