Downtown Baltimore Child Care is a place where children play to get smart! (Cooper and Jones, 2005). It is an early care and education center where young children are enriched by each other, caring relationships with the teachers, a stimulating environment, and a carefully planned emergent curriculum. DBCCâ€™s focus on child development and play allows the children to meaningfully integrate physical, social, cognitive, and academic growth while they pursue their own interests and learn to cooperate in a group.
The Theory: DBCCâ€™s motto, â€œChildhood should be a journey, not a race,â€ defines our humanistic philosophy of early childhood education. Our curriculum does not begin with a pre-programmed schedule of themes, topics, and events designed by outside experts. Instead, it begins with each individual child. In order to learn, children first need to have their physical and emotional needs met â€“ they need to be fed, rested, and healthy. They need to feel secure and loved. They need to feel confident and capable that their environment can be safely explored. (Maslow, 1968). Having these needs met consistently allows children in their infancy and early childhood years to develop trust, autonomy, and the skills to plan and act with purpose. (Erikson, 1963). A prerequisite for all learning is the ability to take risks. Children whose needs are met will more likely be able to explore and to take initiative for their own learning.
Curriculum Development: DBCC uses the Maryland State approved Creative Curriculum as a guide for all age groups. DBCC offers a program that focuses on not only what children learn, but also how children learn. DBCCâ€™s program integrates physical, social, emotional, and intellectual experiences for individual growth and development. Play is at the center of DBCCâ€™s program. We agree with the American Academy of Pediatricsâ€™ statement that, â€œPlay is important to healthy brain development.â€ (Ginsburg, 2006). DBCC classrooms are organized for active play.
Infants in action: For infants, curriculum means more than â€œstimulatingâ€ the infant with toys. DBCCâ€™s approach is based on the principle of relating to infants with respect. (Gerber, 2002). From this perspective, curriculum consists of building trusting relationships with caregivers in addition to exploring the world. Consistent care giving and routines are a vital part of our infant curriculum. Schedules are adjusted according to each childâ€™s eating and sleeping rhythms. In this way, trust is built between the infant and the care provider. Holding and touching are determined by childrenâ€™s preferences for body contact, so they can be gently introduced to sensory and motor experiences. Infants are talked to, read to, sung to, and played with to encourage the development of language, motor skills, and early peer social interactions. During infancy, as at every other age, all areas of development--cognitive, social, emotional, and physical are intertwined. Infant classrooms are especially designed so adult caregivers can easily respond to childrenâ€™s language, gestures, and needs. This allows caregivers to participate with the babies as they learn to safely explore their world. (Brazelton, 1969).
Toddlers and Two-year olds in action: Toddlers and young children learn best from first-hand experiences. Educator and author Bev Bos says, â€œIf it hasnâ€™t been in the hand, it canâ€™t be in the brain.â€ (Bos, 1994). Manipulative materials such as paint, play-dough, sand, water, blocks, puppets, and props for dramatic play comprise a vital part of DBCCâ€™s curriculum. Children are encouraged to explore and test their ideas, each in their own way, at their own level of understanding. Children are taught to make simple choices and use this skill to promote peer relations. Teachers model using language to help children learn about and label their emotions. John Medina, in Brain Rules for Baby, advises that this facilitates connecting the nonverbal and verbal pathways in the brain. (Medina, 2011).
Preschoolers in action: Preschool classrooms are designed around interest centers that allow children to make choices, move freely, grow in areas of need, and develop personal interests. Learning centers are equipped so that children can pursue special projects, utilize language, create artistically, explore mathematics, and experiment scientifically. There are carpeted places for reading and listening to music. There are opportunities for cooking activities and for the care of plants and animals. Indoor and outdoor space is dedicated to a range of activities to develop large muscle skills and build strong, healthy bodies. Children are encouraged to self-select among activities that are provided to develop cognitive skills as well as enhance divergent thinking and problem solving skills. (Copple and Bredekamp, 2009). While a play-based curriculum might not look like what you would expect a preschool classroom to look like, early childhood research supports that the most valuable early educational experience for children is one that supports the development of executive function and self-regulation. (Galinski, 2010). Language development is carefully encouraged at DBCC. Children ask questions, challenge assumptions, and work cooperatively. Language is a key to every classroom experience. Opportunities abound for writing and early reading skills. From our youngest infants to our oldest children, adults read to children on a daily basis. No one needs to raise his or her hand to speak. Children are encouraged to talk and therefore they learn language in its original, meaningful context. DBCC children know their ideas are taken seriously and respected. With adult support, all children are challenged to reach beyond what they can do independently and tackle new, higher levels of skill. (Berk and Winsler, 1995).
Teachers: DBCCâ€™s teachers facilitate learning through exploration and discovery, interacting with all children as unique individuals and nurturing their developing sense of independence and accomplishment. Teachers utilize several roles to enhance childrenâ€™s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skill development. Teachers set the stage for learning by setting up the environment; they mediate childrenâ€™s conflicts, and complicate the childrenâ€™s play. Teachers spend time observing in order to gain knowledge about all the children in their class, to determine the group dynamics, and to identify the strengths and needs of both the individuals and the group. Teachers assess childrenâ€™s progress through observing and documenting their daily activities and using tools such as anecdotal records, portfolios, the Work Sampling System for Preschoolers, or the Creative Curriculum Developmental Continuum for all age groups. After determining childrenâ€™s strengths and areas of growth, teachers use that knowledge to plan for the group and for the individuals. They set goals, determine activities, and plan curricula. (Jones and Reynolds, 1992)
Solving Problems/Discipline: DBCCâ€™s focus on individual development and play allows children to plan, negotiate, solve problems, and plan again. Childrenâ€™s socio-dramatic play allows them to â€œexchange worldviews with their peersâ€ and with their teachers, and develop an ever increasing understanding of how the world functions. (Nimmo and Jones, 1994). An important part of our teachersâ€™ responsibilities involves helping young children identify their own feelings and the feelings of others. It is our goal that children develop the ability to self-discipline. Limits are clear and firm so children are able to function comfortably without a lot of adult correction, but flexible enough so individual needs are met. DBCCâ€™s children have plenty of opportunity for problem solving and conflict resolution. Answers are not automatically given to children - instead, open-ended questions are posed, â€œWhat do you think?â€ â€œWhat is your idea?â€ â€œHow are you feeling?â€ â€œWhat happened?â€ â€œHow can we make that better?â€
Conclusion: A local paper proclaimed that DBCC offers the â€œcare of a relative in the learning environment of a private school.â€ (City Paper, Best of Baltimore 2008). Our enriching program provides emotional support, intellectual stimulation, creative outlets, and social interaction in a safe and secure environment. Our philosophy of education is based on a model of children as highly competent human beings, born not only ready to learn, but passionate in their quest to grow, develop, and become productive members of society. Our approach is unapologetically child-centered without any urgency or anxiety to prepare for elementary school or some unknown future. Our ultimate goal is that the cognitive practice gained by working through play scenarios and actively choosing their industry gives children their first experiences in the democratic process of developing consensus. (Jones and Cooper, 2006). We are proud to think that todayâ€™s DBCC students could one day use the skills fostered in our school and create a positive change in a family, a community, or even the world. It was many years ago when Jean Piaget said, "The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done â€” men who are creative, inventive and discoverers." (Piaget, 1988). This is the essence of DBCCâ€™s philosophy!