Through the month of December, the Upstairs class spent time preparing for our Night Tree celebration. We began by reading the book Night Tree by Eve Bunting. Some of the children remembered our Night Tree celebration from last year and began making plans for this year’s celebration right away. We took a walk in the woods to look at our tree from last year but decided on a new spot and a new tree for this year.
The next step was to think about decorations for our party and edible decorations for the animals in our woods. For our family party we made candle holders and little pine cone “trees” as well as lengths and lengths of paper chains. For the animals it was a little more complicated.
Who lives in our woods? We had to think about and do some research to decide who might eat the treats we hang on our Night Tree. Our original list included every kind of animal imaginable: from monkeys and zebras to chipmunks and “allocorns” (some sort of flying horse?). After looking through books about Maine, we decided our woods might have deer, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, wild turkeys, porcupines, skunks, coyotes, crows, chickadees, and possibly even a bear.
Making treats for the animals became the project work this month. We made birdseed cookies, frozen popsicles of cranberries and evergreens, strings of Cheerios and apple slices to hang in the tree branches. in the fall we had filled the sensory table with dried corn kernels to use with the construction trucks and that entire table of corn was emptied into little bags so that visitors to the Night Tree could scatter corn under the trees.
The classroom was constantly humming with the busy work of children preparing for the big event. The combination of snowy weather and a series of December birthdays made this season especially festive this year!
All of this work toward our big celebration fulfilled goals we have set for the children relating to the Maine Early Childhood Learning Guidelines. Below is a partial list of how the work in our classroom met the MECLG standards:
Personal and Social Development:
*As a group, the children listened to each others’ ideas and remembrances during conversations about the Night Tree. It is hard when we all have great ideas at the same time, but we spent time learning to take turns and listen respectfully during important discussions.
*Children and teachers worked together as a community to plan a party for our families and make treats for the animals in our woods.
Approaches to Learning:
*Children were given opportunities to reflect on last year’s Night Tree celebration – thinking about old friends as well as the things we need to do to get ready for this year’s celebration. We remembered as a group and then used the computer to revisit photos of last year’s Night Tree event.
*We worked together as a classroom community to accomplish tasks in preparation for the celebration.
*Some of the children worked hard to thread a needle to string the apple slices. As you can see in the photographs, this work takes persistence and concentration! It takes similar focus and concentration to make a long paper chain or stick with stringing Cheerios for an extended amount of time.
*The children used art materials and new techniques to create the beautiful centerpieces for the party.
*With the support of a teacher, the children planned a dramatic story to share with the parents and friends at the pot-luck.
Language and Literacy
*We introduced some vocabulary related to our event, including: celebration, invitation, community, habitat, evergreen
*The children listened to, enjoyed, and retold the story Night Tree and also Bear Noel. We took time to compare and contrast the two stories to think about similarities and differences.
*Children thought about and created invitations for the families – we had to decide what information was important to go on the invitation and then used letters and words to make it work.
*We compared fiction and non-fiction books as we thought about the stories we read and learned about animals that might be in our woods.
*We made lists as a class: What do we need for a Night Tree celebration? Who lives in our woods?
*We remembered last year’s Night Tree event and revisited old photos to bring our memories into focus.
Health and Physical Education
*Fine motor work: stringing Cheerios, threading needles to string apple slices, making paper chains, cutting snowflake decorations.
*Gross motor work: walks in the woods in deep, deep snow!
*We had a great time making a game of counting the Cheerios that can fit on a needle.
*It is much more fun to make a paper chain when you begin comparing it to the height of various children and teachers and comparing it to the length of the classroom (using non-standard units of measure).
*We needed to think about and follow recipes to make birdseed cookies for the animals in our woods.
*Venn diagrams were constructed in deciding what kind of animals we thought might live in the woods as well as what kinds of activities we like to do on a snowy day.
*We learned about habitats and which animals were more likely to live in our Maine woods.
*We thought about the changes that winter brings and why winter might be hard for the animals in our woods.
*On a walk to find our Night Tree, we observed some animal tracks in the woods. We made some predictions about whose tracks they could be based on the size of the tracks and the fact that some tracks seemed to disappear at the base of a tree.
*Planning for a big event helps children understand themselves as part of a community.
*The idea of revisiting last year’s event and planning for the one this year helps children develop a sense of past, present and future.
As teachers, we love that a community project like our Night Tree Celebration gives us opportunities to cover so many standards in a completely authentic manner. No skill seemed forced. In the context of our work toward a celebratory goal, the work was important and valued and the children were eager to learn and participate. We are eager to begin our time in January with a trek to the trees to see what has become of the treats we left for the animals and to find out where our learning will take us from there.