Preschool students in Stephanie Morris’s class have been enjoying a unit based on the theme of birthday celebrations. Three- and four-year-old students are writing invitations, wrapping presents, hosting make-believe parties, and making Play-Doh cupcakes and cakes. Through these activities, the preschoolers are learning content knowledge about the special occasion, and developing a number of skills along the way.
“As a teacher, I think about the growth that I want to see in my students by the end of the year,” said Ms. Morris. “I have specific learning goals for the classroom, important things that they need to understand, but there are a lot of ways to progress forward. So I take my cues from them. What are they letting me know that they want to find out about?”
A unit about birthdays was not a pre-planned unit in the curriculum, but Ms. Morris noticed a high level of interest in birthdays by observing her students during play time.
“I saw my students continually pretending it was their birthday so that led me to start thinking about how to associate their interests in my lessons,” said Ms. Morris. “I thought this would be a great theme as people are emotional, passionate, and invested in birthdays.”
To begin their studies, the class first created a brainstorming web, discussing what they knew about birthdays and what they were confused about. From there, Ms. Morris could design multiple projects and integrate developmentally appropriate activities to enhance learning.
“With each activity, the students were exploring and developing different abilities,” she said. “With wrapping presents, the children are wrapping classroom toys. They practice patience while folding, creasing, cutting, and taping the paper, working on their fine motor skills. There is also critical thinking involved in deciding how much paper will be needed to fully cover the object.”
Math is incorporated when putting together birthday cakes in the kitchen. Students begin to investigate fractions and understand the idea of size when sharing cake slices. Two principle lessons were 1) something whole can have separate parts while still being the same and 2) all portions do not have to be equal.
Special guests were also invited to share in the festivities with the preschoolers.
“I invited the Upper School language classes to come to our classroom to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to show the students how birthdays are celebrated differently around the world,” said Ms. Morris. “Additionally, each student was paired with a birthday buddy in the school (such as Head of School Larry Van Meter, teachers, and Upper School students) who would visit and read a birthday book together. It’s exciting to feel a special connection to others, and I wanted my students to understand MFS is a welcoming community and not just our classroom in the White Building. Exposing that idea to them in a safe classroom zone would help prepare them for next year.”