Education in the Early Childhood School at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Forest City rests on the understanding that early childhood is a critical period for constructing learner identities, and serves as the foundation for every subsequent stage of development. We support healthy identity formation based on what is known about child development and learning, what we know about children as individuals, and what is known about the social and cultural context in which children live - beginning with their families. We believe that a high quality education in early childhood begins with our image of the child as strong, capable, resilient, and rich with wonder and knowledge. We continually ask ourselves what actions we need to take to ensure that image is reflected in the way that we prepare our environments for our students, and respect their capacity as learners.
Shattuck-St. Mary’s international approach to education in early childhood was designed as a response to the needs of the community in Forest City. We provide a strong foundation for children to experience the joy of learning throughout their lives, weaving together principles of the bilingual, bicultural Te Whāriki curriculum from New Zealand and Anji Play from China. Our curriculum is designed for teachers and families to collaborate with our students on in-depth projects, following the inquiry based approach of the world-renowned preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. This approach helps the children develop their skills and dispositions for learning, together with a sense of connection to their family, their community, and where they come from. Also informed by research based practices to support learning through play together with developmental assessments and standards from the USA, we offer a world class education for children in their foundation years.
Our Learning Community
We are an inclusive, question asking and question exploring learning community. We follow the principles of Universal Design for Learning, which means we plan for multiple ways for our students to demonstrate what they are able to do, and what they are thinking. This ensures that all of our students have the chance to understand and connect with the concepts being explored. We are “ALL IN.” This means we value every child for who they are, not just what they are able to do. We support our students in seeing themselves as persistent people who continue making an effort when faced with challenges. Being all in is also about service to the good of the entire school community. Our curriculum is designed for our students to develop a sense of belonging and connection with the larger school and community. With field trips to explore our local surroundings and learn about how life began in Forest City, our students imagine their place in the world and contribute to building a vibrant community.
How we support Social Emotional Development
We introduce our students to the values of our school-wide kindness curriculum in their foundation years. These values are aligned with the six core outcomes of a Shattuck-St. Mary’s education: caring - to build and nurture community; inclusiveness - to foster creative and independent thinking; courage - to cultivate innovation; responsibility - to provide global opportunities for learning; respect - to honor tradition and develop new traditions; and integrity - to graduate citizens of integrity. We use Positive Descriptive Acknowledgement as a key strategy for supporting this learning. This helps children to think of themselves as people who demonstrate these values, and develop language that connects behavior with words in English.
How we support English Language Development
One of our most important goals for our students in early childhood is for them to be comfortable joining in discussions in an English speaking environment. Research shows that children with more developed vocabulary skills in their home language will be able to develop English language skills more easily in a high quality English language environment like we provide for children in their foundation years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. For that reason, we encourage families to continue providing rich, descriptive language experiences for their children in their home language. Our teachers use proven strategies for promoting language development and self-confidence in English language learners. These strategies include: self talk for teachers to describe their own actions; parallel talk to describe what is happening in the learning environment, and Positive Descriptive Acknowledgement to acknowledge internal qualities displayed by the children.
Project time begins every day with our morning meeting at 8:30. The purpose of our morning meeting is for children to plan how they will use project time to meet goals for instruction and self-determined play with their teacher. We promote creative thinking during this time and at other gatherings throughout the day by encouraging the children to plan and brainstorm ideas for how they will represent their thinking using music, movement, and art with phonics, reading, writing, and mathematics as a focus. We also promote concept development during our morning meeting with activities that promote vocabulary development, scientific thinking, analysis and reasoning. These activities include asking and answering why and how questions, problem solving, prediction, experimentation, classification, comparison and evaluation of their learning.
During project time, our students choose between a variety of learning centers with materials they can use to explore new concepts related to previous learning or direct instruction. For younger children, project time is an opportunity to gain experience playing alongside their peers as they move through the stages of play development from parallel play and associative play toward more cooperative play. This experience prepares them to participate in group projects and develop skills in self regulation that allow them to benefit from more formal instruction.
Teachers and parents communicate directly with children about who they are as learners using a narrative form of assessment borrowed from Te Whāriki called a Learning Story. Learning stories are a record of a child’s life that begin with a description of something significant the teacher noticed about their learning, an analysis of the working theories, dispositions, and developmental milestones evident in the story, and suggestions for possible ways of extending the learning or ideas about what to do next. Our students each have a Learning Story portfolio that goes back and forth between home and school so that our students have access to them at any time, and parents and teachers can sit close together with them and their portfolio to revisit experiences, reinforce learning, and communicate directly with the child about what they will do next to continue their learning stories.
Mathematics Instruction in the Classroom
Foundational numeracy skills will be presented through simple counting and patterns from the world around us. Our students are exposed to numbers and patterns through math centers, nature walks, at snack time, and at many other times throughout a school day. As the children mature and gain experience, the math program becomes more direct as students build on the numeracy and patterns and add several math concepts like time, problem solving, and addition to give them a strong foundation and prepare them for the elementary program.
Literacy Development in the Classroom
Students enrolled in the Early Childhood School at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Forest City have a variety of age appropriate opportunities to grow their literacy skills. Through reading aloud, access to a variety of high quality children’s books and writing materials, the children will be shown how to read and write for meaning. When children enter Kindergarten, the literacy instruction becomes more direct to help prepare children for the elementary program. Learning the English alphabet, the letter sounds, and different strategies will give students a strong foundation in literacy.
Physical Education, Art, and Music in the Classroom
Students have specialist classes in physical education, music, and art as part of our integrated project approach. In Physical Education, the specialist teaches introduces the children to swimming, games and exercises to develop whole body muscles, as well as dance as a form of creative self expression. In Art, our specialist helps young children learn to develop their imagination while they control and build the muscles in their hands through cutting, painting, and using clay. Our music specialist introduces the children to the development of musical skills such as making steady beats and rhythmic patterns, as well as how to listen to and develop an appreciation for classical music using the Kodály Concept. The children also gain experience using Orff-Schulwerk instruments to create their own music.
Instruction at SSM-FC will be in English throughout the day. However, we believe that children need a strong foundation in their native language in order to fully appreciate their culture while they learn a second or third language. With that in mind, our students will be enrolled in a mother tongue program to help them develop their language skills in that language. If the student is a native English speaker, they will have the opportunity to join with children learning Mandarin or Malay with a specialist in teaching those languages to children.
We teach our students to basic coding skills to program child-friendly robots. Children also have occasional access to tablets with apps that reinforce language, literacy, and numeracy skills introduced by their teachers. Most importantly, students in the Early Childhood School use technology in a variety of ways to produce content and document projects for Learning Stories in Seesaw.