Thursday, November 14, 2013


Comparing towers of cubes representing the number of steps it took two different people to get to circle.

Everyone has grown comfortable and curious in the nursery and many interests and inquiries have emerged for our learners. Each day we explore outside in nature, explore stories and grand ideas, and learn about the people in our community. Here's a window into our conversations about the creek and trees on the playground, wrestling, sharks, dolphins, John Henry, gender, hammering, trains, and adventures.

Building with window blocks on the light table.


No matter what else might be happening, the nursery learners are always exploring the animals and habitats in and around our classroom. As he worked with worms Max wondered "How do the worms bend? Do they die without soil? Do they die in the sunlight?" and Owen added "I think they're nocturnal." We fed them a variety of food scraps and noticed that worms like to get tangled together. The hermit crab changed shells this past week and Ali hypothesized "I think it changed shells because it thought the old one was too big."

Outside in the creek we continued to explore the crayfish chimney and search for other signs of life. One morning, seeing a small hole in the creek bed, Marisa reached her finger into the water to point it out to a few friends, and just as she did, the crayfish popped right out of that hole!

Ali: I see a little habitat over there.

Felix: Crayfish could live in there because the opening is as big as its head.

Henry: I found a salamander. I think it's gray. It's dead.

Celia: How do you know?

Henry: It's not moving, I think it was born.

Alexa: I think it got dead. I'm a doctor for animals. (wearing a stethoscope)

Owen: I wish the crayfish would come out. I really want to see him. But I think they come out only at night, I think they're nocturnal.

Arden: Big rocks can squish the habitat and hurt the animals.

The abundance of crunchy and crisp fall leaves descending on our campus has led to conversations about why the leaves fall and if the trees die. Toby noticed "some of the leaves stay green and some are different colors" and Nieve added "right before they change color, they fall off the trees and then it's snow and the snow does drop on the leaves." We did some research with a few nonfiction texts about trees and learned that the trees are resting in winter and don't need their leaves to help them grow.

Pushing leaves together to make a life-size birds nest.

We noticed how Ezra Jack Keats used dried autumn leaves in his illustrations for Over in the Meadow, and we explored our own watercolor and leaf collage mixed media paintings.


The above is a question I used to ask often, as I noticed children hankering for ways to be playful and physical with their friends. One day I saw a colleague wrestling with her young sons and I saw that they were all laughing, modulating the force and strength they used with others, and caring for each other in the midst of wrestling, I thought it might be time to try it out. I met Bev Bos, a phenomenal (and legendary) early childhood teacher, who described wrestling as the "best gross motor problem solving there is." This idea, combined with the information in the text playful parenting () led me to try it in the nursery. We set the ground rules: wrestling should be fun, you are trying to get the other person's shoulder to the floor, in nursery wrestling we do not put our hands on the other person's neck or head, no tickling, and if someone says stop, we stop right away. Anyone who wanted to try had a turn wrestling with Marisa first, just to make sure the ground rules had an adult to test them against. After that, children are invited to wrestle with each other with a teacher watching! Everyone had a wonderful time and we're excited to keep it going, and we're sure there are many kids who would enjoy trying it out at home with you!


After visiting specialists in half-groups for awhile, it seemed high time to name the groups. During half-group meetings one day the children were invited to share their ideas for a name for their group. We wrote all of the ideas down and then went through two rounds of voting to pick a name for each group. We used tallies and 3-d cubes to show our votes, and talked about ways we could react if we weren't happy with the results of the vote, for example by saying "aw shucks, next time." When we tried to figure out which name had the most votes there were lively discussions, Ben suggested that six was more than three "because it's a bigger number" and Marshall explained "Three is smaller than six because three plus three equals six."

The two names picked were Sharks and Dolphins which has led to some interest in creatures that live in the ocean. Learners were curious about what it looks like when a shark eats, how dolphins swim, and what foods both creatures like to eat. We researched these topics with books, through national geographic shorts on the iPad, and brought them to life with seascapes of felt animals on an ocean background. At the request of a few children we read the story of Humphrey the Humpback Whale. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge on the cover, Theo made a connection from his experience and shared "it looks like the Ben Franklin Bridge." Felix hypothesized about how Humphrey could get back the ocean and said "it could move into the river, which would turn into a lake, which would turn into a bay, which would bring it into the ocean." We were relieved when Humphrey made it back to the ocean, but concerned that he would beach himself again. Celia shared the text Whale Song, a beautiful and dreamlike text of a young girl's wish to meet whales, and Julia came to read us Lost and Found, the story of a penguin who wants to leave the south pole and go home with a new friend. That day in music, the children transformed into penguins and other creatures with Diego.

We filled the sensory table with water and added toy sea creatures, and began to tell stories!

Zo : I'm looking for a seal to eat.

Felix: Hello, I was looking for some delicious coral to eat.

Ben: I want some yummy food to eat.

Alexa: wooo, wooo (singing the song of the whales).


We had a wonderful timvisiting the National Museum of American Jewish History, or as the nursery kids now call it "The Ezra Jack Keats Museum" to see Keats' artwork. They were excited to see the characters and illustrations that they know so well, it seemed like they were visiting with old friends. At the end of our visit we created puppets based on characters from the Keats stories and brought them back to the nursery shadow puppet theater.

We read the book Dreams in which a small paper mouse that a child made in school falls out of the window and casts a shadow on the wall of their apartment building big enough to scare away the dog that is chasing his cat. Ben said that he would "climb into the book and save the cat" if he could. Charlotte remarked "look at that shadow." Marshall explained "the shadow got bigger and bigger and the mouse got bigger. If we block light, you make a darkness place." Imogene responded, "Wow! That's a big shadow! It's bigger than him." Using a flashlight and a sheer curtain and shadow puppets we explored making shadow puppet shows. Nieve noticed that shadows "get bigger and bigger when you move back and when you get closer they get littler and littler." Keats' book Louie featured another puppet show with characters from Dreams and this inspired even more puppet play.


One of the most significant books by Keats that we have read is his version of the folktale John Henry. The learners were fascinated by his strength and courage, and by the work he did on the railroad. When the group John Henry was working with wanted to tunnel through a mountain, many children practiced flexible thinking in approaching solutions:

Marisa: How could you make a tunnel through a mountain?

Ali: dig a tunnel and lay the tracks in the tunnel.

Nina: Make a hole on top of the mountain, go up, through, and down.

Henry: Go to the other side, take a hammer, make a hole.

Arden: You could make tracks over a mountain.

Many learners were excited when John Henry put out a dangerous fuse with his hammer, and we took turns acting out this moment with a hammer and a long piece of string.

After this, many children were even more interested in working and playing with trains, and quite a few of them wanted to play the role of John Henry. We had train inquiry and opened up our own ticket booth, made money to put in the cash register, made maps and train schedules, and built tracks to many destinations.

Expanding our exploration of trains based on the interest in John Henry and the daily creation of train tracks we read the book Freight Train by Donald Crews. The book is dedicated to John Henry, and many children responded in awe "That John Henry?! The one we know?" Reading the story about a train moving on the tracks, William noticed "the colors are the same as the words for each train car." This led us to explore matching text to images throughout the books. Imogene explained that she could tell the train was moving because the smoke was blowing out, and Zoadded "its going so fast its getting blurry." Theo added "its moving because there's the steam of it, but it's off the page." We have enjoyed reading Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga I The Little Engine that Could, as well as Bigmama's, Donald Crews' beautiful story of a family taking the train and visiting their grandmother, inspired by his own life. In William's words "Donald Crews was inspired by his life, and by his family. Everyone has to be inspired by something."

We also noticed that there were only boys in John Henry, and when we wondered about who could hammer, some learners thought only boys could use hammers, others said "everyone can do what they want." We started by taking a survey of the children in our class, asking each other if we hammer or use tools. Looking at the chart we made, it was clear that more of us do use tools than not, and that all of us can use them if we want to. We started talking about our families and thought it would help us know about who uses tools if we asked our families, and so we sent another survey home. Since they surveys have come back, we've been slowly making a chart comparing who uses tools and who does not, and we've been learning about the kinds of tools they use. We're hoping that through visual and tactile exploration learners develop the sense that it is fair for people to be able to choose what they would like to do, and that being a girl or boy doesn't dictate one's choices. In the next few weeks we will open up the workbench so that working with tools is part of the school day.


Inspired by train travel, students took to airplane travel. They arranged chairs in rows and took on many roles on the flight.

Will: to Barcelona for the Barcelona game tonight.

Felix: I'm going to the game.

Henry: A long trip, six nights.

Felix: Nine days and nine nights.

Zo : I'm staying there forever. For my whole life.

Will: I'm pretending I have two houses, one in Barcelona.

Nieve: There's breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Will: It's going to take ten hours.

Zo : I'm going to fairyland.

Magnolia: I'm going to California.

Felix: Connecting flights, like me. Please fasten your seatbelts.

Nieve: Pizza! Spaghetti! Peanut, bacon, and eggs.

Henry: We're around ten feet high.

Felix: I have a message, turn on your cell phones.

Theo: Okay, I have it on.

Nieve: I'm a captain too. The menu is grape juice, orange juice, lemonade.

Henry: Thank you for dinner. I'm going to Italy, okay!


We shared a morning sing with the Kindergarten!

We sang many favorites, including I've Been Working on the Railroad and Apples and Bananas.

The following week we had a shared choice time together.

We made soft pretzels and they were delicious!

Our Double Decker Bus on the playground.

As you can see, we have many threads of exploration converging and weaving together our inquiries each day. We're excited to continue to explore tools, trains and John Henry, we'll be reading Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney's version of the tale, and opening up our own Nursery Station. We'll also look at letter writing and see what happens when we write letters to each other and our families. We can't wait to see what unfolds.
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