Friday, August 21, 2015

If Money Were No Object

For one year, my daughter's cooperative preschool was housed in the rooms designated as the "laboratory preschool" at North Seattle College, but for the rest of the nearly two decades I've been working with young children, our schools have been housed in places like church basements, unused rooms in public schools, and other make-do spare spaces. Our current location in the Fremont Baptist Church in the Center of the Universe is incredible, but it's a shared-use facility that wasn't necessarily designed with young children in mind.

In idle moments, I often wonder, with money as no object, what would it be like to build a Woodland Park Cooperative School from scratch.

This video below is about a kindergarten in Tokyo designed by architect Takaharu Tezuka, which is not a bad place to start.

I'd want more natural spaces with trees and mud and rocks and bugs and hills and sand and grasses than one sees in this video, but since it would continue to be an urban school, still located in Fremont, that would be among the biggest challenges. I reckon, however, without being too greedy, a full city block would be about right. I would not include climbers of any sort at this imagined school, but rely instead on those trees and rocks and hills. Perhaps we would have swings and a slide or two, but I would prefer to see children swinging on ropes dangling from branches and cannonballing down muddy hills. There would be enormous areas of sand and several hand-operated water pumps. Since we would consequently have lots of messy children, we would need some fun washing up and changing areas . . . for the children who care.

My purpose-built school would have the sort of indoor-outdoor flow you see here and which is quite common in many of the Australian preschools I've visited on my trips Down Under. I also like the multi-level aspects of this kindergarten design, with it's skylights and rope nets creating opportunities to interact with one another through those vertical spaces.

I very much like the free-form modular furniture concept shown in this video. I think crates of various sizes, light weight enough for the children to move themselves, would give us the sort of flexibility we would need.

There would need to be a smooth paved surface sufficient for riding wheeled vehicles and a patch of lawn for sports play.

We would have a large garden, with a greenhouse, which would be staffed with a master garden educator, whose primary responsibility would be to engage the children who come there, meeting them at their level and interest, and where we would grow the bulk of the food we eat at school. We would also keep chickens.

Near the garden would be our kitchen, at least partially built to scale for young chefs, which is where we would prepare and eat our snacks and meals, and where the children serve themselves and one another.

We would have a fully equipped workshop where children would be supervised by our school carpenter. There would, of course, be hand tools for the children to use as well as age-appropriate power tools, but our collection would also include full-sized table, band, jig, and miter saws, a drill-press, a lathe, and whatever else a carpenter might need, because when our school needed something new, we would build it ourselves, right there in the workshop where curious kids could watch from behind some sort of safety partition, even while working on their own projects.

The children would have their own storefront "lemonade stand" as well, a place where kids could, when the mood strikes them, attempt to sell marketable items to the general public as they pass by, setting prices, making change, and generally learning about the economic law of supply and demand. Perhaps we would attempt to sell the produce we're growing in our garden or items we've manufactured in the workshop or created at the easel. And then, naturally, we would plan together how we want to spend our profits.

There would be Reggio Emilia style atelier equipped not only the full gamut of art supplies and a real-live atelierista, but also tons of storage so that children's work can be readily set aside and returned to again and again, day after day, until the child declares it "finished." This is where we would also keep our sewing machines because you never know when you're going to need a costume.

Near the atelier, of course, we would need a proper theatrical stage with curtains, a backstage area, lighting, and plenty of props and costumes.

Our library would be everywhere, with books stashed in nooks and crannies in every corner of the school, but I would really like a special "cozy story time" area of pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals where our librarian would always be available for reading stories to the kids. Likewise, musical instruments would be among our loose parts, available in every corner of the school, including everything from bells and rhythm sticks to full drum sets and pianos.

And speaking of loose parts, our collection of tires, planks, ropes, brooms, shovels, ladders, jewels, fairies, vehicles, and whatever else would be extensive.

Finally, there would be a massive, well-organized storage facility and I wouldn't mind a small office for myself, perhaps at the top of a tower that would give me a bird's eye view of the entire place, much the way the legendary football coach Bear Bryant used to survey the practices of his Crimson Tide.

I'm sure I've left out many things, and it's obviously incomplete because I've not even yet surveyed the children about their fantasy school, but what a wonderful third teacher this would be. If you have more ideas, I'd love to see them in the comments.

Update: My friend Bob suggested a laboratory, which I'll interpret in preschool as a potion mixing station, stocked with baking soda, vinegar, corn starch, oil, and other interesting, non-toxic substances, along with lots of beakers of various shapes and sizes and a large sensory table. It would be adjacent to both the workshop and natural spaces to encourage spin-off explorations.

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Grace said...

And a music space where rotating artists in residence play, share, sing, and invite children to participate. :)

Barbara Zaborowski said...


Helen said...

I love this Tom! I have fantasized about running such a preschool and as I was reading I realized that my sons had this every being educated at home! There were plenty of friends and neighbors who provided expertise, skills and tools we didn't have. Love it!

Kristin said...

This sounds so fabulous!

Michelle Walker said...

I want to work at that school! When your dream comes true, please let me know! I'd love to work and learn with you! ;)

Honeybug said...

Have often fantasised about the very same thing and have collected some inspiring pics:


Corinna Fanara said...

Maybe a 'museum' area where children can exhibit eiher their works of art or their collections - or both - and even leave their special message to the children that will come to the school in later years.