January 10, 2013

Walden School’s Pre-Kindergarten program helps children become confident learners and independent thinkers, while fostering social and emotional skills. “We want them to learn how to do things on their own and feel proud of their accomplishments,” says Pre-Kindergarten Director Tina Riddle. “They’re also learning how to be responsible members of the community, how to take care of one another and the environment.”

Both sections of Pre-K at Walden School are multi-age classrooms with children aged 3, 4, and 5 in each class. Multi-age classes reflect the larger community and provide opportunity for self-directed play that promotes social interaction. Learning how to play together fosters the development of positive conflict resolution skills. “The classrooms are set up so the children can be in charge of them,” says Tina. They choose their own “jobs” and are responsible for using them appropriately and cleaning up after themselves.

Children select from a rich array of activities that promote hands-on learning and learning through play. Activities are balanced between those where children follow directions in order to learn specific skills – sorting and patterning (pre-math), for instance – and more open-ended projects. “They love that feeling of accomplishment of having done something as instructed,” says Tina, “but we also want them to have the opportunity to use materials in ways that require them to be creative and imaginative.”

Teachers pay careful attention to each child’s readiness to learn new skills, challenging them when appropriate but not pushing them to master things they’re not yet ready to learn. This promotes both confidence and enthusiasm for learning. With a maximum ratio of seven students per teacher, lead teachers can spend one-on-one time with each child, while the assistant teacher is leading a group activity. “Some children are already exploring phonemes and may even be beginning to read, while other children are still content to explore through play. We want to work with those children who are ready to read and find developmentally appropriate ways to challenge them,” says Tina.

Time outside provides opportunity for meaningful experiences that compliment and expand classroom instruction. At Walden, the outside environment is as important as the indoor classroom in terms of learning spaces. Social and cognitive development, as well as physical development are enhanced and fostered. “Outside time is really important,” says Tina. “Not only because of gross motor skill development, but also because so much learning around conflict resolution and social skills happens outside. Mastery of social skills builds confidence in children.” The playground offers a balance between natural and constructed areas in activities ranging from free play on outdoor equipment to painting, gardening and other pursuits.

And a focus on creative thinking and scientific inquiry permeates all aspects of learning. “Whenever we have class discussions, it’s not about finding a single, right answer,” says Tina, “It’s about being creative and using our minds – thinking about why things are the way they are or why we think they’re a certain way.” Building confidence starts with these conversations, as a class group, one-to-one, and in small groups. When children are able to express their needs, and live out self-help skills, they gain independence that in turn contributes to their budding confidence. Whether interacting with academic materials or practicing social skills, at Walden School, Pre-K students discover confidence.

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