People sometimes ask us: how does a Reggio-inspired preschool differ from traditional preschools?
Traditional preschools focus largely on teaching children skills by repetition or through rote memorization. As a Reggio-inspired program, we seek to follow the lead of the children as they make discoveries through play and the manipulation of materials.
We view ourselves as facilitators of learning, sharing in the children's joy, wonder and curiosity. Our classrooms are considered the "third teacher" and focus on natural elements and materials. We use loose parts and a collection of open-ended materials to help each child to express themselves creatively. We provide access to mediums of self-expression including music, movement and art. We believe children must be allowed to explore, create and innovate to maximize their potential and become confident learners and critical thinkers.
Our Ganon classroom (pre-K) is rated Paths to QUALITY Level 3 ensuring that your child has access to the 10 learning centers (art, music, sensory, writing, literacy, mathematics, science, blocks, dramatic play and manipulatives), a developmentally appropriate child-led curriculum and qualified early childhood educators. Our small class sizes allow for individual and small group instruction to support differentiated learning within the classroom so that your child can continue to develop along their own unique growth trajectory. Provocations and invitations to play promote discovery and wonder within your child to foster a life-long love of learning.
Additionally, the Ganon children experience the culture and values of Judaism through a play-based exploration of the holidays and traditions. Each week the students participate in a Shabbat party and share in the hagim (holidays) as they occur throughout the year.
A highlight of the Ganon classroom is the annual production of Jan Brett's, The Mitten. Each child receives a role in the story as either a person or animal. Next each child completes a research project on his/her character. Books, videos and photographs are utilized by the students to collect information on each character in the story. He or she will then decide how to share the information. Some students choose to create books, posters and drawings, while others prefer to work with clay or wire to sculpt their animals. The study concludes with a full production of the story. The students create the backdrops, tickets, concession stand sales and even money for the audience to use! This year, Mrs. Mahern will reprise her role as director leading this year's production to new heights as the students perform in the Cultural Arts Center auditorium.
Join us on Sunday, March 6th to learn more about the program. RSVP is required. Click HERE to register.
One of the biggest questions I receive from parents and professionals alike, is "what is your philosophy of education?"
While many may see that as a simple question with a straight forward answer, I find that it is anything but! Our philosophy of education is intricate and includes not just our academic approach but also the environment, the child, the families and educators.
Image of the Child
We believe that all children have the right to quality early childhood education. We view each child as capable, curious and a willing participant of the learning process. Every child has a right to a learning environment that meets their needs, including the right to educators who recognize their individual strengths and who support their development. We believe that children have the right to self regulation, discovery, exploration and mess making. We seek to foster a love of learning and a collaboration between ourselves and the children as we learn alongside of each other.
We believe children are CAPABLE of...
Who is the Child to Me
Children are the most important aspect of life, for without them all would cease to exist. The role of a teacher is to nurture, love, provide care, support and help to develop the child. We love what we do and are here because we believe that children deserve the opportunity to thrive. We seek to build connections with our children, their families and the community. In order to understand our role as educators, we must first understand, “Who is the child to me?”
We believe the child is...
The Role of the First Teacher- the Parent
We believe that the first teacher in a child’s life is his/her parent. From their first breath, you are there to help guide and shape their development. Your role is crucial in helping them to become confident and capable human beings. We recognize the immense importance of this relationship and seek to build relationships with you and your child to foster a collaborative learning experience. Through family engagement and communication, we look to build connections that will further our understanding of your culture and life experiences so that we may better serve the needs of your child and your family.
We believe parents are...
Environment as the Third Teacher
We believe that there are three teachers in a child’s life-
1. the parent, 2. the child and 3. the environment. The environment serves as a source of inspiration for your child's curiousity, sense of self and learning. We strive to provide children with real world interactions that include nature, realia (real world objects), and appropriate risk taking. Our classroom and play environments reflect this commitment to providing hands-on learning experiences for your children. Attention to color, aesthetics and function resonate in each space to create invitations to play and provocation of learning. Each environment features elements of light, color, nature, loose parts (open-ended play materials) and the 10 learning centers as outlined by Paths to QUALITY; Reading/Literacy, Writing, Mathematics, Science, Sensory, Music, Blocks, Manipulatives, Dramatic Play and Art.
The heart of our school can be found within the culture, values and traditions of Judaism that the children experience each day. Mitzvot (good deeds), tzedakah (charity), and chesed (kindness) are part of each classroom community. The students of our Ganon (pre-k) classroom reflected on what Judaism means to them sharing words and thoughts to create the word cloud below. Following, they created pictures of their understanding of Judaism and Jewish values.
Curriculum: A Child-Directed Approach
The Giving Tree Early Learning program is deeply inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education. Following WWII, the town of Reggio Emilia was war-torn and hurting. In order to heal, the town believed that the future lies with the children. Thus the Reggio Emilia philosophy was born with the guidance of Loris Malaguzzi. This philosophy believes that children have undeniable rights, including the right to construct their own knowledge.
With this inspiration, the teachers seek to help facilitate the exploration of the interests of the students through the Hundred Languages of Children. Malaguzzi describes the Hundred Languages of Children as the "infinite ways that children can express, explore, and connect their thoughts, feelings and imaginings.” Each day, teachers provide invitations to play and p
rovocations as a way to ignite new discoveries that blend the Hundred Languages with developmentally appropriate practices.
We pair the Indiana Early Learning Foundation Standards with hands-on, child-directed learning opportunities to support the development of the whole child. We utilize the Handwriting Without Tears program and incorporate Math Their Way concepts into our mathematical explorations to support the academic rigors needed for success in Kindergarten and beyond.
Paths to QUALITY is a voluntary State wide rating system that guarantees that not only is the health and safety of your child reaching and exceeding minimum standards but that the level of care, daily interactions and curriculum are being conducted in the best interest of your child.
Each year, our program goes through an annual inspection in which our rater spends the day moving through our program observing instruction, student/teacher interactions, classroom environments and validating documentation of program standards and procedures.
Each level of Paths to QUALITY builds on the foundation of the previous one, resulting in significant quality improvements at each stage and in national accreditation at the highest level, level 4. The system validates early care and education programs for ongoing efforts to achieve higher standards of quality and provides incentives and awards for success.
Giving Tree Early Learning maintains a Level 3 rating and is working towards national accredication through NAEYC.
The difference between Level 2 and Level 3 are found not in the learning environment but in the instruction itself. The PTQ Rater observes teacher-child interactions, assesses the use of the Early Learning Foundation standards to ensure developmentally appropriate practice, reviews staff development, evaluates student portfolios as well as inspecting all of the standards from the two previous levels.
The checklist for the rating visit is 11 pages long! While we have effectively met the minimum requirements, we strive to provide a learning experience that goes above and beyond.
We are often asked by early childhood professionals to come into our program to observe developmentally appropriate practices in action. In the Indianapolis early childhood community, Giving Tree has become a local hotspot. Our Reggio inspired curriculum, commitment to the children and clear documentation of how learning occurs through play has shined brightly. Brittany Flaugher formerly of Child Care Answers referrred to our program as reflecting "the tapestry of life" because she can see each thread- families, children, teachers, environment and curriculum, interwoven to create a rich and vibrant "tapestry of life."
Below are the components met in PTQ Level 3:
1. Portfolios- Each school year we assess, observe and collect work samples showing your child's growth. These portfolios include pictures, written observations, work samples important notes from home, and our ISTAR-KR assessments.
2. Environment- each classroom contains 10 learning centers with a minimum of three components. Those centers are Reading/Literacy, Writing, Art, Mathematics, Science, Sensory, Music, Blocks, Manipulatives, Dramatic Play. In addition to the PTQ standards we also provide Reggio inspiration throughout with a focus on the use of open-ended materials and loose parts. The most important component of the environment, aside from the safety and learning centers, is on the representation of your child within the space. Each classroom must contain photographs, dictations and work samples of your child engaging in their day. This allows your child to feel represented and a part of the classroom environment. Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio philosophy once said,
"Teachers must leave behind an isolated, silent mode of working, which leaves no traces. Instead they must discover ways to communicate and document the children’s evolving experiences at school. They must prepare a steady flow of quality information targeted to parents but appreciated by children and teachers."
It is this source of inspiration that we document the learning process of the children and adamantly believe that the documentation exists for all of those involved as a form of validation and reflection of the learning at the hands of our children.
3. Curriculum- PTQ outlines developmentally appropriate practice and a strong emphasis on teacher-child relationships. As you walk through the hallways of your child's classroom, make sure to take a glance at the documentation and lesson plans. There you will find the Foundation standards which outline the developmentally appropriate goals and skills for your child. You can learning more about the Foundation standards by visiting https://www.doe.in.gov/standards/indiana-early-learning-foundations
4. Interactions- The PTQ check list includes a variety of ways in which our interactions with the children are assessed and evaluated. The Rater is looking for:
1. Are the children allowed to make choices in their play throughout the day?
2. Are the children heard and listened to?
3. Are the children's needs being met by a caring and attentive adult?
4. Are the children's interests being reflected and supported in the learning process?
5. Are the child's individual needs being met by the caregiver?
6. Are the children being respected and spoken to at their eye level?
7. Are the teachers helping children to problem solve, self regulate and resolve conflicts?
8. Are the teachers supporting the child's social- emotional development?
9. Are the children being supported in developing self-help skills?
10. Is the teacher taking advantage of the many natural learning experiences associated with daily life and makes those "teachable moments" opportunities of learning?
5. Professional Development- A component of the PTQ process is that staff receive a minimum of 20 hours of ongoing professional development each year. These trainings must be relevant to early childhood development and the needs of the children. From last October until now, the staff have completed 640.50 hours of professional development. On average, that comes to each staff member having completed a minimum of 25 hours of training yearly. Additionally, we have staff members who have recently completed or are in the process of completing advanced degrees in early childhood education and non-profit management. In 2018, the Director and Assistant Director traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy to study the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy directly. Our staff not only partakes in training sessions but have also led trainings at various conferences and facilities throughout the greater Indianapolis area.
IAEYC Annual Conference (Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children)
INPEC Conference (Indiana Private Educators)
Indy Reggio Inspired Educators
Ministry-based Conferences and workshops
Early Literacy Conference (Child Care Answers)
Ivy TECH Early Education Conference
JGFI Day of Learning (Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis)
The importance of quality early childhood programming is undeniable. Study after study shows that the benefits are found not just in the development of our children but also in the economy and community at large. In the Indianapolis area only two Jewish preschool programs have received the PTQ high quality rating and only Giving Tree Early Learning offers a play based curriculum rooted in Reggio inspiration.
Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your child's growth and CONGRATULATIONS to the GT Team on recertifying Paths to QUALITY Level 3.
Mrs. Ashley is the Director of Giving Tree Early Learning and mother to 3 busy boys! You can reach her by emailing- firstname.lastname@example.org