Co-op Family Center Education Philosophy
The Co-op Family Center’s philosophy has continually evolved since it began in 1978, as a true parentcooperative, we learn from each other, our children, our families and from our research. The Co-op FamilyCenter has always put the child’s experience and discovery at the center of its philosophy. In 1999, ourphilosophy was given new life and clarity when our staff learned of the innovative work being done in theinfant/toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The ideas coming out of Reggio were a natural fitwith the Co-op Family Center. We now look to Reggio for inspiration and wisdom as we continue to create aschool that meets both the needs and dreams of children and their parents. Following are some of thefundamentals of our Reggio-inspired philosophy that explain how the Co-op Family Center views children andtheir learning experience.
Image of the Child
The Co-op Family Center’s philosophy is built upon an image of children as curious, creative, and capablecitizens. We believe childhood is a precious and vital period of life that has value in and of itself, not a prologue 7to “real life” that will somehow begin later in life. This belief that children are whole and important from dayone when they start their journey influences many of our decisions as a school.
Honoring the Rights of Children
Our strong image of childhood leads us to acknowledge and honor the rights of children as members of oursociety. Among the many rights of children that we recognize are the rights to have a voice, to be heard, to feel,to try/fail/and try again, to develop relationships, to have some ownership over themselves and the right to be ina caring supportive environment. We believe these rights are inherent in children and not something we are“giving” them.
Constructivism-How Children Build Knowledge
The learning we strive for in our students is not an objective collection of facts that exist independently of thechild. We seek to develop knowledge that is uniquely constructed by the child as they strive to buildunderstanding through connections of experience, thought, suggestion and invention. We strongly believe thatmeaningful knowledge cannot simply be told to children and memorized. Memorization is an example oflearning, but without understanding the underlying complex relationships and systems that make up an idea, thechild cannot have true knowledge of the idea, just the ability to repeat it.At the Co-op Family Center, we strive to facilitate children's organic learning process acknowledging thatmeaningful learning must come from internal motivation and curiosity and is built upon prior learning andunderstanding. It is learning this process of inquiry and the great joy of discovering something new we aretrying to encourage in children. Children get great pleasure and satisfaction when they are pursuing their naturalcuriosities and constructing a fuller understanding of the world and themselves in it. We want our students tostay connected to the joy of being the authors of their own learning. We believe this is one of the greatest wayswe can support children's development as humans and as lifelong learners.
The Project Approach
We develop the thinking of our students by building projects around their interests and curiosities. We closelyobserve the life in our classrooms looking for opportunities to build from the ideas coming from children’s selfinitiated explorations. We take children's natural desire to learn and facilitate this process, not by givinganswers, but by encouraging questioning and investigation. We approach projects in a variety of ways usingvarious artistic medium, firsthand experiences, and material provocations to offer a more holistic investigationand therefore understanding of their curiosities. We are not looking for right answers or perfect products. Our 8projects are intended to build our student’s ability to develop and communicate their thinking, which is alifelong journey.
We recognize that no child develops in isolation and that successful schools operate as a system ofrelationships. The Co-op Family Center is a community full of vibrant relationships that provide children with astrong trusting model of social inclusion and participation. We work to develop honest relationships betweenour students, staff, families, and the greater community. It is important for children to realize they are aconnected and important part of the Co-op Family Center community.
Parents and Partners
Established by parents in 1978, the Co-op Family Center continues in its grassroots tradition of building on thepower and presence of family within the daily life of the center. We know that many parents need to spend asignificant part of their day away from their children and we intend to make that as much of a positive in theirchild’s lives as possible. We recognize parents as the child’s first and most important teacher and seek theiradvice, collaboration, and participation as we facilitate their child’s education. Parents are part of all aspects oflife at the Co-op Family Center - from cleaning to teaching to being on the Board of Directors.
What does all of this mean?
All the theoretical intentions and thought that we put into this school boils down to this: we are creating adifferent type of school than the standard American daycare. We are a place for families to come together aspart of a community and for children to have a safe and supportive environment to immerse themselves in thejoys of childhood. Daily, our students play, create, experiment, get dirty, problem solve and have fun. These arelife lesson plans for young children, and we are here to help guide them through this magical time in their lives.
We intend to give children an experience of education that helps them see themselves as active agents in theirlives and community. We want children to know that school is a place to explore and expand the things theycare about the things that spark their curiosity. It is a place to grow to become your most authentic self whilelearning how to contribute to and gain from their community. Over our forty years of operation, we have alsogrown to view the role of the arts and nature to be central to children’s experience and growth at the Co-opFamily Center.
These five goals are intended to help us make this image of early childhood education a reality for all ourstudents and families. As we observe and document the life of the children in the classroom, we listen for thereflections of each child to ensure that they are all getting these experiences. Throughout the year, we create a document for each child, a digital journey book, that tells stories of how these goals came to life in theirexperience at the Co-op Family Center. Each year, these stories are added to the same document, so when achild leaves the center, this journey book reveals their growth and development in these areas.As children expand their sense of self from part of a small family unit to becoming part of the larger society in aschool setting, we know this connection to family serves as their foundation. We begin our work with eachchild by having the teachers meet with the parents before the child begins to care. This meeting provides anopportunity for teachers to learn from the wisdom and insight that parents can offer about their children.Teachers stay in an open dialogue with parents about their children’s time at school in a variety of ways.
CURRICULUM, SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT, PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT, LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT,EARLY LITERACY, EARLY MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ART EXPRESSION AND APPRECIATION,HEALTH AND SAFETY, AND SOCIAL STUDIES
The Reggio Approach to early childhood education is brought to life in our classrooms by creating a projectbased curriculum around the curiosities and interests of the children that we have observed during times of freeplay in the classroom. Building our teaching around the student’s thinking helps provide a meaningful and selfmotivating context in which to learn. We facilitate the learning process not by giving answers, but byencouraging the children to question and investigate their theories. Once we have identified an idea that has thepotential for further exploration, we begin a process of Negotiated Curriculum.In the Negotiated Curriculum, we begin by bringing an idea directly to the class to assess interest and currentunderstanding in the classroom and to make sure the children are connected to the idea. From there, we get asense for where their curiosities lie and what our first steps will be in provoking their thinking further. Wedesign provocations that allow children to play with the idea and see or experience it in a new way. Teachersthen reflect on the experience and formulate the next step to bring to the children, constantly building from andresponding to what we are seeing and hearing from the students. The back and forth process continues untilchildren have reached a satisfactory conclusion in their pursuit or until the class develops a new curiosity,leading to a new process of negotiation. Instead of separating fields of knowledge into isolated subjects, welook for opportunities in this negotiated learning process to use science, literacy, social studies, math,movement, and expressive languages as tools to build understanding around the subject being explored.
ENSURING ALL CHILDREN HAVE MANY AND VARIED OPEN-ENDED OPPORTUNITIES AND MATERIAL TOEXPRESS THEMSELVES CREATIVELY THROUGH MUSIC, DRAMA, DANCE, AND TWO/THREE-DIMENSIONALART
Our philosophy views expressive materials and arts as languages. Each language offers children a unique wayto know and communicate about a subject. For example, an explanation of the subject “love” through drawing will lead children to communicate different aspects than if they were thinking through dance or sculpture. Webelieve children naturally express themselves and learn through a hundred languages, so throughout the processof negotiated curriculum, we ensure that children are given opportunities to use a great variety of artisticlanguages, allowing them to understand the subject in a deeper, more holistic way.
MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES TO SUPPORT THE CURRICULUM
The classrooms at the Co-op Family Center are rich with materials. We have traditional classroom materialssuch as blocks, dolls, and cars, but many of the materials are open-ended, or loose parts. These are materialsthat are not provided as toys to telegraph purpose to the children. Open-ended materials are ripe withpossibilities for inventiveness as children manipulate and experiment with them. Open-ended materials includea large spectrum from natural materials (shells, stones, moss…) to recycled/repurposed materials (tubing, cork,gears…). Being open-ended, these materials are interesting enough to make children wonder about their usagepotential and flexible enough to be malleable to their ideas.
In addition to toys and open-ended materials, artistic materials have a large presence in our environments.Viewing art medium as unique languages, we offer our children as many opportunities to explore their thinkingand express themselves through the arts as possible. From infancy on, each of our classrooms wonders throughclay, various paints (watercolor, tempera, acrylic), drawing media (pencil, marker, oil pastel, chalk) as well asless typical materials such as a wire.
The books in our classrooms serve a variety of purposes in support of our curriculum. We have parents in ourclassrooms make regular trips to the Public Library to keep our rooms full of fresh books that reflect areas ofinterest of study in the classroom. The knowledge children receive from these books helps deepen theirunderstandings and gives them fresh information to play with as they wonder about these ideas throughmaterials. We also use books to help us dialogue with the group about some of their experiences. When thereare challenges in the social-emotional experience of the group, sometimes looking at similar feelings orchallenges in a story provides a safe distance for the children to deconstruct emotions and navigate tough situations.
We also have a variety of literature that reflects the diversity of our community. There are books in our librarythat tell the stories of people with varying abilities and a children’s book that reflects for young children thespectrum of gender identity. We also encourage our families from all cultures, to bring in music and books forthe classroom that their children will be familiar with from home and that reflect their family and culture. It isimportant for children to hear stories, traditions, and perspectives of their culture echoed within their schoolcommunity.
To track and develop our emergent, negotiated curriculum, the teachers use a variety of forms, most notably aWeekly Projection form. This form helps our weekly process of reflecting on what the children have beenthinking about and working on and then, in response, the teachers plan material or environmental provocationsto further inspire the work of the children. This form also encourages the teachers to imagine possibilities forchildren to explore the outdoors, to incorporate various artistic languages, and to include families in the life ofthe classroom.
PROVIDE A SAFE, HEALTHY, NURTURING ENVIRONMENT
We are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education. One of the key principles of this philosophy is thatthe environment should act as a third teacher in the classroom. Inspired by theoretical perspectives of LorisMalaguzzi in The Hundred Languages of Children, we strongly believe in the enormous value of theclassroom/school environment. We put great emphasis on creating a learning environment that supports,motivates, and promotes relations and options, and encourages emotional and cognitive situations that fosters asense of wellbeing and security. Inspired by Malaguzzi’s philosophy, we believe that all children deserve to liveand work in and be surrounded by beautiful, inspirational spaces.The Family Center also believes that staffing in the classroom contributes to a safe and nurturing environmentfor the children. Our child-to-teacher ratios in the classroom are lower than the state standard. By investing inmore staffing in the classroom, we can provide smaller group facilitation and better oversight.
PROVIDE ASSISTANCE WITH EACH CHILD’S SELF-WORTH THROUGH ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PERSONALSUCCESSES AND POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Providing assistance with each child’s self-worth is at the forefront of our center’s philosophy. One of the Coop Family Center’s guiding principles is that children should be protagonists in their own education. At the Coop Family Center, children have the right:
• To be seen and heard as strong and capable individuals with rich ideas;
• To influence their learning environment through choice and communication;
• To encounter an engaging and thought-provoking environment each day;
• To follow their own interests and intentions within their peer group;
• To have their intelligence, creativity, and full potential reflected to them to strengthen and support thedevelopment of a strong sense of self;
• To develop meaningful relationships with their peers and teachers within a strong community of familyand friends.
The Co-op Family Center also provides an open environment where children and adults can question and discuss differences in gender, religions, cultures, and lifestyles. We feel that through honesty and positive discussion, children will learn that there is strength in diversity. We would hope that through being proactive and discussing the differences and similarities found in our families, our classroom, our center, and thecommunity at large, we will dispel stereotypes and fear. Our goal is to provide the children with positive, healthy respect and acceptance of all human beings.
PROVIDE OPTIMAL PHYSICAL, SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL, AND INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT FOR EACH CHILD
The Co-op Family Center provides many opportunities for children to expand their learning by being physicallyand intellectually engaged in the classroom and outdoors. The keys to learning are rooted in a child feelingnurtured and forming a sense of belonging.
The Co-op Family Center believes that developing consistent supportive relationships is fundamental. The supportive relationships we develop with the children create an atmosphere where they and their families can thrive and grow into their most authentic selves. With many of our families coming to the University of Oregon from across the United States and the rest of the world, they do not have the benefit of having extended family and long-term friendships nearby. The Co-op Family Center strives to help meet that need for learning and growing through strong relationships by providing Continuum Care for our students from infancy through kindergarten.
While providing care and education for young children in a group setting, we recognize the individual nature ofeach child’s development and needs during their time with us. Our work on supporting each individual child on their journey begins with our intake meeting with each family before they start in our program. This gives us an opportunity to understand our students’ needs, preferences, fears, and challenges, which allows us to tailor our approach for building a relationship with an individual child and helps them transition from previous care settings into our program. We recognize the vital importance of family in a young child’s development.
To further meet the needs of each individual child, we operate most of our classroom at a teacher/student ratio lower than Oregon state standards. Even while operating at ratios that help us provide more individual attention, we always look for opportunities to work with our students in small group settings, where we can give evenmore one-on-one attention than is possible in a full group setting. The Family Center has focused the past twoyears on establishing small groups of children for intentional focus learning. Our classrooms all have two fulltime co-lead teachers, which helps us provide our students the benefits of small group work and outstandingbest-practice care.
CURRICULUM EVALUATION AND MEETING THE NEEDS OF ALL CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Part of our approach to working through dialogue with children and families includes a constant cycle of feedback and reflection. Each week, the teams of teachers meet and reflect with the Pedagogical Coordinator on 13the experiences the children are having and how they inform what our next steps will be. We listen to what isand is not working from the perspectives of the parents, the student teachers and from the documented traces ofthe children’s experience. Based on those assessments, we develop intentions and proposals for how the curriculum should evolve in the room. On a larger scale, we reflect at the end of each year on the experiences of the children, feedback from families and our ongoing research to inform changes that we will make in our programming for the following year.