Montgomery Blair Preschool

Oct. 14, 2014, 6:41 p.m. | By Eleanor Linafelt | 9 years, 8 months ago

Child Development colors outside the lines of typical high school learning

Of the several thousand students under Blair's roof on any given weekday, nine of those are under the age of five. There are hints to this fact--if you've ever entered the building from the Colesville Road side you've probably stared wistfully at the bright, colorful playground, reminiscing about your days of elementary school recess. Or perhaps you've seen the little line of small children who come only up to the knees of the rest of the school's population as we all shuffle outside for fire drills. These kids aren't mega-advanced geniuses who skipped all of primary school to get to high school, nor are they the children of Blair students or faculty. The answer to who these kids really are is tucked away in a classroom in a far corner of the building, with colorful posters lining the walls and shelves chock-full of games, toys and stuffed animals. For 60 students at Blair, this class is Child Development. And for nine three- and four-year-olds from the surrounding community, this is preschool.

This year is Priya Shahani's first year at Blair as the Child Development teacher. She describes the purpose of the class in a straightforward way. The mission is for high school students "to learn about and understand children and how they learn and how to teach them," explains Shahani. This isn't a class built on packets, essays or busy work. The best way for the students to achieve the goal of this class is to simply experience it. This begins a few months into the school year, when the preschoolers come in. After weeks of preparation, Blair students teach the children the same curriculum that is being taught in preschools all across Montgomery County. Shahani's role in the classroom differs from that of many Blair teachers, as she is primarily a supervisor and able to let her students guide much of the teaching. There are four different elements of the class, called rotations, which include teaching the younger kids, observing them, planning for future lessons and researching child development in their textbooks. Senior Laura Woods recognizes this class as quite different from her others. "It's not a traditional class. You don't learn a course and have tests on that material. The work you do is teaching and observation," she explains. A largely student-driven class, Child Development provides teenagers with a valuable set of skills in pedagogy that they would not get from their other classes at Blair.

High school students teach and observe the children on the colorful preschool side of the classroom. Photo courtesy of Donald De Alwis.

According to Shahani, there are multiple things that students take away from this class. "They learn flexibility, they learn patience, they learn understanding, they learn how to give confidence. They also learn how to show compassion to children." Shahani stresses the importance of this class for students who want to become educators. "For students who plan to become a teacher this class is almost vital," Shahani says. However, she makes it clear that teaching-bound students are not the only ones who can draw important skills from the class. "Anyone can benefit from this," she assures. "There are a bunch of benefits they can get just from understanding other children, understanding their siblings, nieces, nephews, or [their own kids] if [students] want to be a parent one day."

One of the most valuable ways in which the students get this understanding is through direct interaction with little kids. The Child Development classroom has two parts to it: A high school area and a preschool area. They differ only by the size of the desks, and movement between the two is frequent. While some students are planning lessons and reading about child development in the high school room, others are in the preschool room, engaged with the children, either teaching or observing them. Shahani stresses that the time the high school students get to spend working with the children is critical in expanding their understanding of child development. "There's a difference between theory and practice," she states. Sophomore Bianca Mendoza, a Child Development student, has experienced the benefits to this method of firsthand learning. "You can learn how to take care of them, how they think and you learn how to deal with them and help them out," she explains.

The Child Development classroom is whimsically decorated for the children. Photo courtesy of Donald De Alwis.

Child Development differs from other classes offered at Blair beyond having members who are under the age of five. "For example, one of our summative assessments had to do with coloring," Shahani says with a laugh. "It's more of a relaxed class, compared to the other classes." Mendoza recognizes that though the workload is lighter than her other classes, this isn't a class that can be shrugged off either. Mendoza says the most valuable thing she's learned is "helping the kids to learn on their own. When they want to do stuff on their own, let them be, so they won't grow up to be insecure about themselves."

The childish activities and colorful décor can be deceptive—Child Development is a class that allows for a deep understanding of learning and children. Whether it be through teaching and observing or coloring and playtime, the high school and the preschool students both gain vital skills applicable to the rest of their lives.

Tags: Child Development preschool Priya Shahani

Eleanor Linafelt. Hi there! I'm Eleanor, one of the Editors-in-Chief for SCO this year. I love reading books, playing cello and electric bass, and surfing and swimming at the beach. I am also an Emily Dickinson fanatic. More »

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