Jessica Wilson, a school day teacher at Sound To Harbor Early Learning Program’s Family Partnership Center in Lacey, breaks out into a big, wide smile when you ask her what’s the best part of her job. “My favorite part, by far, is getting to play with the kids,” she says. “I love to get down on their level and find out what they are doing and what is interesting to them.”
“Play is the work of a child,” says Tovi McClellan, area coordinator. Play is important and it’s how they learn everything, she explains. Play allows children to try new things, interact with others, make discoveries, and take risks. “Risk is important for learning; if you don’t fall down, you don’t learn how to get back up,” she adds
While it’s the students’ job to play, the teachers help give meaning to the play that happens in the classroom. Sound to Harbor students learn with studies. Studies cover a wide range of subjects, such as community helpers, buildings, vehicles, nature and more. Each study helps students take a look at the topic from many different angles, through stories, songs, experiments, math games and field trips. Studies can last from two weeks to two months or more, depending on student interest. “Our philosophy is very child-led,” McClellan explains. “Sometimes kids get really caught up in a study and want to learn everything there is to learn, but if their interest wanes, we can move on to a different study.”
“We teach preschoolers a lot of skills that are the foundations of their growth for their whole life, “says McClellan. One of the most important things that she points out is social and emotional learning. “Learning how to interact with others, how to share and take turns, and how to understand their own feelings is a very big part of what we do with students here,” she says.
Wilson agrees. “It’s hard for preschoolers, when they are working through those big feelings,” she says, “that’s when we [as teachers] help them use their skills to understand how they are feeling and handle those emotions in a safe and acceptable way.”
McClellan points out that the learning fundamentals during early childhood are important and cannot be skipped over. “You can tell a child that two plus two equals four, but you have taken away the learning from the child because you just gave them the answer,” she says. Learning, especially early learning is when children discover the answers for themselves. When a child sits down with two blocks and adds two more and then counts the blocks, they discover that two plus two equals four. “That’s the ah-ha moment, the lightbulb,” she adds. “That discovery is what makes lifelong learners.” And that is when Wilson’s work as a teacher comes in, to help facilitate those discoveries, and help students recognize, interpret and understand them when they happen.
Most people don’t realize the amount of thought and planning that goes into preschool education, says McClellan. Even the classroom layout is designed with student learning in mind. Learning areas are split into sections, with specified areas for reading and quiet time, a science section, locations for block building and a pretend area that transforms regularly. “Right now, the area is a home, but when we do a study on animals, we might change a few things and turn the area into a veterinarian hospital, or a farmer’s market when we are studying nature and things that grow,” says McClellan.
Toys and learning aids can be changed out regularly so students don’t become bored, and just like studies, teachers keep an eye on student interest to inform their choices about which toys and supplies should be rotated out and which should stay. Baskets, bins and bookshelves are all placed low so that children have easy access to them. Every bin or shelf is pictured and labeled so kids can be self-sufficient to put things away when it’s time to clean up.
Both Wilson and McClellan also stress the importance of families being involved with learning, after the school day is over. Wilson stresses the importance of reading with your children, ideally, at least 20 minutes every day. But Wilson doesn’t want parents to sacrifice the good for the perfect. Even if parents must break up the reading into 10 minutes here and 10 minutes later, that is a great start. “It really does make a difference,” she says.
The Family Partnership Center operates five classrooms, each where children play to learn, grow socially and emotionally, make discoveries, and get back up when they fall down. This center is much like the 21 other centers in Sound to Harbor Early Learning Programs footprint where preschoolers are learning and growing every day. To learn more, take a look at the Sound to Harbor website.