Preschoolers learn that play is important work for development
“Hello? Is there anyone in here? This is the fire department,” says Taylor Fitzgerald as he kneels on the low-pile carpet, extending his gloved right hand into an imaginary smoke-filled room. He wears a full face mask and self-contained breathing apparatus, sounding faintly like Darth Vader as he tells a group of children, “I know it’s a little scary right now, but I’m here to help you.”
Audrianna Crosby-Dixie recoils in response, and Tamim Zimmit’s eyes widen in amazement.
Following a series of dress-up dates, safety discussions, pretend rescues, and emergency drills throughout October—National Fire Prevention Month—the children’s lessons about fire safety finally came to this: a Nov. 11 visit by real firefighters to Ivy Tech Community College Northeast’s Early Childhood Learning Center.
“One of the hardest parts about teaching fire prevention is making it interesting and relatable for kids,” says Fitzgerald, a firefighter and emergency medical technician with the New Haven (Ind.)–Adams Township Fire Department. “My favorite part about today’s lesson was the little girl who was scared of us when we put our gear on. As time passed, she slowly became more comfortable with us, and by the end, she was smiling and talking to us. It is very important that kids are not afraid of us with our gear on.”
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Fitzgerald and his firefighter colleague, Matt Seftick, made their appearance courtesy of an invitation by Lois Kaufmann-Hunsberger, the center’s faculty coordinator and preschool teacher.
Kaufmann-Hunsberger introduced her 3- to 5-year-old preschool students to the roles of construction workers, firefighters, medical responders, and police officers early in the fall, using the all-inclusive term “city workers.” She says the children developed a fascination with firefighters, in particular.
“We try to follow their lead,” Kaufmann-Hunsberger says. “We want children to go in-depth, to visit and revisit ideas, because it’s in the use of that vocabulary and the concepts regarding that topic that they’re gaining the type of learning that can be transferrable to other topics. So, it’s really about supporting that excitement and curiosity for learning and then going in-depth in a few topics.”
In fact, play is the children’s work, Kaufmann-Hunsberger says.
The Early Childhood Learning Center uses a constructivist approach to education, where the children build their knowledge through active involvement with materials, concepts, peers, and adults, and it also incorporates the work of a number of theorists.
“Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky said, ‘In play, children often perform above their skill level,’” Kaufmann-Hunsberger says. “The reason they do this is because they are so highly motivated by the reinforcement they receive from play that they stretch themselves beyond what they are capable of doing and because they have intense interactions with other children who have both lesser skills and greater skills than they do. At times they’re the teacher; sometimes they’re the student. That’s one of the reasons why play is so valuable.”
Beyond a traditional preschool classroom, the Early Childhood Learning Center is also a laboratory for the College’s early childhood education majors. Students in 100-level classes can observe interactions while the preschool is in session, and students in 200-level classes can use the site to satisfy their three-credit internship requirement for graduation, which requires 144 hours of direct interaction with children within a semester.
This fall, Cassadie King completed her practicum placement at the center.
“It was an amazing experience to work with the children and their families, including how we helped the children’s development,” King says, “and in working with Lois, she’s always right there for every child.”
Whether inspiring younger generations to appreciate learning or influencing older generations to become capable early childhood educators, perhaps no one is having more fun at the Early Childhood Learning Center than Kaufmann-Hunsberger.
“I have the best job in the whole wide world, and I know it,” she says, bursting into laughter.
The Early Childhood Learning Center is now enrolling for fall 2016. Visit the website or contact Early Childhood Learning Center Faculty Coordinator and Preschool Teacher Lois Kaufmann-Hunsberger at 260-480-4194.