Baker Demonstration School Class of 2016

Last spring, as I sat at our Baker graduation, I marveled at the unique qualities of each graduate. I watched as each student communicated their image of themselves and their Baker experience in their own voice through their own chosen mode of expression. I was enthralled by my colleagues’ wit and knowledge as they captured the essence of each young student with joy and love. I remember thinking, with pride, that this community of learners, educators, and families comprises a collection of individuals committed to protecting childhood. Magic does happen and it happens at Baker. This begs the question…where does it all begin?

To answer this question, I’d like to take you with me on a journey to where this all begins…Early Childhood and Primary at Baker. When one hears the words Baker Demonstration School, one immediately thinks of progressive education and a place that truly embraces the whole child. These threads of thought are pervasive throughout our legacy as an institution whether looking from the perspective of our schoolhouse 100 years ago or from the lens of a 10-year-old independent school. Let’s take our journey together and see how these thoughts and principles actually look and continue to thrive in our Early Childhood and Primary classrooms at Baker today.

First and foremost, children are at the center of all that we do. As we plan for children, we look at children. Our image of the child is strong and capable, wrapped in the love and experience of her family. It is an unsaid agreement that the parents are the experts on their child, while we educators are the experts on the broader developmental level. And then, together we form a partnership to help our children become the people they were born to be. Our educators appreciate the full arc of the student experience through time. We understand the “we” nature of three year olds as they move into their first school experience. We see and foster the grand and magical thinking of four year olds. We acknowledge that the serene and sunny five year old’s center of the universe are the parental figures in their lives. We know that the six year old is truly the center of his/her own universe. We recognize that seven brings a kind of turning inward and worry about what others are thinking about them. This knowledge of general developmental patterns and dispositions guides how we make our responses.

In the early years, the context and the environment is truly the “Third Teacher.” Teaching is like the making of art. In the creation of a piece of art, every decision matters. When you walk into our Early Childhood and Primary classrooms, you see materials that beckon and provoke thought. In our classrooms, there are multiple materials that support and facilitate the knowledge that young children learn through all of their various modalities. Children are invited to touch, to build, to take apart, to put together, to taste, to listen, to invent, to collaborate, and to struggle, to problem solve…and most importantly to reveal themselves to each other and their teachers. We want to know our children, not change them. We have the honor of serving as guides through their explorations of the world around them and friendships they create.

Play is the language that weaves this thoughtful experience together. While engaged in play, the growing child is compelled to try on other roles and characters. In the context of play, the child acquires the skills of planning, decisions making, negotiation, focus, managing disappointment, and the satisfaction of success. Experience is the central practice in a progressive education and play/simulation is the language of childhood.

Here is where the “magic” begins…

Watch as our young children enter their school day and you will see all of this woven together like the harmonies of a melodious ensemble. You will see one young three year old (only having experienced a mere 36 months on the planet!), say to his parent…”no not today, I’m not going in there.” In response, a knowing teacher quietly engages the child in conversation about dinosaurs (already knowing this to be his true love). You will see a ready teaching associate softly put out a basket of dinosaurs and books. The temptation is too great and his resistance melts away…he is engaged and ready for the day. Magic.

While you are watching, you will see a five-year-old move through a complicated ritual for saying good-bye that comforts a re-emerging anxiety around letting go of his parents. The teacher calmly accommodates the child’s need, knowing that five brings a deeper understanding of cause and effect resulting in worry about parents returning. After a ritual walk about the playground, the child runs to play soccer…he, too, is engaged and ready for the day. Magic.

As you migrate upstairs to our second grade, you will see a quiet conversation between a mother and daughter. Slowly, the teacher joins the conversation, connecting the hesitant child with another friend around the early work of the morning. The child makes the step over the threshold with her friend…she is also engaged and ready for the day. Magic.

Baker magic does happen. It happens during these foundational years in a way that fosters each child’s learning dispositions and unique qualities while building a strong foundation for future growth. The experience can feel seamless and belie the thought, knowledge, and execution of a progressive practice that “trickles up” all the way to eighth grade graduation. Magic…

It is my hope that this article is the beginning of many conversations about parenting and childhood. Join us in upcoming chats and events. Coming up on Saturday, October 15 is our first annual Sing a Song of Baker. This is an opportunity for our youngest families to work together to prepare our gardens for winter, share refreshment, and be led in song by our own Baker Pied Piper…Stacy Buehler. Come and serve our world and make a memory together.

“WE ARE FRIENDS WHEN WE HAVE MEMORIES TOGETHER.”

Coming attraction: Reflection and the meaning of shared experience in the context of a progressive education!

Warmest wishes for a happy fall,

Merle Scharmann
Division Coordinator Early Childhood and Primary