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Learning in the Classroom

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Creative Curriculum

The philosophy behind our curriculum is that young children learn best by doing. Learning isn't just repeating what someone else says; it requires active thinking and experimenting to find out how things work and to learn firsthand about the world we live in.

In their early years, children explore the world around them by using all their senses (touching, tasting, listening, smelling, and looking).

In using real materials such as blocks and trying out their ideas, children learn about sizes, shapes, and colors, and they notice relationships between things.

In time, they learn to use one object to stand for another. This is the beginning of symbolic thinking. For example, they might pretend a stick is an airplane or a block is a hamburger. These early symbols - the stick and the block - are similar in shape to the objects they represent. Gradually children become more and more able to use abstract symbols like words to describe their thoughts and feelings. They learn to "read" pictures which are symbols of real people, places and things. This exciting development in symbolic thinking takes place during the pre-school years as children play.

Play provides the foundation for academic or "school" learning. It is the preparation children need before they learn highly abstract symbols such as letters (which are symbols for sounds) and numbers (which are symbols for number concepts). Play enables us to achieve the key goals of our early childhood curriculum. Play is the work of young children.

The most important goal of our early childhood curriculum is to help children become enthusiastic learners. This means encouraging children to be active and creative explorers who are not afraid to try out their ideas and to think their own thoughts. Our goal is to help children become independent, self-confident, inquisitive learners. We're teaching them how to learn, not just in preschool, but all through their lives. We're allowing them to learn at their own pace and in the ways that are best for them. We're giving them good habits and attitudes, particularly a positive sense of themselves, which will make a difference throughout their lives.

Our curriculum identifies goals in all areas of development,

  • Social: To help children feel comfortable in school, trust their new environment, make friends, and feel they are a part of the group.
  • Emotional: To help children experience pride and self- confidence, develop independence and self-control, and have a positive attitude toward life.
  • Cognitive: To help children become confident learners by letting them try out their own ideas and experience success, and by helping them acquire learning skills such as the ability to solve problems, ask questions, and use words to describe their ideas, observations, and feelings.
  • Physical: To help children increase their large and small muscle skills and feel confident about what their bodies can do.

The activities we plan for children, the way we organize the environment, select toys and materials, plan the daily schedule, and talk with children, are all designed to accomplish the goals of our curriculum and give your child a successful start in school.

A Letter to Parents on Blocks

What We Do and Why

Blocks, the hard wood units that come in proportional sizes and shapes, are one of the most valuable learning materials in our classroom. When they build with blocks, children learn about sizes and shapes, spatial relationships, math concepts, and problem solving. When children lift, shove, stack, and move blocks, they learn about weight and size. Each time they use blocks, they are making decisions about how to build a structure or solve a construction problem.

When children build with blocks in the classroom, we encourage them to talk about what they are doing. For example, we might say:

  • "Tell me about your building."

  • "How did you decide to put those blocks together?"

  • We also ask questions that help children extend their thinking about their block play. For example, we might say:

  • "You built a tall apartment house. How do the people get to their floor?"

  • "How many blocks do you think it will take to fill up that space?"

  • "Where do people park their cars when they come to visit the shopping center?"

These questions and comments are designed to help the children become aware of what they are doing and think of ways to extend their work.

What You Can Do at Home

Hardwood unit blocks are expensive, but there are several other types of blocks you might want to have at home to support your child's learning. For example, you might wish to purchase table blocks, colored wooden cube blocks, or cardboard brick blocks.

Small blocks can be stored in shoe boxes or plastic tubs and containers. You can put a picture label on the container so your child knows where the materials belong. Identify a place where you child can build and play with the blocks, either on the floor or a table. As your child builds with that blocks, you can talk about the structure and ask questions. Props such as clothespins, small plastic animals, and cars and trucks will extend your child's play and inspire new ideas. Playing with large or small blocks, you child can learn to:

  • judge distances, space, and size,

  • create scenes for dramatic play,

  • stack blocks carefully (using eye-hand coordination and small muscle control),

  • compare and sort by size and shape, and

  • use words to describe a construction.

Perhaps the most important contribution you can make to your child's learning throught blocks is to take an interest in what you child does, both at home and at school. We welcome you to visit the classroom at any time so you can see for yourself how much you child is learning.

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A Letter to Parents on the House Corner

What We Do and Why

The house corner is a very important part of our classroom. The work children do in the house corner is called dramatic play or pretend play. In the house corner children take on a role and recreate real-life experiences. They use props and make-believe about a wide variety of topics.

The ability to pretend is very important to children's later academic success in school. When children pretend, they have to recall experiences they've had and re-create them. To do this, they have to be able to picture their experiences in their minds. For example, to play the role of a doctor, children have to remember what tools a doctor uses, how a doctor examines a patient, and what a doctor says. In playing the role of a doctor, children have to be able to cooperate with other children and defend their own ideas.

When children are engaged in dramatic play in the classroom, we encourage them to talk about what they are doing. For example, we might say:

  • "What do mothers do when children are sick?"

  • "What kind of cake are you going to make: chocolate or vanilla?"

  • "Why does your baby cry so much?"

We ask questions that help children extend their thinking and their play.

What You Can Do at Home

You can encourage the same kind of pretend play at home by having a box of dress-up clothes available or by putting a sheet over a card table and making a hideout for your child. Such activities are particularly good for a rainy day.

One way to extend your child's dramatic play is to collect different kinds of dress-up clothes and put them in boxes with pictures showing the contents. For instance, one box might contain an apron, bibs, cups, plates, spoons, small cooking utensils, a whisk broom, and other objects for use in the kitchen. Another box might include hats with visors or recognizable insignia denoting an occupation, shoes, neckties, shirts, vests, coats, or trousers. A hospital prop box could hold nurses' hats, white coats, toy thermometers, stethoscopes, empty pill bottles, a small pillow, an eye patch, and a watch.

When the time is appropriate, you can give your child one of the boxes and encourage play by asking questions such as these: "What can we do about this sick baby?" or "Will you make grandmother a birthday cake?"

When you play pretend with you child, you are teaching important learning skills and spending valuable time together.

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A Letter to Parents on Table Toys

What We Do and Why

Table toys include puzzles, various table blocks, and other small construction materials such as Legos, Ring-a-Majigs, and collections of objects (including shells, bottle caps, and buttons). When children use table toys, they learn many new skills and concepts, including:

  • sorting and classifying things according to their own categories;

  • judging distance, direction, right and left, up and down; and

  • describing what they are thinking and doing

When children use table toys in the classroom, we encourage them to talk about what they are doing. For example, we might say:

  • "Tell me about those blocks you are using."

  • "How did you get those rings to fit together?"

We also ask questions that help children extend their thinking as they play with table toys. For example:

  • "You grouped all the bottle tops by color. Can you put them together any other way?"

  • "You've picked out all the pegs that are the same. Can you tell me how they are the same?"&

These questions and comments are designed to help children become aware of what they are doing and develop their thinking skills.

What You Can Do at Home

Small colored cubes, those about one inch square, offer many opportunities for your child to build patterns and designs. These cubes can be made into a tower, a corral, or other formations, depending on the child's interest. Colored cubes such as beads can be used to make patterns of colors and sizes: red, blue, yellow, and then repeat; large, small, medium, and then repeat.&n

You might collect various small objects such as buttons, seashells, rocks, and plastic bottle tops. You can give your child a tray to use on the floor if the surface isn't level, or let your child sit at a table to play. Make suggestions such as sorting all the buttons that are the same color or all the beads that are the same size. Encourage your child to tell you about the design he or she is making or why things belong together.

Playing with table toys at home promotes a child's development in many important ways. However, the most important contribution you can make to your child's learning with table toys is to take an interest in what your child does, both at home and at school. We welcome you to the classroom at any time. In this way you can see for yourself how much your child is learning.

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A Letter to Parents on Art

What We Do and Why

Art is an important part of our curriculum. Every day, children find a variety of art materials available on our shelves. Drawing, painting, cutting, pasting, and playing with playdough are not only enjoyable but also provide important opportunities for learning. Children express original ideas and feelings, improve their coordination, develop small muscle skills, learn to recognize colors and textures, and develop creativity and pride in their accomplishments by exploring and using art materials.

When children are engaged in art activities, we talk with them about what they are doing and ask questions that encourage them to think about their ideas and express feelings. For example, we might say:

  • "I can see you like the new colors we put on the easels today."

  • "You made a lot of pictures. Which one do you want to hang up?"

  • "You worked a long time with the clay today. What did you like doing best?"

As you can tell, we like to focus on what children are doing - not on what their finished art work looks like. We say such things as these:

  • "Tell me about your picture" instead of "What did you make?"

  • "It looks like the playdough is sticking to your fingers. What could we do to make it less sticky?" instead of "You're not having much success with the playdough."

What You Can Do at Home

Art is a very easy way to bring your child's school life into your home. Here are some things you might wish to try:

  • Designate a drawer in the kitchen or living room as an art drawer, or use a bookshelf or sturdy cardboard box. In this space nclude crayons, marking pens, paper, a pair of scissors, and a separate box for collage materials.
  • Let your child know where art materials can be used - at the kitchen table, at a small child-sized table, on the kitchen floor, or outside. Some of the most enjoyable art materials are a bit messy and you want to be sure that the space you choose is one that can be cleaned easily.
  • Encourage your child to take out the art materials and use them independently at any time.
  • Find places to display your child's art - on the refrigerator, on a wall in the child's room, or in a hallway. Displaying children's art lets them know you think it's important and attractive.

Children's natural love for art is something we can support together!

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A Letter to Parents on Sand and Water Play

What We Do and Why

Although you're probably used to your children splashing in the bathtub and digging in a sandbox at the playground, you may be surprised to know that the sand and water area is an important part of our classroom. This is because sand and water aren't just fun - they're also a natural setting for learning.

When children pour water into measuring cups, they gain a foundation for mathematical thinking. when they drop corks, stones, feathers, and marbles into a tub of water, they observe scientifically which objects float and which sink. When they comb sand into patterns, they learn about both math and art.

We encourage children to experiment with these materials and as they do, we ask questions that encourage them to think about what they are discovering:

  • "Why do you think the wet sand won't turn the wheel?"

  • "How did the water change when we added the soap flakes?"

  • "How many of these measuring cups of water will it take to fill this quart pitcher?"

What You Can Do at Home

In addition to your child's everyday experiences with sand and water at home, you may want to find some places in your home where your child can play regularly with sand and water in the same ways we do at school. If you choose to do this, be prepared for some messes. Spills and stray sand are natural byproducts of children's entusiastic play!

Here are some thoughts on setting up for sand and water play at home:

  • Water play can be set up at the bathroom or kitchen sink. A large towel should be laid on the floor. If the sink is high for the child, a stool or stand can be provided. Outdoors, a small pool, tub, or old baby bath can be used.

  • A dishpan can be used as a miniature sand box. You child could use this sandbox on a table, on the floor, or even resting on the lap. Collect small items for the miniature sand box such as shells, plastic animals, coffee scoops, et cetera.

  • If a sandbox is not available outdoors, a dirt hole can be dug for sand play. Indoors, a plastic tub can be filled with sawdust or aluminum pie crust beads.

Giving children an opportunity to play with sand and water on a regular basis helps them develop their minds and bodies in a relaxing and enjoyable way.

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A Letter to Parents on the Library

What We Do and Why

The library area is an essential part of our program and of your child's life. It's where children gain the foundations for reading and writing. It's also a place where children can relax and enjoy the wonderful world of children's literature.

We encourage children to use the library on their own. We invite them to look at books, to listen to taped stories, and to scribble and "write" throughout the day. We also work with children one- on-one and in small groups. Sometimes children dictate stories to us, which we record in "books."

Every day we read stories to the children. We read books to introduce new ideas, to develop pre- reading skills, to help children deal with problems, and mostly to develop a love of books. Here are some of the things we do with children as we read:

We look at pictures together and ask children questions: "What is that silly cat doing?" We encourage children to predict what will happen next: "What do you suppose will happen now?"

We encourage children to repeat words, rhymes, and phrases they've memorized.

What You Can Do at Home

If your're interested in setting up a home library for your child, here are some suggestions:

  • Designate a place in the house where your child can independently read, write, look at magazines, and listen to tapes.

  • Decorate the chosen area with pictures (preferably homemade by your child) and plants.

  • Add pillows and soft furniture to this area so your child feels relaxed and happy here.

  • If bookshelves are not available, cover sturdy diaper boxes (large size) with contact paper and use as bookcases, or use wooden or plastic crates as bookshelves.

If you'd like some guidance on choosing books or tapes for your home library, please come see us. We have an excellent bibliography of recommended children's books that we'd be delighted to share. You can draw on the resources of your local public library to keep your child's home library well-stocked.

Books, tapes, and writing materials are wonderful ways to help children learn. When you take time to read to your child every day, you are doing the very best thing to help your child grow up to be a successful reader.

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A Letter to Parents on Music and Movement

What We Do and Why

We do a lot of singing and creative movement in our program. Singing and moving to music give the children a chance to move freely, practice new skills, and feel good about what their bodies can do. The children love our daily time for singing together, and it helps them develop the ability to cooperate in a group. Here are some fo the things we do to encourage a love for music and movement:

  • Sometimes we take a tape recorder outside and play jazz or folk music, and the children dance and act out the songs.
  • We give the children colored scarves and paper streamers to use as they move to the music.
  • We play musical instruments, some of which are homemade.
  • We use chants to help us get through the daily routines, such as clean-up time.
  • We have a comfortable listening center with a wide variety of tapes for children to listen to on their own.
What You Can Do at Home

You don't have to be musical to enjoy music with your child. Taking a few minutes to sit together and listen to music can provide a welcome break for both of you. Also, the music you share with your child doesn't have to be only "kid's music." It can be rap, reggae, country, jazz, classical, or any music you like. Here are some ideas for enjoying music and movement with you child:

  • Children love a song or chant about what they are doing at the moment, especially when it uses their name. While pushing your child on a swing, you might chant, "Swing high, swing low, this is the way that Julie goes." The child likes this because it is about her and what she is doing, and the rhythm matches her movements.

  • Songs and finger plays help keep children involved at tough times, such as during car or bus trips, while waiting in line, or while grocery shopping.

  • Chanting or singing also helps at times when your child needs to switch gears and start picking up toys, getting ready to go outside, undressing for a bath, and so on. You might try a chant such as, "water is filling up the tub..." or "pickin' up a toy and put it on the shelf..." (to the tune of "This Is The Way We Wash Our Clothes").

Musical instruments can easily be made or improvised at home. You (or your child) may already hae discovered cooking pots and lids make wonderful instruments. We have directions for making a variety of musical instruments from household objects such as empty oatmeal containers, paper plates, and buttons. We'd be delighted to share these ideas with you - just ask us!

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A Letter to Parents on Cooking

What We Do and Why

Cooking is an important part of our curriculum. When they cook, children have an opportunity to learn about food, to be creative, and to prepare their own nutritional snacks. Lots of discoveries happen during cooking. When children see dough rise, they learn about science; when they measure flour, they learn about math. Following picture recipe cards, they learn learn skills that will prepare them for reading. And when we make and eat Mexican tacos, Chinese vegetables, or African peanut stew, the children learn to appreciate other peoples and cultures.

Cooking offers a special treat for children - it allows them to do things that adults do. With all the adult things children aren't allowed to do, it's very rewarding for them to be encouraged to cook "just like grown-ups."

When children cook in the classroom, we talk a lot about what they are doing:

  • measuring flour,

  • mixing turn with mayonnaise,

  • cracking eggs,

  • whipping egg whites,

  • grating cheese, and

  • peeling potatoes.

As we talk, children learn new words. They also learn to think about what they're doing. They describe what happens when water is added to dry ingredients. They solve problems, such as how much butter should be placed in a muffin tin to allow the ingedients to rise. They also learn to make healthy eating choices.

What You Can Do at Home

It takes a little more time on your part to involve children in home meal preparations. But if you think about all the things that your child will gain from the experience, it becomes well worth the effort. Here are some things you might point out and discuss with your child as you cook together:

  • where different utensils are found in the kitchen (and should be returned);

  • the names of various foods;

  • how various foods look, smell, feel, and taste;

  • how many teaspoons or cups of particular ingredients are used;

  • why some foods need to be kept in the refigerator or freezer;

  • how heat changes food;

  • why a variety of foods are served at each meal; and

  • how foods are arranged on plates to make them look appealing.

We welcome any family recipes you would like to share with us. And, we would be delighted for you to come in at any time to participate in a cooking activity.

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A Letter to Parents on Computers

What We Do and Why

In our program we have a special activity where children "play" with computers. While this may sound like a strange way of describing what children do with computers, this is in fact what goes on. The children experiment, using programs that help them develop in many exciting ways. Here are some of the things that children learn when they use computers:

  • math skills and concepts such as counting and numerical relationships,

  • beginning reading concepts,

  • how to express creativity, and

  • how to solve problems.

We encourage children to work at the computer in pairs. This helps them learn from each other and develops their social skills at the same time. While the children are working at the computer, we ask them questions such as these to help them think about what they're doing:

  • "What made you decide to choose this program to work on?"

  • "What do you suppose will happen if you press the escape key?"

  • "What printouts did you decide to make today?"

By working with children in these ways, we not only encourage their growth and development but also help prepare them for a futrure in which they will need to know how to work with computers.

What You Can Do at Home

You may or may not have a computer in your home. It is certainly not necessary that you do have one in order to benefit from the computer area. If you do have a home computer and would like to know some things that you can do with your child at home, please contact us. We will be glad to help to provide you with assistance, including how to judge which programs are appropriate for use with young children. We have some good information on this topic that we'd like to share with you.

You may be interested in visiting our program to observe how children use computers. If you'd like to volunteer to work with children in the computer area, we'd be delighted to have your help. Also, our program offers introductory instruction on using the computer for parents and children together. This can be an exciting opportunity for you to learn about computers side-by-side with your child.

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A Letter to Parents on Outdoor Play

What We Do and Why

Outdoor play is an important part of our curriculum. When the children are outdoors, they like to run, jump, climb, and use all the large muscles in their bodies. They need space to work out and let off steam. They can race around, breath the fresh air, look at the clouds, or catch a ball or a bug. They not only satisfy their physical need for large muscle activity but also develop a sense of wonder about the miracles that take place in nature.

When we take the children ourdoors at school, we talk about the things we can see, hear, touch, and feel so that the children become aware of changes in the weather and the seasons, the growth of plants, and animals. We help the children notice changes by asking them what is different about the trees, the caterpillars, or the sky. They lie on the ground and look up, or they climb the jungle gym and look down. We point out the many kinds of birds that fly overhead, butterflies, mosquitos, milkweed seeds, falling leaves, and rain as it begins. We wonder aloud where all these things come from.

By playing outdoors, your child can learn the following:

  • to notice changes in nature;

  • to discover what happens to people, animals, and plants when it is cold, hot, dark, or light, outside;

  • to use his or her body in increasingly skillful ways; and

  • to be a good observer.

When the children play outdoors, we encourage them to talk about what they are doing. For example, we might say:

  • "What happened to the sun just now? I don't see it any more."

  • "What is making the trees bend the way they are today?"

We also ask questions that help children extend their thinking as they play outdoors. For examples, we might say:

  • "What happens to the water in the pan? It's hard now. What do we need to do to make it pour?"

  • "If you keep digging your hole, how far down can you go?"

What You Can Do at Home
  • You can provide wooden boxes and boards for playhouses or an obstacle course;
  • gardening tools to dig, plant, and cultivate a little garden;
  • a big paintbrush and a pail of water to "paint" walls or fences;
  • large balls to kick or throw or old blankets or sheets to make a tent.
  • You can take a walk around the block with your child and talk about all the different colors of cars that pass by.
  • Your child will take great pleasure in collecting rocks, finding bugs, watching birds and airplanes in the sky, or pretending to go camping.

You can try some of these ideas with your children outdoors at home or on a trip to the park, the beach, the woods, or wherever you can find a place to run. Playing outdoors is fun for parents and children and enhances children's learning in many important ways.

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For more information on The Creative Curriculum for Early Childhood, please contact,

Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Post Office Box 42243
Washington, DC 20015
(800) 637-3652