How do you create the next generation of world leaders? You start with a 23-acre campus and learning that comes from within.
The GUS Pre-K program embraces the idea of the classroom environment as “the third teacher" - the classroom provides a stimulating and inspirational base for learning, and is filled with materials and learning areas that are intentionally designed, educationally rich, and naturally appealing to the children. Our belief is that learning is enriched through the exploration and manipulation of open-ended as well as carefully teacher-prepared sets of materials. Opportunities for collaboration abound as children work together with these materials and express ideas as a group. Through hands-on work in the classroom, children develop skills and build knowledge about their world. Through observation, discussion, and work with the children, the teachers develop an understanding of their skills, abilities, and interests. The interplay of these classroom relationships fosters each child’s unique development. Children discover that their classroom is a resource and they develop a strong sense of ownership, both over their use of the room itself and over their learning process. They come to see teachers as collaborators and guides and the classroom as their laboratory. When children are introduced to school in this way, their learning experience will be as deep, rich, and meaningful as their imagination, effort, and work can stretch–and a life-long love of learning will be born.
The Pre-K classroom, with a design shown above, consists of several subject-specific areas, and the day has a variety of work periods designed for children to learn independently and collaboratively, through hands-on work with materials and through small-group teacher-led activities. The Pre-K program also benefits from having access to all of the facilities of the GUS campus, including two art studios, a music room, a dance studio, a maker space, a gym, a greenhouse, and a 23-acres campus that includes a nature trail and wetlands.
See below for a general description of the major classroom subject areas:
Whether children are coming to school for their first year or again after many years, they are faced daily with big questions: Who am I when I’m away from my family? What do I like? How do I get the things I need and want? From the earliest days of the year, children are discovering their interests and the range of choices they can make at school, they're connecting with classmates and forming friendships, and they're developing a sense of themselves as learners. With teacher support and nurturing, children develop their sense of self and their identity, and they cultivate their independent spirit. Simultaneously, they learn to navigate the opportunities and challenges that come with being members of a community. Through their shared work, play, and reflections, children experience the joys of collaboration and the struggles that can arise, and they develop problem solving skills. Each day at school is ultimately a journey of self discovery and growth.
Naturally curious, inquisitive, and determined to find answers to their never-ending questions, children are born scientists. We begin to introduce children to the scientific method in order to build their scientific thinking skills and learn that there are steps scientists take to find answers to their questions. Children learn what it means to observe and to document their observations; they learn what it means to develop a hypothesis, make predictions, and experiment; eventually, they discover the results of their experiments and draw conclusions about their questions. Because we are engaged in ongoing, thematic studies throughout the year, we are able to seamlessly blend science into our studies in order to support children’s understanding that science is a part of our daily lives. The development of children’s scientific thinking is bolstered by inquiry-based investigations that emerge from their on-campus experiences, from watching seeds germinate in our classroom, working in raised beds outside, exploring winter planting in the greenhouse, and discovering the many natural wonders that exist on our campus nature trail.
Children are eager communicators and, as their ability to speak and listen continues to grow exponentially, they are intent on sharing their thoughts, ideas, and questions with others and learning from them in turn. This drive to communicate and understand their world forms the basis of literacy learning in Pre-K. Children are given many opportunities to develop their skills and experiences with literacy, through listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing, each day they come to school. Reading and writing materials are readily available in the classroom, and language learning is embedded in our daily routines, including through regular interaction and conversation with teachers and classmates. Children are immersed in a print-rich classroom environment, and are encouraged to communicate their many ideas by writing them down, in any form that is meaningful to them - whether it’s scribbling, drawing pictures, making marks, labeling, using invented spelling, or dictating stories to teachers and seeing how their words can be recorded in print. Children also engage in shared reading of daily group morning messages, letter meetings, teacher read-alouds, and story-writing and story-telling. Through our thematic studies and investigations, children come to understand that language and literacy are powerful tools that can unlock the answers to their questions, and allow them to share the knowledge they have learned with others.
Children come to Pre-K with a rich foundation of everyday mathematical concepts like more and less, adding and taking away, shape, size, and pattern, and they have an enthusiasm for using math and numbers in their daily life. Our classroom materials and small-group teacher-led activities guide children as they deepen their skills and further explore mathematical concepts such as counting, measurement, number sense, patterns, geometry, sorting, graphing, symmetry, and number operations. Children also use these skills daily through classroom routines, such as counting the number of children at school, preparing snack, counting the days of the school year, or tracking the weather and then graphing how many sunny, cloudy, rainy, and windy days we’ve had each month. As children build their understanding of mathematical concepts, and understand their use in everyday life, they begin to apply this knowledge to their thematic studies and investigations, and they discover that math can be used to help answer their questions, pose new ones, and convey information to others. Teachers regularly encourage children to use language to describe their mathematical ideas and to explain their reasoning and problem-solving processes. In Pre-K, our goal is for children to understand that math is a part of our lives, and it is for everyone!
The Practical Life area of the classroom supports children’s development of independence and self-efficacy by providing materials and activities designed to help them learn to take care of themselves and to take care of their environment. Often this is through the use of everyday tools and household items that children are familiar with and have seen in their homes–from pouring water between pitchers and bowls, to spooning beads from one bowl to another, peeling and slicing a banana, learning to zip and button, or hanging doll clothes on a clothesline–children are developing physical strength and dexterity, while building confidence in their abilities. Children also use Practical Life tools, such as tongs, tweezers, chopsticks, and clothespins, to hone their fine motor skills, which supports the development of the pincer and tripod grasps that strengthen children’s handwriting ability.
Children learn a great deal through their senses–they touch, smell, taste, feel, and see, in order to learn–and the materials in the sensorial area of the classroom allow children to develop an understanding of their physical environment by using their senses. For example, sensorial materials allow children to sort objects by height, width, or length; they can identify three-dimensional shapes and match them to their one-dimensional counterparts; and they can put sets of colored tiles in order from lightest to darkest, or put sound cylinders in order from softest to loudest. Sensorial materials heighten children’s awareness of their environment and refine their attentional skills, as well as supporting early mathematical skill and concept development such as ordering, classification, measurement, geometry, and one-to-one correspondence.
Block building and block play is central to the Pre-K classroom. Through work with blocks, children construct knowledge about their world and communicate their ideas through the non-verbal language of building and design. Once children have become comfortable and knowledgeable about the blocks, they begin to use them to experiment, to problem-solve, and to build representationally, using design-thinking skills. Children develop a wide range of skills through their work and interactions in this area, including early science and mathematical concepts related to spatial representation and relationships, symmetry, order, measurement, gravity, weight and balance. Children are also developing their language skills, their creativity, imagination and self-expression, their ability to problem-solve, and their sense of competence and self-esteem. In addition to containing unit blocks, the block area has props and writing materials that children can use to enhance their block structures and expand upon their play. Block building allows children to create their own worlds, by building physical representations of their ideas and questions about the people, objects, and places they engage with daily, as well as those that exist only in their imaginations!
Like block building, the dramatic play area is a core component of the Pre-K classroom. Play and interaction in this area supports the development of strong language and literacy skills, as well as social emotional skills that will serve children throughout a lifetime of learning. In the Dramatic Play area, which changes over time according to the children’s interests, children engage in imaginative play scenarios, they dramatize their own and other people’s stories, and they retell and reenact stories they’ve read in books. The Dramatic Play area has a range of props that children use to support their play, as well as writing materials they can use to enhance it.
Art and Representation
The Pre-K classroom has its own art area, in addition to the GUS lower school art studio, where children are encouraged to spend time working with materials that help them develop and express their ideas. Art materials are inspiring and varied, and exploring their properties provides opportunities for children to develop their creativity and sense of aesthetic appreciation. In addition to traditional art materials such as paint, charcoal, crayons, scissors, and glue, we seek out alternative materials–"Beautiful Things"– that children can arrange, collage, sort and build with. These can include natural materials, such as pebbles, pine cones, and shells that help us explore and honor the natural world, as well as man-made materials like buttons, ribbons, caps, and corks that are evocative of the "adult" world. The art area is a dynamic and evolving space, where children are free to explore, experiment, and create, and where meaning is understood to reside in children’s processes as much as their products. By their nature, art projects often elicit extended interest from the children, and we challenge students to revisit their work, refining their ideas and making changes as their thinking progresses. A primary focus throughout the Pre-K curriculum is the use and development of children's representational skills. Cultivating close observation and careful thought through mark-making allows children to broaden their knowledge and express their ideas. Representational drawing takes many forms: self-portraits, group figure-drawing sessions, and drawings of still lifes pave the way for children to work together on collaborative sketches that serve as plans for three-dimensional work. By the end of the year, children are used to using these drawings as guides for block-building, sculpture construction, and investigation planning.