By Elise Bauer, former Director of Lower School and current Director of Admissions at C&C
I would like to share a few City and Country School terms with you because they are integral to the City and Country School philosophy and reflect what is important to us as we work with your children. These words are “steady,” “work,” and “Group.”
The first word, “steady,” is a way that we help young children gain self-control. You’ll hear teachers say, “Please get steady,” or -It’s time to get steady now.” It’s a non-judgmental, neutral way of letting a child know how to behave (instead of saying to a child, “You’re being good or bad”). The key word here is “non-judgmental.” City and Country School is a place where children are supported in every conceivable way, even in our subtle use of language.
The next word is “work.” “Work” describes the activities that children do. They work with paint, they work with blocks, they choose materials to work with during worktime. We usually use the word “work” instead of “play” because we believe that play is the work of young children. Play is serious work to them. And that is how young children learn—through play. We offer them open-ended materials (blocks, clay, paint, water, books) and invite them to experiment and explore. Through their explorations, the children imagine, think, and create. They solve their own problems. They discover new and interesting ways of doing things. It is in play and work with materials that children put things together—their experiences, their information and misinformation—and work very hard to make sense of the world. It is in play that young children—children who are not yet capable of expressing themselves in words—can express the depth and breadth of their thoughts and feelings.
The last word is “Group.” Instead of using the word “class,” we use the word “Group” to describe our Groups of children. We say, “the Group Teacher” or “the Ils Groups are singing together today.” We do this because the word “Group” suggests the spirit of community and working together that is intrinsic to City and Country School, regardless of age. The nature of our program—the Group work, the Jobs, the shared materials, the cooperative learning, decision making and problem-solving—provides children with opportunities to experience and understand how to live and work together with caring, fairness, and respect.
In addition to the three terms “steady,” “work,” and “Group,” I’d like to mention a general school of thought under which we operate here at City and Country School: the idea that “less is more.” From the youngest ages, “less is more” pervades how we believe children learn best. Instead of offering a wide selection of specific games, toys, and commercial materials that tend to provide entertainment for the children (such as many other schools do), our Lower School classrooms are stocked with a few basic materials that are adaptable to many uses and ideas. These materials require real involvement on the part of the children, which leads to deep understanding and a growing attention span. Likewise, in the Middle and Upper School, the Groups study a few select topics each year, building an in-depth understanding, rather than surface knowledge about many things.
The role that teachers play in City and Country School’s classrooms also fits the “less is more” approach. Teachers facilitate activities, not lead them. They observe children at work and ask the right kinds of questions to further the children’s knowledge. These questions are often simple, such as “Why?” or “What do you think?” The idea is to get the children to do the thinking and talking. The center of attention is not the teachers, but the children and their work.