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Big, real practical life work! June 7, 2017

At this time of year, when the weather is good and the children are full of energy, what a gift it is to come across an opportunity for real effort, and really big practical life work!  Scrubbing furniture is one such opportunity, and helps the children to prepare for the end of the school year.  “We are washing everything before the end of the school year, so we will leave our classroom clean and ready for the start of next school year.”  This big work can be done within the classroom, or out on the playground.

 

Practical life that is real and necessary is so much more meaningful than works on trays on shelves that practice skills, but don’t have any real-life purpose.

Today, due to having to reschedule three times (don’t ask!), we finally had a big delivery of bark for our playground.  This bark was needed for under the swings to ensure safety in case of a fall.  Our old bark had just become too compressed and worn out.  After rescheduling three times, our parent volunteers were thin on the ground, and the bark pile seemed enormous,  (Three truck loads!)  What could we do?  One of the teachers suggested that some of the children might like to help.  We had a handy supply of child-sized rakes, shovels and buckets, after all!  Thanks, teacher, for reminding me of how competent and capable and eager to help children can be.  What started off as a few children ended up as a school wide effort, with everyone involved except the two year olds.  (They were napping, by this time).  During an hour long effort in the morning, followed by an hour long effort in the afternoon, the children, with the help of a few teachers and a handful of parent volunteers, moved and spread three truck loads of bark.  What an amazing effort.

What was especially sweet was that as we were working this morning, children from the other school that shares our play area sat down to watch the effort.  After our children had gone inside to get cleaned up and rehydrated, they came up to me and asked if they could help, too.  I was already very hot and pooped out, but I couldn’t resist, so I filled one big bucket for every child.  They were so happy to join in the effort.

One of our kids told me, “I just love helping my school.”  This fits in 100% with some of our values – child-centered, dignity (of work), and community.  I hope parents involve their own children in the real life of their homes, including yard work!

 

 

Outdoor Science School ~ day four. Inquiry projects May 26, 2017

Today we returned to Sunnyside Park for our final day of our outdoor science school, and focused on inquiry projects.  The children divided into two groups the day before, and thought about what they were most interested in studying.  One group chose birds, and the other group chose more hunting for aquatic macro invertebrates ~ remember them from day one?  Next they chose a question to which they did not already know the answer, and designed a project, using the scientific method, to find the answer.  They learned and used new words like hypothesis (best guess), data (numbers), location, materials, conclusion . . .


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The first group wanted to know whether there were more land birds or water birds at Sunnyside Park.  Five of the group shared the hypothesis that there would be more land birds, and two members of the group thought there would be more water birds.  To find the answer, they chose two locations – one on a hill, surrounded by trees, and then down on the edge of the pond.  At each location they decided to spend five minutes watching for birds, and using tally marks and columns to keep check of how many were water birds and how many were land birds.  They spent two five-minute bird watching sessions at each location.  After each five- minute session, the children spent time discussing what they saw and adding up their tally marks.

The second group wanted to know whether there were more macro invertebrates in the pond or in the stream.  Their hypothesis was that there would be more in the pond.  To find the answer, they decided to sample four tubs of water at each location.  They worked in pairs, as hunters and recorders.  The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch the macro invertebrates in the tub of water and to transfer what they caught to the sample tray – an ice cube tray.  The recorders used lenses to view each sample and a field guide to try to identify each organism.

The groups then used their best team-working skills to prepare a poster to communicate their inquiry project to the other group and parents who would be attending a presentation.  I loved watching the children work together as writers, illustrators and data managers to present their projects.

After a picnic lunch with parents, the children presented their projects and answered questions.  And what did they discover?  There were more land birds than water birds in Sunnyside Park.  The second group rejected their hypothesis, because they found about the same number of macro invertebrates in the stream as in the pond.

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Next we sang two songs that the children had learned and one that they spontaneously composed.  The children’s songs were about habitat, eco-systems and perspective.

Finally, parents and children had time together to look through field journals, take a closer look at the project posters and try out some of the scientific tools we used during the week.

After a few group photos, we said goodbye to Ms. Audry and Ms. Rachel, our educators.  As a wonderful surprise, Audry and Rachel had prepared an individual note for each child, mentioning their strengths and skills.

This week went by so fast.  I watched the children grow not only in their science skills and knowledge but in their sense of community, their resilience and their independence.  One of our children said, while bird-watching, I could keep doing this forever!  We will definitely be interested in another Montessori Outdoor Science School next year.

Thanks once again to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman, and one of our students’ Grandfather.

 

Outdoor Science School ~Day Two. It’s all about the water! May 23, 2017

Today we had another beautiful day for our outdoor science school ~ blue skies, sunshine, high around 80, but a wonderful breeze!  We walked along the South Fork of the Palouse for a day focused on water.  IMG_3953Our morning base was under our favorite willow tree.  This tree provided us with much needed shade for snack, and our first activity, getting close to something we found in nature ~ a piece of bark, a leaf, a rock, a bug . . . We shared with a friend what we noticed, and what we wondered.  “I noticed this piece of bark has some moss growing on it.  And I wonder where the bark came from?  Did it fall off the willow tree?”

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Someone noticed some very strange fungi growing on the tree, and then we all got up close and personal with our favorite tree.  We found more fungi, spiders and their webs, ants, holes that might be homes for living things . . .

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Next wIMG_3984e worked on a water cycle game.  We imagined we were a droplet of water, and we followed this water droplet through a journey.  There were various stations representing clouds, ocean, rivers, ground water, animals, plants.  We spread out around the various stations.  At each station there was a bag of colored beads and a dice.  We took a bead at our station (e.g. white bead for clouds, blue bead for rivers) and then rolled a dice to tell us where to go next on our water droplet journey.  The dice were loaded in favor of the real water cycle, so we found ourselves spending a lot of time at the cloud and the ocean station.  That makes sense!  There is a lot more water stored in the oceans, than in plants and animals, for example.  This was a fun way to explore the water cycle.( Check out https://www.facebook.com/TheMontessoriSchoolofPullman/ to see a video of  the journey of a couple of droplets of water. We then spent time building miniature water sheds.  We used backpacks, water bottles and rocks, and a black trash sack to build mountains, valleys and lowlands.  Then we used spray bottles to represent rain to see how water would gather and flow, as in lakes and rivers.  We added ‘stuff’ to represent pollutants, and then let it ‘rain’ some more to see what would happen.  The pollutants spread throughout the watershed.  We thought about where we might build a house on our watershed, where we might farm, how we would provide spIMG_3985ace for wildlife . . . We drew our watersheds.

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What a special place for lunch!  We sat on the riverbank, surrounded by the sound of rushing water, and ‘snow in spring!’  The cottonwoods were releasing their seeds, and it looked like snow!

Our afternoon was spent checking out whether the Palouse River was ideal habitat for salmon.  We used tools to measure the temperature of the water, the acidity and the turbidity (How cloudy) of the water.  From a song, we learned that salmon like clear, cold water and fast flowing water.  We also observed to see if there was food (aquatic macro invertebrates like caddis fly) and shelter, like rocks and snags.  Our conclusion was that the habitat would not be ideal – water too warm, for example – but might be possible, but the fish would be stressed.

On our walk home, we noticed that some of our students were really dragging towards the end.  Our last stretch was uphill in the heat of the day.  However, at the end of a full day like this is a strong sense of, “I did it!”

Roll on tomorrow, and another full day of outdoor science learning!

 

Outdoor Science School ~ day one May 22, 2017

Filed under: community,Community Building,nature,Observation,outdoor education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:18 pm

I am very excited to share each day of our first ever four-day outdoor science school.  We are very thankful to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman for a donation of $500, and to one of our grandpas who donated the other $500.  We are also thankful to Sawyer’s family for housing our environmental scientists, and to our families for feeding them during their stay.  Our science educators joined us for four days of outdoor learning from the McCall Outdoor Science School in Idaho.

Each day I will share some of the highlights of the day.  Today, on a gorgeous spring day, with highs near 80, lots of sun and blue skies, we walked to Sunnyside Park.  We enjoyed walking with friends and a picnic lunch, a chance to play on the playground (a game of freeze tag) and also an opportunity to participate in three key learning activities:

Magic Circle

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For this activity, each child chose an area of ground that seemed interesting, and used a rope to circle off the area.  Then they drew and labelled and counted what they saw.  Our educators encouraged the children to keep looking closer and adding details  because these are skills of scientists ~ careful and deep observation.  Next the children were encouraged to classify their findings.  The children found different ways to classify, including in the image shown above – things that are living (bugs), things that once were living but no longer are living (dried pine needles), things that never were living (rocks). I think this activity might be repeated at different locations, with the results being compared.

Web of Life

For this activity, students were invited to draw an element or organism of the ecosystem they were observing.  It could be an organism – a bird, bug, mammal, plant, or an element such as the dirt, the air, the pond.  The children were encouraged to label their drawings.  Then the children formed connections between what they had drawn and someone else’s drawing.  “I drew a bird.  I’m connected to the drawing of the tree because the tree provides me shelter and a place to perch and build a nest.”  “I drew a tree and I am connected to the pond because I need water to grow and I am on the banks of the pond, so that’s where I get my water.”  A child held hands with another child once they had made a connection.  Soon there was an interconnected web of life forming.  Once we had formed a very interconnected web, we then considered what would happen if we removed one element of the web.  “What would happen if we drained the pond to build a new home?”  “What would happen if we removed the bugs?”  “What would happen if we cut down all of the trees for wood?”  This was a great lesson in learning about ecosystems and balance.

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Aquatic Macro Invertebrate Hunt

Vocabulary we learned.  Macro = able to be seen with the eye, micro needs to be seen with a microscope, aquatic = lives in the water, invertebrate = without a backbone.

We got a tub of pond water and divided into two groups ~ the hunters and the observers. The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch aquatic macro invertebrates.  These were transferred to the specimen collection area – an ice cube tray.  The observers used lenses and a field guide to identify the specimens.  Identification was based on questions ~ does it have a shell, does it have wings, does it have legs?  We drew what we saw and identified when we could.  Then the kids swapped roles, and the hunters became the observers and vice-versa.  For the group I was with, our most elusive, difficult to catch and favorite aquatic macro invertebrate was the predacious diving beetle!  We imagined this critter as the bad guy in a comic strip!  Who knew there could be so much life in even a tub of pond water?

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I loved today.  This is hands on learning and community building, memory making at its best.  This experience has made me committed to having at least a monthly out-of-doors learning activity, and to repeating this opportunity in future years.

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Being outdoors and with friends and learning in so many ways ~ science, writing, vocabulary, data collecting, observational drawing, social learning, independence – is the absolute best!

I am so excited for day two!

 

Building Community May 13, 2017

Filed under: community,Community Building,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:24 pm

The values of our school are: child-centered, love of learning, diversity, dignity and community.  I try to keep these values in mind when I am considering everything from planning the calendar to fundraisers to hiring to . . .

One of my favorite fundraisers of the school year (we do three each year) is our annual rummage sale.  I love the fact that it allows so many of our families to participate ~ donating rummage sale items, organizing the sale, working the sale, cleaning up after the sale, baking items for the accompanying bake sale, shopping, spreading word about the sale through social media and in person invitations.  When so many people are working together for the common good, community is enhanced.  And together we raised over $1500 for our school.  We also benefited the larger community, as so many people shopped our Rummage Sale and bought new clothes, new toys, household goods for their families.

 

Stones from the bucket! Coming full circle! February 23, 2017

Filed under: community,Community Building,creativity,peace,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 6:36 pm

Coming full circle!
Recently our elementary kids’ performed a short play called ‘Stones in a Bucket’ to help us all get a better understanding of how our words can weigh someone down or be uplifting. The stones the children dropped into a bucket represented the harshness and meanness of put downs. Afterwards the children then said something uplifting, and they removed a stone from the bucket.
Now those very stones have been turned into mini works of Art, and distributed around downtown Pullman, our community, to brighten someone’s day. If you find a stone nestled somewhere, it might make you smile, or pick it up to look closer and enjoy the art. These stones are like stones thrown into a pond to send out ripples. These beautiful stones are sending out ripples of kindness and joy!

 

Stones in a Bucket ~ A Play about the Power of Words to put down or uplift! February 20, 2017

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Stones in a bucket

The Maple Room kids  wrote and performed a very short play called, ‘Stones in a Bucket’ as a way to show their understanding that words and tone of voice can hurt, as well as make someone feel happy and accepted.  They performed this play for the 3 – 6 year old children, too, so the younger children can learn from the older children about ‘put downs’ and ‘put ups.’  Thanks, Megan, owner of Montessori Children’s House of Lewiston, for introducing me to the concept of ‘put downs’ and ‘put ups.’

One child held a bucket.  The children took turns walking up to her, saying a put down and then dropping a stone into the child’s bucket.  This child’s face and body language showed her weighed down with sadness.  Examples of comments were:

“I don’t want to play with you.”

“You’re not my friend.”

“I don’t want to sit with you at lunch.”

“You’re not invited to my birthday.”

“Who cares?”

The words and the sound of the stones made a big impact on the preschoolers.

Next the children took turns walking up to the child with the bucket and said ‘put ups’ and took a stone out of the bucket.  The child responded, showing that she was feeling more confident and happier.  We wanted to end on a happy note.  Examples of ‘put ups’ included:

“Do you want to play?”

“You’re my friend.”

“I like you.”

“Do you want to sit with me at lunch?”

“You’re nice.”

Afterwards we had a ‘chat back’ with our audience, and asked for the younger children to respond.  They said:

“The stones sounded mean and hard as they clanged in the bucket.”

“The mean words with the stones made her feel sad.”

“When they said kind words, they took a stone away.  Her bucket got lighter.  She was happier.”

“Words can hurt and make people feel sad.”

The actors responded by saying that it was hard to say the mean words and it made them feel sad.  Saying the kind words was easier and made them feel good.

Thanks, big kids, for teaching the younger students a lesson on kindness and the power of our words.