Author Archives: twrrj

About twrrj

More than any other child care center, Toddler's Workshop and Railroad Junction advocates the role of play in a child's development. Children learn best by doing, and what they do best is play. We learn through play because it teaches children the joy of learning. We see play as the window that opens a child's mind, introducing them to the magic of speech, the wonder of imagination and the excitement of exploration. We use play to challenge a child's intellect, exercise their memory and practice their social skills. What they learn here in play are lessons they carry with them for a lifetime. Look no further than the smiles on their faces to see how well play works.

An Exploration of Shapes and Lines

After hearing some classroom discussion about treasure hunting, we created a treasure sensory box for the children to explore and play with.

084The goal was to give them an opportunity to count objects, to build vocabulary about treasure, and to help them engage in role play. Quite often, however,  the opportunities for learning exceed our expectations.


During our treasure sensory play, one child (“L”) discovered that if he placed a bead necklace on the floor and used his fingers to manipulate it, he could alter the shape of the necklace. After doing this for several moments, he excitedly exclaimed “Look, I made a bat!”

 The treasure chest was set aside for a while as several children tried out “L”‘s new game.


L: I see an “X” and it has a heart on the end!
G: I made Mickey Mouse!
L: I made a mountain!
G: This is a dolphin.
M: I made a dolphin too!

The children eventually explored the treasure box some more and the goals I had originally set for this activity were achieved. The children counted the treasure objects, engaged in treasure role play, and used treasure based vocabulary. While it was exciting to see the children use the materials in the way that was expected and have an opportunity to gain skills from an intentional activity, it was the unexpected exploration of lines and shapes through a side game created by one of the children that became the most exciting part.

Submitted by: Katie Bach

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Interpreting Children’s Knowledge Through Their Conversation

At another point in time I would frequently encourage preschool teachers to use KWL charts. This is where we ask the children what they Know about a topic, what they Want to know, and then document what we Learned as we moved through a topic of interest. Teachers would often tell me that their preschoolers struggled with this as a large group activity so we made smaller charts and made it a small group activity. The teachers told me that many children still struggled with telling us what they knew or wanted to know. Now that I am working with a group of preschoolers on a consistent basis, and I have been studying the Reggio Approach more in-depth, I have learned that we can gain so much more information by providing the children with opportunities to interact with materials that are inspired by a topic of interest and then sitting back, observing, and listening to what they are saying to each other.

Today we took apart the hard drive of a computer in Progressive Preschool. We have done a lot of work around machines this year and many of the children have shown an interest in cars. Separate of today’s provocation, we have been doing “Collaborative Car Designs.”  Once we began pulling parts out of the hard drive one of the children started asking if they could use the parts for their cars. A group project began in the classroom where the children started constructing a car out of the computer parts.

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J: This is the trunk.
E: We have to attach the seatbelts. The motherboard – we have to use the motherboard.
J: This can be where we sit.
E: Yeah, this can be the cup holder.
J: What could be the door? How will we all fit in here?
S: This is the gas pedal.
E: We need a heater and a cooler. These can be the computer car 3
C: Here’s the lights.
J: We need a steering wheel. Where is the big yogurt cap? That can be the steering wheel.
E: How many miles can it go?
J: This baby can go 1000 miles!

Wow! In just a few short moments I learned a great deal about what the children know about cars. In addition to their recorded statements the children also decided that the car needed an engine, a windshield, and of course, a TV!

submitted by: Kelly Giudice

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What Have You Become?


Today I spent some time documenting a conversation taking place between a group of preschool boys as they were painting. Ironically they brought up a topic that I have been spending some time thinking about recently. One day last week I was sitting in on a parent/teacher conference when the father mentioned that his son had said that when he grows up he wants to be a squirrel. As I was driving home that evening I was smiling to myself about this child’s creative thinking and reflecting on some of the teaching I had been exposed to recently during my trip to Reggio Emilia. The educators there spoke to us about the culture of the children and how so often we impose the adult culture on them. I thought about the question that is frequently posed to children, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” I love that in the culture of the children there are often no limits, in fact, you can become a squirrel if you would like. How do we expect them to understand that in the adult culture we often determine our value or “who we are” based on our occupation? Just to help us all keep it in perspective, here is a brief excerpt of the conversation I heard today:

J: You know what I’m going to be when I grow up? An artist.
S: I’m going to be everything. I’m going to be a company, an artist, a storyteller.
C: I’m going to be a policeman.
J: What if your boss fires you?
S: I’ll do a freeze ray on him.

Do you remember what you hoped “to be” when you grew up?

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A Letter from the Owner

With all of the press about Common Core, I thought now might be a good time to explain a little bit better about what your child is actually getting educationally while at Toddler’s Workshop. As many of you know, Kelly and I went to Reggio Emilia, Italy this past November. While we were there we learned a great deal more to validate what we were already doing as well as delve more deeply into a greater understanding of the philosophy and approach to education of young children. We have had a number of staff meetings within each department as well as whole staff training about various aspects of this approach. Kelly and I will also be presenting at a local as well as a state conference this coming April.

pic for blog

So what is this philosophy and approach to learning?

First and foremost: The Image of the Child is the main value of this approach- how a respectful image of children as competent and capable learners influences the approach to teaching and interactions with children. We continue to work with all of our staff on this viewpoint and the best way in which to ensure that each child is viewed as competent and capable.

In addition, the Reggio Emilia approach takes into consideration that children learn best in an interactive, social environment. Through this “social constructivism” children’s depth of knowledge is explored, examined, and experienced.

One of the biggest components of this best practice in teaching is the use of a multi-disciplinary approach. What does this mean? It means that when we learn about letters, it is in a relevant situation not in isolation. Math is part of our every day lives…not a separate time of the day that we call “math time”. The human spirit is connected by many senses, (polysensorial) so likewise that is also how we learn. Research says that children learn best when they have a connection to the real world and with experiential learning, as a whole child, not as just the math child or letters child. Children in fact learn in a hundred different ways.

So connecting back to Common Core…I don’t personally dislike “Common Core” but I do dislike when Common Core is taught in a prescriptive approach. YOUR children are learning all of the standards within Common Core and so much more. Common Core is at the 50 foot level. We work on our teams to help facilitate experiences for children at the 5000 foot level. We use an organizational tool of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Dr. Benjamin Bloom, Educational Theorist) especially when children work on long term projects.

The lowest level of this taxonomy is

Knowledge-defined as remembering information. This would include naming letters and numbers or counting to 100.

Beyond Knowledge and going up the hierarchy are

Comprehension-understanding facts or information through such things as discussion, predicting or summarizing.

Application-applying basic knowledge to new situations (in other words using it in real life applications)

Analyzing-breaking down objects or ideas into simpler parts and finding evidence to support generalizations. When children have discussions about a particular topic and begin to think about reasons behind their own and their classmates viewpoints.

Evaluating-making and defending judgments based on internal evidence or external criteria.

• And finally, Synthesis or Creating-when children compile component ideas into a new whole or propose alternative solutions

Our goal is always to facilitate children’s learning and discussion to move them up the hierarchy of learning.

I hope I haven’t bored you with this information but I do feel it is important for all of our families to understand the importance of experiential, social, and creative learning. Your child is not a vessel which we must fill with information but is in every essence a human being wanting to explore, be excited and experience life and learning to the fullest. It is our job as early educators to ensure that he/she has all of the opportunities afforded to him/her to do so.

As always we appreciate your continued support in your child’s education. You are their first teacher. As parent you are the role model for the values you hold dear in your household and so much more. I do hope you will embrace these early years to be ones filled with JOY and allow your child to be a child. They only pass through this childhood once and I guarantee you, your child will show you the way of their own competence if you let them.

– Ginny Nacy
Executive Director, M.S. Ed.

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Rainbows and Rainbow Ice: A learning provocation in our Nursery School classroom.

Rainbow Ice

A popular topic of conversation has been rainbows within our Enhanced classroom.  Today to start off class I had placed on the table; ice cube trays, bowls of water, eye droppers and food coloring.  When one child saw the materials he asked “Miss Alissa, what is all of this stuff for?”  I replied that today we were going to make rainbow ice, and that they would be able to mix their own colors.  Quickly the children sat down at the tables and began using the eye droppers to put water in their ice cube trays.  Once they had placed the water in their ice cube trays, they were able to mix colors of food coloring and stir them with Q-Tips to see the color they had created.  Here is some of the conversation I recorded of the children making their rainbow ice.

“Wait, how do you make orange again?!”

“Red first, then a little yellow…remember red first!”

“What happens to water to make it into ice?” –Miss Alissa

“It melts”

“That’s true, ice melts into water, so what is the opposite of melting?” –Miss Alissa

“Not melting! Um freezing!”

“Snow falls onto lakes and they freeze.”

“Yeah snow falls onto water and it gets a little ice.”

“Do you know how I made this black? I add a little green to the red.”

“This is hard work!”

“Now I need some blue.”

“Here you go!”

“What is a hunting color?”

“Dark green.”

“I’m going to mix blue and yellow to get green.”

“Hey look at this dark red! This is the color I made!”

“Where can we put our rainbow ice trays to make them freeze?” –Miss Alissa

“By the window or outside.”

“The fridge.”

“In the snow.  If we put some snow on top of it, it will freeze after a few days.”

 Painting with Rainbow Ice

 Today was a beautiful day to experiment with the Rainbow Ice that we created on Tuesday.  After snack time I took the children to pick up their rainbow ice out of the freezer.  We then headed outside with two white poster boards and got the ice out of the ice trays and began to rub the ice on the paper.  The children observed that although their ice may have been darker in color, the color that shows up on the paper was lighter in some instances.  Once child exclaimed “like watercolor!”  After a while their hands got cold and one child started placing his Rainbow Ice in a line on the sidewalk.  He called them “footprints” and wanted to see what happened as they melted.    We headed inside to wash our hands and allow our ice to melt.  A half an hour later we headed back out.  We found that the rainbow ice had melted and created amazing pictures as the colored water melted and spread.  One child said “look at the footprints turned into a colored river!”


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Sewing: A School Age Invitation to Learning


Every afternoon we have school age students join us for after school care.  Everyday we try to provide activities that will both interest them and have an educational background.  Another component to our programming is that the students actually do some of the planning of these activities.  This month one of the activities that was planned was to teach basic sewing skills to the Primary students.  Miss Val had the student’s first start by sewing buttons onto napkins.  This allowed them to get the basic understanding of how to stitch buttons.  Once they had practiced with the buttons they moved onto sewing buttons onto felt and fabric.  With this basic skill set the children will be working on larger and more advanced projects later in the month.ImageHere are some of the older Primary students working with a sewing machine. By starting with the beginning sewing skills we are able to work our way up to teaching the children how to work with sewing machines.


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The exploration of light.

The exploration of light. 

On Tuesday morning I set out an overhead projector with four light paddles before the children arrived to school. I was seeing what kind of invitation to learning it would be for them. Upon entry many children headed right to it to experiment with this concept. They moved the light paddles around and then put them in the top where the color would change on the wall.


I then noticed they were taking the colored translucent tiles and placing them on the projector and making designs and patterns with them.


After morning meeting, I turned on the projector again and the children would place a sensory bag full of glitter and hair gel to cover up the tiles. 

There was minimal conversation occurring during this experience, they were quietly experimenting and laughing while they worked on this concept. We will continue to use the projector to see if this concept evolves.


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One classroom, and the creation of an amazing Haunted House.

jack-o-lanternAs summer turns to fall the Intermediate School Age students are reminded of our yearly tradition, making the centers Haunted House for the annual Fall Festival. Every year students are asked to create and implement a theme for the Haunted House, and then on the night of Fall Festival they are able to hide within their creation and scare their peers and center families who brave the house.

This year our room was transformed. Students first created their own versions of the layout of our classroom. They decided that to better serve the customer (the families) they should create both a “scary” route and a “so-so” route, for the not so brave, and the younger children. They also decided that they wanted to expand the Haunted House to continue from our classroom all the way to their coat room. They chose very distinct things to design within every section of the room. As you entered the classroom you either took the scary route to the right, or the so-so route to the left. The scary route went into the middle portion of our room, where the students had created a home with a kitchen and bedroom, they were able to hide in much of what they created and had fun popping out and scaring those who passed by.

In the coatroom the students created a laboratory full of spooky bottled concoctions, they mixed oil, water food coloring and other supplies they found around our room and then put a colored light in a cauldron to look like there was something brewing. By far this year’s student involvement has been greater than any other years past. The students were involved in creating every aspect of the Haunted House. They completed the setup of the Haunted House early on the night of Fall Festival.

Not only were the students completely involved in the creation of the Haunted House, but the following Monday all of the students helped to support the staff in cleaning the room, sorting decorations and putting the room back the way it was. They had complete ownership over taking care of the materials they had created and packed them away properly. The entire room was cleaned in a day. This was something we the staff had never seen in the students before. After all, getting children of any age to clean up can have its challenges. We are very excited about the students participation in this event, and hope that next year we can continue to grow and improve. Happy Halloween!

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Exploring Common Interests on the Preschool Playground


At Toddler’s Workshop, we believe the activities presented to the children should be determined based on the children’s own interests. Because of this, the topics typically vary from classroom to classroom. Once in a while, however, the interests of the children seem to overlap between classrooms. Sometimes these common topics are provoked by the season. Topics like apples, pumpkins, and leaves are all prominent topics of conversation and exploration found during Autumn. Sometimes a topic of interest in one classroom sparks a similar topic of interest in another. Children viewing documentation in the hallways or walking through another classroom with a teacher are able to view materials, pictures, or books that strike a chord in them. Sometimes, however, these common interests are merely coincidental. A common material presented to two separate classrooms (often in very different ways or for different reasons) can become a shared topic of interest between these rooms. While providing each classroom with these interest based curriculum topics might seem to isolate each classroom’s learning, these moments of common interest allow us to collaborate with other classrooms, build a sense of community between them, and expand the children’s learning in both classrooms even further.

Recently, two of our preschool classrooms found an opportunity to provide this collaboration regarding a mutual topic of interest – yarn. The two classroom’s interest in yarn began independent of each other. In our Preschool Rainbow Room, the teachers offered yarn up as an opportunity to practice fine motor skills. they presented the children with a sensory table full of materials such as yarn and fabric and placed scissors among the materials in the table. Then they let the children explore.


Many of the children became very involved in the sensory table project and the materials stayed in the table for several days. Some of the children even expanded this activity and began cutting yarn for independent projects outside of the sensory table.

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Meanwhile, in our Preschool Blue Room the teacher placed some balled up yarn, displayed on circle mirrors, on the rug in the block center for her children to discover and explore. Next to the yarn, she placed a few pairs of scissors on a tray. The children were given no instructions or ideas. Her intention behind this was to provide the children with a new material to explore. She was also interested in providing opportunities to work on scissor skills and fine motor. Just like in the Rainbow Room, the material was intentional but the project was left completely up to the creativity of the children.

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This activity became a huge hit. Several children worked with the yarn in a variety of ways. They threw the balls and watched how it unraveled, wound it around items, and used the scissors to cut pieces off the yarn ball. They also began using yarn to create spider webs.


When it was time for Blue Room to head outside, some of the children asked if they could bring the yarn with them. The teacher agreed and they gathered all their yarn up into a basket to bring it to the preschool playground. Shortly after Preschool Blue began to explore their basket of yarn outside, Rainbow Room joined them on the playground. The same children that were exploring the yarn in the sensory table in Rainbow Room began to join in with the children of Blue Room. Together, they wound and tied the yarn all around the playground equipment. Many of the children from both classrooms referred to the yarn creation as a spider web, while some chose to explore it without any label. Either way, the children were able to work together on this common interest in a way that was new to all of them. They expanded their experiences with yarn, not only to an outdoor setting, but also to include the knowledge and ideas of another group of children.

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Cars, Ramps and Measurement: An exploration of racing and measurement.


Today in our Nursery School classroom one child talked about how much he had enjoyed racing the cars down the “big ramp”  and how much he would like to do it again.  We began talking about ramps and deduced that ramps make cars go faster because it is like going “down a hill”, as another student explained.  We decided to create a greater ramp in the lobby by setting up an additional ramp at the top of the ramp that was already there.  The first child began talking about winning races, and we explored the idea of “winning”.  We decided that to win you would have to come in first place, or go the farthest.  We decided that to choose the real winner today it would have to be the car that traveled the farthest.  I urged the children to try to find some materials that he could use to measure his car.

The first exclaimed “we can use the pipes to see how far the cars go!”, picking up some of the PVC pipes that we have in the Studio classroom.  He very quickly changed his mind and said that we would not have enough pipes in the classroom to make the right length.  We then found the basket full of precut ribbon and decided that we would try to use ribbons to measure.  When we raced the cars down the ramp we found that the ribbon curled up and was hard to connect multiple pieces to get the right measurement every time.  He finally decided that if we had one “really really really long string” that it would be able to measure the cars, and that we could “label” them to see where they stopped.

We found a really long piece of yarn, and taped it to the ramp.  We then found sticky labels that the children would write their names on and what place they had come in within the race.  Both color coated their labels as to what cars they had or to what place they came in.  The first child labeled his spots by writing an “A” and the “1” depending on what place he came in.  The system became that if you came in first in a race you would write on your label in red, and if you came in second you would use yellow.

It was very interesting to see how the children manipulated the materials to reach the best outcome.  Later in the day we revisited racing cars on the ramp again and labeling them.  This time the children took turns saying “on your mark, get set, go!” to begin each race, they also took turns changing their starting positions on the ramp to see if certain places on the ramp had a better opportunity to have a winning car.


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