Integrating Different Academic Disciplines though Havdalah

Havdalah requires participants to use all five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. What better way for young children to use all five senses and learn about Havdalah than to incorporate more natural elements. Mixing elements traditionally used during the Havdalah ceremony with complementary materials will add another layer to the exploration.

Traditionally, the spice box is filled with dried spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Try offering fresh herbs in addition to dried spices for children to explore. Offer whole and ground spices so they can compare and contrast them. I love using whole nutmeg and cinnamon sticks and comparing it to the ground spices.  Children and educators can discuss the entire process of herbs and spices: where the herbs come from, how it is grown, the process of drying and then crushing the spices.

Incorporating and discussing different spices and herbs into Havdalah offers opportunities to experience a sacred ceremony through multiple avenues. Just like we are supposed to use all 5 of our senses in the ceremony, we can use and explore different subject areas: math, science, art, social studies, technology and literacy to enhance the experience. 

Here are some ways to incorporate different academic disciplines into your classroom exploration:

Math

  • Compare and contrast dried herbs to fresh herbs
  • Categorize and sort herbs based on smells, tastes, color etc.

Science

  • Study the process of herbs and spices from growth to store
  • Explore 5 senses
  • Grow your own herbs in the class

Art

  • Draw using the herbs (nutmeg and cinnamon sticks can be used to make brown marks)
  • Create a collage using  herbs/spices
  • Draw a still life

Literacy

  • Create a poem about how the children feel during Havdalah. What is smells like, looks like etc.
  • Practice singing the prayers

Technology

  • Use a postal and mortar to crush spices
  • Use a magnifying glass to take a closer look

 

These pictures show how educators explored Havdalah spices during a professional development session. The session encouraged play and using materials in a different or unexpected way. 

 

Exploring STEM using Art

When I walk into early childhood classrooms, I often see wonderful art explorations. The teachers offer a wide variety of materials and open-ended opportunities to explore and create with the materials. When I ask about what types of STEM explorations the children experience, the responses are less enthusiastic. When I facilitate professional development sessions for KODO Kids, I ask the participants, “who has a background in STEM subjects?” and “do you feel comfortable offering STEM experiences to young children?” The responses are often “No” to both questions, with a few exceptions. The teachers report that they are more comfortable offering art, literacy and dramatic play opportunities. Those teachers are sometimes frustrated because they don’t know how to present STEM explorations in early childhood classrooms. 

 

By employing a few key strategies, such as integrating materials in a different and unexpected way, using “I wonder” statements, and  asking questions that focus on STEM ideas, STEM concepts can be seamlessly integrated into classroom explorations using art.  

 

Kodo Kids has wonderful materials to encourage STEM explorations, and I encourage educators to use the materials in all facets of the classroom. My son and I attend a toddler art class and the teacher is great at using materials in creative and open ended ways. During one class, she used the Kodo Kids arches with paint and cars. The materials were set up for the children to explore and use as they wished.

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To integrate STEM concepts and learning into this art activity, educators can facilitate learning through questions that explore physics, math, and engineering concepts. Here are just a few examples of concepts to explore in this situation:

 

  • Compare and contrast 
    • Speed of cars, which car goes faster
    • Length of tracks
    • Does the color of paint affect the speed of car
    • What, if any, variables affect car’s speed
    • Using the arches convexly and concavely  
  • Counting/measuring
    • How long it takes for the cars to cross arch
    • Length of track
    • How many cars can fit on track
    • Velocity of car

Asking questions that start with “I wonder…” will facilitate exploration of STEM concepts. In order to build an affinity to and level of comfort with STEM, adults and children need to learn how to ask questions in addition to feeling comfortable discovering the answers. It is also important to use real terminology with children. The earlier children are exposed to STEM vocabulary, the more comfortable they will be with it. A few words that are useful in the arch and car scenario:

  • Velocity
  • Speed
  • Incline
  • Hypothesis
  • Theory
  • Estimate
  • Momentum
  • Convex/Concave

I encourage educators to take on new challenges one goal at a time. For example: use one material in a different way than originally intended per week,  ask one question that integrates STEM concepts or introduce one new STEM vocabulary word per week. Practicing and integrating one goal at a time will make the goal approachable and achievable. Integrating experiences and concepts that you might not feel as comfortable with, such as STEM, with experiences you feel more comfortable with, such as art, will also make it more approachable and increase the chance of success. 

 

Capturing Children’s Thinking

Young children learn and process new concepts at an incredible pace. Just think about language acquisition. Children begin speaking, on average, around 12 months. By age two they have about 50 words and by three years old (Johns Hopkins Medicine), most can speak full sentences and express complex ideas and thoughts. Since everything is new to children, they process and interpret things differently than adults. In early childhood classrooms, it is important to capture the children’s learning and thinking.  Documenting children’s learning helps in understanding how children think, this in turn can aid in the plannin process for educators as well as  offer opportunities for reflection, both in student and educators. 

One of the best ways to capture children’s learning and their thinking process right when it happens is to carry sticky notes, or a small notepad and writing utensil with you at all times in the classroom. Whenever I am in a classroom working with children, I always have sticky notes and pencil in my pocket. If I wait to record what is happening, there is a higher chance I will forget or misremember what happend or what was said. If I need to get up to search for a recording device too much time passes, or I interrupt the moment and risk distrupting a child’s thought process and lose the sincerity of the moment.  Ideally, documenting children’s learning should not be intrusive and should not interrupt the child and their thinking and learning. The educator should be able to seamlessly document the children’s learning while still engaging with the children. Taking a picture of children  to help document their learning is only the beginning. It is important to have multiple means and use varied media, such as recording conversations, to help document learning.  

I recorded a conversation I had with a child who was between 3-4 years old.  I used short hand notes while recording the conversation and was careful and deliberate when taking notes to keep my focus on the child and not lose the connection I had with her. This takes  a lot of practice. It is important to be able to take notes that will be short and concise while still being able to decipher them at a later date. It is also important to be able to take notes while not always having to look at what you’re writing. You want to make sure the children know that they are your main focus. 

Here is my conversation with Iris (I changed her name for this post) and the accompanying pictures:

Background:

This took place at the “painting Matzah table”. Iris was painting the Matzah with a roller brush, I noticed there was paper as well. I said “I wonder if I paint the paper will there be a different pattern than when I paint the Matzah?” I used the brush with many strands to “stamp” the paper producing dot like shapes and then I said “I wonder what the pattern looks like when I do long strokes and use the brush like this” creating two different patterns on separate papers. I was just speaking out loud, not necessarily speaking directly to Iris. She was painting her matzah while watching me. This is the conversation that followed:

Iris:  pointing to the one that resembled dots) “this looks like prints” and, (pointing to the one with long strokes) “this looks like tracks”.

 

Natalie: Those area great words! I wonder what the difference between tracks and prints is? Hm….

Iris: hm… those are footprints and those are tracks (pointing to the respective papers) (she knows that they look different and she labeled them differently but she can’t explain it yet, my goal is to get her to explain her thinking and reasoning behind why she labeled them differently)

Natalie: Oh so those are FOOTprints…feet made that pattern

Iris: Yes, people made those. I make footprints in the snow when I walk

Natalie: And what made these tracks?

Iris: someone dragging something

Natalie: so there is a difference between footprints and tracks

Iris: Yes, someone walks to make these and someone drags something to make these (pointing to respective picture).

Natalie: hm, I see

Iris: yes, and someone can drag their feet to make the tracks.

Natalie: oh so a person can use their feet to make footprints and tracks?

Iris: Yes

Natalie: I wonder what else can make these tracks?

Iris: (pausing to think, continues to paint matzah, about a 20 second silence) A stick! If you drag a stick you can make this track!

Natalie: I think that would work too! I would love to test out your theories!

Iris: I have a dinosaur path (described a carpet at home with dinosaurs and walking paths and footprints)

 

We then tried the roller brush on the paper that she was using on the matzah and it made a different pattern. She said that if you drag your feet sideways it would make that track.

 

In capturing this conversation, I was able to discover a few things about this child and her thinking. I get insights into her previous experiences and knowledge of snow, dinosaurs, footprints, and tracks. I also get to know her better since she shares some facts about her home, specifically her dinosaur-path rug.  I can use this knowledge to plan curriculum for the students such as experiments with footprints and tracks, comparing different  materials to make the tracks in, snow, sand, ice, paint, grass etc., and track making materials (sticks, feet, shoes). This investigation could last weeks or months depending on the interest of the children.

  

Newest Art Studio: The Kitchen

I love the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and on a recent visit my daughter and I were delighted to find a wonderful art room where visitors can explore different art techniques with loose parts and found materials. Regular readers will know that I am a huge proponent of using loose parts with children  (see related articles materials, Passover, story stones, loose parts, and recycled art).

It is important to offer children an opportunity to explore different materials in an open-ended setting. Allowing children to use their imaginations and creativity with materials (especially in ways other than the original intended uses) helps encourage many skills, not least of which is creative problem solving. When children are able to envision many different possibilities and outcomes they can approach and solve a problem by trying alternative strategies. One way to encourage this in young children is to offer nontraditional art tools, what I like to call BPB (Beyond Paint Brushes).

At the DAM, two of the art tables featured materials typically found in a kitchen. Salad spinners covered one table to create spin art. This is a great activity for kids, particularly young children. Spin art requires a variety of gross and motor skills and a child has to go through a certain number of steps in the correct order. The young artist has to carefully place paper inside a basket, squeeze paint onto the paper, line up the top so that it closes properly and then push down on the button to make the basket spin. Not only is the child exploring art concepts like colors, color mixing, and shapes, but also science themes like centripetal force, friction and momentum.

Spin artwork:

Another table featured a variety of BPB tools, including sponges, loofahs, toothbrushes and other metal tools typically found in a kitchen. It is important to offer materials of varying textures to children. Having varied materials can encourage exploration of cause and effect and give children an opportunity to hypothesize, and later test, what the resulting prints and art work will look like when they use the different tools.

This lovely kitchen exhibit demonstrates that giving children an opportunity to explore art using different materials can be easy and inexpensive, and for educators it shows how providing new and different materials in the classroom throughout the year keeps children engaged and excited.

Reimagining the Materials in your Classroom

“Provide materials that leave room for the imagination and sufficient time to innovate with these materials.”

– David Elkind

The types of materials used in the classroom can have a huge impact on learning and development. The challenge is to reimagine and rethink classroom materials and how they are being used in order to explore possible new and open-ended uses. Just think of the endless opportunities to create, explore and learn using recycled materials or  “mundane”, everyday objects if only viewed from a different lens.

I recently led a workshop on exploring open-ended materials used in a play based curriculum. It was an opportunity for teachers to explore, create and use materials in a completely new and different way than their intended or original purpose.

Offering alternatives to traditional tools, like paintbrushes, can encourage exploration and creativity. In the pictures above, flowers, flower stems, pinecones, and foam shapes that were once packing material were used instead of brushes to apply homemade “puffy paint” (white glue, shaving cream and liquid water color). The teachers explored the different textures of the non traditional tools and the images created.

Play dough is another wonderful activity to have in early education classrooms. It offers open ended exploration of colors, shapes, textures and encourages development in fine and gross motor skills, as well as developing physical strength (think about all the times you have seen a child use their entire body to flatten a ball of dough). Materials with different shapes and textures such as, shells, star fish, corks, and packing cardboard are just a few examples of items that can be paired with dough. They are a great alternative to the traditional plastic play dough toys and cookie cutters.

Providing materials that encourage exploration in areas of STEM in classrooms, especially ECE classrooms, is also critical. It can be as easy as bringing in a few plastic tubes, balls and cardboard tubes cut in half. These resources can be found at resource recycling centers such as the RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) and are very inexpensive.  The materials provide an opportunity to engage in trial and error, engineering, and cooperation.

Children are incredibly creative and imaginative. It is important to provide a wide array of developmentally appropriate materials and the time and space for children to explore, create and discover using those materials.

Annual Jewish ECE Conference- Colorado

I recently had the opportunity to host a workshop at the Annual Jewish ECE Conference sponsored by Colorado Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE) and the ECE Initiative in Denver, CO. The event brings together Jewish preschools in the greater Denver, Boulder Colorado Springs area as well other cities in Colorado.  Educators attend various workshops and seminars focused around a general theme. This year the theme was “The Power of Story.” I presented a hands-on workshop, Enhancing Storytelling using Story Stones and Loose Parts, and we had an amazing group of educators who made the session a total success. For more insight on story stones, please see my related blog post.

Please enjoy some pictures below from the workshop. I would love to answer any questions you may have and hear about how you use story stones in your classroom!

Telling a Story

Creating Noah’s Ark using a combination of story stones loose parts and traditional toys:

Seminar (1 of 35)

Examples of Jewish Themed Story Stones

Seminar (29 of 35)

These stones are hand drawn illustrations using permanent art markers.

Seminar (15 of 35)

Some of the stones are decorated with clipart images that were printed from a computer and affixed with glue. Other images are hand drawn on paper and then glued onto the stones. All of the stones were covered with a water and glue mixture to seal the paper onto the stones.

Seminar (14 of 35)

These stones are either hand-drawn or they have stickers glued to the face.

Room Set- Up and Materials

 

General Themed Story Stones

 

Adding an Auditory Element to the Stories

Seminar (5 of 35)

A chime, wooden frog instrument and a rain stick

 

The Results

The Blue Trees

Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree.  Honi asked him:  “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?”  The man answered that it would require 70 years.  Honi asked:  “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?”  The man answered:  “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me.  So, too, will I plant for my children.”  (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

Teaching conservation to young children can be hard. The idea that some things are finite can be a difficult concept for anyone, let alone children. That’s why I love the idea behind The Blue Trees project.

The Blue Trees is a project by Egyptian-born artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, which brings environmental consciousness and social action together in a uniquely beautiful and captivating installation. In this internationally renowned event, a series of trees are colored with a water-based, environmentally safe, blue pigment, transforming the trees into sculpture. What was once taken for granted and unseen suddenly comes to the forefront of our attention and is the impetus for dialogue about global deforestation and its impact on world ecology, and how we individually and collectively shape the natural world around us.The Blue Trees

Just imagine a school yard’s trees covered in paint, yarn, fabric, ribbons or anything else children can use to decorate trees. The ability to capture a child’s attention and fill them with curiosity and wonderment is a powerful tactic in teaching them a concept. In Judaism there is a value Tikkun Olam, to repair the world. This value not only focuses on the future and preservation but also on protecting and fixing the current world. This concept can be applied to many different actions: justice, showing empathy, hospitality, as well as protecting the environment.

Laying the foundation for children who care for their environment, including trees, can start at a young age. While children may not be able to fully understand the impact they have on the environment, they can be taught to notice, love and care for nature, which is the first step in protecting it. Taking something that children see everyday, such as trees, something that may have become mundane and blended into the background of daily life and making it vibrant and unique, just like The Blue Trees, can help capture a child’s attention.

 

 

Finding Inspiration in Recycled Materials

During a recent trip to the Denver Art Museum, I happened upon a wonderfully colorful, vibrant, beautiful and thought provoking interactive installation entitled Aqua Terra. The artist, Francisco Alvarado-Jaurez took paper bags from the grocery store to create tropical sea plants and a landscape inspired by his home, Honduras. The description stated that Alvarado-Jaurez felt this piece highlights the many different ways of recycling and using everyday objects to create art. When I saw the art installation, I immediately thought what a wonderful project for a classroom to take inspiration from and create their own. The installation also invited viewers to participate in the creative process by adding a creature, note or original art to the installation. 

There are so many great learning opportunities to stem from a project like this: recycling, taking care of the Earth, learning about the environment, becoming scientists and observing your surroundings, and cooperation.   

Exploring the different themes:

Recycling

  • Discuss the concept of recycling: the process, how it works, why it is important.
  • Ask children/ families to bring in materials from their homes. It could be anything from paper grocery bags, bottles, cans, to natural elements found in their yard that the class will repurpose.
  • Look for items in the school that can be recycled and repurposed.

Science

  • Discuss the process of recycling and the concept of turning something old into something new
  • Explore and discover the environment: the school, the city. Is there an ocean, mountain, desert near by? What trees, flowers, flora and fauna are surrounding the school?

Social/emotional

  • Create and design a piece of artwork
    • discuss a plan for the classroom’s piece. Does the class want to use one type of material or multiple? Does the class want to assign roles and specific jobs or let everyone work on what they want?

Literacy

  • Create science or art journals
  • Research different art mediums and environments

Family engagement component

  • Ask families to contribute to the piece, just like Aqua Terra. Provide some guidelines for parents and families to follow

If you are in a Jewish classroom you can incorporate Jewish values and themes. Here are some values you can discuss and highlight:

  • Tikkun Olam: Repairing the Earth
  • Shemirat Ha’adamah: Protecting the Earth
  • Bal taschit: Do not destroy or needlessly waste