Submitted by Cyndy Berndt and Amy Butzier
As a teaching team, we've done project work with three- and four-year-olds for several years. In a typical year we would see two to three projects of varying depth. Imagine our surprise when, well into the year, we just couldn't seem to identify an interest deep enough to evolve into a project! We began investigations into buses, pipes and tubes, horses... but the "I wonder" factor just wasn't there.
We slowed down and began to focus on project skills again... webbing, tallying, construction, sketching, forming questions, and simply "wondering" more. In March, a much needed activity was planned to repot the overgrown classroom plants. Nearly all the children chose to participate, discussing new pot selections, comparing various plant characteristics, and offering plenty of opinions on the "art" of repotting. The above-mentioned project skills began to center on an investigation of planting. Thus, began the planting project.
The planting project was laden with opportunities to meet Ohio Early Learning Content Standards in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. The preschoolers' activities naturally flowed from their interest in plants. They fulfilled literacy requirements by reading books about plants and gardening and representing their experiences through play. The children created webs, charts, and lists that showed them the importance of writing. Mathematical standards were addressed by creating graphs and counting and tallying seeds, plants, and flowers. The youngsters used critical thinking and problem solving to build their greenhouse.
The topic of plants provided a myriad of opportunities for scientific content. The preschoolers studied the environment by dissecting flowers and grasses and watching their seeds grow. They fulfilled social studies content standards by working cooperatively and collaborating on many of their activities. The children also explored their immediate community and the broader community through plants.
Cindy Berndt has enjoyed a 13-year career in early childhood education. She has a B.S. in environmental education from The Ohio State University and an associate's degree in early childhood development from Columbus State. She is a mentor for student teachers in the OSU master's of education program, a cooperating teacher to Columbus State students, and a member of the Ohio Resource Center's committee to review resources for the Resources for Early Childhood website. She was awarded the Columbus Association for the Education of Young Children's (CAEYC) 2005 Preschool Teacher of the Year.
Her teaching philosophy centers on the belief that children learn best by doing, by hands-on investigations, and through experiences that are real. She strongly believes that children need free rein to explore nature, supported by adults who model a respect for all creation. The biggest lesson she has learned is to never underestimate children's abilities.
Amy Butzier's career in early childhood education has spanned 11 years. She has an associate's degree in early childhood development and a student teaching certificate from Columbus State Community College. She has had the opportunity to be a mentor for student teachers in the OSU master's of education program and a cooperating teacher to Columbus State students.
Her teaching philosophy centers on the belief that children learn best through play. She believes that children need to be offered a hands-on learning environment where the surroundings are child friendly and inviting, allowing them to explore and be creative.
Pam McGowan has been in the Early Childhood profession for 10 years. It has been her pleasure to be a part of an ever-evolving field. She has an associate's degree in early childhood development from Columbus State Community College. She was a school age coordinator for 9 years before switching back to a preschool class.
Her method of teaching involves children learning and exploring through a play-based curriculum. She feels that children need to have the chance to get messy to investigate and be creative at a moment's notice. She believes if you take a step back to really observe children, you can regain your own sense of wonderment.
The planting project took place in a Christian-based, nonprofit center located in a large city. The center serves approximately 250 children from ages 6 weeks through fifth grade and has held National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation for over 10 years, has a Title XX contract, and has been awarded one star in the state's tiered licensing program.
The curriculum honors the development of the whole child, understanding that children learn through active involvement and play. The staff believe that children construct, demonstrate, and represent their knowledge in a variety of ways. The curriculum is based on the Ohio Early Learning Content Standards. The center's mission is to nurture children's minds, bodies, and spirits in a Christian community.
The full-day class has a ratio of 14 three- to four-year-olds to 2 teachers. It is an exciting environment, full of imaginative learning experiences for all developmental levels. The children's daily schedule is structured enough to provide security and predictability, yet flexible enough to take advantage of teachable moments and opportunities that arise unexpectedly. Also supporting these opportunities are the teacher schedules. The teaching team is set so that two team members work four 10-hour days and the third member works two 10-hour days (the other team members' days off) each week. This schedule also adds consistency for the children and families. The curriculum is emergent and child-directed. The environment is abundant in open-ended materials to provide rich experiences in all developmental areas.