“Progressive Education” can often gain the reputation of somehow lacking in academic rigor. While traditional practices such as rote memorization or hefty loads of homework are equated with building academically advanced students who will easily matriculate into Ivy league schools, progressive education models are often noted for their attention to social/ emotional learning or their use of current technology. However, when diving deeper into these innovative schools, one can begin to gain a sense of exactly how new-brain science and a deeper understanding of how students learn can lead to rich academic learning that more fully prepares students to become the outside-the-box thinkers our next generation will require. HundrED Ambassador Randi Kearney from MUSE School in Calabasas, CA shares how she has found success in using innovative practices to form deep understandings of academic skills and standards for early childhood grades.
Empowering children with strong literacy skills and a command of language is a fundamental goal of the ECE program at MUSE. But beyond that, MUSE wants children to enjoy and seek out opportunities to engage with language — for them to become confident readers and writers. The joy one can experience from developing a lifelong love for reading and writing is undeniable. For many of us, books are the first “passport” we’ll ever own — lush Secret Gardens, the icy landscapes of Narnia, the Quidditch fields of Hogwarts are just a few of the destinations accessible to any lover of literature.
The MUSE Early Childhood program has developed a system for teaching literacy to our youngest students that is both effective and engaging. This process differs greatly from other schools. While the public education system continues to create more academically rigorous and developmentally inappropriate kindergarten environments, preschools have felt the need to prepare students for kindergarten classrooms in which a child is expected to be able to write, read, and engage in 1st-grade level math skills upon entering kindergarten. MUSE understands that brain science and developmentally appropriate practices are not to be ignored. We believe the purpose of early childhood is to allow children a space in which they can learn through play, develop a love for learning and a feeling that school is a safe, supportive space. MUSE Early Childhood teachers provide opportunities for academic learning throughout the day, every day. However, this learning is never forced upon a child. It is available for them when they are ready to explore.
At MUSE, we are committed to the understanding that children will arrive ready to read and write when their brains are ready to read and write. We differentiate activities according to a student’s level. When we have students reflect with art on their journal pages, some children in the Early Kinder classroom may not want to participate — that’s OK. Some may throw a small scribble on the page and move on to play. Others will create representational drawings and have a teacher write their words down. Others are ready to trace their own words, and some can even write some words on their own. Through every project and activity, teachers are meeting children where they are at and providing opportunities for students to engage in a way that feels meaningful and fun for them.
In order to fully begin inspiring a love of literacy, teachers understand that this fundamental skill, first and foremost, comes from hearing adults read aloud to them. Teachers reading out loud to children several times during the day is key to supporting the foundational skills necessary for students to be successful in reading and writing. Through read-alouds children develop a love of literacy, critical thinking skills, and an understanding of character and narration. Their brains develop as they begin to see words on a page and attach illustrations to meaning.
Our classroom environments are rich with print — nearly every area, toy and art piece is clearly labeled. Students engage with letters and letter sounds through games, songs, and tactile experiences. Students may form letters out of clay, or draw them in sand before ever putting pencil to paper. Free art areas shelves are present in every classroom — these are areas where children have unrestricted access to paper, markers, crayons, paints, glue, and any other art supply you could ever imagine. The learning is organic and happens in a way that is student-led.
Perhaps what sets MUSE apart most notably, is our utilization of Passion-Based Learning as a tool for meeting academic standards. By teaching literacy through a child’s passion, the level of engagement and the enthusiasm for learning foundational literacy skills multiplies at a rapid rate. When a student who is obsessed with building is provided with books about construction sites and is encouraged to form letters out of hammers and nails, they are so much more likely to participate. Attaching literacy skills to subjects that are meaningful to our youngest students is key to ensuring our students view reading and writing through a perspective of joy.
It is our hope that MUSE students are able to transition into an elementary program that supports individualized development and learning. This helps in taking the intense amount of pressure children in other preschools are faced with to master literacy skills before their brains are fully developed enough to comprehend the standards they are being presented with. MUSE early childhood students transition into our elementary program (or any elementary program) feeling confident about their abilities, having an intense love of learning and feeling like school is a place that supports and encourages them.