The Willowbound Approach
Child-centered, Nature-based, Project-driven
Our curriculum design is highly intentional.
The overarching goal here at The Nature School at Willowbound Farm is to develop each child’s passion for learning. How do young children engage in and relate to the learning process? What are some habits of mind, ways of thinking, or learning dispositions that will start young children on the path to becoming enthusiastic lifelong learners?
Our answers to these questions are based on a wealth of child development research and the best of current teaching methods in early childhood education. Young children are joyfully engaged in learning when experiences are child-centered, nature-based, and project-driven.
A child-centered curriculum is based on the idea that early childhood is a unique and valued stage of life. Three and four-year-old children have magical, curious, and egocentric thinking. They are active, natural explorers, and love the question, “Why?” During this distinctive stage children grow physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually.
Being child-centered considers how children learn in each of these areas and considers the sequence of skills as they develop. With fine motor writing for example, toddlers grab a crayon and start making random marks using their whole arm. Then they move from whole arm scribbles to holding a crayon with a thumb and two fingers and scribble watching the circle, vertical, and horizontal lines. Later they hold a pencil with greater skill and can make diagonal lines, then they begin to imitate shapes, and write the letters in their name. Understanding these sequences of growth directs lesson plans based on what specific three to five-year-old children can do and how that growth progresses over time.
A joyful classroom, understanding feelings, promoting conversations with peers, dynamic child-selected learning areas, open-ended materials, dramatic play, active outdoor play, puzzles, blocks, cooking, nature and art exploration facilitate all types of learning that is appropriate for three and four-year-old children.
Reading readiness is also developed at The Nature School at Willowbound Farm. It begins with encouraging a rich speaking-listening vocabulary, dialogic book readings, singing songs with alliteration and rhyme, predicting plot and book endings, memorizing favorite stories, writing down childrens’ stories, and children documenting their projects through pictures, letters, and words.
Rachel Carlsen said, “If children are to keep alive their inborn sense of wonder, they need the companionship of adults who can share it, rediscovering with them the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” We have decided to be those adults.
Nature provides boundless opportunities for observing, exploring, questioning, discovering, growing, and learning. Outdoor exploration, once a universal daily activity, now requires purposeful places. Nature is part of our daily preschool curriculum through four planned environments: a Reggio Emilia inspired classroom, a playground with organic structures, a hobby farm, and wild acreage.
These natural environments create authentic learning, or “real-world” discussions, problems, and projects where children can meaningfully construct ideas and relationships through raising chicks, gardening, following frozen animal tracks, or cooperating to move a large tree branch.
Early childhood education can be a learning laboratory, a place where children and teachers share the intellectual joy of exploring answers to active meaningful questions.
A variety of self-selected activities are planned for children each day based on their strengths, abilities, and interests. From these activities particular relationships and questions emerge. A teacher is assigned each day to pay close attention and carefully record conversations, questions, and the actions of children.
Teachers collaborate and interpret children’s daily inquiries to form new questions and interpret what might make up the next step to challenge the children to new levels of learning in the context of play on the following learning day. Teachers plan new activities to pose new questions and answers for the children to discover, develop, and deepen the learning on a topic or big idea.