Our curriculum incorporates Montessori philosophy, New York State learning standards, and the expertise gained from fifty years of experience educating young children. We believe in providing a structured day with a predictable, consistent schedule so that children know what is coming next. Young children feel safe when they know what to expect, and they enjoy the sense of mastery that comes with knowing a routine. We also believe in balancing child-led times with teacher-led times, so that we can introduce them to new concepts and ideas and share the joy of discovery.
While the general sequence of events that makes up our days is predictable, the activities themselves are lively and engaging. We cover early literacy, math, social studies, science, art, music, social-emotional skills, fine motor development, and gross motor development each week. We maintain communication with local public schools to stay abreast of their expectations for incoming children, and pay close attention to our children's social-emotional, behavioral, and self-help skills with an eye toward kindergarten readiness.
Each subject area is covered in a hands-on way that is appropriate to the developmental level of the children. We recognize that all learning is linked and our distinctions between learning areas is largely academic, so, for instance, we offer opportunities to sculpt because it is creative but also because it strengthens fine motor skills. Because we have two teachers in each classroom, projects can be tailored to the skills of each child. Examples of how we teach each of our content areas to different groups of children can be found below; for a more complete picture we recommend that you call for a tour to see our happy friends in action!
We teach early literacy to our youngest children by ensuring that their environment is rich in opportunities to experience words and letters using all of their senses. We tape giant letters on the floor for them to see and feel. We have sandpaper letters for them to touch, and we spread whipped cream on trays for them to trace letters with their fingers (this ends up involving a bit of tasting as well!). We offer them the chance to copy and trace letters with crayons, enhancing fine motor skills in the process. We bake a bundt cake in the shape of a C when we learn the letter C, and we make apple prints when we learn the letter A. We listen to stories and talk about new words and ideas so that we can enrich vocabularies and expand the world of language.
Our oldest children learn letter-sound associations and, if they are ready, word families (e.g., bat, cat, fat, hat, etc.). They dictate stories and write at every opportunity, whether it's making Driver's Licenses as part of their unit on the community or authoring a book.
Math is a delight at our school. Our youngest children start learning about math by talking about concepts such as one to one correspondence (one number = one item), patterns, seriation (learning smallest to biggest), and classification (all kids with red shirts here, all kids with blue shirts there). They learn to recognize the numbers and they even get to practice writing them, if they like. The children practice with real life items like cups and napkins, finger play songs, and with Montessori materials designed to teach them these important concepts.
Our older children continue to talk about these numeracy concepts, but they also begin learning simple addition and subtraction. They might create a caterpillar from stickers and then see what happens when they add or take away a sticker. They do activities involving symmetry, more complex patterns, part/whole relationships, and measurement.
Our social studies activities are varied and stimulating. We talk every day about current events (not the headline kind, but holidays like Columbus Day, Election Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and what they mean. Our children like these discussions and the associated activities (such as having our own elections) for lots of reasons: the stories are interesting, and, even better, they can then recognize words in grown-up conversations, which is always a point of pride.
We are very fortunate to have an ethnically diverse student population, which provides us with even more opportunities for exciting social studies activities. Each year we have an international week, when parents (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends) come in and share an aspect of their heritage. International Week is held close to our Community and Careers week, when the children learn about the many ways in which our community members support and enrich one another’s lives. This unit involves field trips and visits, and is a nice opportunity to bridge the worlds of home and school.
Science is an important part of our days because we emphasize the notion of scientific inquiry in everything we do. When children ask a question, we try, when feasible, to guide them through the scientific process in answering it. For example, some children in Room 3 were building a tower from linking pegs and wondered how high it could go. Their teacher, Mrs. Stultz, asked them to make predictions, and then told them that she would test their hypotheses. When the tower fell, she asked them to predict whether or not it would be higher if they could lay it on the ground. Again they predicted, and again they measured and tested their hypotheses. Talking about questions in this way not only teaches children the scientific process, but also illustrates that 'mistakes' are simply steps toward learning. It also helps children to see that they are active partners in learning, not just recipients of facts.
Through this process, the children discover their own facts. They experiment about their five senses, freezing and melting, and sinking and floating. They do projects on plant growth, recycling, and the human body. In the winter, they talk about various creatures' adaptations to winter, and we have a special hibernation day party, when we come to school in our pajamas and talk about our adaptations as well.
Our art activities emphasize process over product—it’s more important that our children have fun and experiment with different media than that they make seemingly perfect, uniform projects. We cut or tear up paper and glue it to collages, paint, draw, sculpt, and design. We do more complex projects as well, giving the children the opportunity to create something they might not have been able to on their own, as well as to work toward a goal over a few days.
Music is lively, interactive, and international. We have instruments so that the children can participate and make their own music, and we play music informally at many times during the day. We incorporate songs into our activities and even have professional musicians visit once or twice each year to share their expertise with the children.
The children do yoga each week in the winter with our trained instructor. When the weather is bad, we might have some extra sessions, as well as indoor relay races, dance parties, hopscotch, and other opportunities to get up and move around. Of course, the children have recess at our well-equipped outdoor playground each day, weather permitting.
Fine motor development activities are incorported into all that we do, and we make sure to add a few just to strengthen little hands. Through activities like tearing and crumpling paper, playing with clay, picking up small objects, drawing with fat chalk, and painting at an easel, children develop the motor strength and coordination for later writing tasks. There are also plenty of opportunities to draw, color, and write, thereby following their interest as well as giving us the chance to encourage good techniques (like proper grip and posture).
We are always thinking about the children's social-emotional and behavioral development. We are fortunate to have a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty in eary childhood on staff, allowing us to remain developmentally appropriate in our expectations of children's behavior as well as to be alert to signs of difficulty. We support social-emotional skills both through direct conversations (e.g., talking about feelings, reading stories about various behaviors and emotions, such as "Little Miss Bossy" or "Chrysanthemum") and indirectly (e.g., by helping children to resolve their own conflicts with an adult facilitator). We work directly with children and their families to address issues such as separation anxiety, toileting problems, shyness, and other challenges of early childhood. When necessary, we facilitate referral to the county for evaluations and therapy.
Self-help skills are encouraged by demonstrating to children how to remove and hang up their own coats and backpacks, unpack their own lunches, and clean up their own skills. We are always available to help, but we give children the tools and the option to succeed before we step in.