IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Children learn best in a play-based environment. We use the High/Scope model to set up both our indoor and outdoor classrooms as active learning environments. “Active learning is defined as learning in which the child, by acting on objects and interacting with people, ideas, and events, constructs new understanding. No one else can have experiences for the child or construct knowledge for the child. Children must do this for themselves. Active learning involves; direct action on objects, reflection on actions, intrinsic motivation and invention and problem solving” (Educating Young Children, High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, Hohmann & Weikart).
Play is children’s work. Through play, children learn to socialize with others, to form relationships, develop skills of empathy, cooperation, and self-regulation. Children use play to make sense of their world. During play, children learn the functional use of many different materials, how they work and how to manipulate them. It is during this type of play that a child will work to master a new experience prior to putting it to work in real life. For example:
· learning to zip or button a babydolls clothing
· learning to pour using rice in the sand and water table
· learning to hold a pencil while coloring
Children also learn mastery through designing play experiences that build upon current knowledge. Many preschool materials are open-ended, meaning there is no right or wrong way to play, examples would be blocks, lego’s, housekeeping, sand and water play, playdoh etc. Through the manipulation of these items children can master new goals without feeling a sense of failure or frustration. Children will continue to pursue their interest in a material over and over again until it is mastered. Some items within a preschool classroom are self correcting, such as a puzzle, game, scale etc. Through this type of play children’s cognitive (thinking) skills are developed. When play is on their own terms, children play for the fun of it, not recognizing that they are learning, only concerning themselves with the action at hand.
“Contrary to what one might expect, the benefits of rich play experiences during the preschool years are extensive and address academic goals for reading and writing, math, science, social studies, and the arts. Several decades of research show that high-quality preschool programs that aim to strengthen social and emotional skills through play have positive effects on all aspects of children’s development-including cognitive or intellectual development. What’s more, these positive effects are long lasting. Programs that overemphasize academic learning through teacher-directed instruction in preschool may produce short-term results, but they fail in the long run to improve children’s success in school and in life” (Preschool for Parents, Trister-Dodge & Bickart).
Numerous studies done over the past several years have shown that children construct their understanding of the world based on direct manipulation of objects and experiences that are provided to them. At Little Tot’s our methods are to immerse the children in an environment filled with interesting, educational and challenging materials to facilitate the quest for discovery. We then observe and interact with the children encouraging their exploration and curiosity. Through our observations of the children, we learn what things are currently making an impression on them, and we act to implement a theme or lesson surrounding their interests. It is by acting on those interests that we so easily can teach a child important life lessons and skills. When you find that ‘teachable moment’ the door is wide open for learning, and here at Little Tot’s we are ‘opening doors’ everyday!
Here at Little Tot’s Early Childhood Care & Education, we assign learning and educational goals to the curriculum that we present to the children. I believe in student-centered learning and tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of all children enrolled. According to the Chippewa Valley Schools Kindergarten Report Card for 2017-2018 there are many important skills needed to be developed by the end of the Kindergarten year, including social development and work habits, reading and literature, writing, science, social studies, and math. Our academic instruction looks to accomplish many of the Kindergarten goals with the children prior to their introduction to elementary school.
We feel that giving children a head start in academic knowledge will allow the child more time to get used to their new setting without the worry of falling behind. Here at Little Tot’s, we have such a small number of students that we can easily individualize instruction. In addition, our family like relationships developed with the children make for a relaxed learning environment where the children easily acquire knowledge. Children learn most through interaction with adults and peers. Adult models greatly influence behavior and by the examples set, provoke similar responses from children. Role modeling positive prosocial behavior is by far the most effective way for children to learn how to interact with others. It is necessary for teachers to give a lot of individualized attention while facilitating and supporting the child’s interest. There is a constant atmosphere of compassion and interaction. I believe this is a key factor in determining a quality early childhood program.
The Little Tot’s curriculum is theme based. The teachers here at Little Tot’s choose themes built on information that is pertinent to the child’s everyday life. Our learning experiences are taught in a connected manner that facilitates the child’s interest in the subject. Each theme is explored in several subject areas, Language & Literacy, Math, Social Studies, Science, Art and Music. Information is presented in a fun way that is relevant to the child’s life and encourages participation. Thematic units work well to help the information to ‘sink in.’ Using the Multiple Intelligences approach to teaching, information is presented in a variety of ways so that children have many opportunities to learn the topic of interest.
In order to correctly evaluate a child’s development and create goals for all of our enrolled children, we start curriculum planning by observing and assessing the children’s development, interests and preferences. Having the information gained from observation and assessment, our teachers plan curriculum themes and activities based on the needs of the group.
What is unique about our program, and your enrollment here at Little Tot’s, is that we do not just plan developmental activities for preschool and prekindergarten aged children. For example, through our daily observations and bi-yearly assessments we are able to quickly identify and target areas of developmental delay in children from as early as the age of 2 months. If we recognize a developmental delay, we plan activities for that particular child or group of children, and focus our attention on improving that skill prior to our next screening. We conference with each family as to the outcomes of our evaluations to not only keep families informed, but to develop a partnership of teaching between the child’s family and we teachers here at Little Tot’s.
With many years experience in this field and my education to guide our team, we are also able to use information gleaned from these observations to plan activities for each child enrolled including babies and toddlers!
In addition to developmental assessments we also administer academic assessments as well, specifically with our preschool and prekindergarten aged children. Many of these assessments take place during their play activities so that they are not even aware they are being assessed. Our children benefit significantly from the time we spend, because we are directly relating instruction and our curriculum planning to what we know about the children enrolled. For instance, we may plan activities based on encouraging the development of fine motor skills if we notice that our toddlers are having difficulty holding a fork or spoon, or plan a theme about community helpers if the preschool children are actively role playing the parts of nurses or policemen. As part of our theme development, we choose activities from all major academic subjects such as Science, Math, Language, Music, Social Studies and Art.
The most wonderful aspect of the close personal home setting is the knowledge that we gain from the years of daily interaction with each individual child. I can proudly say that we truly know these children and delight daily in each child’s growth and new understanding of the world around them.
All lessons are created here at Little Tot’s, I do not purchase a packaged curriculum due to the limits that they place on learning opportunities, though we do borrow components of a multitude of curricular models including High Scope, Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies Gold Objectives), Reggio and Thematic Units.
Clearly one of the sad circumstances of too much academic instruction in the early years is the proliferation of children that start school lacking in social-emotional skills. One thing Little Tot’s staff is greatly aware of is the need for positive social interactions and the development of positive peer relationships. Here at Little Tot’s the children’s peers are more like family than they are friends, they grow up together, play side by side for their first five years and form bonds with all us. I have spoken with several kindergarten teachers that have explained that above anything else they wish that their students had developed the ability to relate with others and exhibit self-regulatory skills such as speaking confidently, separating from their parents, and controlling their own behaviors. Clearly having academic skills won’t help a child who cannot stop crying, make friends, follow directions or participate in class activities.
“...Children who have friends, who know how to work cooperatively with others, and who can manage their emotions are happier and more likely to be successful in school and in life than children who do not have these skills. A child’s social experiences during the first five years, at home and in group settings, form the foundation for what we now call emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand one’s feelings, control impulses and anger, soothe anxiety, show empathy and interact positively with others and persevere to achieve one’s goals” (Preschool for Parents, Trister-Dodge & Bickart).
Of additional importance is the opportunity to have daily access to green outdoor spaces. “In the past decade, the benefits of connecting to nature have been well documented in numerous scientific research studies and publications, collectively, this body of research shows that children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health is positively impacted when they have daily contact with nature” (The Natural Learning Initiative, North Carolina State University). A child's ability to connect and engage with others is of extreme importance in the early years. Because greenspaces are therapeutic and restorative, they decrease stress and increase feelings of positive well-being (e.g. Gesler, Therapeutic Landscapes, 1992). This positive affect carries indoors and is directly correlated with a child's ability to attend and engage throughout the rest of the day as well. Even more recent research has shown that direct exposure to greenspaces closes the gap between children with Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) and children without ADHD (Taylor & Kuo, Children with Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park, 2008).
Little Tot's LLC Early Childhood Care & Education is a nationally accredited, state licensed family childcare home, located in Macomb Township Michigan. Accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care, Little Tot's has been recognized for attaining the highest standards in quality child care. Located in Macomb Township Michigan. Conveniently located just north of Hall Road (M59) off of Romeo Plank. Contact Lisa today to inquire: (586) 263-9787
Here at Little Tot’s Early Childhood Care & Education, a rich learning environment is gently partnered with academic instruction to provide the most favorable learning opportunities for young children.
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