By Theresa Howard
Learning isn't always academic. With a new curriculum in place for Pre-K classes this year learning is interactive, engaging and fun. As part of a curriculum overhaul by the Hoboken Board of Education, Dr. Anthony Petrosino, who is assistant to the superintendent and responsible for implementing a new curriculum district wide, more than 500 children have a new curriculum in place: Tools of the Mind.
After a year of studying its effectiveness, Petrosino and a cast of many helped introduce it to all Pre-K classrooms at Brandt, Calabro and Wallace schools at the start of the school year. Kindergarten will follow in the 2009 school year.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm at the Pre-K level for the Tools of the Mind so we are running with it," says Petrosino. "We decided it would be best overall to do a year of additional training for kindergarten and more preparation for incoming students so that next year's kindergarten classes will have one year of Tools of the Mind under their belts."
The curriculum is designed to optimize learning by having children shape and choose some of their daily activities and control their own behavior.
"All of the recent research they've done with brain studies show that kids do so much better academically because they plan a problem, work through it and evaluate it," says Jessica Peters, supervisor of early childhood. "Everything is based on motivation, play and keeping the kids interested."
The daily routine incorporates counting, days of the week, weather observations, a mystery question of the week that helps children identify their own names and answer a question and dance and song - all led by the teachers and teacher assistants. Additionally, each day children choose reading partners and take turns reading to each other, as best they can, of course, at three- and four-years-old.
And since New Jersey state requires two hours of play time, children get one hour of play either in the gym or outside in the park. The second hour of play is fulfilled when a child chooses from one of six centers - dramatic play, blocks, science, art, literature and manipulation - the building kind not the emotional kind. During that one hour, a child must play in that zone, identify a goal or a project and complete it. For instance, a child can say they want to paint a house in the art area or bake a cake in the kitchen. Teachers help them meet those goals and stick it out through completion. And each child can paint a picture of a house however they want. Apparently, our daughter sees a purple window and a purple dress as virtually the same.
A special bonus is that the curriculum has strong application for children's with special needs and is being tested in the special education classes at the Wallace School.
"This works for inclusionary programs for children with special needs," says Peters. "All the structure are the same and kids are doing the same activities but moving at their own pace and doing it in their own way."
All teachers were trained throughout the summer and will get three additional days of training throughout the school year. Parents also got an introductory course on the new curriculum the week before school began and Peters says more than 100 families attended.
"We may do another on in November," she says.