Lake Dillon Preschool puts kids in charge
DILLON – Last week, eight Lake Dillon Preschoolers in green, plastic smocks smeared shaving cream across a table with their hands. Some sculpted three-dimensional shaving cream landscapes while others drew pictures in the white foam using their fingers.Some were more fascinated by the substance’s tactile properties – it was slippery – than its possibilities as an artistic medium. Such activities are commonplace at Lake Dillon Preschool, where children make their own decisions about what’s interesting and fun.”We don’t all have to play with PLAY-DOH or make a raccoon mask the way the teacher wants,” said Lindsay Hafermehl, the center’s assistant director. “Children have the freedom to pick what they want to do. We provide them with a variety of materials and let them learn through their experience.”
For just more than a year, Lake Dillon Preschool has operated under a nationally-recognized early childhood teaching philosophy called Creative Curriculum.The approach is based on the premise that young children don’t learn best by parroting someone else. Learning requires active thinking, experimentation, exploration and decision-making to understand the way the world works.”They’re learning to make their own choices and be responsible for them. They’re also learning to interact with adults and their peers as they make choices,” Hafermehl said.Each day, teachers set out a variety of activities and materials, ranging from books to blocks to art supplies. Children are then free to decide how they spend their time.
The range of available activities in a given day always fosters development in many different areas, including literacy, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and sensory awareness. Through the activities, children learn about sizes, shapes, colors and relationships between objects and concepts.”They’re not learning the color red from a flash card with a red apple and a red heart, which is how we used to do it,” said Lake Dillon Preschool director Sherri Seirmarco, who oversaw the program’s implementation. “They’re learning those things anyway through conversations with the teachers. When the teacher asks, ‘Will you please go get me the red truck?’ they’ll learn what red is.”According to Seirmarco, children learn more quickly without rigid lessons.”I see a lot fewer kids being excluded. There’s no way to be left out, so there’s less stress on the children. There’s none of that, ‘If you don’t like it, you don’t play,'” Seirmarco said. “If you set up the environment as a dinosaur world, and you have a child who’s not interested in dinosaurs, that’s not going to work.”
Seirmarco said that the Creative Curriculum play-based philosophy also creates less stress because teachers aren’t focused on success and failure.”It took a lot of dedication on the part of the staff. It’s hard to get away from the old ways of teaching and to believe in a new way of doing things,” she said.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at email@example.com.
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