At Free To Be we strive to design the curriculum based on negotiations between children and teachers. The “project approach” is implemented, which means engaging in in-depth studies of subjects worth learning more about. Children and teachers research and learn together.
Projects do not constitute the whole curriculum. They are compatible with themes and
other activities offered throughout the year.
When a teacher carefully collects, analyzes, interprets and displays evidence of learning it is called “documentation.” Documentation is an integral part of the project approach. Documentation usually includes observations, collections of children’s work, portfolios, self-reflections of the child, photos and narratives or stories of the learning experience. Parents, children, staff and visitors are encouraged to look at the visual displays of learning that can be found throughout the school.
The Bird Study Project
children and the teachers became interested in birds. We were fortunate to be able to take advantage of a wealth of resources in our own backyard. In order to observe the birds more closely, we transformed our loft into an observatory by moving it in front of a window with a bird feeder mounted on it.
Within days, many children were able to identify the chickadees from among the many varieties of visiting birds. Over the course of our bird study children learned to identify a large number of birds, becoming aware of the great variety.
Materials were provided for the children to make bird feeders to hang in their yards at home. Children found out that birds were not the only creatures attracted to the feeders! We graphed the results and learned that squirrels were frequent visitors.
During the children's conversations, many questions arose: Where do birds live? What do they need? What makes a bird a bird? We took advantage of the experts in our midst. When John Searight visited he helped us identify birds, gave us a tour of our own backyard and answered questions.
|Some of the children demonstrated their knowledge about the life cycle through their play. Large fabric "egg shells" were provided. Children could build huge nests with hollow blocks and then pretend to hatch out of their eggs.|
At the end of our Bird Project, we felt we had learned enough to provide our own sanctuary for birds. The children included food and water, nesting materials, shelter and shade. They named this area of the yard "the Bird Castle." It is our hope that the Bird Project helped to instill in the children a deeper, life-long awareness, interest and respect for birds.
Children's Projects - Leaf Project
|We were fortunate to have a variety of trees on our property. Leaves were matched to the different trees in the backyard. Chestnuts were picked; then cooked for snack. Pine cones were collected.|
|Sassafras leaves became the most easily recognized leaf. Children called it a “cheetah leaf” because of the brown spots. Everyone knew that a sassafras leaf could have either one, two or three lobes.|
|SETTING UP THE ENVIRONMENT
We knew many opportunities for sorting, classifying, counting and measuring would take place. After collecting leaves by color a display table and book were set up for the children to sort and match again and again.
|The kitchen was transformed into a studio. Children were able to represent leaves and trees in various media: collage, colored pencils, pencil drawing, water color, print-making.|
|Children were introduced to equipment and tools. Examples: clipboards for observational drawing, rulers, magnifying glasses, and resource books. There were many opportunities for co-operative interactions between children.|
|After many visits to Fred, some children created a 3 dimensional model of Fred. Much discussion took place about the color of the tree and the characteristics of the leaves.|
The Elephants worked together on the Free To Be nature trail. They identified special features along the trail and created a field guide. On Autumnfest Day they used the field guide to give tours for family and friends.
|Emery DiGiorgio, a literature professor at the college, shared her love of poetry with the children. Some children made illustrations to accompany their favorite leaf poems.|
In anticipation of two pending births within families at Free to Be, Morgan’s and Teacher Brandon’s, we decided to undertake a project on babies. We discovered several children had baby brothers and sisters as well. Almost everyone knew a baby somehow. With this common knowledge as a basis for our study, we began our project …
In September we measured the bellies of our very pregnant mothers. Children interviewed both moms, which further helped us to understand what they were interested in, what they understood and also what they misunderstood. Next, we created a “web” to visually record what the children already knew about the topic. It formed a guide as to how the project might progress.
First we asked the children “Who has a baby at home?” The responses were tallied and graphed. Invitations to visit were then sent to all our families with babies. A questionnaire was prepared in advance to help the children interview the families. Visiting babies provided first-hand experiences, the best opportunities for learning to take place. The visiting siblings also provided big sisters and brothers the chance to be “experts” and share with their schoolmates. Their schoolmates benefited from observing babies up close and personally!
BABY VS. TODDLER
Children used their analytical thinking skills as they struggled to decide if the “visiting babies” were actually babies or toddlers?? After much discussion they created a list of characteristics for each. Babies “have no teeth, wear diapers, drink milk, eat baby food, can’t walk, cry, have a crib and can’t talk”. Toddlers “have teeth, might wear diapers or use the potty??, drink a lot of things in a sippy cup, eat other stuff, walk, cry sometimes, might have a crib or a little bed and say words”.
Children were asked to bring in pictures of when they were babies. The display aroused much curiosity. They were interested in finding their friends’ photos as well as showing off their own. Name recognition was an important part of this activity. Next, the photos were used to create a book, When You Were a Baby. Each child had a page which included a baby picture, a current picture and his/her description of what it was like to be a baby. The end result was a very interesting book!
We borrowed a pregnant mouse from the Stockton animal lab so the children could make observations of the life cycle first hand. They voted on a name for the mother mouse. “Gerry” was the popular choice. The children predicted how many baby mice would be born and when. After nine days we counted twelve babies! We watched them change as they grew under the care of Gerry. In turn, we had the responsibility of caring for the mother mouse. Children found out about the different needs of mothers and babies.
While the mice were visiting, we read and reread If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by
Laura Numeroff. This led to the children creating their own version: If You Give the
Babies Juice. This book turned into a play, which was performed for parents at the
end of the project.
The Big Room was setup as a Nursery and a Pediatrician’s Office to facilitate our study of babies. It was supplied by donations from families. The purpose was to create an environment to explore role playing and care taking. The children had the opportunity to fill out birth certificates, tend to sick babies, dress them, weigh them, etc. Imaginative play is a very important component of learning for preschoolers, both cognitively and socially.
Children revisited their days of being a baby when we offered baby food in a jar at snack time. Fortunately, we had the resources to make our own organic baby food. Children went out in the front year, picked pears off the tree and then helped process them into baby food.
At the end of the Baby Project families were invited to visit a display of the learning that took place during the Baby Project, to watch the children perform in two plays about babies and to enjoy refreshments -- our homemade baby food.
After reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, The Hippo Group wrote their own version of this story, If You Give the Babies Juice. There were some twists in the plot, but in the end all the babies arrive safely at home and get to use the potty again!
The Elephant Group performed a play adapted from the book “Smile, Lily!” by Candace Flemming. The actors used various strategies to stop a baby from crying: a rattle, a bottle, a lullaby, etc., but in the end, it was the brother/sister’s smile that brought a smile to the baby’s face. Parts were rotated among the children, allowing them to try out different roles or work as technical support, according to their comfort level.
THE PLAYGROUND PROJECT
In the Fall of 2008, months in advance we knew there would be plenty of changes at Free To Be during the Fall Semester. New safety standards by the NJ Department of Community Affairs had started the ball rolling for a playground renovation. We knew the original playground needed to be removed and eventually replaced with all new equipment. Additionally, this project would include improved handicap accessibility, landscaping, new siding and roof, along with a new porch. In other words, we knew we were going to be provided with events, materials, experts and opportunities to engage the children in an in-depth exploration of a “Playground Project”.
Let’s Get To Work
To get children involved with the Playground Project they were invited to bring in construction vehicles from home. Children worked together building and demolishing. Adding hard hats to the block area enhanced the children’s role playing.
Construction on the front porch and pathway began in September. The workers set up “forms” to contain the concrete that eventually became the new porch. The children had a bird’s-eye-view from the windows. On many occasions they observed the cement truck and other heavy equipment in operation.
Bigger and Smaller
There were many opportunities to visit the heavy equipment parked outside. One day the “Hippos” were talking about bigger and smaller. They were able to compare the size of their bodies with the size of the different parts of the heavy equipment. Children used their math skills of measuring and comparing to come to conclusions about size.
Meet the Project Manager
The children interviewed Fred Burke, a Project Manager for our new playground.
- “When will it be done?” Fred: “In approximately 75 days.”
- “How do you make steps?” Fred: “They are made out of concrete. The cement truck might come back today.”
- “Will they look different?” Fred: “Yes, because they will accommodate handicapped people in wheelchairs. It will be a squiggly sidewalk.”
- “Why aren’t we getting a new playground?” Fred: “We will get a new playground next. It is Part 2 of the project.”
Meet the Architect
The project architect, Christina, and her son and assistant, Andres (a Free To Be graduate) visited the children and answered some of their questions at large group time. The children wondered what the stairs will look like, whether there will be swings on the new playground, when the cement truck will be back. Together they examined the architectural renderings and pictures of the new playground equipment.
On many occasions children grabbed a clipboard and pencil to work on observational drawings of the heavy equipment parked at Free To Be. It was an opportunity to pay attention to detail. Even the youngest child could capture the wheels and lug nuts on paper. In the process their construction vocabulary increased.
Building a House
A letter went home to families informing them of the Playground Project and asking for suggestions. One family gave us the idea of making building blocks out of paper bags and newspapers. Thanks to all the families who brought in supplies, the children were able to create a large quantity of blocks. They used them to make one of the walls in their house. A door and carpet were added before the children considered the house finished.
On many occasions the children have observed heavy equipment working at Free To Be and have used toy trucks in the dirt pile. Children were asked for ideas about how to make a piece of heavy equipment large enough for them to get inside. Once we decided on making a dump truck, they suggested yellow paint, tape, wheels, a dumper, steering wheel, lights, engine, bumper, steps, the sound “beep-beep” and the “thing that dumps the dumper” (hydraulic lift). Most of there ideas were incorporated in the finished product.
Why All That Concrete?
The cement mixer and the compactor had worked in our front yard to build our new handicap accessible sidewalk. To help children understand the difference between the two sidewalks we borrowed a wheel chair. For days children were given rides up and down the path during outdoor time. In addition to offering the children fun, we were addressing handicap awareness.
Mr. Maxwell’s Office
Everyone had been hearing about Mr. Maxwell, the general contractor, the “boss.” Materials were given to children to encourage role playing: tools, helmets, clipboards, blocks, etc. Children had the opportunity to work on their literacy skills when “Mr. Maxwell” asked the children to sign in on the clipboard if they were attending the construction meeting.
There was a one-day window-of-opportunity to climb the “mountain” in our backyard. . It was like crossing a continent or climbing Mt. Everest or reaching the moon. The children found it irresistible. Gross motor skills were put to work as they climbed up and rolled down, over and over. When they did reach the top, they were able to view the yard from a different perspective. The next day it was back to ground level.
THE PLAYGROUND PROJECT
As the construction continued, scraps of building materials were collected for the children’s use. They built new structures using real materials: tar paper, vinyl siding, 2x4’s, plywood, roof shingles, concrete, etc. Their construction vocabulary increased daily.
They Have to Eat
The children made plans to create a replica of a bulldozer. First, they made a list of all the different parts. During the discussion one child mentioned that the workers would need food. A chart was made of the different types of sandwiches the workers might enjoy. A handful of children surveyed the workers and graphed the results. Meatball sandwiches won! The next day the children prepared the sandwiches and served lunch to the construction team.
Club House Construction
The children were busy using scraps of different materials from the playground construction to build their own club house with a patio. After discussing what was needed to continue the next day, they dictated a list:
- 1,000 -2x4’s
- Tape measure
- Dump Truck
- 5 workers
This was a lesson in understanding the value of the printed word, a necessary skill for good readers.
The “Elephants” took on the project of transforming a few cardboard containers into a bulldozer. After several trips to study the bulldozer parked outside, as well as observing it working in the backyard, we compiled a list of crucial parts that would give our creation authenticity. The final product included: a CAT sign. A driver’s seat, windows all around, controls (not a steering wheel), treads (not wheels), and a curbed blade. Finally, some ropes, in the place of levers, did the trick.
Visit from “Pop”
Responding to our request for families to share their toolboxes with us at Free To Be, a grandfather brought in his bag of tools. A former construction worker, “Pop” stressed the importance of safety first and explained the purpose of a hard hat, gloves, safety goggles, and construction boots. Next, he demonstrated each of the tools in his tool bag: saws for both wood and metal, wrenches, measuring tape and a rule, a level, a battery-powered drill as well as a hand-drill, tin snips, two kinds of screwdrivers, and last but not least – a hammer.
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Finally, the day had come to “cut the ribbon”. Many members of the Stockton community braved the cold weather and helped us celebrate the opening of our new playground. Samples of the children’s learning during the Playground Project were put on display to educate our visitors. They were able to see how educational goals were met when the playground renovation was incorporated into our curriculum.
The Art Project
|With each encounter, the children’s knowledge of clay and their mastery of technical skills increased.|
LEARNING ABOUT FAMOUS ARTISTS
|CHILDREN’S ART AT THE NOYES MUSEUM (click here to view)
Our semester long project culminated in the children’s art work being exhibited at the Noyes Museum during the month of May. Each child had one framed piece of art work along with one piece from our Beautiful Stuff collection. An opening reception was held for families. By the end of the event our goal had been reached: The children perceived themselves as artists!
|The Free To Be Art Book: Spring 2009
The Box Project
A children’s book was created using the photos and clues. Children were frequently seen "reading" the book on their own.
|Another assignment was given after reading the book, When This Box Is Full, by Patricia Lillie. It is a story of a box that gets filled by a child throughout the year, month by month. It ends on the last page with …“then I will share it with you”. A box was sent home with the children and they were invited to find treasures, search for interesting items and collect seasonal objects to put inside. When it returned to Free To Be, it was to be shared.|
|DOT’S BOX COLLECTION