At Westbrook, our teachers use a unique, nature-based curriculum in which each child takes an active role in his or her education. The dynamic nature of the Westbrook curriculum is based upon daily rhythms that provide structure that answers the child’s need for predictability, while remaining open to what emerges between the child, the teacher, and the environment. In this way, a sudden rain, the sound of an approaching wind, or the just noticed unfolding of spring leaves can provide spontaneous teaching and learning moments between teacher and child within any given day.
Each day starts with unstructured outdoor play. During this time, the child can also choose to participate in a work activity with the teacher such as tending the garden or shoveling snow. The class is then brought together for a short circle time, where we discuss the day’s main activity and assign jobs such as line leader, teacher’s helper and snack helpers. We then head out to the forest trail for an opening game and our main activity, such as a scavenger hunt, creating woodland art in the Goldsworthy tradition, or identifying animal tracks. Then it is time for washing up and enjoying our wholesome, organic snack. After snack, the children are divided up into small groups and engage in activities designed to fulfill the Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards in a natural and playful way. The class then comes together for Storytime to hear the teacher tell a seasonal nature story. With the time we have left, we play a short game and then join together for our gratitude circle and our Goodbye Song.
Our holistic, child-centered curriculum nurtures the child across all domains of development. Westbrook provides the perfect educational setting for language development and for nurturing the young child’s emerging understanding of mathematics and science.
Mathematics is an integral aspect of daily experience in the nature-based curriculum. Our teachers guide the young child to develop a beginning understanding of mathematics through work and play. For example, children love to collect objects such as flowers, sticks and stones. Their collections can be categorized by kind and ordered according to length, color, weight, or other attribute. If the child constructs something from his collection, he will choose the object appropriate to the needs of his construction. With respect to counting, a child setting the table must first count the number of children present just as she sees the teachers do several times a day.
A teacher might ask a child to pick 12 flowers or 20 berries from the garden for the snack table. Similarly, a child can measure himself against a growing sunflower to understand relative height and the growth of the flower over time. She can use her hand or a stick as a unit of measurement. Putting units of measurement end to end, the child creates a new measurement of added length. With the teacher’s guidance, these experiences give the child an emergent, intuitive understanding of multiplication and division. Each sensorimotor experience builds on the next to deepen the child’s understanding and lay the foundation for future academic work with mathematics in elementary school.
The quality of the child’s preschool education affects the quality and complexity of the child’s developing verbal expression. If, as in many classrooms, the daily activities become routine, the language also becomes routine, as the same expressions and vocabulary are recycled day after day. At Westbrook, the children’s senses are awakened to the continually changing varieties of experience in nature. When their attention is drawn to a bird’s singing, to squirrels scrabbling up and down an old tree, or to a sunlit clearing in the woods, there arises within the child a desire to express complex thoughts and feelings that come from full participation with the living world.
Our teachers nurture the child’s enthusiasm for increasingly complex verbal expression through the art of storytelling, reading, puppetry, poetry and song, nature games, and dialogue and conversation. French songs are included as a foreign language component to our circle time. The children begin to gain knowledge of print and its uses through learning the alphabet, word recognition games, writing, and identifying symbols and signs.
At Westbrook, the child is a full participant with his environment. Through intimate interaction with nature, the child gains a detailed understanding of cause and effect, enabling increasingly sophisticated problem solving, and an intuitive understanding of science. Children are given field bags, magnifying glasses, collection cups, nets, and measuring tapes to explore the natural environment in greater detail. The child, through his exposure to animals including frogs, dragonflies, crayfish, birds, squirrels and chipmunks, begins, with the teacher’s guidance, to develop an understanding of animal classification, stages of growth and the circle of life. The variety in nature gives the child the opportunity to compare materials according to transparency, flexibility and strength, and use these appropriately for various projects. The effects of the weather on the environment are experienced first hand as the child is out before, after, and sometimes during in a variety of (safe) weather conditions.
Magnifying glasses of varying sizes and strengths, binoculars, prisms, measuring tapes, magnets, and balance scales with weights are made available for our young explorers inside the classroom as well. During small group activities, a teacher guides children in a variety of activities designed to further their scientific understanding.