my capstone experience

Kristen Romanko '09, a Child Development major with early childhood certification from Mansfield, Mass., was a member of the women's basketball and volleyball teams for four years, and was captain of the volleyball team for junior and senior years. She was also the vice president of Student Athletic Advisory Committee. Here she discusses her Capstone project, a long-term investigation called “The Windy Hill Kindergarten Explores Nature.”

Describe your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject?

I chose to do my project on nature because children in this area are surrounded by nature, and I wanted them to get more physically involved with it. A walk through the 100 Acre Woods, or Kelsey Forest, sparked a conversation that I had with one of the boys.

We were talking about bears, and I asked him where bears live. He said in houses. So I asked him where they live when it snows, and he again said houses. He knew that he lived in a house, and thought that everyone else must, too. I really wanted to keep going with this and have the children investigate the topic further.

My project was centered around the concept of "a big idea," which means that it can go many ways and have many angles. The subject of nature is broad, and I included weather, seasons, environment and animals as subtopics. As a class, we investigated weather, animals in the state of New Hampshire and their environments, plants and their life cycles, water in the form of ice, snow and streams, and natural materials found in the surroundings. The children explored through field trips, experiments and interactive activities.

What kinds of research did you conduct for this project?

The early childhood education Capstone is geared toward creating a long-term investigation within our teaching internship sites, but the research I conducted for my project has been my research of child development and education during my junior and senior years. Over the years, the study of child development and education of young children helped me prepare for my student teaching internship and the development and implementation of my Capstone.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what ways is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

I learned how to create activities and projects for a kindergarten class that centered around one big idea in the form of a long-term project. The purpose of a long-term project is to fully investigate a subject over a period of time, revisiting old activities and fostering discussion and investigation.

I learned how to create activities to investigate nature, while at the same time incorporating literacy, math, social studies, science and art into the curriculum. I learned that it is very possible to integrate these subjects into activities over the course of a day.

Everything that I have learned at Colby-Sawyer, from my art Pathway, math class, writing class, wellness class, and all of my child development classes, assisted me in completing my Capstone. My child development classes were especially helpful, and the long-term project that I completed in my junior year was extremely beneficial in preparing me for my Capstone.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

Seeing what the children learned over the course of the semester, not only about nature but other things as well, was most rewarding. At the beginning of the semester, I asked the children what they thought of when they heard the word "nature." Their answers were typical and included birds, Mother Nature and trees.

When I asked again at the end of the semester, their answers were much more insightful and included moss, rivers, horses, birds, rocks and woods. I was so excited to see their thinking expand from the activities that they did with me. In addition, they were able to work on math, literacy, science, social studies and creative development throughout their project. And while these skills would have improved even without my project, I could definitely see the effects of the activities and experiments that the children did with me.

What did you find most difficult about the project?

The most challenging aspect was trying to conduct my activities during my solo weeks. As a student teaching intern, I was required to complete three weeks of solo teaching when I was in complete control of the class. It was difficult to have my activities out and to take pictures and document what was going on during the activities while I had the whole class to tend.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

The lasting value for me will be that I learned how to have children truly investigate and explore something and incorporate these activities with the rest of the curriculum. I can take this knowledge and bring it to my future teaching jobs.

I also hope that my project made an impact on the children. I hope that they have a better understanding and appreciation for nature, and have developed more curiosity for investigating than they had before. For the current and future Child Development students of Colby-Sawyer, I hope that my project has inspired them to really encourage children to investigate and explore, and that they see that it is possible to teach children the basic subjects through interactive and explorative activities.