Learning through Play Together: Supporting the development of habits of mind
“The benefits of children’s having substantial control over the work undertaken extend beyond the early years. Marcon (1992, 1995) found that children from preschool classes that offered ample opportunity for child-initiated, as opposed to teacher-directed, activity showed the greatest mastery of basic reading, language, and mathematics skills” (Helm & Katz, 2001).

Dear Families and Friends,

Once more, the admissions process taking place at our preschool and at public and private elementary schools at this time of year seems to be the subject of significant attention, consideration, anticipation—and even concern. For families whose children are eligible to start kindergarten in the fall, the question may be, “Is my child really ready for kindergarten?” For other families whose children have been impacted by the change in the age requirement for public kindergarten, the question might be, “What is the best placement for my child in the coming transitional year before kindergarten?” Parents of children who are headed for kindergarten in the fall of 2016 may also be wondering about how best to support their children in preparing for the kindergarten experience.”Which class at PPS will be the best fit for my child in terms of laying a foundation for the primary grades?”

To answer all of these questions, we first have to establish a general definition of kindergarten readiness—and this is not an easy task as parents and teachers learn more about the increasing emphasis on specific literacy/math knowledge and skills required in kindergarten classrooms. While many preschool educators focus on social-emotional development and the encouragement of children’s natural curiosity as preparation for the early elementary grades, many kindergarten teachers are concerned with children’s ability to write their name and recite numbers, letters and sounds of the alphabet at the time they enter kindergarten.

At Palisades Preschool, we have made the choice to support child-initiated learning through play as a channel for preparing children socially, emotionally and intellectually for their first years of elementary school—and to promote their development as life-long learners.

Early childhood researchers Judy Helm and Lilian Katz (2001), have this to say: “While academic goals address small units of knowledge and skills, intellectual goals address dispositions; that is, habits of mind that include a variety of tendencies to interpret experience Some habits of mind that relate to intellectual goals include the disposition to:

  • Make sense of experience

  • Theorize, analyze, hypothesize, and synthesize

  • Predict and to check predictions

  • Find things out

  • Strive for accuracy

  • Be empirical

  • Grasp the consequence of actions

  • Persist in seeking solutions to problems

  • Speculate about cause-effect relationships

  • Predict others’ wishes and feelings

Along with many others not mentioned, these dispositions are all intellectual rather than academic in focus.”

Katz and Helm (2001) also comment on the correlation between children’s active involvement in their learning and their social-emotional development:

“Research suggests that there is a relationship between the role that children have in determining their own learning experiences and the development of social skills. A study of kindergarten classes using three different teaching approaches (direct instruction, a constructivist approach based on child-initiated activities, and an eclectic approach) found that the children from the constructivist class were more interpersonally interactive. They exhibited a greater number and variety of negotiation strategies and shared more experiences (Devries, Reese-Learned, & Morgan, 1991).”

I believe that most parents in our community have selected PPS because they also value child-initiated learning through play—as well as children’s participation in small group work, the role of the environment as the third teacher, the role of the teacher as a co-researcher, and the importance of documentation to make children’s (and adults’) learning visible.

We appreciate your support of our approach; however, we also understand that your children will leave our school and most often will join communities whose values relate strongly to teacher-directed (and district directed) instruction in specific knowledge and skills. I would like to reassure many of you that while supporting children’s social-emotional and intellectual growth, in most cases, our child-initiated curriculum prepares children to enter the more structured and “academic” environments, too.

The curriculum in our classrooms includes emergent literacy experiences with letters of the alphabet and the printed word in the environment, play with rhyming words, storytelling, and the utilization of many materials as languages for children’s expression of ideas, theories and feelings. Communication centers are present for message-sharing with friends and teachers; children dictate stories to their teachers, and, as children become interested in writing their names, teachers offer many opportunities to practice with special blocks, stamps, clay, wire and, yes, pencils and paper.

Laying the foundation for success with written language, teachers encourage children to listen to one another and to verbally express their feelings, ideas and experiences.

Mathematical thinking is supported in the many problem-solving experiences that evolve in the block room, the workshop, studios, and the classroom that include, for example, exploration of number, measurement, spatial concepts, symmetry, counting, and numeral recognition.

It may happen that some children need a little extra support at home in naming specific letters and numerals in order to pass kindergarten entrance interviews or to feel confident among other children who have had lots of explicit instruction prior to kindergarten. Since the alphabet, numerals and rules of punctuation are not generally learned through discovery, some direct instruction in these skills at home and at school may be useful to some children prior to kindergarten.

Nevertheless, we hope that you will continue to value children’s self-initiated learning through play—even in the face of Kindergarten 2015. Children are, naturally, very curious, competent, meaning-seeking and relationship-seeking individuals who learn a great deal from their play with one another in small groups guided by caring, and equally curious, adults.

The teachers, Karen and I are available to help parents navigate the sometimes difficult choices connected with the transition to kindergarten.

For further reading, I suggest Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Skills Every Child Must Learn (Galinsky, 2010).

Thank you.

Warm wishes,


Click on the links below or scroll down for this month’s topics:

Valentine’s Day Celebrations
Friday February 13th

Each year we celebrate this special day by inviting the parents (who have signed up to participate) to share their own family Valentine traditions with the children in each class during snack time. Family participation might include a special snack, story, or a very simple cooking or craft activity. Please be sure to collaborate with your child’s teachers in advance. As part of the celebration, we do encourage all children to bring Valentine cards from home for their friends on the day of the celebration. In the Cherry Blossom and Rosemary classrooms, it is generally best to place the Valentine cards in blank envelopes so that children can deliver their Valentines to their friends’ Valentine bags without assistance. Many of the Lavender and Sunflower children are able to read (and to write) the names of their classmates, so the older children (or a parent) can address the envelope if they choose. Cards can be signed by children or by parents, according to children’s printing ability. The preschool is providing the bags that will serve as “mailboxes” for each child. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Admissions for the 2015-2016 School Year

We thank our returning and toddler families for submitting the application, Admission Agreement, deposit and registration fee to Karen at the end of January. We are now at a point in our process where we can better determine the number of spaces we will have in the fall for new children. Our next step this month is to contact potential parents who have applied to our school for the fall and offer them a space in one of our classrooms. The Agreements and deposits/fees for new families will be due to Karen by Feb. 12. The process continues until all available spaces for 2015-2016 are filled. At that point we will maintain a waiting list.

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An Afternoon with Teachers

We enjoyed our meetings with the Rosemary and Cherry Blossom parents last month. During these meetings teachers shared recent video clips and digital photos of the children’s small group work in several of our studio and classroom spaces. We appreciated the insightful comments and questions offered by parents and look forward to meeting with the Lavender and Sunflower parents this month, as well. The Lavender meeting is on Wed., Feb. 11 from 1:30 to 2:30 and the Sunflower meeting will take place on Wed., Feb. 18 from 1:30 to 2:30. Children will be dismissed a little early in each class to go to Stay & Play free of charge while parents attend the meetings.

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Winter Conference
Children as Producers of Culture: Looking Inward and Outward

On Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28, PPS will co-host a Winter Conference, sponsored by the Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles and featuring keynote speakers, presentations by our teachers, and tours of our site. Please look for flyers with more detailed information. We are asking for parent volunteers to help with the registration (Friday morning, Feb. 27), continental breakfast (Friday) and box lunch (Friday and Sat.). Parents are also welcome to attend the conference; please go to www.thinkwithus.org to register. It is an honor for our preschool to be included in the Westside Collaborative as one of the schools hosting tours for this conference and our teachers and directors will certainly learn a lot from the experience—in addition to sharing learning with visiting early childhood educators.

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Keynote Speakers at Winter Conference

Friday, Feb. 27 in St. Paul’s sanctuary: Why Democracy Needs Schools, Harold Gothson, senior consultant at the Reggio Emilia Institute in Stockholm. Mr. Gothson will also be presenting a workshop at PPS in the afternoon.

Saturday, Feb. 28 in the First Pres. sanctuary: Expanding our View of the Possible: The power of group learning and documentation in classrooms and communities, Mara Krechevsky, senior researcher at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Saturday, Feb. 28 at First Pres: The Right to Play, Cheng Xueqin, regional director of early childhood education for the county district of Anji, China.

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PPS Endowment Fund

We very gratefully received two more donations to our newly established fund: one from the Greenberg family and one from the grandparent of a currently enrolled child. Thank you!

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Family Donations

We would like to express our appreciation to families who have made the $500 Family Donation to the preschool already this school year. Please speak with Karen if you have, in the Admission Agreement, stated that you are planning to make the Family Donation. Thank you.

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February Calendar

  • Monday, Feb. 2—Nancy to attend Westside Collaborative leadership meeting
  • Wed., Feb. 3—Fingerprinting initiative in Parish Hall for participating children
  • Thursday, Feb. 4—Parent Tours
  • Friday, Feb. 6—Educator Tour (of about 13 teachers) at PPS (regular Friday schedule)
  • Monday, Feb. 9—Thursday, Feb. 12—Nancy and 2 PPS teachers to Intensive Practicum at Evergreen
  • Wed., Feb. 11—Afternoon with Teachers—Lavender room—1:30 to 2:30
  • Friday, Feb. 13—Valentine’s Day Card Exchange and Parties
  • Monday, Feb. 16—Preschool closed for Presidents’ Day holiday
  • Tuesday, Feb. 17—Tandy Parks group meets at 9:15 a.m.
  • Wed., Feb. 18—Afternoon with Teachers—Sunflower room—1:30 to 2:30
  • Thursday, Feb. 19—Chinese New Year celebrations
  • Monday, Feb. 23—Preschool closed for Teacher Work Day
  • Thursday, Feb. 26—Early dismissal –No Stay & Play or Karate
  • Friday, Feb. 27—Winter Conference at PPS from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.—Preschool closed
  • Saturday, Feb. 28—Winter Conference continues

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Pictures from School Events

Afternoon with Teachers


Australia Day


Bicycle Assembly

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