At the beginning of the school year, we like to establish work habits that will set the tone for how the classroom is used and what our expectations are. One of these habits is that of "paying attention"; but we understand this not as the classic "be quiet and listen", but as a deeper "notice what's around you".
One way in which we promote this way of paying attention is to present the children with different opportunities to explore the same object or situation.
For the first couple of weeks of school, since a lot of us had spent at least some of our summer vacation at the beach, we decided that shells would be a good subject. So we set a nice selection, with a variety of shapes and sizes both in the sensory tub and at the science table.
For the first few days, the science table had a sorting box and a shell guide, to encourage the children both to compare the shells to each other, and to find them in the book and ask questions.
Once the children had had some time to familiarize themselves with different kinds of shells, we set up the light table with one shell and some glass pebbles for them to explore shapes.
Next to appear on the light table were watercolor pencils and two similar but not identical shells. The contrast provided by the light allows for the shapes and lines to become more prominent. As in the science table, we only provide colors that are as similar as possible as those of the objects we are observing.
The last material to appear on the science table, to culminate our exploration, was clay. Clay in itself is a very valuable material for preschoolers, as it offers a lot of resistance for little fingers and helps strengthen them. But for our observation of shells, it also offered a three-dimensional representation of the same objects we had been reproducing two-dimensionally before. The children made imprints and (once dry) were able to feel the shape and texture it left on the clay and compare it to the real shells.
As I spend time in each classroom, observing the comings and goings of children and teachers, I can't avoid reflecting on how powerful play is.
I see a two-and-a-half sitting in the sandbox, carefully filling a pail with sand while he narrates his game to himself; developing his incipient language skills and dipping his toes in the waters of symbolic thought.
In the three-year-old classroom, two children are sorting toy apples by color (a useful activity in itself). Soon, each color apple has become a different sort of fruit or vegetable (the red ones are tomatoes, the green ones became peppers...) and the table is a store. There is a serious negotiation about who gets to sell and who is the shopper and at one point it veers into dangerous territory when (obviously) they both absolutely have to be behind the counter. Luckily, creative thinking is not lacking at our store and the children go in search of customers for their fancy establishment with two employees.
My own classroom is full of passionate four-year-olds who start playing with manipulative toys on the rug, building a number of vessels that carry them into outer space; but when I turn my back the vehicles are gone and the same manipulatives are being used to trace the letters printed on the rug.
Watching young children at play is like witnessing the creative process of an artist or a scientist at work. Both the children and the adults go into flow and are able to solve problems, make connections between concepts, develop new ideas... All these things are happening while they play, even if to the untrained eye it looks like "just fun" (which it is) or even chaos.
The Kaplan Cooperative Preschool is an exciting place of growth and discovery. This blog will highlight different aspects of our curriculum and the ways in which our teachers implement it to enable children to reach their full potential intellectually, socially and emotionally.