Class Program

pkp_ill_mat_int_beginning_blocks.jpgA brief outline of our school routine will be useful in providing a context for using the assessment and curriculum materials. Understanding our format will make it easier to see how activities may be adapted to the needs of programs with different schedules and resources. The three hour sessions at Circle Preschool includes time for outdoor play, free play inside, snack, group, and projects.

Outside Time: Our mild climate allows us to be outside almost everyday. During the time the children are outside, we are able to have activities such as carpentry and painting in addition to the swings, slide, climber, and sandbox. Generally, teachers play an unobtrusive role in the outdoor activities. The fact that there cannot be a swing and a trike for every child makes outside play a natural learning place for social skills—sharing, taking turns, etc. Teachers may take advantage of this time to help children work out social interactions, develop friendships, and learn appropriate language skills for interacting with peers.

Inside Free Play: During these periods, children make use of the playhouse and block areas or play with puzzles or similar materials. We rotate the free play materials when interest wanes. Arts and craft supplies are also within the child’s reach. Someone may read stories in the book corner. Typically, teachers set out an activity which is not available at all times and which requires a little supervision—water colors, Playdough, parquetry blocks, a water or sand table, balance scales, battery boards, etc.

Social and self-help skills such as proper use of materials, sharing, and clean-up are emphasized in this activity period. Again, teachers may use this time to work with an individual child, especially in language and self-help skills. For example, a teacher may join a child who is doing a puzzle, narrate the child’s actions, label objects in the puzzle, and encourage spontaneous or imitative language from the child.

Snack Time: Goals during this period are more likely to be social than nutritional. Eating should be relaxed, slow-paced, and pleasant. One way to foster this atmosphere is to develop a routine which is followed consistently. For example, children should wash hands and choose a place to sit at the table. The children stand behind their chairs until everyone has found a place, then everyone sits down. As the routine becomes familiar, each step becomes more elaborate. Before sitting down, the children might hold hands to make a circle around the table and listen for a particular sound like an object being dropped which serves as the signal to be seated. Early in the year, snack is set out at the table at each child’s place. Later, children can learn to pass around cups and pitchers and pour their own juice. Initially, a teacher serves as host for the table. Later, a child can assume this role. Conversation may also become part of the routine. The snack itself—who helped make it, how was it prepared, what’s in it—is a topic of shared interest. In the same way, the end of the snack, clean-up, and transition to the next activity should be made into routine, familiar procedures. Children like the rhythm of free time to ordered time.

Group Time: This usually starts with some songs. The purpose of this activity is to give the children a sense of being part of the group. Children learn to be attentive to others and have the opportunity to be the performer as well as the audience. Concepts may be introduced and reinforced as described in many lesson plans. Felt board stories and puppet shows are typical presentations. We also have a few puppet characters (Mr. Math, The Mix-Up Monster, The Hungry Thing, The Space Traveler) that have consistent “personalities”, add in interest, and provide an attention focus. Children like familiar stories and characters. Again, routine and repetition are essential for smooth group functions, but the routine and repetition here differ from snack time in that pace is often faster, sometimes irregular.

Project Time: This usually takes about 40 minutes to an hour of our three hour session. We plan three projects each day with the aim of offering choices—children choose which project(s) they wish to attend. On a typical day the three projects might be cooking, movement, and a table activity. Although project time may go on for an hour, most activities take only 10 or 15 minutes for a child to complete. The child may then continue or repeat the activity, or they may join another project. Most of the lesson plans which follow are project or group time activities.

Since we include three to five year olds in all classes, and the ability range is even wider than the age range, projects must allow for acceptable participation in a variety of ways. For some children, simply staying on a task for a few minutes is the beginning achievement. In such as instance, the next step is to help the child establish a sense of completion of the task. Last week, one of our children, managed to get a few scribbles on paper, she was allowed to leave the project at will. This week we will add the task of getting her ‘picture’ into her bin before going onto other things. Next week (or next month), we may ask the child to take responsibility for initiating closure on the task—“Karen, tell me when you’re finished so I can put your name on your picture…OK, now put it in your bin.” Other children at the project may be drawing elaborate pictures of the fire engine they saw on a field trip, describing their drawings in detail, perhaps printing their own names. Great, Karen does what she can and we let her know we are delighted with her participation. 

In dealing with the enormous diversity of skill and maturity levels, two basic principles should be observed: first, cooperation should be fostered; second, the focus should be on the process rather than the product. Performance goals are defined in terms of each child, never in terms of the group. Children may participate in activities beyond their capacities without feeling frustrated because our expectations are based on the child’s development, not his peer’s performance. For example, one young child, severely afflicted with the ‘I can’t’ syndrome, tried to persuade an older boy to draw something for him. The older boy responded, with the great perceptiveness of his years and said “I’ll draw it for you, but you really ought to do it yourself, because if I do it for you it will be mine and it won’t really be yours.”

Although there is no absolute sure-fire way to guarantee success for every project, we have some suggestions which will keep the odds in your favor:

(At group time, children sit in a circle near the edge of a large oval rug. This configuration gives all of us a bit of breathing space.) 1. Know what you are going to do before you arrive at school. Last minute creations are less likely to be fruitful.

2. Be prepared. Think through your presentation and have all the materials, and enough materials at hand.

3. Don’t try to do too much at once. Be somewhat flexible, but beware of becoming side tracked by ideas from the group. There is always tomorrow for following up on a suggestion by one of the kids. Trying to do too many spontaneous variations will result in not being able to carry out any activity well.

4. Kids are participants, not spectators. Be sure there is plenty to do—cut, paste, handle, fold, squeeze, pat, arrange, draw, or fiddle with.

5. Establish the minimum conditions for participation: on walks, kids must stay with the group; when painting kids must paint on the paper, not on teachers or other kids.

6. Know the group as individuals with different needs and abilities. No matter how far they get, kids are doing their best. These first efforts are crucial, and kids should not feel they have failed. Follow through and build on what you did today. Keep in mind that what flopped today may succeed beautifully next week, given a new twist, better preparations, or different lunar aspects.

7. Develop a ritual for beginning and ending activities. Children may come and go while the project is in progress, so there must be a beginning, middle, and end for each child’s participation, even though some may work longer than others. A child should not be allowed to flit from one activity to another with no responsibility for carrying through. Gear your demands to the tolerance of the child, and don’t ask more than you can see that the child fulfills.