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What is an Ideal Environment for Young Learners?

22 Dec

As the Director of Admission at Applewild, I have the true pleasure of sharing with families the joy of an Applewild education, and I have the honor of highlighting the talents of our teachers and the educational philosophies our school embodies.  I also have the joy of working with you – our prospective families – and learning more about your child and what your family may be looking for in a school in these truly important, foundational years.

As I help families learn about the Applewild difference and why choosing us in these early years of a child’s educational journey (we believe!) is a transformative experience, I’d like to share an article from The Atlantic titled “The New Preschool is Crushing Kids – Today’s Young Children are Working More, but They’re Learning Less” (Christakis, 2016).  The article discusses best practices (and not-so-best-practices) for educating our youngest learners, and highlights the importance of creative and play-based learning over “tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction,” which teachers are oftentimes forced to adopt in their classrooms due to Common Core standards and test-based result restrictions.  In no way am I suggesting that there aren’t incredibly dedicated, talented, and committed teachers at our fellow public, charter, and parochial schools. What I am confidently suggesting, however, is that at Applewild our intentional, thoughtful, student-centered teaching and learning environment has been carefully constructed to encourage creativity and collaboration, and to include equal attention and time to the arts, music, physical education, free play, and outdoor time. This is true across all grade levels at Applewild, which is why our kindergarten students take art, woodworking, music and chorus, and gym class – all while being gently guided in the exploration of phonics, numbers, science, French language, and developmentally appropriate social-emotional navigation with their peers.

Though the article discusses best practices in teaching and learning at the preschool level, it also alludes to the lack of ‘warmth’ in the current, typical kindergarten classroom, stating that “kindergarten [now] serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school.”  At Applewild, we fundamentally believe that school should be a place where young children are excited to arrive at each day, and where they feel safe, valued, and comfortable being themselves and stretching their minds. At Applewild, kindergarten is a child’s first ‘formal’ introduction to school – it first and foremost needs to be fun, and teachers need to be empowered to truly know their students so that these young minds establish an enthusiastic love for school and learning. This is our most important goal for our kindergarten students, and we accomplish this through a Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning, frequent communication amongst students’ teachers and families, and through myriad opportunities for community time and adult-to-student conversation which take place organically during our daily Family-Style lunches, Common Times, and Morning Meetings. The ‘why’ behind our specific pedagogy as a school, however, is perhaps the most important – we do these things at Applewild because we believe that these early years are the most influential in a child’s life. We then work together as educators to build programming and curricula that support our pedagogy, and we thus find ourselves sharing the values of many families seeking an alternative to their children’s educational paths.

Further, the article discusses research which notes that in many schools for younger learners “…more time [is] spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time [is] devoted to music and art.” While the author is suggesting that a shift back towards more creative and thus less test-driven educational pedagogies are best for preschool-aged students, we happen to embody this growth mindset at the kindergarten level (and beyond) here at Applewild. All of our students create art and music and are physically active through a variety of opportunities – and the way which we encourage this engagement in the arts and athletics is such that a ‘requirement’ is seen by our students as a new passion of theirs that they cannot wait to practice in the studio, theater, or on the fields.

The article also notes the importance of an ‘inquiry-based’ educational environment where encouraging the exchange of ideas and collaboration is paramount; further noted is the importance of student-teacher relationship building. Specifically, the author states that “in a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.” This type of educational environment can be found at a small school where teachers are given the time to know their students (and their students’ families), and where an incredibly high level of value is placed on carefully listening to and reacting to a student’s interests, needs, strengths and areas that can be built upon. This is the type of environment that families will find at Applewild, beginning with one of the most foundational years – kindergarten.

Christakis, Erika. “The New Preschool is Crushing Kids – Today’s Young Children are Working More, but They’re Learning Less” Atlantic Jan.-Feb. 2016: n. pag. Print.

(Read the full article here:) http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/

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