Preschoolers learn through play

The modern focus on "academic achievement" means that worksheets and homework have creeped beyond elementary school into preschool. At Aspen Leaf Preschool, we ensure our students are prepared for Kindergarten, not through worksheets and homework, but through creative lessons and activities that feel like play, not work. A child who learns through play develops a love of learning and discovery that, properly nurtured, will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Play-based learning

At Aspen Leaf Preschool, we believe that play is children’s work. When children play, they are learning about the world around them. When they run, jump, and climb they are learning about spatial relationships and about how their bodies move. When they build, children engage in mathematical thinking and develop motor skills. When children participate in dramatic play, they are practicing abstract thinking and learning social studies. As children play with their classmates throughout the day, they learn important social skills. These interactions teach them how to negotiate and communicate with peers and adults.

Curriculum structured around the children's burgeoning interests

Emergent Curriculum

At Aspen Leaf Preschool, we utilize an emergent curriculum, which structures lessons and activities around the children’s burgeoning interests. The children learn language, math, science, and social studies through a variety of activities that are centered around topics that “emerge” from observing the children.

Our experienced teachers observe and talk to the children in order to discern what they would like to learn. Once a topic is chosen, our teachers set up the learning environment to encourage exploration of the topic. Together with the children, they select and plan activities that revolve around the topic. These activities include number and letter games, art projects, field trips, and more.

In Action

One morning, I noticed a small group of children building “rockets” in the block area. After quietly observing them for a few minutes, I asked where their rockets were going. They answered that the rockets were going to space. After several more questions, they informed me that the rocket ship held astronauts and that space contains stars, planets, and a moon. Children built "rockets" out of blocks

The children built “rockets” out of blocks, which led to a unit on space.

Later, at circle time, I brought up the subject of rockets again. This time the whole class was involved in the discussion. After a few minutes, we started talking about what the astronauts would see and do in space. The children suggested that the astronauts would fly around and that they would come to our school. At this point, I brought out the iPad and showed the children a video of a real spaceship taking off and another of astronauts walking on the moon.

For the next three weeks, all of the children were crazy about space. By observing the children during free play time and asking questions, I was able to discover what the children were interested in. Once it was apparent that the children wanted to learn about space, I was able to guide them in their learning by offering books, songs, dramatic play opportunities, and projects on the topic of space.

The importance of talking and reading

In a seminal study done in the 1980s, two professors (Betty Hart and Todd Risley), seeking to understand why the federally-funded preschool program Head Start wasn’t as successful as most researchers believed it should have been, recruited a demographically-diverse range of families and compiled data on how many words their children heard from the time the child was 7 months old to when the child turned 3. Hart and Risley discovered that children from certain families were exposed to, on average, 32 million more words by the age of 3 than children from other families in the study. This “word gap,” Hart and Risley found, could account for academic achievement disparities in grade school and beyond.

We understand how critical early childhood education is to the social and mental development of each child, and especially how important it is to read to and talk with each child. Verbal communication, open-ended questions, imaginative discussion, and reading are the foundation of the education that we provide at Aspen Leaf Preschool.