We all learned last year that early childhood education best happens in person. Yet what makes early education crucial to a child’s emotional, social and mental development, and – for parents who are concerned that their children may have missed out during the pandemic – how can educators help our littlest ones become lifelong, joyful learners?
Patti Gee, director of Treehouse Learning in Louisville, said, first and foremost, students who may have struggled during the pandemic “aren’t ‘behind,’ they are just where they are.” She continued, “A prepared educator will take children where they are and move them forward. Creating a socially secure and accepting environment is key to getting children to build trusting relationships, and then the lessons with ABCs and 123s come much easier.”
Bethany Moore, director of operations at Off Broadway Preschool of Fine Arts in Boulder, agreed, saying, “We realize that we’ve all been stuck at home. As a small facility, our focus is on helping each individual grow, engage and feel confident in who they are as little people.”
Since at least 80 percent of the brain is developed by age 6, Gee noted, early childhood education is particularly formative in shaping how children interact with and contribute to their community. She said, “With this in mind, we are actually creating the adults that will be in our world.”
After all, Gee said, social and emotional “skills are not developed in a vacuum.” She explained, “Children learn from and with each other, and the adults give support, guidance and direct instruction to give children the opportunity to practice these skills. Conflict resolution and mediating disagreements are all part of the learning experience.”
Moore and her colleagues create both student-directed and teacher-directed daily learning opportunities that encourage social and emotional development. “Boulder is our playground,” she said. “We walk all over, and wherever we go, we’re talking about rules for walking on the sidewalk, greeting others, and how to pass by people respectfully.” Since Off Broadway Preschool especially celebrates the fine arts, the majority of lessons, from math to literacy, incorporate art enrichment while inculcating social and emotional skills. Moore opens the school year with a unit titled “All About Me,” and students learn through play, movement and song, as well as art, “that they are special little humans and are given confidence as they prepare for kindergarten,”
Gee acknowledged that the earliest years of learning often instill the most fundamental lessons: how to be members of a group, take turns, give, help, make positive choices, complete tasks and show empathy. At Treehouse Learning, infants learn to say “please” and “thank you” with sign language, and for older children, teachers model mealtime conversation, tasting new foods, table setting and cleaning up after oneself.
Finally, early childhood education is ideally driven by the natural curiosity of the child, Gee said. She and her team foster lifelong learning by “offering feedback and acknowledgment and supporting children to be curious and inquisitive.” She added, “We resist just answering questions, but empower our students to find the answer or figure out the reasoning. And we join in their curiosity.”
By Sarah Huber for Raised in the Rockies.