Contributed by Dr. Scott Andersen, Head of Schools of The Grove School of Cary
Most of us were astonished to learn, as scientists explored genomes, that we humans and chimpanzees have in common about 98 to 99 percent of our DNA. We were happy to learn from chemists that some fat, such as olive oil, is good for us, and perhaps less excited about the biologists’ news that dust mites inhabit our bedding as a matter of course.
Science also reveals, through statistics, what works in education. According to Nobel Prize economist James Heckman, “The rate of return to a dollar investment made while a person is young is higher than the rate of return to the same dollar made at a later age.”
So we know investment in the education of very young children is not only crucial but valuable; the question then becomes, what kind of preschool education? As a parent, a teacher and a former computer scientist, I would argue, an education that takes into account and even imitates the underlying interconnectedness of life. That which fosters a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. A healthy mind in turn knows how to appreciate and care for a healthy community and planet.
Children would thrive in a preschool dedicated to these principles:
Since the 1970s, the number of obese children ages 6 to 11 has tripled, from 3 million to 9 million; the incidence in that age group of Type 2 diabetes, formerly found predominantly in adults, has increased tenfold in only the past 10 years, according to the Institute of Medicine. Like plants that thrive when the sun, soil, water and shade conditions suit them best, children who eat — and even grow their own — fresh, organic food and participate in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities are more agile and more receptive to learning.
In 1950, 60 percent of the jobs available were classified as unskilled, according to Achieve Inc. Today, that figure has more than reversed itself: 65 percent of jobs available are skilled. According to Stanford University economist Victor Fuchs, “The most important determinant for high achievement in mathematical achievement in school was ‘readiness to learn’ when children entered kindergarten.” The ideal preschool will prepare children for the traditional structure and concepts presented in elementary schools, including arts, math and science, and offer them a head start on understanding a rapidly evolving world.
As numerous studies have shown, an inviting and stimulating environment is the atmosphere in which children learn best. When natural light brightens classrooms, children can concentrate better while the facility saves energy. Sustainable building and playground materials are safer for children and also reduce our impact on the environment.
Equally important to successful learning as skills such as memorizing and problem-solving, social intelligence — the ability to understand and deal with other people — is worth teaching, modeling and celebrating in a world that will soon reach a population of 7 billion. Preschool teachers should be in frequent contact with parents, in person and through e-mail and other forms of social media. Parents would be encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge on an interactive Web site. The school could become a place for parents to gather with other like-minded families in their area, an updated version of a community center.
By supporting children with healthy values and instilling in them a sense of purpose early on, we can create generations of socially responsible, healthy leaders who continually strive to expand their knowledge of the world and make a difference.
I have the great honor of heading a unique new preschool in Cary that dedicates itself to these principles. The Grove School goes beyond serving organic food and using sustainable products to fully address the overarching philosophy of healthy bodies, healthy minds and a healthy planet in every element, from curriculum and materials used to types of activities and models for the way we interact with one another, the children, parents and our community.
Strange and wondrous, the world is becoming more intricate and more intimate every day. At The Grove School, we welcome the challenges and discoveries ahead.
Andersen is head of schools for The Grove School of Cary. He has extensive experience in education and a passion for the school’s philosophy and dedication to educational excellence. His qualifications include EdD, EdS and MS degrees in literary science and educational technology, and a BS in computer science. He has also taught Spanish, English, math and technology in public schools, was an adjunct professor of digital-video editing, and served as a principal and superintendent of several schools. With seven children of his own, Andersen is a natural educator and leader both at work and in his personal life.
The Grove School is now accepting applications for admissions and community members interested in joining The Grove School community advisory council. Learn more and ask questions at www.groveschool.com.