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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Unwritten Curriculum- Or ..."Why should I send my child to Preschool??"

“Learning starts in infancy, long before formal education begins, and continues throughout life.  Early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success, just as early failure breeds later failure.” (Heckman, James, 2014) The late Dr. Fraser Mustard gave voice to “three enduring messages that have permeated the popular culture: The years before 5 last a lifetime; It takes a village to raise a child and Pay now or pay later”(2011, Early Years Study 3).  Drs. Mustard, Heckman and many others in recent years, have given voice to the importance of the early learning years and providing the very best learning opportunities we can to children in the, birth to age eight years, in order to fully capitalize on their optimal learning years. 
While the awareness of the importance of early learning is increasing, parents still have questions. These are two of the questions we get asked most often and of course we have answers!

“My child attends a daycare/day home, what is the difference?”  
The Ontario Childcare Resource & Research Unit (Feb.2002) states, ‘the quality of ECEC services is absolutely critical in determining whether they are educational and enhance child development or are merely ‘care’ that supports parental employment. Indeed, ‘the positive relation between child care quality and virtually every facet of children’s development that has been studied is one of the most consistent findings in developmental science.(Shonkoff & Phillips 2001:313)  There is a growing awareness in our society of the importance of early childhood education, vs. child care, both of which are important in our society.  There is a difference, between caring for a child’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and safety; and providing educational learning opportunities which are planned purposefully, and implemented by staff who have educational background/experience in the early learning years, which support/extend the intellectual, linguistic, emotional, physical, and social learning of young children. The recommendations, and best possible scenario, would be for early child care and early childhood education, practitioners to collaborate and cooperate to strengthen all programs in a complimentary manner.

“What will he/she learn in preschool that I can’t teach them at home?”  
This is a valid question, as many parents, who choose to, are very capable of providing learning opportunities in relation to the learning outcomes which are the foundation of the early learning opportunities planned and implemented in Preschool.  At BELA, we have carefully and purposefully aligned our Program of Studies learning outcomes, with Alberta Education’s Kindergarten Program of Studies, in order to provide learning opportunities designed to support and enhance the learning success of children entering Kindergarten.
During our research period, prior to opening BELA, we gathered information from a Parent Focus group, to learn more about priorities of families in our community, in relation to their child’s early learning. Of 10 criteria, which included early literacy and numeracy skills, 100% of parents participating indicated that one of their highest priorities was pre-kindergarten skill development of self- help skills, and independent ‘student like’ behaviors.   It is this ‘unwritten curriculum’ which is introduced in preschool, supporting later success in Kindergarten, and later grades, which is of equal, if not more, importance than the written curriculum/program.  This ‘unwritten curriculum’ introduces routines and expectations, and supports the children as they develop the self-regulation (emotional control) skills referred to by Mrs. Parenas in her recent blog .  These social/emotional skills are difficult, if not impossible, to learn without the context of a group setting with ones peers.  As with the intellectual, linguistic, and physical skills, the children begin learning in Preschool, the earlier we begin to purposefully plan to enhance and extend the social & emotional skills of young children, the earlier we ‘beget later learning and later success’ as Dr. Heckman recommends.  The ‘unwritten curriculum’ provides the tools children need to support their learning success. 

The ‘Unwritten Curriculum’ learned in Preschool, or Tools to support learning success in Kindergarten include, but are not limited to:
  •        separates easily from parent(s)
  •         willingly listen, and follows directions from, an adult other than his/her parent
  •        is kind to everyone, lets other children play
  •        doesn’t  hit anyone
  •        listens to teachers when they are talking
  •        waits for turn to talk
  •        takes turns when playing with other children
  •        shares toys, space, and adult attention
  •        accepts responsibility and willingly helps clean up
  •        when the teacher tells another child to stop talking, does not start talking
  •        when someone greets child, or says good-bye, child responds
  •       responds to frustration, disappointment, anger in an appropriate manner
  •        is able to ask for help in an acceptable way
  •        lines-up and waits in line quietly
  •        treats toys and materials respectfully, doesn’t wreck, or throw, anything
  •        treats  adults with respect and answers if  asked a question
  •        if the teacher is talking to another child, doesn’t interrupt
  •        when going to the washroom, flushes toilet and washes hands
  •         hangs up back pack, jacket and other belongings in designated space
  •        puts on/take off own coat, shoes/boots, mitts, hat, and attempts to do them up

There is a difference between childcare and early childhood education and no matter how fantastic the home setting and skills of the parent there are many benefits to children attending preschool. The skills of the unwritten curriculum are a daily focus at BELA as the children are immersed into a school setting and culture and activities are planned and executed to maximize the students’ independence.  Our students are mastering these skills along with all of those that are a part of the written curriculum and they are having fun!! Learning & Loving it – as we strive to support our students & their families every day!

 Jody Rutherford
Director of Education & Programming

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