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Showcasing Regina Stewart and "Themes"

"I hope all early-childhood teachers will explore the use of themes in their classrooms," said teacher Regina Stewart. "It has made my teaching a rich and rewarding experience year after year. I can't imagine using any other approach to teaching kindergarten."

In Stewart's classroom, theme-based activities allow students to make connections to things they know or want to learn about. Through the use of themes, she maintains a child-centered focus in her teaching at Terryville Road Elementary in Port Jefferson Station, New York. Each thematic activity, Stewart told Education World, is based on the needs of her students and is not just a "cute" activity; each lesson has a purpose in meeting her overall teaching goals.

Kindergarten teacher Regina Stewart stays focused with themes.
Photo courtesy of Regina Stewart.

"Themes help me reach the goals of our state standards in a developmentally appropriate way, and theme-based activities afford me the opportunity to teach across all content areas," Stewart told Education World. "Often science and social studies are given less emphasis than language arts and math. By focusing on themes that are of interest to the students, I can integrate language and math skills within the science and social studies content areas."

Stewart finds that the most important benefit she experiences in teaching through themes is the ability to delve deeper into a topic and help her students develop critical thinking skills. With each theme, the children move closer to mastery of skills, and each successive theme becomes richer. Stewart's challenge has been to refine the themes she uses each year to meet the specific needs of her classes.

Through her Web site, Stewart shares activities that she uses with many themes. Her kindergartners, she notes, adore Dinosaurs and never seem to tire of gaining information about them. Space Explorations is another favorite theme among the children. In September, Stewart enjoys investigating Our Names, because the experience helps the students get to know one another, and establishes a sense of community in the classroom.

"This year, we're working on a grant project using the theme of shadows," explained Stewart. "We are continuing that theme from fall to spring. Our favorite activity was investigating how the sun appears in the sky. We went outside to the kindergarten playground and observed the sun at hourly intervals. Then, the children helped me draw a picture of what we observed. I made sure to include shadows in every picture. We predicted where the sun would appear in each subsequent drawing. By the end of the day, the children discovered the east/west movement of the sun, as well as the arc shape of the sun's path. We also noticed the changing direction of the shadows. We always connect some journal writing about our observations."

When Stewart begins her Spring theme, she enjoys taking students outside for a walk around the school. Before the walk, they brainstorm and use interactive writing to create a list of things they expect to see -- flower buds, new leaves, birds returning, and more. Then, during the walk, they observe the signs of spring. After-walk activities include journal writing and a spring counting book. Each of the activities involves science, literacy, and math; each promotes the higher-level thinking skills that Stewart wants students to develop.

"The Internet is the first resource I use when I need a new idea," stated Stewart. "Many teachers have shared their knowledge through Web sites and message boards. Professional magazines and books specifically designed for lesson planning also are good resources. Beyond that, I find there is no substitute for continued staff development. Sharing ideas with colleagues creates new avenues for thinking about how we approach teaching in general. Professional conversations lead to integrating current practices and the content areas through the themes we use."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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