Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What makes The Little Brown School unique if it teaches the same accepted standards as other excellent preschool programs?
A. It's not about what the children learn, but how they learn it. At The Little Brown School, we know that early childhood is a time when learning is rapid and ongoing. For that reason, we offer an emergent curriculum designed to allow children to learn the concepts and skills that will enable them to excel in Kindergarten and beyond. The difference between The Little Brown School and a "traditional" preschool is how the children learn those concepts and skills. The Reggio Emilia approach embraces the natural curiosity and inquisitiveness of children. It uses the real questions and curiosities of the children to create a curriculum that engages the children, gives them ownership of their learning and as a result, instills a love of learning in a child.
Rather than pulling children through a teacher’s pre-determined linear sequence of skills such as letter of the week or color of the month, our children learn concepts and skills in an emergent curriculum which is tailored to the interests and inquiries of the students. Adept teachers know what their students know and are able to pull educational opportunities out of meaningful real-life experiences.
In addition to the standards, The Little Brown School incorporates opportunities for learning about service to others, global cultures, fine arts, classical music, environmental stewardship and healthy living.
Q. Is Reggio Emilia the same as Montessori?
A. No. While the two approaches have some similarities, they also have distinct differences. One main difference is the level of interaction between the teachers and students - in Reggio Emilia schools the teachers are more actively involved in the learning process. Another distinction is the "play-based" learning approach. In Reggio Emilia schools, play is not discouraged. Imaginative play and creativity is actively encouraged. A third major difference is the level of cooperation and collaboration amongst the children and teachers. In the Montessori approach, children are encouraged to teach one another, but each child is responsible for his own "work" whereas in Reggio Emilia the children are actively encouraged to work as a group.
Q. What does the Reggio Emilia approach look like in practice?
A. In practice, the Reggio Emilia approach appears to be child-driven and flexible. In a Reggio classroom you will find students who are actively engaged in various investigations and who are eager to share their knowledge and experience with others. You will find teachers working alongside the students to guide them and to provide them with resources to enhance their investigations. Here is an example of how an investigation may evolve.
After noticing a bird's nest in a tree near the playground, several children become very interested in where the nest came from, who built it, how, when, why? The children ask lots of questions (typical of toddlers and preschoolers). The teacher then recognizes that there is a significant level of interest in the class about birds; she develops an investigation built around the study of birds. The students then look closely at birds’ feathers with magnifying glasses, read books about birds, look at real birds on the computer and observe bird eggs incubating. After investigating, the children may learn that some birds are brown, some are white, some are red and blue and yellow (color concepts). They may note that birds hatch from eggs and that those eggs are oval in shape. They may also learn through observation that birds have two wings, two eyes and one beak (learning one to one correspondence of numbers). They will be able to answer questions such as how do birds make nests? Do birds have families? When do birds sleep? Older children would study patterns in real and constructed nests. They may use their interest in birds to practice emerging writing and phonics skills by creating bird books or learning to sound out the names of common birds seen at their school. Younger children would explore the various colors shapes and textures of different materials that could be used to build nests.
In this approach, not only are the children learning important concepts such as letters, numbers, colors, shapes and patterns in a meaningful and authentic way, they are also gaining rich vocabulary, hands-on learning experiences and the ability to think outside of the box to problem-solve and research. They are able to express their new knowledge through a variety of “languages” such as painting a bird with two wings, two eyes and a beak, creating a nest from materials similar to those observed in a real nest, or by acting out a baby bird cracking out of her shell.
The bird project may also provide an opportunity to incorporate some additional concepts like environmental stewardship as the children could discuss what kinds of things a bird needs to live (clean air, water and trees). The children would have the opportunity to create bird houses from found materials, or they could install bird feeders on site for additional observation opportunities (counting the number of birds at the feeder or comparing sizes of birds to understand relativity). It would also provide opportunities to discuss other cultures and languages, because the children may wonder about where the birds go during winter. The teacher may then incorporate materials about South America into the project, and in that context, the children may learn words associated with the project (e.g. bird, red, 1,2,3,4,5, fly, nest) in Spanish and French. The bird project would also allow for the integration of fine arts and classical music; works depicting birds by master artists may be reviewed, and the children may listen to particular composers and interpret the music through bird-like movements.
Birds are just one small example of the type of thing that could spark a project at The Little Brown School. Reggio Emilia programs emphasize real-life experiences, and with such a rich variety of environments in our area, the possibilities are endless. The key is that the children’s interests are the elements that determine the projects. The results are children who truly investigate, explore and solve problems.