Featured Project: Investigating Jellyfish

Children love sharing their discoveries from visiting the ocean with their families. One day, the children began talking about the jellyfish they had seen.

This sparked an interest with many of the children, so we began asking them what they knew and wanted to learn about these creatures.

We started our learning by observing photographs and diagrams. We began to study the different parts of the jellyfish with a particular interest in their stinging tentacles.

To create their individual jellyfish, the children collected natural materials such as clear plastic tops, twine and bubble wrap. They incorporated the bell, mouth, oral arms and tentacles.

One of the students remarked, “I want a neon jellyfish!” So, he chose to paint his bell with fluorescent paint to ensure his jellyfish could be seen in the deep, dark ocean.

The children utilized their fine motor skills and vocabulary as they drew jellyfish using oil pastels. Another student observed that “the jellyfish needs water to live.” So, the children painted over their drawing with liquid watercolors to create a drifting or wandering jellyfish in the ocean.

The children were fascinated with the jellyfish and their many colors. They are so proud of their miraculous masterpieces!

Featured Teacher: Susan Hodges | Lead Teacher | Venning Road

Formally a coordinator with Lexington Medical Child Development Center in Columbia, South Carolina, Susan moved to the Charleston area around six years ago.

She had read about Children’s Discovery Center in Parents magazine and decided to apply for a position as a lead teacher. Once she became a part of the team, she felt right at home.

“The environment and staff were so welcoming,” said Susan. “The overall atmosphere was warm and conducive to children learning and I wanted to be a part of the team.”

One of her favorite aspects of working at Children’s Discovery Center is the Reggio approach. She values the opportunity to listen and observe the children to see what their interests are each day.

“Discovering what makes them tick, what they find interesting and what they love to explore is the best part.”

Additionally, she appreciates that the children are part of the process of co-constructing knowledge and shared understanding with each other. Susan loves seeing their faces light up as they explore and learn.

“My biggest reward is the relationship with the children and their families as well as partnering with them to provide the best possible care.”

When she’s not busy exploring with her students, Susan enjoys shopping and spending time with her grandchildren. In addition to the children at Children’s Discovery Center, Susan says her grandchildren “are priceless and bring such joy to my heart.”

Featured Project: Investigating Turtles!

Children in Toddler E had been studying jellyfish when Brooks asked, “Are there any animals that eat jellyfish even though they sting?” To our discovery, we found that some turtles eat jellyfish. Our project focus then shifted to turtles, particularly, Leatherback Turtles.

Children began studying the parts of a sea turtle through diagrams and observing photographs upon the light table. Toddlers were soon able to identify parts of the turtle such as the shell, scutes, flippers and beak.

While observing pictures of different turtle breeds, toddlers became highly intrigued by the variances in turtle shells, particularly in the turtle scales (scutes). Toddlers were asked to create scutes of their own using recycled fruit jars. Toddlers used an array of natural materials to fill their scale: seeds, rocks and peas.

As a class, we glued each scale to a canvas to form a turtle shell. Jude stated, “Our turtle needs flippers and a head,” so we added flippers and a head to the shell using textured paint consisting of sand, glue and dark green paint. The paint consisted of rough, bumpy sand to represent the roughness of turtle skin. Vivian then said, “Ms. Alex, the turtle needs water to live,” so we added an ocean background.

Toddlers used bubble wrap and forks to create dimension such as waves and bubbles. The collaborative creation is proudly sitting on a shelf in the science center for children to reflect on, and parents and other classes to observe.

Featured Teacher: Alex Gibson | Toddler E Teacher | Venning Road

Ms. Alex Gibson is the Toddler E lead teacher and department coordinator. She moved to Charleston from a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ms. Alex has always had a passion for children, which is the reason she studied speech and hearing with a focus in adolescence at Edinboro University. After obtaining her degree, she worked in a classroom for children with special needs, which further solidified her love of teaching children.

After instantly falling in love with Children’s Discovery Center and its Reggio inspired philosophy Ms. Alex said, “Children are capable, competent, and natural researchers who have a desire to learn.”

Ms. Alex believes the most interesting part of the Reggio learning style is how each child may possess the same materials, yet each creation is completely unique. Her favorite aspect of working at Children’s Discovery Center is watching and listening to how each child interprets a concept.

She also believes communication is one of the main keys to educational success, which is why she loves inspiring discussion and conversion amongst the entire class. Her students teach her something new every day, which is what she believes is the most rewarding aspect of teaching.

When Ms. Alex isn’t in her Children’s Discovery Center uniform, you will most likely find her exploring the city or at Kiawah Beach with her two beloved puppies, Kona and Ollie.

A fun fact about Ms. Alex is she considers herself a “foodie” and enjoys venturing to different restaurants to sample new, bizarre foods. She mentions that she is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and more than likely will be found watching and cheering loudly for the Steelers every Sunday.

She stated how her mother has been a preschool teacher for more than 20 years and is the epitome of what a teacher should embody: patience, creativity and strength. Ms. Alex hopes she is able to embody those traits in her classroom every day to positively impact her students’ education.

Featured Project: The Wonders of China

The Preschool B class had so much fun discovering the wonders of China. We started this exploration through our study of panda bears. While examining these wonderful mammals, the children wondered why we couldn’t go to China to visit them.

I quickly explained how we would need to travel to China with a passport on a plane. We got out our globe and found the continent of Asia. As a class, we discussed how the continent is all the way around the globe.

Through our research, we discovered that China is 7,682 miles away. The students became very interested in the far away country, so we decided to explore it in greater depth.

First, we began discussing the Great Wall of China. We discovered that the Great Wall is over 4,000 miles long and 10 soldiers wide. We lined up 10 children side-by-side to get an idea of how wide it really is.

They were even able to design their own Great Wall by using blocks and natural materials. After this initial investigation, the children started to show a heightened interest in the architecture of China and wanted to continue down this path of discovery. We added to our great wall by creating the forbidden city. The students were divided into groups, and each one selected a landmark to replicate.

As the class continued to expand upon their knowledge of China, they began researching it through art and science. In art, they started to investigate the habitat of the panda bear. The students created their own habitats using transparency paper and natural materials.

After discussing the vibrant green vegetation, which pandas live in, the students began discussing Chinese gardens. As the students examined several photos of China, they became intrigued by the beautiful gardens and landscape.

The class had so much fun learning about the exotic plants, which thrive in the country, such as orchids, bamboo, willow, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, and hibiscus.

We noticed that many gardens have ponds full of koi fish. The classmates were instantly fascinated by the koi fish and happily discovered the meaning behind the koi and why they are found in so many Chinese gardens.

The Preschool B class realized that koi are so prevalent in China because they symbolize that great achievements are possible with hard work. Legend says that koi fish used to climb up big waterfalls and are known to live longer than any other fish in China. After extensive research, we found out that koi fish are a mix between a goldfish and carp.

To conclude our studies, we created our very own koi pond for the classroom, this finished masterpiece can be found in the project pod.

Morgan Castros | Preschool B Lead Teacher | Venning Road

Ms. Morgan Castros, the lead Preschool B teacher for our Venning Road center, is originally from Stamford, Connecticut. Her brother Christian, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, initially inspired her to pursue a career in teaching, because she wanted to help teach others like him. 

She had studied the Reggio Emilia philosophy at Marshall University and instantly fell in love with the learning style and principles and the challenge it gives children to be creative. It was her passion for the Reggio Emilia philosophy that led her to Children’s Discovery Center.

Ms. Morgan’s favorite part about working at Children’s Discovery Center is being able to watch her students manipulate materials and create elaborate and unique projects. She finds her work to be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Additionally, Ms. Morgan loves having the opportunity to watch as each student grows and develops, and greatly enjoys being able to spend one-on-one time with them. 

In her spare time, she enjoys doing calligraphy, along with different types of crafts. Ms. Morgan is also an avid New York Mets fan, and can oftentimes be found cheering on her favorite team with Shea, her beloved dog, who was named after Shea Stadium.

Her life motto is “Do what’s best for you.” She finds that she is constantly reminding herself to put herself first and do what makes her happy.

We are so happy that Ms. Morgan joined our Children’s Discovery Center team!

Featured Project: Creating Healthy Snacks

To help enhance the children’s understanding of healthy foods, Chef Cindy led them in an exercise to create delicious banana roll-ups.

All of the ingredients were child-friendly, allergen-free, and placed in bowls in front of the children. Each child followed directions to lay out a soft tortilla shell and take a dollop of sunbutter. Chef Cindy then explained how to spread sunbutter onto the tortilla like icing on a cupcake. They pressed lightly and tried to cover the whole tortilla.

Each child counted the number of banana slices that matched their age and placed the slices on top of the sunbutter. It was interesting to see how each child counted in different styles (aloud, by pointing, etc.).

They then rolled them up to finish their snacks. As they were putting it all together, Chef Cindy spoke to them about healthy ingredients, nutrition and the importance of food as fuel.

The children also learned that banana sandwiches were Elvis Presley’s favorite snack! After cooking, the children ate their snacks with their friends in the Discovery Room.

The children became so excited to cook with their friends that we have decided to make this a monthly occurrence!

Featured Teacher: Cindy Hafer, Venning Road Center Chef

A Michigan native, Cindy graduated from culinary school in Asheville and moved to Charleston in 2005.

After working in the area for a while, she heard from a friend that Children’s Discovery Center was an inviting environment that promoted healthy eating for its students, and she decided that was where she wanted to be. Flashforward to today and Cindy has been a valued member of our Children’s Discovery Center family for three years and counting!

Cindy loves watching children’s faces light up when they try new food. She also enjoys helping educate their palettes and sharing healthy recipes with our families. It makes her happy to hear that children are interested in new foods and requesting school favorites from their own families.

When she’s not cooking up delicious and nutritious meals for our students, Cindy enjoys playing golf, enjoying the great outdoors and spending time with her fur babies.

Featured Project: Plant Exploration

Our exploration into plant life began in September and was sparked by a vase of fresh flowers in the room. Many of the children would comment regularly on those flowers. We embarked on an adventure, which began with flowers but naturally moved to seeds and leaves.

Our journey started with examining a wide variety of colors, sizes and shapes of flowers. We touched them and smelled them and inspected them with our magnifying glasses. We tasted different edible flowers like the cauliflower and broccoli flower. A collage of all of the parts of a flower was created as we pulled them apart and glued them to our canvas. Works of art were generated as we used blossoms, petals, buds and leaves of different flowers to paint with. Different mediums and recyclables were utilized to create pictures and models of flowers. Discovering the magnolia blossoms and other flowers around the campus thrilled us with a sense of adventure.

When the gumballs and acorns began to fall from the trees on the playground, our exploration turned to seeds. We collected acorns and planted them in a type of terrarium which hang on our wet room windows. Our nature walks became a treasure hunt for a new kind of seed. The children examined the seeds under the magnifying glass and we talked about how different seeds are transported in different ways to different places by different means. Each new seed was added to our seed collage. Tasting some seeds from the pumpkin and sunflower expanded our tastes and helped us realize we like to try new things.


As the colorful leaves began to fall from the trees, our plant life journey turned toward exploring leaves.  Playdough, chalk and aluminum foil are wonderful vehicles to create leaf impressions. We painted our brown leaves the beautiful fall colors of orange, yellow, and red and used them as leaf stamps. Toddlers discovered that scrunched leaves make a beautiful mosaic. We answered the questions, “Do leaves breathe?” and “Does water move through a leaf?” by conducting science experiments.

We recently discovered a pinecone in the pine straw and so our journey into plant life meanders onward. We have been searching for the seeds in the pine cones and observing how they float to the ground. What can we build with them? Do they float in water? Can they help us predict the weather? The curiosities of a two-year-old are never ending!

Featured Project: Transportation

Ms. Rolina’s Pre-K class explored the world of transportation by way of land, water and air. The children thoroughly enjoyed playing with the different means of transportation and continue to identify them while on the playground. “Look at the airplane in the sky!” or “the big kids ride the big yellow bus to school!” are just few of the comments made that proved all the more this was a journey we were going to travel!

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During morning meetings, Ms. Rolina asked students the following questions to check for background knowledge; “What different ways can people travel from place to place?” “Have you ever rode in a plane, boat or train?” “What vehicles travel on land?” “Which travel in air?” Ms. Rolina wrote the questions down and each day we explored and investigated to find the answers to those questions. Students learned about the different modes of transportation through song, informational text and short educational videos. They then applied their learning through working in collaborative groups to build a city with emphasis on road signs. We then weighed our different vehicles at the math station.

The children were especially excited about making their own vehicles out of clay with Ms. Stacey during art class! Students also created and designed their very own race cars using toilet paper rolls. We then drew out racetracks and included necessary signage. We had a blast and their creations turned out great!