It’s 2017!

Happy new year! We hope 2017 is full of happiness, good health and all things wonderful for you and your family.

We’re very excited to have you back here at Life At Elements, the official blog of Elements Preschool.

We are an urban nature preschool on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Inspired by the Forest School System, we aim to connect children to themselves, nature and the community around them. This sense of connection, in turn, leads to the development of crucial social, emotional and thinking skills. At Elements, we are creating a community of children who learn by doing, and who understand themselves and their world better.

Drawing inspiration from nature, we offer an environment rich in artful materials and experiences. Staying aware that children’s brains are like sponges and incredibly receptive, our goal is to stretch their minds. We do this via outdoor play, natural materials, art, music, movement, dance and yoga, cooking and drama. We also grow our own vegetables in our custom-landscaped garden, and cook with them, introducing children to the farm-to-table philosophy, as also to newer tastes and cuisines. To know more about us, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

We started Life At Elements last January, with the aim of giving all of you a window in our world. It’s been really fun and instructive to record our activities here for a whole year and we’re so looking forward to starting this new year.

To make it easier for you to navigate the blog and find the posts you like, all our food posts are now categorised under Cooking with Kids. Do try our recipes at home with your children – it’s a great way to educate their palate and teach them about healthy eating. Our other posts are categorised under Try This At Home, Around The School and Learning At Elements.

We will be posting every Wednesday and Friday this year, and you can follow us on Facebook, as well. If you’re a WordPress user, please do follow us. We’d appreciate it so much.

Thank you, again, for being here. We’ll be back on Friday, with a great recipe post, so be sure to check in.

Learning at Elements: Navigating Risk

At the end of last month, we had a family bonfire on a lovely Friday evening. The children roasted marshmallows to make s’mores. Everyone gathered around to chat, and it was just a really wonderful time.

Now, I know that encouraging young kids to toast s’mores may seem risky but the truth is that by allowing them to do so, we exposed them to fire and we taught them how to access and manage risk in a safe environment. Vigilant adults were all around them, watching them closely but they will still given an opportunity to have their experience at the bonfire, helping them manage their own reactions and trust their instincts.

It is the same principle we follow when we have the students chop vegetables or grate cheese as we make lunch. Of course the kitchen utensils are child-safe, and, again, there are watchful adults on hand. But the students are encouraged to take small risks – such as holding a knife, and slicing a carrot carefully.

Studies have proven that children recognise a new task will present something unknown to them. If they are supported in the exploration of that task, it gives them a chance to set their own limits and boundaries. As they grow older, this allows them to view challenges and problems with less anxiety, and be more confident in their abilities to deal with both success and failure.

Shilpa

The art of imagination

Some time ago, I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page that read – When the niece was 2-3 years old, she would announce the most ambitious drawings: “I’m making a cow flying over our house and all the dogs are barking at it from the car park.” I’d wonder how on earth she’d draw that and then miraculously she would – she wasn’t going for perfection or considering the impossibility of the task, she just simply drew whatever she wanted. I learnt a life lesson from that. Then yesterday for homework, the niece (now 7) was asked to draw top angle of three objects. I suggested she draw one of the sleeping dogs. “How will I draw that, its too difficult,” she said. And my heart broke just a little.

Doesn’t this story hit home for many of us? Young children first make their way through the world with wonderment, and then with resignation and, even worse, cynicism. They start out fearless and full of creativity and imagination, and are stifled by systems that do not value these.

In his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer quotes a survey that said – If you pose the question, “do you think you’re creative?”, to a group of second-graders, about 95 percent of them will answer “Yes.” Three years later, when the kids are in fifth grade, that proportion will drop to 50 percent—and by the time they’re seniors in high school, it’s down to 5 percent.

At Elements, our manifesto 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

Here’s a little story that illustrates this:

A couple of weeks ago, during unstructured outdoor play, two of our students were piling dirt on stumps. Their creations looked almost identical but when we asked each of them what they made, the answers were so different. One was making a chocolate cake and the other, railroad tracks.

A 2012 study by Adobe on creativity showed that 8 in 10 people felt that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents felt creativity is valuable to society. Yet, only 1 in 4 people believe they are living up to their own creative potential.

This is a statistic that makes us both sad and hopeful. We’re doing everything we can to change these numbers, one dirt pile at a time.

 

Hello, there!

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Education is what remains
after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

Albert Einstein

 

 

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What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.
Alfred Mercier

 

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What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge,
and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

George Bernard Shaw

 

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Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.
Margaret Mead

Learning at Elements:The First Step

 

Like most of my generation, I grew up close to nature and I know now that my childhood memories are a luxury. Remember when kids came home when the streetlights came on, having spent the evening playing outdoors with friends? We played hopscotch and tag.
We made up games and stories as we discovered the world outside our homes. We did not have toys designed to develop skills or abilities but we never lacked those attributes. Because they lie within each child, waiting to be awakened.

As a mother raising a child in New York, I know that I want to give my child the opportunity to learn, play and explore. So when we started thinking about what we wanted for Elements – an urban nature pre-school – our first goal was to create the experience of being in a forest or wooded area in a backyard of 3500 sq feet in the heart of a city.

We wanted children to be able to touch the soil, play with water, sit under trees and help grow produce. We wanted stations for art, and enough space for both dramatic play and unstructured play. Luckily, we found a team who believed in that vision, who helped
create this space. And then we crafted a curriculum that allows a child to explore, experience and discover.

Every child has talents and every child learns in its own way. At Elements, we believe that given the right environment, space and support, every child can awaken its special genius.

We celebrate each student for being herself and himself. They are given the information and tools they need, and then encouraged to think and imagine. The outdoors provides a diverse, versatile environment for this, as against classrooms, which are very structured in nature.

For instance, if our students are to learn about worms, one way to do it would be to use teaching aids and maybe bring one worm into the classroom in a jar and pass it around. Here’s how we chose to approach it. A discussion about worms was started in the classroom, and the kids were encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. Then, everyone put on their raincoats and boots and headed out into the garden, when it was raining. The kids loved digging around, trying to find worms and they could see that the rain brought the worms out. The sense of excitement as they searched and joy as they found worms could never be recreated in a classroom.

Experiential learning helps building curious, imaginative and creative minds that actively think and not just follow.

More about this next week, in our next post about Learning at Elements.

Thank you for reading!

Shilpa