Early Childhood Development at Marillac St. Vincent

Gaps in development between low-income children and the general population can be seen in children as young as 18 months, and almost half of US children enter Kindergarten without the skills they need to learn. Our early childhood program provides the high quality instruction needed to close the achievement gap by developing essential skills during this critical period of child development. We have been accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for 15 years, and are rated at the Gold level through the ExceleRate Illinois rating system. Our highly educated staff, low teacher-child ratios, and focus on best practices have allowed us to promote over 87% of our children to Kindergarten meeting or exceeding developmental and cognitive benchmarks. Together with wrap-around services that engage parents in their child’s learning, provide resources for household stability, interventions for children with special needs, and high-quality youth programs for school-aged children, our child development programs strengthen and care for the whole family to build brighter futures in our communities.

Curriculum/Philosophy Description:

We believe firmly that children learn through play and we use the research-based, award-winning Creative Curriculum to develop important skills and knowledge through play and hands-on experiences. Creative Curriculum is structured around 38 research-based objectives aligned with state standards that have been shown to predict later school success. The objectives include not only traditionally academic subjects such as skills in math, science, social studies, language and literacy, but also social & emotional well-being, and physical development.

To truly teach through play, we draw from children’s interests to create activities, investigations or studies that help children explore a topic. Through that topic and high quality interactions we weave in important concepts and push children’s ability to think, while keeping them engaged and inspired by the world around them. This approach translates from our youngest at 3 months all the way up until our 5 year olds. Walk into an infant classroom and you might see a teacher cutting up pieces of paper to allow a child who is fascinated by light to see how the sun moves and changes as they wave different objects around. Walk into a toddler room and they’re doing authentic art, letting the children express their emotions while experimenting and observing how different objects affect paint, paper, and the mixing of colors and textures. In the first three years almost 90% of neuron connections are created in the brain, so creating these moments to prompt basic skills like observation, investigation, and estimation are essential to early development.

In older groups a study or investigation might take the form of a unit over several weeks diving into a topic. For example, a Preschool classroom might take time to look at the idea of buildings, creating a lesson plan that involves field trips to different kinds of structures, books like the Three Little Pigs, and building materials in different areas of the classroom. Math and science would be integrated through conversations, observations, and predications about size, shape, stability and structure, conversations about how different animals build structures, and daily experiments and questions that push children’s understanding. Language and literacy are involved in all studies by asking children to describe their ideas and engaging with them in conversation, probing their thinking, introducing vocabulary, and helping them make connections to past experiences and real-world topics. And through it all children are active participants in their learning, engaging with peers, staying physically active in the world around them and developing social and emotional confidence.

How do we measure our program?

Along with a high quality curriculum, you need continuous assessment to ensure that your program is meeting the benchmarks for success. One of the main ways we do this is through Creative Curriculum’s system called Teaching Strategies Gold, which provides a measurement tool for every objective. Each objective has a scale showing what the child should be able to do at each age, making assessing a child’s developmental level more structured and accurate. Online tools that collect and analyze the data inputted by teachers each week allow both teachers and administrators to see overall areas that a classroom may be excelling or, or struggling with. This regular data provides teachers and administrators with the ability to continually customize and fine tune teaching to what’s needed most.

In addition to our daily entries about each child’s individual development, we conduct annual assessments that use a variety of tools including the Environmental Rating Scale tools (ITERS, ECERS, and PAS), CLASS assessments, and self-studies for NAEYC or ExceleRate. In 2015 all of our Preschool classrooms at our St. Vincent de Paul Center scored above the state and national average in every category and we hope to push that higher in the next year to apply for the ExceleRate Award of Excellence.

What does it look like to “teach” a play-based curriculum?

Teaching has never been more challenging than it is today, and the children in our programs are benefiting from significant research in our field about what high quality interactions between a teacher and child look like. First and foremost our teachers must be experts in their children – their developmental level, culture, home life, and likes/dislikes. Teachers must then craft each conversation with that child to reinforce that positive relationship while weaving in real-world examples that are relevant to the child, questions that prompt thinking but are at the child’s level, positive reinforcement, redirection of distractions or behaviors, and language modeling with repetition and extension of the child’s speech, just to name a few. The best teachers are facilitating learning with a complex web of technical tools, rather than instructing children through repetition and memorization. In other words, we must teach them how to think, not what to think.

To measure these interactions we use the award-winning CLASS tool, which uses a scoring framework to rate the interactions within a classroom in three domains: emotional supports, classroom organization, and instructional supports. Specific examples include measuring the teacher’s positive climate, sensitivity, behavior management, productivity, concept development, feedback to children, and language modeling. In 2015 all of our Preschool classrooms at our St. Vincent de Paul Center scored above the state and national average in every category and we hope to push that higher in the next year to apply for the ExceleRate Award of Excellence.