The Moorestown Friends School Early Childhood Program

Sustained Exploration Motivates Preschool, Prekindergarten, and Kindergarten Students

We all can cite an example of when our preschool, prekindergarten, or kindergarten aged children have immersed themselves in a single activity for a long period of time, deeply engrossed in their exploration.  Perhaps they are building a tall building with blocks, creating a tall structure with ornamentation; perhaps they are engaged in a dramatic game, dressing in costumes and developing an elaborate storyline; or perhaps they are in the backyard, digging under rocks and looking for new elements of nature.  In all of these scenarios, and countless others, we celebrate children’s engagement.

There is value to sustained exploration. When children are invested in their work, they are motivated to go farther, find nuance, and challenge themselves to learn more. As adults we can capture this excitement, instigating learning as well as sharing in the joy of discovery. This can be called Project Based Learning.

What Does Project-Based Learning Look Like in the Classroom?

As an educator, I strive to capture and promote sustained learning in my Preschool classroom.  This starts with listening.  I listen to the ideas and interactions of children, trying to understand what questions they have about the world.  I treat mystery as opportunity, and ask the preschoolers to tell me more.  I calibrate my lessons and relationships with children’s learning to reflect the complex questions that they are asking.  The goal is not to disseminate my knowledge of a subject, but rather to instigate children’s thinking so that they may find new possibilities and new questions.  Through this process – a deeply reflective one – I attempt to position myself as close to the ideas of my preschool students as possible so that I may learn and collaborate with them.

Sustained Exploration Moorestown Mapping Activity

Sustained Exploration Moorestown Mapping Activity

It would be easy to dismiss this thinking by citing the need to satisfy learning standards and developmental benchmarks, but I believe that these can be accomplished (and indeed are done so the best) by incorporating them into project learning.  I cite an example of my colleague Caitlin Sweeney’s second grade class here at Moorestown Friends School.  During a unit on mapping, Caitlin and her students engaged in a project to map Moorestown’s Main Street, the neighborhood near our school.  The students engaged in multiple levels of research, investigating Moorestown’s Main Street in person, revisiting it through Google maps and the language of digital technology, and ultimately creating a model of Moorestown’s Main Street in their classroom.  Caitlin reflected on how the investigation “named our place in the world” for “the collective classroom community.”  The children integrated mapping terminology into their study, an important academic skill as part of the unit, which was brought to life through this project-based investigation.  The work took many weeks, and according to Caitlin built resiliency, honed details, and fostered persistence.  In this example, we see how learning became a deep investment on the part of children and teachers together.  

On January 19 the Beginnings at MFS program will host an informational parent night at MFS for preschool, prekindergarten, and kindergarten families from Moorestown and throughout South Jersey. Prekindergarten Teacher Paige Bloom and I will present project-based learning in more detail and how it looks here at MFS.  If you would like participate, please contact the MFS Admissions Office via email at admiss@mfriends.org or by phone at (856) 914-4426.

Beginnings at MFS is the Moorestown Friends School Early Childhood Program (Preschool, Prekindergarten, and Kindergarten). The Beginnings Blog is intended as a helpful tool for parents and guardians of young children, examining important ways in which children find meaning, in their lives and in their education.

Author Garrett McVaugh is the Beginnings at MFS Half-Day Preschool Teacher. Along with his Teaching Assistant Pauline Williams, he guides some of the youngest MFS students through their first year of school. A graduate of Haverford College, Garrett has been an early childhood educator for over a decade. Prior to MFS, he was a teacher at Preschool of the Arts in Madison, WI. Prior to living in Wisconsin, Garrett spent eight years teaching at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool in Washington, DC.