Research has shown that the more direct involvement young children have with their learning activities, the more effectively they learn. Children create their own knowledge through hands-on interaction with the activities, materials and people in their environment. Thus, an environment rich in activities, materials, and people who relate well to their ages and stages of development will enhance a child's learning process.
In addition, it is essential that the activities for the children are developmentally appropriate. This would include:
- Age appropriateness. Activities that are introduced must be in accordance with the stage of learning that the child is at in order to be effective. It is the responsibility of the teachers to prepare lessons that conform to the developmental stages of the children in order to meet the objectives of the lessons.
- Individual appropriateness. Each child is an individual with his or her unique personality and style of learning. The curriculum must be responsive to the individual needs and differences of each child.
At Pleasant Park Child Development Center, we recognize that children learn best if the following occur:
- The child has a good self-image and is accepted, as they are, by both adults and other children.
- The child is given repeated opportunities to discover, explore, be challenged, and problem-solve through direct experiences.
- The child is given diverse choices that can lead to independence, self-confidence, self-control, and a sense of responsibility.
The curriculum at Pleasant Park Child Development Center is divided into seven areas: language arts, social studies, science, mathematics, physical activities, art, and music. Those areas are then taught through various learning objectives.
At Pleasant Park Child Development Center, we have researched each learning center and discovered the academic benefits of each one.
Block building can contribute to children's development in physical, cognitive, language, social, emotional, and creative areas. Children learn the physical skills of holding, stacking, and balancing the blocks. Arms and hands are strengthened as children take the blocks off the shelves and put them back again. The muscles in their fingers are strengthened as the children pick up smaller items and stand them in place. Balancing the blocks also promotes eye-hand coordination.
In addition, social skills are enhanced in the block area, as children learn about sharing, cooperation, taking turns, and playing cooperatively. Also, their language is expanded through speaking and listening to each other. Creativity is enhanced by building structures of their own design. The block center also promotes cognitive growth, through skills such as categorizing, counting, sorting, and problem solving. All this activity promotes a positive feeling about themselves.
The particular areas that preschool children need to learn involve four areas:
- Classification: the ability to sort out one thing from another on the basis of its characteristics. The child learns to discriminate visually among various shapes, sizes, and colors, and then learns to compare one object with another, discovering that some things are alike and others are different.
- One-to-one correspondence: the ability to match objects that belong together. For example, the yellow cap goes with the yellow marker and the brown cap goes on the brown marker. The napkin on the table goes with the plate. If there are four plates, there should be four napkins.
- Seriation: the ability to order objects by size, texture, taste, color, and sound, in ascending and descending order.
- Counting: the ability to name numbers in a fixed sequence and apply it to an object at a time, arriving at a total. The children need to know the names of the numbers and the order of numbers and then apply one number to one object when they count (one-to-correspondence).
The above math skills can all be achieved by using such activities such as picture dominoes, lotto cards, puzzles, color bingo, tic-tac-toe, markers with caps, different colored and sized shapes and figures, and blocks. Most games involve some kind of sorting and counting.
Emergent literacy does not happen through formal teaching. It occurs in environments that are filled with print. A few examples of print are signs, lists, charts, pictures, books, labels, stories, magazines, newspapers, computer programs, and food containers.
There are also several things that a teacher can do to help create emergent literacy. For example, it occurs when teachers read books to individuals and small groups or when books are available for children to look at on their own. Also when stories are told orally for children to listen to and to respond to, and when children make up their own stories that are tape recorded or written down.
At Pleasant Park Child Development Center, our story centers are created with the following criteria:
- A print-rich environment.
- The freedom for children to choose books and activities.
- The time to become deeply involved so that books and activities become meaningful.
- Reading books to individuals and small groups daily.
- Providing a good selection of picture books appropriate to the children's developmental levels.
- Providing interesting follow-up book activities that children can become involved with on their own.
- Telling stories to children from books in the Story Center.
Research evidence indicates that there is a progression from random scribbling, to controlled scribbling, to the writing of mock letters and words, and finally to real writing as children experiment and mature. In order for this natural progression to occur, we must nurture it in our classrooms. At Pleasant Park Child Development Center, we fill the children's environment with examples of writing and reading. We encourage and support the children's attempts at writing. In addition, it is crucial to display the children's writing, so that they can take pride in their accomplishments. A few examples of a print rich environment would include the following:
Labels: everything n the classroom should have a label on it. That includes doors, clocks, tables, furniture, grocery items, shelves, and anything else in the room.
Names: a child's name should be on all their belongings, which helps them tremendously with name recognition.
Sign-up sheets: each time a child has to sign their name to a list or paper, the more practice they have.
Charts: they help children visualize information. For instance, a class can chart the children's height, weight, color of hair, and eyes. It can also describe the classroom rules, activities, menus, and weather.
In addition, writing centers can also enhance growth in fine motor skills, creativity, and language development.
Art, is also a means of communication and self-expression for children. Art is visual rather than verbal, and involves the elements of line, shape, color, and texture rather than words.
It is important to realize that most young children do not begin their art projects with a picture in mind, rather they are manipulating the medium to explore learning. All children go through a similar sequence in the development of drawing skills. They begin with scribbles that are repeated over and over again until they emerge into shapes. Then eventually, recognizable objects begin to appear.
In order to facilitate the progression in art expression, Pleasant Park Child Development Center creates an inviting art center. The art center is filled with diverse mediums of art such as crayons, markers, paints, scissors, stamps, play dough, clay, tape, newspaper, magazines, ribbon, chalk, hole punches, and glitter.
The art centers create growth in small motor development, cognitive development, and social development in addition to creativity.
Like art, music is another medium for children's communication and self-expression. The elements of music that young children are involved with include tone, rhythm, and melody.
Music centers should become personal for the children and they should be able to bring in discs or tapes of the music that they enjoy. Children also be able to explore different musical instruments, to see the cause and effect for each: if you shake the rattle, it makes a noise. The children may also create musical instruments, as beans in a paper towel tube with the ends sealed can become a shaker.
Music development encourages growth in several other areas, including language development, creativity, and cognitive development.
The science center is one the best examples of how children learn through self-discovery and investigation. Children, from infancy, are ready to explore their environment through their five senses.
- Sight Children observe and notice things in their environment. For further exploration, they can use magnifying glasses and binoculars to learn about their environment. What does a lemon look like?
- Sound Children usually use this sense after sight to explore an object. What sound does a lemon make? Listen carefully.
- Smell Children use smell all the time to help them identify and discriminate among the things in their world. What does a lemon smell like?
- Taste Most children want to try most things that are edible. As children mature, however, fewer things go into their mouths. How do different things taste? How does the lemon taste?
- Touch Children learn a great deal from their sense of touch. How does the object feel? Describe it. How does the lemon feel?
In order for our science centers to be successful, they are be set up based upon topics that are of interest to the children. A few examples of topics are children's food, clothing, their shadows, dogs, cats, trees, grass, frogs, the sun, and rain.
The cognitive concepts that are most appropriate for preschool children to investigate involve the properties of objects (their shape, size, color, texture, sound and odor); the actions of objects (how they move, react, balance, stand up, grow, and eat); and likeness and differences among objects. Preschool children need not be so concerned about "why" things are the way they are, but rather "how" they look, act, and interact.
Dramatic Play Center
It is essential to realize that dramatic play is one of the most complex kinds of play that young children engage in - and perhaps the most important. In dramatic play, children use pretending to investigate their world. For example:
- Social Development
Values such as honesty, service, loyalty, and truthfulness
How to gain entrance into a group
How to be a leader
How to negotiate
How to deal with people you disagree with
- Cognitive Growth
Concepts such as work, play, order, time
Concepts of travel and transportation
Concepts of illness, doctors, and emergencies
Roles of families and workers
- Language Development
How to carry on a conversation
How to speak as a different character
Meanings and uses of new words
How to express feelings in words
Use of words as a substitute for actions
- Emotional Development
How to express strong feelings in acceptable ways
How to control negative tendencies
How to deal with conflict
- Physical Development
Mastering certain motor skills( running, jumping, climbing)
- Creative Development
New ideas, plots, and characters
Large Motor Center
Running, jumping, climbing, and skipping are all activities associated with children. The Large Motor Center is set up to appeal to children's own interest in motion. Growing bodies need physical exercise in order to develop properly. It is our responsibility at Pleasant Park Child Development Center to provide opportunities for each child to practice his/her motor development. With different activities and equipment we provide opportunities for walking, running, galloping, jumping, hopping, leaping, crawling, creeping, balancing, bending, climbing, creative movement, throwing, catching, and riding.
These centers divide a classroom in such a way as to allow children to make choices, to move freely and independently, and to grow in areas of need. They also give opportunities for a large number of children to learn individually or in smaller groups so that the teacher can take advantage of moments of learning readiness, keen interest, and desire. In a more structured grouping, these activities might not otherwise be possible.
Our staff takes the responsibility to invite, guide, and encourage children to explore all the centers and ultimately learn in several. With so many opportunities to learn, whether a child selects one center or another, the end result will be the learning necessary for that particular child's growth. By helping each child find that there are different ways of learning the same thing, each child will discover their own best path to learning.
By setting up a series of centers within the classroom, Pleasant Park Child Development Center provides the following opportunities:
- For a child to make choices.
- For discovery and learning through direct personal experiences.
- To build a feeling of self-confidence and competence as a result of learning skills.
- To enlarge children's vocabulary and to develop skills in communicating their ideas.
- For imaginative dramatic play through role-playing.
- To learn, to think, and to problem-solve by using a variety of materials.
- To develop fine and gross motor skills.
- To develop socially by learning to relate to others.
- To share and to be responsible to others as a member of a group.
- To use and care for materials and equipment.
- To complete tasks and to plan group projects.
- To discover and expand the learning of specific information relating to a subject.
Once the learning centers have been prepared for the children, it is then the teacher's responsibility to observe the children interacting with the materials and activities. With the observations, the teacher can then determine at what developmental level each child is at, and which activities would enhance their learning.
In addition to the learning centers, the teachers will also designate a specific amount of time each day for guided lessons. This time includes calendar time, story time, writing time, art activities, music, fingerplays, flannel board stories, games, poetry, and rhythms. Guided group time also includes outdoor (or indoors in inclement weather) when the children may be organized into a more structured group for large muscle activities, such as circle games exercises, or practicing a motor skill. Also routine times when all the children may be eating, resting, moving in or out of doors together.
It is our goal at Pleasant Park Child Development Center to allow the children to explore their own learning, while offering guidance through their experiences and discoveries.