At KCS, we set aside a special day where the students’ grandparents are invited to come and get a taste of what we at the school are all about. This day is not just a treat for the grandparents, but very much so for us here as well. Because seniors have experienced things that we may never get to, the lessons they can teach us are invaluable. Through all of human history, we have learned from the past to make progress, building upon the lessons of each passing generation. We have become more civilized, more educated and wiser because of our predecessors. This year’s Grandparent’s Day was no exception!
Young children get many things from the grandparents or elders in their life. The older generation can show our young learners how to have a calm presence, be a loving friend, and build a world of experience. Within the current technology-saturated world around them – social media and the “global village” being ubiquitous – the world has become an overwhelming place for children. The days of playing with sticks, rocks, boxes and bottle caps may be gone, but can make a resurgence if we choose to make it so. It is up to us as responsible adults to decide what we expose our future doctors, artists, scientists, teachers and leaders to. Much like the adult coloring movement (evidenced in bookstores worldwide) and how it positively affects the brain, so can working with simple objects to stimulate innovation, problem solving and imagination. In addition to these crucial cognitive skills, social skills are necessary to successfully master our educational system; another reason to nurture relationships between children and their elders.
Although we only officially set aside a single day to celebrate this relationship, we should celebrate our seniors every day. Grandparents can play a major role in learning about who we are and where we came from; also something to celebrate. As an educator of young children, I believe that grandparents have the power to teach so much to young people, to ensure that culture lives on, in and around us. As James Baldwin put it: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them”.
For our recent celebration of Earth Day, the Pre-Kindergarten students have been using recycled materials to build. Many of the children displayed an interest in space, so the PK teachers took this opportunity to practice teamwork in a fun and motivating way. In order to create a “rocket ship” and “a space station”, the class had to employ many of the KCS Habits. Building together alongside their engaged teachers developed their already emerging cooperation and collaboration skills. It began when the PKs themselves brought in recycled materials from home, providing a meaningful home-school connection, further enriching their collaboration experience. They were then able to brainstorm about what they would like to create – an activity requiring patience, listening skills, and the ability to take on another’s perspective. This is no small feat when you are three years old, but developing these skills in the realm of play makes for a safe learning space and only good ideas!
After their structures were built, the children were given the opportunity to add paint, glitter and open ended art materials to their structure. The purpose of this was not only to make it look beautiful, but to add further meaning to something that the children worked on themselves. Engaging their senses and tactile experience, this step of the project also fostered focus, persistence and their individual sense of self within a group: a skill that will last them a life time. The “rocket ship” and “space station” were completed, but the children carried the learning from that experience into their everyday play, by re-enacting the building process, singing about taking a trip to the moon, and turning their play dough into “a rocket ship”. Recreating what they have seen, heard and learned, they are making meaning in their world.
With the gift giving season behind us, I’ve had some adults asking me why playing with rocks and sticks would be beneficial to children. I am all too excited to tell them.
In toddlerhood, children are very literal: if they can’t see it, it’s not there. But as they grow into preschool age, their imaginations begin to grow and if we nourish that growth, the sky becomes the limit. At KCS, our goal as educators is to prepare our youngest learners for the next steps in life. Yes, those next steps include reading, writing and arithmetic, but there is more. Creativity, initiative, problem solving and team building skills become possible when using open-ended materials in play, such as items found in nature. The natural world is a wonder for children, rich in textures, smells, colours and purposes. They can bring their diverse personal experience to play, allowing them to choose, invent and inquire among peers. When early learners are given the opportunity to develop internal motivation for learning, they are more likely to enjoy school and believe in themselves in an educational setting.
So remember, if you see your pre-schooler at home choosing to play with things that aren’t their iPad or commercially-made toys, smile and ask them what they are creating. After all, we only get one chance to be this tender age, so let them make the most of it. You may end up with a scholar on your hands.
‘Sharing What You Know’ is one of the KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action, so I want to share with you one thing I know about our Pre-Kindergarten program. When I’m in the PK room, my heart fills with joy. Yes, they are our youngest students in the school and yes, they make me laugh, but my heart fills with joy because they share with me what they know from the moment I walk into the room.
The other day, as soon as I entered, one child said, “Miss De Kuyper, I’m building a house!” I could tell he was proud, and I asked him who was going to live there, to which he replied, “You!” When another child put round connectors up to her eyes, I asked her what they were. She looked at my bespectacled face, smiled and said, “Glasses!” Several children brought me toys that matched the colour they were wearing that day, while some told me what they were “cooking” with playdough.
At the beginning of the school year, the PKs are coming out of toddlerhood and into the next stage of learning; something that a lot of us take for granted. This time in their little lives is huge, and it sets the stage for every year of learning after it. When children are given time to explore, they learn to identify colours or how to build a sturdy house, all while learning to share toys, space and ideas. Children absorb what they see and hear, and as the world unfolds around them, the PK program provides them the space to drive their own learning as they continuously share what they know.
Children come to school with a wealth of knowledge. They are learning every second of every day, and their experiences shape their understanding of the world around them. We as teachers learn a whole lot from them on a daily basis!
This term in Pre-kindergarten the children have been checking themselves out in the mirror during dramatic play, daily routines, and any time there is a mirror available! We have planned a variety of activities to represent the diversity in the room, and for the children to know that they are active players in their learning.
By drawing and painting their own self-portraits, being represented on a size chart or tracing and colouring their outline, the children are represented in the classroom and know that they belong here. Not only do these activities embrace the diversity that exists in our world and our classroom, it has provided the children the opportunity to focus their skills on something they know best – themselves! What is a better motivator than that? They have been so excited to see themselves in their learning environment.
The children have begun to notice traits about themselves and talk about them, but also about their classmates. It is a process to learn about oneself, but also a process to learn about the similarities that reside in all children. This is the beginning of recognizing themselves as lifelong learners.