By Cindy Shaw, Lower School Head, and Laurel Shockley, Assistant Lower School Head
Where will your child go to kindergarten?
The right program for your child is one where he or she will be happy.
Randolph students are happy at school, and we know that happiness is essential to learning. The National Association of Independent Schools, of which Randolph is a member, recently shared this article about research that correlates happiness to academic success. In addition to creating a happy place to learn, these are 12 of the practices and features of the kindergarten year that distinguish Randolph’s program and build a strong foundation for academic and future success:
Senior Buddies help our youngest students take the first step. This yearlong relationship with our oldest students is a Randolph tradition that marks two important launching points, the kindergartner’s entry into Randolph at Opening Convocation and the senior’s impending graduation at Closing Convocation. These relationships bring joy to both grades. Buddies often stay in touch after graduation.
The Lower School library is one of the first places many kindergartners begin their school day and bookbags are where their journey to becoming independent readers begins. From about 7:40, they come in to pick out a new bookbag from a selection of 100 bags, each with three books offering new books and classics, poetry and nonfiction.
Lower School Librarian Kim Simpson started the bookbag program when she took over the library in 1988. “I noticed that the boys checked out books on war, the girls picked Disney books based on movies. I knew I could select books that were more expansive to their worlds and more appropriate to their reading levels,” she says.
Parents keep track of these books by the way they were accessed: read to, read with, read independently. When the students are reading more independently, they are ready to move up to selecting their own book from the right reading zone, with personalized recommendations from Mrs. Simpson.
The Lower School uses NeuroNet, a research-based program designed to help students develop fluency and automaticity in essential reading, math and handwriting skills. NeuroNet facilitates learning through movement. The approach is based on brain research about how neural networks are configured and strengthened. Rhythmic exercise is combined with drills in academic skills so that certain skills become automatic -- think about learning to drive; the essential skills and steps you needed to master at first are now automatic. Once skills become automatic, the brain is freed up to move on to higher level processes.
All Lower School students take art with Mr. Howse. Kindergarten art classes meet twice in every six-day cycle. Art classes are an important part of a Randolph education. By senior year, at least half of the class is still involved in the arts.
Is art an important part of early childhood? We think so! You can read more here.
All Lower School students take music with Lea Hoppe, named the 2015 Outstanding Music Educator by the Alabama Music Educators.
Kindergarten students learn to be “tuneful, beatful and artful.” They learn to integrate rhythm with movement, to listen and create music, and to recognize and appreciate the beauty in sound.
As they move through Lower School, students have many opportunities to perform. Through the Huntsville Youth Orchestra’s Symphony School violin program in 1st grade, drama with Fantasy Playhouse in 2nd grade, Randolph’s Young Voices Choir in 3rd and 4th grade. Under Mrs. Hoppe’s direction, Young Voices has had numerous public performance opportunities, joining UAH Choir among other choral groups and recently singing with Lee Greenwood in a holiday concert.
Our specialist teachers (art, music, science, French, Spanish, physical education and technology, click the link above to see them in action) are all important team members contributing to the education of the whole child.
Our kindergarten students visit the science lab in half classes. The time in the science lab is spent learning through a hands-on activity or experiment that is connected to the learning that is happening in the classroom. The science lab teacher meets weekly with the kindergarten teachers in order to prepare activities specific to their needs. The science lab is also a place that kindergarten students enjoy free exploration. Students find many objects from nature, preserved specimens of all kinds, and of course all the living creatures who call the science lab their home.
Randolph students are known, challenged, and loved. This means we meet each child where he is emotionally, socially, physically, and academically.
We build strong relationships with students from the beginning, giving them the feeling of trust that encourages learning. Students are given opportunities for inquiry-based learning throughout the day. This means that we are honoring our children’s ability to drive their own learning.
We place student questions and ideas at the center of the learning process. One of the ways we do this is by using Visible Thinking.
We use a formative assessment, Children’s Progress Academic Assessment, three times a year in order to guide individual instruction for each student. This testing shows us where we can better support the child in their individual academic journey and their rate of progress.
All of our Lower School classes start the day with a Morning Meeting. Morning Meeting is an engaging way to start each day, build a strong sense of community, and set children up for success socially and academically. Each morning, students and teachers gather together in a circle for twenty to thirty minutes and interact with one another during four purposeful components:
Greeting - Students and teachers greet one other by name and practice offering hospitality.
Sharing - Students share information about important events in their lives. Listeners often offer empathetic comments or ask clarifying questions.
Group Activity - Everyone participates in a brief, lively activity that fosters group cohesion and helps students practice social and academic skills (for example, reciting a poem, dancing, singing, or playing a game that reinforces social or academic skills).
Morning Message - Students read and interact with a short message written by their teacher. The message is crafted to help students focus on the work they'll do in school that day.
Our Lower School Community Time Assemblies are special times each month when students in Kindergarten through 4th grade come together. This assembly is an extension of what happens in the classroom. Kindergarteners begin to see themselves as part of the classroom community, the Lower School community, and the Randolph community.
As they do in their classrooms, students start the Community Time Assembly by saying the Pledge of Allegiance in English, Spanish, and French. We sing our alma mater and our Lower School Honor Pledge. The rest of the assembly is dedicated to celebrating learning and recognizing important achievements as individuals, classes, grade levels, and as a division.
A part of each assembly focuses on the question, “Who helps in our community?” Students begin to understand the responsibilities of being a part of the larger community beyond our school. We learn about organizations that help in our community and we complete projects to be of help to our community. Students participate in packing weekend food packs for students at Morris Elementary throughout the school year. Each year we celebrate Yappy Hour by bringing our pets to school and donating food and supplies to Huntsville Animal Services. Our students knot fleece nap blankets for the preschool students at Second Mile Preschool. Students bring in bottle caps for recycling throughout the year and learn the importance of helping our environment. Students begin to understand what it means to be responsibility community member.
Several years ago, the Randolph faculty read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. We began to embrace a growth mindset, focusing on progress instead of end results. We wanted our students not to crumble when they were not successful on the first few tries, but to understand that initial failure is the beginning of the journey to understanding.
In order for our students to begin to internalize the idea of a growth mindset, they needed to begin to monitor their own progress. They needed to understand themselves as learners. Student-led conferences were the obvious next step. Student-led conferences require students to become active participants in the learning process.
Students develop leadership skills and gain self-confidence by preparing for the conference and guiding their parents through it. Students take responsibility for their learning and improve organization and communication skills through the process.
Kindergarten students use a variety of tools to improve fine motor skills. Lower School students participate in the Handwriting Without Tears program beginning in kindergarten. Students use air writing, chalk, water, pencils, and crayons to improve their handwriting skills. The more automatic handwriting becomes, the more students can focus on writing their thoughts in the form of sentences, then entire stories.
Randolph's kindergarten is the starting point for an excellent education, providing a foundation for college and life. The foundations for strong writing skills, resilience, empathy, good social and emotional development are laid in our kindergarten and built upon all the way through the Randolph journey.
At the 2015 NAIS Annual Conference, a panel of college presidents talked about the skills they hoped schools would teach, these were high among them.
If you are interested in learning more, please join us for Kindergarten Matters!, on Thursday, April 16, 2015, an event for prospective families to tour the Kindergarten hallway, learn more about each of these distinctive features and meet with us to ask any questions you have about this important decision.