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Junior Kindergarten is Where Learning Begins at Rossman

by Junior Kindergarten Teachers Julie Renne, Mary Schwartz, and Diane Vujnich

Renowned psychologist and child development theorist Jean Piaget was quoted as saying “Our real problem is…what is the goal of education? Are we forming children that are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try developing creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?”

Our day starts with just such a time. “Free Choice” is a very important learning time in the life of a junior kindergartener. Free Choice is the period in our daily schedule when the children have the opportunity to decide where, what, how and with whom they choose to explore the classroom environment. It is a fact of early childhood education that when children are encouraged, they will naturally engage in activities to meet their intellectual, social, emotional and physical needs. Free Choice allows children the opportunity to practice (or role play) by themselves and with their peers, and to perform what they have learned. As teachers, we encourage appropriate choices to help enhance a child’s developmental and social needs. We work with each child to increase verbal skills to express feelings and ideas through conversation and ask thought provoking questions. Social-emotional learning is also taking place through problem solving and negotiating with friends. We facilitate and provide the children with additional materials to encourage their thought and discovery process. With these opportunities, the children can choose the content of the activity and the use of the materials, helping to satisfy their curiosity and creating the foundation of their knowledge.

We have a sensory table available during Free Choice as well, and the contents can change weekly. It provides the child an opportunity to notice the differences between dry and wet sand or warm and cold water. He can measure and compare amounts. A child can learn to pour with increasing skill, thereby developing eye-hand coordination and small muscle skills. When animals are added to the sand or ocean creatures added to water, an opportunity for imaginative and descriptive language is also added. In addition to sand and water, our table has been filled with beans, rice, dirt and even snow!

After arriving in the morning, a child may choose to curl up on our little couches to snuggle with a teacher or friends to enjoy a book together. A love for books is established here, as well as the foundation for reading: recognizing that symbols on a page represent spoken words and ideas, as well as listening to, predicting, and understanding a story.

“Table Activities” are a popular choice, allowing the child to use smaller toys, puzzles, and board games at the tables. The learning that takes place includes noticing similarities and differences, sorting and classifying, judging distance, direction, right and left, up and down, height and width. Children are encouraged to talk about their activity and what is happening as play progresses. One to one correspondence and turn taking are important components of board game play. 

In the Block Area a child has access to large and small blocks, as well as animals, cars and trucks. A child can learn to stack blocks carefully, thereby developing eye-hand coordination and small muscle skills. There are opportunities to judge distance, space and physical relationships. A child can work cooperatively with friends in this area, creating scenes for dramatic play and using language opportunities to describe what he has built. Ramps and marble runs are a fun activity, providing opportunities for engineering skills and trial and error, as careful planning is needed to build a successful path. 

The Housekeeping Area is another favorite, allowing for imaginative play and the ability to use words and actions to express ideas and feelings. Re-play of real-life situations takes place, as well as “practicing” to be Mommy, Daddy, and other adult roles.

The Art Area gives the child an opportunity to be creative and use the materials at hand. Applying glue, holding a crayon, and using scissors are skills that exercise small muscles, which are important for writing. Here we emphasize enjoying art for art’s sake — the process is more important than the product.

So, if you think we’re just playing in Junior Kindergarten … Shhh … don’t tell anyone … we’re learning too!

Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.‚Äč To learn more or schedule a tour, visit our inquiry page.