It all begins with relationships...
In early childhood, we most often think about our relationships with the children... and of course these relationships are at the heart of our work. However, building trust and a strong sense of collaboration with families, faculty and staff is equally important.
Communication is the key.
Especially during this unique time in our world, much of your communication will be written. Through listening carefully to your needs, I can take on the time consuming task of writing the communications needed to keep your families and staff engaged and informed. I can also update your existing website, build you a new website, and manage your social media to help you communicate your vision.
Our school is committed to providing the absolute best early childhood education for young children. We understand that we are preparing children for the variety of experiences ahead of them, not only in school, but in life. Current research in early childhood education and neuroscience teaches us that the best way to do so is to focus on the simultaneous development of the whole child. It is our goal to provide opportunities and support for children to develop their identity within the domains of social-emotional, fine and gross motor, language, imaginative, and cognitive skills. We do this by providing an enriching and intentional environment in which children can wonder, learn, and grow. Together with the children, teachers serve as co-researchers, exploring the many questions young children have about the world in which they live.
Social-Emotional Skills: Social-emotional growth of the children is the key element of our curriculum because we know that, without strong social-emotional skills, children will not be successful in the world around them. We foster this development by building relationships amongst children and adults through warm, respectful communication and modeling. We help each child develop a strong sense of individual self-worth, and build a community which appreciates the uniqueness of each adult and child.
Physical Skills: The development of strong fine and gross motor skills is vital to many experiences children will have in their future, both in and out of school (such as sitting at a desk, playing on the playground, participating in sports, riding a bicycle, exercising, and self-regulation). We support the development of fine motor skills by providing a variety of hands-on experiences including writing, drawing, cutting, clay-work, painting, and the creation of 3‑dimensional art. We also provide a wide variety of sensory-rich experiences, knowing that the more surfaces children touch, the more their sensitivity to texture solidifies and the more their hand-eye coordination increases. Faculty incorporate a variety of opportunities to develop their gross motor skills throughout the day by running, jumping, climbing, skipping, dancing, climbing stairs, and hanging from the monkey bars.
Language Skills: Young children develop language skills at a remarkable rate and we provide opportunities to help them do so. We facilitate the growth of spoken language through speaking with the children and through actively encouraging them to speak with each other. We ask for their opinions, model patterns of conversation, ask them questions, and utilize descriptive language to help them begin to label items and feelings. We encourage the development of pre-literacy skills through reading to children regularly, and through making books and the discussion of books an important part of their daily experience.
Cognitive Skills: In today’s world, where Google can answer any question and provide you with any fact, our primary focus is teaching children how to think, not what to think. We encourage children to not only ask questions, but to help find the answers themselves. We conduct research with the children by collecting data and determining next steps in a project. We allow our investigations to extend over periods of weeks, and sometimes months, so that the children have time to physically process the information and to create connections in their minds, literally building their own knowledge. Our research investigations incorporate all of the developmental areas as children analyze, work together in a social group, establish pride in their own work, document their observations, create, and learn new vocabulary related to their studies.
Explaining the value of a new, natural playground
Explaining the value of a new, natural playground
Our goal as educators is to create opportunities for children to explore, to discover, to wonder, and to grow through their experiences. Our new playground does all of these things. It combines physical activity with enhanced opportunity for cognitive growth. Unlike a traditional playground, with fixed features that offer a finite number of predetermined play options, a natural playground such as ours offers limitless opportunity for children to experiment and to come up with their own ways of using the materials.
The tire swing, for example, offers a fabulous opportunity for a child to build core muscle strength while balancing on a moving structure. Children have to work on their coordination as they determine where to place their feet and how to lean their bodies to remain upright. They strengthen their fine motor skills by gripping the sides to hold themselves on. The design offers endless opportunities for different types of play -a child can try to run across; a child can hold the side and jump on the tires; a child can stand with feet planted and swing; a child can sit with feet dangling and push off from the ground... The tires can be a boat, a car, an airplane, a roller coaster – anything a child imagines it to be. One child can utilize this piece alone, but it can also foster cooperation as children imagine together and as they work together to stay on – or fall off! – the tires. This one piece truly benefits the whole child and allows the children to take total ownership of their play.
The windows facing the street allow the children to observe the outside world and, in particular, to see the fire trucks as they whiz by. A less obvious feature is that the windows are also mirrors. Mirrors are wonderful tools for exploration and self-discovery for young children. There is the obvious – that children see themselves and their friends. They can explore each other’s expressions and compare the reflection to the reality. This often leads to cooperation and conversation as children explore together. Mirrors are also very helpful for children whose sensory makeup makes it hard for them to know where in space the different parts of their bodies are. Children who bump into others or into objects around them often have not yet developed their spatial awareness to the same extent as their peers, and seeing their reflection – with arms here and legs there – can actually help them become more aware of where their body is and how it works.
The monkey bars, a traditional feature of a playground, offers much more directed play – and yet the play it offers is invaluable. In addition to building strength and coordination as children make their way across the bars or swing themselves up to hang upside, hanging from their hands provides a lot of sensory input to the shoulders. This kind of traction is a form of deep pressure, or heavy work, which can be very calming and can help a child organize him or herself. For all of our children, this is one of the best ways to ‘get the energy out’ because it literally causes them to relax. For children who are sensory seeking – bumping into people or things, hitting, pushing – we want to give them as much sensory input as possible. Some of these children welcome a strong shoulder massage or a giant bear hug as a means of getting this calming input to the shoulders. For those children whose sensory system is wired so that they don’t like to be touched, hanging from the monkey bars will give them the input they are craving, helping them calm down and ultimately have fewer negative interactions with the people and objects around them as their need for sensory input has been satiated.
Another traditional feature is the slide. Slides benefit a child’s vestibular system – literally stimulating and moving the fluid in the ear canal which helps children develop a sense of balance. Sitting up on a slide also activates a child’s core muscles in the torso as they work against the pull of gravity to remain upright. Our slide, in addition to these physical benefits, offers children multiple ways to access it – climbing a slope or a rock pile. Each time they can take a new path; they have the ability to determine the course of their play. The rocks and dirt path leading up to our slide are only two examples of the variety of surfaces and grades on our playground: a variety which improves children’s special awareness and overall physical competence.
Drawing at our outdoor standing easels offers many opportunities for children to develop a variety of skills. By standing rather than sitting, children activate their muscles in different ways, and often get into their art with full body motions that are more limited when a child is sitting. When painting or drawing on a large vertical canvas, children have the ability to make broad sweeping motions which utilize their large motor skills in connection with their fine motor skills as they grip the brush, marker or chalk and create details. The broad space gives children more scope for larger imaginings, and encourages them to cross their mid-line, literally moving their hands across the invisible line that runs down the center of their body from head to toe. This sparks communication between the left and ride sides of the brain which helps with the development of coordinated learning and movement. It also allows a child to more quickly develop a dominant hand because s/he will be comfortable using that hand wherever it is located in relation to the rest of his/her body, rather than switching hands based upon where the action is taking place. Once a dominant hand is identified (and children develop hand dominance at different rates, as with all skill development) a child can work in a more focused manner on developing the fine motor skills which are vital to writing and drawing. In terms of art, observing natural objects is also an important step towards representational art.
The sandbox, another familiar feature in our natural playground, offers children limitless opportunity to imagine and create. We often see interactive games arise as children cook for each other, build together, and dig as a team. Our water feature adds a new level to the children’s interactions with sand, as they can construct more stable structures. They can observe the changing properties of the sand as they add more water, an opportunity to explore science as a part of their play. The sand itself is an example of the type of materials which activate a child’s sensory system which has so many benefits. Information enters a child’s brain through the sensory cortex and then travels through the various regions of the brain over time, eventually becoming permanent knowledge after a period of 6 weeks. The more we can activate the sensory cortex, the more prepared our children are to learn. Playing with sand and other materials is also important for a child’s motor development. As babies, children put everything in their mouths, as the mouth is the original source of sensory input and comfort. Babies learn to identify objects by their taste and feel within the mouth. Once children have satiated the need to identify objects using the sensors in their mouths, they begin to explore objects through touch, learning the feel of different textures and objects so that eventually they will know by looking what an object will feel like. They will know, for example, that a rock is hard and a pillow is soft – information which is important for their safety throughout life. This connection between the brain and the hands helps a child develop strong hand-eye coordination, which is one of the fundamentals of the fine motor skills they will need in school and beyond. The more items of different texture that children touch during this brief stage of development, the stronger these skills will be. Our sandbox has the additional benefit of being surrounded by natural tree stumps of different heights. Many of our children climb and walk on these stumps, working on their coordination, balance, and motor planning (the ability to evaluate what needs to happen in order to accomplish a physical goal, and then executing the task/s successfully).
The building zone, filled with natural tree rounds, enables children to create structures much as they do with blocks inside the classroom. Building with blocks, or tree rounds, offers a world of creativity as children can create whatever their heart desires – even if we may not see the same things they do in their finished structures. Along the way, they are developing their cognitive skills as they figure out what it takes to balance the blocks one upon each other. They strengthen their fine motor and gross motor skills as they physically manipulate the blocks, and they develop their hand eye coordination and motor planning skills as they execute their ideas. Our building area is often filled with numerous children who have to negotiate the space and work together to share the blocks. Social interactions flourish and, even if there is a disagreement over how to utilize the blocks, this too is a learning experience as teachers can model positive problem solving skills.
And of course, ALL of this is accentuated by the fact that it is happening outdoors. Research has repeatedly shown us that the very fact of being in nature is beneficial for children’s development in all domains, leading to lasting health and cognitive benefits. Our new playscape does not reflect a traditional playground, because in reality it is so much more. The layout and features offer varied and valuable resources for a child’s development at every turn, truly making it an outdoor classroom.