and first-grade children come to Prairie Creek eager to embrace their
first elementary school experiences. The beauty of this age group is
that they are willing to try new things, with enthusiasm! Our teachers
skillfully guide the beginning kindergartner who may be struggling to
control the impulse to roll on the rug, as he or she becomes the
confident, competent first grader whose nose is always in a book.
To accomplish this, Prairie Creek’s 60 kindergarten and first-grade
students combine in three classrooms—the Chickadees, the Doves, and the
Nuthatches. Our time is full of learning, creating, and relating.
Throughout our days, children are given many chances to make choices
about their learning. In these three classrooms, as in the school as a
whole, we value cooperation and working together.
A walk through the day
Morning Meeting is a daily opportunity for children to get to know one
another deeply. Each child is encouraged to speak confidently to the
group, and to listen respectfully to others. We greet each other by
name, sing, and share about what is important to us. Confidence grows
through this process, and children feel safe to say, "I have a question
about that" or "I don't understand."
Kindergarten and first graders love books, and have many opportunities
to read and explore books throughout the day. Teachers read aloud to
children frequently, modeling the strategies that good readers use.
Children enjoy a quiet reading time each day and read with the teacher
one-on-one regularly to receive individualized reading instruction.
Prairie Creek has a large selection of leveled books, and teachers match
children with books that are "just right" for them. Children may work
individually, or in pairs doing a partner read. A group of children or a
whole class may choose to bring a favorite book to life by acting it out
in front of parents and K-1 schoolmates at Prairie Creek’s weekly All
School Gathering. The K-1 "Book in a Bag" program encourages our young
readers to bring a book home every day to read with their family.
Math Workshop is a productive and lively time when children work
together to solve problems, design and build structures, and manipulate
numbers. They are encouraged to ask questions and share ideas about
their math thinking. Here, too, working cooperatively is valued. It’s
not unusual to see a buddy pair venturing out and about in the school
building with a clipboard and pencil in hand, finding and recording
patterns or counting quantities.
During Writers’ Workshop, children are supported as they learn the
skills they’ll need to become writers. Kindergartners may start out
drawing a picture and labeling it with a single beginning sound. By the
end of first grade, most children are writing sentences, stories, and
whole books. The writing task for the day often is related to our
current theme. Children are encouraged to share their work and talk
about their process with the class by sitting in the Author's Chair.
Children rarely decline this opportunity to show and share their work,
and confidence continues to build!
K-1s join the whole school outside for recess every day. After the meal, the Chickadees, Doves, and Nuthatches enjoy a quiet reading time called DEAR
(Drop Everything And Read) in their classrooms. Learning continues with
Art, Music, and Spanish one afternoon each week; expanded reading, writing,
math, and theme work; and time for children to choose their own
learning activities. A frequent favorite one on Friday afternoons is the Friday Ramble, when children and teachers go exploring on our grounds
and throughout the neighborhood.
Often, our K-1 work together revolves around a theme. Ideas for themes
come from the interests of the children, the ideas of the teachers, and
the skills and talents of the parents who regularly join our classrooms.
It starts with the spark of an idea, and grows, in sometimes surprising
directions from the questions and interests of the children. Reading,
writing, and math integrate into our themes, so that students practice
these skills in meaningful ways.
The Starlings (now called the Nuthatches) did a recent theme in which
they read about buildings around the world (which brought them into some
geographical explorations), investigated the geometrical shapes
involved in buildings, then built various structures with a variety of
materials (toothpicks and marshmallows, paint cards, playing cards,
paper plates), made a child-sized hut out of rolled-up newspapers, and
visited interesting buildings in downtown Minneapolis (via light-rail
train). Each child chose a favorite building and made his or her own
version. The final buildings were on display for parents and the rest of
the school in a culminating event.
The Chickadees did a Dr. Seuss theme in which they read lots of Seuss
literature, practiced drawing and writing Seuss-style, creating their
own Seuss-like characters and books, and finally practiced and performed
a play of one of Dr. Seuss' books at an All School Gathering for peers
The Doves did an eclectic Communications theme that took all sorts of
turns and directions: they read the book Flat Stanley and made similar
flat versions of themselves, and in keeping with the book wrote letters
and sent them to friends and relatives all over the world;
correspondents sent back information about their home area, which got
the Doves going on a study of maps of the world. They hosted a visit
from a deaf person and learned some sign language, and then studied
blindness and learned their names in Braille. They visited the
Northfield Long Term Care Center and sang for the elder folks, then read
books to them; later, several residents visited the classroom in
return. They constructed telephones out of cups and string, and did some
field study of animal communication at the Minnesota Zoo. The theme
ended with a Communications Fair at school, in which children did skits
and displayed all of their work along with the letters and other
materials that came back with their Flat People.
And probably everyone's favorite recent theme: Pioneers. The children
dressed like American pioneers, and learned to make butter, paper,
marble bags, and pioneer toys. They learned pioneer songs—“Oh My
Darling, Clementine” was the favorite, because it's so sad. All three
classes visited the Dakota Heritage Village just up the road in
Farmington, to see what pioneer life was like in those days. They
learned circle dances, read lots of books about pioneers, and wrote
journals from the perspective of pioneer children.
When a new kindergartner comes to school, she or he will be paired up
with an older Cubby Buddy. The older child takes great pride in helping
the younger child discover the “Prairie Creek Way.” Together they solve
smaller problems, like tricky shoelaces, and larger problems, like how
to figure out how many books we have in our classroom.
Students are also paired up with a weekly Bird Buddy. This is usually an
older student from another classroom. The Buddies read together on
Friday mornings, and then walk to All School Gathering and sit together.
This pairing gives children of different ages and from different
classrooms a chance to get to know each other on a deeper level. The
result is a feeling of belonging and a lot of friendly "hellos" in the
hallways at Prairie Creek.
By the end of a school year the kindergartners are ready to be teachers
of the “Prairie Creek Way" to next year's incoming class. The first
graders have become independent learners who’ve mastered the skills
necessary to move up to the second- and third-grade classrooms. It is a
beautiful cycle to behold!