Boulder Journey School

Where do I begin with my day with such inspiring early educators in such an amazing environment?

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Boulder Journey School is a privately owned school catering for over 250 children from infants to Pre-K. The school sits at the foot of the beautiful snow topped Rockie Mountains in Colorado.

After an initial introduction to the school I was shown through the various rooms, playgrounds and other facilities by Alex, introducing me to the many staff members.

The philosophy and pedagogy are inspired by the schools in Reggio  Emilia, Italy. The  school is an explosion of amazing colour, creativity, imagination and happy sounds throughout the classrooms, the studio, the theatre, the hallways and outdoors.  Parent and community involvement is high and very evident throughout the school.

The co-construction of knowledge is the base of the schools philosophy and value the ‘school as a community of learners who collaborate in dialogue with one another as they… explore and discover, organise and interpret information, ask questions and build answers, propose ideas and strategies, make choices and negotiate decisions, generate hypotheses, test theories and ask more questions, solve problems, define meanings based on values, build new understandings and project further investigations.’

Boulder Journey School provides high quality professional development opportunities for educators.  They offer Study Tours- a personalised day visit combing observations and meeting with facility members (which is what I experienced yesterday)  Consulting-within your own setting. Teacher Education Program -partnership internship with University Of Colorado Denver and the Colorado Department of Education. Summer Conference – 23-24 June  2016, presentations from the faculty and hands on workshops.  Seen and Heard : Children’s Rights in Early Childhood Education– written by the schools founder;  Dr Ellen Hall and colleague; Dr Jennifer Rudkin – I purchased!  The children of the school have written their own Rights of a Child.

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One of my favourite spaces was the ‘Loose Parts’ room. Here there is a explosion of organised colour and bits and bobs for teachers and students to come ‘shop’ for classroom projects or intentional provocations.

I had not heard of Loose parts until today and needed to look up the research – The Theory of Loose Parts.  The theory of loose parts has begun to influence child-play experts and playscape designers in a big way.

It was first proposed back in the 1970’s by architect Simon Nicholson, who believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that empower our creativity.

What are Loose Parts?

In a preschool, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.

They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials.

Loose parts can be natural or synthetic. For example in a preschool outdoor environment we can provide an array of loose parts for use in play:

  • stones,
  • stumps,
  • sand,
  • gravel,
  • fabric,
  • twigs,
  • wood,
  • pallets,
  • balls,
  • buckets,
  • baskets,
  • crates,
  • boxes,
  • logs,
  •  rope,
  • tyres,
  • shells and
  • seedpods.

To keep this room with a variety of materials the school has monthly drives from parents to bring in items. Not only does this give purpose for many items ordinarily thrown out in the home garbage collections eventuating in local landfill facilities, it promotes parents to look at materials in a different way. Parents are asked to bring in for example sparkly things around February as stores have items for Valentines Day. Bags are provided for parents to collect when on family outings. 70 percent of the families are mountain climbers and hikers said Alex – so many natural items are also collected.

It is well known ‘The environment as the third teacher’ –  and wow is all I can say – all the spaces were amazing. I met with teacher Kyle who told me about how he has changed and evolved his classroom with the student over the year to ensure the teachers were at ease and the children have equal respect for their spaces and its belongings.  He respects the  independence of children and allows them to access the materials they need, furniture at their level and promotes clean spaces and materials to show respect and value.

Each room has a studio along with a school studio with a studio teacher where an artist in residence works with each class. Class studios have a large variety of visual art materials within student access to create beautiful and very child centred pieces . Block and dramatic play areas are also well resourced and full of ‘real’ items to add to their play. Quiet spaces with comfortable chairs and/cushions are in each room also.

I discussed programming with many staff members including Leslie and noticed the most popular method was the flexibility and immediate response to observations and needs was using a ‘post-it’ note.  All programming is child and teacher driven, responding to student interests ( for example the pre-K room’s long term class ‘Touching Rock Museum’ stemmed from a boy lining up rocks on the fence last autumn.

All teachers are given 2 hours planning time and meeting with teams, co-teachers and interns.  Google Calendar is also used in planning as many are not at school on the same days with commitments still at the university.  Many projects are planned in webs, on white boards, parent displayed , photographed, blogged and each student has a journey book ( portfolio) throughout their time at the school.  This is updated monthly.  Projects can be short or longterm – depends on the children’s interest, literacy and numeracy, science and art are all interwoven into projects.

One programming model I liked was the post-it notes ( 4 colours for the 4 staff members) observations were placed under the 3 headings

What                                                  So What                                           Now What

(observations)                   (curriculum possibilities)                 (where did it lead)

My last talk was with Jenny  one of the Pre-K teachers on transition to Kindergarten for the students from Boulder Journey School.

We both agreed that our two settings are totally pedagogical different and we need to find some common ground.

At their school they have a ‘Kindergarten Week’ where the children and the families are prepared for the transition.  Simple activities which are so ‘school’ like such as – calling their teachers now by Mr/Mrs etc, keeping their shoes on all week, no toys from home, lining up, using bathroom passes, lunch trays and hot food made by parent volunteers, teacher directed lessons (yes even worksheets!!) and then I cringed when I heard…..they do school craft – with a paper plate and pipe cleaners  …..oh wow there is a lot of this in schools I admit and SO different from the creatively and self expressive art they have done throughout their prior to school experiences.

DO WE NEED TO BE SO DIFFERENT AT SCHOOL???? – we need to bring these two worlds closer together.

I also liked their ‘Travel Guide’ – Advise booklet for children going to Elementary School for the first time written by past students now in year 1 or 2.

Boulder Journey school is on social media  and have a comprehensive website  http://www.boulderjourneyschool.com/

I would like to thank all the staff for their time- particularly Alex Cruickshank (Study Program Coordinator) and Alison Maher (Education Director) for a truly wonderful day.

 

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