A Beautiful and Loving Kindergarten

*photo of City Garden School kindergarten classroom

Young children live in their senses; all they learn comes from their direct and immediate daily life experiences. Through creative action and interaction with everything around them—children acquire the foundations of intellectual knowledge and an everlasting appreciation for the world in which they live.

The City Garden School kindergarten program is designed as a sensory-rich environment for children to discover what lies in the world and to grow all the capacities within the children themselves. It aims to cultivate the foundations for lives of sustained learning and purpose in young children. 

Four elements distinguish the City Garden School kindergarten program from other more mainstream classrooms: a homelike environment, authentic work for real purpose, imagination and play, and social-emotional awareness. The CGS kindergarten is furnished to look much like a home, with wool rugs, a rocking chair, natural curtains, and wooden tables and chairs. Teachers have consciously chosen playthings for the classroom to nourish a young child's senses and surround them with beauty. Toys in the classroom are made of natural fibers and materials because they are comforting, charming, and designed to promote sensory development, improve cognitive growth, and develop fine and gross motor skills.

Our teachers model meaningful, purposeful work in the classroom by engaging in cooking, cleaning, baking, sewing, and knitting. Outdoors, teachers are gardening, filling bird feeders, raking leaves, or shoveling snow. Children engage in and assist with all these activities. They learn fundamental life skills as they become confident and capable helpers.

We emphasize the importance of imagination in childhood and believe that imaginative play is the key to creative thinking later in life. Ample time will be allowed each day for unstructured, imaginative play without a lot of adult interference. You may see children becoming cats and mice; witness tea parties in the play kitchen; boys and girls building large structures out of wooden play-stands draped with large silks; building with stumps and natural tree blocks; or donning capes and crowns or other costumes. Free play is the heart of a City Garden School kindergarten morning.

Our teachers work intentionally with the concept of "rhythm," the rhythm of the day, the rhythm of the week, and the year's rhythm. The daily rhythm is a routine, predictable schedule. An example day is a morning that starts with free play, followed by cleanup, circle time, rest time, snack time, outdoor time, storytime, and lunch. This daily rhythm will be the same all year long. Once the children become accustomed to the rhythm, they relax into it and benefit from the predictability of the school day. They feel confident and secure, knowing what to expect. That lends itself to a sense of calm at the school.

We have put a lot of thought and careful planning into looking for toys that will inspire and ignite the imagination and open-ended toys (that is, toys that children can play with in a variety of ways). We have chosen playthings that are not too formed and fixed, leaving some room for the imagination. For example, we prefer dolls and puppets that have minimal features. This allows children to imagine happy, sad, or angry faces and develop their inner ability to distinguish emotions. We also choose toys made from natural fibers and materials that produce a calming quality we observe in children's play.

*outdoor kitchen play

All children at City Garden School learn handwork beginning in early childhood. Children in kindergarten class will learn to “finger knit" (creating a crocheted chain with their fingers) and to sew. Children and teachers create craft projects all year long, connected to the seasons and festivals of the year. When children move to 1st grade, they knit with knitting needles, and as they move upward through the grades, they learn to crochet, embroider, make animal toys, and more. Research has documented the connection between the benefits of developing fine motor skills through handwork to brain development. It all begins with the foundations taught in kindergarten.

Social-emotional learning is a main focus. We model restorative justice, helping children identify and manage their emotions and recognize and empathize with the emotions of their peers. Building relationship skills is one of the most challenging things we do at school and our greatest opportunity for growth. But social awareness is just one part of social-emotional learning. Students learn so much more and we offer intentional guidance. We focus on these five core competencies of social-emotional learning in kindergarten and beyond: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.