Like a cluster of miniature scientists, the preschoolers at The Lexington School took a field trip to one of the streams that crosses the school’s campus – each child wearing boots and carrying a magnifying glass, binoculars, clipboard and a marker.
As they reached the creek, the questions flowed as readily as the water they were there to study.
And that’s the point of the Project Approach used by the school’s preschool program.
“Children really own the work because the questions come from them,” said Donna Hutton, the school’s Preschool Director.
The Project Approach builds on a child’s natural curiosity as teachers guide students through in-depth studies of real-world topics.
The approach also fits The Lexington School’s mission of promoting critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, curiosity and resilience – all key 21st century skills.
The water project exemplifies the approach. Instead of facts and worksheets, students experience water first-hand and teachers help the children find answers to their questions.
Where does the water come from? Is the creek ever dry? Why is the creek dirty?
One group this fall urged a clean-up of the creek and enlisted their fourth-grade buddies for help. The result? Students cleaned 12 pounds of garbage from the creek.
One student was so engaged by the project that on a family trip months later, he spotted a water tower and insisted on taking a photo.
Teachers integrated math into the study when students wondered where people got their drinking water.
“The children asked older students, other teachers and the headmaster where they got their water and then graphed the results,” Hutton said.
Hutton, who has been at TLS for 16 years, the last eight as the Preschool Director, learned the Project Approach from its creators – Sylvia Chard and Lilian Katz, authors of the book, “Engaging Children’s Minds.”
Teachers need to be flexible and creative, and sometimes they get lucky.
During the project, students wondered how the water fountain at school worked.
Two days later, the water fountain broke. When the repairman arrived, the children peppered him with questions while watching him work.
After finding out that water pressure was involved, the children designed their own experiment with water pressure.
Said Hutton: “I love the authentic learning that is a result of project work.”