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.

  

Exploring Passover in the Classroom

Passover is a Jewish holiday rich in tradition and content. The unique traditions practiced and foods eaten during the holiday can offer an exciting and enriching experience within the classroom. Combining the traditional ritual objects associated with Passover with loose parts can offer an open-ended opportunity for children to explore the holiday. For more on loose parts in the classroom, see our earlier post on play and loose parts in the classroom.

Here are a few examples of hands-on exploration ideas from a professional development workshop I recently led. 

The child safe grain grinder and wheat berries above from Kodo Kids offer an opportunity to investigate the process of making Matzah from start to finish. Highlighting and showing children each stage of wheat is a great way to develop STEM skills in the classroom. The children can see and touch the different stages of wheat from green grass to dried stalk to wheat berry and then they can grind the berries to make flour.

wheat grass

 

 

Wheat grass grows incredibly fast. The picture on the left is after 7 days of growth. If you have wheat allergies in the classroom you can use another type of grass and grind a different grain to make a wheat-free matzah.

 

 

 

 

Using wheat berries in a tray or sensory table.

Using loose parts to create a visual representation of the story of Passover. Above left: Colored sand, stones, shells and plastic people to create the parting of the Red Sea. Above Right: Blue and clear glass stones, plastic frogs, fish and plants, shells and a baby in a “basket” create the scene of baby Moses in the river.

In the pictures above, wheat stalks, white glue, wheat berries, matzah, paint brushes and liquid water colors were set-up on the table. There were no instructions or directions given to the educators about how to use the products or what to create. This provocation allowed the educators to explore the materials in any way they wished. Some used the wheat stalks as brushes. Others painted directly onto the Matzah, while others glued the materials onto the paper to create a collage with texture and color. Food coloring or dyes made from vegetables can be substituted for the water colors if children want to eat the matzah after painting on it.

Please share any of your hands-on explorations of Passover as we would love to see them.

The Secret Sauce

One of my best friends in college was a fiery Persian Jew from Los Angeles; she reminded me of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, if the princess had a potty mouth and wore less clothing. One Passover, Jasmine and I were trying to make our respective family charoset recipes. There was just one problem: neither of us actually knew the specific servings of the ingredients. We knew the general recipe and what it should taste like but otherwise we didn’t have a clue (generous helpings of the the Passover drink of choice, Manischewitz, didn’t help the matter). We both grew up making these dishes with our family every Passover, but the recipes were transmitted orally and through the shared experience of cooking together.

No matter, we forged ahead. I found myself covered in the fallout of Ashkenazi ingredients–shaved nuts, pooled honey, wine, apple slices, cinnamon, and nutmeg–while my roommate was painted in the dates, banana mush, ginger, cardamom, and pomegranate juice of Persian charoset. Sauced on sweet wine and befuddled, we exercised every college student’s best option and called our mothers for help. To this day I remember her response when pressed on the specific ingredients: “I don’t know, just taste as you go.”

One of the great ways Jews create community is through food and cooking. Instead of writing down exact prescriptions, people are the keepers of the recipes. This cleverly ensures the need for humans to participate in the process, demanding not only communication, but also face-to-face interaction. The key to a successful recipe is the presence of the “keeper of the recipe,” and as a result, our families were ensuring the continuity of community and tradition. Whether our parents and grandparents realized it, they were making their physical presence a necessity.

The tradition of oral law and storytelling has a long history in Judaism. It exists to create and sustain community. For many generations, the only way to learn the traditions, laws and customs was from the community. Now that I have my own daughter, I can’t wait for the first Passover that she asks me how to make my famous charoset and of course my answer will be, “I don’t know, just taste as you go.”

This time of year can be crazy and overwhelming: Purim celebrations rush quickly into Passover preparations and the stress of expelling every tiny crumb from the house. It is easy to lose track of the ties that connect us to each other. But the demands and traditions of the holiday are also a terrific excuse to reach out and reconnect. Go call your mom, grandma, dad, best friend etc. and share something special together this holiday season. Happy Passover!

Ingredients for my friend’s Persian Charoset:
Dates, apples, banana, walnuts, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, pomegranate juice

Ingredients for my Charoset:
Apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, honey, Kosher sweet blackberry wine