I’ve written in previous posts about my visit to a 5-star center in the NC Piedmont Triad center. How did the center earn 5 stars? The center infrastructure and systems are well-established: The building is well-designed. The classrooms are well-furnished and well-provisioned. The environment is orderly and pleasant, without written or verbal directives or loud voices. The staff is trained in maintaining routine procedures. Best of all, the director is very energetic and eager to improve the program for children, families, and teachers.
What I recommended:
Consider how to balance sanitation with children’s learning. Family style dining is such a valuable daily learning experience for children, with great opportunities for language and social skills development. Placing a prepared plate in front of each child while they wait with hands in their laps for everyone to be served is a passive activity, requiring them to learn restraint but not much else.
Cleaning the tables and cleaning up after them doesn’t help young children develop self-sufficiency skills. Help children develop skills rather than doing everything for them because it’s easier and cleaner than helping them learn. In the 2’s room, a girl spilled a little milk on the floor and the teacher handed her a paper towel and the girl started to clean up the milk, but the teacher said, “No, your mouth,” and then cleaned up the milk on the floor for her. Help teachers understand these are teaching and learning moments as they interact with, rather than direct, the child.
Consider having children brush their teeth after lunch. Labeled toothbrushes can be stored in covered hanging toothbrush stands that keep each toothbrush separate from the others.
Remind teachers in the room to talk softly to each other, not in normal voices, when children are starting to sleep.
Improve the welcoming appearance of grounds and front porch by adding attractive plants and perhaps comfortable rockers or other seating with homey touches near them. Replace the bulletin board if one is still needed. Add a sign about using the door bell. Consider an interior sign that welcomes parents and children and instructs them to proceed directly to child’s classroom.
Improve playgrounds by adding natural elements – grass, small trees, plants – and varying surfaces for children. Mulch is difficult to walk on, and infants can’t crawl on it.
Use bulletin boards to display and document children’s work, with short captions that explain why children are doing what they’re doing – what they’re learning.
Provide open-ended materials for children’s art, scribbling, writing, crafts, creativity. Encourage exploration and creativity, problem-solving, thinking.
Provide teachers with planning time, or consider purchasing well-designed and planned curriculum resources, e.g., some of the Creative Curriculum kits that provide simple, age-appropriate pre-planned activities and instructions for teachers. Current lesson plans may not provide enough information and if teachers don’t have time to plan and prepare, their implementation is probably fairly superficial.
Engage staff in discussing their ideas for how to improve beyond achieving 5 stars, by focusing on the individual child’s day-to-day experience in the center. Encourage interactions, exploration, and active learning. Encourage infants to move around on the floor and explore their environments.
Encourage children to interact with each other and with teachers and to explore their environments – Teachers may focus too much on order, control, and the great systems that have been developed and followed and too little on encouraging children to learn by exploring, doing, talking, and interacting.
Be sure children are interested in the books or other materials that teachers use during group times. Reading a passage and then asking children to answer questions about it may be ok for a very short time activity to encourage listening and remembering but it should be limited to a short time and should be something that’s interesting for them.
Don’t keep children sitting with nothing to engage their bodies and brains.
What do you think? What do you see in child care and preschool centers?