Dear Peacock Community:
What an exciting week this has been! Fabulous curriculum ideas have been bursting out of classrooms, as exciting water exploration has erupted outside in our own little yard.( Thank you so very much for bringing in swim suits, towels, and water shoes.) Speaking of our own little yard, this week the children have been eating their way through the garden. Ripe mulberries, and peas and beans and strawberries, and carrots and lettuce have filled the children’s happy tummies. Knowing they grew these things themselves, with help from the sun and the rain of course, makes the taste all that more delicious.
In the preschool classrooms, as we will see, there is a burgeoning of knowledge swimming around the children’s heads, centered around the curriculum topic of Social Studies. So, what is this topic about, really, and how can it apply to young children? It is usually a subject that is studied in Middle School onward. Put simply, social studies is the study of people–how people live today and they lived in the past; how they work, get along with others, solve problems, shape and are shaped by their surroundings. In an infant and toddler room, the children begin learning social studies as they explore their physical space by crawling, climbing, digging and splashing. In preschool, a heightened sense of exploration of physical space takes place as children learn mapping skills by riding their bikes on a path, by playing a board game. Children learn about time and history from their daily predictable routines that we provide for them. (eg circle time, meal times, rest/nap times). They learn about economics through learning about community jobs and pretend grocery store play. The extension of this learning happens as they go to the supermarket, the doctor, the dentist, the hardware store, the shoe store etc. Preschoolers learn about civics each day as they learn the basic tenets of cooperation and conflict resolution in the classroom. As you can see, everyday experiences pertinent to children’s lives create the foundation for learning social studies.
Early childhood researchers have broken down the topic of social studies into four main categories. The first would be spaces and geography. Geography for young children includes the characteristics of their important places (eg home, school) and the relationships between that place and other places. It also includes the physical characteristics of the child’s world and mapping. Maneuvering around a bike path or an obstacle course, using blocks to represent roads and building, or molding wet sand to make mountains, hills and streams are great examples of how children show their understanding of space and geography.
The next category is that of people and how they live. This includes physical characteristics of people in their world, similarities and differences in their habits, homes and work, family structures and roles, and the exchange of goods and services. Young children explore these concepts by examining themselves and their families and by thinking how classroom rules, for example, help people live together and get along. Interesting discussions ensue as they are exposed to jobs of people in their community, as they think about how do people use money to get goods and services, as they think about how do you make and keep a friend.
The third category moves from this previous one to that of people and the environment. This focuses on the concept of the ways people change the environment and protect it. For young children, topics in this area can be building cities, making roads, cleaning up a park, recycling and composting. Questions that children love to think about are how can we respect and care for our world? What are some of the bad things that people do to the environment, and how do they affect all of us?
The fourth category in our social studies exploration for young children is that of people and the past. This exciting topic is about history. Since most young children focus on the here and now, they usually do not have the true understanding of chronological time that is essential in understanding history. Time is often in relation to themselves, which often includes today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Yet, preschool children can be quite enthused by stories about other times and other places if the topics are relevant to their own experiences. A skilled teacher, such that I will talk about later, knows just how to weave in fascinating historical ideas that will resonate in a young child’s mind, making them want to learn more and be excited about learning about history.
So, in our classrooms, how has social studies and related topics occurred this week?
You might see Jan, Aga, Amber, or Tyler pushing a baby stroller in town, stopping to watch a musician, smell a flower, put their hands in a fountain, listen to all the sounds of a busy town. In the infant classroom, they are crawling, exploring each other, listening to the sounds of other children. This is all social studies, their exploration of their geography, their understanding of their big worlds that they take in their little bodies.
With Petra, Amber, and Tyler, bigger worlds are explored in the toddler classroom. Many trips to the adjoining park have happened over the last few weeks, as beautiful weather has beckoned the children and the teachers outside. Now, how does this thing happen called holding hands, or holding a walking ring that connects us all to one common bond? It is rather amazing to watch these former infants begin to move through life with greater and greater understanding of their world, and as they do so, their confidence blossoms. Climbing a staircase in order to meet ones friends is no small task. Pretending to drive a big truck on the structure is infinitesimally wonderful and needs to repeated over and over. Jan and the babies join the toddlers in the park, and studies begin of their size as compared the infants’. Back in the classroom, puzzles are abound, and putting together piece after piece is their intimate geography, the beginnings of mapping out their worlds. The toddlers are gradually learning that not all puzzle pieces belong in the mouth; some, for example, actually fit into its own place, it’s own little home.
With Heather, Betsy, and Kelley still bigger worlds are uncovered in the Green room. The highlight of the week was Wednesday’s walking trip to the post office. But before this happened, the teachers talked at length with the children about their community and jobs that are important in our world. The mail of course is a very important topic for a young child’s world, as everyday there are little and big things that get delivered into a box that every home has. Often, children get to meet their postal carrier or at least see their truck, and the link happens. Prior to this trip today, the children hand painted their own postcards, and wrote little notes to themselves, story dictation at its finest. Excitement was brewing all week in anticipation of this trip, which was highlighted by a spontaneous tour of the post office itself, and where and how the mail is sorted and how does the mail journey begin after one puts a letter in a box. Thus, a connection is made in their minds that links people to people, that demonstrates a very important community job that occurs every day in our lives.
And lastly, our discussion would not be complete without the phenomenal social studies teaching and learning opportunities that Shari is providing for the children in the Blue room. Her theme of the month is history told from the perspective of the frontier days, ie 100 years ago, a number that is understood by the older children, not necessarily in an actual sense, but more in a symbolic sense. They all have heard of the number 100, so this makes sense to them. She is bringing alive to the children of concept of what children, families, and communities experienced in former times. Discussions with books and pictures have highlighted her inspiring lessons, after which the children have made their own log cabins with different mediums, as well as the making of covered wagons. They have talked about one room schoolhouses, and how homes were lit and how heat and cooking happened. They compared an oil lamp to a battery operated one, which highlighted the differences and similarities in our contemporary world and that of former times. There was an interesting discussion of the role of women, and how in former times women could not do what women can do today. They talked about the games and toys of children in former times, and she is in the process of collecting toys from former times that are still played among children (eg jacks, horseshoes, tops). They made their own ice cream using their own hands and shaking the cream. Her lists and curriculum ideas go on and on, as the children ask for more, as their social studies world is ever expansive in their own classroom, in finding out about others in their community, and the lives of others who came before them.
with kindest and warmest regards,