Sunday, February 12, 2012

What Sets Us Apart - The Explorer Commitment

By Teacher Konne Ainsworth, Explorer Director

Several commitments at Explorer have set the course of the school.  The commitment to parent education definitely sets us apart.  There is often confusion about parent education and parent participating.  There can be a huge difference between the two.  At Explorer, we are not just a school with parents “babysitting” kids and washing paint brushes.  We train parents to be good observers not only here, but at home. We train parents to work in a professional way with children, using the tenets of positive discipline and using observations to teach the developmental norms of each age group.  We budget for parent education classes (PECs) that are the envy of some schools.  We try to have excellent classes and challenge parents to be better parents at the school, at home, and in the community. 

Another commitment is to have high quality teachers and hold them to a high standard.  Our teachers are highly trained and have experience and a commitment to professional growth.  The board at Explorer is very supportive of the teachers and continues to respect their input and also implements the programs that the teachers value.  Our teachers have also worked and played together for years and have mutual respect for each other, helping one another be the ‘best that they can be.’

We are also committed to giving the teachers autonomy to develop curriculum and provide enrichment activities that other schools cannot provide, such as art shows, dad’s days, and field trips, which include the Monterey Bay Aquarium and summer camps, to highlight fun activities for mixed ages.  Our curriculum is based on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and is aligned with Creative Curriculum, but includes the California state curriculum framework standards for preschool.

As the director, I encourage teachers, parents, and children to embrace the natural world, while acknowledging that we are in Silicon Valley, a science Mecca.  Science is the foundation of learning, so I believe that teachers and children need to ‘explore’ the world as it relates to children.  We encourage the scientific method and promote inquiry in all areas of learning.

A big decision and commitment was made to move to Willow Glen.  We have enjoyed the facility, building a $160,000 yard complete with vegetation, which supports children learning in a safe, challenging, and natural environment.  We love the outdoor classroom: with its water play, garden, physical challenge area, and large enough space that fosters independence.  Willow Glen was surprisingly multi-ethnic, and we have enjoyed the many cultures that have joined to make the Explorer community.  It is nice to teach in a community that embraces diversity, so we can actually ‘live it’, instead of just reading about it. 

And, I also feel I made a good decision with my commitment to stay on at Explorer---to grow and learn as a parent, teacher, and member of the community.  

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

By Teacher Konne Ainsworth, Explorer Director

We educators sometimes fail to make sure that what is understood by us is understood by parents, too.  I thoroughly believe that a major part of educating children is creating a bond between parents and teachers to together provide what's right for children. 

In the past, educators were driven by materials and information that needed to be “taught” to children.  Curriculum was designed primarily by publishing companies, which interpreted what districts wanted to have taught to children in each grade.  Teachers were often given materials for each subject area with little training in presenting the material.  Lectures were common, and rote learning was thought to be effective, that is, children would be trained to just parrot back what an adult said.  Hands on materials were limited.

Through research, particularly that of Jean Piaget, and the reality that our education system was often ineffective, some changes have been made.  Many of the changes came from early childhood educators.  We have come to call some of these changes developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), to reflect the research based on the needs of the child.  Learning proceeds in a predicable and logical way based on a child’s growth and development, but how it is nurtured is essential.  Children are being asked to do more divergent thinking and be more involved in their own learning.  We also believe that each child's learning style, maturity level, and interests are unique and need to be respected.  Some teaching practices have changed.  Unfortunately, many elementary teachers are not required to take child development courses in conjunction with teaching practices.

Cooperative learning means that children are grouped together to help one another rather than tracked into homogeneous groups.  This is very effective in elementary school.  For instance, four children may work together in spelling: one having mature skills, one needing help, and a couple in the middle having medium skills.  They would discuss words to be learned, form strategies, and work together.  Thus, the focus would shift from that of competition to that of cooperation.  These days, however, the stress of being at the ‘top of the class’ and being competitive is increasingly becoming more important, but it is really not the best ‘learning’ environment for most children.  It’s something to think about: when the focus is on competition, not cooperation, you might get into the best college…but cannot work well with anyone!

Another major change in teaching reading and writing comes from knowing that young children have varying degrees of readiness to read.  The whole language approach encourages children to dictate stories before they formally begin reading.  Children can then 'read' their own words, and as they get older, they can illustrate and edit them.  Children may also decide their own spelling words, make their own books, and read various levels of literature, rather than reading basal texts, which assume that all children learn at the same rate.  Basal texts do have more of a scheduled phonetic approach though, so they are used, too.  Most good teachers use multiple approaches when teaching children in the areas of literacy and other disciplines since we know that children have many modalities and styles of learning.  However, the testing focus has had a fairly negative effect on many teachers who feel they NEED to teach to the test.  Parents are still confused about the role of testing and how if benefits children.  I encourage you to ASK about the value of the testing when your child enters elementary school.  Be an advocate for children.

Five Golden Things

By Sub. Teacher Paula Oakes

At Explorer, there is always a hand to hold and something to discover.  The education and experience of the lead teachers is unsurpassed!

Each month, I visit five classes and see, in their beautiful arc or spectrum, the progress of parents and children as they move through our school.

1. Parents gain skills and support, invaluable to their ability to cope and participate in all that is required of parenting during the preschool years.  Parents’ progress follows that of the children—they gain competence, confidence, and community.  These are essential to life beyond preschool.

2. When children see their parents participate, it validates the importance of school, education, and community.  The children also benefit from having supported and skillful parents.

3. The children gain social skills that help them negotiate relationships at each age/stage.  Through interaction in a developmentally appropriate environment, children gain esteem through competence and confidence.

4. Children’s cognitive skills and love of learning through discovery will carry them through their next learning & school experiences.  When learning takes place in a natural way, it contributes to cognitive structure and connections and even a sense of wonder that is essential for continued educational success.

5. Parents, teachers, and children learn and work together through supportive, caring relationships, which is one of the strongest predictors or indicators of educational health.  The greater community benefits as families move out beyond the preschool: participating, leading, and sharing these golden things…

There's More to Open House...

Explorer Open House is coming up!  Here are the details.

Explorer Open House
Monday, February 13th, 2012
9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Fall 2012 Enrollment

Open House is a great way for everyone to see the parent participation program we have at Explorer Preschool.  Please tell your friends, family, and neighbors with preschool-age children to come and visit us at Open House.  For those interested in coming to this event, there will be tours of the school and a chance to observe the classes in progress. There will be knowledgeable parents on hand to answer questions.

But, there’s more to Open House than meets the eye!  Keep reading to discover one parent’s perspective and emotional connection to the open house event last year…

By Solvay O’Leary, an MW2/MWF mom, Children’s Ed Committee Chair

New to the San Jose area, I first discovered Explorer Preschool while attending a Las Madres event in January of 2010.  I was looking for a parent participation preschool for my 2 ½-year old son (and eventually my 10-month-old daughter).  It immediately caught my interest mainly because we could walk to it from our new home.

What a gem I discovered when I toured the school later that month during the annual open house!  I loved the space right away.  It felt big, but purposeful.  I felt that a child could grow here and not feel confined by the same rooms each year.  The children would have freedom to move about and explore at their own pace.  A current parent joked that some kids sit at the snack table for the first few months and then one day decide “I’m going outside!” and aren’t seen again for snack for the rest of the school year!

During the tour, I had a chance to chat with some of the working parents.  These were people that I wanted to be friends with!  They were genuinely enthusiastic and interested in my children and me.  Although difficult to pinpoint the exact quality, it was obvious that my tour guide was genuinely comfortable at and proud of the school.  It seemed rushed to apply right then, but after touring the school and meeting the working parents, I had nothing to lose.  I was pleased to find out soon after visiting that we got a spot!

Jump forward one year and I found myself working at the open house.  My own feelings when touring were now corroborated: I was proud of my school and genuinely wanted prospective parents to feel the same good feelings I had felt about the space and working parents.  After spending time in the classroom and performing my various school commitments, I had realized how important it is to have a positive, strong parent base at our children’s schools.  Explorer’s respect for parents and focus on parent education is one of their key strengths and the driving force behind putting our best face forward at Open House.