Children have astonishing minds. Is your child’s preschool learning environment doing justice to their infinite capacity?
As an early years’ educator, I meet many young parents every year. All of them are concerned and doting parents who want the best for their child. According to them, a good preschool should offer fundamental training in numbers, language and social skills.
The problem is that a good preschool environment, apart from being nurturing and a place devoid of fear, should do so much more. Toddlers and pre-schoolers have remarkably agile minds. They display boundless creativity and can think across planes, angles, countries and time spans. They don’t think in terms of subjects or chronology and their young minds are primed for associative thinking.
Those high-order thinking skills that they teach in the higher grades? A toddler has that in spades! But what happens when they grow up? Why do they lose that unbridled curiosity and the need to make infinite connections?
Many times, a child’s pre-primary programme can hamper this outburst of creativity. When looking for a pre-primary programme for your child, search for one that does more than just dispense with those numeracy and literacy skills. Lateral thinking skills and creativity will be crucial skills in the decades to come.
Here’s what you can look out for.
Is there theme-based learning?
Did you know that Intel hired an anthropologist? The world is no longer divided into skills that can be defined by subjects like math, languages and science. Math, for instance, relies so much on language and symbols.
The beauty of a theme-based learning system is that there is tremendous scope for interconnected learning. Having a common theme to unite all the learning activities in a term is a wonderful way to give the children a free rein when it comes to cross-curricular activities. Themes can be anything from ‘communities’ and the Olympics to chocolate and the rainforest!
Look for a preschool that knows how to implement theme-based learning. Planned activities as well as free play go into making a theme-based curriculum especially powerful. For example, in the school where I work, we integrate basic disciplines like English, Math and Art with the exploration of a broad subject, such as ‘communities,’ ‘out in the garden’ and so on.
Games and free play
Dr. Karyn Purvis said something pretty remarkable. “Scientists have determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case it takes between 10 – 20 repetitions.”
There are lessons and then there are game-based activities that make it come alive. Look for a pre-primary program that reinforces concepts outside the class, through activities, games and projects. The more multisensorial these games are, the better. For example, asking a child to jump on the right number that is drawn on the floor. Asking children to take a toy car and track the proper formation of the letter ‘S.’ Feeding the shark a particular sound. Children love such activities because they are fun and interesting.
Stories, rhymes and word games are also wonderful ways to get a child to really and truly engage with a curriculum and think on multiple levels. Does the preschool take even a simple discussion to another level? Do they ask questions about it to the children and encourage them to express their opinions, even if they don’t like the main character in a story? A pre-primary curriculum should challenge that capacity for infinite thinking. These are the little triggers that children need to develop their thinking skills and not just be happy with simple answers.
The most important factor
It’s not difficult to find out if the school follows this philosophy. All you have to do is to sit down with the preschool’s academic coordinator and ask them more about how they engage with the children in the class. As a kindergarten coordinator, I love meeting parents to show them our environment.
Take a tour of the pre-primary classrooms. Look at the activities on the walls and how well the school has implemented inter-connected learning. A passionate and creative early years’ educator is easy to spot. She or he will talk about the school’s children with pride and affection and will treat your child as more than just an admission prospect or a statistic. She or he will treat your child as an individual who truly matters.