Thematic Approach

ALG Uses a Thematic Approach to Learning

At ALG teachers know that for social studies to make sense to young children, you start closest to home; you start with self and family and then you begin to ripple outwards. Every year then, we anchor our learning through first studying home and family and then moving increasingly outward to studying our community.

As children heard stories, sang songs and dramatized stories about family, we talked a lot about how families help each other and work together. Now as you may know, talking to kids about an abstract idea is one (not super effective) thing and giving them an opportunity to experience it is another, much richer learning experience.

So children were given many opportunities to both explicitly and directly as well as indirectly get closer to these big ideas of working together.

Working with a material such as blocks, that invites, and in many cases requires, collaboration, gives children opportunities to practice the negotiation and sharing as a natural, integral part of the experience rather than a direct lesson on sharing.

Collaboration for our youngest children might look like companionably sharing space and materials for a few minutes, no small feat. While groups are roughly by age, we do try to have some range in development within each group so that, for example, children with an expanded capacity for skills like communication and negotiation are able to support their peers.

Children who have been together for a while and have experience working together are able to verbalize both a common goal and begin to plan to work towards it together.

Our oldest children, some of whom are in their third year at ALG, are able to work together for a sustained time and build elaborate structures that require a high level of communication, impulse control, and spatial and mathematical reasoning. The red group worked for an entire morning constructing an enormous, elaborate series of homes.

No matter the particular content of any study, whether it’s family or transportation or trash, communication and learning how to work together are essential threads in the fabric of our daily life together, and making sure children have lots of space and opportunity to practice these skills is paramount.

In Art, children worked on making leaves that would frame our family photos on our family tree. Hands grew stronger as children ripped and cut paper and made art.

Children then used a hammer and nail to make a hole in their family leaf picture for hanging and hung their leaf on the wire “family” tree. Most delighted in seeing their family and the families of their friends. Every child also sat with Melissa, one on one, and looked at their family picture and told a story about their family. All of those stories are now in a book in the library and you can often find children sitting and leafing through the book.

For literacy, children told their own stories and listened to many, many stories about all kinds of families. Oral language is the foundation for later reading and writing and so it is essential that teachers immerse children in opportunities for storytelling, dramatic play, and listening and talking. Children here at ALG always have a range of methods and materials to access a story. They might first hear about it in a book and then later play it out with puppets and then again dramatize it with Pickett or watch a teacher play it out like a show.

As we talked about families and communities helping each other, children were invited to help cook for different ALG families who had new babies. The green group made biscuits, the yellow group made muffins and the red group made soup and also got a chance to engage in real and meaningful literacy as they wrote an accompanying card.

We sang the songs Lean on Me and This Little Light of Mine and talked about how at ALG when we help each other we call it, “shining your light.” Over several days at circle time we talked about ways large and small that we can help each other–like helping someone zip their lunch box.

We worked together in our ALG garden planting vegetables to eat and flowers for the bees and to make our space beautiful. Children experienced the work it takes to make something grow and to nurture living things.

Likewise, we learned about the animals in our school community and what they need to eat and how to best take care of them. Every week now children dig in the compost bin to find worms for our toad Big Friendly and carefully pet and handle our Guinea Pig, Enano, our rabbit, Coco, and our corn snake, Buttercup Bob Snakey.

Although we have now moved our studies out even further into our neighborhood community as we take trips to Each Peach Market and The Coupe, our essential questions and practices remain about building a kind, resilient and collaborative community while we facilitate children’s senses of wonder, curiosity, independence and togetherness.