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Monday, October 20, 2014

What is a cooperative preschool anyway?

There are many choices a parent can make when deciding on a preschool for their child. I personally have taught in a few different settings. Last year was my first year teaching in a cooperative preschool, and it has been a game changer! 

What exactly IS a cooperative preschool?  A parent cooperative preschool  is organized by a group of families with similar philosophies who hire a trained teacher to provide their children with a quality preschool experience. The teacher is responsible for planning, and implementation of the curriculum. Parents administer and maintain the preschool on a non-profit basis. Parents assist the teachers in the classroom on a rotating basis and participate in the educational program of all the children. Each family shares in the business operation of the school, elects a board, votes on all aspects of the preschool including curriculum, field trips, class events, etc. Parents also attend regular membership meetings, the time between varies from co-op to co-op, but is generally once a month. 

A co-op is a very different kind of early education experience. Parents don't just drop their child off at the door. They are an integral part of every aspect of their child's learning. Most co-op preschools also educate parents on early childhood education, a key difference from other preschool options.  Parents have a hands on role in their child's preschool experience, and have a voice in all matters regarding the classroom. A licensed teacher works side by side with the parents, and both teacher and parent work closely with the children to ensure a fun, safe place for learning.  Parents have the unique opportunity to not only spend quality  time with their own child, but to observe other children around the same age. Parents can learn useful ideas, and share their own experience and expertise with other children and members. 

Belonging to a co-op preschool is a commitment like any other. Parents time and energy are key components to a successful school. Parents are the co-teachers, fundraisers, treasurers, janitors, maintenance workers- just about everything!   Providing snacks, doing laundry, making playdough- these are just a few things parents who choose co-op learning do, along with interacting with the students and helping the teacher as needed. Jobs are designated, or volunteered for, and each parent is responsible for doing those jobs. Good communication between members and with the teacher is very important to make sure everything runs smoothly. 

So is co-op learning for you? Co-op participation is very rewarding,extra time spent with your children, bonding and forming relationships with other families, and the peace of mind that when your child does go to kindergarten, you have given them an amazing foundation. If you are ready, willing and able to co-teach, clean, play, fund raise, prepare food, be around other preschool age children, meet new parents and learn some great things- then a co-op is definitely for you! 

There are some basic questions a  parent should ask when choosing a preschool for their child. The following list offers some tips  to help, no matter what your early educational choice may be! 
  • What is the philosophy of the school and teacher?
  • How do they discipline children and resolve conflict? 
  • What are their goals in terms of childhood development

Make sure that the school's values match yours. Remember, preschool is designed to give young children a foundation for learning, building social skills and self help skills. School readiness skills are important, as are developmentally appropriate practices.

  • How long has the school been around? 
  • How long has the teacher been there?
  • How long have the current families have been there? 
Also important to ask:
  • How much are the children sitting in teacher/parent led activities?
  • Is there a balance between child centered and teacher/parent centered activities?  
  • Are the materials age appropriate?

And questions that are unique to a co-op preschool, such as: 
  • What exactly are the commitments in terms of work days, night meetings, fund raising, and tuition? 
  • What are the penalties if these commitments are not met? 
  • What are the policies around parents' leaves of  absence, illness, pregnancy?
  • What sort of flexibility is offered when life changes occur

Make sure you are comfortable with these terms- don't be afraid to ask what kind of leeway there might be. 

Plan a visit with your child.  Any co-op should allow a visit, whether it's a set day and time, or as a drop in. Make sure that you are comfortable with the play area and classrooms and that your child seems comfortable as well. Talk to the other parents. You will be working with them! 

I hope this has helped answer any questions about what a co-op preschool is all about. It truly is an amazing, unique experience! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Developmental Domains. Wait.... WHAT??

We have talked about the interest areas in a preschool classroom, and the importance of each. Now- why exactly do I set up my classrooms with these interest areas?  It’s not just off the top of my head! Research and Early Childhood theories outline 5 domains of early childhood development. (I actually have 6- you will read why in a moment) Let’s take a look at these.

Physical/ Gross Motor: This involves learning to use all of the “big” muscles in the body.  Crawling, walking, running, skipping, jumping, and climbing are all important big muscle activities for preschoolers.  Research also shows a link in gross motor activities and reading skills.

Fine Motor: Fine motor activities teach hand-eye coordination.  Most of the time, these skills are included in the physical domain. I like let them stand on their own.  These activities require a child to learn to precisely control the muscles in the hands.  Things like coloring, writing, cutting with scissors, using tweezers, tearing paper, etc. all help build fine motor skills. 

Communicative/Language:  This domain includes the letter recognition, phonemic awareness, oral, and written language. Development of these skills helps your child understand verbal and eventually written language, and enables them to hold a back and forth conversation. Talking about things throughout the day is important. READ READ READ to your child!! From infancy on, reading to your kids is so very important. They will learn their  ABC’s  as well as the sounds each letter makes, and will begin to tell their own stories.  Plus it’s a nice time to sit and enjoy this time with them!

Cognitive:  This domain refers to learning and thinking. This includes cause-and-effect, reasoning, as well as early math skills.  Counting , organizing and patterning are also included in this domain. During the preschool years, your child will also learn to ask –wh questions: Who, What, Why and When. And of course How?  Attention span begins to increase as well.  

Social/Emotional:  Your child is a social being!  Learning to “play” (especially with others) is a skill.  “Teaching” in this domain also involves making sure a child feels safe and nurtured.  This domain is often overlooked, or considered a natural progression- but is nurtured through group games and activities.  Imaginative play blossoms in a preschooler, and young children learn to work through anxiety, worry, and anger through this kind of play.  

Self-Help/Adaptive: Activities in this domain include learning to dress oneself, feed oneself, use the toilet, brush teeth, bathing, tying shoes, snapping, zipping etc.  Everything that a child needs to know to start being more independent could be included in this domain.  It is important to let your child do things themselves whenever possible to nurture this domain. Pouring their own drink, getting their own snack, and having small chores like watering plants, or feeding pets help your preschooler develop adaptive skills.

You can see now, why the interest areas are the way they are in my class. The domains frequently intersect, and are not mutually exclusive at all! This list is by no means exhaustive- and if you follow the links below, you can find out more!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

It looks like they are "just playing"

 In my last blog, I discussed why play is so vitally important in an early childhood classroom. I went over a couple of different interest areas, and the skill sets they offer. What looks to you like "just playing" is actually young children learning many different skills!


                                                Toys and Games

We discussed blocks, dramatic play and art areas, now let's talk about toys and games. "Table Toys" as many preschool teachers call them include a variety of things, manipulatives like Unifix cubes, buttons, links, geo boards and magnetic shapes are all open ended materials that children use to explore math concepts such as patterns, shapes and relationships between different materials. Patterns are a big deal in early childhood, because patterns are everywhere and one of the basic concepts of all math, from algebra to geometry and even higher maths such as trigonometry! By having a variety of different items children can use, they can copy, extend or even make their own patterns. Not to mention the great fine motor practice, which strengthen little hands and fingers for writing. 


Strengthening literacy concepts and language acquisition are just a couple of things that are happening when children are putting together puzzles, trying to see which key fits into which lock, or building with Legos. Talking with the children and introducing new descriptive words such as shiny, smooth, rough, curved and pointed are enhancing those literacy and language skills, even more math!

Using puzzles and games that feature plants and animals is an opportunity to talk about life science. When children sort a collection of plastic animals, they are learning classification skills, such as where the animals live--the farm, the zoo, or the ocean. Sorting by size and using words like "big, bigger, biggest" and "first, next and last" helps teach size concepts.

When playing games, children learn about people and how they live. The teacher facilitates this by encouraging them to work cooperatively and solve problems together. Giving children authentic, appropriate and positive feedback when they take turns and share helps build social skills.

We turned our library into a bat cave!
The Library

The library should be filled with soft furniture, many different types of books, and in my classroom, stuffed animals and puppets. This is a great place to get away from the active interest areas and relax. My listening center and writing center are included in the library area, and in this area children develop the motivation and skills necessary to read and write. It's so amazing to hear them retell stories they hear read to them to their friends! Pointing put comparative words such as "enormous pumpkin" and "teeny-tiny woman" promotes the math skill of measurement, and stressing words like "tomorrow" "in a little while" and "long ago" emphasizes time concepts- which is a very abstract concept for little ones to grasp!

I like to showcase books that correspond to our theme. I add and change letter books, picture books, and non- fiction books to my library area regularly to make sure I keep interest levels high. I love non-fiction books that help children learn about plants, animals, healthy foods, healthy bodies and weather and they are a regular part of my library. I also like to keep books all around the room, such as cookbooks in dramatic play and construction books in the block area.

I include many books books about people from different places, different jobs, even in different languages (one favorite is Yo? Yes!) Books that help children deal with feelings and emotions are also a staple in the library, and around the room. 

The Science/Discovery Area

One of my favorite areas in the classroom is the science and discovery area. Many preschool teachers get hung up on magnets as the major science items in a preschool class. Magnets are great,but there are so many more opportunities in this interest area!  Young children are curious, and this area allows for exploration with all the senses. Planting seeds and then keeping a daily chart on the growth promotes observation, writing and literacy skills.  Looking at fingerprints under a magnifying glass, or using a stamp pad to make fingerprints and compare them incorporates body awareness, art, and asking questions to get more information. Looking through prisms teaches the color spectrum and light concepts. Making "goop" or snow shows how things change from one thing to another and is messy fun too! 
Watching caterpillars transform into butterflies is one of my top science and discovery activities! It is a long term learning experience that teaches the butterfly life cycle, not to mention patience! 

Take the science outside- look at tree trunks, leaves, (safe) insects, dig in the dirt- the possibilities are endless!

So you can see how "just playing" is opening doorways to knowledge, strengthening skills across all domains, cognitive, physical and emotional. It really is an amazing thing- this play. Why would anyone want to stifle that?

Links to great ideas!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Let them PLAY!!


Welcome to It's a Preschool Thing! This is my blog about all things preschool including best practices, philosophies, classroom ideas and more.

My name is Ms. Dawn and I have been teaching preschool for 16 years.  I am blessed to absolutely LOVE what I do! The absolute joy I feel when I connect with a young child is hard to describe. The excitement I feel when a child makes a discovery makes going to work something I can't wait to do. I am helping these small humans learn to navigate their world. I am teaching more than ABC's and 123's- I am fostering empathy, building problem solving, teaching self help and critical thinking skills, encouraging a love of books and reading, providing a safe place for explorations, and building a community.

I have had the opportunity to work in many environments- from private preschool, to Head Start, and now in a cooperative preschool- and each experience brought it's own joys, frustrations, and learning experiences. One constant is that each year brings new personalities, new ideas and a whole lot of fun!

Volcano science
Preschool should be all about the fun- the simple joy of learning through play. Young children are developing at a rapid pace. Physically, emotionally and academically, changes are occurring every day. What may look like "just playing" to an adult, is actually a preschooler learning to navigate this big world, drawing on life experiences and putting it into a context their developing brain can understand.  Play is a preschooler's work, and is a very important part of the whole learning process.  Play stimulates brain development, creating necessary neural connections, while observing young children at play you can almost see those synapses firing, all of those connections being made! Studies show that play is vital in the development of cognitive skills, young children learn classification, grouping, making plans to achieve goals and interacting with others. Motor skills are developed through play, from running and jumping, to fine motor skills like pinching and grasping- important pre-writing skills.  Play enhances language skills, talking, singing and  word play help to learn and master letter and word sounds.  Play helps children develop social and emotional skills, learning to take turns and work with others are things we all have to do every day!  

 One example is when your preschooler plays with blocks. They are like little engineers, experimenting with balance, structure, space, and even gravity. Have you ever watched your child attempt to build a simple tower, only to have it fall down at a particular height? Perhaps you have noticed that they tried different ways of placing the blocks until they finally construct a tower that stays up. Believe it or not, this is the basis of the scientific method  of experimentation, observation, and cause-and-effect to solve the problem of the tumbling tower. Block building teaches basic math concepts such as  shape, size, area, even geometry and  measurement.  Best of all, blocks are an open ended activity that allows young children to use their imaginations!

Another example is dramatic play, otherwise known as "kitchen/housekeeping." This interest area has endless possibilities!  In my classroom our dramatic play area has been a flower shop, restaurant, coffee shop, pet store and  grocery store just to name a few. Dramatic play encourages role playing, the use of materials/props, make believe and social skills and interactions.

Art projects are more than just "parent pleasers." I provide different types of paper, crayons, markers, tape, glue, safe scissors, yarn, paint and so much more to encourage open ended creativity  as well as  developing small muscle control and hand/eye coordination.  We do class art projects as well, but my focus is on the process rather than the product.  Your hippo has six eyes and is orange? Great!

The students in my class are busy! Buy exploring, busy getting messy, busy learning through hands on experiences- there is no time (or educational value at this age) for worksheets! 

These are just a few examples of interest areas in my classroom, stay tuned for more!  Coming up, more about the interest areas and the skill sets they promote in my class, and how to get ready for that first day of preschool.  

Helpful Links: