The tides of education have flowed for centuries between imposed structure and internal structure; teacher-directedness and child-directedness; Froebels Conservatism and Dewey Progressivism; Back-to-Basics and Open Classrooms ¾ back and forth, mixing, creating derivatives. Early childhood education is itself a progressive, interdisciplinary field, and all preschools have the same beliefs:
- that young children are purposeful individuals who learn by doing;
- that they learn through concrete experiences, through their senses;
- that they move through universal developmental stages that have been described by various models, but that they also have unique temperaments and learning styles;
- that play is the predominant mode in which children invent, practice, and extend who they are;
- that a good education tends to children in all emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and creative respects;
- and that children need to feel competent, useful, and appreciated in their families and in their communities of peers.
A marked characteristic of Griffin Nursery School is the strength of its commitment to John Dewey’s progressive model of education as a student-driven affair, in which children learn most effectively through the demands of their social context. Because of her conviction that three- and four-year-olds are especially suited to self-directed exploration and that they move through predictable stages of socialization, Elinor Griffin always kept her classes unencumbered by unnecessary routine. Year after year at Griffin Nursery School one-on-one friendships have grown into threesomes, then alternating pairs, then small groups of four and five children, and ultimately class-size groups. After two or three years of closely supervised friendships, acquaintanceships, sociodramatic play, and collaborative work, our youngsters have all the skills necessary for the more structured and formal days ahead in primary school.
Group Time IS a teacher-directed period of our day: a twenty-minute period at the end of each morning and two twenty-minute afternoon sessions, one at the beginning and one at the end of each afternoon. In the mornings, a short time of enjoyable togetherness (getting-acquainted exercises; songs; movement; listening, numeracy and literacy games; discussions; and stories) helps children become aware of each other and share group experiences. In the afternoons we practice yoga and mindfulness; talk about social emotional issues inherent in friendship and community; discuss topics we want to learn more about; and develop our listening and speaking skills through music, conversation, and exercises. Our second afternoon group, just before going-home time, is called Reflections. We share reflections on the school day, sing, play games, and end the day with books.
Although we have basic routines, transitions, rules, customs, and community times, the teachers do not determine the children’s agendas. The role of the staff is to get thoroughly acquainted with each of the children through careful observation and intentional befriending, advocating, and collegiality; to provide safe and secure boundaries; and to help children develop their relationships, their play, and their skills.