The JCC Early Childhood Center has adopted the High/Scope curriculum model for all of our programs. The term curriculum model refers to an educational system that combines theory with practice. As we examined curriculum models, we looked for one that allowed us to build curriculum content from the interests and developmental needs of the children in our program. Our curriculum model also had to be flexible enough to follow the rhythms of the Jewish year, and open to the Jewish cultural influences that are so important to our program.
The High/Scope curriculum is based on the principle of “active participatory learning.” Its emphasis on action, in the service of worthwhile goals, is consistent with the basic tenets of Judaism. The High/Scope educational approach offers strategies and techniques for interacting with children in ways that help them become independent thinkers and accomplished problem solvers. The High/Scope curriculum is built on David Weikart’s seminal early childhood study, the Perry Preschool study, which showed the positive societal effects of high-quality preschool education (and served as the legislative justification for Head Start.) Further research has shown that children educated using the High/Scope approach develop greater initiative and problem-solving skills, and are more intrinsically motivated learners, who are more capable of engaging in the independent learning demanded of students in late elementary school and onwards.
The High/Scope model promotes use of the cultural backgrounds of a program’s population -- including family and community beliefs, practices, and materials -- to build curriculum content. For our program, this enables us to provide more meaningful, authentic Jewish experiences which will keep children interested, involved, and excited about Jewish life as they develop their own ideas and practices regarding Judaism.
The main features of our curriculum are:
• Active Participatory Learning— Children in our program are involved in direct, hands-on experiences with people, objects, events, and ideas. Children carry out their plans and choices by working with materials and interacting with other children and adults. We plan activities and support their learning by using High/Scope’s 58 key developmental indicators, which are behaviors that reflect the important learning areas for young children.
• Adult-Child Interaction — First and foremost, we establish a safe and caring setting where children can be happy and busy pursuing their interests and learning. We observe and interact with children at their level in order to discover how they think and to encourage each child’s initiative and learning activities. We also share control of all learning experiences and encourage children to solve problems with materials, turn to other children for help, work together, and resolve conflicts together.
• Learning Environment — Furniture and equipment in are arranged and labeled in clearly laid out and easy-to-see interest areas, such as the block area, house area, or art area. Labels can be easily understood by children, for example, a drawing of a hammer to represent the woodworking area or a photo of a paintbrush and the letters ART in the art area. This room arrangement allows children to independently find, use, and return the materials they need to carry out their chosen activities. The labels form the foundation on which children can build skills in reading, writing, and math. While each interest area suggests a particular kind of activity (e.g. painting or drawing in the art area,) the interest areas a carefully placed to allow activities that combine the resources of several areas (e.g. using pencils and paper from the art area to create menus for the restaurant play going on in the house area) Children also spend time outside every day experiencing all the physical and sensory properties (sights, sounds, smells, and textures) of the natural environment. Taken together, the indoor and outdoor environments provide children with a full range of learning opportunities.
• Daily Routine — Each day follows a similar schedule of events called the daily routine, which provides consistency and predictability for both children and adults. A daily plan-do-review process (the core of the daily routine) gives children the opportunity to decide what they intend to do, to follow through on their course of action, and then to reflect on their experiences with other children and adults. Large and small-group experiences are also part of the daily routine, along with the fellowship of sharing a snack or meal and the fun of being outdoors.
• Assessment — We regularly write down factual notes about each child’s behaviors, experiences, and interests. We use the Child Observation Record (COR), based on these notes, to measure each child’s development. Based on these careful and direct observations, we plan experiences that will encourage children’s growth and development. We also use these notes in parent meetings to help families better understand their children’s development and how they can extend classroom learning at home.