Arts fuel unique Chicago preschool program

It’s 8:30 a.m. and the preschoolers are starting their climb to their Tree House classroom, past the clouds and peaceful sounds of chirping birds.

The benefit of the arts

“The arts enhance the process of learning. The systems they nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning.”

— Eric Jensen, author and expert in educational neuroscience who conducts brain-based teacher training around the world.

In the Tree House, their teachers are ready with circle time songs and to facilitate child-directed play as well as exploration of the learning centers around the room. At recess, they head to the Mountain Room for play that builds their gross motor skills, discussion time that builds their social skills and a healthy snack.

While these joyful moments might sound like just another morning at any of the quality preschool classrooms in and around Chicago, this preschool is unique because of its arts-integrated philosophy and its whimsical classrooms.

The Arts-Integrated philosophy seamlessly combines content and skills from the arts (dance, music, theater and visual arts) with core, developmentally appropriate, early-childhood learning standards and socio-emotional skills. This philosophy fosters a vibrant learning environment where life skills emerge from a multitude of perspectives.

Children learn from teaching artists, who apply their talents in visual art, theatrical performance, music composition and improvisation to their early childhood education expertise. Their diverse backgrounds gives them unique perspective and ability to engage students in imaginative play and open-ended learning opportunities.

What can families expect in an arts-integrated setting?

Students studying the migration of birds learn by designing and building their own wings. They dance through flight patterns and act out stories from a bird’s perspective. The teaching artist – playing the role of a bird – asks students for help finding warmth in the winter. The students, in turn, actively discover and grow. They use an array of materials, mixing and measuring, responding to rhythm and music, and improvising while they express emotions and develop empathy, learning to think and communicate from a bird’s perspective.

Or students may explore Chicago by examining the skyline and painting their own interpretation on the windows of their classroom. They navigate the colors, twists and turns of public transportation on the El obstacle course and prepare for lunch by creating construction paper hot dogs — complete with Chicago-style gold glitter mustard, to be sold in their dramatic-play hotdog stand. The day ends with a trip in the “magic taxi cab,” where students exercise their voices and imaginations, exploring various neighborhoods and sites in Chicago.

Social awareness emerges as students play games. For example, they listen to different types of music and let the feeling behind the music guide their motion. Eventually, they act out improvised stories, paying close attention to characters’ emotions. They debate over why a character looks angry: “He is hungry!” “He misses his mom.” “He wants his toy back.” And together, they create the story and continue to develop their emotional intelligence.

Arts-Integrated education helps children feel completely at home in a space designed for play and learning. However, the everyday whimsy of Arts-Integration is grounded in science and thoughtful, authentic assessment of skills and milestones.

For more information about the preschool program at Bubbles Academy, visit Bubbles’ website or sign up for an upcoming tour or admissions breakfast.

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