Activity Centers in Early Childhood
At Ramaz, our Early Childhood classrooms are set in “activity centers.” Each center is designed to reach a specific goal. The classroom design helps encourage appropriate use of these centers. Teachers further foster these actions by asking leading questions and directing the children to notice and question what they are doing. Please read the following explanation to understand this design, as it helps us to reach our goals and allows every child to experience a successful start in school.
Unit blocks are one of the most valuable learning materials in an Early Childhood classroom. Children learn about shapes and sizes, problem solving, and math concepts. By lifting blocks, they learn about weight and how to compare and express these differences. A tremendous amount of decision-making goes into creating structures. Block building encourages team work, as well as the use of both mathematical and expressive language. Clean up time teaches sorting, categorizing, and learning the names of geometric shapes.
A teacher’s job during this time is to ask questions and challenge the children to understand what they are doing. The children can add, subtract, combine with a friend or simply admire their structures. In today’s classroom, we then are able to take pictures of their structures to allow for further exploration.
The first and simplest emotion that we discover in the human mind is curiosity." Edmund Burke
The dramatic play center is one of the most social aspects of the classroom. Children learn to work together, share, and explore their creativity. When children play roles, they have to use past experiences to re-enact these roles. It helps children retrieve information, which will be critical as they continue on in school. Studies have shown that children who are better at pretending can reason better about counterfactuals (thinking about different possibilities).
In an appropriate dramatic play area, there are many opportunities for sorting, counting, and comparing different materials. Teachers can be wonderful facilitators by asking questions to help children use their expressive and creative language skills.
Our themes come alive in the dramatic play area as they are connected to our learning or chagim, parshiot, seasons etc. Our dramatic play area has become a tent, an igloo, a spaceship, a shuk, etc.
The manipulatives area consists of puzzles, small blocks, legos, magnets, rings, pegs, and any other collection of small objects. The children use their small motor skills. Many new skills and concepts are learned while playing with manipulatives.
Once again, the children are encouraged to sort, categorize, count, add and subtract, and figure out how to make something symmetrical or asymmetrical. In using puzzles, they learn directions: right and left, up and down.
Expressive language is used as the children work together to reach their goal. Teachers can ask wonderful questions in order to expand on what the children are already doing. Some questions may include:
- “How many red pegs did you stack together?”
- “What would happen if one of those pegs fell down?”
- “What is the same about those magnets you are using? What is different?”
These questions will help children develop their thinking skills.
Art is a very important part of the early childhood curriculum. It is available to the children every day and comes in many different textures, colors, and uses. Crayons, markers, and pencils are available and help children with their small motor skills, enabling them to become proficient writers. Art encourages creativity and allows children to express original ideas. It can be done by an individual or with other children. Cutting is an important milestone in the early years and helps tremendously with coordination. Clay and play dough allow children to use their small motor skills. These materials can help children who feel they need to touch or squeeze something and can allow for free thinking and creating “outside the box.”
Teachers focus on the process, not the product, and ask the children…
- “Tell me about your picture,” as opposed to “What did you make?”
- “How would you like to turn that play dough into a rocket ship?”
We display children’s artwork with pride, which helps with their self-esteem as they see how important it is to us.
This area is extremely essential, as it is here that we lay the foundation for reading and writing. In the library area, we can show how wonderful books are and help children gain a love of reading. The children are encouraged to go to the library and look at books on their own. The library area is a great space to relax and enjoy the diverse selection of books our classrooms have to offer. Very often, the children write or dictate their own books that include illustrations or photographs. These “books” are added to our libraries and become favorites for the children. They are able to “read” them even at a very young age. When children write their own stories, it is very meaningful and, therefore, they take ownership of them and read them in their own way.
We read to the children every day. The stories we read introduce new ideas, solidify topics already discussed, and make children laugh and ponder, but, most of all, they help them to develop a love of books.
Every classroom has a well-defined literacy center. This center is well stocked with paper, pencils, crayons, and markers. As the children get older and more comfortable in this center, the tools change and evolve. The Kindergarten students are given writing journals in order to facilitate the writing process.
The classroom is a print-rich environment. Our Kindergarten classrooms have word walls with frequently used words. All of our classes have the children’s pictures coupled with their names on cubbies, walls, and charts. Children learn their names and the letters in their names first and much of our early curriculum surrounds the letters in the children’s names. In our classrooms, we display poems, recipes, and charts generated by the children. All of these help to establish a literate environment and expose the children to the printed word.
Music, incorporated through singing and listening, is critical to our program. Children learn Tefillah through song, as well as the days of the week and the months in both Hebrew and English. Following a rhythm through clapping, tapping, drumming, etc., encourages children to copy sounds, think in numbers, and, when used in conjunction with their names, gain an initial understanding of syllables.
Music is used in the classroom in many ways. Quiet and relaxing music is played while the children eat lunch or have a quiet time. The tempo of the music sets the tone. It also allows children to appreciate many different styles of music. Classical, Israeli, folk, instrumental, and a cappella are a few examples. It also can be instrumental in learning about new places and new cultures. It is fun and can get us moving.
Movement set to music can help encourage teamwork. It fosters self-consciousness and self-awareness, and also allows children to find their own space and let out much needed energy. Movement is part of our classroom routine every day. Healthy bodies promote healthy minds.
We are passionate about cooking and baking. It is an integral part of our curriculum. Many different concepts can be learned while baking. An experience chart is always ready. This shows children a written recipe, and they become very comfortable reading these recipes. These words are also a great addition to their sight word vocabulary.
Many mathematical concepts are taught through baking. When children measure flour or add eggs, they learn the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon and many other measures. Children learn about science when they add yeast to flour and water and watch it rise.
Baking is a wonderful tactile experience, as the children literally get their hands into mixing and kneading all sorts of concoctions.
Combined with all of the learning that goes on during cooking and baking, we have added another important component: Nutrition! While we are learning, having fun, and eating, the children are exposed to new types of foods that they might not have been willing to try.
When they are finished, they get to reap the rewards as they eat and share their creations.
Large muscles are used during outdoor play. The children run, jump, hop, and climb. They are exposed to different structures in which they can discover things such as “how to reach the top” and “how fast can I get to the bottom?” They can race around, enjoy the fresh air, ride tricycles, catch balls, pop bubbles, look at clouds, and enjoy the miracles of nature. Our curriculum often extends into our outdoor play with science discoveries as well as with large hollow block building. The children use their gross motor skills as well as their imagination while enjoying the fresh air.
Outdoor play is a wonderful opportunity to learn first-hand about the changes in seasons. Children can see the changes in trees, plants, and animals as they venture outside. It is wondrous and allows for wonderful questions and, very often, curriculum ideas.