It has been said that enthusiasm is caught, not taught.
So often young people in preschool and kindergarten are excited
and eager to begin their scholastic career. Several years later,
these same children are disheartened and moaning about school.
What happens? How can we ensure that our youngest students catch
that enthusiasm for life time learning?
Montessori Academy of Chicago is an innovative facility
designed to meet the growing need for a loving, enriching
environment for infant to elementary age children of Chicago. Their
web site says it all, "For us, the goal is simple: to awaken the
love of learning inherent in every child."
Many parents are familiar with the well designed curriculum of
Maria Montessori, where the environment is one of the key
components of learning, and the highly qualified staff gently
facilitates the learning process in a home like setting. Fosca
White of the Montessori Academy notes that the Montessori
curriculum emphasizes treating children as individuals, and points
out that children are engaged, rather than occupied.
She cites the example in which several of the older children in
the toddler program were treated to an experience in flower
arranging. With small vases, pitchers, safe scissors, and flowers,
they spent a considerable amount of time filling the vases with
water, clipping the stems, and arranging the flowers into their
very own arrangements. Their efforts were displayed and
complimented throughout the day. This exercise encouraged guided
independence and took advantage of the toddler desire to "do it
Many programs emphasize the environment as key to a lifetime
love of learning. At
Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCD), the preschool teachers,
Frances Robinson and Jennifer Pelc, point out a teachers'
enthusiasm for the program and the child will provide the child
with enough confidence to question, to explore, to experiment, and
to take risks.
The day begins with a meeting time for sharing all of the
special times and events in the life of each child. This is
followed by the formal meeting where the lesson plan is shared.
Children at LFCD develop school skills by participating in
activities that are simple, fun, and exciting.
Yet these activities provide each child with endless
opportunities to learn and grow. Among other topics, emphasis is
given to being good stewards---of the classroom, friends,
community, and the planet. This theme is woven into the classroom
by composting their leftover snacks; by using cloth napkins and
washable cups for meals and snacks; and by watching the Halloween
pumpkin decompose in the garden.
Montessori School, the mission "inspires students to become
life long learners and responsible participants in our diverse
global community." The school closely follows the Montessori
philosophy "not to prepare the child for school, but for life."
"A hallmark of the Montessori classroom for 3- (to) 6-year olds
is the segmentation of the environment into five focus areas,
including Practical Life," says Brickton's Molly Arnoldt. "The
Practical Life exercises are the everyday activities we engage in
to take care of the environment or ourselves. For example, washing
our hands before scrubbing an apple which we then cut and enjoy for
snack or serve to friends."
These skills "help a child develop order, concentration,
understand a sequence of activity and promote independence and a
sense of accomplishment," Arnoldt says.
River Forest Community Center has an Early Childhood Education
Center, featuring programs for children as young as 15 months
"Many people are amazed at what a child can accomplish in a
play-based environment," Lia Madonia of the Early Childhood
Education Center says. "For instance: building with blocks can
develop math skills by introducing concepts such as perceptions of
size, weight, and shape. It also promotes social skills by
enhancing problem solving techniques."
She applauds the teachers and staff at the center "who are
excited to teach young children -- they interact with their
students and are not afraid to do a silly dance or get extremely
messy if it helps encourage their students and enjoy coming to
school each day."
Over and over again, educators emphasize that a lifelong love of
learning is the result of self-driven exploration, rather than
trying to "teach" children. If a child asks a question, this is the
ideal time to provide materials which will help the child discover
Compass School is inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia in
Reggio, Italy. In 1991, Newsweek magazine praised the Reggio Emilia
approach as one of the best educational programs in the world. The
philosophy sees the child as strong and competent, and the
educational approach is guided by observation of the children.
There are five Compass schools, each different, based on the
needs of the community. The children work together, with their
teachers, and examine and change their world with detailed projects
that they choose---projects are chosen based on the children's and
the teacher's interests and curiosity.
Erica Farney of the Compass School in Naperville says, "We give
children opportunities to find the answers to their questions. Yes,
it would be easier to give the children the answers, but instead we
give them the tools to investigate and find answers on their
own…..If the class is doing a project on dogs, the classroom will
be designed to support the project. There would be dog dishes,
food, bowls, dog toys, pet bed in the dramatic play area, a scale,
pencil and graphing paper in the math, area along with books with
different sizes and weights of dogs."
Sandbox Learning Centers specialize in children from ages 6
weeks to 12 years old.
"At Sandbox School, we know that children are born ready and
eager to learn. Every young infant, toddler and preschooler needs
time and a place to discover, absorb, think, and wonder, and to try
and try again to figure things out," Sue Moustakas says. "Little
children need to feel excited, confident, and competent in their
own ability to learn….The curriculum is chosen for each classroom
to best meet the individual needs of the children in that
particular group, according to interest, abilities and culture. In
an environment that is appropriate, warm, nurturing and well
facilitated, a love of learning will bloom."
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