March 28, 2012

Peregrine School on Newswatch!

Check out this great video from UC Davis' Newswatch featuring Peregrine School!

Peregrine School elementary students recently participated in a program with Sara Schaefer from the Foods for Health Institute at UC Davis. Each child wore an activity monitor for two weeks that tracked how much exercise each of them got each day.

Results from the watches were later used in a series of math projects. The kids really enjoyed watching their monitors accumulate minutes and hours of exercise, and partnering with UC Davis was a great experience.

Enjoy the video!

March 26, 2012

Enrollment for the 2012-13 academic year is currently underway. If you are interested in Peregrine Elementary School for your child, please come by the school during one of our open houses to see project-based learning in action. Then join Academic Director and Co-Founder Lorie Hammond for lunch and a discussion of the elements of our unique program. If one of the above dates or times doesn't work for your schedule, please call Mischa Erickson at (530) 753-5500 to schedule a school tour.

We look forward to meeting you!

March 19, 2012

2012 Summer Programs are here!

This year, our summer program is full to the brim with unique and inspiring classes for kids ages 2-14. Check out our full brochure here.

To register your 4-14 year old in summer classes, please fill out our registration form.

To register your 2-4 year old in our Escuelita summer program, please fill out our Escuelita summer application.

For Escueltia summer rates, click here.

Please mail forms to us at:
Peregrine School
2907 Portage Bay West
Davis, CA 95616

If you have any questions about summer classes, please call Mischa at (530) 753-5500 or email us at

See you this summer!

February 24, 2012

Come celebrate the grand opening of our new elementary campus with us on March 4th from 3-5 p.m.! Our new site is located at 1909 Galileo Court in Davis, just 18 minutes from downtown Sacramento. Come enjoy yummy snacks and a performance by local band, Tha Dirt Feelin'. Admission is free and all are welcome. See you there!

February 22, 2012

What is best for my child? Making decisions about children’s educations during the early (age 2-4) and transitional (age 4-7) years.

By Lorie Hammond, Ph. D., Professor of Teacher Education, Sacramento State University, and Academic Director, Peregrine School

Every parent is concerned about the same thing: finding the right place for his/her own child, where that child will be happy and will grow to his/her full potential.  This is a complex question, because two seemingly contradictory things are true at the same time.  The first of these is that children go through predictable stages of development, which means that children of the same age are going through similar social and learning challenges.  On the other hand, each child’s needs are unique.  “ In order to be treated fairly and equally, children have to be treated differently.”  (Konner, in Wood)  This quote sums up the challenge parents and teachers face.  There is no “one size fits all” solution to meet the needs of all children.

To make matters more complex, modern society is a pressure cooker.  People feel that if learning to read at six is good, learning to read at five, or four, or even three, might be better yet.  Every parent wants his/her child to get to the top, wherever that may be.  It is natural to feel anxious about college when a child is three, but it may not be productive.  What is often forgotten in a world of testing and high achievement is the basic child development principle that becoming successful at fifteen is best forwarded by doing what one should be doing at each age along the way, rather than by accelerating the process.

In public schools today, due to testing pressures, the curriculum which used to be covered in first grade is now covered in kindergarten.  This starts a process which attempts to prepare children to compete by accelerating the learning curve throughout the school years.  Research shows that while some children manage to meet accelerating demands, the result is not measurably better than what children achieve if they maximize their potential at their own age and developmental stage.  One might say, what is the harm in letting a child push ahead?  Research and experience show that are two possible problems.  The first is that the pressure to learn things ahead of time can cause great anxiety, and even resistance to learning, in children.  The second is that the child misses out on the things s/he should have been doing at an earlier age.  Why miss the pleasures of being five, in order to become six?   Conversely, why should the child who truly is “ahead” not be able to do what s/he can do, rather than wait for the group to get there?  Gifted children are often very frustrated in school.   

At Peregrine School’s Early Childhood Center, our goal is to meet children where they are developmentally, to assist them in balancing their skills in different areas, and to help them move from where they are to the next natural step in their own learning process.  This approach is “academic”, in a deep sense, because developmental experiences in all areas are experienced and measured regularly in multiple areas which match developmental benchmarks.  Children in escuelita and primaria experience all subjects including literacy and mathematics, science and social studies, as well as all four arts, yoga, health, physical education, and above all social interaction, on a regular basis.  They also learn in two languages.  However, only a small part of what they do LOOKS academic to an adult accustomed to “school” settings rather than developmental practices.
What do young children need to learn?  Escuelita, primaria, and our new elementary classrooms are set up to fit children’s varied developmental needs at particular ages.  The following descriptions, derived from research on child development, explain this point.   These descriptions might serve as a guideline for individual parental (and teacher-guided) decisions about where your child should be placed.  

ESCUELITA is designed for the 2 and 3 year old child.  At this age, social, language, and motor development are paramount.  Young children should have opportunities to be active all day, to reach out beyond their family to get to know friends and teachers, and to play.  Piaget called this phrase the “sensori-motor” stage of development, which means that learning occurs through all the senses at once.  This is why if we are studying the arctic, we give children ice sheets in the water table to touch, arctic animals and block igloos to play with, and fur to feel.  While this is not a “sit down academic” time for learning, this is a stage when some of the most important learning of a child’s life occurs.  

The brain is plastic and responsive to everything at this age, especially language.  This is when a second language should be introduced, which is why we teach Spanish.  It is also when English language is developed.  Children benefit from conversation, with teachers and each other, from “sportscasting”, as when teachers narrate the play they see around them, and from exposure to wonderful books.  When a child “play reads” a story, repeating what s/he remembers from hearing it read, this is literacy development.  Whether or not a few letters are learned by the child at age three is immaterial.  The real literacy development is in learning to understand and tell increasingly complex stories and engage in increasingly complex conversations about the world.  Exposure to a rich environment is key.  This is our goal in escuelita, and I think our teachers do it well.  All modalities, such as music, dance, poetry, visual arts, and more, should be presented as options for expression, so that the child can freely express him/herself.

Above all, this is when the child leaves the safe cloister of his/her home and ventures into a small, safe classroom world.  At first, s/he will play in a “parallel” way, watching those around him/her but rarely interacting, basically creating his/her own story line.  Over time, by the end of being three, most children are able to play with others in an interactive way, sharing (and fighting over) the story line.  Emotional intelligence is developed by learning to solve the inevitable conflicts that occur, learning to share space, toys, and the direction of the play, something that is not even easy for some adults.  This is hard and important work.

The early years form a substrate upon which the rest of the child’s intellectual and emotional life can be built.  It is important that the child feel s/he is the protagonist in his/her own story, to use the language of Reggio Emilia.  That is why we follow the Reggio philosophy, and base much of our curriculum on listening to children’s ideas and interests.   Eric Erickson, in Childhood and Society, lays out that it is during these years that autonomy and initiative are built.  Most of the world is busy accomplishing adult sorts of things.  It is important that children find a space in the nursery school where they can pursue their fantasy hopes and dreams, where children’s ideas matter.  
By the way, it is more “modern” to use the word “pre-school” than “nursery school” these days.  But think of the implications.  A pre-school prepares a person for the next school, rather than being a place of its own.  A nursery school, on the other hand, is like a nursery where plants are nurtured, where they are given just the right water, food, and nutrients to grow, and where they are sheltered from the harsher world so that they can get a good start.  This is what we hope to do.

PRIMARIA continues the process begun in escuelita, but caters to the 4-5 year old child, who is experiencing an enormous intellectual growth spurt.  Children in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are still in the sensori-motor stage of growth, which is why we have (after much thought) placed them together and in the Early Childhood Center, rather than in the elementary school.  (In this choice, we have followed the advice of the UCLA Lab School, a partner to a research institution, which also divides their classes in this way to allow for a play-based kindergarten).  

“Fours are ready for everything.  They are explorers and are soaking up the world of knowledge with incredible speed…  Children at four demand school programs which are flexible, exciting and creative because they are flexible, exciting and creative creatures.  They respond joyfully to dance, creative movement, outdoor play, and drama… Paper and pencil tasks should be kept to a minimum… Learning goes from the hand to the head, not the other way around.” (Wood, Yardsticks, p. 32-33)

When a three and a four year old are shown a cupcake being taken from a tray and hidden in a box, out of sight of another child who enters the room, the three year old will think the new child will know where to look for the cupcake (because he himself does), whereas the four year old will know that the new child did not see it moved and will not know where to look.  To understand that different people see the world differently, based on their experience and who they are, is a huge leap forward in understanding social behavior.  The four year old makes this leap, but social life also gets more complex.  Deciding who is “boss” is an important part of play, and collaborating can be a challenge.

“A five year old boy… in an overly academic kindergarten…  marched up to the teacher’s desk… and announced, ‘You don’t seem to understand, teacher, I just came here to eat and play.’” (Wood, p. 41)  Four and five year olds respond well to a mixture of structure and playtime.  They can sit for 15-20 minutes and discuss a topic or listen to a story.  But most of their day should still be play-based.  
At Peregrine School, primaria is the transition between the truly play-based escuelita program and the more academic elementary program.  “Activity time” is the center of the action.  During this time, projects which fit curricula being learned about are placed in centers, and children move freely about, trying out art projects, gardening challenges, math games and the like, usually centered around a theme.  A rich array of stories are read, often also on the topic under study, to build background knowledge and vocabulary.  A two-year theme of water is pursued, aimed at creating deep understanding of river systems and trout one year, and ocean environments the next.  The garden with its seasons, and other natural topics that come up, are pursued as well.  There is plenty of room for children’s interests to become the topic of unplanned studies, some of which become the most important.  

Ten to twenty minutes a day or so can appropriately spent on formal literacy and math activities, but the real way in which reading and math occur is through the projects and the environment.  Areas and objects are labeled in English and Spanish, children’s stories are dictated to teachers and written down, to be read back to parents and teachers later, writing materials such as letter paper and envelopes are provided, and a general atmosphere is created in which literacy is naturally developed.  Children manipulate shapes and patterns, count objects, measure their plants in the garden, create a twenty foot long giant squid, and explore math in a multitude of ways which they would not label as math.  The foundation is being laid, so that when the developmentally correct time comes, reading and math are easy to learn.  For some, that will be during the primaria years, and the skills will come on their own.  For others, it will be in first or second grade.  But literacy and math are not discrete events.  They are long term processes which occur over several/many years, and they take on meaning because they prove useful in solving problems and delightful because they create access to stories you really want to know.  

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL:  At somewhere between age 6 and 7, children go through a major developmental shift which Piaget has labeled the entrance to the “concrete operations” stage of learning.  This stage goes on until about age 12, when an intellectual phase begins which is less “concrete” and enables more abstraction.  What are concrete operations?  Just as the baby is built to soak up language, children in the concrete operations phase are built to learn symbols.  At first these symbols are quite concrete, such as alphabets, sounds, math symbols and operations, music notes, and more.  Children in this phase love games to have rules, and want to stick to them exactly.  They respond to and like rule governed classrooms, in which consequences are specific and consistent.  In short, they no longer live so fully in the world of the imagination, of their families, and of their own bodies, and are proud of their ability to enter a much bigger and more social world.   All of this happens step by step, however, and the primary grades (1-3) are significantly more concrete in their approach to material than the intermediate grades (4-6), in which systems get more complex and flexibility in rules and decisions can be managed.

There is much that can be said about this stage of development that will not be laid out here.  Parents interested in our elementary curricula and organization are encouraged to ask for more information.   What is clear, however, is that this is the age when children are naturally geared to learning to read and write and do numbers, to follow rules and participate in a more organized school program.  At Peregrine School, we do not want children to lose the sense of autonomy they gained in their early childhood years, so we focus their attention on projects which they have some part in choosing, and which connect individual strengths and interests to standards and curricula that must be learned.  In addition, children still learn best through concrete experience, so our projects still involve many kinds of materials and interactions, rather than just books, pencils, and paper.  The challenge for children in the elementary years is to feel competent, to feel that their industry results in the development of skills and talents that give them confidence to pursue a broad range of life pursuits.  As in early childhood, no child’s journey is the same as any others, and every effort is made to help children feel good about what they can and love to do, rather than to compare themselves with others.  

As your child transitions between escuelita and primaria, and later into the elementary years, you as a parent have many decisions to make.  At each stage, teachers well versed in developmental stages can be your guide.  In addition, you will decide between the options offered by various school systems.  Peregrine School is a child-centered, developmental model.  Play based learning evolves into project based learning as children get older.  Variations for individual children are accommodated whenever possible.  Public schools operate on a different model, based on standards and benchmarks for grade levels.  Many children can manage such a system when they enter the elementary years, although some may resent expectations which are not geared to their talents, needs or interests.  

At the kindergarten level, Peregrine intentionally offers a safety net for parents and children who are not quite ready for a more externalized system.  Children can stay in our classrooms for varying periods of time, depending on their own development.  Hence, a child might complete kindergarten in primaria and then attend a public kindergarten, or another year in primaria, thus buying an extra year to grow up.  S/he will not be aware of this extra year, since our classes are not graded.  Likewise, a child who is very mature and misses the new public school age cut offs might enter first grade early at Peregrine, since we are not bound by age restrictions.  

Regardless of your long term plans for your child, you might want to consider using primaria as a place where your child can experience early childhood in a setting designed for the developmental needs of the 4-6 year old child.  We would not be creating Peregrine School if we did not believe that children deserve to be in an environment based on their stage of development in all areas (social, intellectual, and emotional), as well as to their unique talents, needs, and interests.   

Eliot, Lise (1999) What’s going on in there?  How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life.  Bantam Books: New York.

Erickson, Eric (1950, 1963) Childhood and Society.  W. W. Norton and Company: New York.

Wood, Chip (1994, 1997) Yardsticks: Children in the classroom ages 4-14.  Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.: Greenfield, Massachusetts.