ISY Learning Story

Castles and Culture in Pre-Kindergarten

Our Pre-Kindergarten class has been learning about castles. How did this topic transpire? It came from the students. If you ask our Pre-Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Ruth, about where she gets her ideas for the topics they study, she will say many or most of them come from the students.

Children learn best when they are interested and invested in what they are learning. While students are playing and interacting with each other, Ms. Ruth is listening and taking notes to get a deeper understanding of their interests and how they are learning. In this particular case, she noticed the children’s interest in the dramatic play area was dwindling, so she brought this up to the students.  

“I noticed you are not playing in the dramatic play area. I think it is time to change it. What do you think we should change it to?” (It was currently a police station). 

Ms. Ruth often heard conversations amongst the children about castles, princesses, kings and queens. When the class discussed what the dramatic play area should become, the kids shared their ideas, and Ms. Ruth shared her observations. 

It was decided the dramatic play area should become a castle. How to make the castle was the students’ decision. To help them decide, Ms. Ruth put together a slideshow of castles in the countries represented in the classroom. These included India, Japan, Korea, Myanmar and the U.K. Cultural diversity is core to the ISY identity.  ISY thrives in the culture developed by an international community and celebrates local culture. This statement summarizes ISY’s commitment to internationalism as part of the school’s recent review of strategic themes. By intentionally bringing the cultures of all students into the learning process, Ms. Ruth was engaging students in what it means to be a compassionate global citizen.

The energy in the classroom exploded with excitement. It was clear to Ms. Ruth this was a topic they could go deep into.

The planning of the castle was done by a small group of 5 students that wanted to be on this project. Their study and observation of castles brought them to the conclusion they wanted their classroom castle to be gray 

stone, have a tower, a bridge, windows, a moat, water, and some kind of door that went up and down. The color of the door had to be decided by  a vote.  The majority voted for a rainbow door. The door also had to go up and down. Mr. Ye Thiha, who runs ISY’s Makerspace, came to the classroom and taught the children about pulleys. He helped the students install a pulley system so that the castle door opened and closed by going up and down. 

Language arts, math and science have all been taught through the students’ interest in castles. For example, students have drawn castles and told stories about them. They have made castles from different materials, such as blocks, clay, paper and other random materials. They have looked at maps and continue to learn about their classmates’ countries and cultures through the study of castles. 

Ms. Schubert, our ISY librarian,  set up iPads with information and photos of kings, queens and princesses from the different countries represented in the class and helped the students find the answers to questions the students had: Are there kings and queens in the world today? Where are they? Where do kings and queens come from? What do guards wear? 

To help their learning come alive, the students took a field trip to visit the National Museum of Myanmar. They looked at the ancient artifacts and replicas of royal regalia including thrones, clothing, jewels, and other items that represent the ideas that they have been thinking about. What do castles need and how and why have they changed over time are two more questions students were asking when they returned from their visit. 

Deep learning happens when students are interested in and feel connected to what they are learning. In this unit on castles, Ms. Ruth helped all students really connect to the topic of castles by connecting this topic to the students’ own cultures and the cultures of everyone in the room. Not only did these cultural connections nurture deep learning in all subject areas, they promoted and celebrated the cultural diversity and internationalism that is core to the ISY identity and in developing compassionate global citizens.