As the younger members of our community, Kindergarteners are busy learning what school is all about. They come from a world in which they see themselves at the center, and they begin to understand what it means to be part of a community. Kindergarten children are enthusiastic, creative, and eager to learn. We give them tools and strategies to take what they know and apply it to new situations. Atrium provides a supportive, nurturing environment for our younger members to feel safe and respected as they begin learning about themselves as learners.
Kindergarten Theme: “What About Water?”
Thematic study is a way of focusing all aspects of children’s education at the Atrium into a central idea. This interdisciplinary focus allows all kinds of learners to develop skills and experience success in their academic lives. Throughout the year, students have opportunities to share their work with their community and make connections between their learning and the world around them.
Our year-long study in Kindergarten centers around water, using rivers as a focus that flows through our curriculum. We begin the year exploring some of the properties of water. We learn about the water cycle and the ways water travels on Earth. The children make models of a watershed and watch how the water moves down over land masses; they go to the Charles River and observe the water and the environment around the river, including plant life, animals, roads, buildings and paths; they make observations, and draw and write about what they see. We explore and learn about how rivers are made and how they are used by people and animals.
Additional in-class activities in theme include units on the properties of water, what makes things sink and float, and building bridges and dams. Trips to nearby Belmont Habitat give us an opportunity to learn more about animal habitats in our area. As a culminating project, students choose an animal that lives along the Charles River to study. They research, write a report, and create a diorama of their animal’s habitat.
In Kindergarten we look at authors and their craft. Our hope is that children will begin to think of themselves as writers by learning about the authors of familiar books and thinking about why and how the authors created the stories.
In the Writer's Workshop model, children learn that when writing, they can convey messages, tell stories, and share their work for others to enjoy. At the start of the year we focus on letters and their sounds. We begin with letters and move on to words so that they can start writing and thinking about themselves as writers. Students draw and/or write stories on topics that they choose. We read to the class from various kinds of books to give them ideas to launch their own stories. We assist them in thinking about events, activities, people, or places that they know well, and we help them explore topics that interest them. Teachers work one-on-one with students to offer assistance in the writing process and to observe and assess each student individually. In addition, our model incorporates opportunities for children to collaborate with one another and share work.
In Reader's Workshop we explicitly teach specific reading skills and strategies. Children practice these reading strategies with the support of teachers and peers, and then shift to practicing and applying strategies on their own. During independent reading, teachers circulate and conference with individual children. This allows children at very different levels in reading to learn strategies that pertain to them. Throughout the year we teach strategies that not only focus on reading the words on the page, but that also stress the fact that good readers have many strategies from which they are able to choose. Good readers think critically about what they are reading and can connect literature to personal experience.
During Word Work, children work on phonics-based skills to learn to recognize letter names and sounds. As problem solvers, Kindergarteners are taught to recognize all the consonants and their phonemes and notice patterns in words and in text. As the year progresses, children start to learn a bank of common sight words. Children also practice rhyming words and learn to discriminate between different ending sounds.
Math is taught in an interactive, hands-on format using the Investigations curriculum developed by the Technical Education Research Center (TERC). We have a formal math block five times a week, with math learning also incorporated into our other subjects and daily routines as often as possible.
We support students as they develop into mathematical thinkers and provide a clear, focused curriculum in order to make sure we have students who are fluent in computation as well as geometry, pre-algebra, measurement, and data collection. We encourage children to wrestle with new ideas, to work at making them fit with what they already know, and to challenge their own ideas as well as those of others. We continually assess each child in various ways to understand what–and how–they are thinking, often by asking them for explanations. We then make teaching decisions based on our observations and the students’ reporting.
Our theme also provides us with many opportunities to practice math in an authentic way, including activities in which mapping, measuring distances between points, and gathering data play important roles.
Social and Emotional Development
Although every child is unique, some patterns exist in the development of five- to-seven-year-olds. Kindergartners are at the center of their own universe and can find it hard to see the world from any other point of view.
We work on social issues by allowing children to learn from conflict and be fully involved in “making the problem smaller.” Our goal is to create a community of active and responsible learners working in an environment where children feel safe enough to take risks, make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and feel empowered and confident in their abilities.