Guiding Principles

The mission of the Early Learning Center:
In partnership with families, the Early Learning Center promotes student development in learning the social and academic skills needed to prepare for kindergarten entry. Instruction is developmentally appropriate in an environment that values cultural diversity and nurtures a love of learning.

A brief overview of the guiding principles that inform decision making about what is taught, how it is taught and how it is assessed at the early learning level is offered in this document. As a school community the Early Learning Center strives to use these principles in its daily work with students.

Partnership with families

Families are the first and most important teachers of their children. In order to be most effective in promoting the learning success of our students, we believe it is critical that we build a strong relationship with families. We see parents as partners with the school in promoting school success in their children. While we believe all parents can contribute to their children’s success in school, we recognize that there are differences in how families are able to provide this support. Home visits, family literacy events, parent and parent/child workshops, inschool volunteering and membership in the ELC’s School Effectiveness Team are some of the ways that family involvement in the school is encouraged.

Safe and secure environment

Children learn best when they feel safe. Research reveals that children learn best when they are in a nurturing environment where they believe it is safe to take risks and try out new skills. School and classroom routines are consistent and follow predictable patterns as young children find security in routine. Bus safety assistants ride the busses to keep children safe and happy on their trips to and from school.

Appreciation and valuing of diversity

Our community is fast becoming one of increasing diversity. We can learn much from each other. Respect for diversity is conveyed by an attitude of respect seen in school staff toward students and their families as well as the diversity of materials and resources available in the school. Every effort is made to provide written and oral communications with families are in the family’s first language. Play materials, foods, books and music representing a variety of cultures are incorporated in the classrooms on a regular basis, not just during the celebration of special holidays.

Children with disabilities are also a part of the diverse population of students who attend the Early Learning Center. Staff work to provide appropriate curriculum and instruction to meet the unique learning needs of each of these students. Instruction is provided in a least restrictive environment and opportunities for integration as appropriate are provided.

Recognition of individual differences among students

While high expectations are maintained for every student, it is recognized that there are growth differences between young children. Every student is a unique learner and sometimes a teacher needs the support and ideas of her peers to develop and implement alternative teaching strategies to meet the needs of a particular student. To address these differences, school staff holds weekly Building Consultation meetings. Teachers from each township (side of the building) meet with their peers from the same township, the school’s psychologist, social worker, principal and other district support personnel as needed to work as a team to develop strategies to help identified students. If necessary referral may also be made for further evaluation of the child’s development and possible special education intervention. Families are invited to participate. If parents do not attend, the child’s teacher contacts the family and relays information about the meeting to them.

Developmentally appropriate instruction

Play is the primary vehicle of learning for the young child. Play allows the child to experiment, explore and manipulate his/her environment. A young child expresses his or her ideas, thoughts and feelings when engaged in symbolic play. Imagination and creativity are developed through play. Play allows children to practice and rehearse new roles and to test out newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Classrooms are designed to encourage active exploration by the child with adults, other children and materials. Young children construct knowledge based on their real life experiences. Young children learn by doing. Children increase their own knowledge of the world through repeated experiences involving interactions with people and materials.

A typical daily classroom routine likely includes a mix of direction instruction and times during which children work individually, in small groups and as part of a large group. A mix of direct instruction combined with opportunities for children to choose own activities is provided. The use of work sheets and rote drill instructional practices is avoided with instruction being integrated across traditional subject areas in thematic units (see Addendum A) in order to provide a meaningful framework for learning.

Classroom curriculum is designed to establish a foundation for the achievement of long term goals in all domains of development

These key developmental domains are incorporated into the daily instructional routines in each classroom.

Social/emotional development

is important for students to develop the skills to get along with others in their environment, to develop a sense of confidence to face the challenges in his/her world and to establish a sense of self-responsibility necessary for becoming successful students and future citizens. For example teacher modeling and coaching provide students with opportunities to practice alternative ways of solving conflicts with peers. Lessons discussed in the Second Step curriculum help students develop socially appropriate ways to express their emotions.

Young students need to acquire general knowledge to form the base of information upon which to build academic skills. The school focuses instruction on the four core academic subjects of language/literacy, mathematics, science and social studies. Instruction pertinent to each of these subjects is interwoven throughout the classroom’s daily schedule. Skills are taught and reinforced during activities such as daily calendar time as well as during thematic instructional periods. For example a fall theme could include an early math activity involving graphing students’ taste preferences for different kinds of apples, a science lesson involving the seasonal changes in trees, a social studies lesson about how students from different cultures celebrate the fall harvest season and students constructing their own class experience based book about the group’s walk into fall.

Cognitive problem solving skills

need to be fostered for students to become curious, self-directed and disciplined learners. Teachers work with students on an ongoing basis to help students learn to develop basic problem solving skills as well as how to use resources available to them such as parents, teacher and peers if they need help.

Children are helped to establish good health practices through the promotion of physical exercise as well as the creation of an awareness of healthy eating and self-care practices such eating fruits and vegetables and hand washing.

Providing exposure to as well as an opportunity to participate in various art and music activities helps develop an appreciation of art and music and also adds a richness to life that cannot be found in other avenues of study. Music and art activities typically connect directly with the classroom’s current instructional theme.

While a core of knowledge and skills is essential for the study of any academic field, teaching for understanding rather than having a primary focus on discrete skill development is the primary goal.

Because of the critical importance of literacy in determining a young child’s future academic success, the school places a major emphasis on early literacy. The four components of literacy are addressed: listening for meaning, communicating to express one’s wants, needs and ideas orally, emergent reading and emergent writing skills. This is done through immersing the students in a literacy rich environment with the focus on playful experiences with literacy. Children have many opportunities to see how reading and writing work through listening to and reading stories and poems, taking field trips, dictating stories, developing classroom charts and seeing other uses for print in the classroom and throughout the school, participating in dramatic play and other experiences requiring communication, talking with other children and adults in the classroom and experimenting with writing in journals and throughout the classroom in various centers.

Assessment uses a methodology that is appropriate to age and experience of the students

Regularly used assessment practices include observation; the collection of work and performance based assessments designed for specific purposes. Samples of the early literacy and early math assessment tools being piloted by school staff during the 2001-2002 school year are found in the Assessment Unit that follows. These tools assess skills targeted by the district’s early childhood/kindergarten standards. Additionally the ELC staff with district support is piloting a new end-of-the-year progress report that is aligned with the early literacy and math assessments. A copy of the progress report as well as the report’s rubrics can also be found in the Assessment Unit.

Assessment is used to guide instruction, monitor student progress and communicate with families and other professionals. Within the classroom, teachers use their observations of students, students’ work on performance-based assessments and work samples to guide day-to-day instruction. Assessment information is also used to provide families with regular communication about student progress during home visits. Frequently home visit activities mirror classroom instruction so parents can see first hand how what the child is learning and the progress the child is making first hand. Significant efforts are made to make assessment results meaningful to families from varied backgrounds. This is reflected in the school’s end-of-the-year progress report’s language and design.

Professional peer support in developing individualized instruction to meet unique student learning needs is sought when appropriate through consultation with other early learning teachers and professional staff at the school’s regularly scheduled Building Consultation Meetings (Addendum E sample form). Parents are informed of these meetings and invited to participate. When appropriate students are referred for possible special education services. Assistance may also be sought from resources such as the district’s language arts/reading supervisor to extend instruction to meet the needs of advanced students.

Use of research to develop appropriate instruction, curriculum and assessment practices

What is taught and how it is taught should be based on knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn. As future research reveals new information about early learning, so too, will we change how we work with children. As a result this document should be regarded as a work in progress—that will grow and change as we grow each year to become better at the work we do.

References
Bredekamp, S. Ed. (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Bredekamp, S., Knuth, R.A., Kunesh, L.G. and Shulman, D.D. (1992). What does research say about early childhood education? Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Education Laboratory.

Goffin, S. G., (August 2000). The role of curriculum models in early childhood education. ERIC (EDO-PS-00-8).

Katz, L. G. (June 1999). Another look at what young children should be learning. ERIC (EDO-PS-99-5).

Katz, L. G. (December 1999). Curriculum disputes in early childhood education. ERIC (EDO0PS-99-13).

Kostelnik, M. J. (3/93). Recognizing the essentials of developmentally appropriate practice. Exchange.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1990). Guidelines for appropriate curriculum content and assessment in programs serving children ages 3 through 8.

National Center for Learning Disabilities Every Child is Learning (1996). A training program for parents and teachers: normal and atypical development.