BY LINDSEY STAPLES, Heritage House UPK teacher’s assistant
From the same perspective as the child sitting beside me on the floor, I look toward the direction of the classroom door where a mother stands just outside the doorway peering into the room. She waits quietly observing her son during the last few minutes of preschool play time. I glance at the iridescent glimmer on my watch as the silver hands overlap each other beneath the number twelve. On this warm June day, I think about how quickly the morning session of UPK has gone by and how seemingly even quicker the entire school year has drained like sand in an hourglass. September memories are still vivid in my mind like the vibrant colors of autumn leaves, and I’m suddenly overcome with a heavy feeling of anticipation. Time is filling in the space of the final days of Heritage House’s first year of UPK. Today, a mother’s hands will take her child out of my classroom and back into their little world at home, and morning will return the child to me for another day. However, sooner than both she and I can grasp, the hands held under the glass of my watch will reach beyond my control and pull all sixteen of my children out of the preschool pond, throwing them, with a giant splash, into Kindergarten. Are they ready? Will they swim?
In our education system, preschool programs are still just an option for parents and guardians to begin to build the academic and social foundation for their children. However, the number of parents and guardians choosing to enroll their children into an early education program such as a Universal Pre-kindergarten has greatly increased over the years. This growing trend has spread to new generations of parents because of the
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growth and expansion of adult education and research on the sociological and psychological benefits of early childhood education. According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, the biological nature of humans, our DNA, certainly influences our physical and social growth. However, through research within the realms of science, psychology, and sociology, we have a more concrete understanding of how one’s environment can and does influence, for better or worse, the holistic growth of an individual (4-5). In their studies and research on brain development in children, The National Scientific Council verifies that “early experiences cause epigenetic adaptations in the brain that influence whether, when, and how genes build the capacity for future skills to develop” (2). They conclude “therefore [that] the experiences children have early in life, and the environments in which they have them, shape their developing brain architecture and strongly affect whether they grow up to be healthy, productive members of society” (1). It is the positive experiences within a preschool setting that aid in the healthy upbringing of children.
Back in my classroom, I guide the last child through the classroom door and recap the highs and lows of the day to his mother. As his shoulder slips out from beneath my fingertips, and he and his mother make their way down the hall disappearing through the main door of the building, I reflect back on the year and wonder how my influence has shaped his life. Every day of the school year, we practice singing and writing out our ABCs, count all the days on the calendar, connect characters in our stories to creative projects we paint with our fingers, and rehearse, endlessly, the art of sharing, good manners, and mutual respect. Has it been enough? Did any of it even matter? The head teacher, Sara, and I review our curriculum to see if we adequately incorporated the fundamental skills of early childhood education. With the flexibility of broader academic
boundaries and a strong emphasis on learning through play, we realize that although ideally we wish for all of our students to enter kindergarten knowing how to read and write their alphabet and first name; be able to count beyond the limits of a calendar month; and master sharing and using kind words, we have a greater wish to provide them with a safe, healthy, and fun environment in which to build all of these skills.
There are moments during center time when I simply step back and observe allowing the children to interact with each other and fully use their imaginations without the interference of an adult. When I allow them more space it is inevitable that at some point during play time a confrontation between clashing personalities will occur. Many times I have had to step in to prevent the confrontation from escalating, but as the school year has progressed, I have witnessed the progression and growth of the children as well. Most of them are able to resolve their conflicts on their own and return to the fun world of their imaginations. To me, that is at least one of the many ways I can measure the growth of my children and how the experience of preschool has positively influenced them.
At the end of the day, and now approaching the end of the school year, I hope for my UPK students to have the tools and ability to splash their way into kindergarten and successfully swim their way through it—and mostly to have fun on the journey. n
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2010). Early Experiences Can Alter Gene Expression and Affect Long-Term Development: Working Paper No. 10. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu
Lindsey Staples, a teacher’s assistant for the UPK program at Heritage House Childcare and Learning Center, earned a B.A. degree in English/Creative Writing from Keuka College in May of 2009.