Big Ideas for Little People

Story by Jessica Crowe Whilden ’00 // Photo by Sarah Jane Tart

It’s an exciting time in the Preschool! On the heels of extending the kindergarten school day, the faculty has been working tirelessly to engage our youngest learners in thoughtful conversations and meaningful activities about belonging to and participating in both a local and a global community.

While there are many wonderful parts of our current social studies curriculum, we are shifting our focus from specific country studies to larger, more inclusive units of study. We will guide our instruction by thinking about big ideas such as our community, global citizenship, cultural celebrations, goods and services, and our environment. And using the Understanding by Design framework, where standards, programs and assessments are aligned to achieve students’ understanding, our young students can focus on making meaning of those big ideas — not just the facts they should know — as they learn about their world.

As a DA alumna myself, I know that it can feel challenging when a school decides to move away from some of its longstanding traditions such as the Mexican Fiesta and English Tea Party. This shift, however, will allow us to create new traditions that are deeply rooted in children’s choices and are guided by interests that reflect the students in our own classrooms. Students will learn about the relationship between geography and people, and how that might relate to their own families or their classmates in ways that create empathy beyond the classroom.

Our new social studies curriculum will continue to be developmentally appropriate and will allow flexibility and fresh ideas from the faculty. We will continue to integrate social studies across all disciplines, including Spanish, art, music, literacy and cooking.

To begin the school year, we will invite families and friends from our community into the classroom for sharing. We will share morning meetings with older and younger classmates and work to develop deep relationships with our school community.

As the units progress, children will rotate through classes to learn a skill, game, dance, song or custom. Interwoven into these units will be a community service project, field trip and a culminating museum day. With our new curriculum we are afforded tremendous opportunities to collaborate and deepen our cross-divisional and community partnerships.

We will provide opportunities for students to showcase their work and we will base our celebrations around those showcases. Celebrations will include a community-wide picnic, a DA mini-Olympics, tastes of the world and an environmentally friendly farm-to-table event.

Taking a broader approach to teaching social studies allows us to consider the students in our classroom and community, as well as the events happening in our country and world, and plan our teaching accordingly. While many of us will look back fondly on the All-American Lunch and the Kenyan Feast, be certain that changes coming to the kindergarten social studies curriculum have the students’ excitement and engagement at the forefront of our planning as we strive to find creative and relevant ways to teach the foundational skills for moral, happy and productive lives.