For more than forty years, the curriculum at St. Mark Preschool has been centered on the guiding principle that children learn through play.
Our developmentally appropriate program incorporates “best practices” from well-known early childhood curricular approaches, such as Reggio, Montessori and Waldkindergarten. In a collaborative effort, faculty and staff work together to create a curriculum that reflects current research in early childhood education and what we know about how young children learn, grow and develop. This flexible framework creates a well-differentiated program, supporting children’s individual needs and interests.
Multi-age education is a child-centered, researched based approach that considers the uniqueness of each child and encompasses all areas of their development. Multi-age programs do not try to fit the child to a pre-determined curriculum, but rather choose a broad-based curriculum to fit the needs of the child. Children in multi-age programs acquire social skills in meaningful context and develop broader communication skills. Multi-age programs provide a natural environment for pro-social behaviors such as sharing, helping and turn taking to develop and thrive.
At St. Mark Preschool we offer two, holistic, multi-age programs: “Early Explorers” for children ages 2 ½ through 4, and “Young Investigators” for children ages 3 ½ through kindergarten. (These age ranges are approximate since each child’s developmental progress is different.) Each program is designed to provide a safe and challenging environment, support authentic construction of knowledge and value each person as unique. Teachers in both programs use an interdisciplinary approach to develop learning centers, plan activities and guide project work that fosters growth in the areas of development: Physical, Spiritual, Social/Emotional, Cognitive, Language and Self-Help/Adaptive. Our programs are rich with opportunities for discovery and wonder.
Classroom Environment: “Home Away from Home”
Our child-centered classrooms are designed to be home-like, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. We believe that careful preparation of the classroom (Montessori) is an essential ingredient for the successful development of children and want our classrooms to reflect beauty and wonder (Reggio, Waldorf.) Careful attention is paid to cleanliness and preventing the spread of illness. Materials and surfaces are sanitized on a daily basis and more frequently if necessary. Teachers follow strict guidelines for hand washing.
We use learning centers and materials that are child-sized, organized and inviting (Reggio, Montessori, High Scope). The centers incorporate both seasonal themes and current project work. Materials are changed frequently and are reflective of the needs, interests and abilities of the children.
Project Based Learning
For young children, authentic learning experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Projects that involve the child in decision making, investigation and conclusions impact all areas of brain development, providing a framework for purposeful, creative exploration and self-motivated learning (Reggio, Project Approach). Our curriculum incorporates topical investigations that are selected, planned and guided by a child’s individual and collective interests. Teachers act as observers, researchers and recorders, facilitating the child’s work and providing support for the construction and execution of ideas.
Social Development and Discipline
Our holistic approach to learning centers on building community and creating a supportive environment that minimizes conflict and maintains developmentally appropriate limits and expectations (High Scope). We understand that disagreement, conflict and frustration are all part of the learning process. Teachers support children’s efforts to make choices, assume responsibility and acquire independence. Children learn to cope with set-backs without losing self-confidence (Montessori, Reggio). We strive to nurture “the whole child,” encouraging children to develop meaningful and authentic relationships with teachers and friends. Teachers and administrators model empathy, compassion, tolerance and respect for others, our school and the world around us, celebrating differences and valuing them equally. (Bank Street)
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Parents often ask which disciplinary technique or method we use at school. While there are certainly many to choose from, we do not believe that one particular disciplinary method or approach will work for every child. In fact, punishment of any kind is never an acceptable way to try to change a child’s behavior. St. Mark teachers are trained to treat ‘mistakes’ as teachable moments and to treat every child, at all times, with tenderness, dignity and respect.
We believe that every child, with the right guidance and coaching, can be successful in all areas of their development. We find that “100 chances” is never enough. Like athletes training to run a marathon, or swim competitively, children may need to hear a message over and over again before they are able to connect the areas of their development required to make a change in their behavior. Children, like adults, need opportunities to learn and grow from their mistakes. Jesus teaches us that forgiveness and grace are unconditional and without limit. We do not punish or humiliate children to get them ’to behave.’ We establish an atmosphere of unconditional love, grace and acceptance. In this way, children learn to extend this love and grace to themselves and to one another.
Early Literacy Instruction
Like a beautiful quilt or tapestry, St. Mark teachers weave a curriculum that is rich with opportunities for the development of logical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. Teachers engage children in the learning process with rich conversation, storybooks and age-appropriate activities that support phonological awareness and alphabet identification. Emergent reading and writing are encouraged and supported by a print-rich environment, well designed classroom libraries and the incorporation of writing materials into classroom learning centers. “Big Books” are used for shared reading experience and to introduce basic print concepts. Teachers seek to cultivate children’s natural enjoyment of books, songs, poems, rhymes and jingles. We believe that books are a part of the magic of childhood and with this in mind, provide ample opportunities for children to “curl up with a good book.