The Co-op Family Center’s philosophy has evolved over the 37 years of its existence and continues to evolve as we learn from each other, our children, our families and from our research. The Co-op has always put the child’s experience and discovery at the center of its philosophy. In 1996, our philosophy was given new life and clarity when our staff learned of the innovative work being done in the Infant/Toddler centers and Preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The ideas coming out of Reggio were a natural fit with the Co-op Family Center and we continue to look to them for inspiration and wisdom as we continually seek to create a school that meets both the needs and dreams of children and their parents. Following are some of the fundamentals of our Reggio-inspired philosophy that explain how the Co-op does school.
Image of the child
The Co-op’s philosophy is built upon an image of children as curious, creative and capable citizens. We believe childhood is a precious and vital period of life that has value in and of itself, not a prologue to “real life” that will somehow begin later in life. This belief that children are whole and important from day one when they start their journey influences many of our decisions as a school.
Honoring the rights of children
Our strong image of childhood leads us to acknowledge and honor the rights of children as members of our society. Among the many rights of children we recognize are the rights to have a voice, to be heard, to feel, to try/fail/and try again, to develop relationships, to have some ownership over themselves and the right to be in a caring supportive environment. We believe these rights are inherent in children and not something we are “giving” them.
Constructivism: How children build knowledge
The learning we strive for in our students is not an objective collection of facts that exist independently of the child. We seek to develop knowledge that is uniquely constructed by the child as they strive to build understanding through connections of experience, thought, suggestion and invention. We know that meaningful knowledge cannot simply be told to children and memorized. Memorization is an example of learning, but without understanding the underlying complex relationships and systems that make up an idea, the child cannot have true knowledge of the idea, just the ability to repeat it. We facilitate children’s organic learning process acknowledging that meaningful learning must come from internal motivation and curiosity and is built upon prior learning and understanding. In relation with the Reggio Emilia philosophy the Co-op provides exposure and opportunity to real materials such as but not limiting to clay, nature items and glass. It is learning this process of inquiry and the great joy of discovering something new we are trying to encourage in children. Children get great pleasure and satisfaction when they are pursuing their natural curiosities and constructing a fuller understanding of the world and themselves in it. We want our students to stay connected to the joy of being the authors of their own learning. We believe this is one of the greatest ways we can support children’s development as humans and as lifelong learners.
The Project Approach
We develop the thinking of our students by building projects around their interests and curiosities. We closely observe the life in our classrooms looking for opportunities to build from the ideas coming from children’s self-initiated explorations. We take children’s natural desire to learn and facilitate this process, not by giving answers, but by encouraging questioning and investigation. We approach projects in a variety of ways using various artistic medium, firsthand experiences and material provocations to offer a more holistic investigation and therefore understanding of their curiosities. We are not looking for right answers or perfect products. Our projects are intended to build our student’s ability to develop and communicate their thinking, which is a lifelong journey.
We recognize that no child develops in isolation and that successful schools operate as a system of relationships. The Co-op is a community full of vibrant relationships that provide children with a strong trusting model of social inclusion and participation. It is important for children to realize they are connected, important part of the Co-op family. The Co-op tries to help meet that need for learning and growing through strong relationships providing Continuum Care for our children and families. Lead Teachers work with a group of children and their families for two to three years. This minimizes the stress of transitions for the children by providing a secure, loving and consistent environment. Relationships between caregivers and parents are strengthened through continuum care with a priority being placed on meaningful dialogues and ongoing communication. This continuum cycle ensures that every child and family will have the benefit of consistent relationships that grow and develop with them.
Parents as Partners
Established by parents in 1978, the Co-op Family Center continues in its grassroots tradition of building on the power and presence of family within the daily life of the center. We know that many parents need to spend a significant part of their day away from their children and we intend to make that as much of a positive in their child’s lives as possible. We recognize parents as the child’s first and most important teacher and seek their advice, collaboration and participation as we facilitate their child’s education. Parents are part of all aspects of life at the Co-op from cleaning to teaching to being on the board of directors.
What does all of this mean?
All of the theoretical intentions and thought that we put into this school boils down to this: We are creating a different type of school than the standard American daycare. We are a place for families to come together as part of a community and for children to have a safe and supportive environment to immerse themselves in the joys of childhood. On a daily basis our students play, create, experiment, get dirty, problem solve and have fun. This is life’s lesson plan for young children and we are here to help guide them through this magical time in their lives.