Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 7
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
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“Playful Learning” Is Antidote to Bullying At Goddard School for Early Childhood

Ellen Gilbert

“There’s always going to be conflict where there are children,” observed Goddard School owner Edwin Sirak. The solution, he suggested in a recent interview, lies in turning instances of bullying into “a teachable moment.” The lesson, he emphasized, has to do with helping kids understand the differences among them.

“We have an extremely diverse demographic,” said Mr. Sirak, who, along with his wife Diana, has owned the Windsor-Edinburg Road facility for five years. “We try to teach children to appreciate and accept their different backgrounds.”

Part of the lesson has to do with the use of “proper hands and voices,” he said. “We teach them to deal compassionately with each other.” Bullying, which is on the rise and, suggested Mr. Sirak, probably more common among boys than girls, can be a particular problem for only children, or those who have been given “a free rein” in the home. “Everything starts at home,” he observed. “Parent involvement is paramount.”

According to a Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration website (http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/what-is-bullying.aspx), bullying includes punching, shoving, and other acts that hurt people physically; spreading bad rumors about people; keeping certain people out of a ‘group’; teasing people in a mean way; and getting certain people to ‘gang up’ on others.”

While cyber-bullying is on the rise among older children and teenagers, Mr. Sirak is concerned with the population of pre-school and kindergarten youngsters in his care. His school, which is one of 370 Goddard Schools in 39 states, accepts children from six weeks to six years old. He attributes his own school’s success to the professionals who staff each of the large, airy classrooms that are organized and decorated with an “under the sea” motif.

“Goddard is the only chain of any size that has teachers writing their own lesson plans every day, and customizing their curricula to the needs of individual children,” he reported. The 12-month a year program includes a curriculum-based summer program and after-school care all year round.

Maria Montessori may be a more familiar name to some, but the Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget (1896-1890) is the guiding presence at Goddard Schools. With the emphasis on interacting with the youngsters, finding teachable moments is part and parcel with the “playful learning” that characterizes Goddard classrooms. This includes, said Mr. Sirak, learning “how to handle situations,” knowing “which adults to go to,” and engaging in creative activities.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Sirak attributes the current rise in bullying to more violence in the environment, and, particularly, to the “different stimuli” children are exposed to through video games and other media. While Goddard kids are introduced to computers programed with education-based games, there are “no TVs, no electronics,” in the classrooms, according to Mr. Sirak. “Teachers put their cell phones away, and children are in sight and sound all the time.”

To learn more, visit www.goddardschool.com/Schools/West-Windsor-NJ/schools.gspx.

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