Tucked away in the wide hallways and corners of the Gladstone Center for Children and Families, new Learning Zones offer the chance for a group of five or six students to work closely with an adult mentor. The trained volunteer leads children through guided enrichment activities focused on science, dramatic play, music and community awareness.

“This builds on our whole-child approach, which already includes music, technology, physical education, and art as part of full-day kindergarten,” said GCCF Director Don Brown. “This effort is one way we are learning some Reggio Emilia education approaches that align with the new preschool opening here this spring.”

Curriculum in the Science Learning Zone is founded on the Full Options Science System developed by the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Hall of Science. For each topic, there are four to 10 different 25-minute lessons.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: LESLIE ROBINETTE - Students gather around a light table to make leaf rubbings in the Science Learning Zone at the Gladstone Center for Children and Families. Students begin their lesson about leaves by learning new vocabulary: serrated, lobed, curved, oblong. Next, they examine samples of different leaves using a magnifying glass, asking questions and making observations about veins and edges — and the magnifying glass itself. After a matching exercise, they head to the light table to make some pencil rubbings.

Later, in a dramatic play session, the volunteer reads a Jan Brett story, then a group of girls and boys don costumes and re-enact it from memory.

“Learning Zones are about literacy and self-expression,” said mentor Toni Cline. “But more important than academics and artistry is that adults make a personal connection with the child.”

Volunteer coordinator Susan Trone agrees: “While these five students are getting enrichment activities and more one-on-one attention, the classroom teacher also has the chance to work with a smaller group.”

The project currently serves kindergarteners, but this spring, preschoolers from the Head Start program will have the opportunity to explore music lessons designed for 4-year-olds. In time, Trone looks forward to involving children from all of GCCF’s partner agencies in Learning Zone use, from the Family Stepping Stones relief nursery to the ESD’s preschool classes for special-needs students.

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