Revisiting old themes in a new year

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three toddlers ascend a set of stairs

by Mage

Elm House opened last week to begin our third year, and in some ways, it feels like going back to the first year. That’s because in our first year, we started with a group of children who were all two and under, and in our second year, many of those children grew up with us. Now Elm House has some very young toddlers once again (13 months), and many children under the age of 2.

three toddlers ascend a set of stairs

Since we have so many children under 2, some old themes are recurring, and as a school we have another chance to revisit old projects with fresh eyes.

A big theme that we are now discussing as a school is bodies. The children are learning many things about their bodies, especially how they work, and what they are capable of doing. This theme has come up for us many times before, though it’s been most apparent when we’ve had very young toddlers, who are learning how to balance and coordinate their limbs well enough to crawl, walk, climb, lift spoons, put cups to their mouths, etc.

The theme of bodies and how they work is especially apparent when we think about stairs. Every time we have new children, we inevitably take some time to introduce them to stairs and how to navigate them independently. Here in our third year, as in our first, the majority of the children are learning to use stairs. Many of the children in this school have stairs in their home, but may not have used them independently. So this is fresh work for a lot of these little bodies!

Learning to use the stairs takes a great deal of time, patience, and practice for the children. My method for introducing children to stairs, especially if they are pre-verbal, is to manually assist them while I talk them through the process. It might sound like, “We are going to go down the stairs together, and I will help you. Let’s get on our hands and knees, and turn your body around. I’m helping you to put your right foot down on the next step. And now your left foot is coming down. Now your right hand is coming down, and now your left hand,” and so on, until they have the rhythm down and can do it without my assistance, or we’ve reached the bottom of the stairs. As the children get the rhythm down and begin to work on this on their own, sometimes they still need a little coaching. In that case, I stand behind them, and place my hands on either side of their bodies on the stairs. I might say, “Now this foot comes down here” and pat the stair on one side, “Now this foot comes down here” and pat the stair with my other hand.

Observing the children and reflecting on the body theme, it becomes clear that the work of the stairs extends to other areas, as well. Some of the children are learning how to place their bodies into chairs, which actually looks remarkably similar to using a chair, at least in terms of body coordination.


An exciting curriculum connection between past years and the present year seems very relevant to the project of the stairs. In the past, children have explored the connection between their bodies and mark making by doing full body painting. Megan pointed out to me that revisiting this project as a school with the new children is one way we could connect body learning with art.

You may hear us talking about stairs and bodies a lot in the coming weeks. It’s a big topic for us!

By the way, the photos in this blog are all from this week! The second week of school! Last week we were carrying the youngest toddlers everywhere because they were unfamiliar with the school, but after just one week the children already have the confidence to begin the work of moving their own bodies around the school independently.

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