The 6-7s have been doing a neighborhood study, learning about the Upper West Side and more broadly, the different aspects of a neighborhood and what allows it to function. This is an extension of our earlier investigation into the school, specifically the different workers within it and how they help it operate on a day-to-day basis. In looking at our neighborhood, we are asking ‘What does a community need in order to function, and how do the people in that community help to support it?’
To begin our neighborhood study we went on impressionistic walks in the area around Manhattan Country School. In small research groups, we noticed different stores, workers and services. When we saw something interesting (like a Citi Bike hub or a veterinarian office), we would stop and talk about it. This allowed us to share what we already know, but also to ask questions aloud about what we wondered and wanted to learn.
Following this, each of the four research groups picked an aspect of the neighborhood to study further. We decided to learn more about food, transportation, health/safety, and clothing. Each group then visited a place in the neighborhood that specialized in each of those arenas.
In our respective groups we visited Bicycle Renaissance, Animal General, Young Clothing Cleaners, and our very own MCS Kitchen. Upon returning from these trips, each group shared their findings with the rest of the students and made books to document what we learned.
In addition to our visits, we had people familiar with these fields come to our classrooms and talk about what they do. MariaTere came and talked about how she makes clothing, Madison’s dad, Arian, visited wearing his MTA conductor’s outfit and answered all our questions about the subway, Thomas’ mom, Maida, came to talk about being a pediatrician, and Alyssa from Zone 7, which provides the school’s produce, spoke about food and farming.
All these visits were scaffolded with carefully chosen books that were read during storytime. Sally Goes to the Vet, for example, illustrated what happens when we take our pets to the doctor. Subway, relayed in rhymes, addressed the major mode of transportation that we use. And A Bus Called Heaven made us all think about the similarities between a community and a neighborhood.
Meanwhile, in art, Janice introduced a way to make small building facades with doors and windows that open. And in our own classroom worktimes, we began doing puppet shows, constructing small characters out of paper and popsicle sticks. We realized that it would be a wonderful culminating activity to build our own neighborhood in miniature. After brainstorming about what our neighborhood would need, children set to work constructing buildings and vehicles that related to their particular research group. As our neighborhood came together, the students’ contributions extended beyond just buildings to include other things we needed, like workers, roads, parks and trees.
As our neighborhood continues to evolve, it resembles the growth of any small town. What started out as a few ramshackle buildings has grown beyond the scope of the wall in the third floor flex space as the students continue to come up with new ideas, new necessities. And this very growth mimics the thinking and development of a child, whose sphere of understanding is continuing to grow from thinking about themselves and their family, to thinking about their classroom and the school, and then the neighborhood, and their city, their country, and eventually the whole world.