How do children learn? It’s not by being taught. It’s by experiencing the world around them.
That is, after all, how infants grow and develop. From the moment they’re born, their little brains begin processing the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes bombarding their senses.
They learn quickly that a familiar voice means security, a soothing touch and possibly food. They learn to identify different shapes and textures. They recognize their name.
Your pediatrician will observe whether your child is reaching his or her developmental milestones. By two months, most infants can smile at people, turn their heads towards sound and hold their heads up. By six months, most infants reach for things beyond their grasp, make sounds to convey emotions and roll over in both directions.
They’re not hard-and-fast rules. All children are different, and develop at different rates. That’s part of the basis for the Reggio Emilia approach to education, upon which the two Children’s Discovery Centers in Mount Pleasant are built. The Reggio philosophy asserts that learning should be child-directed and experiential. It also emphasizes the importance of relationships children have with each other, their teachers and the environment around them.
“These principles nurture children’s growth toward their developmental milestones,” says Betsy McArdle, education director at Children’s Discovery Center. McArdle came to work at the centers after experiencing their compassionate environment as the parent of two young children.
“We think about the environment for infants – up to about age 12 months – holistically,” she says. CDC fills their infant rooms with natural elements, light and sounds to catch infants’ attention.
“We have brighter light and up-tempo music during the morning to get children aware of their senses. Teachers will be singing, clapping hands and moving infants’ limbs. When it’s time to rest, teachers use gentle touches and calm voices,” she says.
These activities might look like play, but they move infants toward the self-care milestones of eye gaze, attention to familiar sounds and self-feeding.
Teachers at Children’s Discovery Center are trained not to direct a group of children but to identify each child’s strengths and preferences, and devise individualized activities that encourage intellectual development.
For infants, the environment allows freedom to explore within reasonable boundaries, time for uninterrupted play and responsive toys within reach that do interesting things when manipulated.
For McArdle’s son, who is a little older and loves to draw and build, that means learning opportunities built on drawing and building the moment he arrives at school.
“They would ask him, ‘Would you like to come over here and look at this vase of flowers? Could you paint one of these?’ He’s so entranced at what’s in front of him that leaving me is not traumatic,” she says.
Children are grouped in classes not by age but by developmental milestones so they can grow at the pace that is most appropriate for them. For McArdle’s daughter, who was late to walk, that meant remaining in the infant pod until she was ready to move up.
Children’s Discovery Center partners with parents to create personalized learning programs. They get infants on the feeding and sleeping schedules parents have them on at home. And they collaborate with parents to identify children’s interests and preferences.
Children’s Discovery Center is now in its 37th year, with facilities in Ohio and Mount Pleasant. They accept children as young as six weeks. If you have small children and believe they are naturally curious learners who absorb information from their environment and the people around them, visit ChildrensDiscoveryCenterSC.com, or call them at their Venning Road (843-388-6700) or Park West (843-936-3099) locations.