Our Tokyo preschool program is based on current research that tells us that play is the best medium for learning and development in the early years. We have developed a program that reflects and provides for different learning styles and different learning levels through the provision of open-ended experiences. We provide a rich, inquiry-based environment that has the potential to stimulate imagination, promote creativity, and enable holistic development. Our program has been developed with the following in mind:
One of the main priorities for the staff is to ensure that plans allow for the children’s different interests and skill level within all the emerging skills. These include; the child’s sense of self, the communicating child, the thinking child, the healthy, physical and active child, the social child, the feeling child, the creative child, and the spiritual and moral child. The level of skill that the children have within these areas depends very much upon the age of the children, their individual stage of development, and most importantly their motivation or interest to explore certain concepts. Because we believe that all children are individuals striving to discover the connections between their experiences and their environment and that their sense of self-worth/self-esteem are important, the program offers children an environment rich in opportunity for self discovery based upon their immediate interest areas.
Documentation of children’s experiences is integral to our program because it records children’s progress and tells the story of the children’s learning journey. These visual, written and/or symbolic representations of children’s thinking help to inform families about the processes involved in children’s learning and learning outcomes. It highlights the quality of the staff’s teaching and provides a strong record for children, staff and families to reflect upon, to discuss, to refer back to, and to build on from.
Staff use a range of methods to observe and record children’s learning. These can include anecdotal and running records, but with a focus on recording interactions, relationships, conversations and thinking processes of children in small groups. Observations can also be voice or visual recordings. Samples of children’s drawings or a photo of a sand construction or diagrams of a problem to be solved are also used. In all methods, the children are a part of the process and contribute their words and ideas and give feedback on what has been recorded.
CHILD FOCUS AND COLLATING INFORMATION
Class teachers are responsible for the overall review and planning for each team and group of children. Individual children may be focused on by way of rotation in order to develop a clearer picture of each child. Each child has an individual portfolio, which, as a work in progress, documents the child’s interests and progress while at preschool. Work samples, observations, scripts from recorded discussions, photos of children engaging in projects and stories written about and with children provide a rich collection of information. In addition, the reflective commentary of staff goes beyond describing the eventS but to interpreting and explaining the thinking and learning processes that children have been involved in.
Displaying some of the children’s work within Ohana International School in Tokyo comes with the children’s support/approval and assistance. Much thought on the part of both staff and children goes into these displays, which themselves become part of the learning process, as opposed to being merely a task undertaken by staff to cover wall spaces. Displays are arranged aesthetically and respectfully and in places accessible to children and families.
Staff use documentation to reflect on their practices, on how they approach decision-making and how professional judgments are made across a range of situations. Staff analyze the purpose and meanings and learning outcomes for children. Children describe what is happening and reflect on some of their initial thoughts and ideas. Collaborative decisions are then made about what are the next steps to take, and how and where the documentation will be used.
Our entire day consists of individual, small and large group activities, which vary according to the activities and needs of the children and the class as a whole. The basis of our programming system incorporates staff interacting with individual children, small groups of children or large groups in areas of interest to these children. This work is supported by planned experiences as well as the creation of a consistent environment within which children can interact. The whole group may gather to discuss or exchange information and plans, however a small group may do this as well. Grouping is often interest-based and when the classes are small enough, the interest of all the children can more readily be sustained, maintained, and developed.
We utilize team planning as we recognize that the staff have a wide range of skills that we want all the children to benefit from. We recognize the need for knowledge of child development and appropriate activities to stimulate specific development.
Special Additional Needs
All children have special needs; however some require more support than others and we endeavor to provide for these children and where possible find additional support. If staff evaluate a child’s development and feel that encouraging them to broaden their play is appropriate, then we may actively encourage involvement in particular activities.
Routines form an important part of the program, providing opportunity for small group participation or one-to-one opportunities. Children are given verbal notice prior to the need to move from one activity to another, though flexibility of the program can allow children to complete tasks of interest to them. Each child’s day will include an opportunity for quiet times and more energetic times, for group and individual play, for teacher directed and for self-initiated activities. We recognize the need to provide opportunities for repetition, observation and exploration by the children. Children need the opportunity to control part of their environment and choose to be active or quiet. Children have the freedom to choose what toys they want to play with during free play. During certain structured times of the day they are required to participate and “work” on an individual project or in the group.
There are many different theories about how children learn and what we as adults and teachers should be doing to best enhance this learning and development. At Ohana International School in Tokyo, we respect that children learn when their physical needs are met and they feel psychologically safe and secure. All children’s needs are different and we need a flexible program to allow us to cater for individuals.
We follow daily routines and weekly programs but we also recognize that flexibilityis a very important part of our day. If children are not interested in what has been set up or if they ask to have something else to play with, then we respect their opinion and choices. We want to empower the children to be able to make decisions for themselves, as we believe this is an important part of their future development. Learning to work as part of a team is a very important skill children learn in preschool. This goes hand in hand with making compromises and sometimes doing things that are not our first preference.
At our Tokyo preschool, we welcome parents/family involvement. We realize that all families have different commitments and that the extent of involvement varies; but all involvement is much appreciated and valued. Effective parent involvement enables us to work productively together to enhance the quality of care provided for the children.
Parent involvement promotes positive staff/parent relationships. From the child’s perspective it promotes a smoother transition between home and school as well as providing increased opportunities for parents to have a say in their child’s life outside of the home environment.
Parents can join our Ohana Parent and Teachers Organization (OPTO) by indicating their interest at either a committee or personal level. Alternatively, every day is open day at Ohana and families are welcome to come when it suits them to visit or show grandparents/ friends what a day is like at the preschool. This needs to be preplanned in order to respect the teachers and the programme in the class for that day.
Programming for Diversity
Children come from many diverse, colorful backgrounds and different family circumstances. We take all of this into consideration when we design our daily schedules and plan our environment. We believe that it is important to include this into our program. We like to reflect the different cultures and beliefs in the play areas we set up and the concepts we teach. Families are invited to participate in international month where they bring along items from their home countries, prepare foods and teach customs and songs to the children.
It is very important that all of our community — children, staff, and parents — communicate in an effective and successful manner. Staff are taught about conflict resolution and effective communication, which we then try to apply to all aspects of our day, with other staff, parents, and the children. The children are constantly learning about communication, and they experience it in all the different facets of their lives. In our program we are aiming to refine these skills and to make them effective and workable for the children themselves. Communication is a very important aspect of their personal and social development. Our ultimate goal is for the children to gradually build up an understanding and usage of effective communication strategies in their everyday lives. We do this by providing social play situations, by encouraging them to express their feelings, both positive and negative and by modeling effective communication, staff specifically help children to use “I” statements.