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January 2, 2017 Back From Break: January Curriculum Development By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K

    December break comes at just the right time, doesn’t it? Those days off are as welcome to teachers as they are to children — probably more so. We can all enjoy two potentially routine-free, unscripted weeks with family and friends. It is a warm and special time, and, for preschoolers, a very long time to be away from school. Ten days in the life of a three-year-old can feel like an eternity. 

    As our break draws to an end, teachers’ thoughts often go to curriculum development. I personally think of January and February as prime time, and it’s exciting to plan for those months. At this point, children have become a cohesive group (more or less), they’re excited about learning, and they have the stamina to sustain an in-depth, immersive curricular journey. We’ve been building toward this all year.

    So when school re-opens in January, most teachers often have at least the germ of a curriculum in mind, if not a fully developed plan, and they are eager to begin. They’ve tackled the design component and are ready to introduce and implement it. In my view, both the design and launch of a new curriculum are more art than science. To be meaningful, a new curriculum initiative should be open-ended and flexible enough to embrace children’s individual and collective interests. It will also have clearly articulated goals of discovery, inquiry, and reflection, along with pathways of implementation. When introducing this study, we want to whet children’s appetite, make them curious and eager to learn more, while guiding them gently down a general path of study. This path would offer a range of fruitful, age-appropriate exploration and contain “something for everyone,” in other words, multiple areas of interest and a variety of approaches that honor our children’s diverse learning styles.

    Here is what our faculty have in store:

    •      Because they are SO BIG, the Two/Threes will begin a study of babies. Many of their moms have given birth during this school year, and others are nearing their due dates. Thinking aloud with her class, Elisabeth asks, “What can babies do?” What can’t they do yet?”  

    •      When the first snow arrives, the curriculum will turn to snow. The class will talk, sing, and read about snow, but most of all, they will play with (and in) it. Snow is such a dramatic weather change. Preschoolers can see, touch, feel, and explore this new material. They can play with it outdoors, sliding in it; packing it; tasting it; and, when we bring buckets of snow into the classroom, they can play with it in the water table until it melts before their eyes. It becomes a powerful springboard for earth science activity: freezing and melting, liquid vs. solid.

    •      The Threes/Fours will build on their newly discovered interest in attics. Yes, indeed! Curiosity about attics and cellars was sparked by the book There's a Nightmare in My Attic, by Mercer Mayer. In response, Cathy has decided to launch a study of the school building, upstairs and down. Her class will tour preschool classrooms, offices and music studios, peek into the boiler room, and interview some of the people who make our building work. Along the way, children may discover that some of our “helpers” speak Spanish, Korean, and Chinese. Possibly a new study in the works…

    •      This class will also continue its periodic visits to the garden, noticing and recording the changes that winter brings.

    The Full-Day Fours have had a challenging fall. Fours families find themselves caught up in New York City’s kindergarten admissions process that requires children to leave their classrooms frequently to visit prospective schools. For many of our students, the process is both stressful and disruptive. Yet another reason why it makes sense to wait until January to launch to dig deep!  

    •      This year the Fours will launch an East Village neighborhood study. Teachers plan to visit nearby stores to learn who works in a restaurant or shop and what they do. They will investigate what the workers do, and why one restaurant is “Italian,” another “Mexican,” and another “Vietnamese,” why this store is “Polish” and this theater, “Yiddish.” We are very fortunate that our neighborhood has deep roots in ethnic diversity.

    Ready, set, go! January 3 arrives, faculty open their doors, and eager children burst in, happy to be in school, to greet their teachers and to reconnect with their friends. They are ready to go! So ready, in fact, that there’s no stopping them. It seems to teachers that children have forgotten every single rule of the classroom, every single routine, and every single behavioral expectation. Group times and transitions are particularly tough: “Remember, we keep our places in line…” “Remember, we hold the door for the person behind us…” “Remember, we speak one at a time in meetings.…” “Remember, no running in the classroom …”

    Suddenly, it's September all over again. Ten days in the life of a three-year-old is indeed an eternity! So, once again, teachers refocus their efforts on clear, consistent guidelines, providing activities that soothe (such as play dough and dramatic play) and challenge (story dictation and paint tray color mixing). They facilitate the rekindling of friendships and fantasy play. And they let the content speak for itself, drawing children gradually into familiar patterns and routines.

    When emotions run high, preschool teachers reacquaint their students with preschool norms by deferring to the following guidelines. They may sound familiar to you.

    •      Providing abundant sensory activities: play dough, clay, sand, and water table activities, and allowing children to explore them openly.

    •      Maintaining clear and consistent limits and underscoring the importance of respectful interactions: “In this classroom, we do not hurt each other’s feelings.”

    •      Redirecting: When we spot emotions escalating, we offer alternatives, possibly moving in to sit and work directly with one of the players. Rather than tackling the behavior head on, we allow children to save face and re-engage in a new way. We pay attention to them.

    •      Extending outdoor time, if that is an option: large motor, open-ended physical activity may well be the best of all responses to high energy and excitement.

    Although it is not an easy thing to do, these teachers place their curriculum initiatives on hold, until they feel the class is ready. Slowly, as preschoolers re-acclimate themselves to the pace and flow of a school day and demonstrate a real readiness to immerse themselves in learning, teachers begin to introduce the essential questions that will launch a study. By placing the learner before the curriculum, they’ve shown their respect for children’s social/emotional orientation.

    Stay tuned …  we will follow the unfolding of these curricula in my next blog post.

     

     

    December break comes at just the right time, doesn’t it? Those days off are as welcome to teachers as they are to children — probably more so. We can all enjoy two potentially routine-free, unscripted weeks with family and friends. It is a warm and special time, and, for preschoolers, a very long time to be away from school. Ten days in the life of a three-year-old can feel like an eternity. 

    As our break draws to an end, teachers’ thoughts often go to curriculum development. I personally think of January and February as prime time, and it’s exciting to plan for those months. At this point, children have become a cohesive group (more or less), they’re excited about learning, and they have the stamina to sustain an in-depth, immersive curricular journey. We’ve been building toward this all year.

    So when school re-opens in January, most teachers often have at least the germ of a curriculum in mind, if not a fully developed plan, and they are eager to begin. They’ve tackled the design component and are ready to introduce and implement it. In my view, both the design and launch of a new curriculum are more art than science. To be meaningful, a new curriculum initiative should be open-ended and flexible enough to embrace children’s individual and collective interests. It will also have clearly articulated goals of discovery, inquiry, and reflection, along with pathways of implementation. When introducing this study, we want to whet children’s appetite, make them curious and eager to learn more, while guiding them gently down a general path of study. This path would offer a range of fruitful, age-appropriate exploration and contain “something for everyone,” in other words, multiple areas of interest and a variety of approaches that honor our children’s diverse learning styles.

    Here is what our faculty have in store:

    •      Because they are SO BIG, the Two/Threes will begin a study of babies. Many of their moms have given birth during this school year, and others are nearing their due dates. Thinking aloud with her class, Elisabeth asks, “What can babies do?” What can’t they do yet?”  

    •      When the first snow arrives, the curriculum will turn to snow. The class will talk, sing, and read about snow, but most of all, they will play with (and in) it. Snow is such a dramatic weather change. Preschoolers can see, touch, feel, and explore this new material. They can play with it outdoors, sliding in it; packing it; tasting it; and, when we bring buckets of snow into the classroom, they can play with it in the water table until it melts before their eyes. It becomes a powerful springboard for earth science activity: freezing and melting, liquid vs. solid.

    •      The Threes/Fours will build on their newly discovered interest in attics. Yes, indeed! Curiosity about attics and cellars was sparked by the book There's a Nightmare in My Attic, by Mercer Mayer. In response, Cathy has decided to launch a study of the school building, upstairs and down. Her class will tour preschool classrooms, offices and music studios, peek into the boiler room, and interview some of the people who make our building work. Along the way, children may discover that some of our “helpers” speak Spanish, Korean, and Chinese. Possibly a new study in the works…

    •      This class will also continue its periodic visits to the garden, noticing and recording the changes that winter brings.

    The Full-Day Fours have had a challenging fall. Fours families find themselves caught up in New York City’s kindergarten admissions process that requires children to leave their classrooms frequently to visit prospective schools. For many of our students, the process is both stressful and disruptive. Yet another reason why it makes sense to wait until January to launch to dig deep!  

    •      This year the Fours will launch an East Village neighborhood study. Teachers plan to visit nearby stores to learn who works in a restaurant or shop and what they do. They will investigate what the workers do, and why one restaurant is “Italian,” another “Mexican,” and another “Vietnamese,” why this store is “Polish” and this theater, “Yiddish.” We are very fortunate that our neighborhood has deep roots in ethnic diversity.

    Ready, set, go! January 3 arrives, faculty open their doors, and eager children burst in, happy to be in school, to greet their teachers and to reconnect with their friends. They are ready to go! So ready, in fact, that there’s no stopping them. It seems to teachers that children have forgotten every single rule of the classroom, every single routine, and every single behavioral expectation. Group times and transitions are particularly tough: “Remember, we keep our places in line…” “Remember, we hold the door for the person behind us…” “Remember, we speak one at a time in meetings.…” “Remember, no running in the classroom …”

    Suddenly, it's September all over again. Ten days in the life of a three-year-old is indeed an eternity! So, once again, teachers refocus their efforts on clear, consistent guidelines, providing activities that soothe (such as play dough and dramatic play) and challenge (story dictation and paint tray color mixing). They facilitate the rekindling of friendships and fantasy play. And they let the content speak for itself, drawing children gradually into familiar patterns and routines.

    When emotions run high, preschool teachers reacquaint their students with preschool norms by deferring to the following guidelines. They may sound familiar to you.

    •      Providing abundant sensory activities: play dough, clay, sand, and water table activities, and allowing children to explore them openly.

    •      Maintaining clear and consistent limits and underscoring the importance of respectful interactions: “In this classroom, we do not hurt each other’s feelings.”

    •      Redirecting: When we spot emotions escalating, we offer alternatives, possibly moving in to sit and work directly with one of the players. Rather than tackling the behavior head on, we allow children to save face and re-engage in a new way. We pay attention to them.

    •      Extending outdoor time, if that is an option: large motor, open-ended physical activity may well be the best of all responses to high energy and excitement.

    Although it is not an easy thing to do, these teachers place their curriculum initiatives on hold, until they feel the class is ready. Slowly, as preschoolers re-acclimate themselves to the pace and flow of a school day and demonstrate a real readiness to immerse themselves in learning, teachers begin to introduce the essential questions that will launch a study. By placing the learner before the curriculum, they’ve shown their respect for children’s social/emotional orientation.

    Stay tuned …  we will follow the unfolding of these curricula in my next blog post.

     

     

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