Human Interest

Preschool teacher Shara Coughlin sat criss-cross applesauce with her six students in a semicircle around her, resting on blue cushions Velcroed to the floor.

Sedona Integrated Preschool, part of Big Park Community School, started class on Monday, Aug. 14, and Coughlin reported the first week is going well. Their lesson at the end of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 16, was about reading, sort of.

Coughlin encouraged the 3- and 4-year-olds that they didn’t necessarily have to know the words in a story to be able to read it: Rather, they practiced telling the story by describing what was happening in the illustrations.

Coughlin presented a page to each student, who gave their perspective on the story: What the characters in the pictures were doing and how they were feeling. The story was about a girl getting ready for her first day of kindergarten — she was worried other students would make fun of her because she didn’t know how to tie her shoelaces.

It ended happily enough, with the character’s kindergarten teacher encouraging her that it was OK she didn’t know how.

Coughlin’s lesson ended on a similar note: Just as she was finishing the book, she noticed one of her students was struggling to tie her shoelace.

Coughlin beckoned the girl over and showed her how to knot the pink lace while the other kids looked on. While the preschoolers do practice academic pursuits like learning the alphabet, Coughlin said their primary focus is on learning readiness, laying the groundwork for good classroom behavior and being prepared for kindergarten.

“At this age in their development, a lot of learning happens through play,” Coughlin said.

And play they do: Song, dance, finger-painting and other crafts are all part of their preschool experience. Coughlin has four basic units she’s doing with her kids this year. Their first is learning through play, and includes exploring how children in other countries and cultures play and learn.

In the second, they’ll learn about goods and services, narrowing in on agriculture and where their food comes from. In the third unit, Coughlin will transform the preschool classroom into several habitats, from a rainforest to a desert to the Arctic, to teach her students about the world’s environments. And in the final unit, she’ll help students learn about their place in the community.

The goal in each unit is to expand the students’ worldview bit by bit, whether it’s by teaching them about what kids eat and how they play in other parts of the world; exposing them to new ecosystems; or introducing them to their neighbors in the Village of Oak Creek. 

Integrated into each unit and activity, as part of Big Park’s candidacy as an International Baccalaureate school, the preschoolers are also practicing the qualities of an IB learner: Curious, knowledgeable, principled, open-minded and caring, among others.

“We’re helping shape wellrounded, compassionate, respectful human beings,” Coughlin said.


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