Philosophy and Program
THE DEL SOL DIFFERENCE EXPLAINED
dS is alive with a caring, supportive, possibilities environment which impels children to be co-active, self-directed learners who are creatively experiencing, exploring, discovering, inquiring, collaborating, solving, evaluating, expressing, and becoming. Students discover their interests and develop their skills while experiencing the joy and fascination of real human learning.
This palpable dS difference is rooted in our commitment to the development and integration of the whole child within a "hands-on & minds-on" constructivist educational philosophy. We recognize and honor the uniqueness of each child and the multiple intelligences within.
The wide array of developmentally appropriate activities are thoughtfully and intentionally chosen to honor individual growth, creativity, and generate successes which sustain children’s natural enthusiasm for learning. Play-based creative teaching & learning and an emergent, project-based curriculum focusing on relevancy and meaning provide the rich soil to support children’s diverse abilities, interests, and learning styles. Creativity and higher level thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creative problem solving develop as children apply their expanding knowledge and skills in relevant, meaningful contexts, supporting deep, integrated growth.
All the above is built upon the foundation of personal development. Children build strong relationships with others AND with themselves, through daily opportunities with friendshipping, helping, cooperating, negotiating, expressing needs & feelings peacefully, listening compassionately, solving problems creatively, and cultivating inner resources and skills for developing self-awareness, personal empowerment, and moral character. At del Sol we seek to provide an educational experience which balances and integrates these key pillars, nurturing excited, autonomous, self-confident learners who love school and succeed in their young lives. In such an environment children experience a breadth of human learning -- feeling, thinking, connecting, creating, transforming -- as the central process of living which supports them interacting with the world with confidence and assurance.
OUR BELIEFS ABOUT CHILDREN AND LEARNING
dS’s program is based on the assumption that children are important people. We believe children have a right to be nurtured by teachers who honor them for who they are -- unique, creative individuals, capable & powerful, loving & giving, possessing a sense of wonder, curiosity, desire, excitement, a thirst for meaning, learning, and joy in living.
We know, from our own experience and from early childhood development theorists, that young children are impelled to learn, most effectively by doing and reflecting upon it. Knowledge is not something that is given to children, but is actually constructed by the individual child from within through a playful and purposeful use of his/her multiple intelligences when interacting with objects, people, and ideas. Because children are highly motivated to make sense of their world they do not need to be forced to learn. They are natural learners. Each child is viewed as a unique person with an individual pattern and timing of growth and development. Differences in abilities, development, interests, strengths, and learning styles are expected, accepted, and used to design meaningful activities which will nurture the development of “the whole child.”
Experiences are provided to stimulate socially constructed learning in all developmental areas: physical, cognitive, academic, social, emotional, intrapersonal, and creative. Underlying all interactions and activities are our goals: to foster the development of caring relationships, connectedness, competencies, thinking skills, meaning and positive feelings toward learning. Our social constructivist curriculum is emergent and integrated, relying heavily on relevancy, meaning, and higher level thinking skills. Learning centers, explorations, short/long term projects, discussions, and playful/creative activities, initiated by the children as well as the teacher, reflect current interests of the children and our school community.
- LEARNING CENTERS
Teachers prepare the environment with care and intention so children can learn through active involvement with various materials, other students and teachers. Numerous learning centers both inside and outside the classrooms are available on a daily basis for children to choose from, e.g., table & carpet manipulatives, blocks, dramatic play, art, crafts, singing/dancing/instruments, woodwork-ing, gross & fine motor equipment, animals to both observe and care for (besides the many insects and tiny critters in our garden), science explorations, math games, library/book corner, writing center, bookmaking, play structure, and sand & water explorations.
These child-directed learning centers are designed to be creative, open-ended, process-oriented experiences which span the various stages of development of 2.5-6 yr olds, allowing each child to pursue self-directed activities which are appropriate to their development. Depending on the goals and needs of the activity or children, teachers observe and move among groups and individuals to increase personal connection, offer conversation and the well-timed question to deepen engagement, validate and facilitate their ideas, extend creativity, and support skill development.
With opportunities for self-selection and self-direction, children learn to recognize the importance of their actions as they experience the effects of their choices. Herein lies the differences between growth-producing freedom and chaos. Entrusting responsibility to the child encourages self-awareness, recognizing other’s needs and perspectives, decentering, communication skills, problem solving, decision making, autonomy, and a feeling of competence and trust in oneself.
- BALANCE OF ACTIVITIES
Experiences with the self-directed learning centers described above are balanced with teacher-led activities, e.g.: circle time, personal sharing, group discussions, project work, music & movement, story time, language arts, math, social/community living, intrapersonal time, P.E., etc. This balance allows children frequent opportunities to work as individuals, partners, small groups, and large groups.
With support and guidance from teachers, children choose those activities which best fit their present developmental levels and allow them to meet their own needs. Teachers are able to spot children’s interests and follow them through, taking children’s ideas one step further -- to build on what's already there. Tremendous opportunities appear in “teachable moments.”
The major compelling focus of preschoolers is on constructing knowledge of self -- personally, socially, emotionally, physically, and extending that to relationship with others -- with just one friend, with a small group, with the immediate classroom community, and with the entire school community. Everything from a snail in the garden, to what has been brought for lunch, to a conflict between friends, or even missing mommy or daddy becomes a learning experience. Hence, mastery of academic skills is not stressed as a goal that we prescribe for our preschoolers, but rather we offer meaningful, developmentally appropriate literacy and math activities in our desire and commitment to nurture the whole child. As a child shows increasing interest in reading and writing, we gladly offer experienced support to match their budding interest and readiness.
Since the preschool child’s development requires active, direct involvement, we recognize that teacher-led activities take on a secondary and perhaps an uninteresting role for our youngest, ages 2.5 through young 4s. Therefore, participation in group times is not an expectation for children at this developmental period but rather an invitation as one of many opportunities offered.
With the growing development of 4s and 5s for increased peer and community connection, cognitive stimulation, literacy development, and skill development, our Pre-K, Transitional Kindergarten, Kindergarten combo class supports this maturing development with relevant and meaningful small and whole group teacher-led activities and extended multi-disciplinary project work that impels engagement and excited learners! See next section for details of our Pre-K, Transitional K, and K class (for children 4.5 - 5 yrs old by Sept 1 of that school school year).
- PROJECTS, LITERACY, AND MATH IN THE PRE-K, TRANSITIONAL K, AND K CLASS (4.5 - 5 yrs old by Sept. 1 of that school year)
Curriculum is integrated so that learning in all traditional subject areas occur primarily through projects and themes of study which reflect children’s interest and suggestions. For example, a social studies/science project such as creating and operating a classroom market provides a wealth of engaging opportunities for: working in collaborative groups; planning (discussing, dictating/writing or drawing plans); problem solving; categorizing merchandise; pricing; doing inventories; making uniforms, signs, advertisements; doing research by going on field trips to real markets; reading books to gather information on where various food products come from -- animals, farms, etc.; dramatizing farm life; creating plays/puppet shows; making fiction or non-fiction books on an aspect of study; singing, playing instruments, dancing, and creatively moving on an aspect of the project; working an adding machine and cash register; paying for merchandise; figuring out change; cooking/preparing meals the American, Korean, and Mexican way, etc. Skills are taught and used as needed to accomplish goals of the project, never as the goal itself. Art, music, movement, dance, active games, science, social studies, reading, writing, and math are all integrated in the project.
Concepts and skills in literacy are presented in a wholistic framework through concrete contexts that are based in relevancy and meaning, engaging young learners in playful means for progressively expanding their foundational literacy skills of auditory discrimination, sound/letter pairs, and their symbolic representation. These beginning reading and writing skills allow them to dive into developmental writing, aka transitional writing, where their self-esteem and confidence as a writer and reader begins to burst. It’s an exciting period!
Math is also presented in relevant, concrete contexts which progressively move toward symbolic and abstract representation. Our math program is much more than arithmetic skills, enabling children to be real mathematicians inventing their own methods for problem solving. The sharing, analyzing, and evaluating of various methods, checking answers, and going over disagreements creates a real learning environment of social co-construction. Our math program also teaches children to represent real world problems using symbolic drawings and math symbols as a language. A variety of physical materials, games, and activities are all utilized in our program.
- SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT, CONFLICTS AND PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS
In living our belief that caring, committed, power-with relationships are the foundation upon which del Sol exists, teachers naturally focus students’ attention, both spontaneously and with planned thought, on the importance of how we relate to each other. Not only are teachers in tune with the “teaching moment” but also to planning curriculum for social-emotional learning. As a natural part of every day children have many opportunities to develop their social skills through talking, listening, negotiating, helping, cooperating, making suggestions, voting, taking turns, sharing space and/or materials, being the leader or follower, standing up for one’s self, expressing needs and feelings in prosocial ways, etc. del Sol teachers understand the importance of facilitating and promoting these social skills at all times, as part of the curriculum. Invariably, children run into conflicts with people and other obstacles. The teacher's role in these difficult situations is not to take over and distract, judge, shame, or punish, but to serve as a magnifying glass for others by empathic listening, clarifying, exploring, and guiding. The teacher’s goal of facilitating the construction of each involved person’s understanding of their own and every involved person’s valid needs allows the child to evaluate the situation for themselves and construct a moral belief system within the context of prosocial values. Acceptance, respect, and trust from caring adults are essential to the learning and growing process. Experiencing acceptance, respect, and trust from important adults helps children to develop these qualities in themselves. Believing in oneself is the basis for all growth.
Conflicts between children or their teachers are not seen as problems that teachers themselves must solve, but as opportunities for children to learn the skills necessary to become responsible problem solvers in their own lives. Therefore, children are encouraged to work out conflicts among themselves from a non-power based approach with teachers serving as facilitator, assuming a less directive role as independence grows.
When children share a conflict situation they are having with one teacher to a confidant teacher, the same principles and approach applies. The confidant teacher encourages the child to work out the conflict with the other teacher, providing emotional support with their physical presence and modeling throughout the resolution conversation with the involved teacher. Conflicts are not seen as problems to avoid, but opportunities for greater mutual understanding and respect of both parties' feelings, needs, and requests. Win-win solutions are evaluated and implemented in an agreed upon sequence until resolution has been achieved as well as personal reconnection.
We model/teach the children to use a variety of techniques depending on the situation. Walking away from behavior that is difficult is one strategy. Using “I-messages” in a form of communication called Nonviolent Communication (NVC by Marshall Rosenberg) is another. NVC focuses on expressing and listening empathically to the facts, feelings, needs, and requests in a situation. Another strategy we also utilize is a win-win Creative Problem Solving method (by Thomas Gordon). Variations are used as the situation calls for it. Children know they can always call upon teachers to serve as facilitators in their problem solving and conflict resolution experiences. Fostering nonviolent communication and peaceful conflict resolution impact the children’s lives in very positive ways.
Parents wanting to read more about effective communication and how to address a conflict in needs between them and their children or between children or within themselves (negative emotions/reactivity), we invite you to read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Maslich, The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, Parent Effectiveness Training, 30th Anniversary edition by Thomas Gordon, Giving The Love that Heals by Harville Hendrix & Helen Hunt and many others on our bookshelf. We invite interested parents to read any or all of the above as they contain the fundamental relationship principles and approaches which we embrace.
THE DEL SOL DIFFERENCE A to Z
Active hands-on & minds-on learning, autonomy, art, awe, acceptance, anti-bias
Being, becoming, believing, beauty
Curiosity, choices, creativity, confidence, co-activity, collaboration, community, compassion, character
Doing, discovering, discussing, decisions, differences, developmentally appropriate
Engagement, enthusiasm, enjoying, empathizing, emotional intelligence
Feelings, friendship, fairness, forgiveness, freedom, faith, flourishing, fun
Growing, guiding, giving, genuine, generosity, goals
Helping, honoring, higher-level thinking skills, honesty
Individuality, imagination, ideas, investigation, inspiration, involved, independent
Knowing, knowledge, kindness
Learning styles, laughing, listening, loving
Motivation, meaningful, multiple intelligences, movement, music, mistakes
Non-graded, non-competitive, negotiating, nonviolence, non-judgment
Open-ended, open-hearted, observing, opportunities, ordinary moments of extraordinary possibilities
Play, problem solving, projects, planning, power-with, parents, peace, personal, perspective taking
Questing, questioning, quiet moments
Relationships, respect, resourcefulness, risk-taking, resilience, reflection, responsibility
Self, safe, sharing, support, scaffolding, skills, self-esteem, surprise, social intelligence
Trust, together, teamwork, thinking skills, thinking openly, transformation
Valuing, viewpoints, volunteers, Vygotsky
Whole child, wondering, win-win, wholeness
Xcitement, 'x'periencing, 'x'ploring, 'x'panding, 'x'pressing