Programs

Hillcrest has six child-centered rooms, each addressing a different level of development. Although there are approximate age groupings, it is important to note that age alone does not determine a child’s room assignment. Your child(ren) will be assigned to one of six different classrooms: infants, (Little Butterflies, Big Butterflies), Young Toddlers, Older Toddlers, Preschool and Prekindergarten. Placement of a child is based on age and development. The Director considers input from parents, teachers, and space availability in making placement decisions.

Hillcrest is proud to have high staff loyalty, resulting in exceptionally low staff turnover. Hillcrest honors and respects higher education. All staff members are encouraged to continue their education in Early Childhood Development, and when monies are available, Hillcrest will help pay a percentage of cost for specific classes, and insomuch as they meet standards for early childhood education.

All staff, regardless of educational ambitions, are required to attend at least 24 hours of staff development training in early childhood education each year. We are proud to state that our staff average over 50 hours a year. Training topics include: CPR/First Aid, early childhood development, guidance and discipline strategies and techniques, communication skills, & play as an essential educational tool. Other topics and concepts are addressed as needs arise during the course of the year.

Infants: Little Butterflies and Big Butterflies

Every baby is unique, yet what they all share is a need for good health and safety, warm loving relationships, and care that is responsive to their individual differences. In doing this, the caregivers create routines that are designed to meet the needs of the individual child. Infants are fed, diapered, hugged and cuddled on their own schedule. Positive verbal communication and interaction is an essential part of the day, with caregivers promoting early literacy and language development using nursery rhymes, music and lots of general day-to-day conversation with the little ones. Caregivers realize the need for special positive talk time during diaper changes, cuddle times, and floor time play. This classroom goes outside throughout the year, less frequently in winter, as the individual infant’s schedule allows.

Swaddling

Swaddling is an ancient practice of wrapping young babies in blankets or swaddling cloths. It helps to comfort a young infant, as it better regulates body temperature and provides a feeling of security. Hillcrest staff may swaddle children with a light-weight blanket, with the shoulders, neck and head exposed, until they are able to roll over on their own.

Toddlers and Preschool: Young Toddler, Older Toddler and Preschool

Life with young children is full of routines such as bedtime, chores, and mealtime. Routines are essential for young children. Routines help children learn to tell time and regulate their own internal clocks. They learn to predict what will happen next and in doing so, they feel more empowered to tackle the task. The clearer the patterns for young children, the more brain-enriching the environment as they are not having to worry about what comes next. This explains why many parents of young children return from vacation exhausted. When the routine for the child changes, chaos and grumpiness can fill the space previously occupied by routine. Therefore we maintain the same daily routines for children year-round for toddlers and preschoolers.

7:00-8:30 Table Top / Quiet Activities
8:00-8:30 Breakfast
8:30-10:00 Indoor / Outdoor Activities
10:00-10:30 Snack
10:30-12:00 Outside Play
12:00-12:45 Lunch
12:45-3:00 Nap / Quiet Time
3:00-3:30 Snack
3:30-5:00 Indoor / Outdoor Activities
5:00-6:30 Free Play

Sleep

Sleep provides the sound foundation for mind and body development and is no less important that food, water, and safety. As working families, it is essential that healthy routines are developed and continually supported to provide the best for our children. Please note how many hours your child naps at Hillcrest and plan your families evening routines to ensure your children are getting the best start by getting the recommended sleep. When your child transitions off their nap please be prepared to adjust the night schedule to make up the loss of that hour or two. We work to transition children off their daily nap toward the end of Prekindergarten if they have not already done so.

AgeRecommendationMay Be AppropriateNot Recommended
0-3 months14 to 17 hours11 to 19 hoursLess than 11 or more than 19
4-11 months12 to 15 hours10 to 18 hoursLess than 10 or more than 18
1-2 years11 to 14 hours9 to 16 hoursLess than 9 or more than 16
3-5 years10 to 13 hours8 to 14 hoursLess than 8 or more than 14
6-12 years9 to 11 hours7 to 12 hoursLess than 7 or more than 12

The day’s activities unfold in an unhurried way with each day following the established rhythm, giving the child a sense of security and consistency. It is an environment of love, warmth and harmony that serves as a gentle transition between the security of home and Hillcrest.

Free play is a child-centered activity. The focus is on the process rather than the product of the play. Teacher interactions during play vary from care-giving responsibilities, assisting with problem solving, asking open ended questions to expand the children’s thoughts, redirecting undesired behaviors, and enticing children into play themes. Teachers must also teach social skills to children who have difficulty entering into a play with peers. We encourage sharing but do not force it if a child wishes to work alone.

The Toddler Rooms provide opportunities for children to develop basic skills in social/emotional and language development as well as independence and self-care skills. These skills provide the foundation for future learning. At meal time, you can expect to see your child sitting in a chair at a table (child-sized), drinking from a Sippy cup and later practicing drinking from a regular cup, using eating utensils, and cleaning up after himself/herself. Children will be allowed to have pacifiers during times of stress or sleep as needed. Typically, children will be weaned off of the pacifier and bottles within 1-2 months after being fully transitioned if not done before. Children over 12 months of age sleep on individual nap mats or cots.

Toddlers are concerned about who they are and who is in charge. Beginning around 18 months of age, identity becomes the dominant developmental issue for children, and closely ties to questions of independence and control. Of course, the sense of security that began to develop in the earliest months and the desire to explore (with increasing purposefulness) continue. Caregivers will help the children find appropriate ways to assert themselves by supporting their individuality, by giving them choices whenever possible, and by introducing social guidelines. The classroom environment offers toddlers opportunity to be in control and to participate in group playand independent activity that foster cooperation and facilitate the toddler’s development of a strong sense of self.

The Older Toddler Room is full of opportunities and activities that are similar to Preschool, only on a simpler scale. Children will be introduced to family-style food service which will continue through-out the center. Family-style meal service allows children and teachers to eat together and to make food choices based on individual appetites and food preferences. It promotes mealtime as a learning experience to help children develop positive attitudes toward nutritious foods, share in-group eating situations, and develop good eating habits.

Children in the Older Toddler Room are expected to help with the cleaning and maintenance of the classroom. When they are finished using the materials, they are asked to put them back on the shelf where they came from and to be organized and ready for the next person. Continuing this at home will help this process be more successful at school.

The Preschool classroom is designed for children approximately three to four years of age. Young children of this age thrive through successful social interactions and exploring roles around contributing to a group. Because of this, the Preschool teachers provide an environment that nurtures social skills and encourages confidence. The classroom is divided into different learning centers that allow children to become active participants in small-group play and learn to use materials and activities so that they experience success. Children learn how to be part of groups and develop a sense of belonging where they share excitement about learning in this hands-on approach, rather than traditional exposure to academic content.

All classrooms are full of opportunities and activities that allow the children to explore the world around them through a variety of curriculum areas. These areas include, but are not limited to: Language, Math, Science, Dramatic Play, Art, and Practical Life Skills. Activities available in the different areas allow the children to learn and practice developmental skills in physical health, emotional and social well-being, motor development, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, cognition, general knowledge, communication, language and literacy as guided by the Alaska Early Learning Guidelines.

Baby Doll Circle Time

Baby Doll Circle Time® is a complete curriculum that’s based on forming caring relationships, and bridging the gap between the home family and the school family.

The children who choose to participate will each have a baby doll. We will sing, “Get your baby, get your baby, get your baby, time to play,” to the tune of “Oh My Darlin’,” signaling the beginning of the play time. Then the fun begins.

The children will interact with their baby dolls in the same ways we interact with the children individually. If we play peek-a-boo, stop and go, or tickling games with a child, the child will play the same game with the baby doll. In doing so, the children re-experience our connection over and over again, helping to optimize their development. Each time the children play these social games with their baby dolls, they will relive their loving bonds with you. This reduces the stress of missing you and increases the giggle moments.

Handling Conflict

Conflict is a natural part of being part of a group. Children will be supported in handling social interactions and/or conflicts in a respectful and kind manner. During conflicts, teachers will model and support respectful words and gentle touches. “Inside voices” will be modeled. We will introduce the concept of empathy and working together.

It’s important for young children to begin to experience how their choices affect others. During a conflict, the teacher will first attend to the injured party, ensuring he/she is okay and provide any First Aid as needed. The teacher will then talk to the other party involved about what happened, how it affected the other child, and what could be done differently. While we encourage, but do not force, children to apologize (as they generally don’t mean it when forced), we do ask the injured party if there’s anything that the person responsible for the injury can do to make him/her feel better.
When children experience a conflict in Preschool, we refer them to skills learned in the toddler classroom and practice new solutions such as get a teacher, ask nicely, ignore, say “Please”, play together, say “please stop”, share, trade, wait and take turns, and get a timer.

Media

Over the years the teachers have worked to address play fighting and the impact it has on the classroom. This stage of development for children is based largely on imitation. We work with staff to be “model worth imitating” in the classroom. Children love to play out the scenes that they see from their home, school, movies, TV and video games (media). It is through this dramatic play that children work out their understanding of how the world works and their role in it. When children bring in play that uses physical reactions and responses to each other, it is in opposition to the skills that the teachers are working to instill in the children. The amount of positive social skill practice exposure and practice is largely out-numbered by the time that some children are practicing a physical response to conflict through play fighting.

Additionally, we have witnesses some children develop fear of those who bring in the play fighting. Children who are not exposed to physical conflict resolution through media and it’s commercial output, such as Power Rangers, Batman, Skylanders, etc., and are told that it is not appropriate at home or school, have not normalized this experience. When children are continually coming up to them and asking them “do you want to fight”, some children do not understand the difference between play and aggression. At Hillcrest, we promote a view of keeping children as innocent as possible through an honoring of childhood. It is why we focus on the social emotional development of the child through an intentional environment versus a more traditional school academic structure.

Over the years, the staff have struggled with the balance between our beliefs about what is best for childhood and respecting families’ individual decisions about what is appropriate for their children. It is our responsibility to create an engaging environment that draws the children into constructive play and provide the scaffolding for children to learn and practice new skills. After working to implement social-emotional programs to validity we recognized a strong correlation between children who are using a physical response to manage conflict and their acting out those responses in their media influenced play. We ask that families respect the stage of childhood that their child is in and the work that we do here by limiting their children’s exposure to physical conflict resolution, in the home, community or in media.

Toilet Training

No one age is best for learning to use the toilet. A child will show readiness signs in three ways: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our goal is to help children who are ready to use the toilet independently. In order to be as consistent as possible for your child, we have developed a toilet training system that all of the toddler staff members have been trained in and follow. We encourage families to adopt this system at home as well, to continue that consistency for your child. When you feel your child is beginning to show signs of readiness please pickup a toilet training packet from the front entryway to read over, discuss with the classroom Lead Teacher and email the office.

PreKindergarten

Children flourish when they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next, and in the Pre-Kindergarten classroom this burden is removed by providing carefully planned daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms.

The daily rhythm of the Pre-K is created by the teachers following a set pattern of activities each day. In supporting your child’s transition to the classroom we ask that parents plan enough time at drop-off to take their child to the bathroom before entering the classroom. The children who arrive before breakfast transition into the classroom with the option of a quieter activity (book corner, table top activities) or helping set up the classroom for the daily activity. Breakfast is offered between 8 am and 8:30 am. It is our goal that PreKindergarten children develop the habits of eating a healthy breakfast every day. A balanced breakfast has shown to be essential in success during the elementary school day and we do not want the children to have to adjust to this requirement while in Kindergarten.

After breakfast the class participates in their movement circle. The movement circle is the time for the children and teachers to join together as one. The beginning and ending remains the same throughout the year with the middle movement activities, verses and songs changing with the seasons. The movement circle and morning activity provides practice with learning how to behave as a group, gross motor, fine motor and language development. We ask that families do not interrupt the morning circle to drop off. Please wait with your child in the hallway until the circle is complete. The circle does not last more than 15 minutes. As the important goal of the circle is to bring the class together for the teacher to see where the class “is” that day, an interruption of a classmate hinders their ability. For your planning purposes please plan on dropping your child off before 9am or after 9:30.

The weekly rhythm of our curriculum is accomplished by having a special activity in the morning of each day. The day of the week becomes identified by the children with an experienced activity:

Weekly Schedule

  • Monday: Walk Day
  • Tuesday: Painting Day
  • Wednesday: Craft Day
  • Thursday: Soup Making Day
  • Friday: Cleaning Day

After morning activity the children have snack and head outside; except for Walk Day, where the children are already outside and will eat on their walk.

After playing outside, the children have Show and Tell before lunch. Each week, your child may bring in one item from home on their assigned day. Having different days allow for more time to go in depth without having longer periods of waiting. We ask to limit items from home to the assigned days only.

There will be theme to the show and tell each week, that will be posted on the classrooms white board. Please plan ahead with your child by discussing each of themes so that they have picked an appropriate item to share how it relates to the topic. As you can see below, some of these may not be an object. For those, please take the time to write down what it is you discussed with your child for the teacher to use as a prompt. An example might be that your child discussed that they are mad that they don’t get to go to Bouncing Bears. So you would write that down for the teacher to prompt the child if they forget at circle. It also might alleviate the desire to “bring in something”.

Show and Tell Themes:

  • September: Friends/ Feelings
  • October: Family/Feelings
  • November: Harvest/ Gratitude
  • December: Holidays
  • January: Winter/ Chinese New Year
  • February: Outer Space/ Robots
  • March: Alaska Animals
  • April: Under the Sea
  • May: Fairy Tales
  • June: Seeds/ Gardening
  • July: Gardening/ Insects
  • August: Birds

During lunch, teachers sing a verse and light a candle. Children are expected to remain seated while the candle is lit. This allows teachers and children to embrace and teach gratitude and thoughtfulness before our meals. There is a blessing that is said before each meal:

“Earth that give us food,
Sun that makes it ripe and good,
Sun above and Earth below.
Loving thanks to you we show.
blessings on our food and friends
and families we are near and far.”

Children spend the first five minutes of lunch in silence. This allows time for children to focus and eat their food. This is a small moment in a hurried day for children to be together for silence to welcome gratefulness and appreciation.

Then the children rest for a while. Children who do not nap are expected to quietly rest on their nap mat until all the children who do nap are asleep. A short time after, the awake children are invited to help assist the teachers or do a quiet table top activity.

The schedule of having different activities and children’s show and tell on different days creates a more meaningful relationship with each day and gives the children a concrete understanding of the world around them- knowing what the children can count on from day to day and week to week.

The yearly rhythm is experienced in the Pre-K with the help of seasonal stories and crafts, and the children’s birthdays. Seasonal celebrations (fall, winter, spring, summer) lead the children through the year, and each has its own colors, foods, songs, and verses.

Parent Involvement

Parent involvement is required to take full advantage of all that the class would like to do. Specifically, we need volunteers to attend several performances at the PAC though the Alaska Junior Theatre throughout the year and the Alaska Zoo each month.

On soup day (“Thursday”), please send your child with a vegetable. In the beginning we start with nothing, and everybody adds something to the pot. By the end you have this big, hearty soup. They take a lot of pride in bringing in a carrot, or a potato or a beet to add to the soup. They all chop, using crinkles cutters, which not only are safe for young hands to use, but also make the soup look delightful.

Celebrations

Maintaining rhythm is essential for creating a healthy emotional environment for the children. While special events can be fun, they can also be stressful as staff work to get a large group of children used to the change in routine. Therefor we are intentional in how we celebrate. Please plan ahead and respect the guidelines:

Birthday’s: The celebration and honoring of a child’s passage of birth is a favorite celebration at Hillcrest. When it is time for your child’s special day you are more then welcome to bring in a special treat. Store bought cookies/cupcakes or fresh fruit are favorites, or you may let the cook know at least 48 hours ahead and cupcakes that meet all the allergies in the class will be made.

Family Day: In a desire to be inclusive of all family structures and those who do not attend during the summer months Hillcrest moved to celebrating Family Day in May. This also ensures that staff can get a craft that takes more planning and effort to execute out in a consistent and timely way.

Halloween: Children in the Preschool and PreKindergarten classroom’s are invited to bring their costumes to change into after afternoon snack. Costumes need to be fairy tale creatures, animals or inanimate objects (such as a pumpkin). Costumes of cartoon or movie characters that fight (i.e. super hero’s) will not be allowed. Please see Media section above.

Story Circle

The Pre-Kindergarten classroom implements positive conflict resolution skills as a part the Story Circle. At least one circle time a week is focused on discussing positive conflict solutions, reading a book related to emotional development and/or positive conflict resolution and/or role playing by the children on solutions to handle conflict or hurtful words. While these skills have been brought up with the children in Preschool, the consistent exposure during this year strengthens helpful responses to conflict in the children. The solutions that are focused on are:

  • Ask nicely
  • Get a teacher
  • Ignore
  • Say “please”
  • Play together
  • Say “please stop”
  • Share
  • Trade
  • Wait and take turns
  • Get a timer

It is great to see most of the children using these skills throughout the day and even more exciting for us when we see children helping their “friends” work out a positive solution. Again, we feel successful in the constant exposure to this material, especially the role playing, and seeing children talk about and use the positive responses appropriately. We also recognize that there is always room to grow when it comes to consistent responses by all teachers to violations of classroom expectations, consistent documentation of children’s undesirable behaviors, and going deeper with the social emotional language and activities.