Erica Lytton’s Critzer Elementary pre-K class learns by Creative Curriculum: the students decide on a topic that interests them, and Lytton builds her lesson plan for their subjects around it.
Recently, when she solicited her class for a topic, one of her students suggested NASCAR. As a result, the students spent their lessons decorating cardboard box “cars” with sponsors and numbers, turning their play area into a garage, setting up a play table with dirt to create a miniature track, racing their cardboard cars outside and setting up a reading center that included a tent since race fans like to camp out at the track.
Lytton explained that the different activities built important pre-K skills like identifying patterns, textures, numbers and colors, and when children brought in “sponsors” for their cardboard cars (logos and food labels from magazines or boxes), they used pre-reading skills to identify letters and letter sounds.
On Friday, however, Lytton and her para-educators, Sharon Johnston and Kim Hart, took the kids outside for the biggest activity yet: seeing a real racecar, owned by Tony Parks, who is Lytton’s father.
Shouting and darting around the car, some kids elected to have their teacher slide them behind the wheel in the narrow driver’s seat to see what sitting there felt like while the vehicle was off—not that their imagination didn’t take over.
“Daniel, did you go fast?” asked his teacher after Daniel Gallimore, 6, got out to make room for another student.
He nodded enthusiastically. “It’s a fast car! It’s cool!”
After several students got a chance to sit behind the wheel, Lytton joked of Principal Mike Grim, who had come out to see the class, “Want to see if Mr. Grim can get in there?”
Grim laughed, “I don’t think Mr. Grim can get in there. Not without splitting my pants!”
Other children used a gauge to check air pressure in a freestanding race tire and several banded together to roll it back and forth like a pit crew bringing in a fresh spare.
At children’s queries, Parks removed panels from the side and hood of his car, exposing the engine. “It’s got a big motor in here!” exclaimed one student.
Jennifer Ratcliff’s pre-K class came out to join in as well. Everyone faced the car and covered their ears as Parks turned it on with a loud boom and revved the engine to everyone’s fascination.
Johnston said of the lesson plan that led up to Friday morning’s visit, “We love it. They’ve learned a lot more than you would realize. A lot of math has come into play with this activity.”
Lytton was pleased with the car’s visit as part of the overall lesson plan. “They have really enjoyed this with our Creative Curriculum,” she said. “We base lessons off of what children are interested in. We embedded so many skills in this.”
Lytton advised that in addition to the car her father, who has won 11 championships at Wythe Raceway, brought for the students to see, her lesson plan was helped along by donations of materials or time from King Tire, Pulaski Appliance, Matt Hagan of Shelor Motor Mile, the downtown Exxon station, Emily Porterfield, who is a front office assistant at the school, and Robbie Wallace, a Penske race team engineer and former Critzer student.