At age 4, children are continually learning from the world around them. That’s why 4-year-olds and Oakland Schools’ Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), Michigan’s free preschool program for eligible families, are such a great combination.
In this high-quality free preschool program held Mondays through Thursdays, children are encouraged to be curious, creative, confident and collaborative, says Krista Shambleau, Ph.D., Early Childhood Consultant with Oakland Schools. The GSRP curriculum guided by credentialed teachers maximizes children’s eagerness to learn — and is effective at building skills for future academic success.
“What I love about GSRP is the way the curriculum and teachers encourage that intrinsic motivation toward learning throughout the day,” says Shambleau. “Whatever content area is being explored, that encouragement affects performance and predicts achievement throughout the primary grades.”
GSRP is a play-based program, “and we know that play is enjoyable, but it’s also essential to all areas of healthy development. Play has a significant role in building the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against stress,” Shambleau says, adding that this approach “helps children now because when they are playing, they are actively focused, engaged, self-directed and motivated from within.”
But the benefits of GSRP go beyond what children experience in the moment to build life skills for later, Shambleau says. “Through play, children are also solving problems, negotiating with peers, processing emotions, taking risks, and learning to be flexible and resilient,” she says. Play-based social interactions provide benefits now, but are also important for developing critical life skills.
The curriculum used in GSRP is comprehensive and includes science, math, social studies, language, social and emotional, physical development and health, creative arts and literacy, but what’s special about it, Shambleau says, is that it’s filled with possibilities that help children see themselves as capable and responsible — and they reflect this in their own language. “They will say ‘I’m a problem solver, I’m a reader, I’m a writer, I’m a mathematician, I’m an artist, I’m a scientist, I’m a friend.’ They gain a strong sense that they are capable, which is a healthy approach to learning and an important component to school readiness and, later, to school achievement. That belief, encouraged by caring teachers, is long lasting,” she says.
During each day, children have time to plan, carry out and then reflect upon their work in a process called Plan-Do-Review, which requires children to exercise their working memory, think flexibly and demonstrate self-control in carrying out their plans, as well as demonstrate empathy for others.
“This process generates meaning and ignites further learning and promotes healthy brain development, which is so important in the early years,” Shambleau says.
Highly credentialed teachers set up classrooms and choose materials and activities with intention so that all children see themselves reflected in the learning environment. For example, GSRP teachers will provide skin-toned crayons for children to create self-portraits in ways that most accurately reflect how they see themselves and will commonly learn what home languages are used by children and refer to or label objects in the classroom using the home language. Teachers also select children’s books that reflect familiar cultural and racial identities, helping all students learn about different people and places and new ideas and concepts.
“When children see what is familiar to them, they feel more connected and included in the classroom,” she says. “They also learn about others and develop an appreciation for diversity.”
Family benefits, too
Michigan’s GSRP program has been recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research for meeting all 10 standards for high-quality early childhood education, and this fact, Shambleau says, gives parents peace of mind.
Families never feel like they are alone because a strong partnership between home and school recognizes family members as partners and decision makers, and this sets GSRP apart from other programs. “Even before the first day of school, families have an orientation and a home visit where staff and families begin to get to know each other and build a trusting relationship,” Shambleau says, adding that continuous communication strengthens this bond. “Families can participate on committees and can share their time and talents in the classroom and program.”
Through GSRP, parents and teachers establish development goals for students, and parents get an inside look at their child’s progress. “One thing I really love about GSRP is that our teachers are required to document a child’s progress toward their goals, so we often see a teacher focusing on a child and interacting and then jotting down quotes and stories to capture the growth taking place. This process allows teachers to become astonished at children’s engagement with the simple wonders around them.” Shambleau says. “They share those beautiful pieces of documentation with the families and create a portfolio. Families have a collection of what their child is doing and saying and how they are getting along with others, and who they are playing with. It’s really beautiful,”
Together with Monday through Thursday instruction, children receive meals and snacks, as well as transportation. Teachers spend Fridays preparing lessons, working on child portfolios or in professional learning to continually update their skills to better serve students.
“GSRP is built with structures and systems in place, is led by dedicated specialized directors, and is continually monitored and supported for quality,” she says. “When families drop off their child or the bus transports them, they have peace of mind that their child is attending a high-quality program with credentialed and loving teachers and directors.”
Great Start Readiness Program through Oakland Schools is available to eligible families and enrolls children who turn 4 by December 1 of the year they begin school. Learn more about GSRP and other early childhood services and programs at 844-456-5437 or greatstartoakland.org.