tides of education have flowed for centuries between imposed structure
and internal structure; teacher-directedness and child-directedness;
Froebels Conservatism and Dewey Progressivism; Back-to-Basics
and Open Classrooms; back and forth, mixing, creating derivatives.
Early childhood education is itself a progressive, interdisciplinary
field, and all preschools, including Griffin Nursery School, have
the same beliefs:
• that young children are purposeful
individuals who learn by doing;
• that they learn through concrete experiences, through
• that they move through universal developmental stages
that have been described by various models, but that they also
have unique temperaments and learning styles;
• that play is the predominant mode in which children
invent, practice, and extend who they are;
• that a good education tends to children in all emotional,
social, physical, intellectual, and creative respects;
• and that children need to feel competent, useful, and
appreciated in their families and in their communities of peers.
A distinct characteristic of Griffin Nursery
School, though, is the strength of its commitment to John Dewey’s
progressive model of education as a student-driven affair, in
which children learn most effectively through the demands of their
social context. Because of her conviction that three- and four-year-olds
are especially suited to self-directed exploration and that they
move through predictable stages of socialization, Elinor Griffin
always kept her classes unencumbered by unnecessary routine; and year after year at Griffin Nursery School social structures have sprouted and grown into communities of children experienced in making and maintaining friends, taking turns, speaking up, listening, taking roles, leading, following—all the skills necessary for the more structured and formal days ahead in primary school.
Group Time IS a teacher-directed period of our day, a twenty-minute to half-hour period at the end of each of the morning and afternoon sessions. In the mornings, we think a short time of enjoyable togetherness (songs, dancing, games, discussions, stories) helps build community. In the afternoons we add some kindergarten readiness skills---fine motor, listening, and teamwork practice---to the mix.
In the mornings children eat school-provided snacks and home-provided lunch together. In the afternoons they eat at designated tables from their lunchboxes when they are hungry, and before Group Time they are assigned to small cadres to share a school-provided, family-style snack.
But generally speaking, the teachers do not
determine the children’s agendas. The role of the staff
is to give love, respect, and affection, to provide safe and secure
boundaries, and to help children develop their relationships,
their play, and their skills.