Sammy Spider visited our class

Conducted by Ann Marie Benson and Megan Bradley, Early Childhood Educators, Weinstein JCC Preschool, Richmond, Virginia, School Year 2006

•  This has been a journey like none we have ever been on. From beginning to end, it was amazing! Mrs. Rouss’s cooperation was a huge jumping board for direction. The resources other staff provided for us were catalysts for our investigations. The administrative support we received for our efforts were sustaining and motivational.

•  Each year, our class hosts a parent social, where the parents get a chance to meet each other and work on a project that relates to one of the themes the class discussed during the year.  This year, we decided to use Sammy Spider stories as the theme for our social.

• At Purim, the class read the book, Sammy Spider’s First Purim. This is just one in a series of Jewish Holiday books by author Sylvia Rouss. The children have already enjoyed numerous antics by that “silly Sammy!” But everything always works out in the end for Sammy, thanks to his mom. At the end of the story, I asked the children if they had any questions. I truly was expecting a question about the holiday of Purim. WRONG!

• Zachary says, “Ann Marie, you told us a lot of Sammy books. Where is Sammy’s daddy?”

• I responded by telling him, “The author, the person who wrote the story, does not tell us where he is, but that is a great question!”

• He quickly responds, “Let’s ask her!”

• We agree to write a letter to the publishing company in hopes the author will respond. Done! Now we wait. Included in the envelope were copies of the children’s drawings of Sammy. How could she resist?

• In this child centered approach to learning, we shift the lesson to investigate this child’s need to know. We will try and learn together. We will look together in the book to see if we can contact her. We will investigate and participate in this together. We will go outside this classroom. We will take a chance; learning is not contained. Zachary is using everything at his disposal…the book and his own ideas of what a “family” unit is. It is now my responsibility to support, interpret, and record his process. I don’t know what the answer will be, if indeed we even get one, but we will all experience it together. Stay tuned!

• While we were waiting to see if Mrs. Rouss would reply, the class talked about the question: “Where do you think Sammy’s daddy may be?” The student’s answered:

• Logan —“At work making good stuff.”

• Anna—“In the kitchen cooking.”

• Hannah—“He is at his home.”

• Alexandra—“He works in the kitchen.”

• Zachary—“He’s just watching TV.”

• Clair—“He is cleaning.”

• Problem solving, using imagination, personal experience, making predictions, brainstorming ideas…all in 10 minutes!!!

• We have not yet heard from Mrs. Rouss in response to our letter. I bring it up at carpet meeting. I remind the children and then tell them she has not written yet.

• Logan —“She might be at work.”

• Anna—“She is busy in her garden.”

• Alex R.—“She is cooking.”

• Sitting and talking hypothesizing, using language in proper sentence structure…….so much growth in six months!

• Mrs. Rouss very graciously wrote to the children. We were all very happy to hear from her. It turns out she even challenged us to learn more and communicate back to her again. Perfect! Especially for a child-centered approach to learning.

• Step 1 —I bring all the information to a 3-year old team meeting of teachers. They were just as excited as I was and they helped me come up with some provocations for the students, their parents, Mrs. Rouss and the administration. Collaboration!

• Step 2 —Carpet meeting with the students. We read the letter again and I ask them to think about where Sammy’s daddy may be once more. This is intentional, because Mrs. Rouss’ letter says spider daddies are not like human daddies.

• Zachary—“Sammy is just pretend.”

• Alex A.—“He has to get back to the garden.”

• Alexis—“He has to go for food.”

• Step 3 —It is obvious that I have to provide the children with spider information and materials to learn and represent their knowledge.

• We pull information off the “web” (No pun intended!)

• We still have a lot to do, but the momentum is building. Directors, co-workers, students, parents… many people are interested now. The world does not seem so large at times, does it?

• When Mrs. Rouss emailed us back, she mentioned that she was working on a book about Sammy going to Josh’s preschool.  She asked us to imagine what Sammy might encounter if he came to our school.

• Over the next few months, we’ve asked our students that very question.  We started with what he might see in our classroom.

• Hannah—Children

• Clair—our class teddy bears

• Logan —Our Shabbat candles

• Mimi—the calendar

• Anna—the playground

• Adam—He’ll see books

• Daniel—my backpack

• We then asked them what Sammy would do while he was in our class.

• Hannah—He would play with all the children.

• Clair—He would play with the bear.

• Mimi—He would be the weatherman at calendar time.

• Anna—He would play on the slide.

• Spencer—first he would crawl out to see me and then live back in the flowers.

• On May, we hosted a parent social. It was our conclusion to the Sammy Spider theme. Sylvia Rouss asked the children what Sammy might see in their classroom. We asked them and kept this piece of documentation under wraps. We did, however share it with Mrs. Rouss. She responded to each child and we read this all to the parents for the first time at the social.

• The room/setting was “webbed” out. Spiders were everywhere! The children even had a surprise snack ready for them. Spider treats! (Oreos with pretzel sticks as spider legs.)

• Each family was then asked to “represent” their child’s idea on paper. Anyway, they wanted to. After some sighs, they began. They had full access to our art room and any supplies we had. It was amazing to watch! (Couples planned, moms went in search of supplies, and dads drafted drawings!) We expected each to complete a sheet of their child’s ideas. What we got were 3-dimensional, very elaborate representations! Awesome, creative products! One and a half hours later, all were done and displayed on a table for the entire school to see!

• We will now digitally photograph each presentation, create a unique book, and present it to each family.

• The children’s excitement and questions offered us an opportunity to learn more about spiders than I cared to at times. But we marched on because Ben Azzai used to say,” “Do not be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of anything…” (Pirkei Avot 4:3). This was an Ethical Start lesson we teach our children and learned to put into our daily lives during this process in particular. The parents who participated in this were so beneficial to us in the conclusion. The children had closure and the pride on their faces the next morning can be seen in the photos!

• So many areas of development were touched upon by this project.

  1. We physically walked like spiders do.
  2. We very carefully built spiders out of materials we had in the classroom.
  3. We read spider books. We pulled information from the worldwide “web.”
  4. We wrote letters.
  5. We used negotiations to obtain more materials.
  6. We planned together. We recorded. We observed.
  7. We dictated.
  8. We laughed.
  9. We hoped and prayed that Mrs. Rouss would write & she did!
  10. We celebrated. We played and had fun!

For more curriculum ideas, please go to Curriculum or my blog.