The children were trying to figure out how they might convert our loft into a more comfortable spot for hibernating or adapting through the winter.  A few ideas sprang forward including making a burrow under the bottom, creating cave walls on the lower portion, and making beds in all areas.  While a few debated the possibilities, another group began scouting out the top of the loft.  They explained that they needed to find materials to make a nest that they wouldn’t fall out of.  Their plan was to create a nest and suspend it from the balcony banister. Thankfully, they realized the trouble with flimsy grass-like materials in creating suspension beds before any human trials were put forward.

Feeling that I might be able to provide them with some more safe examples of nest building, we pulled up good ‘ole Google images and perused nests of all sorts.  Now our interest became more fully grounded in materials.  Our quest to create the perfect nest began.


This project is not yet done, but if you’re interested in making your own, here are the materials we used so far:

  • straws
  • brown paper (grass)
  • yellow paper (sticks)
  • many colors and lengths of raffia string
  • white and red Basket Box & Bag shred
  • twine

We moved it into the box as none of the children have yet come up with a plan for “sewing” (their words) or sticking the nest together, yet.  Although one enterprising student did suggest that I could tie all of the pieces together….  I think we’ll see if they come up with another suggestion.

Caves and Burrows

Looking more closely at the winter homes we saw illustrated in yesterday’s book, we decided to try our hand at creating our own.  Today we explored creating caves and burrows using supplies in our block area.



Child A: “We almost had the same idea, but then we didn’t.”

Child B:  “Yeah, but we were building the same thing, but I didn’t have enough blocks.”


“Now….how do we make roofs?”


Child A: “Oh my gosh! I know how to make this!”

Child B:  ” Me, too!  I have a great idea!”

Child A: “No, no…I have a great idea.”

Child B:  “We need a little help.  It’s like, falling over.”

Child B:  “How about we slide it in and it holds it?”

Child A:  “There we go!  And put these here.”

Child A and B: “Yea! We did it!!!!”



Child A: “We need that roof on there.”

Child B:  “We need something to block them.”

Child A:  “We…..aaaaaaaaa [blocks fall down]…That’s ok!”

Child B:  “This is the shelter so the relaxing place doesn’t get rained on.”

Child A:  “This is where the garage is and this is where the balance beam for them to walk on.”


“We have two animals and they are separate.”


“I’m making a nice cave for my bear to live in.”

“I’m going to change my burrow, now.  My cave is going to be different from my burrow.  Caves are on the Earth, up top, and burrows are underground.”


Ellie the Spider

A little while ago, we realized we had a visitor in our class.  This little friend was attempting to pick out a lovey (we think?)  Being kind hosts, we created a special place in our classroom for our visitor to hang out safely.  P1210320

We learned that our new friend needed special food.  Hamburgers were just not going to cut it.  We also found out that it required hiding spots to feel safe and a small capful of water to drink.

Many names were considered including Buggie, Boogie and Spiderman.  After a class vote, “Ellie” became the official name of our new friend.  (Although many still call her “Buggie.”  I’m including a picture at the bottom of this post, but I should warn you, if you are not a fan of spiders…..close this window now.

Ellie inspired us to find out what type of spider she might be.  At first, we thought she was a Grass Spider.  Then we realized that her abdomen is not the right shape.  We’ve also observed that she is not making webs.  Our current thought is that she is a wolf spider.  If you have a different idea, let us know in the comments.  We can always take ideas from “the experts.”

A few times each week, we go foraging for food for her.  We’ve put in ants, mites, pill bugs (isopods) and unidentified teeny tiny bugs.  Soon, we will need to let her free to roam before the cold weather hits.

An now……meet Ellie:


Sharks, ahoy!

Our boat accidentally coasted into a swarm of sharks!  Oh my!  Luckily, there weren’t any injuries.  When one child decided to make a fin, others quickly followed.

With sharks came questions.

  • What kinds of fish do they eat?
  • How strong are shark teeth?
  • Is a shark’s fin always long?
  • How do sharks swim?
  • How do they breathe underwater?
  • Why do they swim underwater so long?
  • Do they eat fries?
  • Why can’t they go on the beach?

The children decided we could look through books, talk to experts, and check the computer to find our answers.



Loose Parts

I recently added some foam corners, left over from packaging, to the construction zone.  I thought they might make for an interesting addition to buildings.  As is usually the case, the children had much grander plans.  Requesting something to stick into the foam, I provided them with craft sticks.  Delighted, I watched as they proceeded to impale the sticks into the sides, using them to attach pieces together.  Many creations came from these experiments, yet somehow I only managed to capture this one on film.


The child who made this eagerly explained his design and wished to display it in the class.  He then wrote a label so anyone visiting would understand his sculpture.


Ships Ahoy!

It’s official, our box has become a boat!  It all began with an enthusiastic engine design and a wave of imagination.  P1200590

So far, we’ve added navigation equipment (“It’s radar, Mrs. Forst, it shows where the water is, where the land is and where the boats are”), door knobs, handles, a “buoy” (“You throw it in the water to get people who are in the water”), a stool for the driver, lots of ropes for various jobs and a steering wheel.

The children were interested in attempting to cut the box by themselves and found it was much more difficult than it looked.


Corrugated cardboard isn’t very forgiving to small hands.  Luckily, my trusty box cutter did the job. (No worries, safety precautions were taken and children watched from afar as I sawed my way through our sea-worthy creation.)  The children marked each space they wanted removed, cut or bored-through.  I did my best to match their schematics.

One of the ideas for the box included an animal shelter where we could get dogs and cats.  With that in mind, one of the students asked for a “cat hole” so the pets could get in and out of the boat.


Halfway through our work, the children decided to see if they all could fit inside.  The first attempt involved squishing and smooshing while they all tried to sit down.

P1200611After five adventurers, it got a bit crowded so I asked my favorite question, “How can we solve this problem?”  “Stand up,” exclaimed one excited sailor.


It worked! All of the children present during this construction fit.  We’ll have to check in on our boat project over the next week.



Hour of Code

Last week, our school participated in a worldwide initiative called The Hour of Code. This project is designed to help promote computer sciences in all classrooms and to spark the curiosity of children while they are young.  It also helps to show children that computer programming can be as simple as playing games.

Our Pre-K students worked with the members of our technology department from the city campus and discussed how robots need instructions or commands in order to do a job. Some robots react to buttons or joysticks, while others use voice and face recognition. When you write code, you need the same ingredients.

We then played a game where one teacher pretended to be a robot that needed instructions from the students on how to build a tower of blocks. Instructions like “build the floor” were not specific enough for the robot to know what to do. The students had to really think about what words they needed to use for the robot to understand. Directions such as “pick up the rectangle block and put it on the floor” gave enough detail for the robot to do his job.


After our discussion, we broke up into small groups and played an app called Daisy the Dinosaur. The students had to choose different actions for Daisy to do. At first, the students just picked one action at a time, then they began making long lists for Daisy to accomplish. When they felt that the list was complete, the students hit play and watch Daisy perform her silly dance of flips and turn, growing and shrinking.

The students loved the idea that they were in charge of that happened to Daisy, and more importantly, that they were able to do it independently. We encourage you to look into some of the activities that promote computer sciences at home as well . Perhaps someday your little one could be the next computer engineer!

News from the Director

Upcoming Dates and Information from Laurie Vennes


December 5, 8:15 – 9:15 a.m., Library
Contact: Laurie Vennes, 412-486-8341 or [email protected]

Your feedback is important to us! Now that you have received a copy of our new report cards, we want to hear your impressions and ideas for improvement. Please join Laurie Vennes for coffee to discuss the new report cards and assessments at WT.



December 5, 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Contact: Brock Perkins, [email protected]
The fifth grade Medieval Festival includes a medieval feast, dance, and other merry-making.



December 6, 8:30 a.m., Multipurpose Room
Contact: Laurie Vennes, 412-486-8341 ext. 11 or [email protected]
Students should show their WT pride by wearing their WT t-shirts accompanied by uniform bottoms on Spirit Day.


December 6, 8:30 – 10:30 a.m., at the home of Amy and Larry Zana, 3284 Windstream Drive, Gibsonia, PA 15044
December 13, 8:30 – 10:30 a.m., at the home of Marina and Kenneth Lehn, 5061 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Contact: Stacie Schmidt, 412-578-7512 or[email protected]
To celebrate the season, all WT families are invited to brunch at the home of City and North Hills families. Please stop in for a quick coffee and pastry on your way to work, or stay for the morning!


– What Parents Are Saying, December 11, 8:15 a.m., Library
Contact: Laurie Vennes, 412-486-8341 ext. 11 or[email protected]
We thank the approximately 45 parents and faculty members who attended two open forums about the future of the North Hills Campus, held on November 6 and 8. In dialogue with Gary Niels, Laurie Vennes, and other members of the administration, participants learned about and gave input to strategic directions for the campus. To give more parents the opportunity to participate in these important dialogues, a third session has been scheduled.

Here’s what some parents said after attending the sessions:

“…The meeting offered me great insight into the level of commitment that Winchester Thurston School has toward the North Hills Campus. The interactive nature of the meeting between Gary, the faculty, and the parents (all of the involved stakeholders) impresses me that my concerns, ideas, and feedback are both appreciated and will be taken into consideration as the school moves forward with its strategic plans. Ultimately, it is supportive of the notion that I have my child in the right place.”

“In particular it was great to see a combination of parents and teachers and administrators there trying to generate ideas to strengthen the North Hills Campus…I would encourage other current parents to attend so that they could hear more about the direction of the school and voice their input so that they might help guide the future at WT.”

“The parents of the North Hills Campus have a passion for their children’s learning and for the environment at North…They value the open, fresh air concept that North provides with all of the ‘outdoor classrooms’ that each teacher uses to excite their students into exploring and using their mind in many other ways, not just ‘book’ learning. Not only are the parents involved with their children in the learning process at home, they are involved almost daily with the teachers and administrators. They are consistently and actively engaged with the school itself by sharing their thoughts and giving their time and making suggestions that are met with an open mind. Thank you for that!!”

Light bulb moment: Seeing the breakdown of the costs associated per student for North vs City and what having a full enrollment means to North and how much the tuition actually covers. I had never seen this before and it gave me a much better understanding of the fiscal responsibility the school has and how it still manages to keep the excellent teachers we have at North.”

Topics for the discussion include:

1. How can we shape the educational and extra-curricular program to better differentiate WT’s North Hills Campus from other educational options in the area?

2. How can we more effectively engage the North Hills community to strengthen enrollment at North?

3. How will the Celebrate WT campaign impact North?

A supportive and engaged community is so important to the success of our school, and we thank you for your involvement and dedication. Please plan to attend this important session.


December 19, 2:00 in the Multipurpose Room.
Dress Code: 
Pre-k /k- dress clothes and soft soled shoes
4th Grade -fun hats for a funky dance, can be knit or hip hop type (bring in A.S.A.P. for teacher approval)
1st through 5th grade students-Tan uniform pants, White collared uniform shirts, soft soled shoes
All other costumes will be provided.