So my pedagogical journey has finally begun! Picture a big lake, houses, and the city of Oakland surrounding the lake. Then tucked up a residential side street is a little white, wooden clad school.
The Director and staff greeted me with great hospitality and friendliness and I was given the privilege of staying for an afternoon. I was shown around the little school, set in an old house and shown around the different age group's rooms and spaces. The front garden, as well as the back garden are used as outdoor play areas.
The large back garden outdoor area
A new addition to the play space - hessian dividers to zone off outdoor areas
Californian weather enables permanent large outdoor sand play
Outdoor construction area
A beautiful addition for outdoor role-play!
The bike and running track
Gross motor skills are encouraged with balls, bikes and climbing equipment
An outdoor literacy area tucked in the corner - helpful for windy days!
Gross motor equipment
Even outside needs cosy spaces!
The children are encouraged to grow their own plants and vegetables
The front garden play space
Penny's chicken coop!
Ms Osnat, the Director of this preschool, along with her experienced and friendly team of teachers showed me around and patiently answered my multitude of questions!
It turns out that the American education system is incredibly complex, with each setting running differing provision, hours and costs. The Lake School itself is not-for-profit and was set up by a group of parents and it is the Parent Board that still act much like our governing body and oversee the school.
The Lake School is a play-based setting and child-led learning is valued. Latest academic research is also used to aid the development of the curriculum and staff were clear on the benefits of their pedagogical approach. At different ages the children are supported in their learning, with the older children being expected to be able to access project-based learning alongside their free-play. The children in the older rooms split their time daily between an art based or cooking 'project' so that they gain experiences of art processes as well as continuing to access free-play. This is made possible by the staffing. The Lake School uses 'co-teaching', just as they always have for the 35 years they have been open. This means that each class has 2 teachers at all times that share the planning of the curriculum for their class as well as the delivery in session. There are also assistants to support teaching and learning.
The four year old + aged children are able to access a flexible program with additional afternoon 'enrichment' activities. These include yoga, phonics and Spanish. This is parent chosen and they sign their children up to these enrichment programs.
Children's work is displayed and valued
The children have sit together snack at this table - learning to pour drinks and table manners
An exciting platform provides an enclosed space for small world play and creates a cosy role-play area below
Construction and block play
A secret fairy garden!
The use of rugs gives areas a defined space
Scientific and exploratory play centre
Such a lovely idea! The 'space place' is somewhere a child can go for a little bit of alone time. It is a quiet and cosy space for only one child at a time to go and relax. There are sensory toys and smells to enhance the space.
The rug is where the children have their meet and greet time together
Indoor kitchen role-play
Children display their pictures on the wall
One thing that really stood out about the Lake School was how much the health and welfare of teachers was considered and valued. The Director of the school has built in breaks and holidays, in a way that many settings in America have not. There was a recognition that great teachers are a school's greatest resource.
As well as valuing the adults in the setting, it was clear that children's happiness was just as important. In each classroom there was a pet; giving the children an opportunity to care for another living thing, just as they are being cared for in preschool.
Due to being a private setting and not-for-profit, the school and teachers are able to set their own curriculum. Literacy happens naturally through labelling in the environment and supported mark-making opportunities. The school has an incredible book collection, one to be proud of, all organised into topics. When the children are studying a topic, the children's book shelves are stocked with books exclusively related to the theme. Reading with children is promoted and recognised as an important role of the adults working in the preschool.
I feel very lucky to have met such empowered educators. They have created a preschool that eminates the value of social emotional learning for children and was such a welcoming environment. Parents were invited to support their child's transition when necessary and the children were highly engaged and happy. It was great to hear such giggles on their first days of preschool!