Relationship-Based Inclusion: a Social-Emotional Focus to Preschool Curriculum

By Andi Dierolf

My personal journey has woven together a passion for toddlers, an extensive background in Therapeutic Recreation and a strong play-based philosophy that thrives in Parent Cooperative Preschools. Having spent over 17 years in Parent Co-ops as a parent, director, teacher and parent educator, I am innately aware of the important role connections play in all of the learning that takes place in our preschools. As an educator, our first month of preschool is full of observations, reflections, engagements, problem solving and truly cooperating with families as we establish strong bonds with each child to enable them to reach their fullest potential.

Every child enters our classrooms with a unique set of strengths, challenges and gifts to be discovered and shared. Each proud parent walks through our doors seeking community, support, acknowledgment for their parenting prowess and a desire to know more about their child’s uniqueness and developmental stages. We are in this together as we step back and observe, take in the sounds of a playful environment, settle in on the carpet to facilitate floor time and join in at the play dough table for a joyful sensory experience with the soft, warm dough.

As a young child ventures into their first preschool experiences at age one or two, they are learning by doing and taking everything in through as many senses as possible. It is necessary for a toddler classroom to be sensory rich to stimulate brain development, and for teachers to actively engage young children in learning through their whole bodies. The more we know about a child and their family, the better prepared we are to provide meaningful activities and support each child’s wishes, desires and feelings.

Relationship-based inclusion for me means that every single child in our program experiences a sense of belonging, of being part of our classroom, is welcomed and supported and able to have their needs met. My goal each and every year of preschool is to enable every child to thrive, learn about friendships and build trust, gain a sense of self worth and empowerment, and foster their unique strengths as we work together to overcome challenges. By engaging with our youngest learners at their level (on the floor!), by intently observing their body language and listening to their communication, and by reflecting back what we understand we are able to form relationships that support play-based learning and individual growth.

Focusing on the social-emotional needs of preschoolers enables us to help children become caring, competent and confident individuals. We can nurture children’s social emotional development by giving them a strong sense of self, fostering their independence, encouraging them to make friends, negotiating conflicts, modeling acceptance of differences, reflecting feelings and facilitating individual competencies in the preschool environment.

Andi Dierolf is a teacher of toddlers and two’s at Redwood Parent’s Nursery School in Redwood City.