SSU's Children's School: Where the Environment is the Teacher

picl.jpgThe entrance to the Children's School on the SSU campus is the first step to understanding the power of the environment as teacher.

Some children harvest raspberries as others care for chickens that inhabit the outdoor area that surrounds the school. Pears and other fruits growing in the garden are ready to be plucked soon.Sponsored by the Associated Students, the Children's School offers a one-of-a-kind learning experience for children ages one to five years old, for low income families, and for SSU students and faculty

Since opening in 1976, the Children's School has undergone a series of transformations throughout the last 38 years. The most compelling is what is happening now.

Lia Thompson-Clark, Director of the Children's School, believes in the power of early education as well as the importance of caring for and teaching children.

"The Children's School prides itself upon a philosophy that allows children to explore and understand their environment and the living systems that surround them," she says. "That is why the Children's School incorporates outdoor activities as such a large part of a young child's daily life there."

The school was originally started as an Associated Students program to help students pursue their degree while their children were in a high quality, nurturing environment. The mission has always been about serving children of students and primarily low-income students," said Thompson-Clark

Thompson-Clark believes in the importance of allowing children to explore their environment and develop ideas on their own. She also believes in teaching children resourcefulness, something that is vital as a child grows. These ideas are part of the Children's School's three-fold mission statement.


Bathe Your Children in Language


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Early childhood education is at the heart of Ashley Chavez's world.  "Infants and toddlers are active learners of language, so as parents, teachers, and caregivers, we do not need to TEACH them language," she says.


A teacher at the Children's School, she offers these tips for parents and caretakers about how to excite children about language:

1. Make language a natural part of your relationship with your infant, toddler, or older child. Children learn language in the context of human relationships.

2. It is important to provide infants, toddlers, and older children with rich language experiences such as: reading books, singing songs, playing rhyming games, and culturally specific prayers, rituals.

3. Children need us to "bathe" them in language, rather than "drown" them in language.

4. It is important for children to be exposed to "extra" language as well as "business" language. "Business" language being the types of language that surrounds daily routines, and "extra" language being the fun story-telling, narrative, conversational language.

5. Simply using rich, high-quality language rather than "baby talk" with your child will help them build a strong vocabulary.

"The first [of our three-fold mission] is our philosophy, second would be the environment because we believe deeply in the power of the environment as a teacher. The third would be the many ways that we support Sonoma State students," said Thompson-Clark


Part of the Children School's philosophy is to serve not only young children, but also the students of Sonoma State that the school employs - roughly 40-50 students from a range of majors.

In 2012, the Early Childhood Studies program was launched, a program that allowed Sonoma State students to earn a bachelor's degree and masters in the program. This was a landmark accomplishment because of the long-time push to have such a program at Sonoma State.


The Early Childhood Studies program and the Children's School now work together by creating place where SSU students can use the Children's School as a laboratory, gainig hands-on experience caring for the young children.
Students from a variety of freshman interest groups (FIG) and classes participate in observations of the children as a way to begin to understand early childhood development. The Children's School also has interns from the psychology department.

What makes the Children's School so unique is the various teaching styles, learning styles and the way the children of the school are taught and cared for. "They learn to respect their environment and they're also shown how humans and other living systems on the planet work together," Thompson-Clark says.

"Teaching young children is not simple or easy. There are profoundly different ideas about the best way to support children. We believe that children are born absolutely competent and know what it is they need to learn in order to grow and develop," says Thompson-Clark.

"They construct their ideas about how the world works in many different and fascinating ways. The period of early childhood is one in which they need to be supported for their own ideas and not didactically taught that there are certain truths and ways things are."


- Kayla Galloway

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