Children learn best through play so it absolutely must be our medium of instruction.
We encourage all types of play (for example, exploratory, object, sociodramatic, sensory, construction, imaginative, physical) and take advantage of teachable moments during play (for example, by asking questions or offering suggestions). When we direct the learning experience, we do it in a playful way (for example, an alphabet letter bingo game).
The teacher-child relationship is crucial
Children learn best in an environment where they feel nurtured and respected. The research has shown the evidence for this across all program types and age ranges. This is the primary reason for our low teacher-child ratios and why teacher disposition is an important criterion in our selection of teachers.
Knowledge of child development is the starting point
Children progress through well-documented stages of development and teachers must have clear understandings of this process. As teachers get to know children, they are able to identify where children are on various continuums and know what comes next. For example, having children trace letters before they have developed the symbolic capacity to make representational drawings is at best a waste of children’s time and at worst can make children feel bored or discouraged and then, research tells us, they may become resistant toward “school” activities.
Learning happens in the “zone of proximal development”
Vygotskian theory and research point to this theoretical space between what children can do on their own and what they can do with a little bit of assistance. This zone is where learning occurs. What a child can do with just a little help today they will be mastering tomorrow. This points again to the idea that we must know where children are developmentally so that we can tailor their experiences to fall within this zone. Further, play itself creates this zone so that whenever children are playing, they are learning. Children’s learning can be scaffolded by teachers, materials, the environment, other children, and play.
We must consider the whole child when we teach
When we talk about children’s development we often categorize it into distinct areas or domains- cognitive, social, language/literacy, physical- but we recognize that each area is important and influences the other areas. For example, the research is very clear that the social and emotional aspects of a child’s development are just as critical for life success as the academic. In fact, self-regulation (the ability to control one’s actions) is a better and more accurate predictor of kindergarten success than math or literacy scores.
Emergent forms of curriculum provide the most engaging and stimulating learning experiences.
We purposefully choose to let our curriculum content emerge from the interests of the children. Teachers take this information and combine it with their educational goals and plan engaging experiences. Research shows that when children are interested, they get more from the learning experience and that when we connect new experiences with prior knowledge, the connections are even stronger.
The process is far more important than the final product
The vast majority of activities and experiences planned for our children are open-ended or divergent. We provide the materials (whether it be art or sensory or blocks) and the children are able to explore and create on their own. This is easily seen in drawing or writing experiences. It takes a lot of scribbling to develop the fine motor and symbolic capacities to make recognizable symbols; likewise it takes a lot of exploratory play with blocks to build recognizable constructions.
Contextual learning opportunities create more meaningful connections
In our desire to create meaningful and worthwhile learning opportunities for children, we recognize that when we can help children connect new information to existing mental structures, the learning is more powerful. For example, a literacy activity may include reading a book and then making a language experience chart in which the class votes for their favorite story character. Or a teacher helps the child see that the main character of the story has a name that starts with “s” like their name, Susie. The research shows us that these types of experiences are more valuable than flashcard drills or rote memorization exercises.