Children come to us overflowing with their energy, natural curiosity, enthusiasm and desire to learn and make sense of the world and everything and everyone in it. They come to us bearing their unique gifts, strengths and individual learning styles. They offer these to us as we earn their trust and respect. As teachers we have the responsibility to carefully and intentionally honor their offerings. Because of this we view each and everything we do as part of our curriculum – from planning an engaging activity and organizing an inviting environment to caring for skinned knees, soothing hurt feelings, supporting a “voice” in conflict situations and cleaning up soiled clothing. Everything we say or do should reflect our beliefs and philosophy.
Children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn guide us on our path to living and learning together in the school community. When we closely observe their self selected interests and areas of focus we see children as competent individuals actively investigating the world with innate problem solving and critical thinking perspectives. Play is the vehicle that drives their purposeful exploration of social, emotional, physical, cognitive and creative development. They do this as individuals and in relationship to the other children and teachers. When we observe closely we see “emerging” interests, patterns and themes in the children’s play. Following these emergent paths lead us to rich, meaningful experiences that deepen our daily interactions and opportunities for learning. By following the children’s lead we can make planning choices that support the children in a way that honors them as unique individuals with varied strengths as well as within the dynamic of the school community.
The flow of our day is shaped by a balance of experiences and activities that may be: child-initiated, unstructured and spontaneous; teacher planned and structured for group involvement; discoveries that are celebrated in the moment; investigative studies that evolve over longer periods of time; and opportunities for time spent both indoors and outdoors. The nature of these possibilities are always open-ended and encourage multiple ways of seeing and doing.
GREETINGS AND GOODBYES
The teachers and children arrive at school between 8:00 and 8:30 and welcome each other and the new day. The children are wide eyed as they peer into the rooms and around the corners searching for special friends, favorite play areas or materials and activities newly introduced in the familiar setting.
This is a transition time and the most significant one of the day. Children and parents enter the school with multiple needs and feelings. There can be enthusiasm, excitement, anxiety, sadness, confusion and frustration…just to name a few. Teachers see their role at this time as facilitators of the transition. We make ourselves available to hold a child during a tearful or joyful good-bye, receive and transfer information from and to parents, reassure everyone that things will be okay, and help children connect with activities, materials and each other when they are ready.
OPEN EXPLORATION TIME
Open exploration is an amazing and wonderful time of day. The school is “a buzz” with busy children exploring all the possibilities presented in the form of materials, playmates, spaces, and environments. Exploration is the key word here. It is our objective, as teachers, to provide an environment that is rich, creative, flexible, malleable, safe, challenging, and fun. WE want children to have the opportunity for long, in-depth involvement in play – such as building an elaborate block structure, devising an innovative construction with 3-dimensional materials, working a puzzle again and again, or developing a dramatic play scenario with multiple roles and an evolving story line.
Open exploration is a time during which children begin to form relationships outside of the family circle. The children practice new skills as they develop new friendships and relationships between themselves and their peers and teachers. We hope to support and guide children as they and we explore independence, interdependence, and dependence in learning about social relationships.
We hope to extend the sense of trust, safety and community that began in the home. We share and extend ideas, care for each other, bring joy to each other, argue and fight, work and play together as we become contributing members of our school.
During open exploration time teachers encourage children’s ideas, provide additional materials, read to them, play games and help them cultivate positive social interactions. We also dedicate time to observe children in their play, recording what we see and hear with photographs, note-taking and collecting examples of their work in an effort to learn more about each child and to assess their growth and development.
In addition to the rich and extensive opportunities available throughout open exploration, more focused Project Work is also incorporated during this time block. The projects and activities are chosen with the intention to capitalize and expand on children’s big ideas, to practice and refine developmental skills, and to learn to relate to each other within the context of a small group working together as solutions to problems or provocations are formulated and tested. Sometimes this work is an invitation to each child to engage in an individual experience, such as producing a self-portrait using various media. Sometimes it is self selected groups of children working together on a like interest such as how to build a functioning pump for a pond or creating a gift for new trees.
When planning for project work, teachers take many factors into consideration: developmental stages of the children, their expressed interests, dynamics of their relationships and their various learning styles. We strive to create opportunities for children to connect with concepts and ideas in multiple ways – through art, music, drama, mathematics, literature, science, and so forth. Keep in mind that this is done through age-appropriate experiences rather than formal instruction. Younger children are given repeated opportunities to explore materials and environments, laying the foundation for future application of what they have learned as they grow and begin to express their understanding of the world through the use of materials and language.
As a springboard for planning meaningful experiences for children, we have combined elements of various teaching philosophies to which we have been drawn over the years: Storybook Journey, which utilizes children’s literature to support development; Emergent Project work, which capitalizes on children’s interests to study in depth their questions and ideas; the work of educators in the Italian community of Reggio Emilia inspires us; and work from Bank Street College, a social studies focus that connects children to their local community. We concur with our Italian colleagues that there is not a single, unifying theory of education that can sum up all the phenomena of learning and teaching. Thus, we utilize these and other ideologies, keeping our eyes and ears open to what emerges from the children’s interests. So, you might see us exploring the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff; engaging in an extensive construction study inspired by the remodeling of a neighboring house; or taking trip boards to Wal-Mart to research different kinds of shoes displayed there. Ours is always a fun, creative, exciting journey with no pre-determined destination.
(Note: Circle time is currently being incorporated into small group time in order to maintain physical distancing during the pandemic.) We all join together at circle time for a brief gathering (ten minutes or so) to sing, engage in movement and talk about what is going on – a new story, something observed out in the world or in our own backyards.
Small group follows circle time. It is the only time of day children are grouped separately, with their age-mates. Typically, there is a six to nine month age range within each group. Each teacher is a caretaker for a group, staying with this group of children throughout the year. She is responsible for planning group activities and collecting materials and observations on her group children for preparing and assembling portfolios.
The small group time is rich with conversation and dialogue. It is a time where children can come together to reflect on their experience and share and generate their thinking and ideas. We listen to and discuss and dispute our individual points of view as we try to make sense of the world around us. Teachers use what they learn about the children individually and collectively to create opportunities for project work development within free choice time. We see the relationship between the time spent on small group reflections and project work as being flexible and shifting in focus as intensity vacillates between the introduction of new ideas and increased involvement as they expand and take twists and turns.
A breath of fresh air and the freedom to run, jump, leap, and yell out-loud represent the joy of outdoor time. When the weather is willing, which is most of the time, we take advantage of getting outside after small group. Children strengthen their coordination and large muscles as they pump on the swing, learn how to use monkey bars, slide down the fire pole, race around the yard, and work in the sandbox, digging, sifting, and shaping. All aspects of open exploration time are also at play here as children experiment with materials, imagination, ideas, and relationships.