St. Mary's Creative Playschool provides a preschool environment designed to help children build self-confidence and a positive self-image. We work on developing social skills, fine and gross motor skills, gaining an understanding of the teacher-pupil relationship, and becoming comfortable in a classroom setting away from home. These goals are accomplished by providing programs that are developmentally appropriate, a curriculum that focuses on play, and the opportunity for parents to play a significant role within the classroom and playschool as a whole.
• What is developmentally appropriate practice? This term means that teachers first think about what children are like and then develop an environment that provides "hands-on" learning opportunities. Our classrooms are designed to encourage children to explore what interests them, touch what intrigues them, talk, listen, run, help out, and play through a combination of self-directed times and more structured activities. Teachers and parents act as guides in this developmental process, but also follow the children's leads.
• What is a play-based curriculum? As the name "Creative Playschool" implies, we believe children learn best during the preschool years through self-directed play. Through play, children learn concepts behind reading, math, science, music, culture, physical movement and the world around them. Children are encouraged to explore and discover, without the risk associated with having to provide a correct answer. Play provides children with the opportunity to attempt a new skill fail in the attempt and not view themselves as a failure. Play also provides endless opportunities for children to celebrate successes (emotional development), learn problem solving and concepts such as cause and effect (cognitive development), exercise fine and gross motor skills (physical development), and practice communication skills and interaction (social development).
• Why is parent involvement important? Volunteering in the classroom as teacher's aides provides parents with opportunities to become familiar with, and help guide, the learning process. Parents are able to see first-hand what interests their children, how they interact with peers and the teacher, and which activities come naturally and which are more challenging. Parents get to know the children and appreciate them as individuals. Parental involvement can also provide reassurance for children who are not used to being away from home and it gives the children an enormous sense of pride. By having parents volunteer in the classrooms, as members of the Advisory Council or other committees, and as volunteers at school-sponsored events, St. Mary's hopes to begin a pattern of parental involvement that will last throughout our children's academic careers.
Each class period includes free play, circle time, project time, cleanup, large muscle movement, snack and outdoor play. A number of themes are covered during the Playschool year, and the whole program is integrated into the topic at hand. For example, the following is a sample of activities from our dinosaur unit, which lasts from one to two weeks:
• Dinosaurs - Prepared by St. Mary's Creative Playschool Staff
• Environment: Posters, wall displays, and pictures feature prehistoric creatures; toys in the cornmeal "sand" box are replaced with turkey bones and Popsicle sticks for bone digs; dinosaurs, rocks, dinosaur play-dough toys, and puzzles are out for free play; the water table hosts slime and a volcano; dinosaur books and games are used.
• Activities: Make fossils; paint dinosaurs; make dinosaur eggs; find sticks and bones in cornmeal and glue on paper to make a skeleton; paint volcanoes; trace children's feet into a dinosaur footprint; do a skit showing finding bones.
• Music and movement: Learn dinosaur songs; dance to the songs; have a dinosaur parade; move like various dinosaurs.
• Literature: Books are used to look at individual dinosaurs; a dinosaur story each day; and try to find pictures of favorite dinosaurs in books.
• Concepts: Dinosaurs are extinct; plant eaters and meat eaters; name and identity of various dinosaurs; earth was changing when dinosaurs lived; sizes of dinosaurs, paleontology.
• Resource people: Parents with background or experiences to share.