By Grace Murphy
Child Care, one of the most popular electives at Fair Lawn High School, is once again in full-swing. A particularly unique high school course, Child Care is in high-demand among students who are interested in becoming teachers themselves. The class, open to interested FLHS seniors who choose to apply to the program their junior year, focuses on early childhood development before transitioning into real teaching experience, including planning lessons and teaching preschool children.
The average day for preschoolers in Child Care begins with exercises learning about the date and weather, before splitting into small groups for their lessons. This is then followed by a full-group activity, like a song or game. The day then ends with playtime and storytime.
Two sessions of preschoolers attend FLHS for about two hours daily, and split into small groups, each with a senior FLHS student as their teacher. The seniors teach about four lessons per week, allotting one day to create their weekly lesson plans, each aligned to actual NJ state learning standards. The seniors are also given a theme and a letter of the week, which their lessons must center around.
The ultimate goal for seniors: prepare preschool students for kindergarten. This is done, for example, by teaching preschoolers the letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds. Some preschool students may even begin reading by the time they exit the program.
“Some kids can already read here on their own, some kids are making a lot of progress towards that, some came in with very little background knowledge about their sounds and letters. So we try to cater our lessons to the kids and what they need and where they’re comfortable learning,” said Jennifer Bell, teacher of the Child Care program.
Bell, originally a teacher at Warren Point Elementary School, has run the Child Care program for seven years. Bell is also an alumna of the Child Care program herself. As a senior, Bell gained knowledge and insight about how the class runs, while forming a long-lasting appreciation for the program. Due to her experience and familiarity with the program, the previous Child Care instructor, upon retirement, approached Bell with this unique teaching opportunity and passed the baton.
“I think teaching is exciting every day because you’re working with kids who all have different personalities and every day is different. Even though you can do the same things year to year, potentially, the class could take it very differently each year,” Bell said.
As Bell explains, every student is different and responds to lessons differently; this applies to both seniors and preschoolers. The seniors are given a weekly focus chart, which includes either a literacy, math, or a science skill, and this acts as their “curriculum” to follow. They plan out their lessons in teams and submit lessons with an objective, standards to match the lesson, the procedures to carry out, along with ways to assess whether the students understand the lesson or not.
“The most challenging part is differentiating the lessons to fulfill the specific ability levels of the students in my group… However, this is an important skill for us as seniors because when we become real teachers, we will be able to create customized lessons based on our students' needs,” said a high school senior and member of the Child Care program.
Another element the seniors must consider is how to keep the kids engaged and entertained during their lessons. A favorite annual lesson of Bell’s centers around St. Patrick’s Day, when the preschoolers build “leprechaun traps” in a STEM-centered lesson. The appeal of lessons like these is that although they are a lot of fun for everyone involved, they’re also a great way to teach children certain skills, like how to build something or think critically through a hands-on activity.
“My favorite memory from Child Care, so far, was teaching my patterns lesson because several concepts that the students have been learning really clicked for them. The curriculum for the preschoolers always builds on itself and the students' lineage is very evident and exciting. In this lesson the students were able to connect shapes, colors and numbers and apply them to creating patterns,” said a senior student in the Child Care program.
While this program prepares young children for kindergarten, it also prepares seniors for future careers in education. The seniors enrolled in this class are simultaneously teaching and learning. The course provides an important insight into the amount of preparation and creativity required to create successful lessons, giving students a clearer understanding of whether or not it is a field they ultimately want to pursue.
“The most valuable lesson I have learned is that trial and error is the most important method a teacher can use. If the students are not successful that does not mean that we did not do a good job; it just means that we must restructure the lesson to better adapt and accommodate the needs of our students. We must take risks and try things outside of our comfort zones because that is the only way to improve ourselves and our students,” a senior student said.
Whether every senior in the program ultimately decides to pursue a career in education or not, every participating student can take something valuable away from this class.
“I think that the biggest thing they take away from this class, even the ones who don’t necessarily want to be a teacher, they have learned so much about working with kids that it’s going to be great for if they’re a parent one day, dealing with situations that arise that you might not be prepared for, learning that preparation is key, and… hopefully the seniors walk out of here feeling a sense of respect for the teachers that they have, but also proud of themselves that they made an impact on these preschoolers' first schooling experience,” Bell said.
Header Credit: Jennifer Bell