GCDS News - Magazine

Walk into the Lower Elementary School building and hang a left. Upon entering the well- organized Nursery and Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) classrooms, you will find our youngest students very, very busy—they are experimenting with materials, drawing, playing with blocks, and engaging in rich conversations with their teachers and classmates. 

To an untrained eye, the children may look like they are “just playing,” how-ever, they are actually in the process of continuous and exuberant inquiry. They are making connections, asking essential questions, and learning skills, both aca-demic and social, that will prepare them to be readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and artists. In addition, they are developing into collaborative, inclusive, and kind students, which will ensure their social-emotional success through their journey as Country Day students and into adulthood.

“Our Preschool program lays the foundation for everything that comes after,” says Trudy Davis, Head of the Lower Elementary Division. 

Mrs. Davis loves the daily ritual of seeing the children come to school every morning. “You see them running into school and they don’t stop running. They approach their classroom door with excitement, their teachers with love, and every task with eagerness.”

It is that excitement that is essential for learning, especially in the early years. “The enjoyment and safety the children feel fuels their curiosity and problem-solving instincts. It’s what keeps them wanting to learn.” 

When children work with building materials over several days to create a giant structure, they are building their gross motor control and developing their imagination, while learning mathematical and scientific concepts like counting, sorting, organizing, and balance. They are also learning about teamwork and persistence.

“When a building falls down, how does a child learn from that? How do you start again? We want to create an environment where children feel safe to take risks and see their mistakes as a learning opportunity,” says Mrs. Davis.

While this type of play may be unstructured, it is planned for, guided, and observed by experienced teachers.

“Teachers are very skilled and experienced with this age group. They under-stand the developmental stages the children are in and know how to challenge the children, provoke the right conversations, and ask and answer questions. They facilitate experiences across the different domains of learning,” says Mrs. Davis.

For example, you may see children playing with chopsticks by picking up beads and moving them from one container to another. While the activity may look like a game, the children are participating in a hands-on learning activity, practicing their fine motor skills and building the muscles in their fingers, which is essential for early writing. They are also making decisions about color and shape and are counting the beads and getting a numerical sense of objects moving from one group to another.

“Our goal is to increase their writing stamina from five minutes in Nursery to closer to one hour by the end of Kindergarten,” says Mrs. Davis. 

There is a lot of talk in schools about executive functioning skills, says Mrs. Davis. However, most of that conversation is happening in the later elementary and Middle School years. According to Mrs. Davis, that work starts in the early years at GCDS.

“Executive functioning skill-building really starts down here in Preschool. Our teachers are designing lessons and table activities that focus on self-regulation, task initiation, time management, organization, working memory and focus, and flexible thinking, all of those skills that they will need later on.”

GCDS Preschool children actively build their knowledge with their teachers by their side. “We know children are naturally curious,” says Mrs. Davis. “They ask a lot of questions, explore their environments, and have their own theories. We want them to know that their ideas are important and that we are listening.”

Mrs. Davis describes the power of student-led inquiry through a corn on the cob lesson. This fall the Nursery students learned about the end of summer and beginning of fall by exploring corn on the cobs. They examined what a cob looks like and wondered whether it is a living or nonliving object. They asked what hap-pens when you peel back the husk and see what is inside. After painting the cob, they observed the pattern it made and asked about the number of kernels each cob has. And of course, they ate them. 

“This lesson could have been a teacher showing the children the corn and telling them about all the parts inside,” says Mrs. Davis. “However, by leading their own inquiry and investigation, the children will reason and hypothesize. They will discuss their observations with teachers and classmates. The language that will come out of an activity like that will be richer and the children will be so much more invested in the lesson.”

“By the time Preschool students get to Kindergarten, they have all the skills in place to jump right in.”