There’s no doubt that early childhood education is important, and all parents want their children to start their education off on the right foot with a positive first experience at school.
While young students are being introduced to the concepts of letters and numbers at preschool, experts say that students are likely learning other lessons that will last a lifetime.
1 HOW TO BE PART OF A GROUP
Early childhood educational experiences may be the first time that children are consistently part of a big group. Learning how to be part of a group involves acquiring a variety of ways to positively interact with others.
“Having children in a group setting is one of the best natural ways to teach them how to be a good person,” says Sarah Cudnik, owner and executive director at Kids Work Chicago.
“That includes learning how to contribute to a group, manage feelings, help friends, choose words appropriately, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”
“We encourage team building activities to help children learn to negotiate their ideas with their peers,” says Laura Davis, executive director at Sonnets Academy in Chicago.
For instance, in the Pre-K classroom at Sonnets Academy-Lincoln Park, students were tasked with building a car together. They needed to collectively decide who would be responsible for each part, as well as what colors they would use to design their car.
“This allowed the children the opportunity to share their ideas, but also understand that their idea may not be chosen. Every child was given a role in this activity, which instilled a sense of pride in the end,” Davis says.
Cudnik highlights one other benefit to being part of a group: kids get to learn to have fun together.
2 HOW TO FORM SECURE ATTACHMENTS WITH OTHERS
In addition to being part of the group, children are also learning to interact one-on-one. Doing so successfully means learning to understand verbal and nonverbal signals, says Cassie Martin, director of admissions and community relations at Montessori Academy of Chicago.
In addition, the first school experience for some children is the first opportunity to learn to develop ongoing, healthy relationships with individuals outside their family.
“We work hard with parents and teachers to make sure everyone is promoting secure attachment, because that establishes a foundation for continued secure attachment with other adults as our students grow,” Martin says.
3 HOW TO LEARN TO LOVE LEARNING
“Progressive education honors the whole child, which translates to emphasizing the child’s role in the learning process. Ultimately, we believe that when children own their learning, especially at a young age, it instills a love of learning and helps them to flourish through their school years and beyond,” says Denise Boswell, director of teaching and learning at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette.
Alejandra Valera, director of advancement at Alcuin Montessori in Oak Park, says enrolling children in a quality early childhood program feeds their curiosity and fuels their desire to understand the world around them. “Children want to learn, they have this beautiful innate need to figure out how things work, why things work and have a spark within them to find out. You are never too young to start learning.”
Boswell believes an integral part of progressive education is establishing a learning environment in which children are encouraged and inspired to explore, question, investigate, build, think critically and problem-solve.
“For our youngest students, this begins with an early childhood education that is play-based, emergent, and exploratory,” she says. Davis agrees. “Children’s eyes light up with wonder as they explore, investigate, collaborate, and take ownership and pride in their work,” she says.
4 HOW TO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
While little ones are learning letters and new words in English, many early childhood programs also give children an opportunity to learn a foreign language. Students at Alcuin Montessori, for instance, learn Spanish.
“Children at this age have a great absorbent mind, and this holds true for languages. Foreign language acquisition comes easily to young children,” Valera says. “Dr. Maria Montessori stressed the importance of children becoming citizens of the world, and what better way to do so than by learning a new language?”
There is so very much more that children can learn in preschool, but each child learns in their own unique way.
“It’s really important for people to remember that it’s our job to guide and teach our little ones, and that they should not fit a certain mold and learn a certain way and speed,” says Cudnik. “We value the fact that everyone is an individual with unique personalities and not just manage that but celebrate it.”
Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.