The Early Childhood Unit (Pre-K and Kindergarten) at Green Acres School introduces young children to the joys of thinking, imagining, questioning, experimenting, and discovering! The goal of our work with these youngest students is to instill a love of learning and habits of mind that will serve them well throughout school and life.
Teachers create a warm, secure classroom environment where children are exposed to a wide variety of materials and guide them in open-ended, hands-on activities to ignite their natural curiosity and creativity. These include a multitude of opportunities that launch children enthusiastically into the world of mathematical thinking and literacy. Within a carefully constructed framework, students are invited to make choices as they explore and learn.
A blend of small Homecorner pursuits and larger group activities helps broaden students’ social world. Regular time with the school’s special subject teachers (art, physical education, library, science, Spanish, and creative movement) is critical to the integrated curriculum and music is a part of each school day. Cross-grade times with student buddies from older grades, as well as participation in Lower School assemblies, connect our young students to the larger Green Acres community.
Integrated, Thematic Curriculum
At Green Acres, we know that children acquire knowledge best when what they learn connects across disciplines and subject areas, as well as to what students already know. That is why, when students are studying a topic, the music, art, dance, science, and Spanish teachers use those topics to create lessons in their own disciplines that relate to those themes. For example: During a Kindergarten unit on reptiles, students have the opportunity to closely inspect the science classroom reptiles and engage in activities to learn about the characteristics of reptiles; the language area has books and offers opportunities to write about their experiences; a visiting expert presents an assembly on reptiles; art includes materials to design reptiles; and relevant songs are introduced during group time.
We recognize that children learn in many ways at the same time. For example, while interacting with peers and working with blocks, a child may be developing language skills, reading and writing skills, social negotiation skills, logical mathematical skills, visual patterning skills, and motor and manipulative skills. Specials classes are part of the children's daily experience.
Building Language & Literacy through Authors' Chair
Kindergarteners write and share original stories during a special time in the schedule called, “Author’s Chair.” Dictating stories for transcription frees the students to focus only on the creative writing process (as opposed to putting effort into manually writing). Kindergarteners are proud to share their stories with their Homecorner friends. Through discussion and listening to their peers’ stories, children begin to understand the elements of a compelling tale. Authors are happy to call on their classmates to answer questions and hear feedback. Audience members practice respectful listening skills and turn-taking while discussing characters, story lines, and illustrations. Learning to provide feedback in a constructive manner is another important piece of this process.
Following the interests of the student, teachers include children’s ideas to help determine themes and activities of the curriculum. Example: When a Pre-K child shared his enthusiasm for garbage trucks and his love of I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullan, a transportation theme emerged in the classroom. This curiosity fueled the investigation of all things that move. Teachers brought out pictures, photographs, and books. Children created docks, runways, and parking lots in the big block area and made paper airplanes and boats that could float. The culminating project was the creation of a garbage truck that visited various Green Acres buildings to help recycle and compost.
[We] preserve childhood at Green Acres organically because we understand it and appreciate it. We respect and care for each child, who they are, and where they are in their development. Every day I feel fortunate to be part of this magical, precious time in a child's life. Trish, Kindergarten Teacher
Yearly traditions and class routines provide opportunities for students to learn and grow cognitively and creatively. Some are opportunities to integrate subjects and skills in one engaging activity, while others are opportunities to explore and engage with new materials and experiences (field trips, creek walks, woodworking). These traditions include:
- Celebrating 100s Day
- Kindergarten Store
- Creek Walks
- Field Trips (zoo, theater, Audubon, Black Hill Regional Park)
- "Wacky Wednesday"
- Stuffed Animal Day
- Kindergarten Favorite Songs Concert
Outdoor Exploration & Learning
Pre-K and Kindergarten students spend a significant portion of their school day outdoors, where they explore and interact and begin to develop an understanding of the natural world. The outdoors is an extension of the classroom. In small groups with teachers, they visit various school playgrounds on our campus, and follow paths through the surrounding woodlands that lead to our very own creek. Off-campus field trips to places like local parks, nature centers, theaters, libraries, and the zoo expand their world.
Math through Kindergarten Store
For over 30 years, the Kindergarten curriculum has included the “Kindergarten Store.” This part of the program offers rich opportunities for social and mathematical development. “The Store” is stocked with recycled items such as small toys or stuffed animals and unbreakable garage sale treasures as merchandise. The currency used for the store is keys; no real money is used. Ahead of time, the children decide on a reasonable price for these items (from one to ten keys) and then they have an opportunity to buy goodies. Each visit, the “banker” (a student’s job) gives each child five keys. Some children spend all of their keys each visit, while others love to save some or all of their keys for future purchases. Each student has the opportunity to visit the store and "shop" many times!
Students on the Move
We all learn best when we are given consistent opportunities to move. Green Acres students move as they transition from building to building on our wooded 15-acre campus. They play outdoors twice a day on playgrounds designed to match their physical development. Our students enjoy physical education classes several times a week, and participate in a creative movement program for young learners. At a time when many schools are decreasing children’s opportunities to move, Green Acres heralds moving as a vital part of children’s growth. Deep learning requires an active mind and an active body!