Kindergarten and first-grade children come to Prairie Creek eager to embrace their first elementary school experiences. The beauty of this age group is that they are willing to try new things, with enthusiasm! Our teachers skillfully guide the beginning kindergartner who may be struggling to control the impulse to roll on the rug, as he or she becomes the confident, competent first grader whose nose is always in a book.
To accomplish this, Prairie Creek’s 60 kindergarten and first-grade students combine in three classrooms—the Chickadees, the Doves, and the Nuthatches. Our time is full of learning, creating, and relating. Throughout our days, children are given many chances to make choices about their learning. In these three classrooms, as in the school as a whole, we value cooperation and working together.
A walk through the day
Morning Meeting is a daily opportunity for children to get to know one another deeply. Each child is encouraged to speak confidently to the group, and to listen respectfully to others. We greet each other by name, sing, and share about what is important to us. Confidence grows through this process, and children feel safe to say, "I have a question about that" or "I don't understand."
Kindergarten and first graders love books, and have many opportunities to read and explore books throughout the day. Teachers read aloud to children frequently, modeling the strategies that good readers use. Children enjoy a quiet reading time each day and read with the teacher one-on-one regularly to receive individualized reading instruction. Prairie Creek has a large selection of leveled books, and teachers match children with books that are "just right" for them. Children may work individually, or in pairs doing a partner read. A group of children or a whole class may choose to bring a favorite book to life by acting it out in front of parents and K-1 schoolmates at Prairie Creek’s weekly All School Gathering. The K-1 "Book in a Bag" program encourages our young readers to bring a book home every day to read with their family.
Math Workshop is a productive and lively time when children work together to solve problems, design and build structures, and manipulate numbers. They are encouraged to ask questions and share ideas about their math thinking. Here, too, working cooperatively is valued. It’s not unusual to see a buddy pair venturing out and about in the school building with a clipboard and pencil in hand, finding and recording patterns or counting quantities.
During Writers’ Workshop, children are supported as they learn the skills they’ll need to become writers. Kindergartners may start out drawing a picture and labeling it with a single beginning sound. By the end of first grade, most children are writing sentences, stories, and whole books. The writing task for the day often is related to our current theme. Children are encouraged to share their work and talk about their process with the class by sitting in the Author's Chair. Children rarely decline this opportunity to show and share their work, and confidence continues to build!
K-1s join the whole school outside for recess every day. After the meal, the Chickadees, Doves, and Nuthatches enjoy a quiet reading time called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) in their classrooms. Learning continues with Art, Music, and Spanish one afternoon each week; expanded reading, writing, math, and theme work; and time for children to choose their own learning activities. A frequent favorite one on Friday afternoons is the Friday Ramble, when children and teachers go exploring on our grounds and throughout the neighborhood.
Often, our K-1 work together revolves around a theme. Ideas for themes come from the interests of the children, the ideas of the teachers, and the skills and talents of the parents who regularly join our classrooms. It starts with the spark of an idea, and grows, in sometimes surprising directions from the questions and interests of the children. Reading, writing, and math integrate into our themes, so that students practice these skills in meaningful ways.
The Starlings (now called the Nuthatches) did a recent theme in which they read about buildings around the world (which brought them into some geographical explorations), investigated the geometrical shapes involved in buildings, then built various structures with a variety of materials (toothpicks and marshmallows, paint cards, playing cards, paper plates), made a child-sized hut out of rolled-up newspapers, and visited interesting buildings in downtown Minneapolis (via light-rail train). Each child chose a favorite building and made his or her own version. The final buildings were on display for parents and the rest of the school in a culminating event.
The Chickadees did a Dr. Seuss theme in which they read lots of Seuss literature, practiced drawing and writing Seuss-style, creating their own Seuss-like characters and books, and finally practiced and performed a play of one of Dr. Seuss' books at an All School Gathering for peers and parents.
The Doves did an eclectic Communications theme that took all sorts of turns and directions: they read the book Flat Stanley and made similar flat versions of themselves, and in keeping with the book wrote letters and sent them to friends and relatives all over the world; correspondents sent back information about their home area, which got the Doves going on a study of maps of the world. They hosted a visit from a deaf person and learned some sign language, and then studied blindness and learned their names in Braille. They visited the Northfield Long Term Care Center and sang for the elder folks, then read books to them; later, several residents visited the classroom in return. They constructed telephones out of cups and string, and did some field study of animal communication at the Minnesota Zoo. The theme ended with a Communications Fair at school, in which children did skits and displayed all of their work along with the letters and other materials that came back with their Flat People.
And probably everyone's favorite recent theme: Pioneers. The children dressed like American pioneers, and learned to make butter, paper, marble bags, and pioneer toys. They learned pioneer songs—“Oh My Darling, Clementine” was the favorite, because it's so sad. All three classes visited the Dakota Heritage Village just up the road in Farmington, to see what pioneer life was like in those days. They learned circle dances, read lots of books about pioneers, and wrote journals from the perspective of pioneer children.
When a new kindergartner comes to school, she or he will be paired up with an older Cubby Buddy. The older child takes great pride in helping the younger child discover the “Prairie Creek Way.” Together they solve smaller problems, like tricky shoelaces, and larger problems, like how to figure out how many books we have in our classroom.
Students are also paired up with a weekly Bird Buddy. This is usually an older student from another classroom. The Buddies read together on Friday mornings, and then walk to All School Gathering and sit together. This pairing gives children of different ages and from different classrooms a chance to get to know each other on a deeper level. The result is a feeling of belonging and a lot of friendly "hellos" in the hallways at Prairie Creek.
By the end of a school year the kindergartners are ready to be teachers of the “Prairie Creek Way" to next year's incoming class. The first graders have become independent learners who’ve mastered the skills necessary to move up to the second- and third-grade classrooms. It is a beautiful cycle to behold!