A preschool can offer a solid foundation that will last a lifetime.
According to Emily Hazzard, a teacher in the Children’s House at The Lillian and Betty Ratner School in Pepper Pike, and Rivky Wolf, early childhood division administrator at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights, preschool paves the way for many of these foundational experiences.
“In the classroom, teachers work to create an environment where children feel safe and where there is routine, structure and predictability,” Hazzard said of the Ratner School. “Within that space and because it is a Montessori classroom, there is a lot of freedom within the structure we create, so they can choose the activities they want to do from what is available to them and what they’ve been shown. When they have that choice, routine and they know exactly what is expected from them, they feel safety and comfort in trying new things.”
In trying new things, children can explore who they are – and how they feel about making mistakes.
“We try hard not to do things for them but to let them do it for themselves so they can get that sense of independence and confidence to continue to do it themselves,” Hazzard added. “They have the help, time and space to comfortably figure something out on their own. And if the adult in the class trusts them, believes in them and has the patience for them to try it on their own, that builds confidence.”
Wolf said Hebrew Academy teachers work to demonstrate proper speech and behaviors, using every opportunity to teach children problem-solving, optimal solutions for social growth and integration and self-regulating skills. These skills become integral in developing a well-rounded child, she said.
“We believe that as children grow and develop during these precious years, it is essential that these skills be introduced and practiced,” Wolf noted. “While providing children with this healthy baseline, we help them develop a healthy and robust thinking process and vocabulary, that will accompany them as they continue their life journeys.”
Helping children understand their emotions, make mistakes and practice appropriate coping responses is a large part of early childhood education. And for good reason, the educators said.
“Identifying and being in touch with one’s emotions such as anger, sadness or jealousy is the first step to producing a proper reaction,” Wolf explained. “Once a child can understand what he or she is feeling, he or she learns socially acceptable responses. These responses eventually become part of the child and help him or her develop into a mature and socially appropriate member of society, one who can stand up to adversity while keeping his or her emotions and actions in check.”
Hazzard said, “With academic tasks, you have to socially and emotionally feel comfortable and confident to be successful. That is what kids are really thinking about. If they aren’t happy, or if they feel like they don’t have friends or are unsafe, either intellectually or emotionally, there is no room to work on that skill set. The amount of confidence they have will aid them when they approach more academic tasks as they get older.”
And at home, parents have a role in making sure children feel emotionally supported. The at-home component helps cement the lessons they are being taught at school, Hazzard said. With Montessori schooling, she said parents can work to “Montessori-ize” their home.
“One of the big things that come up is providing ways for children to do ‘real work’ like helping with folding towels, matching socks and setting the table,” she suggested. “Give them access to stuff to help themselves, like a low shelf where they can choose their snack. Anything that gives them agency in a world where children have little power over their lives makes a difference.”
Wolf explained Hebrew Academy provided a parental learning opportunity last year – a 10-hour “Conscious Discipline” workshop. Now, the staff and parent body share a “common core of knowledge” about supporting a child’s development and how to best respond and guide them through their emotions.
“Having the home involved and sharing the same strategies and methods as the school provides children with consistent messages and is extremely beneficial for children’s emotional growth and stability,” she said.