Children learn best in an atmosphere of warmth and vitality and through their active participation in rich experiences. St. Matthew’s is a busy, happy place where each child can find success and develop a love of learning. Below you will find an overview of the preschool day at St. Matthew’s Day School.
The structure of the preschool day offers choices and challenges, problems and solutions, friendship and delight.
GREETING & GROUP TIME
As the children arrive, the teacher welcomes each child individually, catches up on their “news,” and does a visual health check. The children check-in and make plans for the day. Some children find they have a “job” to do – Bell Ringer, Door Holder, Table Washer, Block Captain. (Children love to have real jobs.) They exercise initiative, choosing and working in small centers until everyone has arrived.
Circle time is a teacher-lead exercise in community building and class decorum – in an atmosphere acceptant of children’s enthusiasm, inexperience, and active natures. Developing self-regulation (needed for sitting & listening) is a work in progress. The teachers make circle time interesting, lively, sensitive to children’s abilities, so that focused attention grows while children talk and listen, sing and dance, and preview the school day together.
The teacher may lead a conversation about a topic of current interest, or help advance children’s plans for an emerging project. (Projects and interests under construction are communicated in each teacher’s monthly newsletter.)
As the children’s imaginative and constructive play develops, circle time may also be used for discussing the problems and issues of society in microcosm – kind words, safe behavior, sharing resources.
Talking in turn, listening to one another, and attending to the teacher are “school skills” that must be thoughtfully developed. They prepare children for more formal educational settings to come, and help them participate in group-life more easily. However children’s curiosity, creativity, and enthusiastic need to “find out firsthand” shouldn’t be held at bay too long!
Centers available each day are:
- Home or Dramatic Center (doll house, dress ups, cooking accessories)
- Block Center (accessories: cars, trains, animals, people)
- Easel & Table art (play dough, tempera, water colors, markers, etc.)
- Library (children choose books to look at and “read” or be read to)
- Table Toys and Puzzles
- Sensory table (sand, water – materials to pour, search and sift through)
- Science or Discovery Center (offering first hand experiences with materials and animals
- Writing Center (all manner of drawing implements, paper, name cards, scissors, tape, hole punches, staplers . . . things to entice use and build fine motor strength and control.)
Young children learn best when they are actively engaged with interesting materials and learning partners, so our center time is the longest block of time in the daily routine. If you have watched a child busy at play, you have doubtless been struck by the energy, enjoyment, and intense concentration you saw there.
Serious players are explorers, dreamers, scientists, and storytellers.
Constructive social play allows each child to enter experiences at her own level of ability. Age-mates stimulate cooperation and the elaboration of ideas. Teachers interact to extend or apply an idea or model techniques to enable success.
Child-choice makes perseverance probable, even when challenges arise. Persistence, focused interest, excitement, and the satisfaction of a job well done are examples of attitudes nurtured through play and rewarded throughout our lives. Early childhood educators are certain of the immense value of self-selected play. They are also used to this being an “undervalued” activity.
Center time is filled with imaginative and constructive play. Centers are chosen and equipped by the teachers to provide an array of learning experiences. Each center is stocked with materials to spark interest, expand awareness and offer opportunities to explore “things,” ideas, social roles, relationships, physical properties, and more. Each child chooses and invests himself in a center or series of centers –using his own initiative to move and work freely, exploring areas of interest and growing in areas of need.
During center time, teachers are also active learners – interacting with the working children, watching and listening for opportunities to teach and support what is being “studied.” They may ask a leading question to help a child verbalize an emerging understanding, or extend an experience by supplying needed information or materials. When children reach an impasse the teacher may help children clarify choices, articulate emotions. Reluctant or disengaged children are helped to become involved. Our supply closet is full of wonderful equipment and materials. Something can always be found to capture a child’s interest and entice her into a positive learning mode.
Alone or in the company of other children, new and old ideas are “field tested,” compared, reviewed, and refined. Skills are utilized, and self-esteem is enhanced. Children at this age are just beginning to plan, monitor and evaluate their own thinking. These are HUGE life skills. Watch closely, listen carefully, and be amazed!
Two art areas are among the choices available daily. They offer experiences with crayons, markers, scissors, glue, 101 varieties of painting and printing, clay, play dough, and more. Children can conceptualize and draw what they know long before they can write it. The challenges and rewards inherent in creating and constructing with materials make creative and representational art central to many themes and projects.
The cafeteria of learning opportunities available in each day promotes the “Key Developmental Indicators” (KDI) of the High-Scope Curriculum. The KDI’s guide teachers’ planning of experiences and activities that offer opportunities for taking initiative, and for growing in social relations, creative representation, music and movement, language and literacy, logic and mathematics. Go to the HighScope Educational Research Foundation website for more information about this renowned curriculum.
There’s lots of chatter during center time – what better way to enlarge vocabularies, improve articulation and communication skills, and to practice emerging social skills. The tone is one of delight. Play is a child’s work, and a major source of learning during the early years.
Early childhood educators are certain of the power of self-selected, imaginative play. They are also used to this being an undervalued activity.
When Center Time comes to a close, it’s Clean-Up Time. Time for everyone to work as a team putting everything back in its place. There’s incentive to help, because coming up may be Snack Time, Playground Time, Story Time, or Small Group Time.
Snack Time is a time for refreshment, relaxation, conversation and developing independence in a community of friends. It offers a different setting for talking with friends and teachers, and recalling the work done in centers. Each parent sends their child to school with a small snack, wet-wipe, and cup in a hard plastic or metal lunch box.
Playground Time brings running, climbing, balancing, jumping, swinging, sliding, digging. Children play traditional games and invent their own. The children play outside every day unless the weather is severe. Our playground is full of natural wonders and sheltered by an ample tree canopy. In severe cold or steady rain we go downstairs to slide, crawl, balance, toss balls & beanbags, scoot or row with scooter boards, build with hollow blocks, and more. Children gain a joyful confidence in their ability to move.
Be sure to dress your child in rubber soled, closed toed shoes made for active play. In rainy weather we’ll likely go outside – at least for a walk and maybe a splash – under our umbrellas, so a raincoat and boots are called for. When it’s cold, a warm jacket, hat and mittens are the dress of the day. “What’s the weather, Boys and Girls?” What better way to find out and track the seasons than to enjoy them first hand.
Story Time is THE premier literacy activity! An active desire to read is important to a child’s success as a reader. Reading carefully chosen picture books tends and nourishes that desire. Teachers read and re-read, children dramatize and re-tell favorites. When parents come in to volunteer – which they often do – that extra reading lap is welcomed.
Small Group Time
Small Group Time recognizes that learning is a social activity that is begins between individuals – adult and child, child and child. Teachers divide the class into two groups and provide hands-on, open-ended activities. Children get to practice visual and auditory discrimination, sorting and classifying, exploration and discovery, and countless other experiences in leaning and growing together. This is also prime time for exploring the Key Developmental Indicators.