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A Parent's Guide
to Early Childhood Education


Diane Trister Dodge
Joanna Phinney


Table of Contents


Do you want your child to...

If you do, then our early childhood program is perfect for your child. We share the same goals. The purpose of this handbook is to explain how we can work together at home and at school to help your child acquire the skills, attitudes, and habits to do well in school and throughout life.

For years parents have been asking, "What is my child actually learning in preschool and kindergarten? And what can I do at home to help?" Now we have this handbook. It explains our philosophy and goals. It describes what children are learning from the activities, learning environment, daily schedule, and from our conversations with them at school. Last, it suggests what you can do at home to help your child learn.

Our Philosophy

The philosophy behind our curriculum is that young children learn best by doing. Learning isn't just repeating what someone else says; it requires active thinking and experimenting to find out how things work and to learn firsthand about the world we live in.

In their early years, children explore the world around them by using all their senses (touching, tasting, listening, smelling, and looking).

In using real materials such as blocks and trying out their ideas, children learn about sizes, shapes, and colors, and they notice relationships between things.

In time, they learn to use one object to stand for another. This is the beginning of symbolic thinking. For example, they might pretend a stick is an airplane or a block is a hamburger. These early symbols-the stick and the block-are similar in shape to the objects they represent. Gradually children become more and more able to use abstract symbols like words to describe their thoughts and feelings. They learn to "read" pictures which are symbols of real people, places, and things. This exciting development in symbolic thinking takes place during the early childhood years as children play.

Play provides the foundation for academic or "school" learning. It is the preparation children need before they learn highly abstract symbols such as letters (which are symbols for sounds) and numbers (which are symbols for number concepts). Play enables us to achieve the key goals of our early childhood curriculum. Play is the work of young children.

ABCs and 123s
What's Appropriate

Many parents are concerned when their children aren't practicing letters and numbers. They feel that completing paper and pencil exercises will most effectively prepare their children for elementary school.

We could give your children workbooks. We could make them memorize the alphabet. We could drill them. We could test them. But if we do, your children may lose something very important.

Children who are rushed into reading and writing too sin miss important steps in learning and may suffer later on because they lack the foundation they need for using language. Children who are taught to read before they are ready may be able to sound out and recognize words, but they may also have little understanding of what they are reading. If they haven't tern given time to play, they won't have explored objects enough to know what words (like "hard, harder, hardest") mean. If they aren't allowed to string beads, button, dress up, cut, paste, pour, and draw, they won't develop the small muscle skills they need for writing.

Because math involves more than memorizing facts (like 2+2=4), because it involves logical thinking, children shouldn't be pushed into paper and peril arithmetic too soon. To acquire the foundation for logical thinking, children need many opportunities to count objects, sort them into piles, and add some to a pile and take some away. It is by playing games like these that they will learn to truly understand addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. Without these concrete experiences, children may give correct answers but probably won't understand what they are doing and why.

Worst of all, if children are rushed into academic subjects too soon, they may lose their enthusiasm far learning and lose their sense of themselves as learners. If children are told what to learn and memorize by the teacher, they may become more passive and dependent learners, and be less excited about learning something new. Children who are given plenty of time to play, however, learn to ask their own questions and figure out their own answers. They are responsible for their own learning. They see themselves as explorers, discoverers, problem solvers, and inventors.

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