Each child structures most of his day, free to make choices from the variety of activities. By interacting socially with peers and experiencing the consequences of their acts, the children gradually mature and acquire self-control, self-esteem, and a sense of responsibility.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
During free play children learn in all areas of development: social, emotional, intellectual and physical.We place the strongest emphasis on social and emotional development. While physical and academic skills can be mastered in almost any setting, the only way to learn social skills and develop the emotional maturity to cope with large groups of people is to experience them.
We concentrate on these areas because, as children go on in their formal schooling, they will have to concentrate on increasingly academic material. It is difficult for a child to learn to read when she is afraid to make a mistake, if she thinks the other children don’t like her, or if she’s worried about a bully on the playground.
Dealing with the sometimes frightening feelings of separation from parents is often the first emotional issue preschool children face. We try to make this separation a gradual process, ideally waiting for the child to feel comfortable at school.
We might help a child in this situation feel more comfortable by offering her the opportunity to write a letter to her parents. Even 2-year-olds can feel better after writing a letter! The letter writing also serves to help children begin to understand that written words are important.
Learning how to negotiate and resolve conflicts is an intellectual skill, which takes time and practice. Our free play atmosphere ensures that conflict will occur, providing lots of opportunities for each child to try various conflict resolution and problem solving strategies and to experience the results of their ideas.
SYC teachers listen with care and respect for each child’s feelings. If Ashley tells Brian, “You can’t come to my party if you let Max play with us!” our teacher might say to Ashley, “It makes you angry when Brian wants to play with other kids.”If a teacher responds with “that’s not nice,” or “don’t say that,” what she’s really saying is, “who you are and what you feel is wrong.”
Teachers, through their understanding of child development, help children learn to express aggression and anger in appropriate ways. We help each child find ways to assert himself and feel empowered in challenging situations.
Some parents believe that allowing children to play with weapons or to dress or act like super-heroes encourages children to be violent or mean. We believe some preschoolers need to imagine feeling powerful and strong. We don’t believe in limiting children’s play ideas because limits on imagination mean limits on possibilities. We take the feelings and behavior from this play and help the children turn it into socially appropriate behavior.
We do set limits on all play with our simple rules: You may not hurt yourself, others, or intentionally destroy property. When enforcing these limits, teachers help the children express their feelings and deal with them. When it is clear to the child that the teacher understands and wants to help, the children can begin to solve the problem.
In order to be successful human beings, we all must learn how to get along in both large and small groups of people. Being part of a large group during daily circle time gives children some experience with this.
Our 3- and 4-year old classes have small group time each day, when each teacher meets with her special group of 6-7 children for a special activity. Here the teacher can really get to know each child in her group. In this setting we can more easily help children learn group skills. Working with the group on an activity such as making muffins, or running and obstacle course, children begin to cooperate and follow through on projects. Children who are intimidated by functioning in a large group often find it easier to begin learning these skills in their small group.
We strive to make every facet of the school relevant for children. We are not concerned with controlling children–we don’t expect them all to be doing the same thing at the same time. With separate playgrounds for each class, our kids are able to play outdoors almost anytime. Some kids love arts and crafts projects, and others would rather spend their time at school socializing with friends or engaged in imaginative play. We are most interested in developing each child to his potential.
Children are never forced to participate in any activity that requires them to sit still for a long period of time. We avoid labels–such as quiet, shy, aggressive, hyperactive–rather we focus on adapting the program to fit the needs of each child.
So, what does a child who goes to SYC get from us? Here is what we hope for:
- A clearer sense of who he is
- Skills to express feelings, solve problems and resolve conflicts
- The feeling of being valued, cared for and loved by a teacher
- Some lasting memories that school can be a place to enjoy, have fun, a place he wants to come back to
- The assurance that she will grow at her own rate
And what do teachers and parents get from SYC? The same things, we hope.
CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
SYC classroom methods work with typically developing children. Our teachers are not trained to meet the needs of children with special needs. However, we value inclusion of children with special needs and have successfully integrated many special needs children into our classrooms. Our successes, we believe, are due to parents getting their children the outside professional help they need so our teachers can receive some guidance in their management.
In these situations, we are prepared to hire an extra class teacher for a limited time should class management be an issue. If, after these efforts have been made to work with a child and family, the child does not appear to be benefiting from our program, we shall communicate with the family and appropriate specialists to determine the child’s current needs, identify the setting and services most suited to meeting these needs, and assist the family in placing the child in a more appropriate setting.