A “Guided Tour” of Step One’s Transitional Kindergarten

Area by area, Teachers Zeena Cameron and Steve Egawa share their insights into the mystery and magic of Room 1. If you venture into TK, you’ll see bustling activity, but there’s even more going on than what’s on the surface. What makes this well-oiled machine tick? Some artful setup, rituals and routines, a dollop of project approach, and a whole lot of good old-fashioned observation and listening.  Take a step inside!

What Is the Project Approach?

Zeena and Steve say…

Having a project-based classroom means there’s always an underlying investigation we’re thinking about as a group. At first we were studying fish, figuring out what kind of fish to put in our class fish-tank. Sadly, our first group of fish died, but we used the chance to learn about science and care-taking. We made predictions about what had happened and corrected our tank. We got two more fish, which are now thriving.

The classroom landscape reflects our investigation. When we were working on fish, kids were doing a lot of measurement here in the manipulatives area, figuring out how much water the tank needed, classifying types of fish. Our project has shifting to building, and now building materials are everywhere!

Starting in the Manipulative Area

Zeena and Steve say…

The manipulative area is important because these kids will be learning to write soon, but they’re still developing their muscle strength and coordination. Here, they do that by handling small things: tweezers and rubber bands. They also experiment! Today we were exploring the hole punch with them–how much strength it takes to use it with one hand versus with two.

Some of the materials are the same as they’d be in a younger room, but their investigation starts to go deeper. Where a younger child might stop with using the tweezers, these kids are using the tweezers, then sorting the materials they’ve picked up into categories.


Moving to the Writing Table and Art Area

Zeena and Steve say…

A lot of drawing happens here: writing begins with drawing and labeling what they’ve drawn. Right now, the writing table is set up as a mail center, because they love sending and receiving letters. We’re working on upper and lower case, and we’ve made our writing implements smaller to encourage the kids to use good grip: small pieces of chalk and golf pencils.

The art table is next to the writing table, and they often overlap. During the fish project, many undersea creatures were made and labeled! We keep books and materials nearby that they work with to make art and tell stories. It’s important at this age that they continue to play, and combine writing with play. When they are at play, we see what they know. That’s how we help them to learn: observing and listening to them is our guide to their interests.

Children this age are still learning through their senses. As a society, we tend to move kids too quickly into purely visual learning. That’s why in our classroom, we keep them in a hands-on, manipulative, sensory-rich environment.


Children have a lot of free choice time in Room 1, but we also make sure they are getting the enrichment time they need in each area. For some kids, that might mean a personal invitation to the writing table. Or offering a simple scaffolding tool, a little support while they’re learning.

For instance, we had some kids who were reluctant to write and noticed their letters were scattered on the paper, so we made lines on the paper as placement guides. Some children found this just fascinating and challenging, and had breakthroughs in writing. For others, the placement guide wasn’t interesting, and something else did the trick. They are all individuals, which is why we pay such close attention to their interests.

One of our children loved asking questions about speed. “What’s the fastest this, what’s the fastest that?” So we started making books together about the fastest car and the fastest plane. Another child loved making maps, which quickly became labeling maps. They move into writing from things they are interested in, love to do and want to do.

Just because we have a writing table doesn’t mean that’s the only place where writing happens. The kids have been making “stages” close to the classroom entrance, which leads naturally into making signs and tickets. We might ask them, how would someone know that this is a Moana show? And they work together to make a sign.

Social Play in the Large Block Area

Zeena and Steve say…

This space in the room is where the kids build houses and structures to incorporate into their play. During the fish project, they built aquariums and tanks. Now that we’re planning to build a ship, they’re making vessels. Since we had architects come to the classroom, they’ve been Interested in having a plan before they build. They worked together to plan and build a canoe.

The block area is a space to practice social dynamics. Children’s games are repetitive, which is important for social learning: every day, they work on social skills. Over time, they are all becoming “master players” who know how to give and take to keep things going.

Their building also gets more refined and complex over the year, and involves more skills. Now when they make Magna Tile towers, they talk about what makes them collapse, how to stabilize them and make them taller. And they measure them! None of those things were happening at the beginning of the year.




Positive Identity: the Changemakers Gallery and the Artists’ Gallery

Zeena and Steve say…

We add Changemakers into our gallery as we read about them. The gallery is inspiring for the kids and it’s also a good way for us, the teachers, to keep track of how we’re doing. For example, we noticed on International Women’s Day that we only had half as many women as men in the gallery. So we’ve been reading more books about women who are change-makers like Wangari Maathai and Malala, and their images are going up now.

The Artists’ Gallery is the heart of the classroom: our kids! The children’s self-portraits are their first big project of the year. They do a new self-portrait every month. We hang them in the gallery to show our progress, and focus on a positive sense of identity and care for our friends.