THE PLOWSHARES GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
Loving care and guidance are offered in a safe, supervised and supportive atmosphere where children are encouraged to explore, create, build, problem-solve and try out new skills.
Professional, dedicated teachers - many of whom have been with the program for ten or more years - serve as resource facilitators for each child and family.
Emphasis is placed on group socialization and the development of each child's individual strengths, self-esteem and confidence.
The developmentally-designed curriculum includes exposure to fundamental concepts - such as size, shape, colors, letters, numbers and language arts - in an unpressured setting.
A variety of free-choice and teacher directed activities is offered, including music, arts and crafts, science, dramatic play, reading, indoor and outdoor play, clubs and field trips.
Diversity is welcomed and celebrated in enrollment, staffing and classrooms. The Board of Trustees includes parent, community and professional members.
PLOWSHARES' CHILD CARE AND EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
Plowshares believes that all children regardless of race, religion, cultural heritage, political beliefs, disability, or sex have a right to quality care, nurture and instruction from competent, educated and loving staff. We believe in the importance of developmentally designed and age-appropriate education and care as endorsed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). And we believe staff have a right to training and supervision which supports this professional development. We also believe that each child has the right to develop self-confidence and positive feelings of self-worth. Toward these ends, we stress the importance of socialization and enrichment opportunities. Our curriculum and daily schedules are geared toward providing experiences and activities, within both a group and individual context, that foster self-esteem. Plowshares' professional staff observe and evaluate, with input from parents and the child, each child's unique capabilities. Within the context of a nurturing, non-pressured and supportive classroom, teachers are able to design specific activities which encourage and stimulate children to stretch their capabilities and explore new opportunities. In this way, mastery of skills and self-initiated discovery are attainable, non-threatening and confidence building. Teachers also foster independence and self-sufficiency. Children are challenged to develop problem-solving strategies by thinking through solutions to various dilemmas: What would happen if...? How might you handle this problem differently the next time? What do you need to accomplish this task? Where can you find more support or information? In this fashion, staff not only serve as catalysts to help empower children to become self-sufficient, but they also serve as resource persons providing both materials and information along with support.
SCHOOL-AGE CHILD CARE AND EDUCATION PHILOSOPHY
While Plowshares School-Age Care and Education Philosophy draws substantially from our Agency's Preschool Philosophy (based on Developmentally Appropriate Practice [DAP]), school-age programs and operations are adapted, modified and even newly developed to meet the new stages of growth and development school-age children undergo. School-age children have increasingly powerful desires to become more self-expressive and independent, to formulate and postulate their own ideas and theories, and to seek "proof" of such by "testing" and evaluating through observation, classification and experimentation. School-age children need increasing amounts of independence - along with increasing amounts of accountability. The need for school-age staff to offer direction on ways to obtain information, facts and organization of thoughts and ideas is fundamental in helping them develop into creative, inquisitive and discerning individuals.
Acquisition of problem solving and conflict resolutions skills is an important and primary component of our school-age programming. Children need help to think through ways of finding solutions, be it to homework, puzzles or personal problems. Children especially need guidance in ways of handling powerful emotions such as fear, anger, embarrassment etc. Learning how to express one's feelings honestly, yet appropriately, takes time, support and practice. Staff lend such support and guidance to youngsters as they learn to verbalize their feelings and seek ways of acceptance, cooperation and respectful coexistence. Staff also help the children to reflect on their experiences of conflict and to build a perspective which expands the various options available for resolving future conflict in as non-threatening, non judgmental and non-demeaning a means as possible.
Curriculum and programming for older school-age children is designed to be enriching, socially stimulating, fun and educational. We draw from many theorists who study the growth and development of young children. One of the early theorist studying young children was Piaget. His studies suggest that cognitively school-age children are attaining a stage of reasoning known as "concrete operations" - a process that enables school-agers to "decenter" and think more objectively. Although most of the students are not yet able to fully reason in the abstract (Piaget's findings indicate that this transition does not generally occur until 12 or 13 years of age) the concrete operational stage does usher in a less egocentric form of reasoning and a newly acquired ability to simultaneously hold in mind and relate various characteristics of objects, persons or situations.
With the acquisition of concrete operations, children attain a stage known as "conservation" wherein they begin to realize that changes in appearances do not necessarily mean changes in substance. While there are many implications for programming purposes, one in particular corresponds fortuitously with a fundamental tenet of Plowshares' philosophy. From their concrete perspective of "logic" and "conservation" students of this age are able to explore fallacies inherent in stereotypes and prejudice and reason that the largess of heart, spirit or mind is neither lessened nor increased simply because the shape, color of skin, or any other attribute of the body that is different than one's own.
By the time that children have reached school-age, they have begun to develop a rather extensive understanding of the social structure of their family, community and society at large. As such, discussions about civic responsibilities, social conduct and group friendship can be generated, with the older students in particular being able to carry this process and thinking over into pro-social behaviors - i.e., lending service and skills to benefit the neighbors and community. Raising funds for local charities and benefits is an undertaking many wholeheartedly desire to accomplish, as is the opportunity to offer community service and peer support.
Another developmental psychologist, Erickson, offers a different perspective of occurrences and developments at this age. He refers to this psychosocial stage of development as the crisis of Industry vs. Inferiority, i.e. where children are busy trying to master skills and competencies valued in their culture, thereby developing views of themselves as either competent or incompetent, or in Erickson's terms, industrious and productive vs. inferior and inadequate.
According to Erickson's theories, there is a tremendous opportunity here, in keeping with Plowshares' overall program philosophy, for staff to develop and extend the self-esteem of our students. By helping children develop competencies (in sports, arts, drama, science, self-help skills, safety etc.) through projects that are important and meaningful to them in their lives, and by utilizing specialists, career/skill training and enrichment opportunities, attainment of important skills and competencies can be greatly facilitated.
Furthermore, by staffing with individuals who understand this developmental stage and inherent opportunity and therefore encourage each child to seek out the learning and mastery of such skills at a pace commensurate with his or her learning style, students are far more likely to succeed at attaining these important skills. Success is likewise furthered by creating a non-threatening, open style atmosphere where teachers shift the focus off competition and comparison and onto the celebration of diversity and cooperation. Finding a balance between the more non-competitive "New Games" and the traditional "team" sports is a major goal. Collectively, all these approaches hold great potential for fostering positive self-esteem and developing greater confidence and risk taking ability for future endeavors.
Another extremely important development that begins to occur is the acquisition of values that validate one's emerging sense of self in the larger world---often a view of oneself and one's values apart from those gained at home. The peer group plays an increasingly major role in this process. One's friends and peers serve as a bridge between the values of family and the wider range of values offered by the society at large. One of the benefits of a supervised school-age setting, is that these new ideas, roles, behaviors and responsibility can be explored within a relatively non-threatening sphere where they are monitored, acknowledged, encouraged or discouraged as the case may deserve.
Programs for older children can capitalize on the importance of the peer group function while still maintaining adult guidance and supervision, by designing a more "club-like" form of programming and operation. Clubs enable students to sharpen their social skills, develop opportunities for social cooperation, build important friendships, foster self-esteem and try on more adult and (semi) independent responsibilities.
In keeping with a club-like atmosphere, long range and more in-depth activities are very appropriate, as students at this age have greater attention spans and capabilities to explore and master skills, ideas and concepts. Students of this age group enjoy classification activities, such as stamp and coin collecting, bird and animal classification, and scientific experimentation and classification.
As Plowshares' staff are dedicated to keeping abreast of new developments in the field of child growth and development, we will continue to draw from the current research and knowledge and strive to create age-appropriate curriculum which challenges, stimulates and engages our students. Enrichment, fun and opportunity will always be cornerstones to our school-age programming and activities.
DEEC LICENSING AUTHORITY AND NAECP ACCREDITATION
Plowshares is a fully recognized early care and education agency, licensed and inspected by The Departemnt of Early Education and Care of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition to complying with EEC licensing standards, Plowshares undergoes voluntary accreditation by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs to assure that all our programs meet the professional standards of quality and excellence in the care and education of our young children and students. We are honored to have been on of the first 100 programs in Massachusetts to have been accredited. As such, we are now undergoing our 5th re-accreditation.
In keeping with our Program Philosophy of viewing each child as an individual and seeking to support each child's unique growth and development pattern, the staff at Plowshares offers primary caretaking. In this practice, each teaching member of a team is assigned not only to watch over the whole group but to carefully observe a smaller primary sub-group of children throughout the year. This staff person has the primary responsibility of assessing your child's growth and development. He or she will note your child's particular strengths, talents and skills as well as areas that need further assessment or evaluation. This primary staff person will be responsible for establishing the bi-annual parent/teacher conferences for preschool families or any necessary conferences for school-age and middle school students. Primary teachers are willing to meet with parents at their request for feedback, support or any other need.
DIVERSITY: CELEBRATING OUR HERITAGE
Plowshares welcomes diversity in our enrollment and staff selection. We seek to encourage peoples of various backgrounds - social, cultural, racial, religious and economic- to join in our programs. As a staff, we seek training in multi-cultural and anti-bias curriculum development. We welcome sharing by parents, staff, children and consultants on the many customs, holidays, celebrations, history, rituals, foods, song and dance of all our families' heritage and background.
INCLUSION PROGRAMS/SERVING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Plowshares is committed to fostering model inclusion programs for integrating children with special needs. We founded the Inclusion Collaborative in 1994 to help advance inclusive practices in early childhood settings. We work with a number of agencies and colleges to support these goals. We maintain a policy and procedures guide for assisting children with special needs in the office. It is available to interested parents upon request.
THE LAB SCHOOL AT NEWTON NORTH HIGH SCHOOL
The Plowshares program operating at Newton North High School was established in September of 1987 at the invitation of the School Committee and Technical Vocation Department of Newton North High School. It is a model program and example of a successful public/private partnership between Newton Public Schools and Plowshares Childcare Program, Inc. This location serves as a lab school for training high school students majoring in Early Childhood Education. Lab students are under the supervision of a high school teacher as well as Plowshares' staff. Lab students study child growth and development theories and learn practical methods of classroom implementation. Although the lab students are not included in our teacher:child ratio, their hands-on assistance often provides very specialized and valuable one-on-one attention for our children.