Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum Highlights
Additional details in Philosophy & Curriculum
Although part of the Preschool, Pre-K is a different program and is often referred to as a “bridge to Kindergarten.” Nonetheless, it is developmentally appropriate for your four or five-year-old child and prepares him or her to be a life-long learner.
A great deal of the Pre-K curriculum is not immediately apparent because it does not result in concrete products that children can take home and hang on the refrigerator. The teachers and children spend a significant amount of time building skills necessary to be successful learners in a community. This is important because most of your children will continue their educations, from Kindergarten and beyond, in-group learning environments.
Two areas of development that play equally significant roles in a child’s readiness for Kindergarten are social-emotional coping skills and sensory motor integration. These can be considered pre-academic skills, which correctly imply that the abstract learning that imbues later academics will not be easily acquired if these two areas are not fully developed.
Social-emotional Coping Skills
Research in early childhood development has identified that the ability to acquire and use information must pass through the brain’s emotional filter before it can be appropriately stored for later access. Our school environment is one in which the children are in constant contact with their peers. So, at school the ability to learn academic concepts is enhanced or impeded by one’s self-image and facility at communicating needs and ideas. Therefore we strongly emphasize helping each child build both the emotional resiliency and verbal communication skills necessary to successfully navigate interactions with their peers.
Another pillar of our social-emotional curriculum is encouraging autonomy among individual children while concurrently working to create a community of learners that support each other. The teachers recognize that a significant part of helping develop a positive self-image within a child is in helping every child realize they are problem solvers! The Pre-K faculty works constantly to encourage children to figure out solutions for themselves and then support the children in their conclusions. Because the young child learns most completely through personal experiences the teachers encourage them to draw on those memories to solve problems. If they do not have the skills to solve age level problems then we actively help them develop those abilities through a combination of peer and teacher instruction. A frequently heard reply from a teacher to a child’s question is “What do you think?”
As the pre-K child’s sense of autonomy develops their ability to take on another point of view emerges. We speak constantly of the concept of “my opinion” versus “your opinion.” Some things have only one valid answer at school, and issues that fall into this fairly narrow category quickly become obvious because they tend to address issues of safety and group management and are responded to in a consistent manner. Opinion covers the rest of the day and emphasizes that there are many perspectives that can be equally respected. Most importantly, accepting the existence of different opinions builds acceptance of difference in general.
Part of the Pre-K aged child’s growing sense of autonomy involves a more sophisticated sense of responsibility. Not only do they begin to be capable of taking responsibility for self-care, they also start to recognize and desire to be part of a larger social contract. They begin to understand they have a personal responsibility to model certain pro-social behaviors within large and small group contexts because they are starting to recognize that such behaviors actively support their own ability to learn new information and skills. They develop a sense of pride in the personal responsibility of completing tasks that maintain their physical surroundings for their own use while consciously showing care for the younger children in the school.
Another aspect of social-emotional development in the Pre-K year that is a significant indicator of Kindergarten readiness is the child’s ability to recognize and participate in teacher-directed learning. In Pre-K, just as in preschool, the children have multiple opportunities every day to choose who and what they will play with. There are also several occasions throughout the Pre-K day in which they do not get to choose what they will do next. Rather, they are required to focus their attention on a teacher-directed group-wide activity. A great deal of planning is involved in designing activities that allow a broad range of skill levels to become actively involved in opportunities to both master developing skills and acquire new ones. These “non-choice” times encourage the Kindergarten readiness skills of delaying gratification and following adult-given directions. They also present focused opportunities for teachers to observe areas of individual development that may need specific attention at school or even benefit from outside evaluation.
Sensory Motor Integration
One way to think of the broad topic of sensory motor integration is to define it as the ability to take input from both internal and external sources and act on this information efficiently and productively. So rather than being easily distracted by any of the multitude of physical, visual or audio stimuli found within a busy classroom, a child with a strongly integrated sensory-motor system is able to filter out information that is not pertinent to the task at hand and focus instead on useful stimuli that allow the task to be accomplished. In particular, we emphasize tactile (touch) play in the classroom because it can give us quick insight into children’s readiness to engage in more structured tabletop activities. If a child is comfortable with the feeling different textures and pressures create in the hand, this facilitates the development of the fine motor control necessary for handwriting, cutting, etc. If not, thiscan make it difficult for the child to have enough repeat experiences to develop the strength, coordination and dexterity necessary to make letter formation second nature. This is an important, and often overlooked consideration, because the ability to form letters without having to think about the physical act automatically enables the child to concentrate on the end product (i.e., in Pre-K: journal drawing; in elementary school: deskwork/homework) rather than become locked in a struggle to form images or words on paper. Overall, a child’s ability to absorb and not be discomfited by a variety of sensations received through all the senses (not just the hands) facilitates the later ability to be an engaged, active and productive learner in a classroom setting.
This is one reason why we continue in Pre-K to emphasize play as children’s “work.” When they are allowed to explore a wide variety of materials and environments through play, they are naturally exposed to a significant variety of sensory-motor stimuli. From the way it feels to place their bodies in different postures on various surfaces as they build structures, act out imaginary roles, and paint, to the sensations received as they use materials of different textures, weights and dimensions, and the opportunities they have to move their bodies in space through running, riding, jumping and crawling, play naturally puts them into direct contact with a range of beneficial sensations.
In addition to the tremendous amount of work on developing problem solving skills, a positive sense of self, and growing mastery of fine and gross motor skills, the children are surrounded by early reading and number concepts. They are constantly encouraged to write their names, count out loud, identify symbols and patterns or make labels in ways that are a naturally occurring part of the class routine and therefore have the most personal meaning and highest likelihood of being learned. The Circle and Small Group times are typically structured to include specific developmentally appropriate pre-academic concepts. We also recognize that many other activities that children select during the free-choice segments of the daily schedule (block building, role playing, pattern work, listening to music, looking at books, creating art…) promote academic skill building. Whether your child will move on to a public or independent school for Kindergarten, they will be best prepared by the daily experience of steady routines, guided social interactions that emphasize positive coping skills, and varied skill-based activities that include both open-ended play and teacher-directed learning.
The most important gift teachers can instill in children attending a Jewish preschool is a positive feeling toward Judaism. Even if they never attend another Jewish school or synagogue, their time in our preschool should leave them with happy, warm memories of both everyday and holiday experiences shared with classmates and teachers. It is imperative that teachers create an environment that leaves the children with the sense that Judaism and Jewishness are positive things. As they grow into adulthood they will make their own decisions about spirituality, religious practice and Israel. Our goal is to give them a wonderful, positive connection to this amazing heritage.
An exciting development for this age is its growing ability to identify with dramatic themes in stories. From Preschool they bring with them a strong affinity for Jewish activities and objects. By the time they enter Pre-K, just as they are working on issues of fairness in their own lives, they are now emotionally very receptive to the struggles portrayed by characters in the Purim, Passover and Torah stories. Furthermore, they are capable of making connections between the themes in these stories to the broader American experience of immigration and social justice, which results in a deeper connection to their positive identification with Judaism (even if they do not consider themselves to be Jewish). While they continue to deepen the understanding of the mitzvot (commandments) and traditions of each holiday that began during their preschool years (as well as their connection to Israel) they are also ready to explore the actions of pivotal Jewish characters to a depth that was not possible or appropriate at an earlier age.
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