Berkshire Country Day School’s Preschool program is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. The program provides a nurturing educational environment, while offering a child-centered curriculum to support each child’s learning style and development readiness. Our experienced and talented teachers cultivate and encourage each child’s development through experiences that foster a passion for learning. Children are encouraged to explore, play, take risks, listen, and find their voices in creative and expressive ways. Located in historic Albright Hall on BCD’s 27-acre campus, BCD’s recently remodeled preschool rooms are open and bright, and provide ready access to the outdoors, large preschool playground, and the gym. Other supervised learning opportunities on the campus include visits to the pond, hikes on trails in the neighboring woods, and attending assemblies in the Furey Music Room.
Preschool Program Highlights
- A nurturing and stimulating educational environment for young children.
- A curriculum that foster a passion for learning and supports each child’s learning style and developmental readiness.
- A strong partnership between parents and teachers is essential and cultivated through home visits, weekly blog posts, student profile reports, and parent-teacher conferences. The lines of communication are always open between home and school.
- Specialty teachers lead classes in French, music, library, and physical education.
- Children gain confidence, adapt to group experiences, learn to respect others, find their voices, and become life-long learners.
- Children develop social skills and practice cooperation through purposeful work and play.
- The natural world is an extension of the classroom and used throughout the day to connect play and learning. Students use the pond and the miles of hiking trails as well as using found, natural materials in classroom projects.
- Students share backgrounds, celebrate holiday traditions, enjoy food from all over the world, read stories, and listen to music to discover the differences and commonalities that we share.
- Children’s remarks, photographs of work and representations of their thinking and learning are used by the teacher to document and hypothesize about the direction of learning. These are displayed in the classroom and shared with visitors.
- Peer Reading program models and encourages reading in a healthy, social context with lower school partners.
- A variety of enrollment options available are available including an Extended-Day Program until 5:30 p.m.
- Literacy skills progress through exposure to literature, storytelling, songs, reflective listening, and class meetings. This work develops a rich base in expressive and receptive language.
- Early math concepts are explored through hands-on use of materials such as manipulatives, puzzles, and blocks to promote the understanding of concepts, patterning, sequencing, comparing, and spatial relationships.
- Children are introduced to the scientific process by engaging in concrete activities such as observing and recording plant growth, caring for animals, following the weather, researching at the pond, and exploring the outdoors.
- Children are helped to express themselves and build vocabulary by being read to, looking at books, and conversing during circle and activity times.
- Children sing, dance, play rhythm instruments, and act out stories during music class and listen to music from all over the world.
- French is introduced through songs, stories, games, and play by a specialist.
- Imagination is encouraged in art and project-based activities; students have opportunities to be creative every day, using a variety of materials.
- The social studies curriculum emphasizes knowledge of the students’ families, communities, and the world around them. This understanding empowers students to feel connected and confident in school and in life.
The Reggio Emilia Approach – A Brief Introduction
The Reggio Emilia approach was developed in the 1940’s in the Italian city of the same name. The approach was founded by Loris Malaguzzi, an educator who drew from the work of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and other child psychologists. A core belief of his was that all children have natural intellectual inclinations and innate abilities. He sought to create a comprehensive approach to early childhood education that would focus on fostering these dispositions and talents. Today, the core beliefs of Reggio Emilia have been embraced worldwide, and the approach is considered by many to be one of the best and most innovative, and one that is most consistent with how young children learn. Educators whose work is influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach continue to stay current and research childhood development and how children learn to inform their practice. The work of David Hawkins, Jerome Bruner, and Howard Gardner have been cited as some of the many psychologists and philosophers who have had an impact on their teaching in recent years. Distinguishing features of the Reggio Emilia approach include:
The image of the child. All children have preparedness, potential, curiosity; they have interest in relationship, in constructing their own learning, and in negotiating with everything the environment brings to them. Children should be considered as active citizens with rights, as contributing members, with their families, of their local community.
Children’s relationships and interactions within a system. Education has to focus on each child, not considered in isolation, but seen in relation with the family, with other children, with the teachers, with the environment of the school, with the community, and with the wider society. Each school is viewed as a system in which all these relationships, which are all interconnected and reciprocal, are activated and supported.
The role of parents. Parents are an essential component of the program; a competent and active part of their children’s learning experience. They are not considered consumers but co-responsible partners. Their right to participation is expected and supported; it takes many forms, and can help ensure the welfare of all children in the program.
The role of space: amiable schools. The infant-toddler centers and preschools convey many messages, of which the most immediate is: this is a place where adults have thought about the quality and the instructive power of space. The lay-out of physical space fosters encounters, communication, and relationships. Children learn a great deal in exchanges and negotiations with their peers; therefore teachers organize spaces that support the engagement of small groups.
Teachers and children as partners in learning. A strong image of the child has to correspond to a strong image of the teacher. Teachers are not considered protective baby-sitters, teaching basic skills to children but rather they are seen as learners along with the children. They are supported, valued for their experience and their ideas, and seen as researchers. Cooperation at all levels in the schools is the powerful mode of working that makes possible the achievement of the complex goals that Reggio educators have set for themselves.
Not a pre-set curriculum but a process of inviting and sustaining learning. Once teachers have prepared an environment rich in materials and possibilities, they observe and listen to the children in order to know how to proceed with their work. Teachers use the understanding they gain thereby to act as a resource for them. They ask questions and thus discover the children’s ideas, hypotheses, and theories. They see learning not as a linear process but as a spiral progression and consider themselves to be partners in this process of learning. After observing children in action, they compare, discuss, and interpret together with other teachers their observations, recorded in different ways, to leave traces of what has been observed. They use their interpretations and discussions to make choices that they share with the children.
The power of documentation. Transcriptions of children’s remarks and discussions, photographs of their activity, and representations of their thinking and learning are traces that are carefully studied. These documents have several functions. The most important among them is to be tools for making hypotheses (to project) about the direction in which the work and experiences with the children will go. Once these documents are organized and displayed they help to make parents aware of their children’s experience and maintain their involvement. They make it possible for teachers to understand the children better and to evaluate the teachers’ own work, thus promoting their professional growth; they make children aware that their effort is valued; and furthermore, they create an archive that traces the history of the school.
The many languages of children. Art. The teacher is usually prepared in the visual arts (but also in other expressive arts), and their classroom contains a great variety of tools and resource materials, along with records of past projects and experiences. What is done with materials and media is not regarded as art per se, because in the view of Reggio educators the children’s use of many media is not a separate part of the curriculum but an inseparable, integral part of the whole cognitive/symbolic expression involved in the process of learning.
Projects. Projects provide the narrative and structure to the children’s and teachers’ learning experiences. They are based on the strong conviction that learning by doing is of great importance and that to discuss in groups and to revisit ideas and experiences is essential to gain better understanding and to learn. Projects may start either from a chance event, an idea or a problem posed by one or more children, or an experience initiated directly by teachers. They can last from a few days to several months. Educators in Reggio Emilia have no intention of suggesting that their program should be looked at as a model to be copied in other countries; rather, they consider their work as an educational experience that consists of reflection on theory, practice, and further careful reflection in a program that is continuously renewed and re-adjusted. Considering the enormous interest that educators show in the work done in the Reggio schools, they suggest that teachers and parents in each school, any school, anywhere, could in their own context reflect on these ideas, keeping in focus always the relationships and learning that are in process locally to examine needs and strengths, thus finding possible ways to construct change. (excerpted from: Introduction to the Fundamental Values of the Education of Young Children in Reggio Emilia, Lella Gandini, 2008)
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