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), Upstairs Toddlers, Downstairs Toddlers, Older Toddlers, and Preschool. Placement of a child is based on age and development. The Director considers input from parents, teachers, and space availability in making placement decisions.
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 60 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.
Hillcrest’s program goal is to provide a foundational love of learning, sense of responsibility for self and community, and development of the child’s head, heart and hands. We draw from a variety of different approaches (such as Waldorf, Regio, Nature Preschool, Project Based) and are committed to Anti-Bias education work with children. This diverse approach to programming allows us to be flexible to the needs of the children, honoring their experience of early childhood, and staying true our values and operating principles.
We view children as innate explorers and scientist working out how the world works. Our role is to provide a daily rhythm in an engaging environment where the children explore their world through meaningful play with the active presence of teachers. This responsive caregiving environment supports children of all abilities, from infants through preschoolers, to play, explore, and expand their repertoire of cognitive, language, motor, social and emotional skills.
The curriculum is driven from the interests of the children and is comprised of child-directed activities that facilitates each child’s abilities to master new skills and expand their horizons. The teachers intentionally design an active and engaging learning environment to follow and expand on those interests. Children develop the capacity for creative thinking, problem-solving abilities and social skills through their free imaginative play.
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.
I LOVE YOU RITUALS
I Love You Rituals is the social-emotional “curriculum” for the infants. It is a playful means to promote optimal brain development, increase attention span, reduce hyperactivity, build self-esteem, amplify cooperation and facilitate language development. These transformative rituals between adults and infant provide a structured connecting activity that includes eye contact, touch, presence and playfulness. These rituals foster healthy connection and development.
To extend the benefits of these activities we ask that parents learn and do them with their infants at home. Families benefit from I Love You Rituals at bedtime, morning routine, before or after meals, when saying goodbye, while on the diapering table, and more. We also welcome families sharing their own rituals that they do with their child.
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.
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.
7:00-8:30 Table Top / Quiet Activities
8:30-10:00 Indoor / Outdoor Free Play Activities
10:30-12:00 Outside Play
12:45-3:00 Nap / Quiet Time
3:30-6:30 Indoor / Outdoor Free Play Activities
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 caregiving 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 also teach social skills, such as how to enter into a play with peers, empathy, and conflict resolution. 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. Proper hydration is important throughout the day so we ask that families bring in a water-bottle for their child to use at Hillcrest.
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 play and independent activity that foster cooperation and facilitate the toddler’s development of a strong sense of self. We have five rules at Hillcrest that guide interactions “Looking Eyes”, “Listening Ears”, “Kind Words”, “Gentle Hands”, and “Walking Feet” (inside only). These rules state to children the behavior we desire to see rather than what we are trying to avoid. As the child develops, we are able to ask them “What rule do you need to practice” as a way to help the child think through how to correct their behavior versus having them told what to do. These simple practices strengthens the adult-child relationship as it views the child capable person who strives to do what is right.
As the children become older they will move to another classroom or we adjust the materials and activities in the room to meet the developmental level of the children. Older Toddlers require a room 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 throughout 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.
Older Toddlers 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 teachers and email the office.
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 exposure to teacher directed academic content. Children flourish when they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next, and in the Preschool classroom is supported by providing carefully planned daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms.
The daily rhythm of the Preschool 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 and helping them change into their indoor shoes. It is our goal that Preschool children continue the habit of eating a healthy breakfast every day. A balanced breakfast has shown to be essential in success during the elementary school day and we want the children to have this well established before entering Kindergarten.
7:00-10:15 Free Play in Activity Areas
8:00-8:45 Breakfast is open
10:15-11:15 Clean-Up, Morning Gathering; Bathroom, Morning Snack
11:15-12:15 Outside Play Year Round*
12:15-1:00 Bathroom, Lunch, Midday Gathering
1:00-3:00 Rest / Quiet Time
2:30-4:00 Bathroom, Afternoon Snack; Afternoon Gathering
4:00-6:30 Free Play in Activity Areas
The weekly rhythm of our curriculum is accomplished by having different activities and children’s show and tell on different days. This 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, as the day of the week becomes identified by the children with an experienced activity:
Monday: Walk Day
Tuesday: Craft Day
Wednesday: Exploration Day
Thursday: Soup Making Day
Friday: Cleaning Day
The yearly rhythm is experienced in the Preschool 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.
*Children go outside unless it is below 0, active downpour with wind or ice. In these instances, we have moderate-to-vigorous indoor activities such as a dance party, obstacle course or active game.
**The weekly schedule may change year to year to accommodate different needs that come up. Families in that years class will be informed of any changes.
THE PRESCHOOL DAY
Gathering Time is when the children come together to have a shared conversation. This may be in a large group or with smaller table groups. It is an opportunity to practice the skills of respecting each other’s voices, keeping our bodies in our own space, and to work on following instructions. We keep this time short, between 10-20 minutes depending the day and topic. A child always has the option of staying in the reading area instead of participating in large group discussion. The skills of attentive participation in Gathering times are foundational skills for Kindergarten.
The Feeling Buddies are a comprehensive and innovative tool for teaching self-regulation. The Feeling Buddies curriculum and corresponding tools help children learn to identify what they are feeling, separate themselves from the feeling and regulate it through a five-step process. As children manage their Feeling Buddies, they learn helpful language that eventually becomes their inner speech for self-regulation, emotional wellbeing and healing.
SHOW AND TELL
Each week, your child may bring in one item from home on their assigned day that is tied to a “Letter of the Week”. Focusing on a specific letter each week helps the children learn to recognize each letter and listen for its sound. Children are provided the opportunity to practice introducing themselves, share some information about their object. Having children present on different days allow for more time to go in depth without stressing their attention span.
Please plan ahead with your child by discussing the weekly letter so that they can pick an appropriate item to share and how it relates to the topic. Sometimes it 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. You would write that down for the teacher to prompt the child in case they forget at circle. This also might alleviate the desire to “bring in something”. We ask to limit items from home to the assigned days only and to place them in the show and tell bin in the morning.
YOGA / MINDFULNESS
Yoga/Mindfulness time provides an opportunity for the young child to practice body awareness with a physical activity that is noncompetitive and fun. As children learn the poses, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and concentration. It may become a technique that they can utilize for calmness and relaxation that will enhance their health and help them navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease.
FREE CHOICE ACTIVITY TIME
Free choice time provides the opportunity for children to choose activities of interest from a variety of options. This may be done by oneself or with peers and/or adults. Children’s attention span will continue to expand as their play and investigations become more complex. Free choice activity time allows the child to develop and strengthen their peer and adult relationships through shared experiences, practice choice, initiative, and problem solving, among other things, as they learn to manage themselves during this time.
Individual food choices and preferences are influenced by multiple environmental factors, including the meal setting, interactions with family members and peers, and role modeling from adults. Family-style meals help alter some of these environmental factors by encouraging children to learn about their own satiety cues and giving children positive examples to models during meal times.
Family-style meals have two important components: Children serve themselves, and they eat with their peers and adults at a table. The first component, self-service, has many benefits for children such helping children learn to respond to their own hunger and fullness cues with appropriate servings and developing fine motor skills related to selecting and scooping food.
The second part of family-style service, role modeling, is also important for both social development of children and healthy eating. While adult modeling of healthy eating is an obvious benefit of family-style service, peer-to-peer role modeling is an often-overlooked positive. Some children are more willing to try new foods when they see other children choosing the novel items. Family style also gives children a chance to practice their social niceties, such as passing food to their peers, saying “please” and “thank you,” and conducting conversations.
During lunch, teachers sing a verse with the children at their table and “light” a candle before starting the meal. 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 experience stillness and encourage the development of gratefulness and appreciation. It also helps calm the energy before moving into rest.
Just like good nutrition, adequate sleep is a basic need that gives children the best chance of getting what is most important from the people and things they experience each day. Developing healthy sleep habits is an essential foundational skill that supports a child throughout their life. Even if a child is not sleeping, taking time during their long day for quiet reflection and rest improves their interactions and learning. A small comfort item, such as a stuffed animal, is allowed as long as it fits and stays in the cubby during the day.
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. Teachers model meaningful, purposeful work in the classroom by engaging in activities such as cleaning. Out of imitation, children engage in and help with all of these activities. The children are learning real life skills, as they become confident and capable helpers.
THE PRESCHOOL CLASSROOM
Simple creative activities are some of the building blocks of child development as children learn to create and appreciate visual aesthetics. Children develop fine motor skills, practice language when describing their creations, and strengthen visual learning. Through making decisions in the creation process children utilize problem-solving and critical-thinking skills as they explore and experiment. When kids are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they develop a sense of innovation that will be important in their adult lives.
Besides the simple joy in building and creating, playing with blocks builds engineering and mathematical concepts, and teaches young children about communication and collaboration. The block areas provides opportunities to practice problem solving, spatial sense and motor abilities, and social and emotional growth
The Feelings Area is the where children can go to change their inner state from upset to composed in order to optimize learning by working through the five steps of self-regulation. While the Feelings Buddy and Yoga Circles teach children calming strategies; the Safe Place is where children can go to actively practice them. Here children reflect on the essential messages that their emotions carry and guide constructive inner speech that is crucial to the self-regulation of difficult emotions.
The five steps of self-regulation: I Am, I Calm, I Feel, I Choose, I Solve. The I Am step involves the initial upset when the child becomes the emotion. “I am angry!” The I Am Smock is helpful for demonstrating this stage of upset.
The I Calm step requires active calming, featuring the four main breathing techniques, access to a Friends and Family book, and other calming activities.
The I Feel step includes identifying the feeling with the Feeling Buddies or a Feeling chart.
The I Choose step requires the child to consciously choose additional calming activities utilizing one of the tools available, such as the I Choose Self-Control Board.
The I Solve step involves the child solving the original problem before returning to work or play, often through the use of the Time Machine.
Enjoying books and reading stories from infancy is crucial in the development of children. It helps with their ability to understand words, use their imagination and develop their speech (as well as being something they really enjoy). The more children experience books, the more they will gain the interest and passion for them. Reading offers so much more than just quiet time in a cozy corner; it helps to develop spelling, listening, writing, literacy and social skills.
TABLE TOP ACTIVITIES
Table top activities provide a space to practice different fine motor skills while completing a task or activity. Through the toys, games and activities done during the first six years the child will have adequate dexterity, bilateral coordination, and eye-hand coordination to complete writing and self-care tasks. The table top activities allow exploration of science and math concepts as the children investigate, explore, quantify and question.
Puzzles provide the opportunity for children to practice patience in completing a goal of completing the task. Some of the skills used when putting together a puzzle are hand-eye coordination, visual scanning and perceptual skills (a foundation of reading and writing), and memory.
Math and manipulative activities develops children’s fine motor skills and increases children’s understanding of basic math concepts while providing the opportunity to improve coordination, learn about counting and sorting, and expand problem-solving skills. These hands-on learning opportunities help children in their everyday lives and will prepare them to learn more advanced mathematical concepts in Elementary school.
Outdoor time allows children to explore their environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, and gain self-confidence. Playing actively outdoors provides the opportunity to develop communication, social, fine and gross motor skills. Research has also shown that when children engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, they have fewer symptoms related to inattention and physical stress as well as show an increase in appropriate behavior during subsequent activities.
The writing area encourages young children to explore writing tools, building fine motor skills that are necessary for future writing. We have a class address book and mailing materials available for the children to mail out letters home and to family.
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. Therefore, we are intentional in how we celebrate so please plan ahead and respect the guidelines.
BIRTHDAY: The celebration and honoring of a child’s anniversary of birth is a favorite celebration at Hillcrest. When it is time for your child’s special day, we will connect with you regarding the week we will make the cake for baking day. Birthdays are celebrated at after-noon snack, roughly 3pm, and the class may play a special game after.
HALLOWEEN: Children 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.
VALENTINES: This holiday allows the classroom to focus on the friendships that they have at Hillcrest. The classroom will have a celebration of friendship by creating and exchanging Valentine’s cards in the first part of February.
Several weeks before Valentine’s day, the craft project will be to create a container for the card exchange. Supplies often needed is a tissue box or shoe box for your child to decorate. The children are given additional supplies in the writing and craft area to create a card for each friend and deliver it to their box. We work with each child to ensure that each child receives a card.
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’s productions throughout the year, as well as additional quarterly field trips.
Each week, please send your child with a vegetable. In the beginning we start with nothing, and everybody adds something to the pot. By the end we have a 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 crinkle cutters, which not only are safe for young hands to use, but also makes the soup look delightful.