By Kristin Kumar and Margaret Sculti
Our school community embraces a love for learning and creates an everlasting educational journey for our students.  We support a child-centered curriculum where we value our young students and what they bring to the classroom.  As Co-Directors, we feel inspired and excited by the rich and meaningful learning that takes place throughout the school.  Please enjoy this RPNS "Spotlight" focusing on experiences in our four-year-old program.     
The Project Approach: Four-Year-Old Researchers
In Part One of our four-year-old "Spotlight" we highlighted three studies and the role of the child as a researcher.  Using a "project approach," our teachers guide the students through in-depth studies of real-world topics.

In all of our four-year-old classrooms we provide the students with an opportunity to learn from "experts" in their field of study.  The children ask questions and reflect on the new information they learn. 

Please enjoy highlights of children as researchers from three more of our four-year-old projects:
Project: Igloos and Penguins
The students in Mrs. Barbero's and Ms. Cunningham's morning class were very interested in "snow houses" during the December holidays. The teachers placed some large boxes in the block center and the children decided they wanted to construct a large igloo. The class started reading books about igloos and watched a documentary on how a real igloo is created. The students discovered that igloos are created in a spiral formation. Each ice block is placed on an inward spiral and culminates with the final piece, the keystone, being placed in the center.    

Throughout their research, the class learned about Eskimos and sled dogs.  They looked at a globe to see where the North Pole is located and began discussing which animals live in the North Pole.  While polar bears, whales, and seals live in the North Pole, they soon learned that penguins live in the South Pole.  The class was eager to see where the South Pole is located in relationship to the North Pole and they explored their locations on the globe.  

The class began talking about which animal they were most interested in investigating and decided to take their study to the South Pole to explore penguins.  Through their research of penguins, the class learned about the various types of penguins and they used blocks to vote on their favorite one. Together, they created a life sized emperor penguin using paper-mache.  They talked about size and measurement when working on the correct proportions for their emperor penguin.  

In order to gain a real-life experience with penguins, the class took a field trip to the Bronx Zoo and visited the Aquatic Bird House where they had the opportunity to see real penguins up close.  A zoo expert talked to the children about the anatomy of a penguin and showed the class a penguin skeleton.  The students learned how the wings of a penguin are waxy to repel water, and they participated in an activity with the wax of a crayon to show how the water is repelled by this type of surface.  The class also learned that the father emperor penguin takes care of the penguin eggs, and the children used bean bags on their feet to act out how the penguin would balance the egg on his feet to keep it warm.

Project: Astronomy
Mrs. Barbero's and Ms. Cunningham's afternoon class showed a great interest in the universe and rocket ships.  The class began to research how rockets "blast off," and together they watched a video of a real spaceship launching.  They decided to design and create a large rocket ship by using cardboard boxes, recycled materials, and paint.

The rocket ship video that the class watched together referred to the galaxy as a "city of stars."  This sparked the children's interest in the stars in the universe.  The class learned about our Milky Way which is a galaxy containing the sun, the solar system, and stars to create light.  The formation of the Milky Way led the children to become fascinated with spirals and they wanted to know how a spiral is formed.  They formed a large tape spiral on the rug in the block area.  They also used a revolving stand and a variety of materials such as shaving cream, paint, and markers to create spirals.  As their interest in spirals and stars continued to grow, the students learned about the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights), which is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The lights can be seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Another question about the universe that the students were interested in was how the different parts of the world are connected to each other. One child's drawing sparked interest in recreating the world on a large piece of paper. The entire class contributed to a large detailed drawing of the land, the sky, and outer space, each created as separate pieces.  One student exclaimed, "But, then, is the world separate?"  This led the children to question what keeps the world together.  They learned about the different layers of the earth and the atmosphere and how gravity plays a role in keeping everything connected.

As the children continued to play with the rocket ship they created, they acted out the countdown and how the spaceship launches into the universe.  This interest in the way a rocket ship "blasts off" led the class to begin exploring science themes more broadly.  How are rocket ships propelled into space? Beginning with this guiding question, the teachers set up multiple science experiments for the children to have hands-on experiences that would deepen their inquiry. One student shared that he had been conducting science experiments with his mom at home using household ingredients, such as vinegar, baking soda, water, oil, food coloring and alka-seltzer! The group was so excited by this idea that they decided to invite his mom to come to school for a day to guide the whole group in these experiments.

The class acted out how craters are created on the moon.  They made a moon using flour and baby oil.  The students decided to use rocks they collected as asteroids and dropped them from up high down on the moon to create holes on the surface.  They experimented with whether the heavier rocks formed bigger holes in comparison to the lighter rocks.  

In April, the class took a field trip together to the Westchester Children's Museum to extend their science adventures.  The children explored the principles and concepts of gravity, water molecules, wind, and momentum.  

Project: African Animals
The students in Mrs. Cotter's and Ms. Desharnais' afternoon class enthusiastically began building zoo castles in the block area.  As they created, they enacted a story of animals living all together, watched over by a guard that let them out whenever they wanted. Ideas of freedom and captivity, movement and power were explored through their play. This imaginary place inspired an in-depth study of large mammals and their habitats.

Fact and fantasy were combined to construct knowledge together. Some of the children's initial questions were: Where do chimpanzees, cheetahs, lions, giraffes and rhinoceroses live? What do they eat? How do they protect themselves? Where do they sleep? The class found answers through books, maps, and conversations.

An animal specialist that interned at the Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, CT visited the class and shared with the students her experiences taking care of animals.  The children visited her in small groups in the school's Studio and her excitement added to the children's curiosity. Laughter and awe filled the Studio as small groups listened to the sounds that giraffes make and moved their bodies like these wild animals.

The children discovered that all the large animals they were interested in lived in Africa. The teachers invited some children to trace a map of Africa, using light to develop their drawing skills. The children learned about the physical features of the terrain that are needed for the animals.

What about African animals captivated each child? Perhaps it is their size and strength, or the boldness of their beauty, or how adapted they are to their land?   Each student looked through books independently and with the teacher to research an animal of their choosing.  The students were the researchers working with the teacher to record the important pieces of information about the animal that they studied.  The children created a portrait of their cherished animal by tracing the shapes and using their creativity to paint and decorate the bodies.   

In addition to tracing, the students were given multiple opportunities to represent the animal of their choice. Sketching, animal pillow making, and light play were offered as provocations to enrich their stories, their play, and their understanding of who these animals are, what they can do, where they live, and how they interact.  The children are currently writing stories about their animals and creating a class book.  

The class took a field trip to the The Jay Heritage Center this week to extend their understanding of animal habitats.  They went on a guided tour and a nature walk to search for animals. They discovered a family of deer, wild turkeys, and various birds flying overhead. The children learned how some animals live in trees. At the end of the trip, the class came together on the front porch of the Carriage House and sketched the animals they had sighted.

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