Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Outdoor Fun and Learning at TLS

While the rest of the world has been retreating indoors from this unusually frigid winter, Little School kids and teachers have been heading out into the woods to explore.  The creeks at both schools froze over and the kids were fascinated with how different this crystalline world was.  They immediately picked up sticks and started to bang on the ice until it broke into pieces.  We went for hikes in the snow and our kids were so excited about everything!  They made snow balls, tasted the snow, and were thrilled with just being out in it. 

Outdoor learning has always been a core component of who we are at The Little School.  We believe that nature is often the best teacher and our greatest source of joy and wonder.  Monica Pallett, who was our Program Manager at Duke, changed roles in November to focus on building nature-based programs at both campuses.  Along with Monica, Cole, Erin, Joy and Kelly – all established and much-loved teachers at TLS - now go into classrooms when all three teachers go out for team meetings and take the class on adventurous outings. 

Monica is also working with teachers and forging partnerships with environmental groups to create learning opportunities which teach core conservation principles.  Kids naturally love the outdoors, and enthusiastically join in when we give them opportunities to show this love.  Whether it’s picking up garbage we find in the woods or helping mulch and water our playground trees, they clearly value the opportunity to be useful in this way.

At our Hillsborough campus we are quickly losing the woods behind the school to development. The magic mountains are now behind the orange fencing and will be clear-cut soon to make way for condominiums.  Luckily, the school owns a stretch of woods going down to the Durham Tech campus with a creek running the entire length.  Across the street we have found a new ‘magic tree’.  It’s even bigger than the first magic tree and has a really fun creek next to it.  The kids have named this place ‘wonderland’ and it is pretty wonderful.  Down at the round-about the Town of Hillsborough is building a public park which will be a great outing destination.

At both campuses we have been making great use of our new purchase of child-sized, clear umbrellas.  This makes for fun and safe nature walks in the rain.  Such a small detail, like each child having their own transparent umbrella, turns a dull gray day into an opportunity for new adventure.  Seeing the creeks swell up in a downpour and listening to the sound of raindrops tapping on their umbrellas - our kids are transfixed by the many new sensory experiences of being out in wild spaces when it’s raining.

We love to include our families, so if you would like to come along on a class hike or have outdoor skills or knowledge you could share, email Monica to set it upmonica@tlsduke.com

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Stuff of Legends: Dana B!

Dana is the uber teacher, and if your child has been in her room, you are most likely already a card carrying memebr of her fan club. It feels as if she is woven directly into the fiber of TLS, helping to create the foundation of our star studded Pre-K program. A former Head-start teacher, Dana joined us in 2010 when she relocated from New Jersey. The rest is a love story. She is passionate about her profession and her kids. Dana has that undefinable blend of all the confident all-business teacher, and smooshy gooey tenderness of a mother hen. Creative and wise, she is a peaceful smarty pants that inspires those around her to do their best, make their own choices, engage with the world, and be a part of something bigger. She is the mastermind behind alumni playgroups and the TLS staff bookclub. She is one of our amazing rocks, and we are so completely proud to have her. 

How did you find your way to TLS?
I visited TLS in 2010 as a prospective school for my daughter, Andy Jaye. I immediately fell in love with the comforting, cozy rooms, welcoming staff and of course the morning bread (which I sampled during the tour). I registered Andy and then a few short months later was fortunate enough to get a job teaching here! I have been here since August 2010 and have loved every year. 

What do you value most or hold most dear at TLS?  
I love that we allow children to make choices for themselves, that our main focus is on social/emotional growth and nature exploration. I love to see the discoveries my students make everyday about their interests, friendships and the natural world around them. 

What is your educational approach? How do you find children learn best?
I feel so at home here because my educational approach matches the values at TLS, encouraging independence, project based learning, free choice and social/emotional growth ( and of course the freedom to get as muddy, mulchy and covered in paint as possible!)

What was the most interesting trip you have taken?
I lived in Galway, Ireland for a year which was amazing, but I also loved the 21/2 month trip I took across the country in my twenties. I visited and camped in a huge number of national parks and got to see the beauty of the different regions of our country. My favorite park was Olympic National Park in Washington. 

What movie or work of fiction has had the biggest impact on you? Why?
One of my all time favorite books is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love his storytelling and take on summer. 

What is something about you that most people may not know?
My daughter, Andy Jaye has Type 1 Diabetes. We have a team for her, Andy's Warrior Princesses that we formed for the JDRF walk. She is my rock star. 

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Take each moment as it comes and enjoy it. Take as many walks in the woods as you can (once you start walking)

If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
Probably a cat. I like to curl up in sunny spots. 

What is your happiest childhood memory/what makes it so special?
Going to the beach every summer with my family. I made a lot of special life-long friends there. I still need to go to the ocean every couple months to recharge. 

What would you listen to if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life?
At the moment, anything by Florence and the Machine

What is your favorite children’s book?
There are soooo many! I love Shel Silverstein poems and Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

What was your favorite class? 
I loved my Graduate program in Education at George Mason University. I was able to have 4 student teaching placements there. It was an amazing experience. 

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I have the perfect job, but if I ever did a different one it would be librarian. I'm a book junkie. 

What words do you live by?
Be grateful and love, love, love!