Materials at Village Preschool are carefully chosen to give children repeated play experiences within the five essential areas of early childhood play. It is not until they have years of play with real objects and events that they are able to understand the meaning of symbols. Through open-ended play with these materials children naturally learn social, emotional, math, reading, writing, language and science skills.
Below is a brief description of each area of play and descriptions of materials that are available at Village. Following that are a few examples of how play in that area supports specific academic skills. These examples are a sampling of how play supports learning, not an exhaustive list.
Perhaps the most important tool for preschoolers is a complete set of unit blocks. Unit blocks were developed by educator Caroline Pratt in the early 1900s. They are made from natural wood creating a soothing feel and smell. Each block has a very specific geometric size and is perfectly weighted. A unit block is 5.5 inches long, 2.75 inches wide, and 1.375 inches thick. Larger pieces include the double (11 inches long) and quadruple (22 inches long) sizes. Smaller sizes are made in various fractions of the standard unit.
Preschool children use blocks to build structures. At first they line them up in a row, then they begin stacking, forming partial enclosures and then full enclosures with patterns and design. In the process they deal with spatial issues and balance. They work with similarities and differences and begin to create purposeful and usable structures. The children use accessories with their blocks, little people, animals, and vehicles stimulating their imaginative and make-believe play. They find creative ways to embellish their block structures and they improve fine motor skills in selecting specific blocks and then intentionally placing them.
- Math concepts: counting, estimating, geometric divisions, fractions
- Science concepts: spatial issues, balance, velocity, experimentation
- Reading and language concepts: making patterns and recognizing different shapes and how they relate to each other, sharing their ideas and concepts and talking about their creations and scenarios, sequencing, left to rightness
- Social skills: working with or alongside other children they learn communication and cooperative skills
Art is essential to self-expression. Art is a creative process that stimulates the feeling of joy and satisfaction and comes wholly from the child. Art is not copying a model or using materials in a way dictated by adults. Drawing, painting, cutting, gluing etc. help develop fine motor skills and the muscle strength for writing. Essential art supplies for preschoolers include: scissors, glue, paint, color pencils (large in diameter), crayons, hole punches, yarn, collage materials, and different shapes, colors and textures of paper. Art supplies and easel painting are available daily for children to use at Village. In addition, there are many special projects that involve art.
- Reading and language: organizing and creating thoughts and ideas, creating stories
- Writing: developing muscle strength, left to rightness
- Math and science: experimenting, learning the properties of different shapes and sizes, spatial relationships
Sensory experiences for young children help calm, soothe and nurture their inner lives. Sensory experiences at Village can be found in many areas of the classroom. There is a bean, rice and seed table where children can use utensils or their hands to pour, measure, sort and organize. There is also flubber or playdough available every day to knead, roll, flatten, and create. Some art projects include shaving cream, cornstarch, glitter, finger paint or other materials that provide additional sensory experiences. Nature walks and collections as well as objects on the science and nature table provide children the opportunity to feel and smell things from nature.
Outside there is sand, water, pea gravel and, in the winter, ice and snow. A natural wood climbing structure allows children to make their way up, down and over counting on their balance and decision-making. There are also monkey bars and slides for children to play on in order to feel their bodies move through space. Snack time and cooking projects encourage children to experiment by creating and tasting new foods.
- Science and math skills: measuring, sorting, organizing, experimenting, estimating, counting, and connecting with nature, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling
- Reading and language: describing and telling about their experiences
Dramatic play is where imagination is cultivated and explored through reading, storytelling, puppetry and role-playing. Children try out new identities, make-believe, explore relationships and discover different feelings and solutions in their social interactions. The house-keeping area, dress up clothes, musical instruments and the large blocks allow the children to create different scenarios in their play. There is also a group time each day for singing, dancing, puppetry, storytelling and conversation.
- Reading and language: by hearing and telling stories and explaining their ideas for pretend play
- Social and emotional development
- Creative skills
The final area of play available at Village is that which develops gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are acquired indoors by dancing, tumbling, rhythmic movement, active group games and building with large blocks. Outside, gross motor skills include climbing, balancing, hanging and swinging on playground structures, digging, carrying loads of sand and water in buckets and wheelbarrows, climbing trees, jumping, running, skipping and ball handling.
Gross motor skill development supports all academic areas because those skills enhance the connection between mind and body. Other skills gained in gross motor play include agility, flexibility, hand eye coordination, muscle strength, balance, rhythm, and endurance.