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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Monday, December 15, 2014

Exploring Light and Shadow

In preparation for Chanukah, the preschoolers in our Yellow Room have been exploring light and noting their observations.


While playing with their own shadows using a light projector, the kids noticed how nice their silhouettes looked. These old fashioned silhouette self portraits are the result!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everybody a Happy Thanksgiving with some of our students' fun and Thanksgiving-themed art projects!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ancient Rome Comes to Life

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

In order to better understand why the Roman Empire was positioned for success, the 5/6th grade History class have been working on urban planning.They had to consider geography and infrastructure, such as:

Where is your city located?
What is its water source?
What structures does your city have?
What resources does it need to protect?

Then students studied the structures of ancient Rome and each one of them picked a building to research, write a paper about and recreate as a model. Now we have a magnificent mini Rome in our atrium!

Triumphal Arch

Bridge of Tiberius



Villa de Papyri

Tower of Hercules

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Colors and Patterns Write Music

"Music is children's first patterning experience and helps engage them in mathematics even when they don't recognize the activities as mathematics."

Geist, K., et al. The Patterns of Music. Young Children. NAEYC, Jan. 2012

Concepts of math can been seen in various ways throughout our classroom for 4-year-olds. Each day, the children are working with numbers, patterns, and relationships. Having just learned about primary colors and the colors of the rainbow, the children explored mathematics by using color patterns to write music.

Patterns and rhythm were captured using the seven colors of the rainbow. With liquid watercolors, matching colored paper circles and small glass jars as materials, the children set out to write their own music, playing it back on the jars filled with colored water. Each child created a unique song. Some used colors to create a pattern, others varied the tempo while palying the music on the jars.

And the most amazing thing? Someone else, like a teacher or classmate, could "read" their music and play it back as well! Thus they had not only created music, they'd also "written" it. What a simple way to introduce the idea of transmitting information using symbols, the very basic concept of literacy.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tangible History at the Hemingway House

Hello? Anybody there?
Trying out a wall-mounted 1900 telephone!

How did a child in the early 1900s live? What did he play with? Was there a bathroom, electricity, a television? Our 3rd/4th graders were able to experience this first hand during a visit to Ernest Hemingway's Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, where one of the greatest writers of the 20th century was born and lived until age six.


First, the kids gathered in the parlor by the fireplace and listened to guide Lori McCarthy's tales about the Hemingway Family and how life used to be. There were lots of questions; the best: Were the Hemingways Jewish? - prompted by the fact that the Hemingway children called their grandfather Ernest Hall, who owned this house, "Abba" (the Hebrew word for father). What a natural question to ask for someone new to Hemingway but well versed in Hebrew!

Are those real? Yep, they are! Lori explained that taxidermy was one of Dr. Hemingway's (Ernest's father) hobbies. The library even features two owls that Dr. Hemingway shot and stuffed himself. One student also figured out why some of the chandelier's lamps face upward; they were gas lamps, while the ones facing down had electrical bulbs. This house was the first to get electricity in Oak Park.


Also in the library: picture books and song books from the turn of the last century.

Trying out a stereoscope! What a cool device that turns any old postcard into a 3-D image.

Hands on in the kitchen! And how about the swiveling, built-in stool at the sink?

On the second floor, in Abba's turreted bedroom, the verdict was unanimous: Those stiff collars of the past must have been very uncomfortable!

Look, there's a computer in this house after all! There is indeed; Annette Gendler's laptop in fact. When she's not coordinating communications at Akiba-Schechter, she's the 2014-15 writer-in-residence at the Hemingway House, and she instigated this field trip. It so happened that visiting this house, so lovingly restored to what it was like when Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899, worked perfectly with one class's ongoing study of the 20th century.

Annette answers questions about her writing.

Way cooler than Annette's attic studio, however, was the drafty attic itself, where some period furniture has congregated over the years, and where we are told Ernest and his sister Marcelline loved to play. The kids even found an old trunk that belonged to Marcelline! Upon returning to their bus, the students complained that the time spent at the Hemingway house (1.5 hours) had been too short. So much for having short attention spans!

Want to visit yourself? Check out Annette's short video tour of the Hemingway House, or even better, stop by!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's in a Circle?

In preparation for their upcoming adventures in exploration, our preschool Explorers class has been learning the art of observation by closely studying one particular spot on the ground. How to isolate an area of study? Use a hula hoop!

First the children heard about how to use the hula hoop and that they should only observe what they found inside the hoop, and that they should look very carefully.

Then it was time to head outside (thankfully it wasn't raining!) and, with the help of a teacher, write down all the things that they could see in that circle. There was the obvious texture of the ground - wood chips, stone tiles, earth - but in addition they found all kinds of stuff, from bugs to barrettes.

Now those kids are ready to observe and record all that they find on their upcoming adventures!

Monday, September 22, 2014

CPS Visits Akiba-Schechter to Learn about Play-Based Curriculum

This summer, a group of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) principals visited our preschool to learn more about our play-based curriculum. A handful of CPS schools are taking on a new initiative to include more play in their early childhood programs, and these principals wanted to see what this looks like in action. We are very proud that this group of educators was given the name of Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School as a place to observe play-based education in action.

During their visit, these CPS principals spent the morning in different Akiba-Schechter classrooms and then met with me as a group. I shared with them the value of play, and we discussed how "play-based" truly means that children are learning all the time, because play is the work of childhood.  I spoke about how much more challenging it is for children to negotiate a conflict, build a structure out of blocks with several friends, and create the “rules” for a game in the house corner than it is to complete a worksheet. I explained how our children are working on critical thinking skills, conflict resolution and acquiring life skills on how to socialize in a group. The principals shared that while this was visible while observing our classrooms, it would be challenging to make that happen in a different environment.

It seems that there is a lot of pressure to include more and more academics from outside institutions who don't understand early childhood and how children learn. The people creating these "standards" and "curriculum" are not necessarily educators. Parents get worried if these academics are not included that their children will be behind. Actually, studies show that children who have been in play-based programs are more successful, great critical thinkers and problem solvers, and have better social skills when they enter elementary school. Early readers are not necessarily better readers; it all tends to even out in that regard.

This CPS visit was a very interesting morning for me and my staff.  I can understand the struggle that other schools may face in incorporating play-based learning into their curriculum and yet, we at Akiba can’t imagine it any other way. At the end of the day this encounter reminded me how lucky we are to be able to teach our children in the way that we believe is best, and also how lucky our children and families are to be able to benefit from such a rich environment that celebrates childhood and prepares children to be the best they can be.