Introducing “sounds”

I began this topic as I do with others, asking children what they already know (about sounds). Their answers usually guide me to areas where they still have questions or to aspects of the topic they haven’t previously considered. When I have a sense of their prior knowledge, I have a better idea about what vocabulary to introduce and which activities would have just the right amount of challenge.

In the past, I’ve included ‘sound’ lessons as part of a unit on the five senses. It is new for me to offer this topic as an exploration over multiple weeks.

When I asked, What do you know about sound? I was surprised that many of the children were unclear about the word “sound” itself. One boy told me, A dinosaur makes a sound, and a lion and a cat. When I asked if he could make a sound he shook his head, No. Trying to help him make the connection that voice = sound, I asked, Can your mother make a sound? Again he shook his head, No.

Many of the children got hung up on animal sounds and told me the names of different animals that made sounds, or imitated the animal sounds themselves. So the discussion could progress, I next asked how sounds are made.

One child interjected, I can make a sound!  I can make a sound! and she proceeded to snap her fingers. Well, that’s a very good sound, I said. Can you show our friends how you did that?  I liked that she demonstrated the rubbing of her fingers together.  This model would be important information for them to have as we begin to discuss vibration’s relation to sound.

Destiny wanted everyone to know she could make bird sounds.


Jonathan thought for a moment and then said, You can make a sound by stamping. He proceeded to demonstrate, then said, Yeah, that’s a sound.

Iliana picked up a cereal box and began to shake it. Well there’s a different sound, I commented.

Lilly demonstrated a sound she could make with her mouth by clicking her tongue.

Xavier said, Instruments make sounds, like a drum or a kazoo. I wanted to investigate Xavier’s comment a little further, since he had named two very different instruments. How can you make a sound with a drum? You hit it with your hand, he said. And how do you make a sound with a kazoo? You blow air into it, was his reply. Hmmm, I thought aloud. Those are two different ways to make sounds.

We completed our “K” chart (What we Know), listing all the children’s responses.

The PEEP animated video we watched was called Sounds Like.  In it, Chirp struggles to find a quiet place to show Peep his bird imitation. They end up getting lost and use sounds to navigate their way back.

Since the children were so interested in animal sounds, I located a lotto listening game. It came with a CD that played farm animal sounds and the children had picture game boards to cover (much like BINGO). Some struggled with this; being city children it was hard for them to tell the difference between a goose, a turkey,  a rooster, and a chicken. It was a quick learn, however, and they enjoyed the game and asked to repeat it. One thing I noticed is that the dual-language learners really excelled at this game. I think they have become very trained listeners over the year, as they try to make sense of an unfamiliar language.

Visit the Sound unit in the PEEP science curriculum. I also think children would enjoy the Where’s Quack game on PEEP’s website. In a game of hide and seek, you find Quack based on the sound of his voice.


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About assessment

As I transition this week from the topic of Plants to Sounds, I want to blog a bit about assessment.  Why assess? Why not just present lots of high quality activities and materials and let every child learn what they will?

Good teachers use assessment as a sort of GPS system. It helps to guide the instruction. How are my strategies working? Are children learning what I want them to learn? How can I extend this child’s understanding? What do I want him to learn next and in which direction should we head? What didn’t work well? How can I change it to be more effective next time? Assessment answers these questions.

I am sometimes reluctant to use the word “assessment” as it conjures up angst in some folks. When assessing, I am not testing to see how successful the child was, but rather how successful my method of instruction was. At times, assessment sheds light on a misconception. This week one of my students was admiring her bean plant. Yours is really growing well, I commented. I know, she responded, and when it’s all grown up it’s going to be seaweed. It’s going to be seaweed? I repeated. Yes, because it really will look good in the sea.  This dialogue revealed that I need to present more information about seed genetics yielding the same plant as the parent seed!

Children reveal their thinking through conversation and that is how I collect most of my information. We talk a lot about what we wondered about, what we did in order to find out, and what we think now. Children reveal their theories through predictions. For example, I asked one child, What do you think will happen to the seed without water? The child answered, It will dry up because it will be thirsty. I asked, Will it grow? The child responded, No, it will just lay there all dried up.

Besides using language, children can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. Drawings are one way that discloses important information about acquired knowledge.

Reviewing photographs and pointing to specific phenomena or gesturing to show how something happened, or using props in a demonstration, all reveal the level of learning.

I feel satisfied when children take new knowledge and make connections to their world. I recall a conversation during our colors topic. The child had been mixing shades and tints by adding white and black paint to colored paint. It’s just like the cereal, he said. How is the paint like the cereal? I asked. When you put in milk, it turns light green!

In my classroom you will often hear me repeat a child’s words back to them. Sometimes this is done to give them the chance to hear it again, validate it, or decide to change it. When they change their idea or form a new question, I know they are developing their inquiry skills.

I get such a kick from hearing the children use our target vocabulary in context with their peers. There is a big difference between quizzing them (What’s this? What’s this?) and hearing them use the scientific language naturally. Then I really know that they own the words!

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Growing and measuring plants

This week, the children’s reflections on their planting were all about size. Mine is longer,  Lilly”s is the tallest, Jojo, how did yours get so big? I often ask the children, How do you know …? and they certainly heard that question from me this week. How do you know yours is longer? How do you know that this other one isn’t longer? Most of the time their responses were, Because I see it, or I just know, or It looks tallest. This conversation was a great lead-in to viewing the PEEP live-action video, “Measuring Heights”. In the short clip, two sisters measure themselves using cardboard bricks. My students were able to understand that the sister with the bigger number of blocks was taller.

Our small group math work this week focused on measuring the children’s plants.  We used non-standard measurement tools at first, primarily wooden cubes.

Now they had a new way to answer my How do you know? question. Victor’s is tallest because it is 15 blocks high. Jonathan’s looks almost as tall, but is 14 blocks high.

Once the children had a little experience measuring with non-standard tools, I added wooden rulers and a tape measure. Some of the children can recognize numerals and were able to tell the height of their plants using these tools. For some, it eliminated the step of counting the blocks. Other children were a little more skeptical and still counted the inch markings. The tape measure also added the need for collaboration. Children had to depend on their peers for help to hold the tape.

To help the children see for themselves that all three components – soil, water, and sun – were needed for their seeds to grow so successfully, we tried an experiment:

Using identical beans, we planted one in a container with soil and placed it in the sunny window—we did not water it.  We placed a second bean in a container with only water (no soil) and then put it in the same window. We planted a third bean in soil, gave it water, but didn’t allow it any sun—we covered it with black paper and kept it away from the window. We compared the results with those seeds/plants that had received all three components. Here is a brief video of some of the children reflecting on the experiment:

Check out the PEEP science curriculum unit on Plants.

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Outdoor plants

The PEEP science curriculum includes outdoor exploration in every unit.  Our timing is perfect:  We’re experiencing warm, spring-like weather and plants and trees are budding all around us.  I led a field trip this week and used the opportunity to visit a nature trail and have the children experience the greening of plants and trees up close. There’s plants growing in the water!

In addition to spending a whole morning outdoors investigating flora in natural surroundings, we also collected forsythia buds to put in water and watch over back in the classroom. The forsythia buds open very quickly and the children are able to notice changes daily.

Day 1 




Day 3




Day 5





On Day 3, Angel sees the buds swelling. I think they’re going to be green leaves, he said knowingly. Two days later, he is surprised to see something he did not expect. Flowers! Flowers! The flowers came out, he shouted, pulling others by the hand to share his discovery.

To reinforce vocabulary, I used an inflatable sunflower plant with Velcro parts. I asked the children to work together and build this “sunflower”, using the terms roots, stem, leaves, flower, and seeds with each other while working. I listened in while they collaborated on the assembly of the flower. Start with the roots because the roots go down. … Put the seeds inside the flower—they belong in the middle.  As always, it was informative to me as a teacher. I heard them negotiating, taking turns and helping each other, and sharing in the satisfaction of successfully completing their goal.

Beyond watching for children’s comprehension of scientific concepts, I also evaluate social skills, language, approach to learning, and logic and reasoning. (For the children, the collaboration is just lots of fun!)

I also extended the topic of plants into our math center with a craft-stick flower counting game.

Imagination and creativity were further enhanced by using our dramatic play area as a “Flower Shop”. The children’s early understanding of commerce was apparent when they offered items for sale, prepared floral arrangements per “customer” request, and used the cash register, “credit or debit” cards, and appropriate shopping etiquette.  Would you like a bag? Thank you, come again. This became a social studies extension.

Our PEEP video this week was Collecting and Sorting. It was especially appropriate after our outdoor exploration.

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There she grows!

We began this week by watching the PEEP video, “Peep Plants a Seed.”

This video does a remarkable job illustrating the passage of time. After watching, my students have a new favorite chant. Ask them how long it takes for plants to grow from seeds and they will now respond, Days and days and days and days and days (with a giggle of course).

Lucky for me, those beans have started to do their thing and I was able to begin having the children examine them. It’s always a thrill for me to see their eyes grow large and their mouths drop open in amazement as they notice changes in their seeds and beans.

Let’s check those paper towel beans, I said as small groups of children came to the science table. They opened their sandwich bags and emptied the contents. Reactions ranged from quiet amazement to screaming, clapping, jumping, and irrepressible expletives.

The children were obviously excited and wanted to really examine their beans and seeds up close. Most of the beans had developed roots and some had already begun to sprout little leaves.  I provided magnifying glasses for a more concentrated observation.

I wanted to now be sure to give them the appropriate vocabulary for the developments they were witnessing. I purposely used the terms roots, stems, leaves, growing, soil, sprouting, germinating, and developing when asking questions or when “noticing aloud”.

Naturally all this excitement led the children to ask to do more planting. I want to plant one for my mother, one for my father, and two for my two uncles, said one child. Instead of filling all of our windows with sandwich bags, I asked if they would like to plant something different. I brought out an assortment of bulbs. Have you ever seen these? I asked. It looks like a seed, said one child. A giant seed, added another. They noticed the graphics on the bulbs’ packaging. These are flowers seeds? a boy asked. His friend responded, Yes, look… they make red and yellow flowers. With very little direction the children began planting bulbs in soil in little pots. I asked, Do you have everything you need? Most children were able to narrate their steps as they planted. I was surprised that many of them seemed to know intuitively how much water was required without excessive overflow.

I found that a labelled bulb in a dish pan made an interesting addition to our science table and was a helpful visual for the children.

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Planting Seeds

I began a new topic of study this week using the PEEP science curriculum on Plants.

First, I began a discussion about plants and seeds so I might understand the children’s prior knowledge and experiences with planting. Some children apparently were acquainted with planting; one said, If you plant a seed in the ground you get an apple tree. Or flowers, added another child. When I asked, How does that happen? They replied, People have to water it every day.

Before heading to the science table to work with the planting materials, I asked each child to visit our computer and watch the PEEP video, “Experimenting with Seeds.”  This clip provides visual as well as spoken explanation of some real children’s experience sprouting seeds in a wet paper towel within a plastic sandwich bag. In many of the PEEP science curriculum units, I will hold off on the video until after a hands-on activity. In this case, I wanted to see if children would be able to follow the steps independently after watching.

Many were able to go straight to work, using the materials I had provided to moisten their paper towels, sprinkle on an assortment of seeds and beans, fold the paper towel, and place it inside the plastic bag. A few children needed some support to recall the procedure, while others were so proficient that they were eager to lend their expertise!

I hung the little bags on a ribbon across our favorite sunny window. 

Within an hour, I was getting inquiries like, Did mine grow yet? and Can I check my seeds?  I realized then that the children were unaware of the passage of time in the video. They may have heard the little girl say, in about a week, but didn’t comprehend that piece of the process. I sure hope these are the world’s fastest growing beans!

We also planted some seeds in soil. The children selected their choice of flower or vegetable seeds and planted them, with the soil, in recycled plastic cups. They took this work very seriously and positioned the seeds and sprayed them with water with great care.

For an added sensory experience, I filled our sand table with soil and added pots, shovels, and artificial flowers. The children enjoyed filling and refilling the pots with soil and arranging the flowers in different ways.

So, what are they LEARNING?

The PEEP science curriculum provides a correlation chart with The HeadStart Outcomes Framework.  As a teacher in Massachusetts, I also consider which of the state frameworks are being met, particularly the science frameworks.

Massachusetts Framework targeted in this unit: Science and Technology/Engineering.   Strand: Life Science (preK-8)   Topic:  Characteristics of Living Things

  • Recognize that animals (including humans) and plants are living things that grow, reproduce, and need food, air, and water.
  • Differentiate between living and nonliving things. Group both living and nonliving things according to the characteristics that they share.
  • Recognize that plants and animals have life cycles, and that life cycles vary for different living things.


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Colored vision

This week we didn’t change the color of things. We changed the way we saw those things by looking through colored lenses.

I introduced this week’s lesson by reading Ellen Stoll Walsh’s book, Mouse Paint, in small groups.  (The book is recommended in the PEEP science curriculums Color unit.) I then provided a set of three white mouse finger puppets perched atop our colored water bottles, as well as a set of color paddles for the children’s use. The actual mice stayed white, but appeared very different depending on which paddle the students looked through. It was interesting to watch the children look at the mice through a color paddle and then quickly take the paddle away to check that the mouse was indeed still really white.

Some children noticed that the water bottles appeared to be a different color, too. While Silanda’s white mouse and red water both appeared red when looking through her red paddle, Fredica’s white mouse appeared green and her orange water appeared gray when she looked at them through a green paddle.

Soon children were commenting about the way everything in the classroom changed when viewed through the color paddles. One of the girls remarked, Even my friends’ colors are different. Her shirt looks blue and her pants look brown!  I encouraged them to combine paddles for yet another way to observe their environment.  Blue and red together make it look like night time. Dark purple. said one child. Some of the children were hesitant to put the paddles down.

Next, we fashioned yet another way for them to look at our classroom: through yellow cellophane goggles! (This guy looks like a super-hero.)

Another activity extension involved the children using our new transparent blocks for building. They quickly made the connection between these blocks and the color paddles and homemade goggles. I see everything red, and then yellow, said Jazlyn as she tried out different ways of looking through her building.

The video we watched this week was called “Mixing Paint,” one of the PEEP live-action videos.  In the short clip, children paint a map. My students enjoyed watching their process.

We completed our Color unit by listing what we now know about color. Among those things are:

  • There are many more colors than just 8!
  • Colors change when mixed with other colors.
  • Colors get lighter when white is added.
  • Colors get darker when black is added.
  • Things look different through colored lenses.
  • Colors can change the way someone feels.
  • Working with colors is fun.

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Color extension activities

Repeated exposure to a concept helps children to develop their comprehension of a topic. Many experiences using color were available in class to facilitate kids’ color investigations.

One of our music and movement activities was called “musical colors” Children were assigned a color and then as music was played with our CD player, children were invited to dance freestyle. When the music stopped, (teacher hit the pause button), the children had to go to their corresponding color tile on the rug and freeze until the music started again.

At the art table, one really fun activity used diffusing paper and liquid water colors to explore changes that occur when colors overlap. We called this “blending colors”. We framed and displayed the children’s work on one of our bulletin boards.

Something that has surprised me as I use the PEEP science curriculum is that I really like using the videos.  As someone who almost never  used DVDs with my curriculum, I was a little skeptical about them. I have changed my way of thinking for several reasons. First, the videos are well made and curriculum-based; both the cartoon stories and live-action segments are specifically pertinent to the scientific concept and the inquiry cycle. Secondly, they are short. Children can watch them in just a few minutes in small groups at the computer. There’s no need for the whole group to have to sit through a full-length feature. Third, the videos lend themselves to discussion directly connected to our topic of study. Finally…or maybe this should have been first…they use humor as a teaching tool.  The children are engaged and always have a good laugh! This week, the line spoken by Quack,  “Hello Chirp…Hello Other Chirp,” struck the funny bone of my students. Of course “other Chirp” was really Peep, covered in red paint. They just thought it was hilarious that he wasn’t recognized.

As an aside, something else came up while children were viewing the video. One boy said,  Mrs. Nelson, they are arguing about whether Quack is blue or purple. Why don’t they wonder why he isn’t yellow or white like a duck  is supposed to be?  This question opened up an opportunity  for us to discuss the concept of real vs. pretend. I brought in a collection of pictures for them to sort. A real bear, a teddy bear, a spider, Spiderman, a doll, a baby, and so forth. Based upon their responses, I was able to determine that they had a natural comprehension of which photographs were real and which were pretend. The children for the most part were able to distinguish fiction from reality. Now they know why Quack can be blue!


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Tints and Shades

As we continued exploring colors this week, I wanted the children to experience tinting and shading.  I decided to present separate recycled egg cartons filled with white and colored paint and encourage them to mix them on paper plate “palettes”.

This activity was fun and interesting but became even more so when I added the challenge, Try to make a color tint to match something in our classroom, or a  color you have never seen before.

I let them examine hardware store paint samples to get an idea of how many variations of a color there could be. The children liked to hear the unusual names of the color varieties. Then we played a game outdoors with the paint samples: Everyone got a strip of color tints and tried to find a match with something in the playground. This is a game I plan to play again in spring when the grass greens up, trees and flowers bud, and we begin to find more colors in nature.

Later in the week, we added black to the mix and explored shading.

When I told them they could create a name for their invented colors, they set to work dreaming up some unique ones. Dante  developed “puppet blue” and Xavier shaded his blue to formulate a color he called “X-ray vision”. Silanda worked on two colors, “Wet” and “Nice”.

At week’s end, we had a small group discussion about the power of color. Children described the way certain colors could change their feelings. When I am happy I feel like I am yellow, said one child. Another child added, If I feel sad, I just wear pink. Lots and lots of pink.

While the children were intent on the product, I was busy observing the process. I noticed use of the inquiry cycle: Children were connecting the relationship between their actions – adding white or black – and the resulting differences in color.  I also listened for use of new science vocabulary – lighter, darker, tinted, and so forth. I took the opportunity to narrate what I saw, Hmm, I notice that when Victor stirs really well, his paint seems to absorb the white that he added. It looks lighter  now. Oh, now I see he is pouring in some more white. I wonder if it will change…

I used photographs to help children recall their experiences during our “reflect” conversations.  I wanted to see if they had used their exploration to come to any conclusions or develop any theories.

Victor said, If you want the color to be lighter, you put in white. If it’s still too dark, you put more white. And to get a shade? I asked. Just put in black. But just a little. Or you get it all the way black. There’s his conclusion!

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Beginning to explore colors

This week the subject matter of my science literacy curriculum was colors. One nice thing about the PEEP science curriculum is that each of the six units can be used independently. The thematic units do not build upon each other and it is not required that they be taught in sequence.

To prepare for this week’s topic, I filled 1-liter plastic bottles with colored water and placed them on the sunny windowsill above our science center.  I then went a step further and taped some color transparencies on the window itself.

These actions resulted in refracted light being thrown onto our classroom floor. Here was an unexpected learning opportunity!  When the children noticed it, one said, Look! It’s a rainbow! As they examined things more closely, one boy said, No. It’s not a rainbow.  It’s a shadow. A colored shadow. I was excited to hear them discussing this phenomenon and relating it to prior knowledge from our Shadows unit. I decided to move in with some probing questions. How do you know it’s a shadow? I asked them. Chenniel explained, It’s a shadow because I can use my body to block it. He went on to demonstrate:

Where do you think it is coming from? Several children turned at once and pointed up to the window. It’s from the sun! The sun! I made a mental note to plan additional refracted light activities in the future with this group. Such is the crux of emergent curriculum, taking the children’s natural curiosity about their environment and experiences and guiding them to go deeper.

Meanwhile, back at the science center, I had set up some eyedroppers and trays of cells for the children to experiment with color mixing. I observed they were able to delve right in due to prior experience with eyedroppers during our water drops exploration.

Their previous enthusiasm with the sink and float prediction sheets influenced me to provide a clipboard of prediction sheets for color mixing, too. Not every child used the sheets and that was okay. The ones who did were really into them, while others were content to just explore. This happens when children are at different developmental levels and this activity lends itself nicely to differentiated instruction.

Stephen is seen here recording his predictions.




Diego worked with the cells, dropping blue water into yellow, and was content to experience this same result over and over again.


Azy’on and Lilly worked together, but each in a different way. Lilly was trying to get the best ratio of blue to yellow color drops to make green. I think four yellows and 1 blue, she responded when asked for her formula. Azy’on was working to see how many different types of green she could produce.

Later in the week I introduced another cool tool: It’s a little plastic watering can divided into three sections. Children can put two colors into the rear two sections and, as they pour it out, it mixes the two colors producing a third. Here Emmanuel was beaming with pride over making orange.



Diego is so eagerly anticipating the result of Emmanuel’s next experiment with blue and red! His face should be the icon for the word “engaged”:

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