There is no such thing as just kindergarten.
“The kindergarten teachers’ comprehensive knowledge and masterful technique, along with their keen sense of observation and connectedness with kindergarten-aged children, is unparalleled. Their approach allows for each child to experience deep learning, and to develop strong social skills in a nurturing environment. To miss out on Kindergarten at GUS, for our child, would have meant missing out on something truly amazing and crucial for her development.” –Parents, Kindergarten
“My wife and I spent the fall meeting teachers from North Shore independent schools. The kindergartens were largely indistinguishable until we met Mrs. Thoms.
Mrs. Thoms discussed a variety of techniques and how the temperament and experience of your child guided her selection of when to apply them. She showed us the kindergarten as it fit into the larger GUS experience. Our understanding of kindergarten was changed by Mrs. Thoms from a single list of steps and goals to a three-dimensional map, each child starting in their own place. She meets your child at their current level, and guides them gently toward the next set of goals.” –Parent, Kindergarten & Grade 2
What happens during a kindergarten day?
We plan our days so that kindergartners are busy, purposeful, and enthusiastic. Children are actively engaged in observation, exploration, problem solving, and creative self-expression. They acquire academic skills, and they also begin to understand their own cognitive processes. Our mornings begin with routines that introduce early literacy skills and important math concepts, and as the year progresses, we transfer responsibility for these routines to the students, fostering independence and self-confidence. We also share a story and a short lesson, often related to our theme, “The World Around Us.” Children engage in all areas of study: language arts, science, social studies, mathematics, Spanish, art, music, dance, physical education, technology, and community service, traveling to different parts of our campus for some of their classes.
Kindergartners engage in a wide range of activities on different days and at different times of the year. They play letter sounds games, write in their journals, tap maple trees, weave rugs, graph statistics, answer questions about probability, and work out math problems with small collections of objects. They do still life paintings, explore sequencing programs on the class computer, play theme-related board games, read quietly in the library corner or to a teacher, and play in the housekeeping corner, which has turned into a store, a castle, or a post office.
Students have recess periods daily. Research confirms that safe and supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits. This time to play, during which much social and emotional growth happens, is crucial for all ages.
Afternoons give kindergartners the opportunity to focus on in-depth projects, which might include an element of drama, science, or art, to integrate these disciplines with their theme studies. Just as we plan for students to make connections across disciplines, so too, we encourage them to apply their understanding in imaginative and constructive ways. Our overarching theme provides a platform for integrated projects and deeper learning.
How do we guide children’s behavior in the classroom?
The kindergarten program is designed for students’ success. The daily schedule allows for a mixture of active learning and quiet listening time. Children engage in a variety of tasks at their tables, playing games, writing papers, completing projects, and learning concepts with manipulatives and hands-on activities.
Building community and developing interpersonal skills are priorities in kindergarten. When children have difficulty working out social problems or disagreements, we provide them with problem-solving skills by encouraging the children to listen to each other and negotiate solutions, initially, with our guidance and, increasingly, independently. The children decide on the rules that govern the class; these rules are revisited often and sometimes change as the year progresses. Importantly, we take time in the moment to sort out an issue, building each child’s individual ability to dialogue and find a positive solution. Having two teachers in the classroom affords us this opportunity to impart important social lessons as well as academic lessons.
How do we handle a wide range of skill levels in kindergarten?
In the first weeks of the kindergarten year, we spend a great deal of time assessing the children’s reading, writing, and math skills. We establish a level for each child so they are working at a “just right” pace, not rushing to keep up, nor waiting for others to finish. We present classroom instruction to large and small groups and also, intentionally, to students individually. Having two fully credentialed teachers in the classroom ensures that students receive differentiated, individualized, and small group instruction. Children work and learn in small, teacher-directed and independent groups. Sometimes, groups rotate so that each child experiences multiple activities. Other times, children engage for extended periods in small literacy or math groups, allowing us to guide and expand their thinking.
Science and Social Studies (Theme)
Our theme in kindergarten, “The World Around Us,” engages the students’ innate enthusiasm for learning about and making sense of the world. There are many opportunities for field trips and hands-on learning in our exploration of how we satisfy our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. We learn about multi-stepped processes (such as planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing) that satisfy these needs. We study kindergarten physics—motion in humans and animals, motion in nature (wind, water, and sound), gravity and friction. We learn about simple machines and seasonal weather. In our clothing unit, we spin, weave, knit, and sew. Each child makes a winter hat to bring home. In the spring, we build a doll-sized house model from the foundation up, after exploring shelter here and around the world.
Our kindergarten environment is rich in intentional literacy opportunities. We teach literacy skills in small-group lessons, devoting one day of each week to journal writing, with the goal of having the children write simple sentences and stories. The children learn about sounds in words and strengthen their skills in spelling and handwriting. On the other days, we focus on the multiple strands involved in reading acquisition, which include phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, phonics, sight vocabulary, attention to reading strategies through very simple text, and comprehension.
We teach math to both whole and small groups, dividing our focus equally among math concepts, procedures, and vocabulary. Children use concrete materials and problem-solving techniques to ensure understanding and develop number sense. Kindergarten math lays the foundation for math study in many areas, including patterns, geometry, measurement, and computation. Cuisenaire rods are a manipulative used by the math program at every grade level. In kindergarten, the rods introduce the children to place value and computation.
In kindergarten, children begin to develop a sense of self and actively engage in their classroom environment. They become contributing group members and come to be valued for their unique qualities. They interact in ever expanding circles, starting with individual friendships, their classroom community, and the school community, and particularly, in their relationships with their fifth grade partners. Their community service projects expand the circle beyond the school community, reaching far into the world when they form a partnership with a school in Nevis, West Indies.
Twice a week we engage the kindergartners in a lesson from our Open Circle social/emotional curriculum. We gather in an open circle—open because we include one extra space to underscore that there is always room for another voice and no one is ever left out—for a short lesson and conversation and a story or an activity.
Kindergartners begin their study of Spanish by learning their Spanish names and how to greet each other. They learn about where Spanish is spoken in the world and about Mexico and its culture, traditions, and holidays. They practice the sounds of the Spanish alphabet, learn the numbers 1–20, sing Spanish songs, and hear Spanish versions of familiar fairy tales. They also build a vocabulary of words related to their theme, including parts of the body, farm animals, fruits and vegetables, weather, and clothing.
In art class, kindergartners explore the work of Vincent Van Gogh and create their own still life drawings. When they are learning about shapes in their math class, the children look at the cut-paper assemblages of Henri Matisse and Joan Miro and then draw, cut, and glue their own assemblages. They experiment with using materials and lines to create texture and with recognizing shapes in bird and animal figures, and they paint and draw animal and bird portraits. Kindergartners also engage in printmaking, 3-D animal sculptures, bird masks, and self-portraits.
In music class, kindergartners consider the differences between speaking and singing voices and learn how to use their singing voices—by singing high and low, fast and slow, up and down. They learn how to listen to music through movement, echoing, and playing simple instruments. They prepare songs to perform at school events throughout the year.
In dance class, students create, express, communicate, and secure confidence through the study of movement. They participate in exercises that foster creativity, challenge them physically and expressively, require teamwork, develop identity, promote problem solving, and require that they describe their creative process. Children gain body awareness, coordination, locomotor skills, musicality, and choreography techniques through formal and improvisational modern dance lessons. The K–5 dance curriculum spirals from year to year, increasing in complexity. As an example, kindergarteners begin their year of dance learning to use their body language to communicate a favorite experience from the summer. Then, they work in groups to collaboratively physicalize a story, spelling out words with their bodies.
In addition to the modern dance curriculum, students are introduced to a variety of cultural dance styles. To broaden our global education and dance advocacy, the entire GUS school participates in Dance Anywhere, an annual worldwide simultaneous celebration of dance!
For their community service project, kindergartners form a partnership with a school in Nevis, West Indies. Specifically, they sponsor a Bring Your Teddy Bear to School Day event to raise money to purchase supplies for the school. They create posters, announce their event at an all-school meeting, and collect donations from all the classrooms.