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Flagler Advanced Child Psychology students take coursework out of the classroom into local preschools

Jan 27, 2023
by Camara Johnson

When students show up for Flagler’s Advanced Child Psychology course, it’s rarely in a campus classroom. More often they’re found at local preschools where they’re gaining real-world experience while serving as a resource for students and teachers.

 “The idea is they’re going out there and having a real experience and relationship with these kids, and they’re contributing to the preschool environment,” Professor Michele Fouts, instructor of the course, said.

Each semester, Fouts sends students from her Advanced Child Psychology course to local preschools to observe child behavior and exercise engagement strategies they study in the course. Fouts says that this experience has proven mutually beneficial for her students and the preschoolers.

“When you work with children whose emotions are so on the surface, you get the feeling that you are a positive benefit on this child’s life, but it also gives back to you in terms of your own understanding of your development and your own personal growth,” Fouts said.

Since Fouts’ students immerse themselves in the preschool classroom environment, she said the teachers can also better cater to the young students’ individual needs because of the inherent benefits of having another adult in the room.

“What I hear from the preschool teachers is that they enjoy having the college students in the classroom because there’s another adult in the room, there’s another person to respond to the various needs of the kids,” Fouts said.

Because of the supportive relationship between the preschool teachers and Fouts’ students, one-on-one time with preschoolers is possible for her students, and trusting relationships can form. This furthers their ability to utilize the strategies they learn about in class like child-led play, and “meeting kids where they are at.”

“They’re watching these kids progress over the course of the semester, and they get to see how they have played a role in helping that child grow,” Fouts said.

Fouts recognizes the reciprocal relationship that allows her students and the preschoolers to grow during their time together. She credits this to the shift she witnesses in students’ perceptions of child psychology before, during, and after completing this fieldwork.

“I see that they grow tremendously, personally they grow,” She said. “They learn a lot about themselves.”

These experiences help students not only to understand child psychology but to understand their own psychology as well. Senior Riley Henson said that the course led her to a better comprehension of her own childhood.

“This class is beautiful in the way that you not only get to reflect on the children you are building a relationship with, but it also makes you reflect upon the relationship with your own inner child,” Henson said.

In the class, students study content by well-known psychologists like “The Yes Brain: How to cultivate courage, curiosity, and resilience in your child,” by doctors Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. Henson said the course readings built an important foundation that allowed the fieldwork in the preschool to advance her understanding of the course’s concepts.

“There is something so powerful about being able to gain real-life experiences,” Henson said. “The textbooks and articles are important means of learning in the class, but to be able to see the concepts right in front of your eyes is incredible.”

Henson said the shared experience of working with her peers in the preschool has also strengthened their relationship with each other.

“The course allows you to create a special bond with your classmates due to the more intimate setting and reflection we do during the semester,” Henson said. “It's not like the average lecture-style class.”

Through the fieldwork and reflections, students leave the course with a better understanding of child psychology, and the complexity and uniqueness of preschoolers. Henson said her ultimate takeaway was realizing “the importance of meeting a child where they’re at.”

Beyond this course, students can apply this exact concept in their professional careers. Recent Flagler alumnus Ben Shafer explained the meaningful role Fouts’ Advanced Child Psychology course has played in his career as a social worker. Shafer described one instance in which he saw firsthand the importance of meeting children on their level.

“There was one child that was particularly difficult to engage,” Shafer said. “He was rolling a ball and I rolled it back to him and then he rolled it back and then, very slowly, I got closer and closer to him. And then finally he started opening up to me. I considered that a very, very good success.”

The use of play therapy was one of the many takeaways Shafer gained from his experience in Fouts’ course, which he said was one of his favorite classes at Flagler.

“My favorite thing about the child psychology class that Professor Fouts taught, was that a lot of it is about play therapy and how to understand children through play,” Shafer said.

In addition to learning how to form relationships with children in order to better understand their psychology, Shafer also saw himself forming closer relationships with his peers. Like Henson, Shafer found one of the most valuable gifts of the course to be the experience that he shared with his classmates.

“It was a good space to discuss those successes and failures in a judgment-free zone,” Shafer said. “Not only are you learning from your own experiences, but you’re learning from other people’s experiences as well.”

Shafer said the course also played a beneficial role in his post-grad job search, providing him with the relevant experience needed for many jobs in the field of child psychology.

“This class was the shining achievement on my resume, and it was this experience that actually helped me bypass a mandatory year of working with children required to even be considered for my job,” Shafer said. “I really can’t express enough how important this class was to me.”

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