Step inside our IMS Early Childhood Classrooms and you will immediately recognize that these are not just learning spaces, they are inviting, magically-crafted, and inspiring places for children to learn and grow. We believe it is critically important to design environments that recognize students’ innate ability to learn from their surroundings. And so, we provide natural materials for discovery and offer endless opportunities to create art, develop language, build, imagine, explore, and collaborate.
Head of Lower School Rebekah Jordan often refers to this concept as the “Classroom as a Third Teacher.” Of this idea—which is rooted in the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy—Mrs. Jordan shares that, “educators have a deep obligation to create learning spaces that provoke exploration, question-asking, discovery, and meaning-making.” She believes that when teachers and students engage in conversations about their shared environment, the learning becomes a relational experience, rather than a delivered curriculum with the teacher as a “giver” and the student as a “receiver.”
Michelle Charles has been teaching kindergarten at IMS for a decade and she has seen firsthand the positive difference a thoughtfully-designed learning environment can have on a child’s early learning experience. She shares, “The classroom is a place where a child comes to recognize the world beyond oneself; it is meant to build community, develop a sense of belonging, and inspire curiosity.”
So how does this come to life at IMS? Mrs. Charles says that her curriculum is inspired and directed by her students’ play and interests. For example, in the newly renovated and expanded block center in our kindergarten classroom, students have designed an elaborate display based on their fascination with animals. At first glance, you would see a zoo—blocks and animals organized in separate spaces. Upon closer examination, you find the signs of early reading and writing (each animal cage has its own label, a practice of letter sounds and formation), numeracy (the clock used to show when the zoo would open and close), and science exploration (what kind of habitat does each animal need? Should the bears share the same space with the whales?).
Mrs. Jordan adds, “When teachers have the opportunity to model what the learning process looks like, students feel empowered to make meaning, a skill that they will continue to need throughout their lives.”
“We feel grateful to be on this journey with our students,” says Mrs. Charles. “There are a thousand ways to teach important skills, but allowing the students to guide how we do these things, and using their intrinsic sense of wonder to our benefit, turns learning into play, and play into learning.”