Building Blocks of Learning
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." ~ Pablo Picasso
One of the thrills of working with bright children is supporting their need to express themselves in their own way, through a variety of two- and three-dimensional media. Highly capable preschoolers need an arts program that supports their individuality.
Our teachers introduce materials and techniques in the Art Studio during Discovery Time, and children are free to adapt those ideas as their creativity leads them
Art is integrated into many of our weekly problem-solving projects, which may involve clay, painting, sculpture, drawing, and a variety of art media
Children often work on representational drawing as part of a multi-step craft or during Science Lab to record their observations
“What a fun week! [My son] and I equally enjoyed the heck out of the train ride today to Portland and Los Angeles! Our teachers were all so imaginative, animated and joyful throughout the entire learning experience! It was loads of fun. He told his dad all about it tonight.
We are big proponents of imaginative play and feel that it is a critical component of instilling creative thinking and problem solving.”
Note from a Bellevue Discovery parent
We were inspired to expand the role of Drama Club in our curriculum after a summer research project by many of our teachers, when we read the books Tools of the Mind: the Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education and A Child’s Work: the Importance of Fantasy Play.
We believe in the value of sustained role plays to foster the growth of executive functioning. We call these role plays “Drama Club.” Each week’s role play at Bellevue Discovery supports our project-based learning. For example, during the Cities Project the children planned and acted out running a restaurant, bakery, train station, clothing store and fire station.
What should we do with young children in math class?
Play games! Teach them Chess and Go, Hex and Backgammon, Sprouts and Nim, whatever. Make up a game. Do puzzles …
help them to become active and creative mathematical thinkers.
From A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart
During morning Sing-Along we talk about and model the number of the day . This simple visual counting practice, which takes a few minutes each day, builds over the year so that by the spring the kids are aren't just counting by rote, they are growing in number awareness. The children also write (or, for those with developing fine motor skills, scribble) one number a day on little whiteboards, which is all it takes for most preschoolers to be able to write their numbers by the end of the school year.
During Math Games we explore the math strands (number, geometry, measurement, data analysis, patterns) through playing games. We talk. We laugh. The children ask questions. They answer each other’s questions. They use their hands to move objects around. They debate ideas. At some point the quietest child speaks up. The teacher does not have a lesson plan that says, “The children will learn these three things.” We know that if the children are engaged, reasoning, creating patterns, using numbers for a reason, and asking questions about the game, their level of learning will be high. For more information about this approach we recommend the article A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart.
Our children come to us with varying levels of math awareness so we keep Math Games open-ended. For example, while all of the children may be playing “Kissing Cubes” (grabbing a handful of wooden cubes and lining them up two by two), some children will be exploring one-to-one correspondence as they count the cubes, while others will be learning about even and odd numbers (when there’s one odd cube left over with no one to kiss).
Our kids like variety and challenge. They love learning new things. They are at different places in their mathematical thinking and if they are actively engaged we can trust that they are learning at their individual level. We use card games, puzzles, and old favorites like Set, Mastermind, Mousetrap and Chutes & Ladders. Sometimes we create a game based on the children’s literature we are reading that week. We use math tools like rulers, abaci, dice, spinners and tally sheets. Our Math Specialist Teacher chooses games and tools based on her relationship with the children: What will thrill them?
There's a tremendous amount of craftsmanship
between having a great idea
and having a great product.
The majority of our curriculum focuses on where our children are with their learning right now, but we also need to prepare our children with the skills they will need to thrive in school. Knowing that many of our children will enter kindergarten programs in which they will be expected to complete highly teacher-directed activities (such as worksheets and craft projects), the children visit School Skills as one of their Building Block activities.
School Skills activities focus on fine motor skills and include: cutting, gluing, stapling; and completing teacher-directed craft projects, and when are developmentally ready, tracing and copying words, shapes, and numbers. Through these activities, the children also practice kindergarten readiness skills such as following multi-step directions, managing time, and craftsmanship.
The way a child discovers the world constantly replicates the way science began. You start to notice what’s around you, and you get very curious about how things work. How things interrelate. It’s as simple as seeing a bug that intrigues you.
Preschool is a fascinating time when children equally enjoy fantasy play and learning about the natural world. We support young children’s imaginations at Bellevue Discovery and we also promote scientific discovery. Teachers expand on child-initiated explorations, creating multi-sensory experiences to explore life and physical sciences.
During Science Lab, children make hypotheses, conduct simple experiments, observe, dictate and illustrate their observations, and share their findings with their classmates.
The children engage in hands-on exploration and discovery. We also introduce the first four steps of the Scientific Method with our preschoolers:
Dragonflies Skills Classes
Phonics activities include:
creating a class poster: “What words begin with …?”
sensory letter writing: sand trays, white boards, shaving cream, play dough, making letters with our bodies
writing letters on paper: tracing, copying, using invented spelling, thinking about spacing, upper and lower case letters, exploring punctuation
phonics games and movement activities
phonics worksheets such as letter-picture matching and alphabet dot-to-dots
reading ABC books together
Journal writing allows young children to use language to communicate. It shows children that their ideas and feelings can be transferred from their imagination onto paper, where others can read their ideas. It shows children that their own writing is valuable. It gives them real-life opportunities to experiment with writing and learn the conventions of print:
Pictures can illuminate the words
Print goes from left to right and from the top to the bottom of a page
Letters have sounds (phonemes)
Letters make up words and words have spaces between them
Capitalization and punctuation help us understand the ideas
Printing gets easier the more you do it (fine motor development)
Directed Drawing: Over the last decade at Bellevue Discovery we have found that older preschoolers can build their representational drawing skills over the school year. Each child receives a Directed Drawing notebook, and through weekly lessons they build their observation skills, fine motor skills and ability to communicate through images. We have quite a few perfectionists among our highly capable preschoolers, and Directed Drawing is a safe place to build resiliency and risk taking. High ability children are rarely asked to revise their work, or nudged to put in a bit more effort; Directed Drawing is a natural time for building those life skills.
We are guided by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’s math strands for pre-Kindergarten through first grade:
Number Awareness: Counting, comparing, ordering, sets, simple computation, place value
Geometry: Shapes, locations, directions, spatial-visual awareness, symmetry
Measurement: Attributes, units, techniques, tools
Data Analysis: Graphing
Algebra: Sorting, classifying, patterns
Our Math Specialist Teacher tracks the math topics the children experience during Math Games, Number-of-the-Day activities, and Math Skills Class. If a math strand hasn’t had much exposure she looks for games and activities to fill in the gap.
We conduct quick assessments to ensure our children are gaining the math skills and knowledge they will need for advanced kindergarten classes. In the spring, when we know where our children will move on to kindergarten (different schools want different levels of worksheet mastery) we move our pre-K kids into school-readiness math, such as using symbols, learning how to complete a worksheet, and copying a simple math problem from the whiteboard.