From ice to igloo
Zeyah is eager to be interviewed about the large structure that has taken over a corner of the Bowen Children’s Centre. He leads the way to a nearby table and points out the tunnel and the main area of the igloo that he and the other children have constructed from milk jugs. “When we brought the milk jugs in, we had to put numbers on them,” he says. At the question how many jugs were used, Zeyah points to the highest jug that bears the number 476. Rather than being part of the structure, it balances on top and Zeyah explains that it symbolizes a chimney. “Igloos have chimneys,” he says.
Zeyah understands that the igloo is not going to be at the Children’s Centre forever. At circle time, it was explained that this project that was inspired by the children’s curiosity about ice will make way for activities to do with spring - in fact, some of the children have already turned their attention to creating fairies and action heroes - and Zeyah asks to use the camera to take a picture. His buddies Saran and Ty also try their hands as photographers.
They are rightly proud of creating such an impressive building as they, along with the other 49 children in the preschool’s three classes, took the lead in making it happen - from the conception of the idea, to selecting construction materials, drawing up plans and figuring out how best to build it. Preschool teacher Melina Toliussis has been closely involved in the two-months-process. “It started in December when the children were interested in ice,” she recalls. “We went on a walk and saw icicles.” Toliussis explained that the Children’s Centre often has big projects under way that have included spaceships and submarines. Most of the time, they are made from cardboard boxes.
“We have meetings first thing in the morning and there we talked about building an igloo,” she said. The original plan was to use cardboard boxes and paint them white but Toliussis came across a beautiful photo of an igloo built from milk jugs on the Internet. The children welcomed the idea with enthusiasm and preschool staff got the feedback from parents that the children were keen on drinking milk and urged family members to do the same. “You could see the joy on their faces when they came through the door carrying three or four milk jugs,” Toliussis said, adding that those jugs were supplemented by trips to the Bowen Island Recycling Depot to raid the milk jug container.
“We washed and rinsed them. The children were part of the whole process,” she said. “Then we talked about how to best put the milk jugs together. Some children suggested tape, others white glue. So we tried that out as part of the learning process,” she said. When those methods failed, it was decided to go with hot glue and the discussion centred around how to properly and safely wield a glue gun. “We talked about how it is really, really hot and decided that it was the teacher’s job to hold the gun while the children could hold the milk jugs,” Toliussis said. She remembers one of the boys, Callaghan, running to his cubby and returning with his winter mitts saying that he couldn’t possibly get hurt wearing those. After that, Callaghan became the self-proclaimed “safety guy.”
“A lot of people would look at this and see that the children are having fun,” Toliussis said. “But it is also beautiful to see much they learn. For the construction, we looked at shapes and counting. A lot of thought went into planning and problem solving - we don’t give the children the answers. We ask them how they think it could work and sometimes they learn by trial and error.”
Once the igloo was complete, the children’s thoughts turned to whom to entertain in it. “They started talking about polar bears and penguins and that led us to look at the Arctic and Antarctic,” Toliussis said. The children traced the body shapes of the animals and painted them.
“We got very, very busy,” Toliussis said. “With 52 children in three classes wanting to be different animals in different shapes, it was quite challenging.” Out of that came a growing interest in studying penguins. The children found the fact that a father Emperor penguin takes care of the egg while the mother goes to feed especially fascinating. One day, they each took care of an egg, trying to balance it between their feet while walking to their cubbies. “It was very hard,” Toliussis said. “And the children were quite emotional to learn that if an egg drops in the Antarctic, the chick would die.”
The Bowen Children’s Centre’s philosophy is based on the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning. “It basically means that we follow the children’s interests because, whether you are three, nine or 53, you tend to learn best when you’re interested in the subject,” Toliussis said. “We allow the children to guide us, like in the case of the ice leading to the construction of the igloo.”
Toliussis says that if a child is not interested in the chosen topic, she or he is often swept up in the general excitement and joins in later.
As they were building igloo, some children were keen on the counting and construction, others were more interested in “taking the babies inside and make a fish dinner,” Toliussis said.
And Zeyah, Saran and Ty were eager to take a photo to have a record.