Today I would like to open discussions around individual, mixed-age and small class size benefits. Anyone out there running their own in-home or small preschool, please feel free to join the conversation! Any parents out there who would like to discuss what their experiences are raising and home-schooling their young preschool aged children, please feel free to join as well! Share, like and pass this post along to keep the conversation going! 🙂
If any of you follow current research as I do, then we all are aware of the fact that small class sizes benefit children the most. I love having a small preschool because my class sizes will remain small through the years. The benefits of having fewer students means, each child will get individual attention when they need it and the children will also get to know one another better. More learning can happen if the environment is designed for fewer children as well.
I would like to discuss a little about the benefits of one on one attention during the early years. Many parents out there staying home and raising either one or two young children are encouraged to join the discussion, because I’m sure you have found many positives having time to give one on one attention. For me, I had one student last year and I really valued the opportunity because it is not often that a teacher has only one student. unless tutoring. What one on one attention meant to me as a teacher was that I could truly tailor the curriculum to this student’s needs. I got to know my student much quicker and I was able to catch on to any current interests this student was thinking of. For children who do not have much experience prior to preschool interacting with other children, a one on one can be ideal for the child as well as the parents. A small, quiet learning environment was far less intimidating than a large and noisy one. And my student benefited in all learning areas as the curriculum emerged with not only the student’s interests but as the student grew through the school year.
As much as I value the time I spent teaching only one child, I designed my preschool for eight young and eager to learn children. Mixed-ages is my favorite way to teach because children learn so much more from each other. When children have multiple opportunities to interact with both younger and older students, the benefits have no limits. I’ve taught mixed-age preschool before and really loved how younger students glommed onto older ones and learned how to write and read quicker, became more confident in outdoor activities and generally were more alert, interested and eager to learn! I’m not saying that children in the same age classes aren’t similar in their desire to learn, it’s just a bit different. And until you experience it yourself, you’ll just have to trust me. Mixed-age classes really are the best way to go!
Small class sizes have a number of positive benefits for young children, and one I’d like to focus on is the time it takes to cultivate first friendships. First friendships happen in preschool, especially if the children have had no other opportunities to build prior friendships. Preschool gives children the time they need to make friends and the time they have to cultivate these friendships increases with smaller class sizes. Just think of the zillion interruptions that happen in large classes when children are right at pivotal points of discovery. Interruptions still happen quite a lot in small learning environments too, yet the children have more opportunities to go back to what they were focussed on and to continue the process of learning they embarked upon with fewer interruptions in total.
When children are enrolled in smaller early learning schools they are able to form deeper friendships during these early years and these friendships can last a life time. And even if the friendships dissipate through the years due to other factors, the children still have more time engaging in life experiences they need in order to function in larger groups as they grow older and enter elementary , middle, highschool and beyond. Any time young children are encouraged to interact with others and are placed in supportive learning environments he/ she will be better prepared for our very social world as they grow older. And older children benefit greatly with helping younger classmates learn. Older children become mentors and take on being role models for the younger children. These positive benefits have no limits as well!
I’d like to return to the topic of individual attention for a moment. One thing that really stands out for me as a teacher is that having one student last year really pushed me to grow as a teacher once again. My role took on the form of not only teacher, mentor, support, but as a peer. I took the time to really reflect on my behavior around my student because I did not want to over influence her with my adult perceptions. I wanted her to learn and I wanted to learn from her. She had a special skill that I really admired. My student came from a family that used American Sign Language, so she was able to teach me some words even though she was a hearing person. Her comfort level with signing was natural because she had been communicating in this way her whole life. I also saw how proud she was to have this knowledge and be able to teach me, her teacher.
The most ideal situations are ones in which children interact with a group of peers. However, sometimes our youngest members of society need some firm first steps prior to their introduction to larger group settings. And that is perfectly fine! My student from last year needed time to adjust to this new thing called, school. She needed time to feel free to explore, question, construct and gain new knowledge without being intimidated or stifled. If you too have experienced having only one student for a time, you may be able to relate. Once children experience this firm first step, they are able to move onto larger groups with much more confidence and are very successful. There is nothing wrong in being sensitive to your child’s needs and recognizing the importance of taking your time figuring out what best works for your child. Just because friends or family put their children into large groups doesn’t necessarily mean that your child should follow the exact same path. And it doesn’t mean anything is wrong developmentally or cognitively with your child. It just means that you value and respect your child as an individual and you know what works best for him/ her. Preschool is the first school experience your child will most likely experience, so keeping in tune with what type of environment they need as their first step is just as important as any other aspect of learning.
A good reminder to all of us is that throughout our lifetime we all will be either learning or working in both large and small environments. The size of the groups we interact with constantly change. So don’t worry if your child starts out in super small class sizes. They will experience larger groups throughout their lives as you and I have. The most important thing to remember and keep close is that social/ emotional development happens the moment young children start interacting with their small universe. You, their family, friends, strangers, are all a part of how each child develops and preschool is a vital part of this important growing and learning journey. Stand up for your child and value who they are. You’ll know where their first steps should be when you are in tune with their needs as only a parent can be.
Please feel free to leave comments and add your experiences! 🙂
Walk, bike or ride to The Marigold School of Early Learning! 🙂