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Starting Early
How Haddonfield Friends School’s Early Childhood Center is encompassing an innovative curriculum for children ages two and up.

by Josephine Cusumano

IT’S A WELL-KNOWN FACT THAT EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT IS CRUCIAL, as it lends itself to the advancement of a young child’s emotional, social and physical growth—especially in their first five years. Yet, where does a parent start when it comes time to enroll their child?

Luckily, area schools are evolving their early childhood development prior to pre-K as a means of investing in the younger generation. Haddonfield Friends School (HFS), for one, offers the option of three programs  suited for ages 2 through 4, known as Swallowtails, Skippers and Monarchs  respectively, within their Early Childhood Center (ECC) . Each level is designed to meet the educational and developmental needs of the young child, while also nurturing skills—including social, communication, gross and fine  motor skills—within a whole school setting.  

 “At HFS, we inspire joyful young minds to reach their fullest potential, to embrace diversity and to go out into the world with conscience, confidence and compassion,” explains Head of School Matthew Sharp. “It is our hope that HFS students graduate as innovative problem solvers, curious, independent learners and ultimately, as socially, emotionally and spiritually developed global citizens who respond thoughtfully and compassionately to one another and the world.”    

That mindset is not only applied throughout the pre-K through eighth grade curriculum, but also within their early childhood development programs, beginning with a student’s first entry at age 2 to 2 ½. “[Each ECC class] has two certified teachers and [the students meet with] Specials teachers, which  includes music, physical education and Spanish, and the cross-grade mentors known as ‘buddies,’” says Sharp.

These buddies from middle school grade levels are assigned to students in the Early Childhood Center and assist in the classroom weekly on activities such as Lego challenges and STEAM projects, as  well as provide a boost in confidence among peers. “When our middle school hosts science fairs, our young ECC students attend the fair and support their older mentor,” Sharp says. “Our ECC children get to see older students confidently presenting science projects and they believe that they can do great things as well.” 

First grade is an especially significant year, says Sharp. “Developmentally first grade is so important.  This is the year that children learn the skills, habits and traditions of being in elementary school,” he says. “Here at HFS we allow students to express themselves and find their unique passions.  They learn how to take on problems and even have a math enrichment teacher in addition to their classroom teachers. We instill confidence and wonder so that children can learn more in a stress-free and joyful environment.”

For this reason, class size is kept at or below 16 students to ensure every voice is heard.  

Linda Lee has two children attending HFS, one in the ECC and another in first grade. Her eldest son also attended the ECC and is now in public school. She was impressed by the classroom-based environment and curriculum. 

 “The ECC encourages learning through play. There is a lot of interaction with nature, even when it snows they are outside sledding,” Lee says. “There are different teachers for music, Spanish and gym class—it’s very much about educating every aspect of a person.”

For her daughter in first grade, Lee says the small class size makes a difference. “Teachers can work with the students on their level as individuals and take them where they need to go, instead of teaching a whole classroom and trying to get them all on the same level,” she says.  

Adds Sharp, “Our engaging teachers and ideal class sizes enable students to wonder, explore and ask challenging questions via teaching via query and scientific process. A community rooted in Quaker values, we are inherently a nurturing and safe place for young minds to blossom.”

Haddonfield Friends School
47 N. Haddon Ave. | Haddonfield
(856) 439-6786 |

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12 (February 2019).
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