Getting to know my community continues to be one of the major perks I enjoy as a Realtor. This blog allows me to share conversations I’ve had with local business owners and individuals regarding their desired impact on the community and their hopes for the city.
Looking Back With Gratitude
Situated in South Austin, Children’s Discovery Center sits under a dome of oaks surrounded by wood platforms and rainbow playhouses. Most of the structures were made by the hands of the parent community. Half filled paint jugs, tires, costumes, metallic windmills, and donated instruments lay ready to be utilized in a narrative that is child-created and limitless.
This school is special to me. Sometimes I even get terribly sappy-sentimental, thinking about pick-up time, my kids glowing in a thick layer of sand, paint, glitter, shaving cream, and mud.
Bombarded with electronics, Netflix binging, STAR Testing and weekly Spelling Tests, I realize how extremely fortunate we were to have discovered Children’s Discovery Center at the right time. Those 5 years molded them into the grub digging, tree climbing, messy adventurous children that they are today. And even with all the world’s endless distractions, their foundation is strong, poured at the right time. They’ll navigate life’s greatest challenges from a foundation of GRIT.
I called Lynne Collier, Director of Children’s Discovery School South, to see if we could talk about her program’s philosophy. And because I wanted to tell her how thankful I was that we were a part of it. I asked Lynne to describe the program in her own words.
“If it hasn’t been in the hand, and the body, it can’t be in the brain.” -Bev Bos
Lynne: We are a play based, nature based program that keeps the perspective of the young child in mind. We support whole child development.
Me: What do you mean by whole child development?
Lynne: Whole child development means we pay attention to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social needs of the child. We pay attention to each child’s unique strengths, interests and any areas that the child needs support in. We build on their strengths that consequently allow the child to follow their own passion, how they individually want to process new information.
Things are really hands on, and by the child’s preference. In the words of Bev Bos, “If it hasn’t been in the hand, and the body, it can’t be in the brain.”
They have to have too much to know when it’s too much. Kids need to physically go through the motions in order to learn. We are process oriented, be it the creative process, and the learning process. We’re not focusing on the polished product at the end, we’re not focused on milestones, we’re focused on lots of uninterrupted time, to explore new materials, to engineer to the heart’s desire.
But we set up an intentional environment, with thoughtful materials, as closely matched to real objects as possible, real PVC pipes, real tires.
A Future Of Innovation and Critical Thinking
Me: What do you think the finished product SHOULD look like?
Lynne: The ability to have critical thinking skills, integrating the left and the right hemispheres to their approaches as holistically as possible. These are the people creating the prototypes, business ventures of their own.
We’re not trying to put out cookie cutter people, we’re trying to put out the next inventors. Trying to put out social change that appreciates individual human strengths.
We are not trying to get OUR KIDS ready for school, we would like SCHOOL to get ready for our kids.
Lynne: We’ve formed 90% of our brain by age 5. The brain continues to change the neurological pathways as long as you keep giving into new experiences. New synaptic connections change the architecture of your brain. The first 5 years are critical though because it’s around age 3 when you start creating the cognitive ability to empathize.
We hone in on every teachable moment we can. And we don’t AVOID conflict, we DIVE into it. It’s how we scaffold, giving the child as little as they need to achieve it in their own big way. For a 1 year old, this may mean giving them everything. For a 4 year old, we empower them more to use their words and critical thinking skills.
Me: Give me an example of how this plays out in the classroom?
Lynne: If you put a group of children together naturally, conflict will arise. So we are teaching self discipline in our daily routines, activities, transitions between activities. If everyone wants to wash their hands at the same time it’s the perfect time to teach social justice and reestablish the boundaries of respect that you’re trying to reinforce in the classroom.
And mindfulness is a huge component to all of this.
Teaching Mindfulness, Self-Awareness and Self-Care
Me: Talk about mindfulness more please.
Lynne: Being present, actively listening to others, knowing your own triggers and individual biases, your composure. Which means you have to have self-care practices in place. Social and self-awareness.
Me: How does your staff practice self-awareness and mindfulness?
Lynne: In the Orientation Process staff goes through Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline Program, which sets the foundation. Consequently, it gives our teachers the tools we’re trying to teach our children. We have monthly staff training which covers emotional development, whole brain development, and social guidance techniques.
Furthermore we extend this to our families quarterly so that they can come and learn with us. We’re in a state of continuous self-evaluation. It’s critical in a child’s full educational program that parents feel empowered and informed to be their child’s advocate. It’s critical in elementary school and junior high.
For family night in November we will have Bliss Kid Yoga where we all do yoga together. It’s a big yoga fest and we all get to practice stretching and breathing, a mindfulness exercise together. And then Bliss Kid Yoga comes every Friday for the kids. They are a local nonprofit, founded by Katherine Banker, and they specialize in family friendly yoga practices.
Me: How often are the kids outside?
Lynne: Our day is 10 hours long. They’re inside from 1-3 for nap. They’re at least outside 7 ½ hours out of the 10. We leave the class room door open so they have the choice of being outside. NATURE INSPIRES. Any activity you can do indoors you can do outdoors but with more space, volume, time.
There is still a steady decline in outdoor time these days in daycare. Any time you can be barefoot outside you’re helping your child master balance, allow them to feel the earth beneath their feet.
Proprioception is increased outdoors and by being barefoot. Children have choices and that sets us apart. Therefore, as much as possible, children have choices. We want them to follow the guidelines of safety and respect, and obviously we have a weather policy. But if the weather is nice, the kids have the choice to be in or out of their shoes. We empower them through choice.
Mud, Tears, Paint, Smile Wrinkles
Me: Do you feel this school is for every family?
Lynne: A lot of schools do what’s convenient. It’s convenient to keep the kids clean. It’s convenient to keep everything structured. But here we are covered in mud, tears, paint, smile wrinkles. It may not be for everyone, but we are up front about that. Every family has to take a tour, to see the school in action, and we make it so they have to come back and visit at least once with their child so that they can be really clear on how we learn, how messy we get and the process we have here.
A Well Laid Foundation
The shock of moving from Children’s Discovery Center to public school was extreme. The thought of our kids going from 7 1/2 hours outdoors every day to a 30 minute recess absolutely wrecked me. And there was a lot of fear that they would forget how the awe, wonderment and beauty that naturally surrounds them.
As a result of their time at CDC, I have realized this foundation was laid early and layered with patience and love. It will last their lifetime. Even at age 9, there is still excitement over the simplest creatures in the dirt. And I don’t worry so much anymore.
Here’s The Proof
P.S. Yes there are no pictures of Oliver in this blog. That doesn’t mean I love him ANY less. If he stood still long enough, I’d have more pictures.