My oldest son, Jonah now 5, attends the Secret Garden preschool in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. This will be his last year there as he begins kindergarten next year at TOPS. Back around the time Jonah first started at Secret Garden, I wrote a post about one of my favorite Seattle restaurants, Vios. I mentioned that a fellow Secret Garden parent had “turned me on” to the place. More on the significance of this post a bit later.
My wife, son and I love Secret Garden. He’s thrived on the stimulation it provides. The teachers are loving, patient and among the most creative I know. They don’t adhere to any particular learning philosophy–mostly it’s just common sense. The children do some of the most inventive art projects I know. For example, they did a series of weeks each focusing on a part of the human body (skin, bones, teeth, etc.). For one of the projects, Jonah created a human skeleton out of construction paper complete with movable limbs.
I should let Laurie Smith, the school’s founder and a PhD in microbiology, describe her pedagogical approach:
Preschool years are one of the greatest times of discovery, learning and exploration for young children. They are discovering their feelings, learning life-long social skills and expanding their intellectual horizons by leaps and bounds. The Secret Garden Preschool will provide a safe and supportive environment where your child can develop in all these ways.
Perhaps the most challenging area of growth for preschoolers is their emotional and social development. One of the primary goals of the program is to help children learn the skills of sharing, problem solving, cooperation and expressing ones feelings and desires verbally. We help children acquire these skills through lots of positive guidance and by role modeling. We want all our children to learn the importance of compassion, kindness and respect for all. The teachers at The Secret Garden Preschool teach by these values.
The Secret Garden Preschool also regards community spirit as another important goal of its program. Helping one another as well as others in our community is important to our teachers and it is also a part of our curriculum. In the past years, we have helped out several local agencies such as Childhaven, Heritage House Senior Center in the Pike Place Market, Adopt-A-Family, Boyer Children’s Clinic, and Northwest Harvest with food banks, Valentines, Winter donations, etc. We want the children in our school community to understand the value of giving and helping others.
We believe that in order to build a strong sense of community within our school, we must begin with each child as an individual. For the more children learn about themselves and their abilities, the more confident they will be about themselves and with interacting and contributing to a group. The main way that we promote this self-confidence and self-esteem is to give children a lot of individual attention on a daily basis. Our low student to teacher ratio (5/6:1) allows us to do so. Classes are tailored to meet individual interests, abilities and learning styles.
One other key element of our curriculum is to give children ample time to engage in child-directed play and discovery. We give the children a lot of “hands-on” type of materials that they can explore with each day. Choice time or free play is one key component of the daily schedule. Play is one of the first steps in the process of learning. We view play as a gift that all children innately possess. We are here to nurture that gift and to take part in it (and learn from it) whenever we can!
All of which brings me to the purpose of this post. When I dropped Jonah off this morning, Laurie Smith, the school’s owner and my son’s teacher, told me a couple from California had just toured the school. They looked around the classroom and stopped at some pictures on the wall of this year’s students. They told Laurie: “We know this boy.” It was Jonah’s picture. Laurie asked how they knew him. They explained that they’d first heard about Secret Garden from reading my blog. In visiting my blog, they saw pictures of Jonah. That’s how they knew him. Finally, they said to Laurie: “We know Jonah even though we don’t really know him.”
There are people out there (my wife included) who don’t understand the power or purpose of blogs. It’s something that’s too ephemeral or intangible to them. Not to mention all the dreck and stupidity you sometimes have to deal with in writing your own blog. But this incident in a nutshell represents one of the reasons why I blog. You can bring people together in a way they wouldn’t otherwise have met. You can promote good values. You can offer the benefit of your own experiences to help others going through the same ones themselves. That’s when blogging meets its full potential to make the world a better place.