The heart of our program is the idea that children learn through play. We’ve all heard that phrase, but to put it into practice means having children generate their own play. The teachers provide the scaffolding, but the play comes from the children. They might imagine ‘Seaweed Island where trains and kitty cats live’ or ‘living inside of a chocolate cake’. This can be hard work for them and occasionally they get stuck; we do help them, but most times we let them figure out how to do it for themselves—that’s the real learning.
Developing the necessary social skills for kindergarten and life beyond means learning to assert their needs appropriately, yet understanding that other people have their own ideas. We work on empowering the children with the tools to communicate with peers, rather than intervening for them. We address practical skills as well, such as putting on their own shoes, etc., which gives a child confidence and a sense of efficacy.
We are committed to mixed-age grouping as it benefits both the older and younger child. Ideally a child stays with us two or more years. The first year they model the older children and the second year they integrate it all and practice leadership.
We do a variety of art projects, story telling activities, theater play, cooking, science experiments and group games. We focus on the process, not the product. Your child will not be coming home with ‘cookie cutter’ projects but rather with things they have created themselves. The emphasis isn’t on a physical product to bring home, but rather an exploration of all kinds of materials and experiencing the joy of making art.
Because our group is small, we are able to guide our program to student’s interests. Therefore, we do not have ‘themes’ in our school, rather we plan curriculum to each particular group. Some years we’ve done lots of creating our own stories and acting them out, others years lots of art, other years lots of work with words, letters or maps, other years, dinosaurs or experiments—it all depends upon the group. But always we encourge each child to challenge themselves with new activities.
We individualize to students’ needs. When we had a student who was reluctant to talk, we taught the whole class sign language and played many games that didn’t involve spoken language so he could participate in a way that felt safe for him, and from there we built upon that confidence until he was a full participant. When we had a student who isolated herself on a backyard swings, we made a game of having the kids push one another on the swings, thus helping that child become more involved.
Building community is key to everything we do. It’s why we eat the same lunch at one big table. We strive to maintain equity within the group; the quiet children get as much attention as the outgoing ones. We value family involvement; it’s part of how the child learns to define themselves as an individual, a family member, and integrate into a larger community.