Experts in early childhood education offer insight into how kids learn 

Living with preschoolers is like living with sentient sponges.

They soak up what you say, how you say it, what you do, why you do it and they just fire it right back at you.

Sometimes you are so proud you can’t catch your breath. Other times what they’ve learned makes you cringe.

But learn they will. In fact it is generally accepted that children from birth to aged six are wired for learning and if you can reach them, stimulate them and expose them to positive experiences in this time frame they will grow into productive, self-assured, creative adults.

On May 3 Whistler parents will have a chance to learn more about how to stimulate preschoolers from Natacha Beim, founder of Core Education and Fine Arts preschool program, and Julia Black, director of the Spring Creek and Whistler Children’s Centre.

Both will offer insights into early childhood education at the Spring Creek Children’s Centre from 10 a.m. to noon. Childcare is available.

"The amount of exposure they have to stimulation at this age is really what will enable them to learn later on," said Beim, who has had a waiting list for her West Vancouver preschool since it opened in 1998.

"So the more they learn now and the more they are exposed to now, the more they increase the connections in their brains…. Later on when they do move to school they have a higher capacity for understanding, reasoning and really getting on with their education and their lives.

"Foregoing that opportunity and only offering what we think is an adequate daycare program is not enough."

By the time children reach age three, their brains are twice as active as those of adults. Activity levels drop during adolescence.

Beim founded her CEFA method out of personnel experience. A teacher herself she speaks four languages and believes in offering preschoolers a complete program in a central location.

Children are offered languages, computers, pre-reading, pre-writing, and pre-mathematics. They also have access to a gym decorated as a circus, complete with hoops and other activities, and there is a cinema, art room and library.

An in-house chef prepares nutritious meals.

"It’s crazy for some children because they go from the preschool to music class to hockey class to ballet class to music," said Beim.

"Before you know it the child is in five different places and driven all around with five different groups of people, never bonding with anyone. And it is unrealistic for parents too."

The CEFA program incorporates other learning methods including Montessori.

But what makes it unique is the training given to teachers by Beim and the focus on helping children learn to care for others and understand their own ability to contribute to the world.

A second CEFA school is now set to open in Vancouver. Beim plans to return to university this fall to study child psychology.

Whistler’s own Julia Black also recognizes the importance of reaching children at a young age and stimulating them to learn in a creative, challenging yet fun environment.

Since she took over the Whistler and Spring Creek Children’s Centres she has introduced preschool programs and is currently working on training staff in the High/Scope preschool approach.

"It is definitely an approach that we want to explore," said Black.

"Primarily because it is an evidence based or research based program. It is something that has brand recognition that parents seem to be seeking.

"It is not straying too far from what we presently believe in as far as our desire to promote active learning through play environment."

High/Scope promotes childhood learning through pursuit of personal interests and goals. Children are encouraged to make choices about materials and activities throughout the day.

As they pursue their choices and plans, children explore, ask and answer questions, solve problems and interact with classmates and adults.

In this kind of environment children naturally engage in key experiences – activities that foster developmentally important skills and abilities.

High/Scope has identified 58 key experiences for the preschool years and a wide range of strategies for promoting them.

There are 10 categories of key experiences. They are creative representation, language and literacy, initiative and social relations, movement, music, classification, seriation (sorting things by common characteristics), number, space and time.

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