Guest blog by Brenda Blair, early childhood teacher
December 27, 2016 to January 8, 2017 I was in Sierra Leone with SLFND. We started out in the city of Bo where I me the 10 people from Mondema village who were selected to be teachers of the Dovelema Early Childhood Center. Kim Kokett, another preschool teacher and I met with the teachers for a couple of days going over early childhood development and activities children can do at different age levels. We used preschool materials brought with us to demonstrate what children can do when. The teachers had never seen the materials before either (bristle blocks, potato heads, lacing shapes, a parachute, magnifying glasses, felt boards and story pieces) so had a great time trying them out. The parachute was especially fun, we asked them to think of ways to use it and we found out they know many of the nursery rhymes that American children know and we did movements with the parachute to the some familiar nursery rhyme songs.
In the village we were able to have preschools sessions with 20 local children in 2 classroom and run through a preschool 2 and a half hour program a coulple days in a row to give the teachers the feel of being in a preschool classroom. The floors were still dirt so we brought in tarps. We used materials Kim and I had brought from the US.
It was interesting to me that as I read a story the children repeated back each sentence I read. Rote learning. I asked the teacher s to tell the children in their local language not to repeat back for the next time I read to them. I wanted them to hear and experience the language, to hear rhythm, alliteration, rhyming and all those things we present to preschool children in the US every time we read to them. I had looked in a primary school classroom of Mondema that contained only benches and taller benches for tables and a chalk board. No other materials were visible. Of course they learn by rote, there are few other choices. We are bringing hands on materials for preschoolers to learn from since we know that children learn by doing, by hands on.
It was a great first trip. I went back on June 5 to 17th 2017. During this trip we registered 215 children to have a spot in the preschool that hopefully starts in September 2017. My job then was to weigh and measure each child. For some it was traumatizing as they had not seen a white person before. Kia Russel (another American) helped me out for 2 of the 3 days. Those were long days in the hot sun. We moved or height/weight station from one end of the veranda to the other as the day and sun progressed on us. Nine teacher sat at tables they brought with them across the veranda of the guest house and the house next door for 8 hours 3 days in a row. I couldn’t help but drink water in front of them while they were observing Ramadan on these days. At the end of the 3 days I put the forms into groups by age of the child and made the class list for each teacher. While I was doing this the teachers went back to the school site and helped finish putting the stucco on walls of the classrooms, cement on the floors of classrooms and cement on the veranda. The women carried water on their heads to the area on the ground where the cement was to be mixed before being applied to the building. They are committed to building completion so that they can start school September 2017. I can’t wait to see that happening!
I am a early childhood special education teacher with license in both preschool and preschool special education. I have worked for 34 years in the field of early education and recently retired.