So the WEEKDAYS team has guided you through the paperwork and you’re now in business. Now what? In the education world, we call it the curriculum, which in essence is the answer to the question: What are we going to do with our time together?
If I were to give you only one piece of advice it would be to provide a variety of engaging opportunities for children to explore their world, both indoors and outdoors.
There are as many ways to do this as there are educators, but I find it useful to think about the following categories of provocations and activities:
Art is how humans strive to understand the world from the inside out and is more than simply creating pretty pictures or teacher-directed craft projects. For young children, art is science, art is communication, art is an exploration of feelings and ideas, art is a process (more than a product), art is personally meaningful. Art is more than paint or crayons on paper: it is sculpting, collage, and personal adornment. Art uses all parts of the body and brain, and includes dance, music, and drama. A high-quality preschool curriculum always includes multiple opportunities for children to engage in artistic expression.
Humans are born with the drive to shape their world into new and useful shapes and spaces. Building blocks are a classic form of constructive play, providing children with the sort of open-ended opportunities they need to engage their world, but they are just the beginning. Children will construct with almost any type of material, including fabric, boxes, natural materials (like sticks, rocks, and pinecones), things found in the recycling bin, and just about anything else they can lay their hands on. The more variety in their constructive play opportunities, the better as they lay the foundation for future STEM learning.
Children learn by moving their whole bodies. Children need daily opportunities to run, jump, roll, climb, swing, dance, wrestle, and generally just wiggle. This is about more than just burning off excess energy, but a vital part of how children learn everything from physics to social skills to mathematics and literacy. Not to mention the physical fitness benefits derived from active play of this sort.
One of the things that makes humans unique among animals is our ability to use our hands to manipulate the world. Traditional playthings like puzzles, beading, board games, and Legos are classic invitations for children to work on their manipulative abilities, but don’t feel limited to toys. Eating finger foods like Cheerios or frozen peas, sorting through collections of pebbles, or pretending to dial mobile phones are simple ways to encourage fine motor development.
Of all the things children do during their early years, dramatic play is the most closely related to literacy learning and the development of strong social skills. Creating stories, pretending, and dressing up are encouraged by the presence of costumes, scarves, dolls, and vehicles, but children will make use of almost anything you have available. Indeed, most children prefer to play with “real” things over toys, so a nice collection of your old electronics (batteries removed), kitchen tools, and clothing can stimulate children’s imaginations.
Most of what we think of as “educational” tends to engage our senses of sight or sound, but children are born able to learn at full capacity, so it’s important to provide opportunities to explore the world through touch, smell, and taste as well. A sensory table or sensory bin, capable of containing things such as water, rice, beans, soil, and other materials is a must for any classroom. Foods, flowers, essential oils, and spices are nice ways to add natural scents to your classroom. And offering a variety of snack foods that cover the spectrum of the human pallet (e.g., salty, sweet, sour, and bitter) can encourage children to try new things.
Group time/circle time
Perhaps the single most important thing that children can learn during their early years is how to get along with other people. Gathering together to read stories, sing songs, solve problems, and listen to one another gives children the opportunity to learn how to get their own needs met in a group setting while also learning that others must have their needs met as well.
This is just a quick overview to help you think about planning your curriculum. For tips and specific ideas, you will want to check out our friends at Fairy Dust Teaching and Teach Preschool.