At Cow Hollow School our social constructivist approach to early education acts as both lens and guide for designing curriculum, spaces and experiences that honors children and childhood. Our inquiry focused curriculum places value on the thinking, exploration, play, investigations, relationships and theories of the young learner. Through rich, learner centered experiences, it is our goal to cultivate curiosity, critical thinking, stewardship, social responsibility and a lifelong love of learning.
The activities, resources, and interactions within the classroom and out are organized to provide children with routines and rituals, while at the same time, challenging each child to reach his/her potential as a learner, producer, listener, and participant within a diverse community of children and adults.
Our Guiding Principles and belief that all children are capable and competent demands that we honor the thinking, questions, theories, and ideas of the young learner. Children, from birth, are asking questions about the world around them, the people within it and wondering who, how and why everything is the way it is. Inquiry based learning is the structure we use to design experiences, set up materials, our environment, and organize interactions to make room for children’s wonderful ideas and to respect their contributions.
Cow Hollow School’s approach to children’s learning has grown out of our deep questions about the nature of children in education. Through inquiry work we address the questions; how do we teach to a room full of different temperaments, approaches to learning, and dispositions? How do we place value on who children are and what they think and feel? How do we recognize and celebrate their competencies? How do we make visible, their feelings, thoughts, and experiences? We have come to know that when we understand how to acknowledge the rights of children we are then able to co-create a curriculum to educate and inspire. Through children’s investigations, explorations, and discovery we learn that children create understanding, not through opposites or being told, but in a continuum of experiences that builds, provokes, and reveals. The children’s inquiries represent beauty, intelligence, creativity, respect for the world and emphasis on the quality of life.
The goals of inquiry work are to create a school culture in which:
- Parents, students and teachers are all learners
- Students see themselves as thinkers
- Everyday acts of teaching and learning lead to thinking
- Process is valued, acknowledged, nurtured and celebrated
- We uncover a topic in a way that raises questions and asks learners to think critically
- Collaboration is valued
- We practice a pedagogy of listening
- Children grow up without sacrificing their present, their childhood
Through inquiry work the children are pushed to ask themselves:
- What kind of world is this? (Perception)
- What does it remind me of? (Reflection)
- Who creates, produces, and witnesses this process? (Who and What)
The role of the adult within inquiry work:
- Bridge – to new knowledge, informal and formal knowledge, to interactions, prior and new experiences, to representations
- Witness – observe and articulate beliefs, perceptions, and competencies both personal and collective
- Mediator – create structure and direction
A child’s day at CHS will include some or all of these activities:
Teachers supervise the drop-off process and help children transition from home to school.
Circle Time and Family Culture Share
At the beginning of each day the children gather with the teachers and teaching parents to greet one another and share in a group experience that may include conversation about the encounters and experiences from the preceding days, information about projects and daily activities, a Family Culture Share, a story, and/or a song. At circle we remember, share, reflect, offer and establish meaning together. Circle time for the older children can last as long as 30 to 40 minutes. The children pose problems to the community and collaborate on potential solutions and mutual understanding. Parents are encouraged to join and share with the children at this time.
Activities, Small Group or Committee Work, Jobs, and Walks
After the children have gathered together, they break off into small groups to work on activities, small group or committee work, take care of their classroom job or go on walks.
Creative Art Activities
A variety of rich and authentic materials such as paints, scissors, shells, wood, fabric, clay, collage materials of interesting color, size and texture are available. Children are encouraged, but not required, to participate in the planned activities.
Choices and Classroom Exploration
Children explore the classroom, continue previously started projects and work in small and/or large groups. The structure of activities, resources, and interactions within the classroom are organized in such a way to provide children with comfortable and familiar routines, yet at the same time, there is an emphasis on play and child-initiated projects.
Children explore their surrounding through walks in The Presidio. These walks are designed to develop children’s sense of adventure, mindfulness, risk taking, curiosity, imagination, physical expressivity, community and empathy. Classes return to special places throughout the year to foster a sense caring and stewardship towards the environment.
Snack, Hand washing and Toileting
The snack is intended to provide, in addition to wholesome nourishment, an opportunity for children and adults to gather together.
Movement / Outside Play
Children engage in active play, movement activities and dance, both outdoors and inside the school. Children choose from a variety of equipment such as tumble mats, tunnels, balance beams, push toys, balls and sensory play.
During the course of the school year we will have various guests, programs and fieldtrips connected to the children’s project work.
As members of the CHS community parents make a commitment to attend 5 enrichment events per year. For the 1st and 2nd year at CHS, the mandatory events include the following: Back to School Night, both By-Class Roundtables (one in the fall and one in the spring), R.E.A.L. Parenting and Teaching presentation, and 3 hours of Flexible Family Participation Requirement. For the 3rd year and beyond, to meet your 5 enrichment events requirement, you may substitute the R.E.A.L. Parenting and Teaching presentation for Flex time, a COLLABORATORY seminar, or an Innovative Teachers Project Faculty Presentation (or attend R.E.A.L. Parenting again). CLICK HERE for more descriptions of events and commitments.
CHS believes strongly in the benefits for young children of connecting school and home experiences. The following list highlights our commitment to bridging what happens inside the school to what happens outside the school, at home.
Workshops are offered to parents and teachers for the purpose of collaboratively reflecting, discussing, and learning about parenting, teaching, childhood, and children. Topics may include values based parenting and teaching, children as citizens, and storytelling and building community. Click here to see schedule open to the public.
These parent teacher discussion groups occur two times per class, per year. Historically, the teachers and families of the class choose a topic in advance. During the discussion participants are involved in a co-inquiry process to delve deeper, uncover, discover, understand a problem, a concern, an area of development, a piece of a project, etc.
The spirit of togetherness enriches a community. The purpose of any All-Family Celebration is to provide a time and space when the entire school community can come together in the sharing of food, cultural experience, and memory-making.
Online daily posts and monthly journals for each class are written by each teaching team. They include description of process and inquiry, core concepts, special discoveries, the voice of the child, teacher rationale, and often the voice of the teaching parent. Reading the journals with children acts as a bridge from school to home and as a memory tool for your child’s meaningful experiences.
Gathering, organizing and presenting inquiry work and the children’s experiences provides opportunities for children, parents, and teachers to revisit, re-interpret, and build upon experiences, emphasizing the process of creating and making visible the competencies of all learners.
As a way to help children transition from home to school for the first time or at the beginning of the year the teachers offer to visit your home, at your convenience, to meet your child, discuss routines and get to know your family. Home visits are a casual, short visit in the child’s safe space, their home. Visits typically last 30-40 minutes. Some children like to show us their room, sometimes we play, sometimes a child prefers to observe while grownups chat, sometimes children hide, and however it unfolds is meaningful. Most importantly, this is a chance for the child to see the parent welcoming their new teacher into the home, to begin to recognize that we are safe people who their parents trust. Building that relationship before school even starts makes the transition into the new school year all the more comfortable for them.
The summer prior to starting at Cow Hollow School each family will be given Family Book pages to fill out and adorn with images, artifacts, and family stories and values. The Family Book stays at school during your child’s school experience (growing and changing every year) and acts as a tool for adults and children to make important connections and build relationships to your child. It is used to promote memory, as a historical reference, and to encourage shared meaning making and compassion. The Family Books are shared among the adults in each class at the Family Teas at the beginning of the school year.