A pioneer in Twos classes, Grace Church School offers a nurturing environment for children’s first school experience without parents. The children are divided into four classes: Morning Young Twos and Morning Old Twos, and two Afternoon Twos classes. In a carefully planned step-by-step process, the Twos begin to trust their teachers and socialize with peers while gently separating from their parents. In the classroom, the children are encouraged to explore their own particular interests at their own pace. They are busy with art projects, building, pretend play, circle-time, stories, singing and music-making, movement, and outdoor or gym play. Cooperative play skills, self-confidence and independence evolve naturally as the school year progresses. Children become active members of the classroom, creating bonds of trust and joy in learning.
There are four classes for this age group: Morning Young Threes, Morning Old Threes and two Afternoon Threes classes. At this age, a child’s emerging language and socialization skills lead to a greater understanding of being an individual within a group. Play areas in the classroom encourage cooperative learning and sharing. Threes do art and science projects, and are busily engaged in block building and dramatic play. They sing with our music specialist and spend part of each class on the roof playground, the gym or in the school garden. They are active participants in exploring the School library.
In the Threes, the children also begin to play in a way that lays the foundation for academic learning. The teachers read to the children daily and encourage them to “read” books on their own. The selection of children’s literature is changed often and used to complement classroom projects. The children develop beginning math skills by using Cuisenaire rods, Unifix cubes, blocks and geoboards; they explore natural science by using magnets and magnifying glasses and experiencing the sensory elements of water and sand. They love to grow seeds in the science corner. Teachers encourage the children to express their thoughts and emotions; group dynamics result in animated discussions of ideas and feelings.
The two Fours classes—Young Fours and Old Fours—are designed to provide the children with the optimal combination of structure, independence and nurturing as they build their social, physical, and academic skills.
Fours are ready to learn to take turns, listen and participate. They form a community as they share ideas, make plans for the day and discuss classroom projects. The curriculum themes often follow the seasons and holidays, including a school-wide Chinese New Year celebration. Special projects follow the children’s growing interests and curiosity about the world around them. During the year, they explore the world of Native Americans, life in the Middle Ages, Chinese and Japanese cultures, and the New York subway system (the Old Fours build a subway car they can actually sit in). At this age, the children are able to hone their knowledge of letters. With a “Letter of the Week,” the Fours move through the alphabet, identifying letters and their sounds, brainstorming words, and decorating and tracing the letters. Stories and projects, including cooking, reinforce the week’s letter. The Fours keep journals in which they dictate their thoughts, stories and dreams, and which they illustrate with colorful pictures. The journals build self-confidence and self-esteem as the children grow comfortable expressing themselves to teachers or parent volunteers. By year’s end, the Fours are ready and eager for the challenges of kindergarten.
The Fives/Kindergarten program is the culmination of the Grace Church School experience. It is a rich year of consolidation, achievement and preparation for the elementary school years. Even as they continue to “learn by playing,” the children begin to focus on the concepts of reading, writing and math. Our Fives/Kindergartners also take French and classes in movement and music. The School’s library adjoins the classroom and is a rich resource for the children’s curious minds.
Of paramount importance is nurturing the children’s emerging literacy, which we do in many different ways. The children work on letter sounds and the phonetics of simple consonant/vowel/consonant words. By listening to taped stories while following along with a book, the children learn to match written and spoken words. Using “Big Books,” a concept from New Zealand, teachers read a storybook, then distribute miniature versions of the book that the children illustrate. (At home, they proudly read and show off their books.) The Fives/Kindergartners start their own writing as well. In addition to dictating their thoughts and feelings for their journals, they write their own stories. These phonetically written pages are dated and kept in each child’s portfolio to be shared with the class and their parents.
Using programs from the University of Chicago, our students develop an understanding of mathematical relationships such as sorting, classifying, patterning and graphing. We build competency in number concepts using specially designed math materials like Unifix cubes, Cuisenaire rods, pattern blocks, snap blocks and calendars. Math is also integrated into classroom activities such as block play, cooking and science.
Even as they are developing specific school preparatory skills, the children are absorbed in projects that give them a greater understanding of themselves and the world. Sometimes changes in our immediate environment determine the course of study: the end of summer leads to an investigation of animal camouflage and metamorphosis; snow leads to an exploration of crystals and evaporation. The end of daylight savings time prompts a study of nighttime, nocturnal animals and night jobs; the study of the water cycle includes a discussion of how different cultures transport water. The children learn about bones and the human body, early American life and worldwide cultures. Because we believe that children’s experiential learning is the most effective kind of learning, we take trips to the Staten Island Children’s Museum; the Prospect Park Audubon Center; the Richmondtown Restoration in Staten Island; and the South Street Seaport.
This is a special year for the children, because as the Fives/Kindergartners they are the leaders of the school. They truly enjoy their stature as the oldest children and take pride in setting an example for the younger ones. They are the proud illustrators of our Friday’s Paper. They leave the school with a great sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. They often return as alums to see teachers and relive their nursery-school days. Their friends made at Grace Church School are often friends forever.
In weekly classes with our movement specialist, the Fours and Fives build spatial awareness, learn about team playing and hone their gross motor skills. They practice ball handling, games, basic motor skills, gymnastics and dance.
Our goal is to promote the children’s self-confidence and joy in movement and lay the foundation for a lifelong interest in physical activity.
The School’s music program seeks to inspire the love and joy of singing. Weekly classes include a diverse repertoire of songs celebrating many cultures, daily life in our city, and various holidays and celebrations that occur during the school year.
At the Fives/Kindergarten level, the children learn basic musical skills and the different instruments of the orchestra, and also gain a sense of what it is to be part of a musical group.
The award-winning Hope Library is a place set aside for the collecting of books for the young and for the pure enjoyment of reading. It is a place which sanctifies books, and is sun-filled, cosy, and welcoming.
The librarian acquires and organizes books according to the interests of young children and the curricula of the classes. Our automated system uses Follett’s Destiny program, specifically designed for school libraries. Our librarian has customized the system to suit the needs of the School.
The children’s weekly visits to the library include listening to carefully chosen stories read by the librarian, engaging in lively discussions, and taking time to browse and curl up on a cushioned window seat with a good book. Early on the children learn that the library has an organization and the books are reliably found on the same shelves visit after visit. The two year old dives into the basket of board books. The young Four, who cannot get enough of books about trains, makes a beeline for the transportation section. The curious kindergartener searches “Animals” for a book about bulls to find out if bulls really don’t like the color red and why. The emerging reader is sometimes drawn to “Early Readers.” Research is on-going, age appropriate and aided by the librarian. The classroom curriculum is also supported by the library. Teachers find books on varied topics—such as new babies, Japan, holidays, trees, or sharks—to add to their classroom collections.
At Grace Church School books are everywhere. But the Hope Library is a special place where children enjoy visiting and listening to good stories, a place for curiosity and growing minds. Our goal is that our children will love books and find reading pleasurable throughout their lives.
In the Five/Kindergarten, the children’s horizon is extended to include French. We believe that in learning the French language, the children will learn to appreciate how other people think and live. The French program meets twice a week for forty-five minute sessions in half groups. During the classes, children are introduced to numbers, colors, days of the week, the weather, parts of the body and animals. The classes involve drama (including puppets), games, songs and chants, arts and crafts, the celebration of French customs and occasionally French cuisine (much of which they prepare themselves). The children learn an extraordinary amount over the course of the year, and many continue French as an extracurricular activity once in elementary school.