What I Learned in Preschool (this time around!)

I can’t believe it’s April already and nearing the end of my first year serving as Administrative Director. Our last PLT meeting covered Graduation, Carnaval and end of year activities! Where did the time go?

One of my favorite memories as a parent at La Escuelita was standing in the 4’s class about this time last year, reflecting with Vianey Corzo on what a journey it had been for our girls. My Isabella and her Diana started in the Afternoon 2/3s class together and now we were lingering at drop-off on this particular morning, just watching the girls play together. We talked about how special La Escuelita had been for the girls; the friends they had made, how confident they were, how much they had learned and how far they had come in three years, how much they love their teachers, how we couldn’t ask for anything more. Then, almost as an afterthought we both remarked “And they speak Spanish!”

It wasn’t the first time I had to remind myself that we were here for the Spanish too! Like everyone else, the desire for my child to speak Spanish brought me to La Escuelita, but La Escuelita was so much more than that for Isabella and our family. This year I have come to deeply appreciate La Escuelita’s intense dedication to getting early childhood right. La Escuelita would not be La Escuelita without its commitment to the professional development of teachers and staff.

If preschool does nothing else for your child, it should provide a strong foundation on which to build his or her life experiences. As often mentioned at this year’s NAEYC conference, “The House of Academics” cannot be built on a shaky foundation. Especially as these houses are being built much more quickly these days! But as parents, we sometimes look at the wrong things. It's impressive when we see a 4 year old reading. And he or she may be developmentally ready to do so, but by no means are all, or even most, 4 year olds ready to do so. I'm also sure that if a teacher spent most of his or her instructional time on reading, he or she may even make a minimal level of progress with a child who really isn't ready. But imposing inappropriate academic goals on young children is not what a good preschool should do. A good preschool's work with children lays the foundation to academic skills and further builds on them for children who are developmentally ready. A good preschool also prioritizes critical life skills for a child such as the ability to connect with his own feelings and understand and empathize with those of others, the ability to appropriately express his needs and get them met or the ability to take in new information, examine it and incorporate it into a strong framework of basic conceptual understanding. This is not only preparation for Kindergarten, but preparation for life.

In practice, our teachers embark upon this work by knowing and closely observing all of the children in their classrooms and setting up classrooms as spaces for exploration. While observing the children play, especially during Center Time, they look for opportunities to understand what the children are thinking and understanding and expand upon that learning. The teachers also facilitate social problem solving by helping children identify their own issues and feelings and encouraging the children to come up with their own solutions that satisfy all involved. The children are well practiced in this art by the time they reach the 4s! And our teachers do this for every single child, no matter how that child initially engages with the environment. Perhaps the child finds the environment over or under stimulating. Perhaps the child struggles to make herself understood despite her best efforts. Our teachers take all of this and help each and every child find his or her own way.

This important work requires not only education, experience and intense personal dedication on the part of the teachers, but investment in their further education and development on La Escuelita’s part. This year, the entire staff attended the three day NAEYC conference in Orlando, as well as hosted guest speakers at La Escuelita on such topics as inquiry-based learning, strategies for helping children with sensory issues and extending learning through play. We have visited other preschools to observe and learn from best practices in Special Education, Play Based Education and Progressive Education. Next year we will be learning American Sign Language to better assist children with communication challenges and we will be exploring and implementing a new early math curriculum called Building Blocks which seeks to provide a strong conceptual foundation in mathematics at the preschool level.

Aside from the professional training we embark upon as a team, many of our teachers attend school on evenings and weekends as well. La Escuelita helps makes this possible with an annual stipend given to the teachers for partial tuition reimbursement. La Escuelita would not be La Escuelita without our commitment to building upon the strong educational foundation of our teachers and it is one of the many reasons I am proud and honored to be a part of this school.