Hilltop Children’s Center, Seattle

A long time ago I decided to go back to uni and do some post graduate studies in Early Childhood adding to my Bachelor of Education in Primary Education.  I attended Macquarie University from 2003-2005.  One of the preschools we used in many subjects was Hilltop. We watched videos of and read about the centre  in many articles.

I was very fortunate to be able to include a visit to Hilltop on this trip.Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 9.18.44 pm

However the school has moved sites since I studied.  It previously was located on the top of Queen Anne hill from 1971, and moved to a purpose built space in 2008.  In the new centre they were able to incorporate architectural elements such as glass “peek-a-boo” windows, Reggio Emilia inspired studio spaces adjacent to classrooms, a community studio, faculty workroom with shared resources, conference room for meetings with parents and educators, ‘Big Body’ room for indoor active play and outdoor play space located along the ship canal. They also have a pull out Spanish class and an after school and vacation program for school age children.  Each class is multi age.  Classrooms are furnished with older home style furnishings and real object such as silver tea sets.

Hilltop uses a responsive curriculum.  A ball toss analogy was used to describe the ‘to and fro’ of child and educator instigations and planning.  Emergent Curriculum projects grow through many opportunities for children to represent, reflect on, and think critically about what they know. Child-led investigations may last an hour, a day, a week, or may develop into an In-Depth Investigation that spans several months. In this kind of responsive curriculum, children’s enthusiasm fuels the learning process, while educators offer provocations and activities to extend the children’s work,  describe the work through pedagogical documentation and learning stories, and gather parent perspective on their child’s experience.

Educators at Hilltop spend time in reflective teaching practices:

  • planning the environment for learning
  • observing as children play and interact with each other
  • designing curriculum based on their observations

I noticed on the walls of the hall ways and in classrooms the teachers asking for parent perspectives.   – note the post-it notes and pens on strings in the photo below.

IMG_9486IMG_9472

Teachers also communicate with parents through blogs. An example in one room- the teacher added the email communication to her questions in her documentation.  Her question was “What is your child experiencing right now with literacy?  What draws them in? How do you explore literacy at home with your child?  Also what questions/ thoughts/ wonderings/observations do you have about literacy in early childhood?

These documentations  and blog print outs become part of curriculum planning and programming in binders with monthly dividers.

Hilltop plan the class environment to promote discovery and engagement – environment as the ‘third teacher’ setting up provocations with “invitations to learning” for large and small group work facilitated by educators. Lighting is an important feature in all classrooms for a more home-like feel.  Materials are displayed and stored in baskets and other natural materials for display.

I met with one teacher to discuss PreK-to Kindergarten transition from Hilltop. Challenges seem to be many of the students attend many different public and private schools so there is no set plans.  Many families applying to private schools require an application supported by a report from the school.  Hilltop belive they ensure their children are school ready – where they developementatlly Teachers and Parents meet regularly and together construct the Mid year Conference Developmental Worksheet ( report).  On this report they reflect on these five significant learning areas:-

  • Personal Development – Social and emotional development, relating to others, sense of self
  • Physical Development – using large and small muscles, physical confidence, energy level
  • Language Development – listening, speaking, understanding, exploring reading and writing
  • Logical Development- curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, number sense, investigation
  • Creative Development – artistic representation, dramatic play, sensory play, music and dance

Books bought to my attention which have influenced many practices at Hilltop I will have a look at when I am at home are:-

 

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