Pre-Primary Thinking

- Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School

As you can see in our lobby, this year's big idea for professional learning centers around various ways and types of thinking. While adults may automatically associate ideas like synthesis and reasoning with our upper grades, these ideas are, in fact, at the center of our goals for the preprimary division.  Children are busy building these “muscles” and skills from the moment they arrive here at age 2, 3 and 4.  I wanted to share some thoughts on this with you, and provide lenses with which to look at your preprimary experience here at Blue School.
As you know, story, early literacy, and numeracy all happen in various ways in our early childhood program. Our overall approach to early childhood reflects our belief in the intellectual capacities of children, the importance of nurturing specific intellectual building blocks in the early years to facilitate lifelong learning, and meaningful living.

Dr. Peter Gray, in a recent blog post , makes a distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘intellectual’ skills, citing a succinct and wonderful piece on this topic by acclaimed early childhood teacher and thought leader Lilian Katz. Academic skills are, he writes, “means of organizing, manipulating, or responding to specific categories of information to achieve certain ends. Pertaining to reading, for example, academic skills include the abilities to name the letters of the alphabet, to produce the sounds that each letter typically stands for, and to read words aloud, including new ones, based on the relationship of letters to sounds...Academic skills can be and are taught directly in schools, through methods involving demonstration, recitation, memorization, and repeated practice.” In contrast, he writes, “Intellectual skills... have to do with a person’s ways of reasoning, hypothesizing, exploring, understanding, and, in general, making sense of the world.  Every child is, by nature, an intellectual being--a curious, sense-making person, who is continuously seeking to understand his or her physical and social environments.”

Where can you see these skills at work?  When you walk into a preprimary classroom here, consider:

  • How much agency do children have to interact with authentic materials that are flexible to 'become anything else' (including wood, stones, blocks, books, special papers and materials for building)?
  • How are children making decisions about their work and their interactions with others, make believe, reflect on their conversations and endeavors, work through conflict with one another, establish new connections, hear and play out stories?
  • What opportunities for connection and relationship building do children have during the day?
  • What happens when children ask questions? Are the questions elevated and explored?

A great classroom serves intentionally to support the intellectual skill development of each child to build the most effective platform for learning and living as they grow. In our twos classroom this week, we saw children are working with clay, and graphite, exploring how the movements their bodies make affect the impressions on the paper or clay. In threes, we saw children discussing the care for the babies, bringing knowledge from their worlds, negotiating with one another about what materials in the classroom (block, paper, fabric) could represent what supportive item for the baby (bed, table, bottle). In fours/fives, children discussed how to tell a friend they did not want to play a game with them and suggesting another.

We are in a zeitgeist-shifting moment in education. Many minds and pens are turning to early childhood as a foundational time by which thinking skills necessary for a 21st century learner and human are either nurtured or negated. We are proud to be able to be practice and modeling the balance of academic and intellectual skills. We are also proud to be considering these ideas with the many visitors this week and every week at Blue School, and with you, our larger community.

Please be sure to read your classroom blogs to understand all of the varied ways that this work happens. We will be sure to begin linking to all of them weekly by the end of October! 


Posted on October 9, 2015 .