Wildflower Learning Community opened its kindergarten classroom in 2017. The staff to child ratio is 1:12. The kindergarten teacher is supported by our staff of teachers and all classrooms interact throughout the day in our gardening, forest and outdoor play areas. The learning program is based on the Reggio Emilia approach and weaves together an eclectic blend of educational philosophies with the aim of supporting each child's learning style and specific interests.
To learn more about our kindergarten philosophy, goals and expectations, please visit:
Philosophy and Developmental Goals
The Wildflower Kindergarten is a developmentally appropriate play-based environment with the following goals:
Provide children with a strong cognitive foundation in preparation for a life filled with wonder and learning
Help children develop problem-solving skills and approach challenges with innovation and creativity
Develop a sense of belonging and contributing as citizens of the world through relationship-based learning and socially active community participation
Model inquiry-based, self-directed learning for students as a means of nurturing their own competencies
Help build students' awareness of their own ideas and theories, and offer strategies for them to explore those theories
Demonstrate literacy and numeracy skills through active engagement with the community
Develop emotional regulation, relationship and self-care skills (emotional and social competence)
Support children to joyfully embrace diversity
Expectations: An Integrated Approach
In Reggio Emilia-inspired schools, learning takes places through inquiry, exploration and play. Because of this, learning is always across the curriculum: there are no specific subjects on the class agenda at any given time. Instead, there are projects, inquiries and self-directed discovery and learning.
The discovery of a praying mantis on our farm, for example, became a project that encompassed the study of biology (our praying mantis, we discovered, was pregnant and laid an egg sac in our classroom aquarium), ecology (the children later discovered more praying mantis egg sacs on the farm), mathematics (calculating the sheer number of praying mantis babies we will have in the spring when the sacs open), environmental stewardship (ensuring we do not disturb the egg sacs during the winter), art (some of the children made drawings of the the mantis, including very specific details of her body), literacy (several children created books describing our journey with the praying mantis).
Adults often confuse play with frivolity: play is how children fill their time when they are not at school learning. Play, therefore, is perceived as a side dish -- delicious, but not the essential part of the meal. However, as Erik Erikson points out, “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” It is this new mastery that Wildflower Kindergarten seeks to support its students in developing.
How can the Reggio approach – featuring children’s construction of learning through inquiry and expressive language – be combined with a curriculum that demands specific outcomes and assessments that require demonstrations that children are learning according to defined standards? Several schools and even school systems have found satisfactory answers.
Assessment: Making Thinking and Learning Visible
The purpose of assessment is to determine the ability of a person to complete tasks and/or to approach a problem successfully. Traditional academic schools in America assess children's performance regularly. Ultimately, these assessments are used to determine the career paths that are open to the student. Wildflower Preschool and Kindergarten disagrees with this approach to children. We believe their is another way. There is always another way.
Investigation, Observation, Documentation, Teacher-, Parent- and Student-Reflection, and Provocation
Our practice at Wildflower is to use the cyclical process of children's self-directed investigation, teacher observation and documentation, community reflections and collaboration, and intentional provocation as a means of assessing children's competencies, thinking processes, learning and challenges. A unique feature of this approach to assessing children's learning is that the primary goals are to make children's learning visible and to provide children with a meta-cognitive understanding of their personal learning process.
One approach to assessment that our school uses is the digital portfolio. At the end of their tenure at our school, families are given two digital portfolios: a whole class portfolio and a portfolio of their particular child's explorations and learning at school. Below is a page from this year's whole-class portfolio. Portfolios contain documentation about projects, literacy and numeracy development, children's growth in the areas of community and collaboration, gross and fine motor development, language development and more. More than traditional bubble sheet assessments, portfolio documentation provides an indepth look at how a child's thinking and learning manifests in a classroom setting. Portfolio documentation opens the door for teacher, parent and child self-reflection and builds awareness of each individual's learning processes and competencies.
Current Research Fails to Support Teacher-Directed Early Academic Learning as an Authentic Approach to Schooling
Every American acknowledges that the traditional school system is failing many of our children. The system is failing them in more ways than simply stunting their intellectual curiosity: the system prohibits the very innovation it claims to "inspire" in students. Locking children in a cinder block structure for seven hours a day, providing a 30 minute respite for outdoor play and directing each and every exploration with which the child is allowed to engage does very little to inspire creativity, support intellectual curiosity, connect children to nature or, most importantly, support their innate joy. Children are born joyful. Education must support the continuation of that joy. Anything less than that is not authentic learning. Education without joy inspires apathy. Apathy will never support innovation and creativity.For more information about children's competence and school structure, please visit Shelley's blog post, "The Competency of Children."
Our current system addresses learning goals in ways which are not conducive to the development of other, also essential, developmental goals. Wildflower Preschool and Kindergarten approaches all learning goals with an eye to the whole child and to the need for children to direct their own learning. We cannot ask children to innovate, creatively problem-solve, collaborate and effectively communicate while directing, demanding, assessing and lecturing. We ask them to innovate and learn with joy by supporting the investigation of their own ideas, provoking additional explorations and listening to their learning. We ask them to creatively problem-solve by providing an environment in which co-learning, observation and self-reflection are the norm and assuming personal responsibility for understanding is a common practice. We ask them to collaborate and effectively communicate by observing, rather than talking, by supporting rather than directing, and by modeling our own passionate intellectual curiosity rather than by demanding their interest.
In short, we ask them to engage with life and the environment in the same way that they have been engaging with these things from the the day they were born.