The DoSeum is San Antonio's only museum just for children where kids learn by doing, creating and tinkering, instead of just looking and listening.
Early childhood development—that critical time between birth and five years old— has recently taken center stage in local and national discussions. (See posts by the Rivard Report and New York Times) Thanks to research made in the past few decades, we know more about this golden window of development and its long-term impact on cognitive and social abilities. So far, we know that by age three, a child has twice the number of synapses, or information highways, as the adult brain. We know that nurturing these early neural connections gives kids a strong foundation and often determines later success. We also know that kids who go to quality preschools are more likely to go to college and have higher incomes than those who do not attend preschool.
While there’s plenty more ground to cover on the topic, the most precious take away point is this: early childhood education (ECE) impacts a child’s future more than kindergarten, more than middle school, and even more than high school.
So, what is “quality preschool?”
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), where The DoSeum’s Little Doers preschool draws much of its curriculum, preschoolers thrive in a play-based environment. That’s because young kids learn through trial, error, and exploration.
Cheryl Viera, Director and curriculum developer of The DoSeum’s Little Doers preschool, has been “playing” 20 years in the field of ECE. The preschool, designed for three- to five-year-olds and runs Monday through Friday, embodies the play-based model. Another important factor is that with 12 kids and two teachers in a class, each child’s “play” is guided by quality instruction.
“We’re helping kids build a strong foundation, that learning is great and learning is natural,” Viera said. “Really, the sand yard is a wonderful place for scientific thinking, creativity, cooperative learning, and language development.”
Part of what makes The Little Doers such an enriching ECE program is that they have an amazing classroom, The DoSeum. Little Doers spend 50 percent of their time exploring galleries and play-learning in lessons led by professional teachers. Viera and her team develop the curriculum around exhibits at The DoSeum, like their recent unit, The Science of Light and Color in Sensations Studio. (Viera said “the kids are still talking about it.”)
“Kids were tinkering with prisms, mirrors, and flashlights all the while we were teaching vocabulary like reflection and refraction. They were actually using these terms as they explored.”
The other part of The Little Doers preschool happens in the classroom, where things can get…messy.
“During our study of light and color, we dressed them up in lab coats (so they felt like scientists and artists) and gave them shaving cream and primary colors to create secondary colors.”
It’s activities like the primary-paint-only challenge where Viera lets trial and error be the guide. “If they wanted to make purple, I’d ask, ‘what colors do you mix to make purple?’”
Another lesson in The Little Doer’s curriculum, within the Financial Literacy unit, builds kids’ understanding of money and exchange, and yes, addition, subtraction and counting. In this lesson, Little Doers made bead and string bracelets to “sell.” Through the process of marketing their wares to DoSeum administrators, they also learned about effective communication and math skills. One four-year-old boy was asked if he could sell a bracelet for five coins instead of ten, and he diplomatically answered, “No, I’m sorry, but you’ll need five more coins.”
If learning about color theory and entrepreneurism seems out of the park, Viera assures parents that 3-5 year olds are ready for these kind of hands-on activities.
“We also want to empower parents and teach them what kids are capable of, what is developmentally appropriate,” Viera said.
A large part of her job is building relationships with parents, with kids, and between kiddos. Relationships, Viera said, have proven to be the most important thing in her experience. Turns out, developmental psychologists agree. They say quality one-on-one time is another ingredient for healthy social and cognitive development.
“Every day we greet kids at the doors of The DoSeum, and they see that we [parents and teachers] care about each other on a personal level,” said Viera. “Then parents will use us as a resource, and we can collaborate to give the child the best early start possible.”
The Little Doers preschool is now enrolling for the next school year which begins in September. The DoSeum offers other Early Childhood programs, including camps and weekly enrollment classes, geared toward parents and kids.