As I was going through the Pre-K admissions process last year for my youngest child Harry, I could not help but have anxiety. Was he ready? Was he prepared? Even though all the research today points to the importance of play for this age group, I could not stop worrying about his future success at “big” school. How will he do with ABC’s and 123’s?
What I was reminded of by his “big school” teachers at our first conference is that learning to be a successful member of a community is INVALUABLE. If your child has experienced waiting for a turn, speaking up when he or she needs something, and problem solving with friends, then the rest comes easily and naturally.
Through my own children’s pre-school experiences and through the numerous children I meet through the McGehee admissions process, I am reminded again and again about the important value of socialization in the life of a young child.
One of the most common statements we hear when touring parents for preschool for their child is “I want my child to have an opportunity to be around other children.”
In my role as Director of Lower School Admission for Louise S. McGehee School and Reggio Curriculum Coordinator for McGehee’s Little Gate and as a mother, I am afforded the wonderful opportunity of witnessing on a daily basis just how valuable your pre-school selection is to your child’s future success at school.
One primary purpose for young children to attend an early childhood program is for socialization.
When a child is part of a school community they are:
- learning how to communicate their wants, needs and ideas to others
- given the opportunity to feel empathy and the importance of caring for others
- experiencing acts of independence and the pride that comes along with that
- being part of a group dynamic which includes taking turns, problem solving, and sharing joyful experiences with others
- broadening their core group of care givers by creating strong relationships with teachers
Socialization and learning to be a part of a community is hard work!!
How can preschool help your child navigate their first experiences with the world around them?
A preschool’s philosophy influences their approach to socialization. At McGehee’s Little Gate we are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. We believe this approach in particular allows children to naturally participate in these social successes. Early Childhood educators must take a thoughtful approach to how they create their environment in order to achieve the possibility and success of certain social experiences.
Here are some experiences we have found to be very fruitful in helping children become a successful part of a school community:
- Offering a variety of open ended materials in several areas in the classroom – For instance open ended materials can be long pieces of material placed in the dramatic play area. These become picnic blankets, capes, veils, or satchels. Instead of offering only materials that have a clear, defined purpose, thinking “out of the box” allows the children to negotiate and make agreements about the identity, purpose and function of these materials. When we place gems, corks, and tubes in the construction area, alongside of our traditional blocks, block people and animals, it stimulates thoughtfulness, creativity, investigation, complex thinking and communication.
- Utilizing an emergent curriculum approach, teachers are guided by the children’s interests. When focusing a unit of study on a topic of interest to a child (such as rainbows), the teachers can use that student-fueled passion and interest in rainbows to help further language development, collaboration, risk taking and working together on tasks for longer periods of time.
- Side by side art collaboration – often teachers will set up the exact same materials for two children side by side so they share one part of the projects’ materials, in order to encourage conversation, taking turns, and possible collaboration on their project work.
- Collaboration stations – many opportunities are offered for children to work at manipulative tables where children are constructing and building side by side, yet not necessarily creating together. Often times teachers pay careful attention to only offer a certain number of funnels for the rice pour and sift exploration, or only offer certain lengths of ramps for the car and truck building stations. Focus on providing a large variety of objects emboldens children to problem solve, work together, take turns, speak with friends, and try other tools in their play.
- Offering opportunities to care for others is important in a community. Helping a friend get a wet paper towel when she falls down is a great way to instill empathy. We feel taking turns caring for school pets, such as our Hedgehog “Hedgie,” and caring for our vegetable garden, classroom plants, and our backyard tree, “Windy,” are all important opportunities to have children experience the joy, pride and connection we feel when we take care of important parts of our Little Gate community.
- Last, building relationships with both friends and teachers is a huge part of the socialization process in a school. There are so many ways to build and further these relationships: sharing meals with teachers and friends, snuggling to read books with teachers in the book nook, sharing a triumph of jumping over logs with a friend outdoors, and knowing that at the end of the day…mom or dad always comes back!
Most importantly at Little Gate we learn on a daily basis that we can learn from our students as much as they learn and grow by being part of our Little Gate community. Providing these rich, social experiences in a Reggio inspired environment gives young children an excellent foundation for not only future success in “big” school but throughout their lives.
As an educator and an administrator at Louise S. McGehee School, Mimi Odem has been immersed in the classroom as a lead teacher, served as Director of McGehee’s Little Gate and is currently loving her role as the Director of Lower School Admission at Louise S. McGehee School. She also “keeps her hand in the cookie jar” and stays involved at Little Gate as the curriculum coordinator. Early childhood education is Mimi’s passion and expertise. Being the mother of three children has allowed Mimi some in depth, hands-on experience and she loves every minute of her many roles.