Rocky Hill Cooperative Nursery School
Mar 29

Ok, so we’re play-based, hands on. What does that mean?  They play all day?  The answer is… yes and no.  My challenge as an Early Childhood educator (aka preschool teacher!) is to come up with strategies that involve whole body movement, sensory experiences, creative thinking and fun… that teach specific skills that will prepare a child for academics and life in general.

What many educators (or people deciding what children should learn) are forgetting lately is that children’s brains are still growing and forming in the preschool years.

How is the brain stimulated?  Through sensory experiences and MOVEMENT!  Different body movements affect different parts of the brain.  They DEVELOP different parts of the brain.  Learning through play readies the brain to absorb MORE!

I often say we don’t have worksheets at RHCNS.  Occasionally, you’ll see one.  Here’s an example of hands on (ahem, FEET on learning!)

We read The Foot Book  by Dr Seuss.  Children were invited to be barefoot.  Different textures were available.




Can you pick up a scarf with your toes?  Which textures are rough? Scratchy? Soft? Smooth?  The vocabulary in addition to the sensory experience stimulates the brain.

When introducing concepts to preschoolers, it’s most effective to start with concrete items (real things), then move to representational (pictures they can handle and move) then symbolic (written letters, numerals, shapes, etc.)

We work with numerals and counting on a daily basis.  On this day, the children were to count their toes and fingers and record the results on a tens frame.



Do you see how much more relevant this is to a child, counting his toes (concrete) and recording the results (symbolic) than  a typical worksheet?

Then came the fun:



The beauty of our “small group days” is that we CAN do messy projects like this with only eight children in the room! It allows for more individual attention.

Some children made simple foot prints, others danced on the paper.


We made what I like to call “memories.”  Anything with a child’s hand or foot print that will prompt discussions. Their hands and feet will never be this small again!  (These are my “gifts” to parents!)  I like to imagine that someday, a parent will pull this out of a box and say, “Do you remember when you were four and learned about bald eagles in preschool?  Look how little you were!”



Many thanks to for the bald eagle idea!

So on this particular day, the children played. They played with vocabulary, their senses, math skills, handwriting skills, creativity, and reinforced their scientific study. (Making the foot/hand print eagles prompted many discussions about the color of a bald eagle’s eyes, feet, beak, the nest, eating habits, etc.)  They laughed. The giggled. They learned. More importantly, those brains got a chance to grow and get ready to retain more information at another time!

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Mar 18

Our recent study of bald eagles is another topic that has been child-led and based on children’s interests and needs.

It all started with an eagle cam. We started by periodically viewing the eagle cam at Berry College in Georgia. We saw the eagles sitting on the eggs. I emailed the link home to parents, and some starting observing at home, too. Eventually, one eaglet hatched. We’ve seen the parents bring fish and coots to the nest to feed the baby. We’ve had many interesting conversations regarding the dead animals. “Is the eagle bad because he killed the bird?” (Why did he do it?) “To feed the baby.” We talked about how animals don’t really have choices about what they can eat like people do. An eagle, for example, can not choose to have a salad instead of meat. They are carnivores, and wouldn’t survive on an herbivore’s diet. I knew it made a huge impression when one little girl said, “They’re not good or bad… that’s just…. life!”

I cut out a circle of felt with a six foot diameter (the approximate size of an eagle nest.) We hypothesized and tested our question…. “How many children can fit in a bald eagles’ nest?” The answer that day? 13!


Can you see the life-size felt eagle covering the “eggs?”

Then we wondered: Are you the size of a bald eagle?


We had one child the size of a bald eagle! The body, anyway! No one had arms as long as an eagle’s wings!

We tried non-standard measurements: How many sticks long/wide is an eagle?



Soon, children were building their own aeries (eagle nests) and wondering how tall they ACTUALLY were…





We naturally started discussing fiction vs non-fiction.

We wrote group stories about eagles that were non-fiction. Then the children were encouraged to create their own fictional stories. This one covers both!

“First I want to do non-fiction. Eagles can fly. They have an eyelid that they can see through. They have 7,000 feathers. They have very sharp talons. The even use feathers to build their nest. Now we can do a fiction story. One time an eagle was afraid of flying. So he flied an airplane! He went to Australia. His parents thought it was a good idea. They found another airplane and they all went to Australia. They ate a pigeon. That’s it.” – ES


Some more eagle fun:

Making an aerie with spots for people to hide when it rains:




Eagle phone?

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How many children are hiding under the eagles’ nest?

Answer: 9!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEaglets sitting in an aerie.

Fledglings testing their wings!

Fledglings testing their wings!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADaddy eagle bringing food to the eaglets, while others make the nest bigger.

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Mar 13

Wacky Wednesday 2014

Yesterday was full of wackiness and music, as our classroom was turned (sometimes literally) upside down for Wacky Wednesday.

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Nothing was in its usual spot: the sign-in was by the windows and the dress-up was by the door! The bookcases were full of animals and the refrigerator was full of books!

The calendar said it was May, tables were turned over, and there was art happening UNDERNEATH the tables! Miss Alex started her Music Together® class with the Goodbye Song and ended it with the Hello Song.

There were children dressed up as chickens, airplanes, and knights. Some wore many layers of mismatched clothing paired with mismatched shoes while other wore funny hats and capes. And was that Pirate Mickey swinging from Mrs. Linden’s neck?!


To top it all off, there was dessert for snacks as we celebrated a birthday!

Whew! What a Wonderful, Wacky Wednesday!















Would you like to paint with your head?




Books in the refrigerator?  Is it because reading is COOL?

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Mar 09

In the Early Childhood world, there can be and often are heated debates about curriculum. Who determines what is taught?  The teacher? The children? A purchased curriculum?  Should holidays drive the curriculum?  Are the activities developmentally appropriate?  Just as in parenting, teaching styles and philosophies vary widely.   I’ve realized that a lot is determined by the teacher’s education, interests, and the philosophy of the school.  Don’t even TRY to get me in a preschool that has workbooks and worksheets!  I would be unhappy, angry, and ineffective as a teacher.

What influences me:

1.  The history of Rocky Hill Cooperative Nursery School.

RHCNS is a parent cooperative. Parents run the school and are involved in the day to day functioning. It’s always been a play-based program with an emphasis on family. It has always been staffed by fully certified teachers with at least a BA.  We still sing some of the same songs my sons did when they attended.

2.  My education.

As an Early Childhood major, I learned about child development.  We were taught to avoid an emphasis on holidays, and to “think out of the box.”  We learned HOW children learn, and how to create meaningful lessons to enhance their development.   We learned the PROCESS of art was more important than the PRODUCT.

3. My experience:

I taught in the Special Education setting for the first 13 years of my career; educational goals and objectives were a daily concern for each child.  I can’t imagine creating lessons now without thinking about what a child is learning.  Are we working on prepositions? Following verbal directions?  Visual discrimination?  As I tell parents, there is always a “method to my madness!”

4. My interests:

I’ll admit that I am most enthusiastic when I love what we’re doing!  I love being outside, I love nature.  (Except worms. I don’t like worms. But we study them anyway.  I always hope the children don’t notice that I don’t actually TOUCH them.) I love books. I love getting messy. I love thinking out of the box.

Always at the core of my  planning are the NJ Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards.  I refer to this often to make sure I’m “covering all the bases.”

I use a combination of the environment, family interests, children’s interests and needs, and my ideas.  Sometimes I get excited about something I’ve learned at a conference.

For example:

The idea for looking at  Piet Mondrian’s work started when I saw that some children were still having difficulty identifying a square and rectangle.  My first step was to create new calendar numbers for February, using squares and rectangles in our pattern.



(You may  have noticed there are only SOME numbers on the calendar.  Each morning, a different child is in charge of the calendar.  S/he leads the group in asking about the calendar and chooses from a variety of questions such as, “What month is it?  What year is it? Sing the days of the week. Count.”  We have a pattern each month, and to the right of the calendar are a variety of options with the day’s numeral, and children need to decide what comes next in the pattern.  Sometimes the children surprise me by asking unique questions, such as “Name the letters in the month, Name the letters of the month backwards, What shape will we need tomorrow?  What shape was yesterday?” )

Back to Mondrian:

I looked at the children’s books as well as artists.  I showed the children examples of Piet Mondrian’s work, how he used lines to create squares and rectangles for his art. Some children used straight edges to draw the lines, others used strips of paper.









Children were encouraged to use their own ideas and create their own art using lines and paint.  Some tried to replicate Mondrian, others painted in their own style.



No squares or rectangles?  No problem, we discussed what shapes THEY made!

We created art as a group with squares and rectangles.


We also read Perfect Square by Michael Hall, and the children created their own art from a square.

Stayed tuned to see what we’re doing with Bald Eagles!










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Mar 07

Come to our Open House this Saturday, March 8.

We’ll be there from 10 AM to 1 PM to answer your questions and help you decide if RHCNS is the right fit for you and your child. Bring your child, of course!

If you like what you see, you’re invited to make an appointment to visit during class time (with your child) to see what we do during the day. If you are unable to make it, email us at or with any questions!

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