In September 2016, we launched our Early Learning Program with Savannah Barker, now in her second year at Linden teaching junior and senior kindergarten. Savannah has a Masters in Child Study and Education from OISE and previously taught at Royal St. George’s College. She is passionate about creating hands-on learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, and integrates best practices for girls’ education into Linden’s inquiry-based kindergarten program. Learn more by exploring her blog. Last fall she was interviewed about her plans for launching a Kindergarten program at The Linden School.
Linden: Even though children can start Kindergarten as soon as they are three years and eight months old, many parents feel that their child is not yet ready for school. How can parents prepare their child and tell when they are ready for Kindergarten?
Savannah: Kindergarten is an important program for children between the ages of 4 and 6 to take part in, with emphasis on developing a sense of belonging and well-being, self-regulation abilities, literacy and math foundations, and problem-solving and inquiry behaviours. If parents have registered their child for a Kindergarten program, a great place to start preparing them is with their letters and numbers. Play games and sing songs to recognize and write letters, match letter sounds to letters, and play with rhyming words. As well, helping the child learn to write their name gives them a feeling of independence entering Kindergarten. The same ideas go for math—practice recognizing and writing numbers, and matching numbers of items to the written or said number is a good idea as well. Parents can also practice fine motor activities (cutting independently, tying shoes, zipping zippers) with students and I would definitely recommend practicing a proper pencil grip. The most important thing for parents to be doing at home is fostering a love of literacy, and reading with their children as much as possible!
Linden: What if a parent feels their child is not ready for full-day Kindergarten? Are half-day options available?
Savannah: Yes, we offer a half-day option as well. Your child will be participating in the same program as the rest of the students, just not in as much depth. As we are an inquiry-based program, the children direct the learning based on their ideas and interests, and your child would have this opportunity as well.
Linden: Tell us about your teaching style. How will you integrate Linden’s girl-centred approach in Kindergarten? Why are inquiry and play-based learning important in the early years?
Savannah: My teaching style is one where children are at the centre of the education and are actively involved in the learning. As a teacher I act as a facilitator, guiding children in certain directions, inviting them to explore materials and spaces inside and outside of the classroom, and supporting them in the ways that help them grow in a developmentally-appropriate nature. The Kindergarten program at Linden will be an inquiry- and play-based program, where children are invited to explore, discover, take risks, and dig deep into the learning. The children will be learning through hands-on experiences aimed at sparking their natural curiosity in the world around them. Collaboration among students and myself will also be at the centre of the learning because at Linden we know that building strong relationships and working together fosters more effective learning for girls. Play-based learning is key in the early years because it is through play that children come to understand their world.
Linden: Why do we focus on STEM in early learning?
Savannah: A focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the early years fosters the development of skills critical for the 21st century. Specifically, hands-on experiences within and outside of the classroom help children develop inquiry and problem-solving skills. The students in the early years program will explore STEM through building, the use of concrete materials, models, and visuals in mathematics, light play, sensory (e.g., sand and water) play, computer activities, integrated literacy, and more. By exposing young students to these fields, and connecting them to real life contexts, they will develop an understanding of how these concepts connect to their worlds in an integrated, not separated, way.
Linden: How do you plan to integrate technology instruction at the Kindergarten level?
Savannah: Like mathematics, literacy, science, or social studies, learning about technology will largely be integrated into the day through play—using new software, exploring and discovering different programs, testing out strategies, and developing theories about how technology works and can be used effectively. As with all of the other areas as well, small-group or one-on-one mini-lessons will occur based on each child’s different needs at the time. A large part of a play-based, inquiry-based program is being responsive not only to the students’ interests at the time, but also their stage in the learning process, scaffolding and supporting where necessary.
Linden: How do you encourage creativity and foster a love for the arts at the Kindergarten level?
Savannah: Arts will be integrated into the learning throughout the day as a way for students to express their knowledge and understanding about the world around them. The Reggio Emilia approach is grounded in a belief of the “hundred languages of children”, and encourages educators to invite students to communicate their theories in as many ways possible—painting, writing, clay, charcoal, drama, role-playing, music, speaking, wire, fabric, etc. In the early years program, although there will be scheduled art time for focused exploration of new materials and mediums, there will also be space in the classroom to work with rich and varied materials, and to choose to work at the art centre during the day.
Linden: What are you most excited about as you launch the new Kindergarten program at Linden?
Savannah: I am most excited about three things—bringing together the best practices in Kindergarten education to create and launch a unique program, becoming a part of the wonderful, supportive and passionate Linden community, and meeting the students who I’ll have the pleasure of learning with for the next 1-3 years!