Truthfully, putting my teaching philosophy into words is so difficult for me. I know in my head what I've learned and what I believe and I practice it in my teaching, but find it so hard to articulate just how I really feel. I will try my best to do so here.
First, a little background on how my philosophy has developed. I studied Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Utah State University. I knew when I started that I wanted to teach in an elementary school, but hadn't necessarily thought about the early childhood side of it. I decided on the dual major to make myself more marketable after graduation. I never would have guessed it would become such a passion of mine. In my Level II classes my junior year, we focused all on early childhood and I grew to love it. I was lucky enough to be placed in a practicum (hand-on classroom work) experience at USU's Children's House Preschool. Only a few girls from my class went there, as the others worked in the Child Development Lab. I feel lucky to have been placed there, because they even offered me a job at the end of the semester. I got to do the same things, but now get paid! I worked there the next semester and summer, then again my senior year after returning from an LDS mission. I got to observe and work with marvelous teachers there who were putting into practice the things I was learning in the classroom. Play was the focus of the day and it was amazing to watch these kids flourish and grow.
I student taught 5th grade and Kindergarten and sure fell in love with those Kindergarteners! I just knew that was where I belonged. After my semester student teaching in a public school, I student taught for a semester in the Child Development Lab with the 4-year-olds. I spent my mornings at the Children's House, and afternoons in the Lab. It was a perfect semester! I had heard horror stories about how difficult it was to teach in the lab and I found all of them to be FALSE! I loved my semester in the lab. Not only did I love working closely with my professor, whom I deeply admired after taking her classes the previous 2 years, but my supervising teacher was an incredible graduate student who taught me so much about teaching kids through play! I worked with an amazing group of teachers and just really felt like I flourished that semester, along with my 4-year-olds. Between Kindergarten and Preschool, I knew I had truly found my calling in life. I LOVE early childhood education, especially when it is done right!
Now, how do we do it right? This is where I hope to articulate most how I feel.
1. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
Here's the definition from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):
Developmentally appropriate practice, often shortened to DAP, is an approach to teaching grounded both in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development.
DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals.
And to apply it more to my philosophy on teaching preschool, here's how they apply it to preschoolers:
Preschool children learn best when they have positive and caring relationships with adults and other children; when they receive carefully planned, intentional guidance and assistance; and when they can safely encounter and explore many interesting things in their environment.
Children enter preschool with different strengths. One child might love picture books and already know lots of letters but have trouble with social interaction. A classmate may find it easy to initiate play and share toys yet have almost no experience with books and reading.
- thrive when they can experience new materials, roles, ideas, and activities—especially in pretend play;
- take great interest in feelings and become better able to express their emotions and identify those of others;
- make important cognitive gains that invite them to represent their world in pretend play, symbols, objects, drawings, and words; and
- show astonishing gains in language skills
2. Children Learn Through Play
Play in the early-childhood classroom is absolutely essential! It is developmentally appropriate. There are many studies and articles that prove this. To summarize one of my favorites, 2 groups of children were given the same toy. It could do 5 things. In one group, the teacher demonstrated 3 things the toy could do and gave it to the children. They were able to do those 3 things, but not more. In the second group, the teacher showed the toy to the children and challenged them to find out what the toy could do. They quickly found all 5 things. They learned through play. They figured something out without being told how to do it. This is how children learn through play. Preschool should be an environment that is set up in a way to make play inviting and meaningful. A room full of toys and kids running wild is not the appropriate way to do this. The teacher's job is to set up an environment full of "invitations to play" where children can learn to problem solve and explore their world. This is done in different play centers such as, but not limited to: dramatic play, art, a sensory table, large and small manipulatives, reading, writing, and outdoors. The teacher does not sit back and watch the kids just play. Her job is to help facilitate and extend this play. She asks questions, demonstrates new ways to use something, challenges them to find more ways, adds to, or takes away objects to extend the play. She also helps in classroom management by helping with sharing, playing together, and other behavioral things that come up.
There are so many great articles on play.
Click here for more
Want to see extending play in action? Click here
Also, check out my must-read blog list to see how parents and teachers are teaching through play.
3. Children have plenty of time to grow up. They don't need an "Academic Preschool."
This probably combines my first 2 points. We should teach at a child's appropriate developmental level, and in preschool that happens to be through play. There is a time and a place for direct instruction. It is not in preschool. Many will argue that it is not in Kindergarten. This is where I may waver a bit. To finish up my background, I accepted a job to teach extended-day Kindergarten after I graduated from USU. This was a really hard decision for me to make. I was so blessed to be applying for jobs at a time when schools were desperate for teachers. And to make the situation even better, the Utah State Legislature had just funded extended-day Kindergarten for 3 more years so more Kindergarten teachers were in high demand. When I accepted a contract with Granite School District in March, I got to pick and choose which school I wanted to go to. I received calls from principals and called a few on my own to schedule interviews. I then got to pick which one I wanted! This was the hardest part for me, and I consulted with my professor often about what to do. I knew I wanted to teach in a Title I school (low-income) because I felt I was most needed there and could make the most difference. So, I finally narrowed down my list to 2 Title I schools. One was 2 half-day classes, and the other was extended day. There were pros and cons to both that I won't get into, but the biggest con with extended day was that it didn't seem developmentally appropriate to me. A 5-year-old should not be in a classroom all day long! That being said, I also knew it was my chance to bring play into a Kindergarten setting. Half day classes just don't have the time for that anymore. My decision was made when I saw that my extended day classroom had a sand table and a kitchen. I knew I could teach them through play. For 3 years I did just that. It was not the same as the preschools I had worked and been taught in. It had much more structure. I did use direct instruction for reading comprehension and phonics and also for math. I had to. There was SO MUCH required for these students to learn by the end of the year, and in my school, they came in knowing very little. VERY LITTLE. But they did it. Each and every year I got them from knowing little to no letters at all, to reading at a 1st grade level. It took a lot of work! It was hard work for me and for them! I learned a lot about direct instruction and its benefits. It has its place and I believe that Kindergarten is one of them. IF it's used in a balance with play. We spent 2 hours of our day in centers. In each hour session, they spent 15 minutes with me, 15 minutes with an aide, and the other 30 minutes exploring reading and math concepts through play. They also had "discovery" centers which could be dramatic play, sensory table, puzzles, or block building. They had 3 recesses a day to get outside and play. They had to have this. As I said, Kindergarten is HARD WORK. They are required to know and do so much at a very young age. It may be developmentally appropriate, it may not be. Depends who you ask. And it depended on the child.
My point (bet you never thought I'd get there) is this: Children aren't allowed to be children anymore. School is about reading and math. That's great, but it's not great. They are pushed and pushed hard. So, Preschool is definitely NOT the place to be shoving reading and math down the throats of our children in an academic, direct instruction type way. I cringe when I see signs for "Academic Preschools." They don't need it. Now, before you get all worked up, I am NOT saying that children can't learn reading and math in Preschool. Of course they can and they should! Just not through direct instruction. There should be NO worksheets, NO rote memorization, NO flashcards and mindless drilling. Can a preschooler learn the alphabet? Of course. They learn it through many ways. A print-rich environment, books, name tags, puzzles, ABC toys, conversations with the teacher, etc. This is where the teacher seizes each moment of play. At the beginning of the day: "Let me help you find your nametag, Alex starts with what letter again? Oh yeah, let's find the name tags with letter A. Yes, that one has an A first, but I see an s second so let's keep looking for one that has an l second." At the writing center: "You want to write a letter to your friend Sally? Let me help you sound out and spell her name." And the play dough center: "Let's use these ABC stamps and see if we can get the alphabet stamped onto our dough in order. We can look at the ABC posters on the wall to help us. Now that we did that, let's spell some words we see in the room." That's a lot more fun for a 3-year-old than reciting a letter rhyme would be.
We also often forget there is an order to learning things. For example, before a child can write his name, he needs to develop the small motor skills necessary. This may be done by squishing play dough, pinching clothespins, threading beads onto a string, and other small motor play activities done in a play-based preschool. If you see these activities in your child's preschool, your child is learning how to write. It just looks differently than you'd expect. Same goes for math and reading. Math isn't only addition and subtraction. It's patterns learned in songs, it's sorting laundry, it's counting beads. It's everywhere. A play-based preschool will not leave your child wanting for math and reading and it will not leave them behind. It will do just the opposite. It will teach them those skills necessary to read and do math, but in a way that they won't forget or even notice they're learning. They'll begin to learn to teach themselves. They'll explore new ways to do things. They'll problem solve. They'll turn out to be wonderfully, well-rounded adults.
So, to sum up my philosophy (if you read this far), Let the Children Play.