They stood at the base of the 287-foot dome constructed of sandstone—3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds—dwarfed by the massive building. Eyes filled with wonder, gazing up at the magnificent structure, their imaginations grew to the size of the Washington State Legislative building before them. Behind the awe on their faces, the gears began turning in their heads, as their minds connected the structures they created in their classroom out of wooden blocks, cardboard or sugar cubes to this building that stood before them. The field trip to the state legislature was the culmination of several months of study by the students of Sound to Harbor Early Learning Program’s Head Start class from Littlerock.
Trasi Fugate, lead teacher and family advocate, takes her cues from the curiosity of the students, structuring the learning curriculum out of things that interest them. Sometimes, their interests take them into investigations of how bread rises, and they learn about simple scientific components. Then they make bread in the class room, and finally visit a bakery to see bread made on a large scale. Other times their curiosity takes them outside, to a worm farm in Yelm to investigate what moves in the dirt in their own backyards and beyond. Each learning unit, or study, is designed to make learning fun and engaging. “A study is an in-depth and engaging way for children to dig into topics that they want to learn more about,” explains Fugate.
This study began with some students playing with blocks. Play is an essential component of early childhood learning. Unstructured play with simple toys, like wooden blocks, stimulates fine and gross motor skills, as well as encourages cooperative play. “I have a lot of children that were interested in our block area, making buildings and making towns,” says Fugate. “They were interested in how buildings were made and what buildings are made with.” So, building on their interest, she designed the building study.
The building study touches many areas of learning including mathematics, where students look at shapes, as well as reading and language where students listen to stories and also build their vocabulary, learning words like “column” and “cylinder.”
Students began their building study by listening to the classic children’s story, The Three Little Pigs. They learned about different methods and materials of building through the classical repetitive rhyme story, interacting with delight and excitement as Fugate read the classic tale out loud.
One day, during the building study, the students built creations out of sugar cubes using a thick frosting, dyed grey, to learn about brick and mortar, and what makes a sturdy foundation. Other days they built buildings out of cardboard or wooden blocks.
A Trip to the Capitol
The trip to the Capitol campus and grounds was the culminating event of their building study. The Littlerock Head Start aims to take their students on a field trip about once a month, and this trip, well supported by parent volunteers, gave students the opportunity to experience their learning in the world around them. “Field trips allow us to enhance the learning,” says Jessica Eyer, area coordinator for Littlerock and Rochester centers, “and our teachers look for ways to make learning interesting and fun.”
While most people were at the legislative building to be a part of the legislative session, the students were interested in the building. “We counted the columns and got up close and felt the columns,” says Fugate. “We have blocks that are cylinders, once a cylinder is put on a building, it becomes a column.” The students also counted the steps and examined the doors, which was a very popular part of the field trip, she adds.
The students added more vocabulary to their list when they learned about the rotunda. The children, along with their teachers, stretched out on the floor inside the legislative building to lay on their backs and get a better view of the inside of the rotunda. “When you’re a preschool teacher you get to do things like that with your children,” Fugate shares, “and it’s a pretty amazing experience, laying on that floor and looking up.”
An unscheduled event also happened on the field trip. A Washington State Patrol Officer assigned to the governor’s office noticed the parade of tiny tikes. She talked with the students, gave them Washington State Patrol sticker badges, and invited the field trip troupe into the governor’s conference room to get a look inside.
The field trip coincided with a beautiful sunny day, and the students finished up their trip with a picnic lunch next to the fountain, with a magnificent view of the Capitol rotunda.
“My students come in wanting to learn and are excited to be here, and I love to be a part of that, “says Fugate, who is in her 25th year teaching. Fugate is hard at work on her next study with students, and they are excited to see where their next study will take them.
Sound to Harbor Early Learning Center Littlerock
12710 Littlerock Road SW, Olympia