While the 4s are ready to work together, collaboration can often be challenging. It requires sharing leadership, accepting compromise and honoring the contributions of peers. We have extremely high expectations of our children for social problem-solving and, working alongside their teachers, their success in this area is noticeable in and outside of C&C.
The early childhood classrooms are equipped with basic materials through which the children can give form to and express their ideas. The basic materials for 4s are blocks, woodworking, paint, clay, paper and crayons. Children use these open-ended materials in a variety of ways to express what they know and feel about the world around them. Each material provides opportunities for experimentation and discovery, and each allows for challenges that address individual children’s particular skills and interests. The basic materials also address the diverse sensorial needs of children, from the dependable solidity of blocks to the delightful pliability of clay. Children may move quickly from one material to another and show a spontaneous, fluid response to what is going on around them, in social as well as solitary ways.
Blocks provide young children with many opportunities for experimentation and discovery. Children may also choose to use the blocks to create a forum for their dramatic play. This is particularly evident with the large outdoor blocks that the children use on the Roof. Using the larger, heavier square and rectangular blocks, plus boards and ladders, children construct complex structures in which they may directly participate in their dramatic play. They create their own versions of familiar structures from the world around them, from skyscrapers to apartment buildings, from harbors to airports, from zoos to farms. Play with these constructions allows the children to integrate information they have about the world around them, as well as to share new information with their peers. As they become older, the children begin to turn to books and the Library or trips out into the neighborhood as further sources of information for their constructions.
Working with wood fosters the importance of children’s ideas and persistence in following through on the design, planning, construction and use of something they have made. Some of their finished work is used in school and some taken home, encouraging a full range of interests and abilities in handling the material. Their journey from using the vise, sawing, sanding, positioning and hammering nails into the wood shows the great attention requisite for safety, adding detail and planning by children. The children grow from learning these steps and then gradually show more confidence and ability to plan ahead.
Paint: 4s often bring enthusiasm, creativity and purpose to the easel. In the 4s, turquoise is added to the primary color palette of red, yellow, blue, white and black. The omission of the secondary colors (orange, purple and green) allows children to create these colors on their own. The children explore color mixing with and without intention, on the paper and in extra jars. As they mature, they begin to internalize and verbalize the process by which they create new color shades and hues. They experiment with brush strokes and discover a variety of effects. 4s often are more interested in process than product when painting. They may begin with one shape and continue to paint over it to explore a new shape, image or color. Paint may be used to express a feeling or thought, to create designs, or to tell about an event or a story.
Clay gives young children a tactile sensory experience. It records and holds form as children manipulate it. 4s use their hands to pound, roll, pull, spread and pinch the clay. Children’s repeated exploration and experimentation with this medium becomes more intentional and often moves toward representational work in the 4s. Clay provides many opportunities for socializing, as children share stories and techniques for working with the material, pretend to cook or blast off to the moon, or enjoy chatting while they are pounding or pinching the clay. The primary and most versatile tools for clay work are the children’s hands. The use of their hands as tools helps to strengthen children’s fine motor skills. Children also benefit from direct interaction with the cool, soothing feel of the material. As small motor coordination increases, children are able to work with smaller pieces and add finer detail to their work.
The 4s’ use of paper and crayons is multi-faceted; children explore the materials in a wide range of ways. Their work can involve paper constructions, collage and dramatic play, as well as drawing, cutting, tracing, stapling, taping, tearing and folding. While using paper and crayons, many 4s choose to draw stories and books. 4s can also invent props, sets and costumes for their imaginative play. A set of clothes, a scary mask or a spyglass add to the utility and drama of their play at the tables or in the block area.
In the daily social interactions of the classroom, 4s become increasingly aware of the need to express their needs and desires verbally, and to be understood by others. As children’s facility with language becomes more sophisticated than at earlier ages, they are increasingly able to experience the satisfactions of the give and take of conversations, sharing ideas and resolving conflicts. The adults in the classroom consistently model the language associated with these exchanges. The 4s program and materials offer multiple opportunities for strengthening and enriching verbal skills as children interact, engage in dramatic play and relate experiences.
4s’ language and literacy development is further supported through books. Children are read to daily from picture books and, during rest, chapter books are read aloud. Exposure to poetry, fiction, non-fiction and rhymes make for a balanced and varied literacy experience. When working with paper and crayons, some children begin to practice writing words and letters. Graphs, charts, trip books, inter-school mail, letter writing and lists in the classroom help children to see the practical purposes of print and many are inspired to make their own attempts at writing. Children at this age also begin to enjoy dictating stories to teachers; however, the range of skills and interests can vary widely. To facilitate this process, letter, sound and language games that are a part of the 4s program serve to expose children to letter-sound relationships and phonemic awareness.
Math and science are woven into the 4s program as young children use the basic materials to invent, explore and experiment. For example, children experience the concepts of balance and weight in their clay and block constructions. The 4s also use the blocks and paint to explore patterning and design concepts. The fractional relationship of the blocks to each other invites children’s play with fractional substitutions in their work; the dependability of these relationships creates many opportunities for thoughtful problem-solving. The program also promotes learning in science and math through a variety of manipulatives, games and planned activities. Math concepts that are a part of the 4s program include sorting, classifying, comparing, patterns, counting, one-to-one correspondence, measurement and data collection (graphing). Scientific explorations are often initiated by discoveries made by the children and take shape as the children’s curiosity evolves. For example, a seed, leaf or insect found on the Roof leads to further inquiry and research. 4s often embark on a study of a living thing and its life cycle and habitat, for example, painted lady butterflies. Emphasis is put on making observations, predictions and connections about the environment and the natural world. Books, neighborhood trips and visits with the Science teacher support the 4s’ scientific studies.
Singing and making music are embraced at different times during the school day in the 4s program. Children routinely sing songs they remember from their history at C&C as well as enjoying new songs that connect specifically to the individual Group identity. Teachers also incorporate songs in languages other than English as a vehicle to celebrate how people communicate in different ways in the C&C community, NYC and in the world.