All decisions these days are different. The question of whether to send our children to school and the uncertainty of what that would look like consistently weighed on us all. Now that we’ve all made our choice and taken a collective deep breath, I’d like to take a moment to share what our school year at CCNS has looked like so far.
Preschoolers are often dare-devils and thrill-seekers who naturally test the limits of what’s possible at home, at school and on the playground. It’s what they do.
As parents, our instinct to keep our children safe prompts us to caution our little risk-takers to Be careful! Slow down! Get down! – or the easiest option – No!
At CCNS, we seek to offer children the “yes” that allows them to safely test their limits and take acceptable risks that will make them more experienced, confident, and resilient in the long run.
If a child wants to climb the big rocks, we encourage them to have their “hands out, and be ready to fall.”
If a child wants to build a block tower beyond their reach, we encourage them to ask an adult for support while they climb onto a chair to add blocks to the top.
Children are allowed to use real tools at the workbench provided they wear googles and their work is supervised by an adult.
The philosophy of saying “yes” whenever possible works in tandem with helping children learn what it means to “be safe”.
As one of our three core behavioral expectations in the classroom, “be safe” means we take care of ourselves. “Be safe” is an intuitive concept for preschoolers; it’s positive and simple vocabulary that children can both say and understand. We use the words be safe every day in many ways in the classroom and on the playground:
We remind the children that our rules are designed to keep them safe and praise them by specifically calling out how their actions are keeping themselves and others safe.
We model being safe, and ‘think out loud’ as we show them what being safe looks like. We may narrate our actions with ‘Hmm, someone trying to get through this area where I am building might trip on these blocks. I’m going to move them over here to make a safe path. Would you help me?”
And when we need to ask our little risk takers to stop doing something, we specifically call out why their behavior is not safe, such as “Walk with that stick. Running with a stick is not safe”
Applying our school’s core behavioral expectation consistently and using the words be safe as a universal language around behavior every day has helped teachers and working parents provide the children with consistent guidance and positive (re)direction. What’s more, it’s given the kids a common vocabulary that they all understand and can use to describe their behavior and that of their friends. For example, when one child tells another “don’t do that, it’s not safe” instead of just saying “stop it”, the child almost always achieves a better, quicker result and in turn feels more empowered to advocate for themselves and solve problems independently.
At CCNS, we strive to offer a safe environment where we say “yes” to opportunities for children to test their physical and mental limits through active play every day. Reasonable risk-taking is an important part of childhood and a critical aspect of healthy social-emotional development that results in the ability to share original ideas, investigate, experiment, invent and accept failure as a learning experience.
We encourage and empower CCNS children to be adventure-seekers, dare-devils and risk-takers… as long as they honor our school value of being safe and they are prepared… with their ‘hands out, ready to fall”.
As Miss Adele says, “Every day is an adventure in the Threes!” That’s true… in the Twos and in the Fours, too!
For young children, every day IS an adventure… filled with new experiences, new concepts, new challenges, new words and new emotions. With all the ‘new’ constantly coming at them… it’s no wonder children crave a stable environment marked by predictable schedules, consistent routines, and clear expectations.
Knowing what to expect and what’s expected of them gives children a sense of security and makes them more confident and willing to participate, ask questions, take risks and express their creativity.
At CCNS, we help children understand what’s expected of them by consistently using three core behavioral expectations. They are:
Be safe – we take care of ourselves.
Be kind – we take care of others.
Be responsible – we take care of things, we follow directions.
These simple, easily understood expectations are introduced during the first days of school, are posted year-round in the classroom, and are shared with CCNS families to foster a universal language around encouraging and managing children’s behavior.
In school and on the playground, these core behavioral expectations are used by teachers and working parents as the basis of all acknowledgement, guidance and discipline. For example, you might hear:
The trucks need to stay on the ground. It’s not safe to take them up on the slide.
I noticed you took turns on the tire swing when others were waiting. That was very kind.
It’s clean up time. Please be responsible and tidy up the things you were using in the dramatic play area.
By referencing these core expectations every day, the children are more likely to behave in ways that meet those expectations and are quicker to correct when a teacher, parent or another student puts their actions in the context of being safe, kind and responsible.
Ultimately, and ideally, successful application of our core behavioral expectations results in being able to spend more time on active, engaged, thoughtful play – which is great… because as we know, these children have a lot of adventuring to do!
If you walk onto the grounds of CCNS you’ll be delighted to be surrounded by the calls and colors of doves, blue jays, sparrows, and chickadees yet their presence is by no accident. Rather, the return of CCNS’s abundant bird population is due to the interest and work of our students, particularly the threes and fours classes. How and why did so many species of birds decide to return home? Read on to learn about one example of the great rewards of The Project Approach.
A project is a deep study of a topic worth learning more about and is one of the ways we deliver curriculum at CCNS. The Project Approach follows three distinctive phases beginning with the impetus for the project itself.
Phase I: Initiating the Project
Although the Threes and Fours classes studied the same topic for their deep study, it started for two very difference reasons. The Three Class have a class “animal” that differs each year that they use for their attendance tags. This year their tags are birds. Starting the year off there were bird’s nests and stuffed birds and many beautiful non-fiction books on birds in the classroom as provocations. One of their classmates also raises chickens at her home and she and her mom shared their care and their eggs with the class. The children became interested in learning more about the real creatures based on playing with the toys and observing the nests. The Fours Class had two new window bird feeders hung up at eye level in the meeting area full of inviting bird seed. Watching them eagerly they became dismayed after a month of not seeing a single bird at their feeders. Going on a bird watching walk around the grounds revealed a similar fate-they did not see a single bird! Now they were determined to bring the birds back to CCNS.
Phase II: Developing the Project
CCNS has a wonderful relationship with the Darien Nature Center, so both classes worked with their naturalist, Emily. The cornerstone of any project is the questions from the children. Learning how to ask questions and then how to find answers is the real meat of the project and what increases mind brain capacity in children. The Three’s questions focused on the unique body features of birds, while the Four’s were more interested in why they couldn’t see any birds at their school. Emily visited the Threes class and brought some live birds and artifacts with her. They especially liked drawing sketches of the woodland duck she let CCNS borrow to keep in the classrooms for several weeks. The Fours took a trip to the Darien Nature Center to see the birds inside and outside the center and ask their questions. There they noticed several free-standing bird feeders full of active birds, inciting the next phase of their project. Both classes got busy making bird feeders of various kinds to hang around the school, and the Fours invited the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, Joe, to come to CCNS to give advice on attracting birds to our feeders. Joe helped the Fours class select a bird feeder and all the necessary supplies based on the birds that would be native to our area. The children installed and filled the feeder themselves as well as changed the seeds in their window feeders, even adding dried worms. To the great excitement and sheer joy of all the teachers, parents and children the birds returned to CCNS!! This allowed both the Threes and Fours classes to work together observing, identifying and sharing information about the birds that flocked to our outdoor classroom and each window feeder. They became ornithologists! The Threes class researched and experimented with how the beaks of various birds worked, while the Fours class students each chose a specific bird they had observed and researched its features, food choices and size. They also made costumes based on what they had learned.
Phase III: The Culminating Event
Celebrating learning is a major component of The Project Approach. The Fours became additional experts for the Threes class going in to share what they had learned about each bird with the Threes having time to ask these “experts” questions. They also shared their findings with the Twos class and their own families visited the class to hear their presentations. The Threes class cut out bird shapes from clay and then used their research from photographs and books to paint them with authentic colors and markings to match the bird each clay piece represented.
In true CCNS fashion, the project became a community event with the children in different classes working together, as well as the parents becoming just as excited about seeing the birds back on our playground as the children. Parents shared their knowledge such as with the chickens, their resources by sending in relevant books from home and shared photos of bird sightings around town. The projects have officially come to an end, but the feeders are in place, and being filled just about every three days now that we have hungry doves, woodpeckers, house finches, sparrows, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals and tufted tit mice as regular guests. We even have a very hungry and determined squirrel who has discovered our feeders…perhaps our next project.
2018-19 is our first full school year of operating with NAEYC Accreditation, an important stamp of approval earned by less than 10% of all child care centers, preschools and kindergartens nationally.
The process to earn Accreditation from NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) was rigorous, and our achievement has been celebrated by parents, staff and the community. In recognition of the significance of this commendation, Senator Bob Duff presented a Legislative Citation to the school, then joined the Fours Class on the carpet and read a book to them which was fun for everyone!
To achieve NAEYC Accreditation, our staff and board members worked diligently over three years to document and demonstrate what a high-level educational facility we’ve always known we are. Days, nights, weekdays and weekends were dedicated to updating and organizing all the systems, manuals, by-laws, job descriptions, staff review processes, training systems, and financial practices of our school to ensure they met NAEYC standards. During the review process, NAEYC Assessors visited CCNS to verify that our school met the ten program standards and hundreds of corresponding criteria. And going forward, our staff are always prepared for unannounced quality assurance visits which are an integral part of maintaining the NAEYC Accreditation.
At CCNS, we have always strived to exemplify best practices in early childhood education, and earning NAEYC Accreditation is validation that we are achieving our goal.
To learn more about NAEYC Accreditation, visit the NAEYC website.
“First the snow pants… then the snow boots… then the jacket… then the hat. And, then last we put on mittens… so we can go outside and play.”
This little ditty, sung to the tune of Oh My Darlin’ Clementine, is a stalwart CCNS favorite. The process of gearing up to go outside on cold, New England winter days can be daunting for a preschooler, but this catchy tune is a helpful prompt that exemplifies a few things about the CCNS approach:
Independence… Zipping coats, buckling boots, and sliding all five fingers into a glove correctly can be challenging tasks, especially for eager three year olds itching to get outside and play. This musical mnemonic is easy to remember and guides the children in the most logical order of how to put on their outdoor clothes. We work on being able to independently suit up to go outside, which gives CCNS kids a sense of accomplishment and, as any parent who’s taken children skiing will tell you, is absolutely priceless.
‘Be prepared’... Like the Boy Scout motto, these children are prepared for whatever their outdoor time may bring. They know that, with the proper outdoor gear, they will be able to take another sledding run, shovel a bigger pile of snow, or be able to ‘frost’ their messy, mud pie masterpiece. When your fingers are warm and your clothes are dry, you can keep going. CCNS kids wear snow pants in winter, rubber pants for wet and muddy days, and always have a few changes of clothes in their cubby, just in case fun = really messy that day.
We (always) go outside. Neither snow nor sleet nor rain nor mud nor ice nor slush will deter these kids from the freedom and imagination they gain from outside play. As long as the temperature is 22° or above, we play outside. Some days, we tweak the schedule to catch the sun or avoid a rain shower and that change in plans is entirely worth it – seeing the children exploring their environment, developing an appreciation for nature, and using their muscles to run, swing, jump, pedal, and hop is a key component of the CCNS experience.
And on days when it’s -22°? We simply bring the snow inside!
In the Threes, we recently found artistic inspiration in the work of Louise Nevelson, an American sculptor known for her monumental monochromatic wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. She lived in New York City and would collect junk like old furniture and off cuts of wood which she would use to create her sculptures. She called her sculptures “assemblages”.
To begin our project, we collected recyclables and interesting ‘junk’ which included differently-sized boxes, cardboard tubes, plastic containers, corks, lids, wooden shapes, jig-saw pieces and even an old hairbrush!
Each child started their project with a cereal box. One side had been removed to create a container for their sculpture. The children carefully selected the “junk” pieces they wanted to use and began to position them within the box. We watched a short YouTube video which showed an artist putting together an ‘assemblage’ and then talked about how the artist had tried putting objects in different places until she found the layout she liked best. Once we decided on our final design, teachers helped the children secure their creations with a hot glue gun.
We learned that Louise Nevelson’s assemblages were monochromatic, or just one color, and we decided to mirror her style by painting ours entirely with black acrylic paint.
The final step was to group the children’s individual sculptures together to create a collaborative work of art, which is currently on display in the Threes classroom. Take a look!
We’ve been “making faces” in the Threes, which is a fun way to help children at this age identify and discover more about how their eyes, noses and mouths work.
We started by talking about what features you might find on a face. We looked at our faces in the mirror and identified things that are largely the same on all our faces (like noses, ears, lips, and eyebrows) and things that are different (like eye color, hair color and hair type). On our easel, we created faces using shape magnets, and we used play dough to form the features of a face, then talked about our choices. We all agreed that “circles work best for eyes!”
We next read the book “Let’s Make Faces” by Hancock Priven and used a range of materials and loose parts to create faces. And then we looked at Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s famous “Four Seasons” paintings, in which he created faces made up of fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants, and we created our own faces inspired by his art work.
You might have some fun making faces with your child at home – I hear you can do a lot with a pancake and some berries!
Our project started after we read “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell – during story time everyone had a great time guessing which animal was behind the flaps. We acted out the story in small groups, taking turns watching each other.Continue reading