To share another glimpse into our Better Together Program we asked the program’s master teacher, Sharon Lichtenstein, to reflect on the Fall 2017 session. Every year there is a Fall and Spring session held at Green Bay Early Childhood Center in North Chicago. The Spring 2018 session begins on February 22 and runs until May 31.
WHAT VALUE HAS THE BETTER TOGETHER PROGRAM HAD ON THE FAMILIES AND CHILDREN THAT ATTEND?
The Better Together Program provides a unique opportunity for families and children, under three years of age, to come to a class that is designed specifically for them. The environment represents life experiences and is divided into ‘learning areas’ such as a kitchen/housekeeping center (dramatic play), dumping and scooping beans center (math), story time (literacy, speech and vocabulary), and climbing, jumping, and walking a balance beam (large motor skills).
Better Together’s safe environment encourages and stimulates children and their important caregivers to explore, wonder and observe the world around them. The curriculum supports children’s language development, large and fine motor skills, cognition, math sense, and exposure to stories and music. We appeal to all modalities of learning since children of this age have not identified the best way they learn. The class is divided into a schedule that mimics a preschool day so that the children become familiar with a preschool routine.
The adults in the classroom have the opportunity to meet one another, develop relationships and share stories. As relationships develop, the teaching team is available to answer developmental questions or help connect them to one another, resources or make referrals, if necessary.
DO YOU SPOT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE CHILDREN WHO ATTEND REGULARLY VS. THOSE WHO DO NOT?
There is a stark difference between the children who attend regularly and those who come inconsistently. The ‘regulars’ enter the classroom ready to play and are able to choose the areas that interest them the most. There is little, if any, arguments over toys or play space. If there is a problem, I can usually help resolve the disagreement, where both children are satisfied. As the children continue to attend, their play becomes more complicated and they engage for longer periods of time. If a change in the schedule takes place, the children who come regularly have little difficulty with the change, and are able to — for the most part — ‘go with the flow.’
On the other hand, when new children enter the class, they don’t know where to play first and often move restlessly throughout the room, trying to become familiar with all that the room has to offer. It takes time to develop quality play in an unfamiliar environment. Also, they are not used to the schedule and often get upset when activities change. The school day is not consistent or predictable for them and they’re not sure who the teacher is or what her role is during class time.
DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC STORIES/EXAMPLES OF HOW THE BETTER TOGETHER PROGRAM HAS BENEFITED THE FAMILIES?
As families become more comfortable in the classroom and with the team, they are more willing to share their stories. Sometimes it can be a simple question. At other times, we need to gather resources to give them the needed support.
One mom was worried that her young toddler didn’t like to be read to. She shared this with a member of the team who advised her with the following strategies:
- Find out what he likes, and get books about that topic.
- Have books in various parts of the house to demonstrate how important books are to his family.
- Only read as long as he is interested. If he isn’t, put the story away for another time.
- Choose reading times when he is engaged in quiet play and may be more open to being read to.
- Use reading as an opportunity to ask questions about the story and challenge his ability to think and reason.
This year’s mantra has been “Reading to You Children Builds their Brains and Makes Them Smart!” We know that reading to children in the early years, indicates success when they enter preschool.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL COMMENTS?
I would first like to thank United Way of Lake County for giving me this opportunity to write about Better Together, a program very near and dear to my heart. It has been pure joy to be an important contributor to the program and its evolving curriculum. Next, I would like to thank my strong and dedicated team members from United Way of Lake County: Rosa Herrera, Initiative Coordinator of Success By 6, and Katherine Velazquez, AmeriCorps VISTA member. I would also like to thank the Green Bay Early Childhood Center for their support.
We have added many exciting new things to our Spring 2018 session, including weekly library time with Mr. M, Green Bay’s librarian, and special reading time during class for children and their caregivers. We are always open to adding new and different ideas to our curriculum! To read our past Better Together blog posts and learn more about the program, click here.