Look! It’s snowing!

 

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This week has been an extraordinary one. We’d had a visit from Storm Jonas over the weekend, and the city was covered with snow. As was our backyard, of course. And so, on Monday, once everyone was safely in school, we decided to explore the winter wonderland outdoors, setting the theme for the entire week.

On Monday, watching the children experience and explore snow was a revelation. Some of them cried. Some of them ate it. There were lots of shouts and exclamations –

“It’s so cold!”

“I want to go inside!”

“Snow! Snow! Snow!”

Bit by bit, everyone began having fun, as we had a snowball game, and made snow angels.

As the week progressed, and the snow began hardening, we made a snow cave that the kids absolutely loved exploring. And, finally, they painted on the snow.

Playing in the snow can be very beneficial, apart from the enormous fun, of course. It requires children to use their reflexes, and coordination. It encourages group play, which of course brings their social skills to the fore. Being outdoors, and one with nature, also teaches children not to fear the elements, helping them build a relationship of love and awareness with the world around them.

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The world on a plate

We started a new tradition at Elements Preschool this year – introducing our children to a new cuisine every week.

The first country our palates visited was India, via a delicious lunch of roti and raita – traditional Indian flatbreads, and a yoghurt dip.

Our eager students helped us knead the dough – a simple one of flour, water, oil, a pinch of a spice called ajwain (carom seeds) and salt.

They then had a lot of fun taking turns rolling it out. The making of small rounds of dough, which were then flattened, helped them use their motor skills, and sense of coordination.

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They watched as the rotis were cooked on a pan. There was lots of enthusiasm in the room!

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For the raita, the children peeled and chopped potatoes. The task took up all of their concentration, and dexterity! The potatoes were then blended with yoghurt, and a little salt.

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And lunch was served!

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Even the pickiest eaters wiped their plates clean. The new flavours that they had helped create were just too yummy to resist.

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Several studies have shown that taste education in children needs to start young, in order for them to appreciate all kinds of foods. Our new tradition at Elements aims to do just this.

Have a wonderful weekend – we will see you back next week, with more stories and adventures.

Reading List

We loved this list of children’s books with female characters, over at A Cup of Jo, as also The Guardian‘s compilation of the top feminist characters in children’s books, and Young Adult fiction.

In that spirit, here is a list of the books that our little ones at Elements Preschool absolutely love. Are there any of your favourites among these?

CarrotSeed

The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss

Elephant

If You Had A Nose Like An Elephant’s Trunk, by Marion Dane Bauer

FrozenNoses

Frozen Noses, by Jan Carr

Otters

Do Unto Otters, by Laurie Keller

Seeds

Now I Know All About Seeds

Snowmen

Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner

Leaves

I Eat Leaves, by JoAnn Vandine

Learning for Life

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What does the future hold for our children?

Every generation of parents and teachers has attempted to answer that question, and there is no right or wrong answer to be found. We all have to do the best we can and equip children with the knowledge and skills they need to face the world, and live their best lives. Aside from formal education, this also means that we encourage qualities such as creativity, playfulness, risk-taking, compassion, empathy, kindness, self-awareness, a sharp instinct and a deep sense of community.

Play & Learn: 3

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We encourage our students to understand ingredients, try new flavors and develop their palates.

While the weather permitted, the students tended to fruit and vegetable patches in the school garden, learning about seasons and where their food comes from. They helped sow seeds, and water the plants, until the vegetables were ready to be harvested. They made salsa with tomatoes and basil that they helped grow, and enjoyed cucumber sticks with a yoghurt dip. Gardening helps them understand nature, the concept of seasons, and how to care for the environment.

Apart from this, we also make lunch with them on Wednesdays; each student is asked to bring a vegetable from home, which they wash and chop. We use all the vegetables to make soup, which becomes the afternoon meal for the students. Cooking introduces them to math and the joys of teamwork. While some children can be fussy eaters on other days or at home, we find that they all finish their bowls of soup on Wednesdays. The fun of being involved in every step of its making makes a huge difference to how they eat.

Play & Learn: 2

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Sharing

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At Elements, we dedicate one day a month to teaching children how to share. The idea is to encourage our students to get in touch with the community, and encourage characteristics such as kindness and generosity. The morning is spent baking cookies and muffins, which are activities the children enjoy very much.

The first month, we encouraged them to offer muffins to passers-by. There were several questions about why they had to give the muffins away, rather than eat them themselves. The teachers used this opportunity to introduce them to the concept of sharing. The next month, though, our students were calling out to passers-by to try the cookies they had baked. The third month, we visited a fire station and police station to share cookies and muffins with the officers there and the activity was a big hit.

Play & Learn: 1

It has been a busy fall season so far at Elements, and we’re thrilled to share some of the highlights with you.

We’ve been busy with a number of activities that combined a whole lot of learning with a whole lot of fun – every two months, we choose a theme from the five elements, and all activities are rooted in that theme.

Over this, and the next two posts, we’d love to give you a glimpse into what our students engage in, every week.

Making a Volcano

As part of the curriculum, the children made a volcano with their teachers. An empty bottle was used as the base; students tore newspapers to make papier mache, which was then pasted on the bottle. They painted the papier mache and while the paint dried, they mixed the ingredients for the lava mixture. One child helped the teacher pour the mixture into the bottle and the class loved watching the volcano erupt.

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This activity stimulated the children cognitively, and helped them acquire/exercise several skills. They asked several questions as they worked, which taught them more about every step of the activity and the conversation introduced them to new words. As they measured out ingredients, they practiced their counting skills. Working as a team developed their social and emotional skills – they had to wait their turn and learn from one another. Most importantly, the activity helped them access and exercise their creativity.

Child’s Play

Raising children in a large city poses a unique set of rewards and challenges. There’s always something interesting to do, watch or participate in; even an afternoon exploring the city can often be the best activity. What a child misses out on, though, is a connection with nature. Living in a city offers very limited opportunities for a child to walk barefoot through the grass, or play with mud, or splash around in a body of water in a safe environment. Aside from a hour or two spent in the playground, most kids spend their time indoors.

In his book, The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls this phenomenon, ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Documenting the modern family’s life over the last two decades, he points out that a connection with nature helps a child develop several, vital skills and personality traits. At Elements, we consider Louv’s book a touchstone and bible, which forms the core of our philosophy. And his findings are supported by several other studies, as well –

  1. It is vital for the development of multiple aspects of a child’s personality – intellect, emotions, spirituality, and physical and emotional health. Also, it supports creativity, intellectual development and problem solving (Kellert, 2005).
  2. Being close to nature every day increases a child’s capacity to focus, which, in turn, enhances cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000). It can also reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder in children as young as 5 (Kuo and Taylor, 2004).
  3. According to studies conducted in the US, students of schools that have outdoor classrooms, or that use nature-based experiential teaching methods, do better in math, science, languages and social studies. Outdoor science programs contribute to an increase of 27% in science testing scores. (American Institutes for Research, 2005).
  4. When children are offered more opportunities for unstructured play in natural settings, they are more physically active, of course, but they also are happier and able to get along better with their peers. It boosts their social skills and creativity (Bell and Dyment, 2006 and Burdette and Whitaker, 2005).
  5. Once children are made aware of the cycles of nature and how food is grown, they are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables (Bell & Dyment, 2008) and to understand nutrition better (Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2006). They are also more likely to maintain healthy eating habits throughout their lives (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).
  6. Access to green spaces, and even a view of green settings, enhances peace, self control and self-discipline within inner city youth, and particularly in girls (Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan, 2001). 

Everyday Magic

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For years, I watched young children in the family, and of my friends’, first make their way through the world with wonderment, and then with resignation and, even worse, cynicism. For years, I noticed the disconnect they had from nature, and the fact that they were very rarely offered a chance to discover it at all. It was exactly like the journey of my friend’s niece. They walked out fearless and full of creativity and imagination, and were stifled. It would break my heart. And then when my little daughter came into my life, it was time for me to crystallise those thoughts and observations, into action.

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I began reading about various philosophies of education, and the different systems of education; as I went from book to book, it struck me that there must be hundreds, or thousands, of other parents out there who wish to introduce their children to a learning enviroment that places greater emphasis on discovery, multi-dimensional growth, social skills, relationships and a connection with nature.

As we articulate it on our website, the vision for Elements is:

  • To provide our students with a safe, dynamic and diverse nature-based learning environment.
  • To encourage creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and imagination.
  • To help each child develop a bond with themselves and the world around them.

Through the journey of setting Elements up, working with our fantastic team and spending days with bright, happy, beautiful children, I have come full circle as a parent, and the founder of a preschool. At Elements, my team and I work hard to make sure that every one of the children is offered the time, space and resources to learn with wonder, and not fear or tiredness. Every day.

Thank you for visiting the blog of Elements Preschool. I really hope that you will stop by each week and be a part of our journey.

Shilpa Sethi

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