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The idea that the physical environment and the children’s unique proclivities and learning styles combine to determine what is learned in a nursery school is lately called “emergent curriculum.” Griffin Nursery School was one of the first preschools in the Bay Area to dedicate itself to this child-led, adult-assisted approach to learning. When a special interest arises, the staff extends it through literature, dramatic play props, and art materials. One spring, for instance, there was so much interest in ballet that we bought several complete audio recordings, made costumes, and built a stage. This group spent their last day of preschool performing Giselle from start to its sad but magnificent end. Another group became “birders,” taking local walks to spot birds through their handmade binoculars and making wooden birdhouses at our carpentry table.

Griffin is organized into learning areas and equipped with materials that challenge every aspect of a young child. When a group of children builds a city of unit blocks, for instance, the participants are gratified by the act of applying their knowledge to the creation of something exciting and meaningful; they are getting rudimentary lessons in physics (bigger blocks have to go on the bottom) and in math (two little blocks can substitute for a big one); they are taking part in a social effort that requires give-and-take; and they are getting practice in the kind of symbol-making that paves the way for the more abstract thinking necessary for reading, writing, and math.

Dramatic play, building, music, dance, art, conversation, story dictation, gardening, climbing, swinging, scooter-riding, and sand and water play fill the children’s days. Spirited group times are offered at the end of each morning and the beginning and end of each afternoon, with two teachers leading music, movement, meetings, and stories.

Though we take pains to enrich our program and gear it toward the individual and collective needs of each classroom of children, the most absorbing aspect of school for ALL our youngsters, year after year, is establishing a life of interests and relationships that radiates outward from home and family.