It is easily one of our favorite times of year.  Between the costumes and the candy, Halloween really resonates with people of all ages, but especially young children.  We use the holiday to focus on many of the topics associated with Halloween: cats, bats, skeletons, pumpkins, etc.

The students helped make new Halloween posters.

The Pumpkin Patch provided opportunities for expression, humor and writing.

We had fun making words out of the letters in ‘Frankenstein’.

These pasta skeletons helped us learn about our own skeletons.

This art project instructed use of color and making silhouettes.

We enjoyed decorating the entire school.

Watch out for Black Beard!

Happy Halloween!


When asked which country they would like to study next, the students selected Germany.  Since some of the teachers have traveled to Germany and studied it’s language and culture, we were excited to delve into this wonderful place, rich with fascinating geography, history and of course, the food!

The students regularly open restaurants during their play, often 2 or more times a week.  We make money, menus and seating areas to accommodate each restaurant and take turns being the customer, wait person and cook (I like to be the health inspector).  Studying Germany inspired us to open a German restaurant, complete with sauerkraut and black forest cake.  We discussed different currencies, including the US dollar, the euro, and the former German money, the mark.

We made German Potato Salad for our cooking project.

Knowing already that Germany is home to many of the world’s greatest castles, the students decided they wanted to construct a model of a castle, complete with towers, a castle wall, and even a moat.  Our books contained pictures, diagrams and facts about castles.  As fans of the Magic School Bus books, we really enjoyed reading about Ms. Frizzle’s adventures in a medieval castle.

This tourism site proved to be a great resource for studying German castles.  One of our favorites was Neuschwanstein Castle, famous for its fairy tale spires and inspiration for the Disney castles.

Neuschwanstein Castle

We learned about all the features we wanted our castle to have: towers, turrets, portcullis, moat, well, etc.  Our castle project will be an ongoing project, but here is what we have so far:

We spent time reading and acting out German fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood.  We enjoyed making puppets.  Then we moved on to making our own little stories and plays.  Steve and the students composed and performed several short plays, some of which tapped into the old tales.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf

We will certainly revisit Germany in our future studies.


Birds are interesting.  Large and small, subdued and extraordinary, there is such a range of this amazing group of animals.  Most of us know someone who is obsessed with birds, bringing binoculars everywhere, just in case there is a bird in the vicinity.

Since we spend so much time outside at Progress School, we are very observant of the wildlife sharing our space.  We have regular visits from cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds and hawks.  Every now and then we spot a heron in the creek or vultures circling in the sky.

Our copy of the Audubon book of North American birds was a great resource, along with several versions of Texas bird guides.

Within the pages of our many resource books, we found inspiration for our Bird Sanctuary diorama.

Our birds were clearly not made to scale, which prompted many amusing conversations.  Can you imagine what it would be like to be driving along and come across a roadrunner that is bigger than your car?

We studied features of birds and their anatomy and explored the questions we had about birds: Which birds do not fly?  Why do some birds fly and others don’t?  Which birds live in the water?  What do different birds eat?  How do birds stay warm in the winter?

We made bird feeders out of milk cartons and looked at designs for bird houses to construct in the wood shop for ongoing projects.  Each art project was accompanied by detailed discussions about different birds.

We learned some interesting facts about birds:

  • Fastest land bird – the ostrich – up to 45 mph!
  • Largest egg – ostrich egg
  • Largest nest – bald eagle’s nest – 9 feet wide and 20 feet deep!
  • Longest wingspan – albatross – 11 feet, which we measured out, and that is quite a large bird!

Some of our favorite birds include the cardinal, the blue jay, the bald eagle, and the blue-footed booby!



How do Starfish Eat?

We carefully prepare the environment to provide students with resources that pique their interest in a variety of subject matters.  To that end, we keep our shelves stocked with all manner of objects: books, math manipulatives, and natural specimens.  One day recently, a student picked up our dried starfish specimen from the shelf and began to examine it.  “How do starfish eat, anyway?” he pondered.  Let’s find out…

The encyclopedia revealed this explanation, as retold by the student:

The starfish uses its arms to grab its prey and pulls it apart and closer to the hole in the middle.  It has this part of its stomach that comes out and surrounds the food and pulls it inside its body to eat it.

This website yielded a similar explanation.

We found this video to watch a starfish eating.

We decided to draw a picture to explain to others how starfish eat.

It is within this inquiry-based framework that much of the learning at our school (and in the child’s world!) takes place.  From this single question, sparked from a child’s natural curiosity about his surroundings, so much learning took place: we utilized a variety of resources to gather information, the student had the opportunity to practice reading and writing for a relevant purpose, and the student rephrased and summarized information for his peers.  And it was fun!

Space & The Solar System

Solar System Puzzle

This is one of our favorite units ever.  Our students’ interest in space is such that we manage to talk about it no matter what else we are studying.  This unit provided a wonderful opportunity to go into greater depth.

The topic of black holes drove much of our inquiry.  From the first week of school, one of the students had become fascinated with supernovas and black holes.  How big is a black hole?  What is inside of a black hole?  Will our sun become a black hole?  What would happen to you if  you got close to a black hole?  How are black holes and supernovas related? 

Here is are some of the short videos we watched: What’s Inside of a Black Hole? , the relative sizes of celestial bodies, from our moon to the largest known star in the universe, a video about Jupiter,  and one about constellations.

We learned about atmosphere and weather, relating Jupiter’s great storm to hurricanes on earth.  We made our own cloud in a bottle and conducted experiments and demonstrations on gravity, inertia, centripetal/centrifugal force and light.

Glitter Planets

Our Sun, made with tissue paper on top of a paper lantern

Our Solar System model



Our 10 Gallon Tank

Bristlebert, a bristle-nose pleco

For our second week of school we studied fish.  Specifically we focused on freshwater fish, but we did not limit ourselves.  One of our goals for the week was to buy some new fish for our ten-gallon tank.  We took a field trip to AquaTek, where we saw several kinds of both freshwater and saltwater fish.  The largest fish we saw was about 8 inches long, and the most expensive fish were over $100!  The staff was a great resource in helping us to pick out some new fish.  We bought 3 white cloud fish, two assassin snails and one adorable bristle-nose pleco (an algae eater).

The arapaima, which can be up to 8 feet long!

In the classroom, we researched all kinds of fish using our encyclopedias, books about fish and the internet.  We discovered one of the largest freshwater fish in the world: the arapaima of Brazil. This fish has been hunted for its supposedly tasty flesh to the extent that it is now unusual to find such long specimens, but some have been caught that measured between 7 and 8 feet long.

We discussed smaller fish, where they live, what they eat and how they fit into their ecosystems.  On a visit to Waller Creek, which runs along our schoolyard, we observed the tiny fish swimming in the few puddles left in the nearly dry creek bed.  We collected specimens of algae for later observation.


For one of the students, this sparked an investigation of the famous Loch Ness Monster.  After researching the many theories surrounding this legendary creature, we created our own vision of Nessie.






Some of our favorite books are the Rainbow Fish books, by Marcus Pfister.  After reading them all, we made our own beautiful fish.

Pictures from the First Week

Our unit for the week was “Summer Vacations and Back to School”, but of course we were all over the place in our excitement to all be together after the long break.

We used our homemade solar oven to heat a frozen pizza.

The dominoes were placed on each state that either a student or a teacher had at some time visited. We covered all but 6 states!

Inspired by a student's story, we made llamas.

Steve's alien glasses, constructed for him by a student.

Welcome to Progress School

We have just begun an exciting new school year!  The students hit the ground running, immediately initiating activities.  They were eager to explore the new space.

We set to work making plans for the year.  We decided our first unit would be ‘Fish’ followed by ‘Space and the Solar System’.  We set a date for a field trip to AquaTek to buy new fish for our 10 gallon tank.  We also started work on our plans to build a new play scape.  The students shared several ideas, including monkey bars and a climbing wall.  We had conversations about subjects we wish to study and skills we’d like to develop through the course of the school year.

It is exciting to see how enthusiastic and motivated the students are.  We will have our work cut out for us as we delve into the depths of the ocean and the outer reaches of space.