“This isn’t your typical kindergarten classroom…”
- Elisa Cornell
Q: Take us through the Project Approach, and share some examples of how it comes to life in your kindergarten class each day.
Let’s say a child is interested in a topic – maybe he/she saw something on TV, or read something somewhere. That child will ask his/her parents a question about it; the parent will usually look it up online, and that’s generally where it ends. There’s no hands-on activity associated with that learning moment. At Liggett, our Project Approach takes off from that point — it goes much deeper, and it heads in exciting directions.
When a student asks a question in my classroom, the subject of that question may be of interest to others in the class (this is called “collective interest”). That’s where the Project Approach really begins.
And this wonderful and unique learning experience is not something that our kindergarten students would likely get elsewhere.
Q: From a parent perspective, the Project Approach sounds incredibly rich and interesting, but how is the learning actually deeper?
The students’ learning is based on their questions. That’s first and foremost. With the Project Approach, their interest and their excitement starts with them, not the teacher. It enables a class of excited and genuine learners to flourish.
Is there a challenge in balancing the tremendous experience and learning that occurs through the Project Approach with the basics?
We are working with individual students and responding directly to what they need. I don’t have to limit my students by saying, 'This week, we’re all going to learn five letters.' When some of them can already read The Magic Treehouse. Most of our Project Approach work occurs in the afternoon, when the students are ready to be creative and engage in their own problem solving.
Q: At the beginning of the year, how does a Liggett preschool student differ from one who attended a different preschool?
Liggett preschool students come to me in kindergarten ready to begin the Project Approach work, their ability to pose questions – deeper questions – is obvious. Their ability to initiate research themselves is elevated. Their ability to know where to look for answers is evident. When we start talking about what they already know, they’re able to reflect on past learnings and express them purposefully.
Students who have come through Liggett prekindergarten are ready on day-one to collaboratively work with their peers, whereas students who came from other schools may not be so inclined. Our Liggett students are more likely to make connections – 'Hey, do you remember that? When we did this last year, we learned this. But now (in kindergarten) we’re doing this, and we’re learning this, and here are the similarities that I see.' That’s an incredible advantage to have as they move into such a formative period of their education.
Q: Some people might think that independent school tuition is too high for kindergarten. What would you say makes it more than worth the investment?
The value of a Liggett kindergarten education is evident in so many ways. I’ll reference art, because it offers a striking example. The last time our class visited the art museum, what really struck me was the reaction of the museum guards. These people are normally very stoic, but their jaws dropped as my students ran up to a painting and started discussing how it compares to another artist’s work. That’s just a completely different experience and outcome. Those are some of the things you’re getting with your tuition. You’re getting children who are thinkers; children who are reflective; children who make connections; children who collaborate. These are outcomes that you can’t necessarily measure, but the outcomes from a Liggett education are incredibly deep and rich. You’re getting a much different kind of student.
Q: What should all parents know about kindergarten that may get overlooked?
Kindergarten sets the whole foundation for a student’s love of learning and subsequent achievement. You can either turn a student on or off at this critical time. When kindergarten students walk into class at Liggett, they love it! They love coming to school, they love it while they’re here, and they love it when they leave at the end of the day. This is a rich experience for them, because the lines can be blurred between what is work and what is play.
I can’t envision my students getting in the car at the end of the school day and telling their parent that they learned about the letter B. But they are getting in the car and talking about how Cezanne compares to Pablo Picasso. That’s what the parents are telling me that they discuss on the way home. It’s extraordinary.
Q: From a personal perspective, what do you find most joyful about teaching at Liggett?
The students love being here, and so do I! I love coming to work every day – it truly is a joy. I love the excitement; I love the diversity of students that we have; I love that these students are thinkers and doers — that they question things, and they really want to learn.
Liggett allows teachers to be risk takers – to try new things, to gauge our students’ abilities and interests, and make decisions based on that knowledge. No one is telling me that the zoo is or isn’t on my required curriculum. I’m not being told that there’s no time to learn about bicycles or sharks, because we need to focus the students instead on Common Core requirements. I get to work with the students based on their interests and abilities. That benefits the students, and for me, it’s a new learning experience as well, which is just exhilarating.
When you have happy teachers who are excited to be here every day, and happy, engaged students, you make for a positive, learning-focused environment all around. That’s what we have here at Liggett, and it’s part of what makes our educational community so special.