The Rex Foundation web site has a big story on Tule Elk Park Child Development Center in San Francisco, where my wife is a teacher. Rita is interviewed, along with the site manager and other colleagues. It’s a wonderful story about a wonderful school. We are grateful to the Rex Foundation for its assistance over the years, and to Mary Eisenhart for a splendid story and photos.
Rex: How do you decide what to study?
Hurault: Everything comes from observing the children and seeing what it is theyâ€™re interested in. Weâ€™ve all gotten very good at having our ears to the ground and seeing “Well, what is it theyâ€™re following now? Could this be a study?”
For example, at the beginning of the summer we started to notice lots of ladybugs in the alder trees, and the kids kept coming up to Ayesha and me saying “Ladybugs, ladybugs! Look, look!” and we knew right away that OK, weâ€™re going to study ladybugs this summer. It was right there in the childrenâ€™s hands.
Site manager Alan Broussard:
…we use a project approach; itâ€™s an inquiry-based method based on a framework where we support children to learn about the things that theyâ€™re interested in, and to go in depth.
That is a very big contrast to the old-school rote learning method, and a very large contrast to what exists in public education today, because weâ€™re in quite a conservative environment thatâ€™s very skills-based. Thereâ€™s not a lot of thought being given to supporting childrenâ€™s critical thinking skills, or analytical skills, or social-emotional skills, the kind of things I think the Fortune 500 companies are actually looking for.
The way we want kids to learn is to go one mile deep and one inch wide. Traditional education is one mile wide and one inch deep. We really want to support kids to peel those layers back, and to support them to ask the questions. Itâ€™s all about asking the right questions, because thatâ€™s whatâ€™s going to support their growth.
The new 3-year-olds are learning from the 4-year-olds and the 5-year-olds. Everybodyâ€™s teaching each other about whatâ€™s OK to do in the garden and whatâ€™s not. Thereâ€™s a whole mentality here of taking care of nature; all the staff signs onto it. It would not be doable if it was just me saying it, but itâ€™s coming from everybody.
You hear the kids now, telling each other â€œHey, thatâ€™s nature. Donâ€™t step on that ant; donâ€™t pull all those leaves off that plant, youâ€™re breaking that plant.â€ So theyâ€™re watching each other almost more than weâ€™re watching them, which is really nice.
The kids in my class going to school are transforming their worlds. Right now one of our feeder schools is digging up part of their asphalt to create a garden. It happened because the parents are aware of this environment and what is happening here, and the teachers there became interested in what is possible. Thereâ€™s a growing movement to have this kind of environment for urban children. The sidewalk is sort of cracking, and the grass is coming through here and there.