Early Ed Program

More Streams, Less Screens

The Laconia Christian Academy Early Education and Elementary Education program is introducing some exciting changes this coming year. As many in our community are aware, one of the key initiatives in our Strategic Plan was to “research and develop a best-practices early education (EE) program.” Well, we’ve done our homework and we are ready to launch.

Here’s the back story. Just under a year ago, we established a team that was tasked with researching best-practices in EE and elementary education. As we read and researched, we came across exciting literature in the field of child development that advocates for outdoor, child-directed free play.  Recent research reveals that early childhood education relies too heavily on teacher or adult-directed activities and play. The lack of child-directed free play at school is often compounded by a lack of free play at home as well. Instead, many children go home to a significant amount of screen time or scheduled activities.

The team visited several innovative schools and programs throughout New England that centered on unstructured and creative outdoor play. Foundational for our inquiry was research by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist who authored Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children (New Harbinger Press, 2016). We met with Angela (who happens to live and work in Barrington, NH) and visited her TimberNook® program. TimberNook advocates an approach to education that “intricately weaves the therapeutic aspects of nature with its unique understanding of child development to create an outdoor program that supports every aspect of the growing child.”

In December, our team and LCA Board agreed that the research and site visits were too compelling to not use the amazing property and resources of LCA in establishing this wonderful outdoor educational opportunity for our children. In one sense, we will break new ground. In another sense, we are getting back to our roots, appreciating and putting to good use what has long been right at our fingertips.

We still have much to learn and we are eager to begin training and preparations in April. In the brief time that has passed since we started our research, we’ve begun changing our current approach in small but significant ways throughout the school day: allowing the children more freedom in their playtime outdoors. We’ve seen how this frees their imaginations to take flight and lets them experiment with simple challenges that strengthen them. Our small taste of this new direction thrills us for what our future commitment holds for students at LCA. For more information on the TimberNook approach, pick-up a copy of Balanced and Barefoot, or go to www.timbernook.com.

Over the coming months, the team will be hosting several family information and training sessions to both explain what this means for children at LCA and offer insight as to what parents can do at home. As I write, I’m struck by the thought that most of my generation and preceding ones had plenty of unrestricted outdoor play. Remember coming home from school, throwing your book bag down, and heading out to play until mom or dad called you home for dinner? We may not have known it at the time, but that experience was critically important to our development, and for success both in and out of school. Outdoor, child-led play is linked to cognitive development, improved communication skills, self-regulation, more focused attention, development and refinement of gross and fine motor skills, overall health and well-being, and more.

In Understanding How Young Children Learn (ASCD, 2012), early childhood researcher  Wendy L. Ostroff writes, “Some play advocates have implied that instructors should guide children’s play as a means of improving its quality or justifying it as preparation for more productive use of their time. On the contrary,” she continues, “research suggests that unstructured free play is especially important for learning” (p.31). Ostroff goes on to write that the benefits of unstructured free play include advanced and more explicit language development that correlate to “higher performance on tests of early literacy” (p.31), happier children, and children who are better socially adjusted (p.32). Ostroff’s work is just one example from the body of research that leads us to believe we’re headed in the right direction. We’ll be sharing a lot more in the coming weeks and months.

Please pray for us as we chart a new path for our youngest learners.

Note: In order to help successfully develop this program, LCA is seeking a qualified full or part time TimberNook program director. Click here to view the job posting.

The social and educational goals of the LCA Early Education Program include the following:

Develop Motor Skills (coordination) by running, jumping, climbing, balancing, and skipping. Physiological readiness precedes other learning.

Develop Fine Motor Skills (small muscle and hand-eye coordination) through practice with various items by putting-in, taking-out, matching, fitting, connecting, and disconnecting. Children will use manipulatives, puzzles, pegs, play-dough, beads, sewing cards, etc. Proper pencil grip, which is important for later learning, will be taught at school and reinforced at home.

Develop Language Arts (phonemic awareness, vocabulary and the rhythm of speech) through use of the classroom library, story telling, puppets, games, poetry, manipulation of sounds, and “circle time.”  Pre-reading and early reading skills are essential for all later learning.

Develop Social Awareness through dramatic play where a child progresses from solitary role-playing to sharing and understanding rules and limits. Time spent in classroom “housekeeping”, dress up, playing with blocks, and during snack encourage the child to begin to feel secure in himself, family, and community.

Develop Creative Expression through the use of various mediums (painting, coloring, cutting, gluing, and play-dough) to experience the satisfaction that comes with creating something that is uniquely their own. In music, children learn songs, rhythms and have experience playing with various instruments in order to discover other creative artistic expressions.

General experience with the world around them. Field trips to stimulate social and ecological awareness are planned throughout the year. The more the young children know and understand their world, the more independent and confident they become. Many opportunities will be given for exploring topics of interest to the child concerning the world in which we live.