As you all might remember, we’ve written before about Germantown Friends School’s Early Childhood Program, and how the age-old (but extremely timely!) Quaker tenets — Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship — are baked right into the curriculum.
While it’s probably not so unusual for preschoolers and pre-kindergartners to talk about these ideas and learn the basic concepts, one of the things that sets GFS apart is how integrated these values are with everyday learning — and in fact, how integrated all of the studies are, even for the very littlest learners. Here, social studies mesh with art, which connect with math, literacy, concepts of peace and community, and so forth. “We’re planting the seeds of understanding that we’re all interconnected, as are all kinds of learning,” says GFS Early Childhood Director Sarah McMenamin. “There’s nothing that happens in isolation.”
So, for example, if we’re talking about teaching four-year-olds to think about their role in the community, the lesson goes well beyond reading a book. It’s woven through a series of projects that the children do throughout the year, like, for instance, in a self-portrait unit that allows the little ones to think about self-identification. (“Who am I?” What makes me me?”) The teachers talk about faces, facial symmetry, and features; the children learn to mix paint colors to create new colors that match their own skin. Then they draw themselves, and they paint their self-portraits with the colors they created.
That focus on self soon expands outward to help the children shift from thinking about their own identities to considering those of the people around them. In the “Child of the Day” unit, for example, the kids conduct little interviews with, yes, the designated child of the day. (“What’s your favorite story?” “What’s your favorite color?” “Do you like swimming or painting?”) Then, the children work together to create an illustrated biography of the featured classmate using the information they have gathered.
Throughout the project, Sarah says, the kids are developing many different skills — social studies, artistic discovery, language development, and understanding the difference between questioning and commenting …for starters. “And, of course, they learn about each other, and develop a way to communicate with one another.”
Meanwhile, the next phases of the project include thinking about what kinds of questions the kids would like to ask the adults in the school community (the school chef, the nurse, the head of security), and then they interview those folks. “And we also talk about how the school is a microcosm of the larger world around us,” Sarah says. “So much of this is learning about our similarities and our differences, and what makes our communities special.”
It would be easy for me to go on here about other cool cross-curricular projects the little ones get to do. (Like how, for instance, as they explore the idea of their place in the community throughout the year, the kids get a chance to dabble in everything from grid-mapping to photography, or how the teachers celebrate the diversity in their class by having the students’ family members come in and talk about their own traditions.) At this point, though, you probably get the general idea of just how thoughtful and creative the learning experiences are for GFS preschoolers and pre-k’ers.
“The beauty of cross-curricular learning like this is that we’re creating learners who understand that they can explore and discover information virtually anywhere,” Sarah says. “Learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and so much of what we do is interrelated.”
Want to know more about the early education program, or GFS in general? You can visit the site for the Center City Campus (which is in Old City, in the Curtis building, and opened just last year) or the Main Campus in Germantown.