Grace School recently celebrated Week of the Young Child with five days of activities aimed at celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families.
Remember Preschool? Days filled with brightly colored blocks, fruit juice, cheese crackers and an afternoon nap. In hindsight, there wasn’t a lot of “school” in many preschool programs. It leaves many moms and dads wondering if preschool is worth it?
The education desk at NPR (National Public Radio) pointed to a new study out of North Carolina, which found early childhood programs in that state resulted in higher test scores, lower failure rates and fewer special education placements. The benefits lasted well into the fifth grade.
But not all preschools are created equal. Researchers found small class sizes plus student-directed learning plus lots of open-ended play equaled a worthwhile program.
Grace Primary School has been accredited by “The National Association for the Education of Young Children” or NAEYC, which is the gold standard for early childhood programs across the country. Our instruction for children 18 months to 4 years old follows the best practices put forth by the organization, which demand a developmentally appropriate curriculum for students. One way we accomplish this is by keeping class sizes to 12 to 13 students and following a curriculum specific for each grade level. This creates purpose-driven instruction and a progression of learning from one year to the next. The children are continuously adding to their knowledge base.
Learning and discovery are at the heart of our student-centered instruction. Teachers work with small groups to tailor lessons to each child’s needs. This includes guided reading, shared writing, one-on-one conversations and exploration of math concepts. We incorporate exercises that put children in discovery mode. For example, allowing them to mix colors and see the results. Also, introducing science, technology and engineering throughout the year to spark “a-ha” moments.
What other programs call open-ended play take new shape at Grace and become open-ended learning. Students experience books as a form of enjoyment. Even if they can’t yet read, they begin to understand the basics: For example, we read and write from left to right. In the writing center, various mediums are provided for children to practice the beginning stages of writing. It may look like scribble to us, but for them there is a story behind it. Blocks teach spatial awareness and shapes. Sand and water are used to teach capacity. A tiny kitchen is utilized to work on language skills. In art, we don’t tell them, “This is how you draw an apple.” We show them an apple and allow them to create their depiction of an apple using fine motor skills and their perceptions.
Of course, my unbiased opinion is that Grace fulfills all the requirements. The interaction that occurs daily among our exceptional and caring teachers, assistants and staff with students is what sets us apart from other schools. This is evident not only in Primary School, but our Lower School and Middle School, as well.
Ultimately, the question is not whether parents should invest in early childhood education; but rather what kind of learning environment will give their children an academic advantage for years to come.
Written by: Dr. Liz Walgamuth, Head of School, Grace School