We believe that children are motivated to learn best when immersed in projects that address their passions and interests. The project approach to learning engages children in purposeful work. We believe that children are active learners motivated to make sense of their environment, exploring problems and constructing knowledge about things that hold an intrinsic attraction. From the children's interests and passions "emerges" a unit of study, a project for in-depth investigation. These projects are thoughtfully supported by teachers who act with specific learning and development goals in mind. Children have the opportunity to solve problems and to represent their thinking in a multitude of ways--musically, dramatically, mathematically, and artistically through drawings and sculpture. With so many means of expression, children not only find one mode that speaks to their personal way of learning but they experience the richness of different perspectives. Throughout the project, children are asked by their teachers to listen to peers, to persevere in their efforts, to continue to question and to rethink, to be flexible, to take risks, and to focus and attend to their work with deliberate thought.
One of the unique and important features of the pre-K curriculum is Studio. Heavily influenced by the internationally acclaimed Reggio Emilia schools in Northern Italy, children gather in Studio twice a week for an extended period of time. In Studio, children have "hands-on" experiences to explore, discover and transform materials to reflect their thinking. Most often, children work collaboratively, sharing, investigating and experimenting, building on each other's ideas. Through these explorations, a world of dynamic creativity and ownership of one's ideas is developed, cultivated and nurtured. Building on current research, the learning styles of children reveal themselves as they choose from multiple modalities of expression: music, movement, drama, storytelling, construction, and engineering. Innovation, creativity and imagination are the essence of Studio.
Lessons of Play
The importance of play cannot be overlooked or undervalued. Every day, our children exercise their creative and imaginative muscles during periods of play. Play naturally enhances development of language skills, social relationships and artistic ventures. Children have opportunities to role-play, to create painting masterpieces, to build structurally sound towers, and to explore the properties of water or clay. Play can promote autonomy as well as develop skills needed in group work. As children negotiate their role within a group, they begin to develop a respect for rules and to realize a need for cooperation. Play helps the four-year-old child become aware of the needs and wants of his or her peers, building skills essential in making friends and living in a community.
During both project and play, children are continually practicing and using skills needed in learning. Educationally, we believe that we have the responsibility to explicitly introduce intellectual concepts, specifically literacy and math skills, to aid in a child's understanding of his or her world. For a four-year-old, learning may best be described as an awareness, exploration and adaptation of these concepts. After an introductory lesson, children manipulate materials to practice their understanding. For some, it may be a first-time exploration. For others, it may be a time to challenge their thinking by asking the extending questions. Work is individualized according to the needs of each learner. Academic concepts are integrated into the day's work, providing practice and demonstrating relevancy of skills as the children prepare for entrance into Penn Charter's kindergarten program.
Children are guided in their social, emotional, intellectual, physical and moral development by experienced teachers. Our teachers have a firm understanding of the development of children. They create curricula responsive to the needs and interests of young learners. By carefully listening to students, teachers encourage each individual to verbalize and represent his or her ideas as they guide and support productive thinking and deeper understandings. Teachers also encourage fun. Through games, movement and song teachers introduce and reinforce conceptual ideas. Children explore concepts using a wide range of multisensory materials. Penn Charter teachers work in a collaborative partnership with each family. Together, teachers and families work toward the achievement of shared goals in a climate of mutual respect, cooperation and collective responsibility.
The special nature of childhood is honored at Penn Charter. Combining research, theory and experience, we focus on what, where and how children learn. Giving children time to engage and make connections is an integral part of supporting the young mind. The pace of the day reflects the belief that children need time to explore, wonder, play, share, listen, create, process and rethink observations and connections. We consciously strive to provide that time in the daily schedule while enjoying the rich resources available to us as a part of the larger Penn Charter community.