Innovations in Early Education Programs

By: Morgan Grant, CEI Intern

It’s no secret that early education helps to create a sturdy academic foundation for students.  Various studies about child development have shown us that quality education matters. After all, by age five, 90% of the brain has been developed as over one million neural connections are made per second! The general public has caught on that the earlier children are able to think critically, the better it is for their overall development (First Things First, 2015; Mongeau, 2016). In 2015, 67% of 4-year olds and 87% of 5-year olds were enrolled in an early education program (National Center for Education Sciences, 2017).

However, with so many programs available it can be difficult to decipher which ones are noteworthy. Programs that go above and beyond to foster positive relationships and encourage interactive academic and social-emotional activities tend to have the strongest influence (Child Trends, 2014). Many examples of excellence abound, from countries around the world. We have identified one program from the Singapore and two from the U.S. to illustrate some of the current best practices.

Singapore – Meeting Individual Needs. ‘Teachers need to be perceptive in picking up a child’s likes, dislikes, and interests and understand what makes him or her look forward to learning. In an everyday setting, children tend to reveal their preferences easily. Time with these children is critical to achieving the best outcome.’ – Julia Teo, Deputy Director of Operations of Bright Path Preschool (The Straits Times, 2018).

In Singapore, Bright Path Preschool students have access to music and theatre studios, a fitness gym, speech and occupational therapy, equine-assisted therapy, an in-house psychologist, a 1:3 teacher student ratio and beautiful scenery (The Straits Times, 2018). Students form strong bonds with horses through feeding, grooming and riding them on a weekly basis. Through the equine-assisted therapy program, children alsoincrease their self-confidence and improve their cognitive abilities (The Straits Times, 2018).

Bright Path provides lessons that are designed to meet students’ individual learning needs. No child has the exact lesson plan, as each child’s interests, dislikes, personality and preferred learning style are assessed. Therapists and teachers work together to create a curriculum that is appropriate for each student.

Bright Path preschool teachers also work hard to incorporate fun into children’s activities. Teachers are trained to use imagination and storytelling to aid students with daily reading comprehension and mathematical concepts.

Illinois – Fostering Respect. The Valeska Hilton Education Center in Illinois puts emphasis on strong positive relationships by encouraging the school community to focus on one core value – respect. Students are referred to as ‘friends’ not necessarily because they are all friends with one another, but because it is the model for how they treat one another (Adams, 2018).

Friends are given a free transition period after breakfast to participate in a self-guided activity. They have the option to partake in various stations: art, reading, writing, science, computer, iPad, building blocks, and sand blocks. Children are not forced to play with one another, but are expected to share the materials and space with others (Adams, 2018).

Children Solving Problems. Another unique aspect about the Valeska Hilton Center is that it encourages children to come to mutual agreements themselves. They believe that students can often solve problems through conversation and guidance, instead of expecting adults to handle everything that arises. Behavior corrections are focused on the issue at hand and are less about the overall character of the child (Adams, 2018).

Anna Brown, an educator at Valeska Hilton, believes that positive language and giving children the option to make decisions for themselves helps to create a bond. ‘It’s a sign of respect,’ she says. ‘We’re part of the same team, we’re part of a community’ (Adams, 2018).

Michigan – Literacy Coaches. Leanawee County in Michigan decided to completely revamp its early childhood literacy program when only 47% of the county’s third graders ranked proficient in the 2017 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, (M-STEP) (Mitchell, 2018).

Leanawee County is currently using literacy coaches to help students create Individual Reading Improvement Plans (IRIP) to boost their reading comprehension. These detailed procedures involve small reading groups, on-on one literacy coaching, meetings with a reading specialist, annual assessments and family engagement (Mitchell, 2018).

Eleanor Wollett, assistant professor of Siena Heights University, says ‘It’s about getting students to read every day. Getting those miles on the page’ (Mitchell, 2018).

The county is also working with local organizations and community partners to increase the number of free books available to its students. The county realizes that while they lack money, they make up for it in the vast connections they have with others to start multiple community initiatives (Mitchell, 2018).

Current projects include:

  • Creating mini-libraries in book vacant areas.
  • Lenawee Imagination Library: a partnership between the Lenawee Community Foundation and The Dolly Parton Imagination Library that mails age-appropriate books for free on a monthly basis to kids age 0 to 5. Almost 18,000 books have been sent to 1,200 kids.
  • Lunch book clubs that encourage children to read the same book with their peers and to have discussion based around it.
  • You’ve Got Mail: A program where books donated by community members are given to students who cannot afford to purchase books for a home library.
  • Summer literacy events where students can attend fun reading events with other students (Mitchell, 2018).

With the use of literacy coaches, Individual Reading Improvement Plans, reading nights, increased technology instruction and community engagement, the county is confident that they will begin to see progress in next few years (Mitchell, 2018).

Small Steps, Big Changes. As further research is coming out in support of new innovations in early education programs, more people are in favor of revamping education curriculum.  (Mongeau, 2016).  Although a lack of money, time or creativity can get in the way of restructuring a program, change doesn’t have to be stressful. Implementing budget friendly interactive components can be enough to make a difference. Allowing children to work with various mixed materials (clay, wood, metal, cloth, etc.,) for arts and crafts, making a mindfulness corner or station in the room and introducing intercultural educational concepts, can help to spark academic curiosity in students (Olson, 2018; Phorms Education 2017).

What are other creative things educators can do to promote positive relationships and academic learning? How can using the power of choice be used positively in the classroom on a daily basis?

References

Adams, P. (2018). Good word choice fosters friendship at Valeska Hinton education center. Journal Star.

Child Trends. (2014). Early childhood program enrollment. Child Trends.

First Things First. (2015). The first five years. First Things First.

National Center for Education Sciences. (2017). Preschool and kindergarten enrollment. Institute of Education Sciences.

Mitchell, K. (2018). Lenawee County schools shift focus, technique in early childhood literacy.

Mongeau, L. (2016). What do preschool teachers need to do a better job? The Hechinger Report.

Olson, N. A. (2018). Getting a head start with art.  Brattleboro Reformer.

Phorms Education. (2017). Intercultural education: The future of schooling. The Local.

The Straits Times. (2018). New preschool Bright Path will cater to children with different learning needs. The Straits Times.

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