You’ve got to give it to preschool teachers. How do they do it? Do they have some uncanny superpowers up their sleeves?
Isn’t it baffling how they effortlessly flip the veil of ignorance off the tender minds of children? Before you know it, your child can tie their shoelaces and fix their snack like a pro.
Whether you home school your child or they attend a public or private preschool, there are many gems that parents can glean from how preschool education is tailored.
A child’s first years of life are the springboard for their future abilities. Preschool education offers young children a stimulating and caring environment where they can harness their cognitive and social skills.
We scoured through some of the common preschool programs and cherry-picked some of their best practices. Parents can use these tactics at home to help stimulate their kids’ cognitive and social development.
1. Following a Child’s Cue
Some preschool programs like Montessori and Reggio Emilia allow the child to steer the wheel in their education journey. In a Montessori preschool, the child walks into a tidy, beautiful environment that is peppered with many stimulating materials.
The child is free to choose the form of play/activity they wish to concentrate on, whatever floats their boat. The materials are thoughtfully selected to support the child’s cognitive and social development.
The child is allowed to explore the materials to their heart’s content and at their own pace. The teacher only acts as a guide. He/she observes the child’s interests and helps the child to make intellectual interpretations.
This approach works like a charm because each child is unique. Allowing a child to explore activities on their terms (without imposing things that don’t pique their interest) makes learning enjoyable. It also bolsters their confidence, teaches them how to work independently and concentrate on a task.
2. Using Thoughtfully Selected Sensory Materials
Both the Montessori and the Reggio Emilia early childhood programs use thoughtfully selected materials for multi-sensory learning.
In Montessori, materials are scientifically designed to help the child learn and master complex concepts. The materials are designed to allow the child to correct their errors without requiring the help of an adult.
They allow independent learning, practice, and repetition, thereby sharpening a child’s cognitive abilities. Such materials include sound cylinders, classification cards, movable alphabets, beads, dressing frames, and puzzle maps among others.
Montessori’s hands-on activities include opening bottle caps, pouring and scooping, gluing paper, sweeping, matching socks, among others.
The Reggio Emilia curriculum also uses hands-on, skill-building, and mentally stimulating materials to stoke a child’s cognitive abilities. The teacher identifies a child’s interests and creates projects in line with them.
The classrooms are large common places with natural elements like sand, leaves, branches, and stones. You may also find some complex items like wire cutters, scissors, and hammers. Hands-on activities include painting, dancing, playing real musical instruments, reading and writing.
3. Peer to Peer Learning
One striking feature of the Montessori system is that it integrates children of mixed ages. Children aged 3-6 years are, for instance, grouped together.
This encourages peer-to-peer learning with older children naturally stepping up to assist the younger ones. Here are some benefits of peer to peer learning among preschoolers:
- It helps the older kids master their tasks– As they teach the younger kids, they get a better grasp of the task at hand.
- It cultivates leadership and mentorship skills -The older kids get to savor the thrill of teaching and showing the younger children around.
- It cultivates empathy – The children learn how to treat others kindly and offer support.
- It snuffs out unhealthy competition– It is natural for children of similar ages to compete. In mixed-age learning, this is replaced by sharing of skills and mentorship.
Tip: Allow older kids to put on their big kids’ caps and teach the younger kids tasks and skills while at home.
4. Minimal Use of Technology
We are smack dab in a digital age with so many alluring devices in our homes. How do preschool teachers maneuver the murky waters of technology overload?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that exposure of young children (0-5 years) to media has far-reaching health and developmental effects. This is because their early years are sacred. They are critical for brain development, building relationships, and healthy behavior.
AAP recommends that babies under 18-24 months should not be exposed to screens other than video chatting.
On the other hand, children between 2-5 years should not use digital media for more than one hour each day. Parents should only expose them to high-quality programming and be alongside them as they consume the content.
Thankfully, most of the preschool programs encourage hands-on learning with the use of real materials and social interaction and shun the use of media.
In many preschools, there’s very limited use of media and when used, it is done as a supplement to education and not as a substitute.
The Waldorf Program however takes a very firm stance where media is concerned. Children under this curriculum are not allowed exposure to any form of media until they get to fifth grade.
5. Nurturing Each Child as a Unique Individual
Treating each child as a unique individual is perhaps the game changer in helping preschoolers thrive. Let’s face it, even parents sometimes plummet headfirst into the trap of comparing their kids.
In most preschool programs, respect and value of the child as a unique individual is the guiding principle. The children are allowed to learn at their own pace. They are constantly made aware that their views matter.
Competition is frowned upon and the teachers craft an individualized learning plan for each child. The Montessori and Reggio Emilia programs for instance hold the view that teachers, parents, and the community are merely collaborators in the child’s education.
Preschool education gives children a sneak peek into the infinite world of learning. They learn best through materials and activities that make their hearts sing. Preschool education should not be about hitting academic goals.
On the contrary, it should be aimed at shaping well-rounded kids who are eager to explore their environment.