We had a bee hive at kinder.
A beekeeper from Surrey Hills brought his hive, and some honey. He has spread a hive out and put it behind glass so we could watch the bees working. Where the queen bee is, it is busy and hot. We could see them making wax, and looking after the baby grubs, and feeding the queen. We could see the queen laying eggs. We got to taste honey – two different kinds from different flowers.
He showed us all the things that bees make – not just honey and wax, but broccoli and carrots and apples and almonds. Forty percent of our diet depends on pollination by bees. They take 120,000 hives to Shepparton to pollinate the Victorian almond crop. The teachers and parents were just as fascinated as the children.
The children are learning to tell the difference between a bee – ape – and a wasp – vespa. We have a collection of insects preserved in hand sanitiser so the children can have a good look. We know the bees are our friends – they won’t sting us if we don’t make them scared. If a bee comes near, the best thing to do is stand still until it flies away.
We celebrated Mother’s Day at kinder, inviting all* the mothers to visit to hear us sing and receive some gifts we had made. La Festa della Mamma is big in the Italian community. This is what we did for this celebration, and some of the curriculum we see in these activities:
Impiantare una patata
Siobhan collected enough Illy coffee tins for each child in the group. (Repurposing for sustainability). Anna worked with the children to turn these into planters. First they made holes in the base with a hammer and nail. (Risk taking, hand eye coordination, craft skills, one on one interaction.) They mixed up some rotted down tanbark and soil to make potting mix, and filled the pots. (Understanding soil, using tools, conservation of volume.) They planted a couple of freesia bulbs in the pot, and put it outside to get some cold and rain. (Caring for plants, seasonality.)
We asked families to collect Easter egg wrappers. We used these for decoration of heart shaped cards. (Cut for us by Rose’s daughter – links to community.) Rose worked with each child to create a card with a photo of the mother and child, the child’s signature, and auguri to Mum, and decoration. (Visual art, recycled materials, writing, Italian language.)
Ritratto della mamma
Siobhan worked with each child to do a drawing of mamma. (Planned assessment – human figure representation.) She asked each child to answer the question ‘perche vuoi bene alla mamma? / why do you love your Mum?’. The picture and the child’s answer were mounted to be gifted to Mum. (Communication, expressing emotion.)
We asked each mother and child pair to work together to make a set of paper balloons we can use as props for singing cinque palloni. (Tracing or freehand drawing of circles, cutting, scaffolding.)
All the mothers were invited to come to kinder for a visit to receive their gifts and hear us sing for them. We sang
Ciao buon giorno
(Italian language, greeting sequence, colour words, family members, tomato bottling vocabulary, singing, performance, giving, music, culture)
*Before going ahead with this, we checked that every child would be included.
Coming into second term, I interviewed each of the children about kinder. One of the questions I asked them is what they think they should be learning. There are the learning goals the children set for themselves:
Learn new things
Learn about machines
Tidy up after ourselves
We will take these into account as we plan our program during the term.
We also had a meeting of the teaching team and identified a learning goal of our own for each child., influenced by what the child said, and what we have observed ourselves. I thought about these a bit more in relation to the learning areas of the curriculum framework, and distilled them under those categories.
This is how they look:
Support developing agency
Develop emotional resilience around not getting what you want
Confidently undertake unfamiliar tasks
Broaden social circle
Promote gross motor skills
Undertake cognitive challenges
Learn to recognise and write own name
Develop conversation skills
Then I also tried finding some plainer words to capture those ideas:
I can say no
She can say no to me
I’ll give it a try
I am making friends
My body is strong and can do lots of things
This is making me think
That is my name
I have something to say
First term was very much taken up with establishing basic routines, settling everyone in and getting to know each other. Now we have added another more complex routine to our week, with a formal acknowledgement of country each Monday.
We started talking about First People’s late last term when one of the children asked about the picture of Aunty Joy Murphy on our wall. We read her Welcome to Country book, which introduced Bunjil, and the Woi Wurrung language.
This week, we told the children some of the history of Australia, and talked about how the Wurundjeri people are the traditional owners of the land our kindergarten is on.
Our Acknowledgement of Country ritual involves Bunjil welcoming the children onto his country. We have a Bunjil puppet. To start our first morning meeting of the week, we ask the children to be completely quiet to respect Bunjil. Bunjil flies in and flies over each child, and then says the welcome words in Woi Wurrung that Aunty Joy put in her book. It is a solemn moment.
The children are very interested and are asking a lot of questions and sharing what they know about Bunjil.
Over the course of the year, children will be gently encouraged to learn to read and write their name. It is not essential for children to be able to read and write their own name before they start school. But it is a great entry point into literacy.
One of the strategies we use is our daily signing in routine. Children find their name and move it to the other basket to show they have arrived. In first term, we used name tags with the child’s name and photograph. The children can use the photograph to recognise their own name, but they are also getting more familiar with the written name.
In second term, we have taken the photograph off. Now the children have to recognise the name just as writing. This is a lot harder. It requires real alphabet knowledge. Some of the children are already easily able to recognise their name, so for them it is simply a sign-in task. But for others, it is a challenge. The daily task offers a low pressure opportunity and incentive for these children to work on mastering that task.
We have two apple trees in the garden at kinder. One of them was planted for the millenium. It sets fruit every year, but they always fall before they ripen. We spent an hour one day finding little wizened apples and counting them and carting them around in toy trucks.
The other apple tree is still very small. We planted it to be a climbing tree. We want a lower one that younger children can climb. But it will be a while before it is ready for that. In the meantime, this year this tiny tree set three apples – it is a Granny Smith. I watched them carefully, hoping they would survive on the tree long enough to ripen.
So one day, we picked it, cut it very very thin, and let each child have a taste.
They loved it. Best apple they had ever tasted.
We have been making passata di pomodoro at Italian kinder ever since the first time we ran the program, some 20 years ago. It provides such a strong connection with Italo-Australian culture.
We have refined the process over time, and have improved the tools. We have a great machine to put the tomatoes through to separate the skin and seeds from the passata. We have some padded toy tomatoes made by one of the mums one year that we can play with. These days we have kiddie kutter knives that cut tomatoes but not fingers. We have a song to sing to bed down the language. We have a book we made in class. We have a veggie patch where we can grow tomatoes.
I make passata at home with my family too. This year I guessed which weekend we might be doing it at home, and we planned to do it at work the following week – that would mean I could get some tomatoes from home to use at work.
It turned out to be a bad year for tomatoes. Shortages everywhere. My husband pulled out all his Calabrian connections to score 16 cases of best roma tomatoes – we were all set. At the end of our long Sunday, as I was putting my tomato drenched clothes in the wash I remembered I had forgotten to put aside the half case for kinder.
On Monday morning, I went to Safeway at 7.00 am only to discover they don’t stock sauce tomatoes. I had to wait until it was almost time to be at work for La Manna to open. I started filling a bag with roma tomatoes – luckily my husband had come too. He pointed out that the ones I was getting were not ripe enough. He was bold enough to go and ask the management if we could have some ripe ones for sauce, for the kids at kinder.
We made passata for another year.
When I first started teaching, the expectation seemed to be that children should not bring toys from home. Over time, my attitude to this has changed. I have seen how bringing toys, books and favourite things from home can be a good thing. They give insight into children’s interests and help us get to know them. They can help children connect with other children, which is especially useful for children who are working on their sense of belonging. They can spark fertile directions for play and learning. There is also the idea that we should not say no to children at kindergarten unless we have a compelling reason (the ethic of hospitality).
So now, after reflection, we have rules that allow children to bring things from home to share.
We ask them to keep them in their locker if they are not prepared to share. If they bring them out to play with, they are expected to let everyone use them. We ask them to keep them inside – things taken outside are much more easily lost or damaged. Finally, we ask children to take responsibility for the things they bring.
Learning song lyrics is considered an effective way to memorise new language. Many people are able to learn lyrics in a language they do not know at all. At Italian kindergarten we often sing together and use songs to support language learning, including songs I have written to fit the program.
However, it is possible for lyrics in an unknown language to stay a string of sounds without meaning. To really make the transition to language learning, we have to break the lyrics out of the song, and bring them to life as spoken language.
This year, we have been starting each morning meeting (riunione) by singing Ciao Buon Giorno. This well known song is a comforting entry point into Italian for the children who are not used to hearing it. It is also an appropriate morning song, since the lyrics are the language of greetings.
One of the lines of the song is ‘buon giorno’. As a step in moving from lyric to language, I have now started to go around the group during riunione saying ‘buon giorno’ to each of them in turn, and providing an opportunity for them to reply the same to me. For many of the children this is well established knowledge. For some it is new. Then there are those who well know what buon giorno means, and when you are supposed to say it, but are used to leaving taller people to communicate on their behalf. And some for whom speaking up in a group is a challenge.
We are all participating in this social routine, but the learning involved for each child can be different.
This week marked the end of Carnevale, and the beginning of Lent. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and the day before – Shrove Tuesday – is the last day of Carnevale. In Italian it is called Martedi Grasso – Fat Tuesday – like Mardi Gras. In Australia, we know it as Pancake Tuesday. The origin of these names is the tradition of feasting on that day to use up foods that are not allowed during the Lenten fast – things like butter, sugar and eggs.
Cooking food with children at kinder is about involving them in the process. Our choice to make Australian pancakes is partly a nod to that tradition, but also partly due to practicalities. Pancakes are one of the easier things to make and cook in class.
I call them ‘fritelle’ in the Green Group program. I don’t know what pancakes are called in Italy, or whether they even eat them. But in the part of Italy I know best ‘fritelle’ are the Carnevale speciality. There, they are a kind of small donut, and are deep fried. Pancakes are also small and fried, so I figure ‘fritelle’ is a fair enough translation. But pan frying in an electric frying pan is much safer, and is something I am prepared to undertake in class.
We gathered as a whole group to make the pancake batter – burro, farina, uova, latte, zucchero e un pizzico di sale. The children took it in turns to add a spoonful of flour and stir the ingredients together. I had some keen volunteers to break the eggs, but I decided to do that myself rather than turn it into frittata by adding 13 eggs.
Another useful property of the pancake recipe is that it is very forgiving. I needed to be able to offer gluten and dairy free pancakes, and substitute ingredients work well. I had White Wings gluten-free self-raising flour, Nuttelex buttery margarine, and ricemilk. As it happened, I did not need to go dairy-free on the day, so I went with butter and cow’s milk. I made the pancakes fairly rich, with a bit of sugar, and plenty of butter and egg, so they were tasty enough to eat plain.
We cooked the fritelle around lunch time. While the children ate their lunch, I took children aside one at a time to cook a pancake with me. By doing it with one child at a time, I felt better able to control the risk, while still giving each child the maximum opportunity to be actively involved. The children poured a ladle of batter into the pan, watched the pancake for bubbles forming on top and told me when it was time to turn it, flipped it over with a spatula, counted to 20 while it cooked on the other side, and turned it out onto their plate.
Doing it one child at a time was lengthy, so it was important that the other children were not just waiting. They were engaged with eating their lunch, packing up and moving off to play. At the same time, they were in the room while it was happening, and were able to participate vicariously while others did it first. This can be important for children who are cautious about trying new things.
There is a lot of good learning to be had in an experience like this. Children are directly involved in doing something that is often done for them*. They are involved in making healthy food. They witness ingredients changing state from solid to liquid to solid. It is a memorable experience, with cultural resonance. It introduces new language in both Italian and English.
But the component I particularly noticed this time was the impact of my decision to work with each child individually to cook their pancake. I read something last year about the value of warm individual interactions with educators, where children can feel competent and appreciated. My initial motivation in setting it up as an individual activity was simply to provide close supervision around a hot frying pan. But I soon noticed it was providing a context for me to have an extended, supportive interaction with each child. And perhaps that was, in the end, the most valuable part of the whole exercise.
*These reflect various aspects of the Early Years Learning Framework including agency, wellbeing, science, memory, risk, cultural competence, language.