Recently, the education magazine, Semeynoe, published two articles on City and Country School. Semeynoe focuses on home schooling, but is read by educators throughout Russia. We've translated the articles and added them to our site along with scans of the original articles.
BROOKLYN BRIDGE MADE OF BLOCKS (#6 2016)
Wooden blocks (bricks of different forms and shapes) were invented in 1913 by Caroline Pratt, American teacher and innovator, founder of the City and Country school in New York.
Pratt aimed to create a special atmosphere and surround children with materials that would encourage learning through play and personal experience. She dreamed of creating a children’s world that would replicate a real adult world with its connections and relationships. Early childhood is the age of experiments, discoveries and play.
Blocks give children an opportunity to express their vision of the world, both in social and physical forms. Young kids build simple towers, older children – complex dynamic structures of houses, buildings, and infrastructure. Children use blocks for role play, building familiar constructions: skyscrapers, houses, airports, piers, zoos and farms. This way, they express their vision of the world.
Group work on block constructions teaches the children to name and solve problems, negotiate, cooperate, analyze information about the environment and share this knowledge with their peers. Using blocks on an everyday basis, children learn about weight, balance, design, sequences and many other things. Thanks to this, mathematical concepts are perceived intuitively. Using blocks at a young age creates a solid base for teaching five to seven-year-olds.
Playing with blocks at the age of two, children learn about balance and weight and compare sizes. When they go outside, there are blocks of different shapes and sizes waiting for them. Children enjoy overcoming difficulties while learning about risk and safety.
Starting from the age of five, children work in a group, sometimes spending a week or more to build a piece. Children build a real building, examining and improving it in the process. They start with simple projects and progress to more difficult ones. Children are taken on city trips to learn about business and social life in New York.
At the age of seven, they say goodbye to the building blocks and it becomes the biggest project. Children research the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and its history, walk on it, imagining being constructors: what do they have to pay attention to, how to make a drawing or calculate the weight? After mathematical analysis, children start building: they create a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Wooden blocks are very convenient for teaching math: fractions, multiplications, symmetry, interconnections; for creating maps, carrying measurements, classifications, and spatial orientation. These skills are connected with other subjects, such as geography, languages, science and the arts. Today blocks are used in schools around the world to encourage creativity in children and stimulate their intellectual, physical, social and emotional development.
CAROLINE PRATT AND HER CITY AND COUNTRY SCHOOL (#8 2016)
“Who is the one better to be silent during the lesson? The teacher!”
Meet City and Country School.
Its philosophy, experience, and innovations.
City and Country School (C&C) was established in New York in 1914 by teacher and innovator, Caroline Pratt. Caroline believed children were naturally predisposed to learning and cognition just as much as they were to crawling, walking, throwing, and pulling. However, children lose eagerness for knowledge long before they become adults. They lose this eagerness at school, where they’re made to sit still and listen to the teacher instead of discovering the world. What did Caroline Pratt suggest?
LEARNING WITH MEANING
A human being starts learning from a very early age, just by watching the people around them. This process is happening through hearing, vision, and muscle movement. For young children, the information received from books or a teacher doesn’t make much sense. They get information about the world through their senses, and that’s why learning from books at an early age doesn’t come first.
A teacher may encourage a child to examine or research something, but the initial impulse should come from the child. Children are very enthusiastic learners when they feel they need that knowledge. They’ve learned how to walk and talk, which means they’re capable of learning other things too. Having knowledge and being able to use it leads to thinking and reasoning. A child expects to get something specific, tangible, and functional because of their actions. This is what we call learning with meaning.
Nothing is fixed at City and Country School: children can move freely; furniture can be reshuffled. Every child knows what he or she needs to do to finish their work, and the teacher is always there among the children.
A child has freedom to follow his or her interests, to engage in an activity they have chosen themselves and use the materials they need. However, this freedom is not unlimited: a child shouldn’t disturb others or interfere with their activities.
Appreciation of boundaries—both personal and group ones—depends on the society a child lives in. In a positive environment, kids learn to assume group responsibility and intuitively follow rules of the group, keeping their own individual freedom at the same time.
Voluntary and spontaneous play is important in its own right, it’s not enough to limit playtime to short breaks and evenings. While playing, kids replicate processes of adult life, preparing to be part of that world in the future. This is their education. Substituting theoretical teaching with toys for roleplay would do a much better job.
Children themselves order office supplies, keep sales registry, study supply and demand.
Caroline split the school program into play and practical experiences: the play part included building with blocks (more in the “Brooklyn Bridge Made In Blocks” article, N6 CO), art studies, Plays and Shares; practical experiences included working in the kitchen, workshops, and studying different materials. These two areas became the basis of the school program.
CHILD’S OWN PACE
Children may take as much time as they need to finish a project, because it’s meaningful for them. Just imagine being interrupted while you’re watching an engaging theatre performance! A child may take more time to think it over, to amend something, to find some new materials and tools and “watch” their personal performance in their own rhythm.
We asked Jane Clark, the Director of City and Country’s Lower School to tell us about the role of teachers and parents in the learning process.
A teacher in our school, especially at the early stages, is a facilitator. Depending on the children’s age, this role may take different forms. For example, younger kids need to work on their communications skills: they need to learn how to address each other and listen to each other. A teacher’s goal in this case is to equip children with the skills required for problem solving and cooperative work. When it comes to the timetable, a teacher would be watching the child and analyzing their behavior, deciding on the most efficient development path for each child.
Parents and teacher discuss successes and difficulties of children, working out the strategy to continue the education at home. This relationship is based on trust and partnership. This approach ensures safe, comfortable and trusting environment our children benefit from.
TEACHERS WITH A MISSION
A teacher is someone who has profound life experience and the ability to pass this experience to children. City and Country has always welcomed up-and-coming teachers who share the values of the school, often developing them into full-fledged teachers. Caroline wanted to keep focusing on children—not lesson plans and assignments.
Pratt was aiming to develop a program based on kids’ practical experience. That’s why older children get a profession. Each profession covers some of the school’s needs and the children receive new skills and put their academic knowledge into use, developing leadership, critical thinking and problem solving skills. They witness how the school depends on their work, learn to respect different roles in the society and gain self-respect. Children become responsible for their own actions, actions of their group and the whole community. Personification of knowledge helps to internalize the information, comparing to theoretical learning.
++++Ed. Note: The article then lays out the jobs program at a glance. More information on the Jobs Program can be found on our website.++++