AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE PA EARLY CHILDHOOD STANDARDS
St. Paul’s Preschool follows the Pennsylvania Early Standards as we create and adapt our curriculum to the various age groups within our school. Each moth I will examine one of the standards we are focusing on in the classes and explain how the teachers are implementing it into their curriculum.
AL.3 Applying Knowledge
Prior knowledge and experiences can be used to express and create new understandings
The first part of our preschool year has been spent helping the children learn classroom routines, learn how to negotiate themselves with others, learn problem solving skills and begin working with letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. The 2 and 3-year-old classes have already had their first parent/teacher conferences and during the second week of January, the 4 and 5-year-old classes will have their first parent/teacher conference. During these conferences, the parents and teachers have discussed each child’s learning and developmental goals for the second half of the school year.
To implement these goals and help the children become active in constructing their own knowledge and in learning how to gather information from their environment, we will begin working with the Project Approach (emergent curriculum). Projects are probably the epitome of an integrated curriculum and are based on the belief that children’s minds should be engaged in ways that deepen their understanding of their own experiences and environment. The Project Approach consists of exploring a theme or topic (such as babies, dinosaurs, riding the school bus, etc.) over a period of days or weeks. Investigations of the theme and preplanning by the children and teachers are the first step: they observe, question, estimate, experiment, and research items and events related to the topic. Together they make dramatic play and display materials they need. Children work in small groups throughout the process and have the opportunity to make numerous choices about their level of participation. The teacher often records the activity with photographs and print. Project work has different levels of complexity so it meets the needs of children of different ages and abilities.
The planning process is crucial to the success of the project approach, as is the underlying philosophy that children can be co-constructors of their own education. The teacher helps children explore what they already know about the topic, what they might need to know and how they can represent that knowledge through various media, reinforcing Vygotsky’s theory that interaction and direct teaching are important aspects of intellectual development. Teachers pose questions for children that lead them to suggest a hypothesis: What might happen if you do that? What do you think you could do to make that work? Children are encouraged to evaluate their own work and learn to defend and explain their creations to others.
There are three phases to the project approach. The first phase is to engage the children’s interest. The teachers review the children’s current interest and knowledge of the topic: they represent what information they know with one another through discussion and displays (webbing charts); they prepare questions about the topic.
The second phase is to develop the project. Children are involved in first-hand observation and research opportunities; they seek answers to their original questions and formulate new ones; resource materials are provided; teachers ensure the inclusion of the curriculum goals and the academic skills the children need to refine or develop.
The third phase of the project approach is to conclude the project. Children evaluate, reflect on, and share the project work with others; they personalize their learning through art, stories, drama; a final event to bring the project to an end is held; the teachers assess whether or not goals are met.
Within each of the three phases, there are five structural features. These are:
1. Discussions. In small groups or as a whole class, the teacher and children talk about their activities and investigations. The teacher helps children talk out their ideas and thoughts about the topic.
2. Representations. Children express and communicate their ideas through the use of drawing, writing, construction, dramatic play, maps and diagrams. Children share their experience and knowledge and representation documents what children are learning.
3. Field Work. Investigations can take place outside the classroom (field trips) or through events, objects, places and people (in class visitors) so that children build on their own knowledge through direct experiences.
4. Investigation. Using a variety of resources, children explore and research the topic. This includes field work as well as closely analyzing, sketching, and discussing what they find.
5. Display. Exhibits of children’s work on the project serve as a source of information and provide an opportunity to share their work and ideas with others. As the project progresses, the children are kept up to date on their progress by displays of their work.
The length of the project is determined by the interest children display. Since this type of curriculum is based on the children’s interests and abilities, each class’ project will be unique and different. As the project evolves, different directions of classroom activities will emerge. This makes it difficult to create a set calendar of events for the period of time of the project. Teachers will display a large classroom web of activities and the learning skills being explored each day outside the classroom door. Parents will be able to see how the project is growing by reading the addition of the new activities and the skills each day on this web. The teachers will continue to have their “wrap-up” talk to the parents at the end of each day, so that all the project work will be explained verbally.
Please note that our classroom routines and special weekly events such as show and tell, library, bikes, resource days for the four and five-year-olds will not be changed. The learning centers (math, dramatic play, fine motor, art, gym or playground time, science and literacy) will continue normally. We will still follow our daily schedule, which is posted on all the class signs. The project approach is an additional method of exploring and learning. It has the potential to foster children’s natural curiosity and is an excellent method for gaining children’s interest, attention, and motivation. It makes learning FUN and exciting for the children. It gives them a chance to be active learners in the way that suits them best!
QUESTIONS FOR THE DIRECTOR
Each month I will focus on a question or two from the parents. Please send your questions to the director at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Question: Why do some children know the alphabet already and mine does not?
Answer: This is an important question. Child development is a process every child goes through during predictable time periods. Children develop skills in five main areas: Cognitive (ability to learn and solve problems), Social-Emotional (ability to interact with others and self-control), Speech and Language (ability to both understand and use language), Fine-Motor (ability to use small muscles) and Gross-Motor (ability to use large muscles). A developmental milestone is a skill that a child acquires within a specific time frame. These milestones develop in a sequential fashion, which simply means that a child will need to develop some skills before he or she can develop new skills. Each milestone builds on the last milestone developed.
Each child is an individual and may meet developmental milestones a little earlier or later than his/her peers. Not everyone walked before they were 10 months and not everyone spoke before the age of two! This is because each child is unique and will develop at his or her own pace.
As parents, we all want our children to succeed and be the best they can be. We know from research that two factors influence how your child succeeds and grows: genes and environment.
One of the factors that influence a child’s development is their genetic makeup or “genes”. Some people refer to this as “nature.” Genes are the genetic materials we pass onto our children. Children are born with their “genes” in place. These genes act like a blueprint for what characteristics a child may have.
The other factor that influences child development is the environment. This includes experiences children have in their home, school and community environments. Some people refer to this as “nurture.”
We often think we need to run out and buy special toys, music and games to stimulate our child’s development, but we have to remind ourselves that it is more important to provide the following everyday activities you can do with your child to encourage brain development.
· Give your child lots of love and attention
· Interact with your child by talking, singing, playing, eating and reading with him/her
· READ, READ, READ! Research has shown that children who are read to by their parents have a larger vocabulary than other children.
Please read the following question for more information about what skills a child needs first, to build upon, before learning the alphabet. Once your child’s brain is ready to make the crucial connections it needs to be able to “see” the shapes of the letters and “hear” the sounds, your child will be able to discriminate the various letters and learning the alphabet will be easy.
Question: What can I do to teach my child his alphabet? He doesn’t seem interested.
Answer: This question is related to the previous one. There are, in fact, a few steps you can introduce to your child before and during the more formal instruction of “teaching the alphabet letters.” You are most likely teaching these steps without even realizing it! It is a good idea to be aware of them to help give structure to your play times together so you will instinctively know when it is the right time to move onto the next level. This “pre-reading” time is often referred to as Phonemic Awareness.
· Listening. There are many activities you can introduce to hone your child’s ability to isolate sounds they hear on a daily basis. The skill of listening is required for children to be better able to recognize sound (phonemes) in words that they will be introduced to in the months ahead. Look out for listening games in educational toy stores. Reading rhymes and poems also encourages listening.
· Rhyming and Alliteration. As adults we recognize when words like /gate/, /eight/, and /late/ rhyme. However, for a child this skill has to be practiced and practiced before it becomes a natural process. Nursery rhymes and poems are an excellent way to introduce rhyming and alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the first letter sound in a phrase…six slimy smiling snakes!
· Comparing and contrasting sounds of rhyme. A child learns to spot the “odd sound out”. This is an important step that is often overlooked. By encouraging children to compare and spot the odd one out you are helping them fine tune their listening skills for later on when they will need to recognize patterns and phonemes in words.
· Awareness of syllables. After a child becomes aware of words, the next step is the awareness that words are divided into parts of beats we call syllables. An awareness of syllables will enable your child to perform phonemic segmentation (counting out the number of phonemes in a word). One easy game to play is to clap and count the syllables in their own name or other family and friends names.
· Phoneme recognition. This refers to an awareness that the words we are saying are made up of small sounds. After listening to all those nursery rhymes and poems your child will quickly begin to pick out the more obscure sounds and patterns in words they are hearing.
· Phoneme spelling. This involves becoming so familiar with phonemes (sounds) that a child will be able to manipulate words by adding and deleting phonemes at the beginning, middle and end of words to make new sounds.
Being able to hear the sounds in words will make it easier to connect to the written symbol. Help your child practice making circles and lines (the shapes needed to create the letters) and encourage your child’s interest in “writing” by having a box at home filled with paper, pencils and/or markers, envelopes, stamps, rulers, alphabet cards with pictures, and stickers. When your child is developmentally ready to connect the sounds and shapes to the letters, then learning the alphabet will be easy and fun!
Please read the following section each month. I will be introducing our staff members and will review their credentials and qualifications as well as their philosophy of education.
LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO…
Red Class (3 year old class teaching assistant)
Georgia has been a staff member with St. Paul’s Preschool since 2007. She worked at our McKnight child care program as an assistant group supervisor, so this is her first year at the Ferguson center. She has over 40 years of experience working with young children and has been a foster parent for 53 children (beginning in 1974) as part of the Allegheny County CYF program. Georgia is a nurturing and kind caregiver who has enormous patience and compassion to give each child. She is creative and is well loved by her teaching team! We are so blessed to have Georgia on our St. Paul’s Preschool staff.
Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children