Pre-Primary and Grade R
The Pre-primary programme at Tree Tops is based on an 'integrated day approach', whereby children work and play in both smaller age-based classes or groups and in larger open-plan whole-school environments at different times of the morning.
Although the curriculum content is adapted to meet the needs of children of different ages and at varying levels of development, the programme for pupils at Bellevue (2½-4 year olds) and those in our ‘middle groups’ at Silverton (4-5 year olds) is similar in structure.
The Grade R pupils follow a separate timetable, which is detailed further down.
Throughout the school day at Tree Tops, whatever the age group, there is an emphasis on environmental awareness and the importance of mutual respect.
The Pre-Primary Daily Programme
Tree Tops opens its doors at 7.25am and the ‘formal’ programme starts at about 7.45am
On arrival, children gather in their classroom, pack away bags, shoes and snackboxes and settle down to play with a variety of equipment and toys, have a private chat with their teacher or get a headstart on the ‘table top’ activity for the day (usually of a creative or skills-development nature …drawing, painting, collage, printing, cutting and pasting etc)
At about 8am the children tidy their classroom and gather for the Greeting Ring. There are 3 ‘rings’ a morning (teacher-directed activities or lessons which involve a whole group or class)
1. An Early Morning Greeting Ring
This includes songs of greeting, remembering the days of the week, observation and discussion of weather, news and discussion on topics of interest, as well as selection of ‘helpers’ for the day. During this time teachers also focus on maths concepts - rote counting, one-to-one correspondence, estimation, numeral recognition, simple addition etc
2. A Mid-Morning Ring
On different days these will be: Discussion on the fortnight’s educational theme eg Amphibians…Developmental Play (physical education)…Music (in the form of songs, movement to music, musical concepts and the playing of percussion instruments)…Dramatisation and Expressive Movement (with particular reference to Laban) and Zulu Language (songs, games, greetings, role play and stories)
3. A Story Ring
The scene is often set by introducing appropriate poetry and, while storytime is seen as a time for enjoyment and to extend general knowledge, as is the case with all good literature, it should provide an opportunity to think about feelings, attitudes and values. Teachers, therefore, explore and question on the ‘theme’ and not just the plot or story-line.
'Outdoor' Free Choice Play Sessions
There are 2 half hour periods which provide for free-choice play. Free-choice, however, is by no means a ‘free for all’ as, although opportunities for fun, creativity and imagination are maximised, the play environment is structured and facilitated with learning aims in mind. Activities that are available on a daily basis include:
Creative Activities – painting, drawing, cutting and pasting, dough play and a ‘special’ activity for each day, which focuses on introducing children to a wide range of media and techniques.
Large Motor Activities – the space and equipment provided allows for running, jumping, climbing, swinging, sliding, balancing, digging and building in the sandpit and riding (scooters, plastic motorbikes, balance-bikes and 2 wheelers)
Tactile Activities (that also involve an imaginative play dimension ) – a variety of substances (water being the only substance provided on a daily basis) eg gravel, dried leaves, shells, fine sand or pebbles, are laid out in trays, accompanied by toys, to encourage conversation, imaginative play and tactile exploration.
Fantasy Play - this is encouraged by setting the scene with props to suggest a home, office, restaurant, hospital, hairdresser etc. or just by providing an array of dress-up clothes and everyday domestic items.
Construction Activities - a variety of kits (eg Duplo, Mobilo, Lasi) are provided.
Puzzles and books are also available for those who want a quiet time, alone or with a friend.
Indoor Play Session
The daily programme also includes a half hour ‘Indoor Play Session’ designed to focus on cognitive and fine-motor skills, as well as visual discrimination.
The morning is punctuated by routines (toilet, snack and tidy-up times) where independence, responsibility, hygiene and manners are stressed.
English is the language of instruction, but once our children move down to Silverton Road (4-5 year olds) they have a Zulu language experience every day (whether it be during a morning ring, at storytime or by way of interaction during a routine period). Our 'third language' in the pre-primary is Numeracy, as we seek to introduce maths concepts and terminology, both consciously and incidentally, throughout the programme.
Older Middle Groups (Gr 00)
Tree Tops also offers an ‘Older Middle Group’ programme for the 'rising fives' (ie children who turn 5 between January and June of that year).
Although these children are legally eligible for Grade R in the year they turn 5 and for Grade 1 in the year they turn 6 (on or before 30 June) in most cases they benefit from the opportunity to mature further, both emotionally and socially. They also enjoy being able to refine skills, consolidate key concepts, develop language skills and extend general knowledge, within a lateral extension programme. The programme has greater flexibility and allows more opportunities for play, without the time-pressure and performance expectation that has to be part of Grade R.
The Older Middle Group Programme deals with many of the concepts the children will encounter in Grade R, but teachers are careful not to duplicate activities, so that pupils do not have a sense of repetition.
Grade R Programme
The Grade R children have a brief Greeting Ring, starting at about 8am and then ‘work’ through to 9.15am on ‘Busy Work’ activities. The emphasis is on active learning and so ‘worksheets’ are kept to a minimum.
In terms of early reading and writing, we favour a 'psycho-linguistic approach', which views reading and writing as different sides of the same coin and sees the acquisition of these skills as a bottom-up, rather than top-down process. Children learn these processes while involved in doing them in a relevant context.
We do introduce letters and phonics, but avoid the use of ‘packaged’ phonic systems, especially those making use of pictograms. We prefer, instead, to build phonic awareness by what is known and relevant in the children’s environment…their names, brand names (children are supermarket literate from an early age!) objects, events and things of interest.
The Grade R Programme at Tree Tops is an eclectic one that was originally based on the L.T.A. (Learning Through Activity) School Readiness Programme of the ex Natal Education Dept. and developed further through insights gained from Prof. Dina Stachel (particularly her Matal Early Science Programme), reading, research, the work of colleagues and the experience and expertise we have developed within our school over many years. Tree Tops has offered a recognised ‘school readiness’ programme for more than 40 years and we are confident that our present Grade R curriculum meets the requirements of CAPS Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements in terms of Language, Maths and Life Skills, and moves far beyond them.
After the ‘Busy Work' session, the Grade R children have an hour of Free Choice outdoor play and Activities, which gives them the opportunity to relax and participate in creative and constructive play. (Many 5-6 year olds favour games with rules, or a plot of some sort, so it takes time just to establish the ground-rules or agenda for the game!)
After the play-session, the Grade R’s take part in Mid-Morning Rings of the same type as the other pre-school children, but presented at a level appropriate to their development (which in many cases means that they end-up knowing more than their mums and dads on many topics!) In addition to ‘Developmental Play’, however, the Grade R pupils also have a weekly Gymnastics session with a qualified, contracted coach and assistant . They also have swimming lessons (in summer) at our Windmill pool - coached by qualified swimming instructors. In winter terms, they do weekly sessions of ball skills and sport, with their class teachers an part-time coach.
They do not go out for another outdoor play period, but remain in their classes for an extended ‘Indoor Play/ Activity session’, during which time they play educational games, do puzzles, build with blocks or construction sets (sometimes to the teacher’s instructions or printed plans), do art activities or take part in simple science experiments.
The morning ends with Story Time, which often includes ‘chapter books’ ie books read over a week or more in serial form, which encourages children to remember characters and events and rely more on their own imagination than visual aids. (The Roald Dahl stories are great favourites!)
The Grade R programme ends at 12.45pm … to allow for the ‘Busy Work’ session and to give parents a staggered collection time to alleviate traffic pressure at ‘hometime’!
The Grade R’s also have some ‘special events’ eg, an annual ‘Sleepover’ at school and a 'Parents’ Dinner'.
The dinner is a culmination of a lot of activity, as the children decorate placemats for their parents, make candle-stick holders (a design and technology project), do flower arrangements for the tables and then, finally, prepare and serve and 3 course meal under the guidance of their teachers!
The Grade R Programme at Tree Tops is extensive, enriching - and challenging!
As a matter of policy, therefore, Tree Tops only admits children to Grade R in the year that they turn 6.