Neurological development in children requires a healthy dose of physical activity they can put their whole selves into; they need to get muddy, sweaty, red-faced, and breathless while building, digging, climbing, rolling, and tumbling. Our playgrounds and trails provide children with endless opportunities to challenge themselves and take risks. They make discoveries for themselves while outside playing in mud puddles, following tracks in the snow, collecting sticks or acorns, feeling bark on trees, or noticing smells change as the wind picks up.
The 400-acre protected forest which adjoins our campus is important for both play and our hands-on environmental science curriculum: we draw pictures of creatures in vernal pools, collect specimen and identify them under our microscopes, gather data, and keep an inventory of the unique micro-organisms living in our back woods. Students get moving while building shelters and fairy houses, starting supervised fires from scratch, identifying trees and birds, and learning which plants we can safely gather and eat.
Outdoor learning also takes place on our two playgrounds. The upper playground provides children with the opportunity for fantasy play with short trails, a troll bridge, a small house, a wooden ship, a play airplane, a sandbox, and a spring for year-round water play. The lower playground includes play structures such as swings, slides, monkey bars, a zip line, a short hill for sledding, and a grassy field for group games. The garden is also available for playing, exploring and, of course, growing our own food!
In our nurturing, child-centered preschool room, children move through sequences of growth and development primarily through play. We meet this age group’s magical, enthusiastic zest for learning with delight and encouragement. We passionately believe that free play and child-initiated play are critical to the development of self, mobility of thought, and a self-initiated love of learning. Our classroom is arranged so that every day children can choose to explore what fascinates them, individually or in groups; our primary role is to be supportive but unobtrusive.
Our classroom builds early literacy by encouraging imagination, free play, and storytelling. In fantasy and drama, children explore story development, strengthen comprehension, and build elaborate vocabularies. During project time, a wide variety of open-ended projects and art materials help children organize, plan, and implement their thoughts. Math is active in every corner of our classroom: classification of shapes, planning of patterns, and counting the number of blocks used for towers are daily activities. Children gather at the woodworking table to count the number of nails hammered, measure indents in the log, or compare the size of the log before and after whittling. The imaginative free play we allow at our science tables leaves room for self-initiated scientific questions and discoveries. We provide the materials in a well-thought-out and precise presentation, and children bring their imagination and love for hands-on play to ask and answer their own questions. We have a bunny, fish, snails, and other seasonal creatures who live in our classroom for observation and care throughout the year. Children are immersed in science everywhere and, at Neighborhood, they learn to observe and record their world.
We focus on peace and sharing, earth stewardship, and a sense of place within our surroundings. Children learn to move naturally and easily within their environment without the need for much teacher direction or redirection: they are able to know what to do without constant teacher intervention.
We provide separate Pre-K and Kindergarten programming—specialized for the rapid cognitive and social development which takes place during these 18 months of a child’s life—in a combined space. The classroom learning environment is carefully planned and structured to provide children with independent and group learning opportunities, while also providing a climate of warmth and security so that students can feel safe to take risks and explore their world. We divide the classroom into eight centers: writing, math, science, blocks, dramatic play, woodworking, reading, and art. These learning stations allow children to work independently as well as cooperatively. It is while navigating these centers that the children begin to learn rudimentary time-management skills and co-develop their academic goals with their teacher.
As children engage in fantasy play they practice sharing ideas and creating story lines, foundations of literacy skills. They develop math skills with group discussions and manipulatives, but also through hands-on exploration of objects in the classroom. Through direct instruction and planned happenstance, students find “the Math” in simple objects throughout the day. The children gain access to the tools of science through inquiry and exploration of our gardens, trails, and woodland pools, as well as during science experiments in the classroom. The art area provides children with a large work surface, easels, and an assortment of materials that can be used for book-making, illustrating, writing, editing, and other explorations and experiments. Starting with our class, children study the settings that impact their lives every day. They begin to make connections between themselves and others through storytelling, art projects, trips into town, and visits from the community. Children are able to practice the skills they gather, not just in the classroom, but outside and in our community as well.
In our elementary program, students learn to ask questions and seek answers independently; they learn how to be self-motivated and how to work with a group. Our classroom is set up to accommodate and encourage the hands-on work and creative expression which are integrated into all aspects of our curriculum. We emphasize identifying an interest, gathering information, producing final drafts, and sharing what we’ve learned. This happens through direct instruction, teacher-directed activities, small-group collaboration, and independent study. Teachers’ modeling, the daily schedule and our curriculum are all geared toward helping children be self-disciplined, self-motivated, and invested in learning which, in turn, creates a community of nurtured students and a positive, respectful learning environment.
Our classroom is full of quality children’s literature, rather than basal readers, to help cultivate the life-long love of reading and writing which is so important to our elementary program. We weave literacy into our schedule so that every week students work on handwriting, spelling, independent reading, listening to reading, and reading to others. We include mathematical thinking in all parts of our classroom as well: we use our math skills (such as measuring, fractions, angles, and pre-algebra skills) in woodworking and collect data and build graphs at morning circle. Our inquiry-based, hands-on science begins with wondering and then leads to research and observation. We draw from written resources as well as local farms and the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in our studies.