Our Primary Learning Community is a full-day mixed-age classroom for five to seven year olds, especially geared to learners with advanced potential. It is an engaging and caring community of learners in which all children feel accepted and respected. Our dramatically reduced student-teacher ratio allows us to work with our students in small groups or individually every day. Through developmentally-appropriate assessments, we select students who we believe will thrive within our community. Our class is limited to fifteen students with two master teachers plus an art educator.
The PLC program focuses on intrinsic motivation, meaning motivating from within. Learning occurs when children are motivated not by external motivations such as grades, tests, rewards, recognition. Instead, learning occurs when it stems from a true interest in what they are learning or from a need that they themselves have chosen as important to address.
Learning is centered around inviting students to think deeply about issues, concentrate not only on the skills and facts but within a framework or context where there is a purpose for learning the material. Many times this type of learning involves an interdisciplinary approach. Whether exploring animals in the African savannah or discovering Monet’s works of arts, our students are using their intrinsic creative thinking to engage with new ideas, test them, and share what comes of the process. We recognize and celebrate the importance of critical thinking and inquiry in addition to the acquisition of knowledge.
Our progressive environment supports active learning. Students actively participate in constructing their own learning process. This may include contributing to the curriculum, asking questions and looking for the answers, thinking of possibilities, and evaluating their own learning. The emphasis is on active child-centered learning. Research teaches us that children learn best when they are given multiple and varied “hands-on” learning opportunities.
We take our learners seriously! We look at the spectrum of different learners in the classroom, and individualize the lessons to meet each learner’s needs. We follow Gardner’s theories of multiple intelligences and support each child’s giftedness. From solid research at Harvard and Bank Street College of Education, we know that all learners thrive when the material being taught is both challenging and meaningful. Our students are challenged to work at the edge of their developing abilities, while being supported and guided by their teachers.
Literacy instruction is designed to be both joyful and rigorous in our Primary Learning Community. We offer our students a rich variety of language experiences to kindle their enthusiasm for reading and writing. The children are exposed to a rich variety of literature encompassing award-winning picture books, biography, non-fiction, poetry, folk tales, and stories from many cultures. Following the most current literacy research, we utilize a balanced literacy program which strikes a balance between both whole language and phonics. The strongest elements of each are incorporated to guide students toward proficient and lifelong reading and writing. At CLC, we utilize the Wright Group’s Gear Up Guided Reading Program and create engaging lessons that aim to expand the child’s full set of communication skills–speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Whether we are playing a rhyming game or acting out a scene from a favorite book, our goal is the same: to meet each child where he or she is and to nurture a lasting love of language and literature.
Through our Writer’s Workshop, the children are encouraged to express their own ideas and stories. We strongly believe that every child has a voice as a writer! The children draw, dictate, and write about their experiences. The teachers support the development of the children’s spelling abilities from temporary “invented” spelling toward the goal of conventional spelling. Working with the teachers during small group work, children develop phonics skills, word recognition, understanding of punctuation and capitalization-all through fun, creative activities. There are varied opportunities for the children to practice their skills and each child is able to work at her or his own pace. The children enjoy sharing their writing with each other and are encouraged to reflect on the process each session.
Using the Everyday Mathematics approach, our math curriculum offers a strategic, articulated sequence of topics that are developed in depth to allow true mastery. Children are given opportunities to investigate, discover, explore, and apply their own solutions to mathematical problems. All strands of mathematics (from numerals and addition to geometry and measurement) are fully developed through small group lessons and developmentally-appropriate games. Students focus on key concepts by starting with concrete representations through an extensive use of manipulatives and hands-on activities, moving onto pictorial illustrations of problems, and ending with abstract representations such as number sentences. Our classroom teachers challenge and support individual growth while focusing on problem solving and critical thinking.
We are pleased to offer one of the best art programs in Monmouth County! In our art studio, the students work with our talented art studio educator daily to enhance their creative expression. Our students become familiar with a wide range of materials, techniques, and pictorial concepts. Along with thematic-based projects, the children enter the art studio to become fluent with the “language” of image and object making, to participate joyfully in the artistic process, and become more aware of their own unique vision. Through small group instruction, the children are engaged in open-ended activities that encourage understanding of all the art elements, including line, shape, color, texture, value, and form.
Our music, movement, and physical education programs are integrated into our daily curriculum. The joy of movement and the development of spatial awareness, balance, and coordination are emphasized. With rhythm sticks, musical instruments, yoga activities, drama, and open-ended creative movement, we tap into our students’ intrinsic motivation and offer them new and exciting ways to express themselves. We often connect our music and movement curriculum to our math, science, and literacy activities and find that these connections build strong cognitive understandings.
In addition, our primary students are active participants in an intergenerational arts program that spans the entire school year. Working collaboratively with a group of seniors at a nearby nursing home, our students “teach” their senior friends about master artists and then create an art project in the style of each artist. Our program is now in its fifth consecutive year. Our research has provided strong evidence that, as a result of these quality interactions, our students develop acceptance, compassion and understanding of the elderly, while also experiencing the joy of community service. In the professional education community, our work has been celebrated at various national conferences.