Early childhood education helps prepare students for their future learning journey.
That’s why early childhood programs tend to focus on building learning foundations and promoting skill building, according to Alex Damico, general studies, kindergarten at Columbus Jewish Day School in New Albany, and Faith Weihe, lead teacher at The Lillian and Betty Ratner Montessori School in Pepper Pike.
“Early childhood education plays a major role in building foundations for learning and skills,” Weihe said. “For many children, this is their first experience in a classroom setting with other children, having a set schedule and having an authority figure, other than their caretakers.”
She said these new experiences instill a sense of patience, especially since they are sharing spaces with people they don’t interact with at home.
“Being away from caretakers helps build independence and confidence by experiencing new environments, relationships, etc.,” Weihe added. “The early childhood setting also creates the foundation for all other learning by giving them the skills they need to interact with others and continue with education.”
Damico mirrored the sentiment, saying kindergarten tends to be a child’s first experience with the classroom structure. After coming from a preschool environment, which may not have had the same level of structure, students focus on their communication skills like learning how to ask for help, how to solve conflicts with others and how to present their thoughts.
“They are also learning where to locate objects and places in the classroom,” he noted. “All of these skills are the building blocks students need to become more autonomous and to take responsibility for their learning and actions.”
Both schools work to support children in this way, both directly through lesson plans and naturally within the classroom setting.
Weihe explained that at the Ratner School, foundational skills are introduced through the Montessori model and having mixed-age classrooms. Teachers give initial lessons on materials and then students are free to choose materials to practice and eventually master on their own time, she said.
“This allows the students to learn how to manage their time and how to be a
self-starter because the teacher is not telling them exactly what to work on each part of the day,” she said. “And by having a
mixed-age classroom, students get used to working with others who are not the same age just as you have in the workplace and home. The older students become the models for the younger students by giving them lessons and by modeling the classroom rules.”
For students at CJDS, Damico said children are taught various skills, ranging from thinking out loud before completing a task, learning by exploration, and seeking consistency in expectations and routines.
“Children thrive in structure and creativity blossoms when limitations are present,” he said. “Keeping a regular schedule and routines help students build the skills that are necessary to become more autonomous.”
It’s important for parents to also be on the same page as the school during this time. Having an understanding of how they can reinforce the foundational lessons at home starts by giving children more opportunities to learn in a way that benefits them best.
“Parents should know that children in early childhood years do most of their developing and learning during this time,” Weihe stated. “Do not shy away from teaching them a wide range of terms and ideas because they are young. Talk through problems and have discussions on how to find solutions. Ask what your children would do in a situation. Allow them to be independent in as many things as possible.”
Damico said, “Learning is a process, it takes time. It is important to remember that every child is different, even within the same family. The process may be longer for one child in a specific area but shorter for another. The most helpful ways to supplement at home are to set up consistent routines and expectations and correct behavior with empathetic consequences.”
Damico added parents should also allow children to express themselves.
“It is also important that children are given time to explain their thoughts and share what they are learning, reading or doing,” he noted. “Allowing children to exercise their curiosity is very important. Ask questions, they want to share.”