Deb McLean is an early childhood/special educator in a preschool classroom at the Blanchard Memorial School in Boxborough, Massachusetts.
While attending the Project Zero Institute last July, I learned of Paul Salopek’s amazing Out of Eden Journey and Project Zero’s involvement in creating online learning communities for middle and high school students. As Liz Dawes Duraisingh shared this epic journey with the Project Zero Community, I had to refrain myself from jumping out of my seat to inquire about creating such a platform for early childhood and elementary learning communities. I politely waited until the end of Liz’s presentation before sharing my enthusiasm with her, Tabbatha O’Donnell and a small group of fellow early childhood and elementary educators from around the world that demonstrated just as much interest. I felt certain that our youngest students would be able to connect and to build meaningful relationships with Paul’s journey to learn more about themselves and the world around them.
This fall, I have been collaborating with my colleagues at the Blanchard Memorial School to share Paul’s journey with our early childhood and kindergarten students. We selected age appropriate sections of his “trail notes”, photographs, and video clips from the National Geographic and Out of Eden Walk websites. Our explorations began by asking our 3, 4, 5 and 6 year olds, “What does journey mean?” Some of the children’s responses included, “A faraway place from where you’re at. Going from one house to another. When you go somewhere, like a mountain. Being a baby then growing up to move on.” We created “thinking webs” to share the important ideas in our heads: see the gallery below for examples of work we have been doing together.
My colleagues and I wondered, “What will our journey look like as we follow Paul’s footsteps? Where will the children’s interests guide us? How will we integrate our Common Core Standards and use technology to support our Out of Eden explorations?” More importantly, the children were curious about, “How do you ride a camel? How do you get a camel to lie down? Are you hot in Saudi Arabia? How do you get the camel to stand up?” In one of Liz Dawes Duraisingh’s recent posts, she commented that Seema and Fares, Paul’s camels, might reach “rock star” status in the world of early childhood education. Well, I am happy to report this to be true in Boxborough, Massachusetts! Seema and Fares are definitely important, honorary members of our learning community.
Here are some highlights of what we’ve been doing:
- Exploring maps – We looked at a variety of maps to follow Paul’s footsteps and to locate places where the ECP and Kindergarten families have traveled…Russia, South America, Saudi Arabia, Florida, India, Boston and Storyland in New Hampshire, USA.
- Journey postcards – Paul’s “trail notes” inspired our young authors and illustrators to share their own family journeys by designing family journey postcards at home and by using our new classroom iPads to embed our illustrations and voices to create our first class iBook.
- Self identity riddles – We asked: Who is Paul Salopek and why is he walking for seven years? What can we learn from his journey about the world and about ourselves? With prompts, the children wrote riddles describing their personal attributes and experiences.
- Outdoor walks and observations – We have taken slow walks outdoors, carefully taking note of what we saw that is important and interesting to us. We draw sketches of what we see. On one walk we looked for different kinds of shapes in our learning environments.
We have managed to integrate our Common Core Standards. Last week, for example, we were inspired by Paul’s post about one of Saudi’s first road signs, “No Honking at Camel Caravans”, to look for signs in our own environment. The children were given a family homework assignment to search for signs in our community and record their findings by using a “thinking pen” to sketch or by taking photographs of their discoveries to share in school. They are noticing letters, words and making connections with sound/symbol relationships (literacy skills). In math, we are focusing on geometry and counting skills by identifying the shape of each sign and by counting how many we can find surrounding our school building. Even though we are still hoping to find a sign about camels here in North America, the children were thrilled to locate a “Turtle Crossing” sign. Many of the children were inspired to design their own signs (enhancing fine motor skills). Families have also been inspired to notice signs in other communities as well. One father recently asked, “Would it be OK if we took pictures of signs as we go to Cambridge to see the Head of the Charles Rowing Regatta?”
All in all, Paul has inspired all of us to take the time to slow down, to notice everyday objects in a new way and to reflect and appreciate the wonders that surround us.
Early childhood educators who are interested in connecting with other teachers who are using the Out of Eden Walk in their classrooms should email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Please be aware that for the moment the Out of Eden Learn website and materials are primarily designed for middle and high school students. However, Project Zero would like to develop ways to include younger learners and their teachers within our learning community and would welcome feedback and ideas.