College of Education

University Primary School
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Inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Uni Primary staff view children as capable, curious, and cherished. Uni Primary uses Common Core Standards adopted by Illinois as a foundation for informing our curriculum in literacy, math, science, social studies, arts, PE and wellness, etc.  The project studies aspect of our curriculum is emergent, while other content areas may be less-so. (A project may or may not necessitate a certain skill or standard appropriate for a certain grade level, though many projects allow children to use and transfer skill work, many topics/skills are introduced and practiced outside of a project, especially in older grade levels.) A blend of student-initiated, teacher-guided, and teacher-directed activities present students with opportunities to pursue their own interest areas and progress at individual and small group levels of instruction. Creativity, problem solving, and self-directed learning are common threads woven through all areas of the curriculum. Students become actively involved in the inquiry process informed by The Project Approach.

Best Practices

As a teacher training and research site, University Primary School aims to model recommended practices, based on research and accepted learning theories in early childhood, elementary, gifted, and special education. Children work individually or in small groups most of the time with teachers who often take the role of guides or facilitators of learning. Teachers assess and address the strengths of each child and build on these strengths for future learning experiences. Classrooms are inclusive of children with differing abilities and a strong sense of community is fostered by teachers, students, and families.

Play & Project Studio

Play and Project Studio is an essential component of our curriculum. This Studio time allows students to make choices about their own learning and provides important school time to work on interest areas. The daily schedules reflect this kind of time through exploration, play, and experimentation. Projects present real-life contexts and integrate the acquisition and application of basic skills through inquiry modes of learning. Play and Project Studio fosters “the love of learning” and provides opportunities for teachers to engage in learning processes alongside students. Projects are sometimes investigated across the school grade levels, with specific questions and areas of study related to the Project Study, informed specifically by classrooms. Big ideas (essential questions/enduring understandings) attune to developmental levels and standards of learning.

Social and Emotional Growth

Teachers take a proactive role in creating a classroom community that is honest and embracing. Care for each child’s well-being is our utmost priority. To this end, discipline is designed around teachers structuring appropriate choices, students learning how to solve their own problems with support from grown ups, and students sharing in the responsibility of developing a caring classroom community. Teachers encourage self-regulation and strive to develop both intellectual and emotional self-confidence. One psychologist we are inspired by is  Alfie Kohn and one social worker we are inspired by is Brene Brown.

Numeration and Problem Solving Skills

Math is taught with an investigative approach, with a focus on relating math to real-life situations using manipulatives and other concrete materials. Teachers facilitate learning in the following areas at the child’s individual readiness level: conceptual skills, numeration, computation, measurement, problem solving, algebra, and geometry. Many of the students’ projects reflect integration of these mathematical skills. Uni Primary uses Illinois Common Core Standards and older students use Envion Mathematics to support and enhance mathematical development.

Language Arts

Uni Primary emphasizes a whole language approach where children learn to read by reading and to write by writing. Students are actively involved in both processes throughout the day and teachers reference Illinois Common Core Standards in their planning and instruction. Importance is placed on the “making sense” process. Generally, learning is within a whole context rather than discreet parts. Early literacy involves three reading cue systems: contextual, grammatical, and phonetic. Teachers create a literacy rich environment and model meaningful listening, reading, speaking, dramatizing, and writing. Students have opportunities to read in small size book groups with peers, read with buddies, and read individually with teachers.

Science and Social Studies

Science and social studies concepts are learned throughout project investigations and explored during activity and project times. Non-fiction literature is meaningfully shared with students and exploration and experimentation abound! Older students experience historical perspectives in more recognizable ways–engaging in global and past-future connections as part of projects and literacy lessons. Researchers and experts from the field visit classrooms, creating opportunities for deep questions and discussion. Situated here on campus, our students venture on field studies to the campus community meeting with experts, visiting labs, and viewing artifacts/primary resources first hand.

At Uni Primary, children are immersed in a democratic environment with daily opportunities to strengthen their own voice and develop multiple perspectives around issues. Students question and dialogue about big ideas, gather historical or topical facts and details in context of a project or question, and build consensus around open-ended questions. Students investigate global perspectives through books, experts, and on-line resources.

Children and teachers are co-researchers and co-learners at Uni Primary. A solution or resolution to one question leads to another question, and learning is ongoing. We value scientific activities that build upon students’ natural curiosity about the way the world works. We encourage trial and error in experimentation, debate and doubt, and an authentic openness to discovery. Reflection time and metacognition are part of each day.

Arts and Aesthetics

As a Reggio-Emilia inspired school, arts are integral to children’s learning and assessment. Teachers guide students toward meaningful experiences in the arts with examples, materials, and cultural artifacts. Children develop a sense of their individual aesthetic and appreciation for others’ artistic voice. At Uni Primary, student artwork is an expression of ideas, a form of experimentation, and a demonstration of developing understandings about the world. Teachers promote sensitivity to and an appreciation of the environment, developing an awareness of a personal and community aesthetic. The arts are an essential part of the school day, everyday.

Music and Drama

Music is an intentional part of the schedule in classrooms, where melodic development, rhythm and rhyme, collaborative song and instrument play, and global sounds and culture are explored. Dance and movement experiences are part of music time, often in creative response to song. Music is part of the school day, infused in subtle ways as background music or as part of a classroom routines during transition times (ie. cleaning up activities and coming to the carpet for large group). Older students study the recorder and learn to play as an ensemble. Dramatic play is encouraged in all classrooms, during outdoor play and choice time, as inspired by books and stories, and somtimes as a specially guided time with a dramatics arts teacher.

Physical Development

Physical movement, team play, sportsmanship, negotiation of rules and fair play are a part of outdoor play and physical education guided by teachers and University students. Outdoor play is highly valued at Uni Primary, and children go outside for non-structured and structured play experiences, even in the gentle rain and definitely in the snow (when temperatures are safe). Gross motor development is assessed and guided in non-competitive ways, with emphasis on cooperative, peaceful play. To be optimally available to learn, some children integrate sensory activities into their class work or take sensory breaks.

Spanish Language 

Children participate actively in meaningful age-appropriate activities in Spanish language instruction where they use the language modeled by native speakers and learn by listening, speaking, and doing. Native or near native Spanish speaking children are challenged in bilingual practices during the Spanish time alongside children who have yet to acquire Spanish Language.