The curriculum of the kindergarten comes from the recognition that the young child, until around the age of seven, relates to the world primarily through his/her senses and body. The main ways learning takes place are through sensing (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling) and doing.
Outside Time – Each morning begins with a nature walk through the surrounding neighborhood. This not only helps the children to come together as a whole class and calm them from their sometimes long car rides to school, but it also gives them a chance to notice the effects that the seasons have on nature all around them. This is a time of wonder and observation. As the children begin to ask questions about things which they are observing, they are encouraged to wonder and imagine the possibilities of what they are experiencing (with all of their senses) and the teachers refrain from providing them with the scientific/intellectual answers to their questions. This leaves the children with an infinite realm of possibilities and keeps the children’s natural dream-like state intact.
During outdoor play time, the children are given opportunities to dig in the sand and earth, climb, run, jump rope, swing and play on the play structure, look for bugs and blossoms and engage in imaginative play. The children are also able to help with gardening projects, water the plants, and sweep the sidewalks.
Inside Play – “The trial of boredom begins when nothing entertains us any more. It ends when we begin to entertain ourselves. In the gap in-between is the birthplace of the hero. Boredom and creativity are closely related. The same force is manifest in each. Boredom becomes creativity by way of inner effort. Creativity turns into boredom through lack of effort.” ~ from The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children's Imagination and Consciousness. The children engage in activities that develop eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity, and that support hand dominance. This meaningful, practical work is integral and essential to the kindergarten day and includes such things as sewing, sweeping, chopping vegetables, cleaning, and washing dishes. Boys and girls participate equally in these activities, thus building inner strength and self esteem as they become accomplished in purposeful work.
The teacher encourages healthy, creative play by providing the essential ingredients: silks, cloths, play stands, stones, logs, shells, simple dolls, capes, and wooden figures. Boards to build houses, and stands for puppet plays, are all incorporated into the rich spectrum of movement throughout the creative play. Boys and girls alike have tea parties in the play kitchen or build space ships from wooden blocks, chairs, and play cloths. This is also a time when children can work on the current sewing project. Each sewing project will be worked on over a period of time at each child’s own pace and ability.
Creative free play allows the children time for self directed exploration and discovery and myriad opportunities each day to help them develop a sense of social competence, industry, and self esteem, as well as social skills that will form an important basis for their grade school success and a healthy inner strength. Through the building up, transforming, and rearranging of the indoor environment, the children innovate, interact, and grow stronger and more adept physically, emotionally, and cognitively.
While play serves the important psycho-social function of transforming reality into something in which the child may play an important, competent, and powerful role, the trials, errors, and revisions, of free play are in many ways a most sophisticated curriculum in science, humanities, and math.
Free play helps the children experience the three dimensions of space, the different qualities and quantities of things, the weight, and texture and usability of things. It also helps develop their sense of touch as they experience themselves in relationship to the rest of the world. The children come to know the world actively through doing and experiencing. In an hour of such play, a child is stimulating robust growth of important new neural connections in the areas of the brain that most need it at this age.
This direct sensory-motor interaction with the things and people in the environment is not only the ideal way to best nourish the child’s will forces, but it lays an essential foundation for later reading and math: the symbols of letters and numbers will have a depth of meaning for the child who has been given the chance to experience the concrete realities of what these symbols represent. As Dr. David Elkind wisely points out, “The language of things must precede the language of words, or else the words do not mean anything.” In other words, the rich and extensive play experiences in the kindergarten serve as an important foundation for later academics.
Snack/Lunch – Before eating, a reverent mood is set with a meal blessing. Mealtimes embody an atmosphere of love and gratitude. Aside from the eating that occurs during this time, mealtimes are a social learning experience for the children. They are learning to sit properly in their chairs with their feet on the floor, to use good table manners, and to have appropriate conversations with their classmates that are seated around them.
Story Time – Through daily storytelling, the children’s listening skills, memory skills, and vocabulary are strengthened and they develop a deep connection to the human voice. Through the telling of fairy tales, nature stories, and seasonal tales, the children begin to find their relationship to the world. Fairy tales bring to life human qualities such as courage, kindness, honesty, etc., while nature stories enhance the children’s experience of the seasons and festivals of the year. The children develop the capacity to allow a story to penetrate and permeate them deeply (which happens when the teacher tells the same story for a two week period of time). They are beginning to learn to be clear thinkers, to think with depth and clarity, and to imagine and see different sides to the same story.
Circle Time – Each day at circle time the teacher leads the children on a journey of movement, verse, and song. The theme of the circle reflects the seasons of the year. For instance, in the fall the circle might be about galloping ponies to the orchard to pick apples, in winter it might be about wood cutters hiking through the snow and chopping firewood, and in spring about flowers blossoming and birds building nests. The theme and activities of each circle are enjoyed daily for several weeks. Through this repetition, the children gradually learn the verses and songs thus building their memory and vocabulary skills, as well as the movements and gestures. This enriches the children’s language experience and allows them to engage their forces of imagination while inwardly creating mental images of apple orchards, snow covered forests, and many other enchanting subjects. During circle, spatial awareness is enhanced through larger movements in the three planes: up and down, front and back, and side to side. Through movement and singing of songs and the recitation of rhythmical verses, the forces of expansion and contraction are worked with from the fine motor (grasping and releasing), to the gross motor (going out and coming in). The loco-motor movements of running, skipping, hopping, jumping, leaping, sliding, and walking are artistically implemented into each circle. The teacher also works with activities that encourage horizontal and vertical midline crossing, spatial awareness, and establishment of hand dominance, as well as sensory integration of the following systems: proprioceptive (self-movement, self-awareness), vestibular (balance), tactile (touch), and somatic (mind-body connection). This play of singing, verse, rhyme, and movement is the children’s work.
Artistic Work – These activities include: watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, sewing, making humus/ chopping vegetables, and beeswax crayon drawing.
Both the water color painting and the beeswax crayon drawing immerse the children in the different colors and help them to form emotional connections and feelings for the colors as opposed to the more abstract intellectual concepts of each color.
Modeling with beeswax, unlike other modeling mediums such as clay or play-dough, requires the will forces of the child and patience to make it soft and pliable enough to work with. The scent of the beeswax when warmed in the child’s hand is lovely. Working with the beeswax develops and strengthens fine motor skills as well. The color experience with beeswax is very unique. It has a very luminous and transparent quality similar to stained glass.
The children’s drawings are done using block shaped beeswax crayons. The block crayons automatically provide a specific experience in two different areas because of their shape. Some of the children at this age when given a round stick crayon are still grabbing it in a fist-hold. A child is unable to fist-hold a block crayon. It automatically requires the fine motor activity of the thumb, pointer, and middle finger which leads to the proper three finger grip necessary for writing in first grade. The other issue dealt with by using block crayons is that the fine lines and detailed images attempted with the use of round stick crayons are too intellectual of an activity for the kindergarten age child’s stage of development. Because they are still in the process of developing their fine motor skills the children often become frustrated and discouraged by the results of their efforts with the round stick crayons. With the different sides of the block crayons, large bands and swirls of color are naturally formed which automatically involves the child more immediately in the sensory experience of the colors themselves as opposed to the necessity to form a detailed object.