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Hello Peabody Community and Happy New Year from Special Start!

Hello Peabody Community and 
Happy New Year from Special Start!
Posted on 01/12/2018
As we enter 2018, we are happy to report that we’ve had a great school year so far. Children have been engaged in a variety of themes and activities throughout the fall and early winter. For those who don’t know our program, Special Start is a Cambridge Public School program that provides preschool education, special education, and related services throughout the city in many schools. Here at the Peabody, we have two classrooms. Moira McNabb O’Connell teaches a substantially separate preschool class in Room 155 with Jess Fitzgerald, Paige Mochi and Tori Milano. Janet Forte teaches an integrated preschool class in Room 156 with Diane Jin and Isaac Oakley.

Our classrooms have enjoyed partaking in a number of parallel curriculum themes and activities since the start of school in September. The beginning of our school year always includes work on getting to know each other and learning about school. Some of the books we read to help us settle into school included Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?. Late in September, we joined the Peabody kindergartens on an apple-picking trip to Brooksby Farm in Peabody, MA. Following the trip, we immersed ourselves in “apple curriculum,” tasting a number of apple varieties, cooking apple recipes, and making apple cider in the garden with CitySprouts. We read both non-fiction and fictional stories about apples, including one of our favorites, Ten Red Apples, by Pat Hutchins and Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington. As the leaves began to change, we took part in some fall explorations, including walking trips to Bergin Park and Raymond Park and a bus trip to Harvard Square and Cambridge Common. We not only observed and collected leaves, but also made sure to play in them, throw them, hide under them, rake them, and jump in them, too! In the classroom, we read books about leaves, examined them up close and used leaves in art explorations. By the end of October, our curriculum themes turned towards stories of pumpkins, a big green monster, the dark and being “just a little bit scared.” Some of the books we read to support these themes included Go Away Big Green Monster, Who’s in the Shed?, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything and In a Dark, Dark Wood. During these weeks, children created monsters, jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows, dark boxes, and ghosts! These stories also lent themselves nicely to dramatic play, as children took turns pretending to be various characters when acting. During the week of Halloween we went on our annual walk to Pemberton Farms to pick out pumpkins for our classrooms. (Thank you Pemberton for the donation!) After carving the pumpkins and watching them begin to rot over several days, Room 156 buried theirs in the school garden, along with some other things that may or may not decompose, as part of an annual composting experiment. We will return to the same spot in the spring to see if the garden worms ate the buried pumpkin and anything else that we buried with it (e.g. plastic spoon? paper cup? apple core?) Room 155 cut their pumpkin up and put it in the compost to feed the worms. As Thanksgiving approached, we focused on themes of kindness and family. Once again, we turned to some beloved picture books to support our teaching including: How Kind! by Mary Murphy, and Feast for Ten by Cathryn Falwell.

Throughout the fall, we noted that many children in our classrooms have a strong interest in and love for trains. This is not surprising since the Commuter Rail (purple line) runs through our neighborhood and provides some daily excitement as it sounds its horn each day while we’re on the playground! Our focus on trains began in early December and carried well into the holiday season. We started by gathering many books about trains, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of the titles we read included Freight Train and Chugga Chugga Choo Choo. Soon, we realized that we had to observe our neighborhood train more closely, so we walked to the area on Pemberton adjacent to the basketball court to get an up-close view of the Commuter Rail. This spot gave us a perfect viewing place to see the train rolling down the track up close while standing safely behind a chain link fence. It was truly a multi-sensory experience as we saw the train, felt the ground shake beneath our feet, and heard the horn. In addition to this close-by neighborhood viewing, we took a walking field trip to the Sherman St. railroad crossing so we could also experience the sights and sounds of the lights, gates and bells as the train crosses Sherman St. However, probably our most exciting train experience was our trip to South Station in mid December. This trip included a ride on the Red Line (subway train), tour of South Station and a delicious pizza lunch in the station. The tour of the station was provided by Frank Addonizio, customer service manager for Keolis (operator for the Commuter Rail). During our tour, we explored the inside of a commuter train and the Amtrak Acela. In addition, we met many train workers, including conductors, engineers, ticket agents, managers, security officers, etc. The people at Keolis extended their kindness further by giving each child a train-themed gift bag that included a copy of The Polar Express. We were so grateful for their time and generosity. Throughout our in-depth train unit, we have immersed ourselves in train activities around the classroom. We constructed train tracks in the block corner, sang lots of train songs at circle time and Room 155 even created a large scale cardboard box train! Although many of the children could continue their train exploration even further, last week’s snowstorm reminded us that there is much to learn about winter! So, with many mounds of snow on the ground and cold temperatures in the air, we have now shifted our focus to the season around us. We are bringing winter into the classroom by playing with snow in the water table and passing a snowball around at morning meeting. As always, we will be reading many winter-themed books like The Snowy Day, as we explore winter’s presence over the next few weeks.

In addition to the ongoing classroom curriculum, we’ve participated in regular enrichment activities throughout this year. In the fall, we visited the Peabody Garden on a regular basis with Annabel Raby, garden coordinator for Citysprouts. Before Annabel left for the winter, she helped Room 156 put together a “worm house” which we are keeping and caring for in our classroom all winter long through spring. On a weekly basis, we partake in motor (movement) group activities, led by Trish Wong, our physical therapist. The O’Neill branch of the Cambridge Public Library welcomes us for a weekly story time with Clara Hendricks (children’s librarian) on Wednesdays. At least twice per month, both Special Start classes collaborate with Peabody Preschool (city-run DHSP program) for sing-alongs and other occasional activities.

In closing, our classes are looking ahead to the second half of the school year with excitement as we continue our ongoing learning adventures in Special Start! Thanks for reading about our program and enjoy the rest of the winter!