What makes it “the best day ever” for a young child? Sometimes it’s because we make our own lemonade: squeezing the lemons by hand, adding the sugar and water till it tastes just right, and counting and graphing the number of seeds in each lemon along the way. Sometimes it’s because we venture all around and up and down our campus exploring little-known places, high up and far away from the children's regular classrooms, meeting interesting people along the way (like the horologist fixing a grandfather clock)! Sometimes it’s because we walk through the Public Gardens, each child feeling special, hand-in-hand with their Grade 4 reading buddy. Sometimes it’s because a child is able to deliver a drawing or a precious note to an older sibling. Sometimes, it's because, after weeks of watching, a child finally has the courage to climb high enough to come down a slide his peers have been playing on for weeks and his friends all notice and cheer!
This is life in Junior Primary, otherwise known as pre-primary or pre-k, where three-and four-year-olds have been educated at Sacred Heart since 2005. Building upon the Goals and Values of the Sacred Heart network of schools, the priority in our Junior Primary program is for children to experience school as a place that is fun; a place they are excited to come to every day to be with highly skilled and experienced early childhood educators who care for them, and to engage in activities that are designed to be developmentally appropriate for very little people. It’s a foundational year that sets young children up for success in their future formal education.
Four-year-olds are powerful. They love to learn and they love to share what they know. A Junior Primary program should start with the child. It should respond to their needs and, of course, any program worth its weight in gold does this through play. But play for play’s sake is not enough. A good program chooses its toys and materials carefully, providing a wide variety of open-ended items that can be used in multiple ways, set up to offer interesting invitations to explore new concepts or ideas through creative and imaginative play. A good program empowers children's natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning and uses every opportunity to build literacy competency, develop an understanding of mathematical language, and foster scientific understanding, sometimes through teacher-directed activities. A good program acknowledges children's agency by responding to children's suggestions and questions, encouraging critical thinking, and inspiring further discoveries.
A good program also offers children adequate time outdoors as well as indoors, time in which to practice and enhance ideas and skills. Time engaged in fine motor play supports future handwriting. Time engaged in large muscle motor play strengthens core muscles to support being able to sit upright at a table. Time spent running, jumping and skipping, throwing and catching balls, and clambering on climbing equipment and rocks, helps children develop skills for future recreation and sport through coordinated movement. Time spent digging in the dirt for worms or enjoying the pleasure of a snow fort, experiencing the natural world, offers children the opportunity to become early stewards of the environment.
Junior Primary is not about a race to see who reads and writes first. There is no academic finish line when you're very little. Junior Primary is an opportunity for children to experience the possibility of school. It's an opportunity to be empowered in learning alongside one's peers, to feel valued and loved by adults, to share experiences with older students, and to feel part of something quite big. In Junior Primary, every day should be the best day ever.