Lower School: K-2 – Work Time

Monmouth County Private School : K-2 Work Time


Work Time is designed to provide our students with an opportunity to actively engage with the school environment and to take a meaningful and self-directed role in learning. Because children are naturally curious and eager to understand their world, it is important to provide time and opportunities for them to deeply explore concepts and topics of interest to them. Through daily observation, teachers thoughtfully plan provocations and carefully select materials and activities to offer to students. The students, working in small groups, engage in the exploration of ideas while supported by their teachers. Within this fluid learning environment, students move from activity to activity, while they work on and share their learning.

k-2 work time voyagers community school

Self-directed roles in learning

Each working group, with its small number of students, enables the children to socially construct their knowledge. Children engage in authentic learning through many avenues: blocks, dramatic play, fine and craft art, water, sand and outdoor exploration, and cross-curricular investigations. They rely on mathematical reasoning, problem-solving, negotiation, compromise, and experimentation to test their hypotheses. This all culminates in meaningful work. Through all of this deep, timely and relevant exploration, students are supported by mentors who guide them. The students are challenged to think deeply about what they are exploring, to connect their shared knowledge to that of others, to synthesize new information and to gain deeper understandings. With provocation and time, children comfortably and organically express themselves and their understandings of the world.

Examples of teacher provocations include a new material, an overhead projector for the study of shadow and light, music, a question to be answered, an item to be fixed, or perhaps a visitor or a trip. These provocations are meant to help the students build stamina for investigation and, perhaps, to find a new area of investigation. Work Time provides for flexibility, spontaneity, and excitement.

Work Time is also an opportunity for the teacher to work closely with a small group of students on concepts that are relevant to their growth and development. The teacher has the ability to deliver one or more mini-lessons each day and to work with small, focused groups with greater intention.

The students will:

  • Initiate their own learning.
  • Engage in productive, meaningful work.
  • Join projects that connect to personal interests and the world around them.
  • Learn in a reciprocal environment, co-constructing knowledge.
  • Work independently and collaboratively.
  • Increase perseverance and stick-to-it-ness.


Fall Semester
Since we have moved into a new building, the teachers wanted to take the opportunity to help the students really explore and get to know their new home. To begin, the students decided to count the number of doors, windows, and steps throughout the building. Carrying clipboards, books, and cameras, the students are starting to explore their new school from top to bottom and are learning as much as they can by chronicling as many details as they can think of. They have also begun a survey comparing the number of boys and girls in each class, which they will then graph before conducting other surveys about the student population.

At the beginning of the year, students in South 1 showed an interest in creating an art show. As a provocation, Lower Team teachers introduced the work of two famous artists, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keefe. In the art studio, students were given the opportunity to paint Andy Warhol style self-portraits or still life pastel drawings of sunflowers inspired by O’Keefe’s work.

A theme that emerged from a small group of students creating a small fairy world outside under some trees near our temporary play area. Finding small twigs, stones, pieces of bark, acorns, and leaves, the students began to construct houses, walls, and small structures for the fairies. Unfortunately, the structures often fell over due to the elements, animals at night, and other students. A teacher suggested building the world inside the classroom. The students who initiated the construction were enthusiastic in their response.

Once inside the classroom, the students had to find a suitable place to construct this magical world for fairies. The students looked at the different surfaces of the classroom and finally decided on the top of a set of shelves that held students work baskets. The shelf is narrow and the students quickly realized it was too narrow as they began building some initial structures. A solution needed to be found. After looking through the Art Studio a few cardboard boxes were brought downstairs into the classroom. The students chose the largest box to break apart and lay flat on the shelf and a wider surface was created. The teacher commented that the world didn’t look very natural, and in fact looked like a big cardboard box placed on top of a shelf with some small structures on it. After some discussion, the group decided to again use the Art Studio to find a solution. The teacher helped them look at all the materials, including the fabric, where a green piece of fabric was found and deemed natural looking for the surface of the fairy world.

k-2 work time voyagers community school


After carefully measuring the size of the flat cardboard, the material was measured, marked and cut before being placed over the cardboard. The extra cloth was used to cover the two sections and the building continued. Many students visited the work area and offered ideas to the students who were working. Buildings such as a guard tower, loaded with ammunition, were built and displayed prominently on the top of one side of the world. Some students constructed houses from boxes and containers covered with leaves, sticks, and other natural materials.

The students worked diligently on their fairy world over the next several days during Work Time, always thinking about the need to stick to natural items. Conversations overheard between students ranged from deciding if popsicle sticks are natural enough to use for building, or if it was okay to use paper since it’s made out of wood, to what size everything should be since fairies are so small and need houses the right size.

Unfortunately, the shelf the students choose to build on was proving to be a problem. Student’s kept bumping into the cardboard surface as they walked past it throughout the day, causing the cardboard to shift. The sides of the boxes were also floppy and things kept falling off. A solution needed to be found and after searching through the first-floor classrooms, an empty water table was chosen and placed in a safe space in the classroom. Two boxes were placed to raise the surface and the green cloth material covered the boxes to create the new building surface. The group decided the world needed a mountain to connect the two separate areas and create one area for protection and one to live in.

During Mother’s and Others, the students found the supply of tiny birdhouses donated from Home Depot and they quickly gravitated towards them. The students covered the houses with acorns, leaves, bark, berries, and other natural materials. They began constructing ladders. One student built a mountain from mat board and covered it with the green material and placed it between the two boxes. Other students arranged stones and acorns, made playground equipment, and began making a swimming pool.

As the students work, they discuss what they know about fairies needs and wants. They know that their wings can’t get wet, so they must devise a way for the fairies to float in the pool without sinking. They also know that fairies might get hurt and they will need a hospital. The students also understand the fairies need places to live and play. They are problem-solving, negotiating compromises, and working together towards a common goal. The group working on their fairy world are eager to accept the ideas from other students, welcome additional structures from all their classmates and enjoy sharing their work with others.

Recently, the teacher suggested the group take a step back from building to look at what has already been built and what additional items need to be planned based on their previous conversations. It was suggested that the group begin to draw the current structures and the ideas for new buildings in order to create a working map of the entire land. The group enthusiastically accepted this suggestion and began planning for future buildings and discussing layout.

Another theme that has emerged with a small group of students is the idea of creating a restaurant. This began when a few students took metal trays from the dramatic play area and use them as serving trays with the other students. The initial response by other students in the room was to join the play in any way that they could. There were many children who wanted to be part of the kitchen; they began creating meals with the play food that was available. There were a number of students who wanted to check in guests and serving food. There were also a lot of students who wanted to dine at the restaurant.

After one chaotic day at the restaurant, the entire group sat down to discuss what made the restaurant unpleasant during that work time. A lot of the comments that the students shared were about the fact that some students were invested in the play while others were not. In order to make the restaurant a more pleasurable experience, it was moved from South 1 into West 1, where there was more room, as this was also identified as a problem. Since the relocation of the restaurant, the students who are completely involved in the project are more obvious.

During another discussion, the students were asked what they notice at a restaurant when they arrive. They spoke about music, aprons for the staff, a variety of signs, the host stand, a phone for reservations, and much more. Slowly, they have integrated these aspects into their restaurant. As a provocation, chef coats and hats and waitress aprons were brought into the restaurant. The students liked having the proper clothing for the jobs at hand. Having the coats, hats, and aprons made the play more realistic. The students started to think about the different roles that were present in a restaurant and how each one is important.

k-2 work time voyagers community school

Learning about restaurants

The next item the children realized that they needed a restaurant name and a menu. At this time, the idea of having real food incorporated into this restaurant arose. The food that was going to be served at the Daily Diner ranged from fried calamari to pancakes with maple syrup. The students helped to select a menu layout that they preferred for the Daily Diner. With the addition of the menus, the students involvement became more animated. They played with the food that was available to create interesting menu items.

Another idea that emerged from this play was the need for signage around the room. The students compile a list of signs that they had seen in restaurants. These included, “employees must wash hands”, “call to make a reservation”, and “staff only”. The students worked hard at creating signs that were then placed around the restaurant for everyone to see. They also talked about how to make a reservation. They realized that in a real restaurant, people usually call for reservations. They realized that in a real restaurant, people usually call for reservations. Recognizing that the majority of the people that would be coming to the restaurant were students from school, the students opted to create a mailbox with pieces of paper on which students could write their name, their desired date, and time and the number of people in their party. This was placed outside of West 1 for all students to access. The restauranteurs who had the job of taking reservations were responsible for the content of the box.

The most recent thing that has come about from the restaurant is incorporating food that can be consumed. Both the students and the teachers talked about what foods they could serve. The group decided that they could make sandwiches, fruit salad, pasta or ramen, and grilled cheese. We talked about what we would need to cook and how long it would take to make each item.

During Work Time, students also tried to identify a hive/nest that was donated by a parent. They began by observing it from the outside with their senses. Many students tried to guess whose home it was. Some students believed it was a bee’s hive, or a wasp’s or hornet’s nest. With each guess, Christi pulled a picture of that insect or hive from the Internet and gave students the chance to modify their answer, if they wished. After observing that bee’s hives are honeycombs without the paper surrounding the outside, students ruled out the beehive. They then dissected it and looked at the dead insects. They also looked at the paper surrounding the “plates” and the levels of plates inside. They examined the outer paper and the insect under a microscope. After comparing the insects to the pictures of wasps and hornets, students were fairly unanimous in determining that it was a paper wasps nest. They have not yet identified the insect or home correctly. Because Work-Time has been postponed due to Project Weeks and will not resume until after the new year, this investigation has been temporarily tabled. However, we have kept a specimen of the insect, “plate”, and paper to finish the investigation when Work-Time resumes.

Winter Trimester
We are making some changes to Work-Time in the New Year. For the next several weeks, students will be participating in subject specific Work-Time courses in Global Studies and Science. We feel that this change will increase each student’s opportunity to study focused topics on a deeper level.

First, students brainstormed a list of different topics and areas of interest in both science and global studies. Teachers then narrowed down the list and students selected their studies of choice in both subject areas. In global studies, students selected from medieval history, ancient Egypt, and Restaurants. In science students selected from lifecycles, natural disasters, and rainforests.

Classes began brainstorming ideas and areas of interests. The teachers mapped the class curriculum according to students’ expressed interest.

Global Studies Groups
In the Ancient Egypt group, each student selected an area of focus. Hieroglyphics, mummies and tombs, pharaohs, and ancient Egyptian weapons were the topics chosen. The group decided to each create something representing their topic and then bring it all together somehow in a performance exhibit. They have now begun to research their individual topics by reading books and searching the Internet for information related to their topics.

k-2 work time voyagers community school

Continue to learn

Students continue to learn about their individual subjects in a variety of ways. A resource page has been set up for each subject. These pages contained links to various web quests and videos about each subject. Students explore the links and document their learning in notes at the end of the period. Additionally, we have begun opening each class with a shared reading where the teacher models how to pull information from informational texts. As the Teacher reads aloud students are charged with identifying the most important ideas and writing at least one important fact on a sticky note. At the end of the reading, students present their ideas and we discuss whether their facts were indeed the most important. During independent work, the teacher observes to see if students use these skills independently. Students are now wrapping up their research and projects will begin next week, March 6.

The students in the study of restaurants started out the class by brainstorming areas of a restaurant that they were familiar with and other areas that they wanted to learn more about. The most popular area of interest was learning the proper etiquette of a restaurant. The students were then introduced to place settings and the way in which different restaurants place their settings. The students created their own place settings, explaining to the group why they had placed everything where they did.

The students then expanded their knowledge of the different parts of the restaurant, such as the kitchen, hostess stand, dining area, waiting area, bathrooms, and cashier. With these different restaurant areas in mind, the students created their own restaurants out of blocks. Students worked both in groups and independently. Pictures were taken to document each restaurant that was built. The next class, students showed the other members of the group their restaurants, explaining why they put each area where they did.

The class then talked about the chain of command in a restaurant and how important it is to have every worker present. They reenacted a restaurant, and after each round, one vital member of the staff was removed from the play. They realized that every job is very important in order to have the restaurant function properly.

Students in the Medieval Times group began their investigation by discussing and mapping what they already know about these times and what they were interested in learning about through the course of their study. The students were overwhelmingly interested in castles, knights, weapons, and royalty. Using this as the starting point, the teacher began planning the introduction of Medieval Times.

By watching a few YouTube videos from the History channel and the BBC, the students were introduced to the catalyst that changed England from a Saxon society to a Feudal system. The first castles that the invaders built were called Motte and Bailey castles. They had large earth hills, the motte, with a wooden house, or keep, at the top. At the bottom of the hill was a large area where the serfs lived and served the master of the keep.

To help the students conceptualize this type of castle, the students created a Motte and Bailey castle in the sand table at school. Using wet sand to build the hill, the students worked together to build the hill to be able to hold the keep. After the group constructed the hill, they worked together to create the bailey area of the fortress including building a wooden fence made of sticks for the fence surrounding the area. The group also created a staircase as shown in the photograph being used for reference that led from the bailey up the motte to the keep.

Another small group of students constructed the keep using cardboard squares and tubes. They even included a group flag to fly from the top of the keep. Another student constructed the building found in the keep including the serf’s house, the stable, and the blacksmith. When the structure was complete the students were asked to reflect on and write down what they had learned about Motte and Bailey castles. Some students chose to draw their reflections and others chose to write what they learned. All-in-all it was an effective way for the students to understand how ownership of the land dictates control.

k-2 work time voyagers community school

Children have fun while learning

For our next class the group watched a historical documentary about the invasion and life of William the Conqueror, who later became King William I. As a follow up and a means to ascertain what the student learned from the video, they were each asked to write or draw the most important information they gained from the video. As a follow-up activity, each student was given a written article appropriate for their reading level and asked to read it and take notes on the important information about the Stone Keep Castles that King William built all over Medieval England.

Armed with accurate information about the castle, each student was challenged to build his or her own Stone Keep castle as a final project for the class. First, each student designed the castle on paper and then used their chosen materials to erect their model of the castle. Some students chose to build their castle with wooden blocks, others chose styrofoam blocks, which they hot glued together while others chose to create their model using found recycled materials from the Art Studio. Still another student built a castle using the Minecraft application on the computer.

Regardless of the material used, each student was able to represent his or her learning through the erection of the model. The students included the curtain wall, the moat, the drawbridge, the large stone keep, the inner rooms, and some even added a King.

Science Groups
In the Life Cycles group, students mapped what they already know and what they want to learn about in terms of lifecycles. The students decided to observe and document the lifecycle of a praying mantis and chickens. Students interested in documenting the praying mantis researched where to find living organisms and placed the order for praying mantis eggs. Students interested in the life cycle of the chicken put together and tested the school’s incubator and egg turner. They located a potential source for fertilized chicken eggs and wrote and practiced the phone call they will place on Monday to the farmer.

They have also discussed documenting an animal that goes through the process of metamorphosis and a plant as well, although the specific plant/animal has not been decided.

Students have not shown any real interest in watching an animal which undergoes metamorphosis, so we have abandoned that idea; however the praying mantis and carnivorous plant kits have arrived. Students have worked together to set up both learning stations. Each class period they begin by documenting their observations in science notebooks. Additionally, they record the mantis observations on the class chart where we are documenting the number of days included in each stage of development. Right now we are counting the number of days until the praying mantis hatch.

The egg incubator is set up and ready to go; however, we have been playing phone tag with the farmer from whom we hope to get our fertilized eggs from, so we hope to make contact with him as soon as we return from the Break. Interest in incubating has faded and so we have decided to abandon that idea.

Students continue to document the state of praying mantis egg case and the carnivorous plants terrarium. They document their observations once a week in their science journals. In addition, a learning center has been set up for each living thing. Students are encouraged to use the books to find the answers to their initial questions, to write them down, and to post them on the inquiry charts. Students have also chosen their final projects. Each student has selected an animal they wish to study. They will research interesting facts about that animal, study its lifecycle, and create a poster of its lifecycle to share with the group. One student will be studying three different animals, including their lifecycles. She will then use her knowledge of varying life cycles to create an original species for which she too will create a lifecycle poster.

k-2 work time voyagers community school

Learning about the rain forest

Students in the Rainforest group started the class by listing things that they know about the rainforest and things that they wanted to do more research on. A lot of the students wanted to focus on plants and animals that inhabited the rainforest. Some of the students started to draw different animals that they found in books. The students then worked together in pairs to study the different levels of the rainforest. Each pair was responsible for drawing a level of the rainforest, including the plants and animals that lived there. They then brainstormed the different materials in a rainforest and ways they could create this environment in the classroom. With books for research and recycled materials, the students have been creating plants and animals for the rainforest. These plants and animals will be brought together in the classroom to create the rainforest in West 1.

Students in the Natural Disasters class were very eager to learn about all types of natural disasters as soon as they entered the classroom on the first day of the class. Each student had ideas and understanding of how natural disasters begin or what causes them. The students had many ideas and were eager to discuss their theories and assumptions with one another. After listening to the students enthusiasm, the teacher decided to ask the students what they would like to do in the class, and they immediately decided on a 3-D model of natural disasters in progress.

It was important for the students to understand that a natural disaster has a specific definition that sets it apart from other tragedies Each student was eager to begin independent research. The teacher asked them to write or draw what they were most interested in investigating, Once the final decisions were made, the students quickly got started on looking for videos to help explain the causes and effects of the natural disaster they were researching.

At the end of the class, the students are asked to share a piece of information that they learned with the class. This helps the class stay involved in one another’s examination. It also helps the teacher check to see if the students are understanding the videos they are watching and not storing false information.

The students continued their research over a few weeks, adding information and facts to the notebooks the teacher made for them. They were asked to find information as to what caused their natural disaster to happen, determine the efforts of their natural disaster on humans and the environment, locate where their disaster typically occurs, decide what measures humans could take to prevent or help themselves during a disaster, and add any other pertinent information they may find. They were also given a variety of nonfiction books and were asked to use these sources as another means of gathering information about their natural disaster.

Once all the research was completed, the students began to build their 3-dimensional model. Each student chose a space on the large wooden board and, using all the materials in the Art Studio, they began to create the model. The learning was evident as they worked. They thought carefully as to what needed to be included while representing their disaster. The Tsunami team made sure to add debris to the large wave, which gets sucked up as the wave moves inland. The blizzard practically covered the cars and houses, the lava from the volcano covered all the cars around it, the earthquake caused fire and a great crack in the earth, the wildfire burned and charred everything in its path and the tornado destroyed everything on the ground.

Spring Trimester
Again, classes began brainstorming ideas and areas of interests. The teachers mapped the class curriculum according to students’ expressed interest.

Global Studies Groups
The Foods Around the World began with a conversation about what the children know about foods from other countries. They discussed foods they enjoy, such as pizza, sushi, spaghetti and meatballs, and Chinese food. The students then discussed what they would like to learn, they decided to study different countries and the foods from each. Each student chose the country they were most interested in and then headed into the school library to gather cookbooks. These were brought into the classroom where the children searched for a variety of recipes from various countries.

k-2 work time voyagers community school

Trying recipes from various countries

Next, the children viewed a map of the world and discussed the location of each country they chose. They considered the proximity of the identified countries to each other and noticed that some countries were close to one another. The students were given maps of the world and asked to locate the continent that their country was a part of. They colored in the oceans and continents and then document their work in their Science Notebook. After taking the time to discuss geography the students identified how far north or south each country was and considered which countries were close to the equator. They surmised that countries near one another would have similar cuisine and ingredients because of the environment and resources for plants and animals.

The next step was for the students to begin sampling authentic foods and ingredients from each of the prospective countries. Beginning with Mexico, the students sampled foods from as many of the countries as possible. They sampled a 7-Layer Cake from Italy, Seaweed from China and Plantain Chips from Mexico. After each tasting, they watched videos documenting how authentic ethnic dishes are prepared and demonstrating various food experiences around the world. The students documented their work in their notebooks. They drew pictures of the various foods they explored. They also listed the names of dishes and used a variety of adjectives to describe each. They expressed many descriptive and honest words to describe the food they tasted!

Students in the Famous Structures course began their study by identifying famous structures around the world. Many well-known structures were named including the Washington Monument, Eiffel Tower, the Titanic, The Empire State Building, The Golden Gate Bridge, The Twin Towers, Brooklyn Bridge, etc. Students then search for images of other famous structures on the Internet. They added these selected structures to their list.

Students then chose a structure that they wanted to learn about and began researching and documenting their subject. As a class, they generated potential questions that would give them general information about a famous structure. These questions included- Who built the structure? When was it built? Where was it built? Why was it built? How was it built? Students then began searching print and internet sources for the answers to their general questions and to their specific questions, which were based on individual interests.

Recently, students have begun to think about how they will represent their learning. All students wish to make a model of their structure and are beginning to organize ideas and gather materials.

Science Groups
The students in the Veterinary Science class eagerly began learning about different types of doctors who care for animals of all kinds. They engaged in a discussion about their interests and shared what they knew about Veterinarians. They compiled a list of all that was discussed and then moved to the library section to explore all our animal books. The students gathered all the books related to the class and brought them into the classroom to review and to share. They began identifying the animal they were most interested in learning more about. They seemed most interested in the care and preservation of animals.

Once the direction of the class was established, the students began watching a variety of videos about different veterinary specialties and each one’s work with animals. They watched large animal, wildlife, marine biology and pet veterinarians who took care of a wide variety of emergencies. After each viewing, the students discussed and documented their observations and thoughts in their science notebooks for future reference.

The students were fortunate enough to have a parent who is a veterinarian meet with them on two occasions, once at school and again at her office. During the first visit, Dr. V. showed the students a variety of different X-Rays. She shared information about the different types of exams she performs in her office and answered all the students’ questions. The students saw her examination, X-Ray, and surgical rooms. The children brought their dog Socks with them in order to observe an exam step by step, with a full explanation of the process. They saw Dr. V. look at Sock’s ears, hip rotation, teeth and overall health. Socks was reported to be in excellent health! The group asked an assortment of questions about Dr. V.’s work and about animal care in general. Their involvement in the tour was further proof of their interest in the topic.

The students in the Dinosaur class began by searching for informational videos that helped us to imagine what the earth looked like when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Although we found many videos about specific types of dinosaurs, we had difficulty finding video resources that helped us to picture the earth during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods of the Mesozoic Era. Finally, we found a movie, Walking with the Dinosaurs, that was set in the Cretaceous period. Because it was a fictional account of this era, the teacher took notes and recorded questions to serve as prompts for later discussions that would lead students to critique the authenticity of the information and setting portrayed in the movie.

After viewing the film, the group read an article that described the 3 periods of the Mesozoic era. Students then compared the information about the Cretaceous period in the article to that which was represented in the movie. Students discovered that the landscape and physical setting of the movie were similar to what we visualized in the informational article.

In anticipation of the upcoming fossil hunting field trip, students in the dinosaur class brainstormed a list of plants and animals they thought might have lived in New Jersey during the Cretaceous period. Many students named their favorite dinosaurs rather than think about the information they had learned about the Cretaceous period.

On the following Wednesday, the class went on a field trip to Big Brook Park where students dug for fossils in a creek bed that is known to house fossils from the Cretaceous Period. Although the weather was a bit on the cool side, students had fun digging in the creek bed and sifting through the sand and rocks to find fossilized squid pens and shells, some of which could not be identified and some of which was identified as oyster shell fossils.

All fossils were brought back to school for identification. We will now begin piecing together clues from our dig as well as future information we may gather to imagine what New Jersey looked like during the Cretaceous period. What stories can our fossils tell us? What plants, animals, and dinosaurs lived here? What did the landscape and oceanscape look like?


  • Sandy Miller
  • Christi Sandbach
  • Emma Nuneviller