Play - Children find great joy in play and exercise their creative dispositions of imagination, curiosity and fantasy. Research shows that high-quality play supports children’s growth cognitively, socially and physically and provides a solid base for later school success. For instance, creativity and curiosity, both nurtured through open-ended play, are foundational for later success in areas such as math and science. Play gives children freedom to make choices, to negotiate with friends, to imagine, to explore, to learn through experimentation and to be actively engaged physically and mentally. Children have opportunities to play during Guided Choice Time and during Playground/Gym Time.
Literacy - First United has a literacy-rich classroom environment. We have a wealth of books in library areas as well as throughout the classroom. Excellent children’s literature is read each day at group times or to individuals. Children also listen to books on tape and spend time looking at books individually. Phonemic awareness, alphabet awareness, book awareness (author, illustrator, title, beginning, middle, end, plot and characters) are all a part of group time discussions. Poetry, drama and conversations are also elements in the classroom that build children’s vocabulary and language skills. Children have many opportunities to express themselves verbally. The classrooms are also “Print Rich.” There are writing centers in each classroom, opportunities for dictation experiences (as a group or individually) and meaningful environmental print throughout.
Science - The children are encouraged to explore the world around them and are introduced to beginning science understandings. There are plants, animals, water and sand tables and interesting items from nature in the classrooms. Children are encouraged to observe, question, experiment, make predictions, determine cause and effect and actively engage in science discovery. The playground, the front yard of the church and local parks also afford opportunities for nature and science explorations. Many of the topics explored in classrooms have a science base – seasons, weather, insects, forest animals, sea life, plants, body parts, trees, etc.
Math - Children expand their understanding of numbers by using math in a concrete way in activities such as games, snack preparation, cooking, block play and play with math manipulatives. Classification, measurement, patterning, sequencing, one-to-one correspondence, understanding of numbers, counting and sorting are all elements of the math curriculum. Each of our classrooms is well-stocked with blocks; math manipulatives for sorting, classifying, counting and patterning; and board games. Math experiences are woven throughout the day in activities ranging from counting the number of children present, to measuring and recording on a chart the growth of the amaryllis plant, to creating a graph of the color of shoes children are wearing.
Social Studies - First United Church Nursery School is located in the heart of Oak Park. We are immediately next door to the Oak Park Library, across the street from the Post Office, a block and a half from a popcorn store and a bread store, three blocks from the Fire Station, a block from two parks and in the midst of interesting architecture. Throughout the school year, classes explore the immediate community. We also use globes and maps to point out the places children visit and have them share things they see on their visits. Some of our children are from other countries and we enjoy learning about their customs, music and foods.
Music - At First United we listen to music, we make music and we move to music. Basic rhythm instruments, movement, singing and an introduction to musical instruments are all components of the music experience at school. Music experiences are woven throughout the school day.
Creative Art Activities - Opportunities exist each day for the children to use paints, chalk, crayons, markers, glue, paper, wood and blocks. There is an easel in each classroom, an area where an array of art materials are available for creative use and a project table where teachers prepare a special art experience as an option during Guided Choice Time daily. The creativity that children bring to these areas of the classroom is valued and encouraged. At First United we value the process rather than the product.
Construction - A large supply of wooden blocks, other building materials and props are available in each classroom along with a rug area for building. This is generally a busy area of the classroom. Block building provides opportunities for creativity, science and math discovery, interaction with other children in planning, negotiation and imaginative play. Additionally, our gym has a large rug area and large size wooden blocks. The four/five-year-old classrooms have woodworking areas with real tools for construction projects.
Fine Motor - The development of fine motor control is supported through multiple opportunities to use scissors, markers, small manipulatives, play dough, paint brushes and other play materials. Puzzles are an excellent choice for development of eye-hand coordination, as are activities such as bead stringing, lacing and stacking blocks. The classroom environment provides a multitude of opportunities for children’s growth in fine motor development.
Social Dramatic Play - A portion of the classroom is set up as a housekeeping area. This is another active and busy spot in our classrooms. In this area, children have the opportunity to experiment with adult roles, to use language to plan and play together, to be imaginative and to have fun. Dress-up clothes, dolls and kitchen equipment stock this area. From time to time, this area of the classroom may be transformed into a doctor’s office, a grocery store, a beauty shop, a castle or a cave. These changes of arrangement prompt fresh and exciting play.
Large Motor - Large motor development is important for the health and vitality of the children. Opportunities to play in the playground and the gym promote skills in running, jumping, hopping, galloping, balancing, climbing, pedaling, steering, throwing, kicking and catching. Additionally there is opportunity for group game playing, parachute activities and large block building.
Group Living - Much of the value of the preschool setting is the opportunity for young children to grow in skills of: sharing, taking turns, cooperating on projects, recognizing the feelings of others, respecting the rights of others and using words to resolve conflicts. Our teachers are skilled in guiding and supporting children in these areas. Additionally, the school setting gives children the opportunity to exercise independence, take responsibility for their belongings and help care for classroom materials. Our classroom routines and rules are minimal, but do provide an important framework and structure for the day. We support each child in being able to express their ideas, concerns and feelings.
Assessment - The assessment of children is an ongoing process at First United Church Nursery School and a key part of our curriculum. Teachers observe children in their play, social interactions and group time experiences. It is how the teachers get to know each child and their strengths, challenges, interests and progress. Assessment informs our curriculum and the set-up of the classroom environment. It also provides the content for sharing with parents at conferences and other times. Teachers maintain a portfolio on each child consisting of photos of the child’s activities, samples of his or her work and anecdotal notes. Parents contribute to the portfolio through information on the Family History Form, goals established at conference times and completion of other requested forms. Assessment is done to make the child’s school experience as beneficial and individualized as possible.