At Home in East Room
By Sue Gore, Teacher, and Beverley Hartman, Head Teacher
East AM’s theme At Home in East Room encouraged children to consider how feelings of trust and acceptance help them become comfortable at school and ease adjustment to a new setting and the formation of a new group. In addition, they examined elements in the environment that are integral to productive participation. Exploring the culture in East Room fostered thought about the significant traditions and values represented in this community.
Edith Dowley, founding director, designed Bing Nursery School to be an outgrowth of the home rather than a shift to elementary school. Dramatic play is the focal point of the program, both indoors and outdoors. Children’s first play scripts are about the home because it is their primary experience and focuses on the importance of the family. Dramatic play that integrates the physical, social, emotional, linguistic, and cognitive realms helps children become at home both at school and in the world.
Early in the school year the children cooperated on planning and building a neighborhood from hollow blocks, open-ended materials that lend themselves to favorite structures such as homes, a cement factory, a fire station, a roller coaster, Bing School, and the roads and tunnels that connect them. Travis said, “We need a one-way sign for the tunnel so the cars know which way to go.”
In addition, the children actively explored the sand area by building roads, rivers, and a home for dinosaurs.
The large sand pool invited children to bake, build, and explore the properties of a medium they could poke, pat, and push into the many shapes of their imagination. They experimented with different combinations of sand and water to make “cement,” a tall volcano, or a deep river bed.
To expand on these discoveries in the sand, teachers facilitated the mapping of the East Room yard. Children looked at particular areas of the outdoor space and drew what they saw and felt about aspects of the environment. They also designed individual landscapes. Anne Dresser, Michael’s mother and a landscape architect, helped the children to think about the elements they would like to include in an outdoor play space for children and brought tools such as tracing paper, a French curve, templates, an electric eraser, and a compass for the children to use in drawing their own ideas.
Caring for pets and gardens is another way children integrated their home experience into the school setting. Visiting Chou Chou, East Room’s beloved French Lop bunny, is often the first time children become comfortable in separating from parents. Children tilled the soil, planted bulbs, and watered the garden while sharing stories about their own gardens at home. Matthew said, “We have tomato plants as tall as me.” Nature provided a comforting link between home and school as a new community grew.
Children also had the opportunity to act out stories and thus make them their own. These plays began with the introduction or revisiting of a familiar story, and the children then took on roles to act out for the group with a teacher guiding the experience. The ideas were frequently extended into the program to become a common storyline to build dramatic play. Found materials became props and costumes, blocks and other items became the set, and music and movement were added to develop the performances further. June Fu, Jeremy’s mother, shared a story about the Chinese New Year that evolved into a week-long celebration with the creation of musical instruments and parades through the school.
The culminating activity for the first phase of the project was to collaborate on a group mural. The winter solstice inspired the children to paint a large sun that would serve as a transition to the second phase of the project by taking us inside to map the indoor space. The mural colors warmed the environment and reminded us of our warm feelings toward each other. The painting itself demonstrated the children’s ability to work together as a group and served as a symbol of their being at home in East Room.