Charlotte Brantley, President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning guest posts today on what you should see in a high-quality early childhood (preschool) learning environment – from teachers, the classroom, the environment to the children.
Note from Melissa: I’ve never seen a better early learning environment than Clayton Early Learning. Simply put, it’s exceptional –from the space itself to the playful learning and parent involvement. All the classroom materials are natural, including hardwood floors; every room has huge windows which fill the rooms with natural light; each room has it’s own green space for outside play, snacks, and learning, spaces different than the playground areas; the playground areas are built with bathroom access from outside; all classes have a low teacher-student ratio; teachers continue degrees, are guided by best practices and continually give and use developmentally appropriate assessments; there’s a a parent library, community computer area and large, technology-friendly meeting rooms for staff development. (To just name just a few amazing things about Clayton!) Charlotte Brantley posts on this topic because her school is truly a high-quality early learning environment.
What you should see in the Classroom:
- Materials and room set-up are responsive to and reflective of the cultures of the children and teachers in the classroom
- Several interest areas that promote small group and individual activities, and support imagination and learning in dramatic play, math, science, language, literature, art, music
- Children’s literature/books are available in several areas of the room, not just displayed in a traditional “book corner”
- A variety of learning materials, interesting objects and art media (paint, crayons, scissors, papers, pencils, glue, etc) are freely available for children to explore
- There are displays of child created artwork (as opposed to pre-cut and ready to assemble “crafts”)
- There is evidence that each child is valued as a member of the group, e.g., child accessible individual storage areas with each child’s name, seating areas labeled with names, posted lists of children’s ideas identified by names, etc.
- At least one area of the room removed from the major activities, for children to retreat to when they need quieter time
- Outdoor areas enhance and support children’s natural curiosity about nature, function as extensions of the classroom, and provide support for children’s physical development
What you should see from the Teachers:
- Teachers are fully engaged with children, one-on-one and in small groups
- Teachers look children in the eye with warmth, acceptance, and real interest in what the child has to say
- Teachers extend children’s language by asking related questions and waiting for children to respond
- Teachers gently guide and support children in learning self-regulation and friendship/social skills with their peers
- Teachers tailor their interactions with each child in ways that support and respond to the child’s individual personality and unique developmental needs
- Parents are welcomed and encouraged to become involved in the classroom
What you should see among the Children:
- Children are busily engaged, genuinely interested in activities that challenge them and build on their curiosity about the world around them and how it works
- There is evidence of children beginning to write letters and words, particularly their own names
- Children have opportunities to make choices among a variety of activities
- There is an abundance of language/conversation among children and between children and teachers
- Children seem to feel comfortable, safe and cared for in the environment
- The sounds coming from the classroom are joyful, calm and inviting
What you should ask when interviewing a preschool:
- How will you decide what my child should be learning next?
- How will you know, and how will you let me know, whether my child is successfully getting ready for kindergarten?
- What kind of training (at hire and ongoing) do your teachers have?
- How many adults, teachers and aides, will be in the classroom with my child throughout the day?
- What opportunities do you give parents to become involved in the school?
- How will you help my child adjust to the new experience?
- Will my child be allowed to bring something from home for comfort (e.g., a blanket, favorite stuffed animal, etc)?
- If my child has special needs, how will you go about meeting them?
- What is a typical lunch and snack menu like? What will you do if my child doesn’t like what you serve?
Note from Melissa: I can’t say enough about what an amazing instructional leader and woman Charlotte is! She has so much knowledge and great passion for children. I crossed my fingers that she’d agree to a guest post and am so glad she did, aren’t you?
Clayton Early Learning (in Denver, CO) received a $1 million award this September from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Head Start, for excellence in all areas and is one of only ten to receive the accolade. The school serves over 400 Denver area low-income children and their families starting from age six weeks to age five. Among other things, Clayton is NAEYC accredited, an Educare model and is 4-Star Qualistar Rating.
Classroom photos courtesy of Clayton Early Learning.