As a preschool through grade 12 Head of School─and the mother of a six-month-old daughter─you would think I have answers to nearly every question about young children. I am certainly in an ideal position to observe them in action both at home and on the job. I am also privileged to work with a team of educational specialists who have great wisdom in the area of early childhood learning. That being said, there are countless milestones, achievements, differences, and challenges that young children experience; keeping up with the myriad of studies on the many mysteries of early childhood development can be exhausting. For those of you with newborns to eight-year-olds, there is a special week coming up, April 6-12, called the “Week of the Young Child™” during which the early learning needs of little ones are front and center.
This annual celebration─dating back over 40 years─is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest early childhood education association, with nearly 80,000 members and 300+ affiliates throughout the U.S. This year, NAEYC will focus on early childhood educational excellence, highlighting the needs of young children and their families while also recognizing the programs and services designed to meet their needs.
New York City Mayor de Blasio has certainly put at the forefront of educational and political agendas the offer of public pre-K education for all city youngsters. As a Head of School, I see every day the benefits of early childhood education as it stimulates, motivates, and challenges the curious, creative minds of children. It also offers children the very important opportunity to socialize with, and mature alongside, their peers. I marvel with my teachers and new parents every year, as we see their children blossom before our eyes, thanks to the advantages they reap from interactive, innovative programs designed specifically for their developmental level and a solid curriculum to meet different learning styles.
Within weeks of school’s opening in the fall, we note a marked increase in their verbal, kinesthetic, cognitive, and socialization skills. When teachers engage young children in stimulating classes within an atmosphere that is emotionally supportive, a strong foundation for learning is established that has long-term benefits: Children gain confidence at school, with their teachers, mentors, and peers; and they develop a desire for learning that will last a lifetime. A strong parenting focus at home augments the benefits of preschool on children’s skill development, further cementing this all-important foundation.
School administrators and parents must support and recognize early childhood teachers for their enriching approaches. Too often we think of high school─those years dedicated to college preparedness─as the most important years for children. In fact, preschool and elementary grade levels are crucial years for setting the stage for the rest of a child’s educational journey. The skills and character attributes they develop within the encouraging learning environment of early childhood classes prepare students to love learning and succeed as they advance through the years. It also takes a special kind of teacher to work with very young children. More time, patience, creativity, dedication, and a good helping of humor are needed to elicit the exuberant joy I see in my students each day. I am often inspired when I walk into classes and observe such great ingenuity that I want to sit on the group mat and join in!
There are many milestones ahead for my daughter. I look forward to sending her to gym, music or karate classes…but most of all I look forward to seeing her thrive daily in a nurturing early childhood school environment. I have no doubt that she will end up with a life-long love of learning, thanks to the vigor and dedication of passionate teachers who will mentor her both in and outside the classroom. As the “Week of the Young Child” draws near this year, it will have added meaning personally, as I reflect upon the great work of educators who dedicate themselves to this age group and the fact that my crawling, curious daughter is someone who will soon benefit from their expertise.
Dianne Drew is Head of School at Dwight School, a 141-year-old independent school in New York City. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she is an internationally recognized educator with over 20 years of experience in teaching, curriculum development, and educational consulting in both public and private schools in Australia, Asia, and New York City. Also serving as Vice President of the Middle Years Program for the Guild of International Baccalaureate Schools in North America, Dianne recently gave birth to her first child.