If there’s one thing I’ve proven time and again in my journey as a teacher, it is that young children love to have fun. When we are immersed in a study characterized by interesting, challenging material, days pass unnoticed and learning happens seemingly by a kind of intrinsic osmosis. Then weeks (and months) later, students’ vocabularies are wider, their inquiries are deeper – their knowledge has expanded. This semester, in the Curriculum in Early Childhood course, we read John Dewey’s Experience in Education, which bridged a connection between theory and what I’d observed over years in the classroom. Understanding Dewey’s assertions that children learn through educative experiences that make sense and have personal meaning to them was a lightbulb moment. It is important that as educators, we strive to make the activities in our classrooms as rich and as linked to each other as possible.
There is a thrilling satisfaction in teaching early childhood education. Experiencing human development right before your eyes and knowing you had even a slight hand in its formation is rewarding, to say the least. However, following the appropriate instructive guidelines is essential in effecting the most favorable learning conditions. Considering students’ developmental levels, understanding research, theories, community environment, family, and culture (among other factors), aims to promote the most meaningful educative experiences. Attempting to draw from my student’s lives and environment to form activities they would simultaneously enjoy and learn from always makes for the richest experiences.
Most recently, when Valentine’s Day came around, students had already been commenting on the deluge of red and pink hearts and flowers in stores. I figured exploring the concepts of love, friendship, and togetherness would be productive in answering some of their questions. Studying the celebration’s primary ideologies, even briefly, served as an opportune teachable moment in beginning to peel back layers of themselves as individuals and in promoting respect and appreciation for others. These are always worthwhile concepts to elicit from any study. They strengthen our classroom community and help prepare children in pragmatic and intersocial practices to utilize in the world. These concepts also highlight feeling connected to yourself, your family, and classroom community— it’s an important part of mental, social, and emotional growth.
The children made cards for family members or friends and collaboratively made a big collage of things they loved or activities they enjoyed. Students cut or ripped images from magazines and family pictures, then glued it onto a huge heart shape— the collage brimmed with pictures of family, foods, toys, bikes, and parks. My assistant and I added a few pictures of our own— coffee, tea and sleeping people as things we loved and activities we happily engaged in.
In discussing our classroom community and things we loved, a conversation about our class pet— a lovely betta fish they named Bubble— naturally came up. Every Spring, my school celebrates NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child in a big way. Each class chooses a theme to study for several weeks and transforms their classroom space into a wonderland representing that study. We have parents, caregivers, and visitors from all over the building come tour the rooms. This year, lots of inquiry about fish and ocean life became prevalent due to our pet. We voted on making our classroom an underwater kingdom filled with many properties of the sea. Through their excitement as they discussed octopus, jellyfish, sharks and the like, it was difficult to explain that our particular fish doesn’t come from the ocean. Maybe following this we’ll do a river study to learn about Bubble’s habitat. Our theme organically stems from their curiosity, inspired by a part of our classroom community— their learning does not have to be linear and indeed shouldn’t be if they are leading me elsewhere.
I am hoping their enthusiasm facilitates motivation— transforming the classroom is no easy task. We will work hard in slowly hand-making 3-Dimensional pieces (like large animals) and making each component of our seascape come to life.
We started off making a Giant Squid, which will likely be our largest 3D animal and is taking several days to put together. Utilizing large paper, toilet paper for texture, and paints, we’ve made the squid’s body.
This week, we have been working on some of the landscape of the sea. Plants and rocks are being carefully created in multi-step activities which practice and strengthen many developmental, socioemotional, academic, and intellectual areas.
The students are very excited as we embark on our watery adventure.