Celebrating our Youngest Learners

This past week, Parker’s PreK classrooms celebrated The Week of the Young Child, a nationally honored event amongst early childhood educators and the young children in their care. This week of acknowledgement was started by the National Association for the Education of Young Children , and is held as much to honor the very young as it is to raise awareness about the importance of early childhood education.
Why is early childhood education so important? Our PreK 4 head teacher and early childhood guru, Leigh Augustine, explains “Early childhood education sets the foundation for a love of learning that will last a lifetime. The experience of being in an early childhood classroom is also often the first experience a child has in a community outside of the immediate family. This is where social skills develop, as well as the ability to be a productive, contributing citizen. People are their most creative selves during the period of early childhood, and the early childhood environment does much to encourage creative thought and curiosity through play and exploration with materials.”
PreK 3 head teacher, and our long-standing expert on early childhood development, Michele Ridgeway, adds, “We are setting the foundation for families and children for a lifetime of curiosity and learning, wherein children are given permission to ask questions and seek answers, and they are rewarded for their spirit and wonder at the world. Parents are also empowered to see their children as having choices and agency in their own learning through our inquiry based approach to curriculum.”
Although our PreK “classrooms” look very different at this point in the year, that did not stop our youngest learners from celebrating to their fullest this week. Leigh and Michele organized an entire week devoted to fun activities designed to help children explore and revel in the wonders of being young. On Monday, children in PreK 4 were encouraged to make lists of their favorite things to share with their teachers. Children in both classes explored growing on Tuesday, finding inventive ways to measure themselves and both show and tell how much they have grown.  Wednesday brought a Pancake Breakfast and pajama party, along with a celebration of Earth Day and more discussions about growing and tending to our beautiful planet. On Thursday, children were invited to build their own forts and broadcast live from within to share their creations. The week ended today with Crazy Hair Day, and a final challenge for the PreK 4 class to build the tallest tower they can to participate in the #talltowerchallenge. Throughout the week, children in both classes also examined baby pictures of their classmates, trying to guess who was who and noting how each child has grown.
Why do we push forward with traditions like this in the face of a campus closure and necessarily different parameters for what learning looks like in each home right now? The reason is simple: Because now is more critical than ever. As Leigh explains, “It may be more important than ever to celebrate young children during this time. Naturally, children are feeling helpless and out of control of their lives. Their routines have been shaken, and aspects of their lives they took to be certain have suddenly vanished. Putting the spotlight on everything young children ARE capable of can help them feel a renewed sense of empowerment, while also highlighting the resiliency of this youngest group. It’s also important to note that the very aspects of humanity that children innately embody (joy, love, resiliency) are the things that our society needs most in order to make it through this time. My hope is that adults and older children can be inspired by the youngest in our community.”
Michele adds, “Didn’t we need to party a bit? Seeing the smiles of the children when they realized that we are celebrating them has made it so fun to ‘step outside the box’ for a week and be humorous and silly. The parents have been showing up for us, making pancakes for their children on Wednesday, sending in baby pictures, and laughing along with us. One dad even showed up with a ponytail yesterday and stayed in the screen shot at the request of his child. This whole week has been a wonderful respite and celebration.”
Please read on to hear more from our superhero team of PreK educators about why they love working with young children, in their own words:
“It’s a pleasure to listen to the ideas and questions of young children, and an honor to help them find the answers to their big questions. Walking beside my students as they make discoveries and create a deeper understanding of their world is an act I will never tire of.” ~Leigh Augustine (PreK 4 Head Teacher)
“One of the most exciting things about working with young children is seeing how capable the children really are. As a society, we’ve created this idea that young children need an adult to do things for them because they can’t do it on their own. In my teaching, I have found this to be far from the truth. I watch children accomplish great things while in the classroom. Their resiliency shines through in their innate desire to do things on their own. I watch their faces light up when they learn to zip their coat. I hear them shout excitedly to me when they learn to climb a tree. I see children make elaborate structures as an architect would. I see children create art as beautiful as an artist would. I see children discover and wonder as a scientist would. I help them up when they’ve challenged themselves and fail, and I encourage them to try it again. The best part about teaching young children is that I get to see them accomplish great big things.” ~Sarah Penge (PreK 4 Assistant Teacher)
“What I am missing these weeks, and what I love about working with young children, is their energy and drive and curiosity.  My favorite time of the day in the classroom is when children are making choices and playing freely, building together, bickering, conversing, and creating.  We have noticed in our online meetings that the children continue to seek each other out. They realize where their “screen” is compared to their friends, and bring things to the screen that they’ve noticed on other days in an effort to connect. Just yesterday, Rozzy had pigtails and shouted to Brynnlee, “Look Brynnlee, pigtails!” Often, when there’s a color shown, a child will make sure to mention the child whose favorite color it is: “Your favorite color, Maddy!!!” Through our virtual classroom, we are trying to make space for the children to continue to be “together”. ~Michele Ridgeway (PreK 3 Head Teacher)
“When I enter a classroom of young children, I am humbled by their pure force, curiosity, and love of life. Every child has a story, and as an adult my most important role is to listen to them with compassion. When I listen to children, they present a carnival of possibilities, wonderful knowledge, and insights. Every child shows me new aspects of the world that I have not seen before. It is a huge responsibility for me to foster and protect their wisdom, and I am grateful to gain a glimpse into their magical world. Being surrounded by young children is something I appreciate very much.” ~Agi Laufer (PreK 4 Assistant Teacher)
“I love working with children because they see the world from a different perspective. They bring their imagination into the classroom, and their energy is incredible! Many people think we are the ones teaching them, but they are also teaching us! They are teaching us how to be care-free. They are teaching us how to enjoy the little moments in life. They are teaching us how to bring out our inner child everyday. There is never a dull moment. I love working with children because they bring so much joy and happiness into my life with their actions, drawings, words, energy, and imagination.” ~Sara Schomaker (PreK 3 Assistant Teacher)
“There are so many wonderful things to highlight when I reflect on the opportunity to work with young children. I love their genuine nature and their ability to care, share, learn and play with each other and those around them. I love their smiles, laughter, curiosity, and perseverance!  I am so thankful to be part of their daily routine and strive to provide many reciprocal smiles and comforting moments!” ~Carol Turnbull (PreK 3 Assistant Teacher)