LKC staff, you are wonderful and are working with a population that would be daunting to any Director, Social Worker, Teacher and Nurse in the US. Yet you do a fantastic job. I am so very proud of the stellar work I see you do on a daily basis.
Observation at Lotus Kids Club Preschool, February 10, 2014
The physical environment was beautiful and interesting and offered a wide range of age-appropriate learning activities. A very partial listing of options that day includes: painting, sponge painting, water play, trains, dress up, group games, equipment for climbing, crown making, etc.
I started to categorize these options by what area of child development each supports but the outstanding quality of LKC is a deep (maybe nonverbal) understanding that children’s learning doesn’t segment like that. A child involved in a teacher facilitated group game is developing her physical body, learning concepts, developing language, and learning to cooperate. A child playing alone at the water table is developing problem solving skills, math concepts, early physics concepts, fine motor coordination, and developing concentration and focus.
The environment was spacious, areas for different types of play were clearly delineated without being rigidly adhered to. Teachers were very much on top of the large amount of housekeeping required to keep a classroom space interesting and play productive.
Excellent use was made of repurposed and home made materials (two examples are the funnel board and the use of toothbrushes as bubble blowers.) This sort of material is great for developing problem solving and ingenuity (and, although this is less important in your setting, for fighting consumerism).
Finally, and most importantly, the children were accompanied in their day by smiling, helpful and emotionally available adults. When we smile, the body relaxes and our minds can absorb new information more easily.
Challenging behaviors decrease when children are within an interesting and age appropriate environment. They decrease even more dramatically when teachers focus on the positive—what we focus on strongly tends to be what we get more of. The LKC teachers had both of these aspects working wonderfully. Some other aspects were also noteworthy. Teachers frequently were providing extra support to enhance participation of a child who was somewhat shy and withdrawn or to calm and focus a child who could be overly boisterous. Nothing was done that would identify to the child and her classmates, “This is a trouble-making kid!” just a look, word, gesture, touch or invitation to sit on a lap, a willingness to join with that child in doing something. When a child was stuck on using and not sharing a particular truck, an invitation to the water table soon had him happily re-engaged. When a child threw her crown on the ground, a teacher’s gentle hand on her shoulder encouraged her to pick it up and get it to the trash. Teachers were very available to the children, frequently squatting to talk with them at eye level. Transitions were very well managed with children doing something (singing, talking, etc.) as opposed to trying to “wait quietly!” An example of this would be at tooth brushing time when one teacher helped children brushing their teeth, another led activities for children who had finished and another talked with children who were still eating.
Overall pacing of the day, as well as pacing of particular segments was a pretty perfect mix of repetition and novelty. Finally teachers simply seemed to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time: moving into a game so that more children would be included or to keep the game interesting by introducing a new element, moving out of a game to notice what the children could integrate, being available for conversation which is the real cornerstone of second (and first) language learning, keeping the environment interesting and organized, noticing and moving close to a child who might soon come undone, etc, etc.
This leads to what in the USA we are calling mindfulness education for children—it’s the hot “new” thing here and LKC is probably doing it better than any preschool in this country. Science keeps providing evidence that a calm, happy child will learn more effectively than a fearful, worried child and that teachers can help children learn techniques to become more calm and happy. Techniques such as: being aware of your breathing, being appreciative of your food, your friends, other good things in life, focusing concentration on the sounds around you—all things I observed during one brief morning at LKC. Research also shows that doing something like singing together enhances subsequent cooperation within a group—think of how often and how joyously LKC children sing together.
Areas to Improve
Because I was so greatly impressed, this took a few days to emerge in my brain. An area that could be improved would be the area of early literacy. A few ideas follow… [Nell listed a host of great suggestions]