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April 10, 2017

Signs of Spring – Through a Preschooler’s Lens

By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K, 1–2

    Spring arrived a while ago in New York City. Not that you would know it. It’s been raining non-stop, cold and blustery. Yes, we’ve had a few teaser days, sunny and bright, but these are few and far between. How do we explain this season to the preschooler? Just as we might wish for a snowfall to signal the first day of winter, we’d love to feel the sun’s warmth on March 21.

    For the moment, let’s assume that we’re there (if only!). What signals spring for our preschoolers? Is it a blooming daffodil, the sighting of a robin or possibly even a nest? Is it greening grass or a blooming tree? Nope. It’s jacket-shedding. When jackets come off, preschoolers know they’ve entered a new season. In our area, days tend to warm up gradually, from a chilly morning toward a warm, sunny midday. This means children wear their jackets to school, only to shed them later on in the playground. It’s not unusual to see mountains of jackets and hats piled next to our playground area right about now.

    For the 3- and 4-year-old, this is joy itself! The freedom children experience when they shed their outer gear is unmistakable. Finally, they are unencumbered, liberated! They can run faster and climb more easily. They feel bigger and fully themselves! As days warm further, the shedding process continues: leggings and hoodies become T-shirts and shorts. Parents apply sun block at drop off. It’s a transformation that is worth noting and discussing, possibly during a classroom meeting.

    “How many of you wore your mittens today? None of you?!?” “Well, why is that?” “And why do you think it’s gotten warmer?” This open-ended back-and-forth allows children to share more than information. Rather than probing for the right answer, we’re prodding preschoolers to speculate and theorize, as they add to each other’s contributions. We’re encouraging them to wonder.

    Then, finally, we can move on to those other “signs of spring.”

     

    In my experience, spring is a time of very visible growth, even in a big city. The Threes/Fours take a walk around the block to notice blooming yellow forsythia and lavender wisteria. In the classroom, children are planting seeds, lentils, peas, and beans. EiLeen, our school’s gardening expert, helps children place these seeds in small moist resealable bags. Once they’ve sprouted, she helps the children transfer the seedlings to the soil.

    Children monitor them daily to see if they’re sprouting, and sure enough, “I see one,” says William!

    Sofia makes a sketch. EiLeen also helped classes plant blooming pansies along the entryway to our school — a process they enjoyed thoroughly! As children dig holes for their young plants, EiLeen uses words such as soil, roots, and stems.

    She reminds children that these plants will need sun and water in order to thrive. We will have to take care of them.  

    Classroom bookshelves blossom as well. Book covers are adorned with flower beds, vegetables, lambs, and birds.

    Among my favorites is the Titch series, all about growth and change. And, of course, there are so many others, including:  

    •    Spring Changes with its beautiful photos and

    •    Over in the Meadow, a long and lovely sing-along

       

    Songs and finger plays reinforce the seasonal celebration. Here are two favorites:

    “A Little Seed”

     A little seed / for me to sow

    A little earth / to make it grow

    A little rain / a little pat

    A little wish / and that is that

    A little sun / a little shower

    A little while / and then a flower!

    (This version by Margaret Watts varies just slightly from our own.)

    “My Garden” is a short finger play that children can easily learn. Watch it on this video.

    At Third Street, and I’m sure we’re not alone here, a dramatic yet tender sign of spring begins with a caterpillar. Our practice is to order cups of caterpillars from a vendor such as Insect Lore with fingers crossed that they arrive on a weekday when we’re in school. We set up our “garden” and gently place the caterpillars inside.

    More a transformation than growth process, this magical experience is captivating to all of us. Children learn about chrysalises, caterpillars, and butterflies. They may find out that not all creatures survive this delicate process, just as not all seedlings grow to maturity. And it is just long enough to hold everyone’s attention. The joy of this process is that children can observe a clear and natural two-step transformation: caterpillar to chrysalis / chrysalis to butterfly. Is there possibly a small lesson embedded here? Before emerging full-grown and gorgeous, these animals need to work at it quietly, transforming themselves behind the scenes.

    Once the butterflies have emerged and we’ve had opportunities to feed and observe them, each class of preschoolers carries their butterfly garden to our beautiful churchyard garden where we liberate them amidst the forsythia and lily of the valley plants. Clad in shorts and t-shirts, children then return to school, each cherishing their own images of butterflies in flight, knowing they have played a tiny role in the unfolding of spring.

    Spring arrived a while ago in New York City. Not that you would know it. It’s been raining non-stop, cold and blustery. Yes, we’ve had a few teaser days, sunny and bright, but these are few and far between. How do we explain this season to the preschooler? Just as we might wish for a snowfall to signal the first day of winter, we’d love to feel the sun’s warmth on March 21.

    For the moment, let’s assume that we’re there (if only!). What signals spring for our preschoolers? Is it a blooming daffodil, the sighting of a robin or possibly even a nest? Is it greening grass or a blooming tree? Nope. It’s jacket-shedding. When jackets come off, preschoolers know they’ve entered a new season. In our area, days tend to warm up gradually, from a chilly morning toward a warm, sunny midday. This means children wear their jackets to school, only to shed them later on in the playground. It’s not unusual to see mountains of jackets and hats piled next to our playground area right about now.

    For the 3- and 4-year-old, this is joy itself! The freedom children experience when they shed their outer gear is unmistakable. Finally, they are unencumbered, liberated! They can run faster and climb more easily. They feel bigger and fully themselves! As days warm further, the shedding process continues: leggings and hoodies become T-shirts and shorts. Parents apply sun block at drop off. It’s a transformation that is worth noting and discussing, possibly during a classroom meeting.

    “How many of you wore your mittens today? None of you?!?” “Well, why is that?” “And why do you think it’s gotten warmer?” This open-ended back-and-forth allows children to share more than information. Rather than probing for the right answer, we’re prodding preschoolers to speculate and theorize, as they add to each other’s contributions. We’re encouraging them to wonder.

    Then, finally, we can move on to those other “signs of spring.”

     

    In my experience, spring is a time of very visible growth, even in a big city. The Threes/Fours take a walk around the block to notice blooming yellow forsythia and lavender wisteria. In the classroom, children are planting seeds, lentils, peas, and beans. EiLeen, our school’s gardening expert, helps children place these seeds in small moist resealable bags. Once they’ve sprouted, she helps the children transfer the seedlings to the soil.

    Children monitor them daily to see if they’re sprouting, and sure enough, “I see one,” says William!

    Sofia makes a sketch. EiLeen also helped classes plant blooming pansies along the entryway to our school — a process they enjoyed thoroughly! As children dig holes for their young plants, EiLeen uses words such as soil, roots, and stems.

    She reminds children that these plants will need sun and water in order to thrive. We will have to take care of them.  

    Classroom bookshelves blossom as well. Book covers are adorned with flower beds, vegetables, lambs, and birds.

    Among my favorites is the Titch series, all about growth and change. And, of course, there are so many others, including:  

    •    Spring Changes with its beautiful photos and

    •    Over in the Meadow, a long and lovely sing-along

       

    Songs and finger plays reinforce the seasonal celebration. Here are two favorites:

    “A Little Seed”

     A little seed / for me to sow

    A little earth / to make it grow

    A little rain / a little pat

    A little wish / and that is that

    A little sun / a little shower

    A little while / and then a flower!

    (This version by Margaret Watts varies just slightly from our own.)

    “My Garden” is a short finger play that children can easily learn. Watch it on this video.

    At Third Street, and I’m sure we’re not alone here, a dramatic yet tender sign of spring begins with a caterpillar. Our practice is to order cups of caterpillars from a vendor such as Insect Lore with fingers crossed that they arrive on a weekday when we’re in school. We set up our “garden” and gently place the caterpillars inside.

    More a transformation than growth process, this magical experience is captivating to all of us. Children learn about chrysalises, caterpillars, and butterflies. They may find out that not all creatures survive this delicate process, just as not all seedlings grow to maturity. And it is just long enough to hold everyone’s attention. The joy of this process is that children can observe a clear and natural two-step transformation: caterpillar to chrysalis / chrysalis to butterfly. Is there possibly a small lesson embedded here? Before emerging full-grown and gorgeous, these animals need to work at it quietly, transforming themselves behind the scenes.

    Once the butterflies have emerged and we’ve had opportunities to feed and observe them, each class of preschoolers carries their butterfly garden to our beautiful churchyard garden where we liberate them amidst the forsythia and lily of the valley plants. Clad in shorts and t-shirts, children then return to school, each cherishing their own images of butterflies in flight, knowing they have played a tiny role in the unfolding of spring.

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