Archive results for: 5 Things Friday

5 Things Friday: Year 1 in 5 Frames

This week, VOCEL celebrated one year since opening our doors on the west side of Chicago. Many of you have supported VOCEL with your time, resources or simply your well wishes – thank you. Today, we’re giving you an inside look at VOCEL’s first year.

The familiar saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” rings true when it comes to VOCEL. Images capture the emotions and thoughts of young children in a way that words often can’t. We’ve handpicked the following five images to tell the story of VOCEL’s journey through the first year. Each image represents one of VOCEL’s 5 Channels, the handful of approaches we use most to develop children’s social, emotional and cognitive skills. 

Join us in celebrating our first year supporting children and families with these images featuring the #VOCELkids, the reasons we do what we do each day.


Constant Conversations 



Supportive Relationships 



Shared Curiosity & Discovery



Exposure to Creativity with Opportunities to Create




Opportunities to Lead, Follow & Collaborate 




5 Things Friday: Beautiful Junk

One thing that constantly amazes VOCEL’s team is the creativity and imagination our 3- and 4-year-olds bring to the classroom each day. So it was a joyous occasion for all when the teachers introduced “beautiful junk” and a brand new art cart in the classroom last week.

Paper towel rolls, buttons, fabric scraps, egg cartons, pipe cleaners. All these items might be found in your kitchen junk drawer or recycle bin, but to our VOCEL kids, these are the makings of treasures. Last week the teachers introduced “beautiful junk” and a new art cart full of materials, ready to be used for innovative creations.



Research says that giving children open-ended materials and free reign to do with them what they will is much more beneficial for children’s development than crafts with step-by-step directions and parameters set by teachers. In the early education world, this is also often discussed as the difference between process art (focused on the process of creating, the experimention and exploration, and the frustration and joy that process brings) and product art (focused on a specific outcome and requires that children create in a predetermined way). At VOCEL, we love process art and are committed to fostering children’s creativity and artistic abilities through as many open-ended opportunities as we can provide. 

Curious what our kids gravitated towards in their first week with the new art cart? Here are the current top five favorite beautiful junk items:

1.  Popsicle Sticks- Our bulk supply of wooden popsicle sticks has been put to good use as children have tried their hand at creating snowflakes, covered with glitter and Mod Podge, and fashioning various letters of the alphabet, including their favorite letters – the first in each of their names.

2. Egg Cartons-  Children immediately took to the cartons with scissors, slicing them in half along the hinge of the cartons. From there, the creativity took them in different directions with some children making them into guitars with rubberbands and other string, while others turned the carton halves upside down to create long, narrow hats.

3. Buttons- The most popular use of the buttons has been in conjunction with pipe cleaners as children have strung buttons on the pipe cleaners and then bent them to create bracelets or jewelry for themselves or their friends.



4. Rubber Bands- Children have been fascinated by the abundance of multi-colored rubber bands in the cart and especially their varying sizes. The largest rubber bands have become strings of egg carton guitars while the smallest have been used to fasten popsicle sticks. 

5. Fabric Scraps- This week, fabric has been used primarily to create musical intstruments. Children found that they could toss beads into a alumnium can, cover it with a scrap of fabric, fasten the fabric and shake away. Bonus: using scissors effectively is challenging in the preschool years and cutting fabric is a fun way for children to hone these fine motor skills.



What beautiful junk is hiding in your house? Think of all the ways it can be repurposed by young children you know. If you don’t have any use for some of your beautiful junk, feel free to stop by VOCEL and add it to our art center. We can’t wait to see how VOCEL’s children use the art cart items next week. 

5 Things Friday: This week at VOCEL

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in the field of early childhood education is the privilege of witnessing incredible moments in young children’s worlds – the moments when a child successfully conquers a skill they’ve been working at, the moments when a child experiences something for the first time and the moments when a child surprises you with displays of leadership and responsibility well beyond their years. Captured in images, here are some of our favorite moments from this week at VOCEL.


When there isn’t space to join activities in the learning center of their choice, children often request that the teachers start a waiting list. This child took matters into her own hands when she found children’s name tags to help her spell their names and created the list herself.



VOCEL’s children are pretty obsessed with Jack Hartmann’s Learning Letter Sounds song and poster these days. You know the obsession is real when children wake up from nap early and use the extra time to review their letter sounds.


Marble painting 1

As part of our ongoing investigations of different types of balls, we used marbles this week to create paintings in donated aluminum trays. Children were amazed at how the paint moved and mixed as they tilted the trays in different directions.


Mr. Fox

This week the children branched out from the most frequently played games in the gym and adopted a new favorite: What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? Children who are typically more reserved were loving the limelight as they jumped for the opportunity to be the fox and call out directions to their friends.


Reading in hall

Children at VOCEL know that even if they can’t yet read the words in our stories, they can “read” the pictures. No time is off limits when it comes to reading so when this child asked to bring a book along to the gym so he could read while we walked through the hallways, the answer was, “Absolutely!”


We had a great week at VOCEL. Hope you did too!

5 Things Friday: Favorite field trip moments

On Wednesday, VOCEL’s class took its first field trip. With seven wonderful parents and grandparents joining us, we traveled to the Bronzeville Children’s Museum to explore a healthy eating exhibit and learn about Black leaders and innovators in Chicago.

All in all, it was a fun-filled morning and children left the museum having learned new facts and made new friends. Here are five of our favorite moments from the trip.

1. The bus ride there: I think riding the big school bus may have been the best part of the trip for some of our children. As the bus accelerated when we entered the expressway, I heard shouts of glee and one child say, “We’re speeding up!” Another shouted, “I hope we don’t roll off the road!” As the drive continued, children watched out their windows, commenting on anything and everything — from where the passengers we saw on the train might be headed to what kinds of repairs were taking place along the expressway exit ramps.

Bus ride

2. Playing with our parents: In the Jewel grocery store exhibit, parents jumped right in and joined their children’s play. Children loved filling their shopping carts and using the ATM before checking out and paying for their groceries.

Grocery store

3. Learning about carbon filaments: In one of the museum exhibits, children learned about two African-American inventors, Lewis Latimer and Garrett Morgan. Latimer invented an improved process for creating the carbon filaments in lightbulbs, so children had fun saying “Lewis Latimer” each time they pressed the button to turn on the museum’s lightbulb.

Lightbulb 1

4. Exercising : We know the importance of exercise at VOCEL — with two gross motor times per day our children have ample time to exert their energy. Our field trip was no different and gave children plenty of time to get their wiggles out.  Children practiced new skills like balancing on a children’s elliptical device, bouncing on the trampoline and working on hand-eye coordination with a baseball toss.


5. The bus ride home: No matter what the age of the children, field trips always tend to tire them out, and our first field trip was no exception. After hours of fun including nearly an hour in the exercise exhibit, children were wiped out, making the bus ride home quiet and relaxing, which is quite the rarity in the conversation-filled world of VOCEL.

Trevor tired

5 Things Friday: We are thankful

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we asked our children what they are thankful for. For this year’s 5 Things Friday post, read below to hear from five of our little ones.

Interviewing 3 and 4 year olds is always an interesting experience.  From the mouths of babes, here is an assortment of the things VOCEL’s students are most thankful for this year.

5. I am thankful for my mom. -Isaiah

4. My brother. -Nyla

3. Dr. Kevin who keeps me healthy. -Trevor

2. I am thankful for my grandma, Momma Donna. -Chris

1. I am thankful for Christmas coming. -Travonte

Quite the mix of thanks, and we can all agree that after lots of long days, our teachers are also grateful that winter break is on its way!  In all seriousness though, VOCEL is thankful for these amazing kids and all of our supporters and blog readers.  Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

5 Things Friday: Rolling with the punches

Since we know predictable routines make children feel secure and help them prepare for what’s coming next, we strive for consistency with a schedule that stays the same day-in and day-out. When planned strategically, however, variety can provide a welcome break and create opportunities for children to learn to control themselves in new situations. In today’s 5 Things Friday post, we share five out-of-ordinary events that our children handled with grace this week.

1. Special visitor with a big camera: On Wednesday morning, a professional photographer spent some time at VOCEL capturing images of our children and teachers. The children loved showing off their best smiles for the camera, and we’re grateful to have beautiful photos of our incredible founding class hard at play (and work). Here’s a sneak peek at one of them.


2. Meet Mr. Andy (for the day): With one staff member out for afternoon meetings on Tuesday, VOCEL had a substitute teacher for most of the afternoon. Children woke up after nap and were introduced to Mr. Andy who joined us for the day. The children loved asking the newest teacher in the room for assistance with shoe tying and snack opening.

3. Impromptu gardening lesson: Co-located within Chicago Jesuit Academy (CJA), VOCEL has the distinct privilege of being able to use many parts of CJA’s beautifully-kept facility and grounds including the front yard where our children play outdoors twice each day. The yard is also home to CJA’s school gardens, where the CJA students happened to be picking sweet potatoes during VOCEL’s outdoor activity time on Wednesday. The middle school gentleman of CJA were kind enough to share their learnings with VOCEL’s children. According to the preschoolers, the unanimous favorite was getting to hold the worms!


4. Paint! This week was a big one for VOCEL’s classroom art center, as we introduced the much-anticipated paint and paintbrushes. After preparing children with a thorough discussion of what we can and cannot paint on, a demonstration of how to put on a smock and a review of how we can respond if we don’t get a turn right away, VOCEL’s children became amateur painters before our eyes. The classroom art gallery is now filled with new paintings and we can’t wait to paint again next week.

5. Out with the old, in with the new: As the week came to a close, a Friday afternoon UPS delivery arrived – our new carpet! After noticing that the carpet in our classroom wasn’t quite big enough for all of our children to sit comfortably and move around (as 3- and 4-year-olds do!), we opted to purchase a larger carpet to accommodate our class for morning meeting, story time and the ever-popular dance parties. Thankfully, we had three strong children to help us roll up the old carpet to make room for the new.


VOCEL had a great week, and we hope you did too!

5 Things Friday: VOCEL’s Quirky Kids

We all have childhood memories that stay with us for a lifetime. Maybe you were obsessed with Ninja Turtles, Care Bears or the timeless classic Goodnight Moon. Read below to get a glimpse into the current classroom obsessions at VOCEL.

Each day our children learn and discover new things in the classroom, developing preferences for some and dislike for others. Throughout the four weeks they’ve been attending VOCEL, some of these things have become absolute class favorites. Hardly an hour goes by where there isn’t some mention of the following five:

1. Milk Mustaches: On the first day of school, after the milk had been poured at breakfast, the concept of a milk mustache was described by VOCEL teachers. Children giggled and gurgled down more milk to proudly display their mustaches to their friends and teachers. Four weeks later, this breakfast and lunchtime habit still holds strong.

Milk mustaches


2. Going on a Bear Hunt: VOCEL children beam with joy when a teacher starts singing “We’re going on a bear hunt.”  This interactive song has become a class favorite to get the wiggles out and explore spatial vocabulary. Children go across the field, through the river, over the bridge, and up the tree, but let me tell you, our VOCEL children’s favorite part is screaming as they run back home away from that bear!

3. No David! By David Shannon: The first book from the classic David series has quickly become a daily must-read.  As David traverses through his house and neighborhood disobeying rules, our children learn from his mistakes and laugh as he creates mischief, breaking into a big smile when we reach the final page where his mom wraps him in a tight hug and tells him she still loves him.

4. The Football Team: While we do have a few children who’ve sported Cutler jerseys recently, to our kids, the ‘football team’ is a song and movement activity where each child is picked by the “coach” to show off their best touchdown celebration dance. Whether indoors or outdoors, the children love when its time to play ‘football team.’

FullSizeRender (2)


5. Ms. Denise’s Cooking: Shhh, this one is a secret!  Our very talented Ms. Denise manages the catering from local vendor Gourmet Gorilla; however, as the person bringing meals into the classroom each day, our children now believe Ms. Denise is providing her own home cooking for them.  We haven’t let them in on the secret yet, and we love to make predictions about ‘what Ms. Denise cooked for us today.’


5 Things Friday: Young mathematicians in the making

While some would argue VOCEL’s most unique program components relate to language and leadership development in young children, we know early math skills are essential for our children to be prepared to compete in a world filled with constant innovation in science, math, engineering and technology.

So, in our founding classroom, we integrate math into routines and lessons so children can begin to see how math is relevant to the many important things they do each day. Here are five ways that we are bringing math concepts to life in VOCEL’s classroom:

1. Look who came to school today: As children arrive to school each day, they move their photographs from the “At Home” column of our chart to “At School.” During morning meeting, we count the number of friends at school and at home and compare the numbers to see which is greater. Not only does this provide practice with counting but children learn that we say one number name for each photograph and learn important vocabulary used when making comparisons.

Math 2

2. Tracking our time at school: Each day at morning meeting, we add a straw to our collection. Then we count the number of straws and record how many days we’ve been in school on the board.

Math 1


3. Children’s choice: We regularly incorporate opportunities for children to determine the books we read and the songs we sing. Not only does this ensure children feel valued and begin to internalize that their ideas matter, but it also provides great practice counting and making comparisons after we vote.

Math 4


4. More than picking up after ourselves: VOCEL’s children eat breakfast and lunch family style in the classroom, and we encourage independence by allowing children to serve themselves and assist in the clean up process. The benefits are far more than just giving the teachers a hand though; as children place their bowls, plates, cups and silverware in the appropriate bins, they’re practicing sorting and classifying.

Math 5


5. Matching as we play: As we shared on the blog earlier this week, our classroom’s Centers board promotes independent choice as children choose an area to play and attach the corresponding clothespin to their shirts. An added bonus is the practice children get matching the colors of their clothespins to the colored dots on the board. It also reinforces 1-to-1 correspondence as children learn that there is one clothespin for each dot.

Math 3


We love learning about new ways to bring math concepts into our routines and play at VOCEL.  Share your ideas with us at

5 Things Friday: developing lovers of literature at VOCEL

At VOCEL, we aim to instill a love of literature in our children – a fondness of reading books and having books read, of telling stories and hearing stories told. Recently, we introduced VOCEL’s classroom library and have enjoyed watching children gravitate toward favorite books and retell stories in their own words.

For this 5 Things Friday post, we’re sharing five strategies families can use at home to spark young children’s interest in literature.

1. Make reading a part of your daily routine. Reading every night at bedtime or every morning before school will help reading time become something your children expect and look forward to. After a week or two of the routine, they may even remind you if you forget!

Travonte reading

Children at VOCEL sometimes read books to relax during rest time.

2. Read anything and everything. Many families think that children’s storybooks are the only things they can read with young children, but actually, children benefit from learning that words and sentences are found in many formats and all of them can be read. Plus, little ones love the sound of their loved ones reading to them, so keep an open mind. Busy making a grocery list? Read it line by line to your child. Have to check a quick work email in the evening? Set your child on your lap and read it aloud. Lists, magazines, newspapers, even street signs — read anything and everything with your child.

3. Read as a family. Making reading a family activity will show your child that reading isn’t only for kids; it’s something we use for practicality and enjoyment, lifelong. Reading books together or independently but in the same room, family reading time can become a great way to bond and develop important literacy skills at the same time.

Girls reading

Classmates at VOCEL read and discuss stories together in the classroom library.

 4. Read books again and again. It’s a common misconception that children will become bored if we read the same books to them several days in a row. Young children thrive on repeated exposure to concepts, characters and story lines. They begin to feel a connection to the characters and develop a sense of confidence when they know what’s coming next. Last week, we read Where The Wild Things Are three times. As we brought it out at story time, shouts of joy could be heard around the carpet and this week, children asked to draw their own wild things.

5. Pause and wonder aloud while you read. Mature readers think as they read, but this process isn’t innate. Children learn best when the adults in their lives demonstrate this thinking. After reading a page in a storybook, pause and say, “I’m wondering if….” You can comment on what you think might happen next or why you think a character just did something. No matter what you wonder, you’ll be showing your kids that great readers think as they read.

For more tips on how to read books in a way that engages young children, check out this Jumpstart blog post by Stephanie Landry, a dear friend of VOCEL’s team.

5 Things Friday

VOCEL is beginning a new ritual; each Friday, we’ll highlight something new to keep you up to date on classroom happenings and the early education landscape. Stay tuned to learn about our classroom, kids, families and more.

As VOCEL’s first week comes to a close, we’re celebrating the joy and creativity that has already emerged in the classroom.  Today, we’ve captured five moments when creativity came alive in room 201.  Enjoy!

1.  Using puzzle pieces as chicken wings in the dramatic play center


2. Creating a Play-Doh snow woman with earrings


3. Imagining Unifix cubes as “wild thing claws” after reading Where The Wild Things Are


4. Constructing Lego trains and delivering food to different cities


5. Using Lego cell phones to communicate


Visit the VOCEL Blog for frequent updates from the creative minds in our founding class.


Our blog is a gathering place for all things VOCEL. It's a window into our classroom, a resource for early education news, and a place to discover stories that showcase our teachers, our children and our families.