May 21, 2017

Dear Chilmark Preschool Families and Friends,

We are finally enjoying some beautiful spring weather! I want to thank you for honoring our request to send in outerwear and shoes appropriate for the weather throughout the winter months. I’m proud to report that there was only a day or two that we did not make it outside! The snow and ice that kept us busy all winter has been replaced with sand and water. We have enjoyed spending longer stretches of time in our outdoor classroom and are delighting in our new discoveries! Please note that sunscreen should be applied prior to drop-off in the morning. We are happy to reapply as needed. Labeled sunscreen can be left in the wicker basket hanging above the sign-in/out desk. It is also beneficial for children to have both sun hats and water bottles. We have found that children are more likely to hydrate when they have an accessible water bottle.

I’m excited to share that Anja, Pia and I have participated in a number of enriching professional development opportunities this year. This fall, I completed Ensuring Success for All: Tools and Practices for Inclusive Schools through Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. The course explored current research on creating inclusive classrooms as well as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. The approach uses neuroscience research to support the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. I’ve always felt that it is essential that teachers meet children where they are. This course reinforced this belief, stressing the importance of creating engaging learning environments where children are given the opportunity to take in information and demonstrate their learning in ways that are meaningful to them. 

This winter, Pia completed Mindfulness Fundamentals through Mindful Schools. The course introduces participants to mindfulness meditation and helps them to cultivate a personal mindfulness practice. Mindful Schools’ programming is designed to help educators develop practical skills for self-care and learn effective mindfulness practices that can be integrated into the school day. All three of us have now bene;ited from working with Mindful Schools. I am incredibly grateful for the ways that their programming has supported our teaching team and taught us effective strategies for helping our preschoolers build a foundation in mindfulness.

Most recently, we attended Lesley University’s 25th Annual Reggio Emilia Institute, The Reggio Emilia Philosophy and the One Hundred Languages of Children: Possibilities for Learning and Community Through Use and Transformation of Materials. Reggio Emilia is a city in northern Italy that has developed and practiced a unique approach to educating young children. Their philosophy is grounded in a belief that children are curious, resourceful and capable of constructing their own knowledge. The curriculum is driven by the children’s actions, interactions, conversations and representations. Teachers view themselves, along with parents, as partners in the learning process. I ;irst studied this approach over twenty years ago during my undergraduate work. It played a significant role in forming my educational philosophy and is evident in the curriculum that has evolved at Chilmark Preschool. I have been incredibly grateful for the opportunity to revisit the approach, this time as a veteran teacher rather than an aspiring one.

This year’s Institute focused on the role of materials in the classroom. We had the opportunity to listen to speakers from Reggio Emilia, participate in engaging workshops and collaborate with educators from around the country. In Reggio Emilia children are encouraged to explore their environment and express themselves through many "languages," or modes of expression, including words, movement, drawing, painting, sculpture, shadow play, collage, and music. We explored materials collaboratively with other educators and considered how we might bring the experience back to our programs. All three of us left feeling truly inspired and excited to view familiar materials through a new lens. As I re;lected on the Institute, I thought back to the course I had taken earlier this year. Both experiences reminded me how important it is for us to value children as individuals. The following quote from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia’s educational philosophy, has stayed with me in the weeks following the Institute:

We hold an image, strong and optimistic about the child, who is born with many resources and extraordinary potentialities that never fail to surprise us; a child with autonomous capabilities to construct thoughts, ideas, questions and attempts to give answers. We see the child, every child, as a gifted child...

Please know how grateful we are for your fundraising efforts, which make these enriching professional development experiences possible.

When we met for our weekly staff meeting last Friday, each of us noted how the children have derived inspiration from the open-ended materials or “loose parts” in our classroom. The tile samples in our outdoor classroom have become ice cream flavors, the sandbags have transformed into babies or eggs and the colorful scarves are now wings. In his article "How NOT to cheat children: The Theory of Loose Parts," the British architect Simon Nicholson introduced the term “loose parts” to describe "open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in many ways." He believed that the quality of an environment was dependent upon on how effectively it allowed children to make connections. He wrote, "both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”  

In our observations of the children’s play with our classroom’s “loose parts”, we noted that puppies, kitties and birds have played a central role. As we reviewed our documentation, we realized that the play has not been focused on the animals themselves, but rather how to care for them. When we return to the classroom this week, we will begin exploring the question, “What does it mean to take care of something?” I look forward to seeing where this inquiry takes us!

Please note the following dates:

Monday May 29th: School closed for Memorial Day

Wednesday May 31st: 1/2 day for professional development

Wednesday June 7th at 9:00 am: Violin Demonstration

Friday June 9th at 5:30 pm: Pizza on the Playground and a participatory night of story theater with Phyllis Vecchia

Friday June 16th: Last day of school - 1/2 day 

Sunday June18th at 5:00 pm: End of Year Celebration

I will share more details as the dates approach. As always, don’t hesitate to follow up with questions, thoughts or concerns. Thank you!

Warmly, Heather