Each year of life brings exciting challenges for children. As children turn three, they leave behind the last hint of toddlerhood and switch to being more self-sufficient. Their focus turns even more toward social interaction and also toward imaginative and creative thought. They exhibit an ever-growing interest in learning everything possible about their expanding world.
Being aware of the three-year-old's emerging awareness of and interest in his/her expanding world and also the sensitivity which can sometimes result from this new awareness, our three-year-old program is designed to be a warm, nurturing atmosphere filled with lots of exciting "hands-on" learning experiences that change and grow constantly to meet each child's changing needs.
Our program offers freedom of choice for each child as s/he explores the different activity centers within the classroom. This also provides for choice by each child as to when, how much, etc. to interact with peers so s/he can practice the life-long important skills of social interactions. The teacher acts as a guide and facilitator, to ensure that each child experiences a variety of challenging and enjoyable activities. In giving children choices through play, they encounter social interactions and learn independence and responsibility. Independent play challenges children for higher-level thinking. Research shows that this is the best way for young children to learn.
The curriculum offered to threes encompasses all areas of their development - social, emotional, physical, and cognitive. All activities are offered in a "play-based" environment because that is how young children learn best. In a typical day, the children will have a circle time, snack, play time and outdoor time. Circle time consists of songs, finger plays, books, brief group math or science activities, sharing, and/or listening.
The following is a breakdown of the basic areas into which the activities presented may fall, not necessarily in order of importance:
SOCIAL & EMOTIONAL SKILLS
The ability to work alone and with others in a positive way is extremely important. In the three-year-old class, these skills are worked on throughout the day. Children get to practice these skills as they play and work together and alone. Adults facilitate child interactions and model appropriate words and actions to use with friends, to join a group, to resolve conflict, to problem-solve together, etc. This is not something that can be mastered in one day. Social skills are developed with practice throughout the year.
Language development is an integral part of all aspects of the program. Teachers model and encourage talking, listening, and even writing by each child at every opportunity, whether in the Dramatic Play Center where they might be making grocery lists or mailing letters at their post office or in the Science or Math Center, talking about names of things, concepts, etc. They are always talking about what they’re observing or doing as they work/play. Books are an important and constant part of the curriculum and are available to the children at all times. Books are also often read to the children, individually and/or in small groups, as well as to the whole group. Children are also given access to writing materials and are encouraged to experiment with them.
Learning to use the small muscles - primarily hands and fingers - is the main readiness skill needed for hand-writing, shoe tying, and hundreds of other tasks that will follow from now through the rest of life. Therefore, many toys and activities are available for strengthening and coordinating these fine muscles. Children will use play dough, paint, connecting toys, do puzzles, use manipulatives, lace, and use many sensory materials for dumping, pouring, squishing, etc. Children are introduced to scissors and are given large gripped writing and art utensils.
Many opportunities are given to participate in large-muscle types of play. Outdoor play is a daily part of the program, where children can run, jump, climb, slide, kick and throw balls, swing, and shoot basketballs. On inclement weather days (and sometimes on sunny days, too), gross motor play takes place in the classroom with balance beams, hula-hoops, movement to music, dancing, and exercising. Gross motor skills are important because children are still working on coordination, balance, cross-body movements and more.
Many of the manipulative that help develop fine-motor skills, as previously mentioned, also teach math skills and concepts. For example, building blocks (of various sorts) automatically offer lessons in balance, geometry, measurement, estimation, etc. Children are encouraged to count objects (1-1 counting). This gives them a better concept of what numbers mean. Grouping, sorting, and matching are some other activities that are often taking place as children play in the class.
Science is a natural part of a preschool classroom. Each day, there are real things to observe, discover and experience. Children will have opportunities to make predictions, see cause and effects, and be actively involved in science experiments. Outside children find worms, bugs, plants, flowers, ice, etc. Each of these discoveries becomes its own miniature science project. Watching real things happen is one of the best ways to experience science.
Each bi-weekly theme focuses on some real-life aspect of the lives of three-year-olds. The theme lends itself to presenting cross-curricular experiences in literacy, science and math that explore that theme or some related part of it. Children learn age-appropriate information about the world in which they live and about the animals, plants, and people who share it, and how to take care of and respect them.
Art is a form of expression. Children have the opportunity daily to use creative expression. This is not forced upon children, but is made available. As teachers set up their rooms and plan activities for the three-year-olds, they design art activities to be open-ended and process-oriented (rather than product-oriented). Children are offered many different media and a large variety of tools with which they are encouraged to explore and experiment.
Everyday children will have the chance to play different roles as they interact and play side by side with their peers. In the dramatic play area children choose to be moms, dads, babies and animals (pets). In playing out these characters children gain socialization skills, and play out what they have seen modeled to them.
Music and song are an integral part of the program. Children will learn new songs, sing old songs, sing familiar songs, make up songs, listen to songs, and sing with and without tapes. Most of the time movement is a part of any music in the class. Rhythms and repetitions are subsequently introduced through music (which are helpful for math cognition).
Using developmentally appropriate methods, the children are taught many of the beautiful parts of being Jewish. They learn stories from the Torah, learn about the upcoming holidays and how they are celebrated, and learn about doing mitzvot and giving tzedakah (charity). They even begin to learn Hebrew words and songs. The children are taught the bracha (blessing) to make before they eat and drink.
Fridays are a special day at JAHM Chai Tots Preschool. Our children make a fresh challah that they bring home each week and we welcome the Shabbat with a special Shabbat party each Friday.