As I walk into the Junior Kindergarten “Maple” room (Luck Hall 100) I am greeted by a flurry of five highly energetic, not-quite-four-foot-tall waiters, chefs, and hostesses. The sign behind them reads “Joey’s Pizza,” bright red with squiggly black handwriting, topping a table with a professional-looking telephone and a computer. As they seat me, each kid hands me a menu, and their excitement bubbles over into questions: “What size would you like?” “Would you like a small, medium, or large?” “What do you want to drink? We only have soda.” “What toppings do you like on your pizza?”
I try to answer the questions as thoroughly as I can, occasionally asking my waiters and waitresses about their personal preferences. After ordering a medium pepperoni pizza, I sit back and relax as the junior kindergartners scurry around the kitchen pretending to make not only a pizza, but an additional salad, soda, ice cream cone, and cookie. I am receiving the full treatment today. The meal is delivered quickly: a full wooden pizza and salad, plastic soda, cookies, and ice cream. After finishing my pretend meal, one of my waiters starts to write out my check, but soon abandons the job, having found a more interesting activity to pursue. With the customers fed, the kids, with the help of their teacher, Junior Kindergarten Associate Teacher Nicole Jones, close up Joey’s Kitchen until it’s time to play again.
Jones’ class has recently been studying how money works, different jobs in which you can earn money, and basic measuring tools. Their latest business ventures include a nursery and Joey’s Pizza kitchen, combining their curriculum with a bit of fun to create purposeful play. The Maple class utilizes different real-life tools to help structure the children’s pretend games. For example, Joey’s kitchen has measuring tools, waiter’s pads, and checks for customers to write on to reinforce new information in a creative way. In the nursery, kids played with different dolls using strollers and a variety of baby play-toys to take care of the their dolls. Using different work choices, the Maple class helps children learn about the responsibility that comes with a job and how money works, while giving them the play time they need.
Collegiate’s Junior Kindergarten program is in its second year of existence. Purposeful play is at the heart of JK’s curriculum, and Collegiate strongly emphasizes that “‘play’ is the work of a four year-old, and it’s important work.” Currently at around 50 students, the JK is made up of three classes: the Maple class, taught by Wendy Wilson and Jones; the Sycamore class, taught by Ann Woods Cutchins and Tia Owens; and the Willow class, taught by Kim Turner and Rives Barkdale. Like the other grade levels in the Lower School, the JK attend the town meetings, Convocation, special events like the first grade play, and States Fair. Also, just as every other Lower Schooler, junior kindergartners attend school for the full seven hours.
The junior kindergartners start each day off with a morning meeting before moving into choice time. During choice time, kids choose which classroom they want to visit (each classroom has a special focus) for thirty minute blocks. Choice time lasts around an hour before the classes move on to small group learning or resource time. This period of time after choice time is pretty flexible; the kids could be learning about the letter W for the week, have a movement class, or even be learning Spanish. Next, the children continue their day with various science activities, lunch, recess, rest time, and even more learning through presentations, or occasionally third grade reading buddies. The Junior Kindergarten classes have also taken art field trips to the VMFA and science field trips to our Robins campus to study the trees. Each JK class is named after a type of tree, and during the year they study their specific tree using some of the trees on Collegiate’s campus. Then, each season they travel out to Robins to analyze their tree in detail in a more natural context.
Visiting the JK class reminded me of my time as a kindergartner at Collegiate. The endless energy, abounding creativity, and kindness of the four year olds made me feel incredibly welcomed, even though I was a complete stranger to the kids.
All photos by Nicole Jones.