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Inside the Classroom: Preschool Projects

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Imagine: an entire room filled with four- and five-year-olds surrounded by opportunities for constructive play. While some of us may have visions of chaos ensuing, for two Preschool teachers, it’s actually the beginning of something incredible.

Kelly McCool and Ty Thayer ’90 are a new team in the Preschool classrooms, and are envisioning ways for children to collaborate on a whole new level using their new project room at Breck.

“One of the easiest ways to describe the project room is that it’s for anything that’s too big or too messy to fit into our main rooms,” says Thayer. “It allows for the two of us to collaborate, the kids to collaborate, design, and create together, and then also gives us a big space to do larger lessons instead of being limited by the materials in our room.”

The space has allowed for new curricular opportunities for Preschoolers not previously available.

“It’s allowing for more activities related to STEM and STEAM,” says McCool. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. “These types of activities require, at times, more space and places to be free to build, make mistakes and problem solve. It’s been a really big change and a nice piece to our program this year.”

Thayer and McCool worked hard over the summer months to develop and create the new curriculum thanks to a grant they received.

“We were fortunate enough to receive one of the curriculum grants for us to work together full time and envision the program,” says Thayer. “Kelly is the veteran on our team and she shared what worked really well. Then we had a chance for each of us to research and collaborate on what was best for our students.”

Throughout the year students participate in challenges planned by the teachers. So far, the students toured and then built Breck School from their perspective using project room materials, discovered and built letters, created their own musical instruments and band, and built a marble run.

“We believe children learn best through discovery,” says McCool. “Young children need to be busy and make those discoveries; that’s how they’re learning.”

Thayer and McCool’s research also highlighted the importance of play for young children, specifically the different categories of play such as language, physical, and imaginary play. These categories were integral in planning the year’s curriculum.

“If children decide they want to label and construct Breck School, they are writing labels for the swimming pool or the Upper School,” adds Thayer. “In that, they are doing constructive play in the building but at the same time there’s social play of what they’re talking about with each other and then language play of labeling the building. Every step they did in that activity was play, but every single part at the same time was academic.”

In addition to time for play, the students are also guided through sensory experiences, design thinking, and collaboration.

“I think it’s so critical for kids to be able to be messy and have sensory experiences where they are using their hands in many different ways,” says McCool. “They need to be able to make mistakes and learn how to solve problems or fix mistakes where it is OK and accepted.”

McCool and Thayer plan to expand their classroom into the outdoors spaces of the Breck campus as well. So far this year they’ve added a butterfly garden near the playground where students voluntarily spent their recess time weeding and caring for their latest project.

“The weeding has become part of their regular playground activity,” says Thayer. “And it isn’t weeding in the way we might normally think of weeding. They bring over their dump trucks and fill them up with weeds and haul them over to the garbage.”

In the end, it’s all with the goal of discovery and experimentation – for the students and the teachers.

“This is a year of experimenting,” says McCool. “A year of seeing what works, what doesn’t work, and then picking out new things we can try. I think the young kids get excited when they see their teachers get excited and messy and into the projects with them. The kids love when we’re doing the projects with them, too.”

For more information about what’s happening in Preschool, visit the teacher blogs: Thayer and McCool.