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“Three little dinosaurs and the big bad snail”: notes from state and regional conferences

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Earlier this month, three Peregrine teachers presented their original, innovative educational approaches at this year’s California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAAEYC) conference. Can Foster presented her three year olds as scientists and activists in the garden; Michelle Sonoda (assisted by Fabiola Vidrio) presented a method of enabling young children to write, create sets and costumes, and put on their own plays; and Yi Che described how Chinese immersion students are learning to discuss ideas like philosophers. Also this month, Kati Loux presented at Science in the River City (SIRC) to regional teachers on how upper-grade Peregrine students create systems of classification in science. It was a busy week for Peregrine School, and one we should be proud of.

Although these four presentations appear to be unrelated, in actuality they embody Peregrine School’s core principle—what we’re all about.

What are we about? The answer is simple, and extends from our toddler programs through our elementary school. Each of these presentations centers upon the same notion: children, as scientists, artists, activists, even philosophers, drive their own learning process. While this notion—derived from philosophers as ancient as Socrates and as contemporary as John Dewey—is essential to daily activities at Peregrine School, it places us in a leadership position worthy of conference presentations because it is not the way that educational systems generally work beyond our campuses.

As a Reggio-inspired school, our goal is to empower children as active agents. To achieve this goal, our teachers need to invent innovative techniques for listening to students’ interests and for connecting these interests to what students need to learn. For example, Can Foster was able to transform three year olds’ interest in the garden into a three-month compost experiment. Similarly, Michelle Sonoda helped four-year-old students to adapt favorite traditional stories into plays by modifying their own scripts, making their own sets and costumes, and performing for audiences. The “Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf” became “Three Little Dinosaurs and the Big Bad Snail.” Surely this play debuted for the first time at Peregrine School!

In the Dragons Chinese immersion kindergarten, students debate the meaning of “being smart,” “whether magic is real,” “what ‘free’ means during free choice,” and more, via Socratic dialogue techniques. In third through sixth grade classrooms, students grapple with developing their own systems of classifying animals and organizing the periodic table, using critical thinking skills to assess what works and why.

Traditional schools teach information directly, passing on accepted bodies of knowledge. At Peregrine School, conforming to state and national standards, the same information is learned but the process is reversed. Students direct their own learning by “discovering” concepts, debating points of view, and creating works such as plays which are unique to them. The difference in our approach is crucial. Our preschool is “play based,” meaning that students move around freely, choose activities, and develop them in collaboration with others. In elementary school, the same process evolves into “project-based learning,” in which students collaboratively develop projects such as research reports, self-authored books, and environmental actions. In both cases, the student is the active agent in their learning process, acting as a critical and creative thinker, and often feeling the satisfaction which comes from real-world actions.

It is hard to predict what will happen in the twenty-first century, when our current students will live out their adult lives, but it will certainly be a time of rapid change. Many current jobs will not exist, and innumerable jobs that do not exist now will be created. Information is growing exponentially, and no one can learn it all. Furthermore, while technology makes factual knowledge more widely accessible, the challenge of sorting out what information is credible is increasingly difficult. Students need a twenty-first century education which makes them critical and creative thinkers, and that is what they are getting at our school.

It is easy to underestimate the value of playful inquiry. As joyful as our school activities may be to our students, they are also giving them tools they need to live in the future. In turn, we are proud of our teachers, who are leaders in their fields, sharing their innovative methods of playful inquiry with other educators at regional and state conferences. This is a proud week for Peregrine School—sharing our core philosophies far and wide.

These conference experiences were made possible by Peregrine's Professional Development Fund. You can support this fund and our overall annual fundraising campaign by making your pledge today.

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