In the spring each year, we retell the story of the Hebrew people's exodus from Egypt. We tell of how baby Moshe (Moses) began his life in the river Nile to grow into a Prince of Egypt and later a leader of the Hebrew people as he challenged King Pharoah on Hashem's behalf to lead his people from oppression.
The story comes to life at Giving Tree through dramatic play, sensory explorations, story telling and the creation of Passover items such as the seder plate, afikomen bag and stories.
Take a look at some of our explorations:
Matzah Factory- Rabbi Schusterman brings the Matzah Factory to life each year. Matzah is made by combining flour and water together to form a dough. Next the dough is rolled flat and poked full of holes so that the dough will not rise when baked.
With the experience of making matzah fresh in our minds, we added in several dramatic play elements to repeat the experience both inside and outside of the classroom. Additionally, we took story telling to the next level in our light studio and classroom explorations of the ten plagues and Baby Moshe!
Cooking projects are also a part of our Passover explorations. Charoset (spiced apple mixture), tasting of bitter herbs/greens provide us with a small sampling of the Passover seder offerings.
Constructing the great pyramids using various manipulatives is a fun way to learn 3 dimensional shapes, engineering, spacial awareness and team work!
The holiday would not be complete without the creation of Passover projects such as seder plates, pillows, matzah covers/afikomen bags, Passover cards and the planting of bitter herbs. Additionally, each classroom created books exploring Passover. Katon- Colors of Passover, Maon- Shapes of Passover, Peuton- Numbers of Passover and Ganon- Alphabet of Passover.
On Purim, we retell the story of Queen Esther and Mordechai who saved the Jewish people from an evil plot by a man named, Haman in ancient Persia. This day is a celebration to commemorate the salvation of the Jewish people. We explore the story in various ways as well as Purim themes that include kings and queens, topsy-turvy and more!
One tradition is to create a jelly filled triangle shaped cookie called a Hamentashen. Each class had the opportunity to make chocolate chip and strawberry hamentashen to share with their families!
Retelling the Purim story is explored through role playing, dramatic play, puppetry, felt boards and through a dynamic interactive megillah reading with Rabbi Schusterman!
In the Purim story, Queen Esther resides in a palace. So of course we must explore castle building both inside of the classroom and in our Art Atelier! Sand castles using kinetic sand, shaving cream mortar and foam blocks, and 2 dimensional renderings are just a few of the ways we construct our castles.
Other explorations include an obstacle course, carnival style games and pool noodle horse races! Let's not forget the creation of mishloach manot baskets, masks, crowns and groggers!
Lastly, we visited the Light Studio to explore bedazzled crowns with loose parts, shadow puppets, black light art in the castle, Purim story puppetry and a noise-tastic megillah reading with instruments!
People sometimes ask us: how does a Reggio-inspired preschool differ from traditional preschools?
Traditional preschools focus largely on teaching children skills by repetition or through rote memorization. As a Reggio-inspired program, we seek to follow the lead of the children as they make discoveries through play and the manipulation of materials.
We view ourselves as facilitators of learning, sharing in the children's joy, wonder and curiosity. Our classrooms are considered the "third teacher" and focus on natural elements and materials. We use loose parts and a collection of open-ended materials to help each child to express themselves creatively. We provide access to mediums of self-expression including music, movement and art. We believe children must be allowed to explore, create and innovate to maximize their potential and become confident learners and critical thinkers.
Our Ganon classroom (pre-K) is rated Paths to QUALITY Level 3 ensuring that your child has access to the 10 learning centers (art, music, sensory, writing, literacy, mathematics, science, blocks, dramatic play and manipulatives), a developmentally appropriate child-led curriculum and qualified early childhood educators. Our small class sizes allow for individual and small group instruction to support differentiated learning within the classroom so that your child can continue to develop along their own unique growth trajectory. Provocations and invitations to play promote discovery and wonder within your child to foster a life-long love of learning.
Additionally, the Ganon children experience the culture and values of Judaism through a play-based exploration of the holidays and traditions. Each week the students participate in a Shabbat party and share in the hagim (holidays) as they occur throughout the year.
A highlight of the Ganon classroom is the annual production of Jan Brett's, The Mitten. Each child receives a role in the story as either a person or animal. Next each child completes a research project on his/her character. Books, videos and photographs are utilized by the students to collect information on each character in the story. He or she will then decide how to share the information. Some students choose to create books, posters and drawings, while others prefer to work with clay or wire to sculpt their animals. The study concludes with a full production of the story. The students create the backdrops, tickets, concession stand sales and even money for the audience to use! This year, Mrs. Mahern will reprise her role as director leading this year's production to new heights as the students perform in the Cultural Arts Center auditorium.
Join us on Sunday, March 6th to learn more about the program. RSVP is required. Click HERE to register.
One of the biggest questions I receive from parents and professionals alike, is "what is your philosophy of education?"
While many may see that as a simple question with a straight forward answer, I find that it is anything but! Our philosophy of education is intricate and includes not just our academic approach but also the environment, the child, the families and educators.
Image of the Child
We believe that all children have the right to quality early childhood education. We view each child as capable, curious and a willing participant of the learning process. Every child has a right to a learning environment that meets their needs, including the right to educators who recognize their individual strengths and who support their development. We believe that children have the right to self regulation, discovery, exploration and mess making. We seek to foster a love of learning and a collaboration between ourselves and the children as we learn alongside of each other.
We believe children are CAPABLE of...
Who is the Child to Me
Children are the most important aspect of life, for without them all would cease to exist. The role of a teacher is to nurture, love, provide care, support and help to develop the child. We love what we do and are here because we believe that children deserve the opportunity to thrive. We seek to build connections with our children, their families and the community. In order to understand our role as educators, we must first understand, “Who is the child to me?”
We believe the child is...
The Role of the First Teacher- the Parent
We believe that the first teacher in a child’s life is his/her parent. From their first breath, you are there to help guide and shape their development. Your role is crucial in helping them to become confident and capable human beings. We recognize the immense importance of this relationship and seek to build relationships with you and your child to foster a collaborative learning experience. Through family engagement and communication, we look to build connections that will further our understanding of your culture and life experiences so that we may better serve the needs of your child and your family.
We believe parents are...
Environment as the Third Teacher
We believe that there are three teachers in a child’s life-
1. the parent, 2. the child and 3. the environment. The environment serves as a source of inspiration for your child's curiousity, sense of self and learning. We strive to provide children with real world interactions that include nature, realia (real world objects), and appropriate risk taking. Our classroom and play environments reflect this commitment to providing hands-on learning experiences for your children. Attention to color, aesthetics and function resonate in each space to create invitations to play and provocation of learning. Each environment features elements of light, color, nature, loose parts (open-ended play materials) and the 10 learning centers as outlined by Paths to QUALITY; Reading/Literacy, Writing, Mathematics, Science, Sensory, Music, Blocks, Manipulatives, Dramatic Play and Art.
The heart of our school can be found within the culture, values and traditions of Judaism that the children experience each day. Mitzvot (good deeds), tzedakah (charity), and chesed (kindness) are part of each classroom community. The students of our Ganon (pre-k) classroom reflected on what Judaism means to them sharing words and thoughts to create the word cloud below. Following, they created pictures of their understanding of Judaism and Jewish values.
Curriculum: A Child-Directed Approach
The Giving Tree Early Learning program is deeply inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education. Following WWII, the town of Reggio Emilia was war-torn and hurting. In order to heal, the town believed that the future lies with the children. Thus the Reggio Emilia philosophy was born with the guidance of Loris Malaguzzi. This philosophy believes that children have undeniable rights, including the right to construct their own knowledge.
With this inspiration, the teachers seek to help facilitate the exploration of the interests of the students through the Hundred Languages of Children. Malaguzzi describes the Hundred Languages of Children as the "infinite ways that children can express, explore, and connect their thoughts, feelings and imaginings.” Each day, teachers provide invitations to play and p
rovocations as a way to ignite new discoveries that blend the Hundred Languages with developmentally appropriate practices.
We pair the Indiana Early Learning Foundation Standards with hands-on, child-directed learning opportunities to support the development of the whole child. We utilize the Handwriting Without Tears program and incorporate Math Their Way concepts into our mathematical explorations to support the academic rigors needed for success in Kindergarten and beyond.
Paths to QUALITY is a voluntary State wide rating system that guarantees that not only is the health and safety of your child reaching and exceeding minimum standards but that the level of care, daily interactions and curriculum are being conducted in the best interest of your child.
Each year, our program goes through an annual inspection in which our rater spends the day moving through our program observing instruction, student/teacher interactions, classroom environments and validating documentation of program standards and procedures.
Each level of Paths to QUALITY builds on the foundation of the previous one, resulting in significant quality improvements at each stage and in national accreditation at the highest level, level 4. The system validates early care and education programs for ongoing efforts to achieve higher standards of quality and provides incentives and awards for success.
Giving Tree Early Learning maintains a Level 3 rating and is working towards national accredication through NAEYC.
The difference between Level 2 and Level 3 are found not in the learning environment but in the instruction itself. The PTQ Rater observes teacher-child interactions, assesses the use of the Early Learning Foundation standards to ensure developmentally appropriate practice, reviews staff development, evaluates student portfolios as well as inspecting all of the standards from the two previous levels.
The checklist for the rating visit is 11 pages long! While we have effectively met the minimum requirements, we strive to provide a learning experience that goes above and beyond.
We are often asked by early childhood professionals to come into our program to observe developmentally appropriate practices in action. In the Indianapolis early childhood community, Giving Tree has become a local hotspot. Our Reggio inspired curriculum, commitment to the children and clear documentation of how learning occurs through play has shined brightly. Brittany Flaugher formerly of Child Care Answers referrred to our program as reflecting "the tapestry of life" because she can see each thread- families, children, teachers, environment and curriculum, interwoven to create a rich and vibrant "tapestry of life."
Below are the components met in PTQ Level 3:
1. Portfolios- Each school year we assess, observe and collect work samples showing your child's growth. These portfolios include pictures, written observations, work samples important notes from home, and our ISTAR-KR assessments.
2. Environment- each classroom contains 10 learning centers with a minimum of three components. Those centers are Reading/Literacy, Writing, Art, Mathematics, Science, Sensory, Music, Blocks, Manipulatives, Dramatic Play. In addition to the PTQ standards we also provide Reggio inspiration throughout with a focus on the use of open-ended materials and loose parts. The most important component of the environment, aside from the safety and learning centers, is on the representation of your child within the space. Each classroom must contain photographs, dictations and work samples of your child engaging in their day. This allows your child to feel represented and a part of the classroom environment. Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio philosophy once said,
"Teachers must leave behind an isolated, silent mode of working, which leaves no traces. Instead they must discover ways to communicate and document the children’s evolving experiences at school. They must prepare a steady flow of quality information targeted to parents but appreciated by children and teachers."
It is this source of inspiration that we document the learning process of the children and adamantly believe that the documentation exists for all of those involved as a form of validation and reflection of the learning at the hands of our children.
3. Curriculum- PTQ outlines developmentally appropriate practice and a strong emphasis on teacher-child relationships. As you walk through the hallways of your child's classroom, make sure to take a glance at the documentation and lesson plans. There you will find the Foundation standards which outline the developmentally appropriate goals and skills for your child. You can learning more about the Foundation standards by visiting https://www.doe.in.gov/standards/indiana-early-learning-foundations
4. Interactions- The PTQ check list includes a variety of ways in which our interactions with the children are assessed and evaluated. The Rater is looking for:
1. Are the children allowed to make choices in their play throughout the day?
2. Are the children heard and listened to?
3. Are the children's needs being met by a caring and attentive adult?
4. Are the children's interests being reflected and supported in the learning process?
5. Are the child's individual needs being met by the caregiver?
6. Are the children being respected and spoken to at their eye level?
7. Are the teachers helping children to problem solve, self regulate and resolve conflicts?
8. Are the teachers supporting the child's social- emotional development?
9. Are the children being supported in developing self-help skills?
10. Is the teacher taking advantage of the many natural learning experiences associated with daily life and makes those "teachable moments" opportunities of learning?
5. Professional Development- A component of the PTQ process is that staff receive a minimum of 20 hours of ongoing professional development each year. These trainings must be relevant to early childhood development and the needs of the children. From last October until now, the staff have completed 640.50 hours of professional development. On average, that comes to each staff member having completed a minimum of 25 hours of training yearly. Additionally, we have staff members who have recently completed or are in the process of completing advanced degrees in early childhood education and non-profit management. In 2018, the Director and Assistant Director traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy to study the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy directly. Our staff not only partakes in training sessions but have also led trainings at various conferences and facilities throughout the greater Indianapolis area.
IAEYC Annual Conference (Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children)
INPEC Conference (Indiana Private Educators)
Indy Reggio Inspired Educators
Ministry-based Conferences and workshops
Early Literacy Conference (Child Care Answers)
Ivy TECH Early Education Conference
JGFI Day of Learning (Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis)
The importance of quality early childhood programming is undeniable. Study after study shows that the benefits are found not just in the development of our children but also in the economy and community at large. In the Indianapolis area only two Jewish preschool programs have received the PTQ high quality rating and only Giving Tree Early Learning offers a play based curriculum rooted in Reggio inspiration.
Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your child's growth and CONGRATULATIONS to the GT Team on recertifying Paths to QUALITY Level 3.
Tu B'Shvat is the New Year for the trees.. It is the date from which we calculate the age of trees which is important as we must make sure a tree is ready to be harvested at the appropriate time.
Tu B'Shvat takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat and marks the beginning of the growing season for trees in Israel. Trees are starting to blossom there at this time. (Almond tree first.)
The classes at Giving Tree explored the Almond tree- Ha'Shkediya Porachat in Hebrew- though various invitations of loose parts and art.
Another way that we learn about Tub'shvat is through our sense of taste! There are seven special species, "Shivat Haminim" for which Israel is famous: Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
Each class was able to taste grapes, dried figs and dates, kalamata olives and investigated a pomegrante!
Chanukah is a time of wonder and discovery in the Giving Tree classrooms. We explore light, viscosity using oil and water experiements, force and gravity with spinning dreidels and explore the story of the brave Maccabees who restored the temple after the Greek army had destroyed it. The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days as a miracle occured in the temple- a small jug of oil, enough for only one day, lasted for 8 days and nights!
The symbols of Chanukah are the chanukiah- menorah, dreidels, and foods cooked in oil like donuts or potato latkes! In each classroom, the children recreated some or all of these items.
Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights! We explored various forms of light in the light studio with Chanukah themed invitations.
Here are some of our other explorations that include the number 1-8, loose parts, sensory exploration, art and music and movement.
Thanksgiving is a time of year in which we celebrate our friends and family at Giving Tree Early Learning. While COVID may prevent us from coming together as a large group, it certainly has not prevented our spirit for family connection and fun! This year the Giving Tree team created an I SPY Fall book for your family to enjoy. Each child also received a silicon pie mold and pumpkin spice playdough to create their very own pumpkin pie!
We hope your celebration is meaningful and full of joy!
Fall has officially arrived at Giving Tree Early Learning. Warm colors and scents fill the air in each classroom as children engage in the changing of seasons. From Katon through Ganon, Fall inspiration is found. Let’s explore some ways in which we use Fall inspiration to promote learning throughout the classroom.
Explorations around the use of warm colors (red, yellow, orange), natural materials such as leaves, acorns and pinecones, and sensory explorations involving spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom create a rich Fall experience. In the Art Studio, the classes have participated in a multi-layered collaborative art project in which each class adds their own unique creations. Kindergarten created leaf rubbings with black crayons, followed by our Katon and Maon classes who added Fall paint colors using tempera paints and watercolors. Peuton and Ganon finished the piece by adding collage materials including hand painted leaves and glitter. The final result is a stunning Fall mural on display in the Giving Tree hallway.
Patterning, shapes, counting, number sense, measurement, classification and algebraic thinking are math concepts being explored through our Fall activities. The light studio partners loose parts, cookie cutters and numbers together on the light table as an activity to support various age groups.
For example, our Katon and Maon finds can practice filling the cooking cutter shapes with various sized objects to explore the concepts of shapes and volume.
Peuton children can create patterns with the materials focusing on ABA or ABBA patterns using the leaves, pompoms and bobbles.
Ganon children can count and compare the quantities of loose parts materials found to fit within each shape using translucent numbers to label and identify their creations.
While one activity was presented, the materials allow for differentiation to easily occur to meet the unique needs of each child and class.
From stories to dictation to writing, Fall literacy can be found in each classroom. Connections are being made between the spoken and written word daily as we capture the children’s voices and thoughts through dictation. Questions promoting inquisition are added to invitations regardless of a child’s ability to read, providing exposure and guidance as teachers and students interact with the activity. Favorite Fall stories such as Leaf Man by Lois Elhert or Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak inspire the children to explore the changing seasons both inside and outside of the classroom. In Ganon, our friends explore Fall words and practice writing using Fall colors. What is your favorite Fall story to share with your child?
Fall sensory exploration is a personal favorite of mine! Warm, rich spices fill the air, natural materials like pinecones and acorns fill sensory bins and ooey-gooey slime makes for a great time! Sensory exploration is an extremely important part of early childhood development as children learn to engage in the world around them with all of their senses, taking in information to form knowledge and understanding. Giving Tree’s approach to sensory exploration is full immersion. Children are encouraged to explore, create, and innovate using all of their senses including touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight and proprioception.
One of our most exciting creative play spaces is the Light Studio. Fall explorations create beautiful experiences for our children. Small world play with farm animals and squirrel blocks set the stage for autumn. Videos of Fall scenes and Falling leaves are paired with clear umbrellas and leaves to create the experience of a sunny Fall day indoors. Fall themed loose parts on the light table and a farmer’s market round out our explorations in the space.
With so many wonderful ways to explore and grow, we cannot help but to get excited that summer is gone and Fall has arrived at Giving Tree Early Learning!
Each spring our students plant vegetables and herbs in the Outdoor Classroom before saying goodbye for the summer months. Throughout the summer, the plants have a chance to grow uninterrupted allowing nature to do what it does best! This means that the Outdoor Classroom tends to become a tad bit overgrown- but more importantly, it gives the plants and ecosystem a chance to thrive.
Shortly before school begins, the Giving Tree teachers return to tame the space and to make it ready for students. We pull weeds, refresh the 10x10 sand box and begin to harvest some of the vegetables from our plants.
This year we have a wide variety of leafy greens, cucumbers, various tomato species, herbs, pumpkins, green beans, sunflowers, carrots and flowers growing. We are excited for the children to see the "fruits of their labor" come to life!
If possible, we will plan to hold a "farmer's market" in which parents can purchase vegetables from our students. All proceeds go back into the Outdoor Classroom funds so that we may continue to offer farm to table experiences for our students.
Mrs. Ashley is the Director of Giving Tree Early Learning and mother to 3 busy boys! You can reach her by emailing- email@example.com