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Director's Corner 




February 2018

     St. Paul’s Preschool follows the Pennsylvania Early standards as we create and adapt our curriculum to the various age groups within our school.  Each month I will examine one of the standards we are focusing on in the classes and explain how the teachers are implementing it into their curriculum.

AL.1 Constructing and Gathering Knowledge

     Many parents and educators, in the quest for a smarter child, have embraced the idea that young children need organized activities that can provide “enrichment.” They also believe that there are “critical” periods of learning in the first three years that need to be attended to, or the child will be forever disadvantaged.  The belief that the child, if given specific academic opportunities during this critical period, will be forever inoculated against later academic shortcomings is extremely misleading.

     As a preschool director, I have had to defend the purpose of play in the school’s curriculum each year to parents who are concerned that their children will miss the critical periods of learning.  This critical learning period is being addressed appropriately in our curriculum through a play-based environment.

     Play in a school setting can be described as a continuum that runs from free play to guided play to directed play.  Free play is defined as play in which children have as many choices of materials as possible and they can choose how to use these various materials.  Free play is personally motivated, active and pleasurable.  It has no extrinsic goals or rules.  The child brings his/her own meaning to the play experience.  Guided play is play in which the teacher has selected materials from which the child may choose in order to discover specific concepts.  For example, when a teacher wants to teach the mathematical concept of classification, she could provide a basket full of small, medium and large unit blocks. The blocks can also be red, yellow and blue, which add the concept of primary colors to the classification game.  Directed play is play in which the teacher teaches how to accomplish a specific task.  Playing the circle game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” helps with name recognition, eye-hand coordination and gross motor practice in response to rhythm.

     Stimulating play is very important during the preschool years.  This type of play is manipulative and symbolic.  For example, when a teacher puts blocks out for free play, you can see that the children are manipulating and pretending during play. You can watch as they reproduce know structures or design totally new ones.  The children are controlling the outcomes and are making discoveries about the relationships among block sizes and symmetry.  The play incorporates the concept of testing systems and interactions as well as basic mathematical concepts (shape and area). It also examines cause and effect.  How high does the tower go before it falls?

     Play is the gateway to metaphor, to scientific insight and to invention.  Schools should be chosen that encourage children to open this gate before expecting them to perform advanced mental operations.  Making judgments, predictions and plans are all a part of play.  Plays lays the groundwork for language development, creativity, and it directly helps the growing brain receive, associate, organize and comprehend at the child’s appropriate neural level.  Children in well-structured play oriented schools develop more positive attitudes toward learning along with better ultimate skill development.

     Play at school usually differs from play at home.  This is perhaps where parents get confused about the importance of play. They only have the “home” play as a base knowledge of this concept.  In a larger school group, a child must learn to work cooperatively with others during play.  Play activities at school are more guided and more closely observed.  Teachers are more likely to plan specific ways of enhancing play than are most parents. Teachers will select play experiences that match the goals of the program. Children of different ages and different developmental levels use materials in different ways. Teachers must be alert in providing materials that will challenge the children to develop more during play.

     Some parents believe challenging their children involves using flashcards, academic videos and preschool aged workbooks. Teaching specific academic skills before the levels of sensory reception and association are intact may look good for a while, but eventually the child is in for a collapse.  The children have only memorized an isolated skill, without having the active involvement of thinking, organizing, planning and interacting with their environment.  Parents tend to measure achievement in isolated skills, since our society often respects products more than the processes of creation.

     Childhood play is how human beings ready themselves for the world of adult work.  Children gather rudimentary knowledge about numbers, colors, scientific and mathematical concepts, as well as developing listening skills and the ability to follow directions through play.  Some parents think children will not learn academic skills if they spend time playing.  Play actually contributes to the development of academic ability.  Many activities in play contribute to learning in several different subject matter areas.  Play is important for developing the pre-reading skills of eye-hand coordination, visual and auditory discrimination and the cognitive ability to work with parts of wholes.

     Oral language development is enhanced during play.  Children get a chance to talk, argue, explain and persuade.  The beginning of science skills is easy to observe during play.  Children are observing, making predictions, gathering data and testing hypotheses. Mathematics abilities are being developed as children play.  Curiosity, divergent thinking and motivation are traits best fostered through play that will prove successful in math and science.  Fine motor development crucial for writing is refined through play.  This illustrates the support of academic learning that is provided by play.

     Play also encourages exploration.  It helps exercise the imagination and it fosters interactions between parents, teachers and other children.  A good preschool offers a wide range of stimulating activities that call on children to learn about themselves and their world. 

     Preschool is a way to ease children into a school setting and foster a deep love of learning.  It is a time for exploration and a time to build on a child’s natural curiosity and a child’s sense of initiative and self-esteem. Activities should be child-centered, meaning that children should be relatively free to choose how they spend their time and to pursue their chosen activities for as long as they want.  The day should include a large block of time devoted to free play.  This play period helps the child foster a sense of mastery. Children are encouraged to use all five senses and their evolving motor skills.

     As brain research continues, the controversy about a child’s early experiences in preschool will continue.  Is playing enough stimulation in a classroom environment or should the windows of opportunity govern academic classroom curriculum?  Since cognitive development is a product of two interacting influences—brain growth and experience, many parents argue that it is vital to grab the opportunity for developing academic success as soon as they can.

     Research has shown that neurons wither and dendrites fail to sprout without the steady buzz of neural activity that comes from new and varied experiences and environments.  Preschool offers an excellent way to increase a child’s social and cognitive stimulation.  Preschoolers should have the chance to flex all of their mental muscles, but also the chance to climb, paint, build, sing, pretend, clap, laugh and socialize.  Through child-initiated and child-centered play, all these things can be achieved.



Each month I will focus on a question or two from the parents.  Please send your questions to the director at: lwebster@stpaulsumc.com

QUESTION: What is the difference between direct instruction like in my child’s elementary school and the child-initiated activities that you talk about in free play?

ANSWER: There are many important differences in what type of instruction is developmentally appropriate for young children.  In the preschool environment, child-initiated instruction is best.  This is often seen in the various types of play situations as described in the previous section.

     Direct instruction is dependent of adults’ instruction and often is done by seatwork.  If children are exposed to direct instruction in the preschool years, they can intellectually outperform peers usually up to a year after preschool, but then the “playing field” evens out.  Children exposed to direct instruction in preschool tend to score lower in inventiveness and have only a short-term success on standardized tests. Their reading disposition can be lost by drills and practice.  Children can often feel incompetent if they don’t “get it” early and this can grow into the self-fulfilling prophecy of “feeling stupid”.

     Child-initiated instruction makes children active constructors of knowledge.  There are many learning centers and play-based activities that encourage exploration and child interaction.  Children who are exposed to child-initiated instruction tend to have higher verbal-social participation with their peers and are more ambitious. They exhibit lower levels of test anxiety and less stress since they have learned to use divergent thinking and have a good sense of self-esteem.  This type of instruction facilitates creativity and better verbal skills.  The advantages of a child-initiated instructive environment are what make this type of teaching developmentally appropriate for young children.

QUESTION:  Why do we have to sign so many forms in the middle of the year?  I don’t have time to do this again.  I already gave my information to you in September.

ANSWER:  It may seem to be time consuming, but it will only take a few moments to review both your emergency contact form and your agreement form. The state requires that parents review these forms every 6 months.  The parent only needs to look over the two forms and initial with a date that all the information is correct.  We want to make sure that we have all the current information on the emergency contact form so that if there is an emergency situation and we need to get in touch with you, we can.  Sometimes a contact will move out of town or will have a new phone number.  A parent may want to add another person to the list of people permitted to take the child home after class.  The agreement form also lists those persons as well as lists the services for billing and tuition information.  If you have added or changed a class, this could directly impact your tuition due. Please stop in the office to make sure that these items are reviewed and signed if you have not done this during your parent/teacher conferences.  It will only take a minute or two to make sure that your child is fully protected!

Fun Facts about…

Sandy Mencini

Three year old class (Turquoise) teacher

Four Year old class (Blue) teacher

My favorite place to eat out is “First Watch.”

I love to shop at T. J. Maxx

My favorite food is pizza and my favorite fruit is cantaloupe!

I love to snack on Cheezits.

I like the smell of vanilla and my favorite flower is the Hydrangea.

My favorite color is pink!

My favorite sports team is the Pittsburgh Pirates!

Did you know that I have 4 children and 1 grandchild?

For fun I love to plan parties!

My wish list for the classrooms includes glue sticks…we could always use them!



Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children