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Gesell Developmental Observation

June 17, 2020 | Emily Ford Sytsma

It is that season of the year when we look carefully at our own students and new students coming into the program to check on their development. We are a school that takes child development very seriously and have designed much of how we implement the curriculum based on knowing what children can accomplish at different stages.

Arnold Gesell studied child development and set up a child study center at Yale. He designed an interview process, called the Gesell Developmental Observation, which we have used since the early years of our school.  Most of our teachers are trained in this process, and each year we interview all four-year-olds who are planning on attending kindergarten in the fall.  This is the same interview that we give to incoming kindergarten and first grade students.
The student is asked to complete a number of tasks and the teacher observes what the child does as well as how the child approaches the tasks. Based on this observation, we see a cluster of behaviors that lead us to determine a child’s developmental age.  Knowing this bit of information helps us know how best to challenge but not overwhelm a child in his work and play at school.
The Gesell Developmental Observation does not look at intelligence or aptitude or achievement. It simply identifies trends in development for each child. This assessment works along with observations from classroom work and experiences and will help teachers have a well-rounded view of a child’s growth, strengths, and challenges.
Not all children grow at the same rate of development. Some tend to be a half year ahead or a half year behind their chronological age and targeted grade level.  Being ahead is never a difficulty in our school, but being a half year behind often means that a child is not ready for the tasks of that particular grade level.  While we mix ages in classes, we want a common baseline for all children entering their grade level, and we want all children to experience success.  We want them to know they can meet the challenges that stretch their abilities and build their confidence.
In the next weeks, all children who were four or five before September 1 will spend time with a teach completing these activities. If concerns come up about a child’s development in any area, teachers will contact you to begin a conversation about what we have noticed.

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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