Notes from Maura Donegan, Teacher

A child-centered program

Here at Crossroads we run a child centered program, which means that each child is seen as an individual, with unique and individual talents and needs. The teacher’s role is to nourish those talents and provide a learning environment that meets those needs. The teacher prepares the classroom and plans the activities so that the children are able to choose appropriate activities to meet their developmental needs.

Children at this age are developing in a myriad of ways – physically, socially, and intellectually. We provide opportunities for each child to choose to play by himself, with a friend, or in a small group. Some activities will need an adult guide, while others can be carried out completely independently – from taking the material from the shelf, to putting it back when finished. Independence and confidence are fostered when children are given the opportunity to make choices and discover outcomes.

My primary goal is to develop social skills in the 1st year children, and pre-K skills in the second year children, though both areas are covered in both years.

Three year old children typically play alone or alongside a companion. For four year olds the friend is very important – children learn to take turns. They ask each other ‘Can I have a turn when you have finished?’ or ‘Will you give that to me when you have finished with it?’ The only reasonable answer to such a request is ‘Yes’, and the toy is usually handed on quite quickly. Sometimes a child will take something from another child. The child is taught to say, “I’m playing with ____ now. You can have it when I have finished.’ It is important that children learn to assert themselves in an appropriate way.

So many parents comment on the confidence and self assuredness of the second year children. One year ago they were as quiet and timid as a newly arrived 3 year old.

There are few opportunities for 4 year olds to be ‘the big kids’. The second year of preschool gives them this confidence that will stand to them when they transition to Kindergarten.

Main room

There are several centers set up here, our largest area. The library is in a quiet corner with a futon and cushions.

We always have construction toys available, a changing selection throughout the year. These include Duplo, Lego, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Loops, Gears, Megablocks and natural wood blocks. The train set can be set up either on a table or on the floor.

The materials in the cabinets are designed to develop pre-math, pre-reading and pre-writing skills as well as fine motor skills. We do not have any toys whose purpose is simply to pass the time. Many of our materials can be used at several levels, so that as the children grow and mature they can use the same puzzle/game in a more complex way. The materials on the shelves are changed throughout the year, providing variety and new interest. Jigsaw puzzles ranging in size from 4 to 40 pieces are always available.

There is a variety of papers in drawers and a selection of pencils, crayons, scissors, glues, staplers, and a variety of craft materials in tubs available for use at any time. The children are encouraged to write their name on their work ‘so we know whose it is and it doesn’t get lost.’ Writing increases in skill and complexity from here.

We also have a balance beam, jumping sacks, hoops, a see-saw, a small trampoline and a climbing frame so that large motor skills are developed even in inclement weather.

Art room

4 easels are set up here, as well as two tables – one for working with clay and the second for a changing activity. At the clay table we begin the year with play dough, which is soft and pliable, progressing through white clay to red clay when the children’s hand muscles are better developed, as this can be quite firm and needs tougher manipulation.

The second table has a special, usually seasonal activity. This activity will have a skill built in – e.g. fine hand control is practiced through folding and cutting. These activities often build on a skill recently mastered. We have a wide variety of activities and materials.

The easels have a variety of paints, brushes and weights of paper.

Snack Table

The snack table is a center in its own right – the parent brings in the ingredients and each child makes his/her own snack. Independence is developed here – water is poured, spills wiped up, table manners practiced. We have an oven and a stove for cooking and baking.

Outside

Running, climbing, cycling, digging, throwing balls, taking turns – all great fun while developing muscles and refining skills.

Pre-K Class

The goal of this class is to refine the skills children are expected to have when entering Kindergarten. We do a great deal of fine hand work e.g. cutting sewing, tying knots etc. I like to use real tools, so we sew on felt with tapestry needles. This use of real tools greatly enhances children’s confidence.

I will give an example of one of the projects. Throughout the year the children make a book. Several decisions must be made – how many pages, color of covers etc. They count the pages, punch the holes and bind the book. They bind with a variety of materials from pipe cleaners to ribbon or yarn. We do a proper Japanese binding. Then the book is filled – it may be drawings, numbers, rhymes etc. Towards the end of the year the children may begin writing in their books.

Over the two years in preschool we see each child grow and mature in many ways, from a little boy or girl to an independent, confident child ready to move on to the next step – Kindergarten.