The social service agency Illinois Action for Children (IAFC) has partnered with 19 Chicago suburban child care centers to operate the Preschool for All (PFA) program (a state-funded PreK at-risk program) serving children enrolled in child care. Selected sites may serve children who are already enrolled in the participating center or new children who are transported there from home-based child care programs. With funding from the Illinois State Board of Education, IAFC employs 26 certified early childhood teachers who supplement the child care center staff. This unique partnership enables child care centers in targeted low-income communities to offer high-quality preschool programs to the children of working parents who receive subsidized child care.
The certified teachers and the center staff implement the research-based Creative Curriculum® and the Building Language for Literacy® (BLL) curriculum, while focusing on meeting the Illinois Early Learning Standards.
In our PFA program, teachers organize classroom experiences around a schedule of predetermined themes taken from the BLL literacy curriculum to reinforce concepts that they introduce using Big Books. They work with small and large groups through direct instruction, directed inquiry, and theme-related learning centers. A scheduled one-hour free choice time allows children to interact with the materials, the teacher, and their peers during concrete, hands-on, sensory thematic learning center experiences.
However, we found that with this approach, the children were missing opportunities to explore what interests them and to become familiar with a topic so that they can develop inquiry skills.
We added the Project Approach to our curriculum three years ago so that we could incorporate a more informal learning experience that allows children to direct their own learning and that motivates them to ask questions, conduct their own investigations, and make decisions about their activities during a project. We introduced the Project Approach into professional development training in three stages:
- Phase I Year: Full staff received a one-day introduction and key concept overview. Other components included volunteer piloting and sharing of work and ideas.
- Phase II Year: Full staff received two days of training. Implementation, supervision, and showcasing of work were required.
- Phase III Year: Full staff participated in one-day follow-up training. Implementation, monitoring, and showcasing of work were required.
I have found as an administrator that it can be challenging to promote and guide implementation of the Project Approach on this large scale, while staying true to Lilian Katz’s definition of project work. My goal is to be intentional about systematically implementing the Project Approach across all the centers so that all children will benefit.
Sharifa Townsend, Director
Preschool for All, Illinois Action for Children