Update from Special Start: Februay 12, 2016

Update from Special Start: Februay 12, 2016
Posted on 02/12/2016
Hello Peabody Community from Special Start! At this midpoint in the year, we are happy to report that we’ve had a great year so far. Children have been engaged in a variety of curriculum themes and activities throughout the fall and winter. For those who don’t know our program, Special Start is a Peabody School program, but we also operate under the citywide Special Start Program of the Cambridge Public Schools. Special Start provides preschool education, special education and therapeutic services for preschoolers across the city in a variety of settings. We have 2 classrooms here at the Peabody School including Room 155 (Moira McNabb O’Connell, Jess Fitzgerald, Alex Stringer and Paige Mochi) and Room 156 (Janet Forte, Allison Carroll and Lynda Janul).

Hello Peabody Planet and Happy New Year!
We have had an exciting start to the school year in Special Start room 155. We spent the first few weeks of the year learning about school. We practiced routines, transitions, and how to be part of a group. We began our year by reading the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you see? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle. This book is a childhood favorite that uses simple text, rhythm, repetition, and colorful illustrations to draw young readers in. On each page you meet a new animal who will help you to discover the animal that comes next. This story spring boarded us into a variety of different activities related to bears including art and sensory projects, dramatic play, and music and movement.

Fall Activities and Learning Experiences

ApplesAfter getting into the rhythm of a new school year, we began to notice changes in our environment and started to talk about fall. We were very fortunate to be invited by the kindergarten classrooms to join them on an apple picking trip to Brooksby Farm in Peabody. In preschool, we are always excited to get an opportunity to ride a big, yellow school bus! At the farm, a tractor took us on a hayride out to the orchard where we filled our bags with big, red Macintosh apples. After picking apples, we visited some of the farm animals. When we were done there we ate lunch, drank cider, and snacked on donuts at picnic tables. It was a great trip! We spent the next few weeks tasting and trying out recipes with the apples we picked like apple sauce and apple crisp!

Much of our study of fall incorporated work in the garden with Michele Kaufman, our CitySprouts coordinator. To prepare for our apple picking trip we harvested a variety of different vegetables from the garden like onions, purple carrots, kale, peppers, and basil. We used our purple carrots to bake some delicious carrot cake muffins. In addition to helping her harvest, Michele spent time teaching us how to use the different tools in the garden like the shovels, trowels, and watering cans. We also learned about composting and helped Michele to collect leaves that had fallen and added them to the composting bin. We along with Janet Forte’s class also participated in the annual cider press. We brought some of the apples we had picked at Brooksby Farm. At rotating stations we cleaned, cut, and squished apples. Then we took turns pushing and pulling the lever of the cider press to squeeze out fresh cider. We are so fortunate to have the garden and CitySprouts to support both our fall and spring curriculums!

The changing environment prompted many walks outside. We began to notice varieties of pumpkins on some of the porches and steps in the neighborhood. To further our study of fall, Pemberton Farms offered to donate pumpkins to both Special Start classrooms. With wagons in tow, we along with Janet Forte’s class headed to Pemberton to explore and pick out our pumpkins! A few days later, we decided to carve our pumpkin. To prepare we watched a simple YouTube video on how to carve a pumpkin. Then using pictures of “happy”, “sad”, and “scary” pumpkins we voted on what kind of pumpkin to make. The majority of the group (students and teachers) voted for a happy pumpkin. A teacher drew a face and cut off the top. We took turns looking inside and some of us used our hands or a spoon to scoop out the insides. A teacher cut out the rest of the face and we turned off the lights and put an electric candle in to admire our jack-o-lantern! Eventually our pumpkin began to decay. We cut it into small pieces and with Michele’s help added it to the compost in the garden so it could feed the worms and make new soil.

Something we noticed when we were in the garden, playing in the playground, or taking a walk through the neighborhood were the changing trees. We along with Janet Forte’s classroom embarked on several community outings to observe and collect fallen leaves. We visited Radcliffe Yard to explore their trees then headed to the Cambridge Common for a picnic, playground time, and lots of play in the leaves! We also made similar trips to Spy Pond in Arlington and Raymond Park here in North Cambridge.

MonsterIn addition to studying Fall we read several books about monsters like Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly, If You’re a Monster and You Know It by Rebecca Emberly & Ed Emberly, Goodnight Little Monster by Helen Ketteman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and In a Dark, Dark Wood by David A. Carter. In a Dark, Dark Wood was by far our favorite. This was a spooky, little story with moody illustrations and a repetitive refrain that takes you through a dark, dark wood, up a dark, dark path, into a dark, dark house, up a dark, dark stair, in a dark, dark cupboard, with a dark, dark box where there was a ghost! We read this story with the lights off and the shades pulled down and also read it in the bathroom with flashlights!

Winter Exploration Begins

We have been looking forward to winter and had begun to read some stories like Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer and Frozen Noses by Jan Carr. The colder weather has allowed us to talk about cold temperatures but we have not been able to fully dive into a winter curriculum without some snow! We’re not hoping for quite as much as last year but hope for enough to go sledding at least once! Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Where is SpotIn Room 156, we started the year by getting to know each other, learning about school, and reading one of our favorite books, Where’s Spot?, by Eric Hill. This is a playful story helps to process separation from family as children transition into school. Early in October, both Special Start classes 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. 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, scarecrows, the dark and the woods. We read The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, by Linda Williams and the traditional tale In a Dark, Dark Wood. During these weeks, children created 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. Moira’s class joined our class for an annual walk to Pemberton Farms to pick out a pumpkin for our classroom. (Thank you Pemberton for the donation!) After carving our pumpkin and watching it begin to rot over several days, we buried it 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).

At Thanksgiving time, our class took some moments to think more deeply about themes of giving and kindness. To help our understanding, we read the book How Kind!, by Mary Murphy. This book quickly became a classroom favorite, and helped us to develop a classroom mantra (“How kind!”). Each animal in the story does a good deed for one another, paying kindness forward to the next animal. It is a simple story that illustrates the good feelings gained from being kind.

On December 10th, both Special Start classrooms hosted an evening family potluck supper together. We had a great turnout and enjoyed wonderful food, company and dancing! As winter approached and nights grew long, we returned to the theme of night and darkness while reading the classic picture book Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown. Children became very interested in all the items in the “great green room,” including the picture of “three little bears sitting on chairs.” This prompted us to spend the past several weeks reading the traditional story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

We’ve enjoyed reading many different versions and acting out the story quite enthusiastically! It has been wonderful to see the joy children get from not only role-playing the characters, but also from reading a beloved story over and over again. The theme of “3 bears” has been incorporated throughout our classroom and curriculum. Children are retelling the story with plastic bears in the sand table and building chairs and beds for teddy bears in the block corner. Besides the benefits of language and literacy development, this story is facilitating learning in all other developmental areas through integrated curriculum content. For example, math concepts are being reinforced as we think about the sizes of bears (small, medium, large) and number of bears (1, 2, 3). As we finish up our “3 Bears theme,” we are expanding our “bear focus” to include fun with teddy bears during this time. Currently, we are reading many different teddy bear books and plan to host a Teddy Bears’ Picnic with teddy bears from home and school at the end of next week.

Year-long Enrichment Activities
In the fall, we visited the Peabody Garden at least once per week with Michele Kaufman, garden coordinator for CitySprouts. Before Michele left for the winter, she helped us put together a “worm house” which we are keeping and caring for in our classroom all winter long through spring.

On Wednesdays, we participate in a music therapy program with Alisa Apreleva, through the Community Music Center (of Boston) and Berklee College of Music. Alisa uses songs, instruments and movement to facilitate positive and creative music experiences for our students. Also on Wednesdays, we partake in weekly 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 Thursdays. At least twice per month, both Special Start classes collaborate with Peabody Preschool (city-run DHSP program) for sing-alongs and other occasional activities.

This fall and winter, our class also took part in an additional program facilitated by Suzette Abbott, a former (now, retired) kindergarten teacher. Suzette works closely with early childhood teachers around the district to facilitate language and literacy development through the practice of Storytelling and Story-acting in the classroom. Teachers who have participated in the Storytelling / Story-Acting program have seen the many benefits, including the support it provides for the children’s development of oral and written language skills. Each week, children first took turns telling their own stories, and then acting out the stories with the help of peers. In the beginning, we practiced the story-acting component by acting out simple or familiar published stories. Later on, we focused more on the stories children told. We spent 10 weeks with Suzette and the children made such wonderful progress in both their storytelling and story-acting. We are grateful for the time Suzette spent with us and we thank Jessie Wenning and the CPS Kindergarten office for funding this program.

Welcome Elizabeth Cagninelli

We are also pleased to introduce that Elizabeth Cagninelli who joined our class as a temporary assistant in November. Though her temporary position ended in January, Elizabeth has chosen to do her spring semester student teaching placement in our classroom. She is a master’s degree student at Lesley University, working on her special education degree and certification. We feel so fortunate that Elizabeth will continue to be a part of our teaching team through May! In closing, our class is 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!
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