At Learning Circle Preschool we believe that it is by designing an enriching classroom environment, and making available guidance, stimulating materials, and motivating curricula, that the foundations for optimum development can be provided. Young children learn best through playful interactions with their environment, engaging in activities that are deeply meaningful to them. It is the teacher’s role to facilitate, plan, watch, listen, model, question, extend, observe, and help children make connections to both materials and the other children with whom experiences are shared. The Learning Circle Preschool curriculum provides children with the extended periods of time they need to play, to plan, to reflect on past experiences, to practice, and to connect new experiences and knowledge to that which is familiar and known.
Each child follows a unique timetable as his/her development unfolds. At Learning Circle Preschool, curriculum goals are highly individualized. We strive to offer each child the support, stimulation, and appropriate challenges necessary for a strong foundation for confident, life long learning.
Specific curriculum choices are based on careful observations of children in the classroom environment, and are informed by the Department of Education’s Guidelines for Preschool Experiences, which in turn are linked to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. In addition, our curriculum development is informed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) current standards reflecting best practices for the education of young children.
No short document can include all aspects of the curriculum. In preschools, curriculum is everything that happens – each interaction, conversation, and question posed offers engaging possibilities for learning. Since children learn in a holistic and integrated manner in early childhood, teachers plan experiences for children that offer opportunities across many domains (rather than as isolated subjects). The following areas of concentration have been outlined in this summary:
In order for children to feel supported and confident in school, great emphasis is placed on creating an environment that promotes a sense of safety and well-being. We strive to assure that children know that they will be listened to, and know that their ideas will be valued. Our goal is to have children feel Learning Circle is a place where needs will be met and feelings acknowledged. If children need comfort or reassurance, need help dealing with strong feelings like anger, frustration, or sadness, they are supported. Teachers help children develop strategies to express their feelings and resolve the social problems that may arise during their day at school. Children are greeted by name, and can expect to hear their names frequently as they engage in conversations, songs, and games. Children are encouraged to draw pictures and tell stories about their families and life at home. Children’s work is respected, valued, talked about, and displayed often. We encourage parents to bring in photos of children and families, so that we can create class albums, books, and displays that feature family life. Community life and shared experience at school are documented with photos, panels of artwork and/or descriptions of past activities. With these, the children can remember, reflect on, and share past experiences with peers, teachers, and families. Individual learning styles and interests are acknowledged and supported as children are encouraged to initiate play, make choices, express preferences, demonstrate competence, and take on responsibilities, in partnership with teachers.
The process of developing the social skills necessary to flourish in a school environment is an on-going one that needs direct support from caring adults throughout the preschool years. The classrooms at Learning Circle all include spaces designed specifically for 1, 2, 4 or more children to play, as small groups develop around common interests and shared materials. Teachers encourage and acknowledge prosocial behaviors when children take turns, share materials, cooperate, solve problems verbally, or show concern for others. Teachers are actively involved in facilitating play, coaching children who need help entering play or playing constructively. Teachers offer verbal models to children as they learn to collaborate, share perspectives and materials, and express their preferences, wishes, and needs. Teachers also coach children in social problem solving and conflict resolution as children become increasingly able to participate directly in finding their own solutions to the social challenges brought about by sharing space, materials, and attention with peers. The school model is that “everyone is learning” and teachers value and support children’s efforts to help each other.
We support an anti-bias approach to curriculum development that encourages the sharing of different perspectives and feelings among children, and involves children directly in conflict resolution and in conversations about fairness, as they become able to participate. We strive to help children find common ground in shared experiences as we support a growing appreciation of the rich diversity among individuals.
Attention to diversity permeates every aspect of the curriculum at the school, and is a constant consideration as teachers plan classroom experiences for children. When teachers evaluate and reflect on classroom life, they consider the messages that are conveyed by their curriculum decisions. Teachers think about the ways children use and experience curriculum choices, the quality of interactions between children and adults, and the ways in which the classroom environment (with all its diverse materials and experiences) can support the goals of the anti-bias curriculum.
The materials and activities presented to the children project diverse racial, gender, and age attributes, and teachers are attentive to the principle that the books, dolls, photographs, and music used reflect the lives of enrolled children and accurately reflect a diverse society. Our communications with families invite both direct participation and the sharing of materials, perspectives, and ideas, between home and school.
Children develop communication skills – speaking, listening, reading, and writing – continually as they share experiences throughout their time together. Thoughtfully chosen books are a central feature in the classroom, and this access to fine literature is meant to encourage an interest in, and enjoyment of, literature. Teachers actively work to increase each child’s vocabulary and fluency with language by encouraging children to talk about their experiences, to describe their play, ideas, and feelings, and to participate in daily activities such as meetings, picture discussions, flannel board use, storytelling, and dramatic play. Because the school environment offers diverse materials and opportunities to children, it is ”content rich” – that is, there is always a great deal to talk about. Teachers listen, pose questions, foster extended conversations, and offer models for describing, initiating play, problem solving, expressing feelings, and sharing ideas. The classroom environment is print-rich as well, with room area labels, signs, charts, etc. Writing tables offer daily opportunities for scribbling and drawing with a variety of writing tools. Journals offer an opportunity for children to either dictate or write their own stories. There are many opportunities for children to develop class books, observation records, recipes, etc. that support class themes and interests.
Children are encouraged to play with sounds and letters through listening to and reciting poetry and rhymes, clapping games, musical experiences, etc. The teachers promote a growing awareness of letter/sound associations as children play with the alphabet, and begin to read some words by sight. Inventive spelling is encouraged in children’s free writing (writing words the way they sound). Children begin to develop book handling skills and familiarity with the conventions of print.
We make a variety of tools for drawing, painting, and writing available to children, in support of the muscle development needed to hold and control writing instruments. Activities that support visual/perceptual skills offer foundations in physical development necessary for comfortable writing skills.
At this early stage of development children need a variety of enriching language experiences as they develop personal enthusiasm and love for fine literature and personal communication through reading and writing.
Children explore mathematical concepts with a hands-on approach that uses concrete, manipulative activities in support of a solid foundation in mathematics, and lays the groundwork for symbolic understanding. As children investigate, they are free to express their thoughts, communicate their ideas, problem solve, and come to conclusions with confidence. Concepts of number, estimation, measurement, patterns and relationships, geometry, and spatial sense are explored.
Children are engaged in mathematical thinking in two related contexts: with spontaneous involvement in the mathematical aspects of current play, and when teachers organize activities and projects specifically designed to challenge children to engage in a new area of mathematical thinking. In both cases, teachers support conversations and encourage children to formulate theories and test themselves. Classrooms each have well equipped block areas, a variety of special shapes available with a variety of props in support of diverse block play. A variety of concrete objects are available to count, classify, and sort. Small manipulatives, sequence puzzles, beads, pattern blocks, geoboards, are all used regularly in each classroom, chosen carefully by teachers to offer children both practice and challenge. Sand and water play are available on a regular basis, with many tools available for mixing and measuring. Books, rhymes, games, songs, and dances all can incorporate mathematical thinking, as can dramatic play areas which include grocery or other shopping themes, etc. Each class cooks on a regular basis, taking opportunities to read and create recipes, measure, and count. A mathematical focus is also supported through the arts, as children create patterns of color, glue and organize materials, or create two or three dimensional shapes and sculptures with dough, recycled materials, paper and tape, or play with rhythmic patterns and other patterns of sound in music. Non-standard systems of measurement are used as children think together about the comparative sizes of their constructions, or measure the classroom, playground, or their own bodies. The classroom environment incorporates simple charts and graphs as record of shared experiences from which on-going conversations can occur.
The science curriculum is designed to develop each child’s innate curiosity about the world, and to encourage children both to pose questions and to search for answers to those questions. Children observe, communicate about their observations, compare, and organize as they investigate, solve problems, and make decisions. Basic concepts are explored through sand and water play, block constructions, consideration of levers, pulleys, scales, and other simple machines, and through observation of interaction, and reflection/research about, the natural world. The facility includes a large playground space surrounded by trees and fields. There are many opportunities for scientific observation and exploration outdoors. Children may investigate alone and in small groups, participating in both planned and spontaneous science experiences.
Children need time with a variety of materials to explore possibilities and develop the skills necessary to express their feelings and ideas through art experiences. Children freely use crayons, pencils, a variety of paints, clays and dough, scissors, glue and tape, on a regular basis. Children are encouraged to experiment with the materials at hand, combining them in new ways as fundamental concepts and skills are developed. Children are encouraged to talk with others about their work, as they develop a language to describe their processes, reflect on their work, and make connections to other children’s approaches present in the classroom. It is the process of creating that is most important, so process is emphasized, rather than finished products. As children become more experienced with materials, teachers can begin conversations about the visual arts in history and culture, including discussion of techniques used by artists that can inform the children’s work.
Musical experiences are incorporated into the daily life of the classroom, through use of a classroom music center, classroom books and song cards, and by incorporating singing times into the daily routine. Children sing and listen to music from a variety of repertoires and cultures, and are encouraged to develop comfort in singing alone and with others (in tune singing). A wide dynamic range is encouraged, as children sing, whisper, chant, or talk, at a variety of levels. Music readiness skills in rhythm (keeping the beat) and basic movement are explored. By using basic patterns and tools over time, children become increasingly comfortable improvising their own rhythmic and melodic patterns. A variety of instruments from diverse musical traditions are available to children both for free exploration and for use in more formal music times. Time and space are set aside regularly for singing and movement games, chants, and creative dance with music. Children become aware that systems of notating music are useful ways to remember and share musical ideas; from this beginning understanding comes awareness of common musical notation.
Fine motor development is supported through the diverse materials available in each classroom daily, including (but not limited to) a variety of small manipulatives, pegboards, puzzles, lacing cards, materials for drawing, painting, and modeling, materials for writing, Teachers choose these materials with care, so children have time for practice and have opportunities for appropriate challenges as they develop.
Children are encouraged to participate in active play, and to develop personal skills at their own pace, with a goal of developing self-confidence in movement. Activities that support gross motor development (for example, the use of scooters or balls) are used on a regular basis. Opportunities for running, jumping, balancing, and climbing are available daily. The importance of physical fitness and an active lifestyle are emphasized. In addition to time for free play, the program focuses on the development of basic movement skills and on applying movement concepts to the development of new skills. The development of a vocabulary for movement is encouraged (for example high/low/fast/slow, heavy/light, balance, twist). Children have many opportunities to participate in group games, with an emphasis on non-competitive inclusion of all. Children participate in creative movement experiences on a regular basis, often in connection to the music curriculum. As children explore movement individually, the program encourages both understanding and respect for individual differences among people in terms of their interests and skills.
As teachers plan the curriculum, attention is given to the children’s need for on-going access to a variety of sensory materials, including sand and water play, and the use of varied clay and dough textures. Games that support children’s growing awareness of directionality and positioning in space are incorporated in the school routine. Planned activities address a wide range of motor development needs, including the need to build general body awareness, and to encourage the use of both sides of the body through activities that require bilateral coordination. Children are encouraged to participate in activities that support developing comfort with alternating use of left and right sides of the body (crossing midline), to develop a pincer grasp and finger strength and dexterity, and to improve visual motor skills and eye/hand coordination.
The health curriculum encourages children to develop positive habits for self care. The daily schedule allows time and space for physical activity, and allows time for rest as well, with the understanding that each child’s needs for rest and activity are different. Meal and snack times are relaxed, with opportunities taken to serve a variety of nutritious foods and to talk about the many kinds of healthy foods available. The classroom environment is one that encourages independence and the development of self- help skills. Positive interactions between both children and adults are supported as children are guided towards the appropriate expression of feelings, peaceful conflict resolution, and the development of communication skills.
Conversations about family include awareness of diverse family systems, and discussions of the jobs and contributions of family members (i.e. there are responsibilities that go along with community life). Opportunities are taken to talk about community health workers (for example, doctors and dentists) so that children are encouraged to feel comfortable with their providers of care, and with the settings in which that care is given. The same is true of discussion about civic safety workers (police and fire fighters). Basic safety education and injury prevention is pursued by talking with children about their safe use of the school environment, fire safety, seatbelt use, pedestrian safety, and use of helmets, as is education about consumer and environmental health as both relate to personal choices and responsibility.
The curriculum emphasizes an awareness of self, both as an individual and as a member of a group (family, school community, culture). Children are encouraged to identify ways in which they might be similar or dissimilar to others, and to respect diverse points of view. We work to have children develop a willingness to participate in community life – to cooperate with and respect others, to work together, to participate in setting classroom rules as is appropriate, and to balance personal needs with the needs of others in the group. Teachers support each child’s social development through modeling, encouraging connections, and direct work on problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Children work in small flexible groups on extended projects, and may use dramatic play as a vehicle to explore themes relating to the social sciences curriculum. Teachers build opportunities into the curriculum to develop basic mapping skills, and to help children begin to understand that symbols can represent people and places. Children are encouraged to share their observations and descriptions of places in their personal experiences or of importance to family members. The curriculum aims to stretch children’s sense of community by thinking about how peoples of different cultures share basic human needs, even when cultures meet those needs in diverse ways. By reflecting on personal experience, chronological thinking is developed, as children begin to develop a concept of how things change (my self as baby, toddler, now, or family life now, in the recent past, or long ago, for example).