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Research in Preschool? Castles!

April 13, 2022 | Kristen Jordan

As you may know, we have been studying castles in the Rivers Class for the past few weeks.  We know that for young children, the way they learn about a subject is by providing them with multiple ways of engaging in experiences and activities relating to that subject matter.  With many opportunities for exploration and discovery, children have been able to explore interests and learn information about castles and their inhabitants.  It has been a study in which they have been incredibly interested and invested. 

Throughout this exploration, children have done a great deal of research, as a way to dig deeply into information about castles, even though they may not have even realized they were doing research!  When children have fiction and non-fiction books read to them and engage in conversation, they are doing research.  Yes, even fictional stories provide some factual information, or spark a question or conversation that may lead to a discovery.  

Children have had the chance to examine many photos and books and look carefully at details, asking questions, wondering about things, discussing these with one another and with teachers.  When you look closely and talk about what you notice, it helps you to learn about it.  All of that is research too.

Learning from experts is another form of research.  

Lucia’s mom Katharyn shared photos of palaces and royalty from her trips to England.  The children delighted in hearing from her.  They especially liked thinking about the guards at the palace!  This all led to a discussion about the differences between palaces (fancy places to live) and castles (primarily for defense). 

Ms. Gluckow shared information with the children about her relative who was the last reigning Queen of Korea.  She shared photos of the Queen at various stages of her life and told the children about how her mother would visit the Queen when she was a child.  The children were riveted throughout this conversation. Ms. Gluckow taught the children how to do a Korean bow and also brought in some beautiful traditional Korean clothing that her son and niece wore.  The children have really enjoyed wearing these as they play in drama. 

We also visited with Mustard Seed School music teacher Aiko Mauldin, who shared with us her knowledge of the modern day Japanese Princess Aiko, with whom she shares a name.  She showed them lots of photos of Princess Aiko living her “regular” life: as a baby (just like them), going to school and painting (just like them), going to gymnastics (just like some of them), and also how she sometimes wears fancy clothes like you might expect of a princess.  They learned two Japanese bows as well.  This conversation really helped the children to further understand that there are a variety of ways that royal people might exist in society. 

Children typically have an image of castles and royalty that is based on Disney or cartoon images, which are also often influenced by Western European ideas.  They all have some knowledge of castles and kings or princesses from their experiences with popular culture.  While some of the images and ideas they have are true, some of the information may not be universally true.  Through our research and explorations, children have had exposure to many books, photos, and experiences from places all over the world.  As children researched and learned, some of their thinking has changed, and they have demonstrated their knowledge in a variety of ways.  Children showed their knowledge of royalty by looking carefully at images, planning and designing their own collage of a queen, king, knight or princess.  Some even created royal animal companions!

Storytelling and play in drama has also been an important part of how children express what they are learning, and is also a kind of research; when you inhabit a role, you learn more about it.  Social worker and author, Leslie Kopolow, who gave a talk at Mustard Seed a few weeks ago, spoke of how preschool children are trying to find their place in the world around them as they grow in independence.  The idea of being a royal person helps children to feel powerful through their imaginary lives, even when they have very little actual power in the world in which they live. The Rivers children have really used their imaginations as they have acted out roles in the castle in drama!

Another way that children have done research is by exploring things in our neighborhood.  While we don’t have a castle nearby, we went on very nearby walking trips to see the Holy Innocents Church at 6th and Willow Avenue, as well as the building on 5th and Adams, to see what kind of elements the children could find that were similar to castles. The children noticed and observed, took photos, and sketched parts of the buildings. 

“The windows have gates.”

“I see battlements!”

“It is a tower.”

“The doorway looks like a drawbridge.”

Upon returning to school, we printed the photos they took, children examined them further, and drew more castle parts.  

Then, we did a collaborative drawing of a castle at the light table.  The children’s knowledge of castles and parts of castles was accumulating and they applied what they were learning to the drawing.  

Observing and creating in multiple ways deepens children’s understanding.

Children have also demonstrated the knowledge they have been gaining as they have built, changed, and added to the castle in the drama area.  They made sure to make strong walls, towers, a drawbridge (quite an engineering feat!), a moat, lookout points and battlements, as well as adding a throne and decorations!  As they gained knowledge of the elements of and purposes for castles, the castle changed as well. (You’ll see the transformation in the photos!) The castle they constructed has also provided them a great place to continue considering what it would be like to live in or defend a castle. 

“These are peeking windows!”

“Alert! Alert!  Attackers!”

“A storm is coming!”

Royals in the Rivers class particularly enjoy napping!

“Every experience a child has with a subject informs or re-informs their knowledge of the subject and allows them to develop a more complex understanding of that subject.” (quoted from the Reggio Emilia conference I recently attended.)

Through many and varied experiences, we have tried to help children expand upon their previous understandings to gain a broader understanding of castles and royalty.

And finally, to bring our work to a close, today we celebrated the end of our study by remembering (and cheering for) all that we have learned and done, then had a fancy snack time, and finally a royal dance party!

As you can see, it has been a full and fun study!  

Kristen Jordan

Teacher, Rivers Class

Kristen Jordan began helping at Mustard Seed School in 2006, after her daughter had been a student in the preschool. She substituted for many years in all grades; in 2011, she returned to the classroom and has been a teacher in The Nest ever since.

Prior to the birth of her daughter Clara, in 2002, Ms. Jordan worked in Brooklyn as a first grade teacher with the New York City Public Schools. During this time, her school collaborated with the Brooklyn Museum, and this work helped Ms. Jordan develop a real interest in the parallels between the process of making art and the process of writing in the classroom. She thoroughly enjoys teaching both art and literacy to preschoolers.

Ms Jordan’s background includes work with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. While at Teachers College, she trained with esteemed educator and author Lucy Calkins. Early in her teaching career, Ms. Jordan did not think that she wanted to teach very young children but her view has changed! She now really enjoys and takes great interest in young children and their development.

Ms. Jordan enjoys reading, working out, hiking, cooking, and spending time with her daughter and family. Although she has lived on the East Coast for a very long time, as a native of Oregon, she really loves the mountains!

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