Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Visit to The Children's School: a Day in the Life of Progressive Elementary Education

On an a beautiful day in late October I was lucky enough to visit The Children's School in midtown Atlanta. My dear friend Melissa set up a great day including a visit with fourth grade, pre-K, pre-primary, the counselor, specials (music and PE), and a full tour of the whole school, its faculty, administration, and students.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, there's nothing as valuable as visiting another school to discover new ideas and best practices as well as to reflect on my own school, philosophy, and practices.  In this post I'll only describe what I saw and thought about The Children's School, a PK-6 independent school serving approximately 400 joyful students. For the basics about the school, check out their website.

Observations about the Space

TCS makes the most of its space. This is an urban campus, so space is limited. But kids have many outdoor spaces to play.  It is clear, right away, that play is a critical part of the school's philosophy and the children's experience. There are several play structures, fields of varying sizes, small gardens, and picnic tables. While children have two scheduled recesses, they often go outside more frequently, either in their own campus or across the street at the amazing Piedmont Park.  They also regularly eat lunch outside.

The campus feels like a tiny village, with an enclave of houses clustered together to form the academic space. "Homey" was the first word that came to me when I began touring the inside of the buildings. Classrooms are designed for kids--the rooms are filled with comfortable furniture and accessories, crafting and tinkering materials, books, hands-on manipulatives, and student work.

And there are no traditional desks--a clear sign of the school's identity as progressive and student-centered.  In one classroom, 4th grade teacher Jocelyn showed me the chairs her students made for Maker Faire that then became their classroom chairs; students designed and built their chairs based on their learning styles and interests. This is a perfect combination of play, passion, and purpose. 

Even the adults have their needs met--at TCS I saw 3 standing desks and IdeaPaint on many walls.  Comfort allows for passions and productivity to thrive.

Observations about the Culture

Children here are expected to live the school's core values. From the youngest students on up, children learn to sort out their differences, celebrate their acts of kindness, empathize with others, and respect one another's differences.  Everyone at TCS goes by their first names; children cheerfully greet their teachers by name and often with a hug. Hugging, I learned, is a TCS tradition.  I happily received several throughout my visit.  Other traditions highlight the social curriculum, such as the use of the heart pillow to sort out differences, pom poms to fill small buckets when they've done a "baboomba" (something that makes their heart feel good--they've done something nice for someone else), and a common understanding of their Building Character and Community values.

Kids are engaged in interesting and practical learning in a trusting and warm community.  From organic gardening to circuitry to rock-wall climbing to writing personal narratives, kids were engaged and challenged in ways that match the school's mission.

 I'm so glad I had the chance to spend time at TCS and see how their mission, to enrich minds and inspire dreams, comes to life.