Frequently Asked Questions
Does your school have structure?
This is always an interesting question. Many times, people assume that if a school has large spaces of time for open play in the schedule, the school is thought of as 'unstructured'. The school actually has a very strong structure in place for children to learn and grow. However, not all of that time is directed completely by adults. We believe that if children are never allowed to make choices in their educational experience, there is something fundamentally missing, especially in the early years. We feel it is incredibly important to respect children's ideas, choices, struggles, questions and curiosity. We can't do this without a structure that respects them as decision makers and people with opinions and ideas.
The schedule is intentional and purposefully laid out to allow for both teacher and children to make choices about how to structure the time. Children have periods of time in the day where they can choose who they play with, what they play with, when they need help, where they will go to get it and where to direct their learning. During the day, you might see a teacher working on writing stories with children - supporting new skills and shared ideas. You might see parents reading a book on space to children while discussing what they know about planets. You might see a group in the art area exploring clay for the first time while the teacher introduces new tools for clay that the children have not seen before. Other children may be up in the loft, flying to California in their imaginary plane. Another group is building a castle in the block area while negotiating with the police and firewoman standing outside wanting to enter their castle.
The class also has all group meeting times where they discuss ideas, engage in group activities and come together as a community. They have a snack time and time outside to explore the natural world and their physical abilities as well. This is a structure that fits our philosophical perspective and represents the developmental research and knowledge about quality learning environments for young children. It is a structure that respects children as competent and able to make choices about what they want to do and who they want to do it with. It is a structure that respects teacher's knowledge of the children they work with, allowing them to integrate meaningful activities into the structure of the day and scaffold children's learning and skill development. So, does The Cooperative Preschool have structure? Yes. We do.
I like the idea of a play based program, but how do children learn?
Children are programmed to learn - far faster and far more efficiently than we are as adults! The early years of learning involve a multitude of complex skill acquistion - learning to commuincate, move independently and with purpose, engage in relationships, use tools to express oneself - the list goes on and on. Our school's philosophy works to engage this rich and complex ability that children bring with them to school. While children at this age might be capable of sitting at a desk and learning discrete skills for very short periods of time, it is hardly efficient, natural or very effective.
A play based program is hands on problems solving. It is authentic and community driven. Children, teachers and parents are learning with and from each other - aquiring new skills gaining knowlege, creating new ideas and collaborating on individual, small group and large group projects all the time. It is organic and effective, and it is a part of a natural development that promotes a passion for learning and collaborating, as it centers around children's interests, questions, and curiosities. See a recent all school newsletter article on this topic.
How does The Cooperative Preschool prepare children for Kindergarten?
We prepare children to be ready for their education beyond preschool by providing a preschool experience that is rich, engaging and collaborative. We empower children to believe in their own capabilities and potential, while developing new knowlege and skills that support learning now and in the future. Children leave The Cooperative Preschool with a strong sense of self. They have been listened to and respected. They have learned how to be a part of a community, to respect others differences and gifts. They have learned how to deal with hard situations and have engaged in projects that encouraged them to solve problems and learn new skills. They have been exposed to and explored ideas in the areas of scientific inquiry, mathematics, literacy, language, community, the arts and symbolic languages. They have learned to work with others - both when it is easy and when it is hard. These are the qualities that we feel help children be successful in any environment when they leave The Cooperative Preschool. We also remember that these are important years of childhood. These children will only have a chance to be 2, 3, 4 and 5 years-old once. Our goal is not to deminish the importance of these precious years of their lives by simply seeing these years as preparation for the future. Our children are first - preschoolers - not simply 'almost Kindergarteners'.
How do you assess student progress?
Our assessment process is embedded into everything we do at school. When children enter the school, we send home a parent survey. This gives us valuable information about the children's most important learning space - their home, and their most important teachers - their family. Children visit the classroom with their parents before the first day of school to get acclimated and interact with the teachers. As school starts, teachers watch the children play, interact and find their place in the preschool community. Teachers take notes, pictures and collect children's work to place in a portfolio which becomes a personal history of each child at The Cooperative Preschool. Our first set of parent/teacher conferences are held in October giving parents and teachers a chance to discuss the children's school experience and life, play and learning at home. Learning is not confined to school of course, so the opportunity to understand the whole child is an essential aspect of conferences for both parents and teachers. Teachers continue to document the play, activities, friendships and projects happening at school throughout the year. Over the time children are at school, the documentation helps teachers see growth and development across the educational spectrum. It helps us understand the child, make sure they are on track developmentally, see and scaffold their learning and skill development, as well as inform curriculum. In April, we hold a second parent/teacher conference and an end-of-the-year summary is included in each child's portfolio.