Smart Love Preschool

The Natalie G. Heineman Smart Love Preschool has developed a unique early childhood education curriculum based on Smart Love principles. Smart Love teachers are extensively trained to ensure children’s emotional and social well-being while fostering their enthusiasm for learning. Each day our goal is to combine our unique curriculum to secure young children’s long-term academic success with our most robust understanding of human development, Smart Love. Our experiences with children show us that this is the most joyful and effective way to create eager and enthusiastic learners. We are guided by the idea that it is not when children learn to read or add and subtract that matters, it is whether they love these activities and want to do more of them. Only then will children continue to enjoy the process of learning, be able to reach a goal with resilience while feeling confident and competent.

Children learn best through age-appropriate enjoyable and constructive activities within a setting that offers warm and friendly relationships with their teachers and one another. Our play-based curriculum follows the themes most meaningful to children: Me, My Family, My Home, My School, My School Community, My Neighborhood Community and My School Yard and Garden Community (plants and animals). The curriculum provides many opportunities for progressive and integrative learning and exceeds the State of Illinois Early Childhood Education Benchmarks across all domains from math, language arts, science, social science, art, drama and music.

When school first begins in the fall, new and returning children are introduced to the learning community in a gradual and fun way so they associate school with enjoyment. One of the ways this is implemented is through creating a family bulletin board next to the children’s cubbies that shows a collage of each child’s family (child, siblings, parents, grandparents, family pet, etc.). For the new child, this provides an immediate comforting connection for the child. For the returning child, it is a source of dialogue and connection with his or her peers. Family boards are extended into the classroom as children further explore how we are similar and different from one another. Teachers extend this learning through sorting games, counting games, taking polls about how many children live in houses, apartments, or with siblings or pets; creating their and family members names with letters, doing word plays and learning songs about the children’s names, art projects involving gluing furniture pictures onto a drawing of different rooms and building home structures with blocks. This becomes the foundation of the community, where each child feels valued, understood and learning feels fantastic.

As school progresses, many opportunities for science learning occur both in our indoor classrooms and in our gardens that feature a greenhouse, several raised vegetable beds, an herb spiral, strawberry bed, and a nature path with a grape arbor. Farmer Margo, our gardener-in-residence, engages children in how plants grow from seed to table and relates it to how they themselves grow. In the classroom, children begin planting with soil blocks “dirt towers” and seeds. They observe the entire plant life cycle as they grow their seeds into “plant starts,” to be planted into the greenhouse or garden. The plants are then cared for in the gardens throughout and are harvested year round. The children use their harvested produce to create tasty pizzas, pesto, smoothies and veggies with dip. At the end of the growing cycle, they sort and dry seeds for planting next spring. Throughout this process, the children talk about how plants make food out of water and sunlight and how worms and insects help out. The children especially enjoy our “worm bed.” Our red wiggler worms are fed, held, and thoroughly investigated. The children experience how the joy of worms create the best compost for strong growing plants. Our extensive gardening curriculum leads into learning connections about recycling, solar energy, photosynthesis, animal life cycles, and science concepts. Though these concepts are quite abstract in a typical preschool setting, the way the children are introduced to this process makes it easy for them to grasp. Teachers set a template for learning that expands children’s curiosity and inspires all of their ideas. Learning is then much richer and opens the door for greater connections. All learning skills needed for further learning (math, literacy, science, art, social science) are incorporated throughout these ideas. For example, by connecting children’s activities about homes for people to homes for animals, an extended study of birds in our yard and their nests was undertaken. Just like the real birds, children created their own bird nests from materials they gathered in the yard, created a bird egg and then a baby bird so they could begin to understand nature’s lifecycles.

As children become comfortable with their classroom and classmates, the teachers observe that the children naturally become curious about the world around them. They explore and create activities that involve their neighborhoods and the people that support the neighborhood, such as policemen, firemen, doctors, etc. Socio-dramatic play gives the children fun and exciting ways to recreate the world around them. They do so through block and building play, play kitchen, doll house, play store, and the science and art areas. Teachers engage the children in lively and complex socio-dramatic play that shows teachers the depth of children’s learning and how to expand it. This play also provides direction to help teachers enhance curriculum activities to further stimulate learning that is meaningful to the children.

Learning at Smart Love Preschool occurs as an accompaniment to enjoyable activities and not in situations where children are made to perform or forced to sit quietly to work. The Smart Love teachers and administrators make sure the curriculum is age-appropriate, fun, exciting, and challenging but doable for the children in the classroom and make adjustments to make the day sufficiently varied and interesting. Play is the means by which children learn readily. Educators at Smart Love know how to play with learning in mind. When children are given the gift of an early childhood education at Smart Love, learning becomes a life-long love.


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