WIND POINT — Kindergarten. That treasured time between the simplicity of preschool and the serious business of first grade. Everyone loves kindergarten. The shapes, the colors, the Teddy Grahams...the coding.
Okay, so maybe things have changed a bit over the years.
The robot unit here at The Prairie School has been a part of the kindergarten curriculum for well over a decade. And while the project has always been hardwired for kindness and collaboration, the past few years have seen actual coding — things like sequencing, looping, and functions — added into the mix.
“The robot unit is one of those time-honored Primary School traditions,” says Joe Manley, kindergarten teacher. “It’s structured around empathy and understanding the needs of those around us. Rather than being self-driven and thinking, ‘I want to make a robot to be my friend’, kids think of others and identify people to help in the Prairie community.”
In addition to kindness, the unit also stresses collaboration. Students work with peers and adults — every Primary School classroom has a lead teacher and an assistant — to identify problems, brainstorm solutions and create plans.
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The results are as sweet as they are brilliant.
For example: Mia the Robot helps Mrs. White distribute paint during art; Rusty the safety-patrol bot whizzes around the playground at recess; PJ, a three-eyed droid helps Mr. Schafer spot missing balls after gym. These are just a few of the creations conceived from kindergarten minds this semester.
And while building the bots is still everyone’s favorite part, the introduction of coding through apps like Bee-Bot and Kodable has become a crowd favorite as well.
“We have the imaginative piece — building the bots out of soda cans and boxes — but then what?” says Manley. “How do robots communicate? How do computers work? Just seeing how capable these kids are, we’ve been able to push real robotics.”
Empathy and coding, all before recess. Just another day’s work for these talented kindergarten programmers.
The robot unit provides an important foundation for students before they progress through Primary, Middle, and Upper School where co-curriculars like Coding Club and classes like “Robotic Design” become options. However, the prep for success begins even before kindergarten, in Early School, where lessons rooted in kindness and creativity impact student readiness.
“Having so many of our kids start in Early School at Prairie is always great because they come in prepared to do something like robotics,” says Shay Borzynski, kindergarten teacher.
This year that preparation is happening inside the Leipold Johnson Early Childhood Center, the 10,500 square foot building that opened this fall. Unsurprisingly, the space is a hit with Early School teachers like Stephanie Hoffman.
“The rooms are big, clean, and absolutely beautiful,” Hoffman says. “The space allows children to extend their learning and creativity outside the smaller borders of our defined centers, and gives us the flexibility to come together as a whole grade to practice a song or learn new sign language for one of our units.”
Families interested in Early School or kindergarten are invited to register for a Discovery Day this spring. Group Discovery Day sessions will be held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday, April 23, or from 8:30 to 10 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 14.
Interest in Prairie’s early childhood programming is extremely high for next fall, so families are encouraged to register as soon as possible.
Learn more about at prairieschool.com/discovery-day or by calling Molly Lofquist Johnson, senior director of admission, at 262-752-2525.