How can we take what we know about how children learn from birth to age 5 – the most important years for brain development – and make the most of it?
The Karen Slattery Educational Research Center for Child Development is immersed in that question.
It’s in the decoration of the nursery – painted a soothing light green, with toys and mirrors to stimulate, but not overstimulate. It’s in the family photos that adorn every classroom, to make students feel at home and secure. It’s in the herb garden planted by 2-year-olds as a science project, in the objects the 3-year-olds hung from the ceiling to study anti-gravity and the rocket they made from boxes.
“When you don’t put a limit on a child’s creativity, they absorb more,” says Slattery Director Lydia Bartram.
The Slattery center is a private lab school affiliated with Florida Atlantic University’s college of education, offering all-day preschool for ages 3 months-5 years. Slattery mainly serves the children of students and employees of FAU. Some outsiders can get in, but there is a long wait list.
Still, the work going on there will benefit so many other children, as it helps conduct research on how children learn and trains future teachers, as well as nurses and others who aspire to work with children.
Slattery, the only school of its kinds in Palm Beach County, takes a project approach to teaching that is hands-on and play based. Teachers are given flexibility to create projects and lessons that take into account the children’s natural interests. Slattery’s approach enhances problem solving, critical thinking and team-building.
Its curriculum takes best practices from several different philosophies. Teachers make a lot of their own materials and visual aids for the classroom. You won’t see many worksheets.
“Play is the cornerstone of how children learn about the world and develop as human beings,” said Bartram, who also teaches child development at FAU.
The school posts photos in the classrooms of kids doing their work – painting, writing, etc. When they see the photos later, Bartram says, they remember not only doing the work, but the lesson they learned. This builds their memory skills early on and makes for a stronger memory later.
Krisa Kolbe, whose 5-year-old daughter “graduated” from Slattery in the spring said, “We were very happy with the learning environment in Karen Slattery. The warmth and caring shown by the director, teachers, staff and parents made it a joy to bring her every day. We feel confident that her relationships, as well as what she learned in Karen Slattery – both academically and socially, will continue to guide her as she grows.”
Slattery teachers have bachelor’s or master’s degrees and go through frequent training to stay up on the latest research. Studies are also conducted at Slattery about how children learn.
One idea gaining ground: Kids need to play outside more.
As a society that is constantly plugged in and afraid to let our children roam unsupervised, we are losing our connection to nature. This alarms educators, as body movement – running, playing – are integral to a young child’s brain development. And we don’t know yet how much technology is affecting brain development.
Slattery already incorporates the outdoors into its lessons – kids use natural, found materials in art projects; the 2-year-olds lay down under trees and took photos of the canopy; and through gardening. But the center hopes to develop its outdoor play areas deeper into “nature education.”
The center boasts a 5,000-book library and offers music class, as well as Spanish – and in the summer, swim lessons.
The school goes year-round, 7:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m.
Tuition ranges from $544 a month for full-day voluntary prekindergarten to $1,024 a month for an infant or toddler.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When looking for a preschool for your child, Bartram suggests parents consider these criteria:
- Is it a calm, welcoming environment?
- Is it clean?
- Listen: You want to hear active play; teachers engaged in talking to the children; the children talking to each other. There will be some crying, but you don’t want to hear a lot.
Apply to Slattery online. Read more on its website.
Find loads more information on local preschools in BocaParent’s Preschool Guide.
- CHARLENE PACENTI