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Early Academics: Where Do We Stand?

According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers. “You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.”

Will my child learn her numbers and letters? Will he be able to write his name before he leaves this school? What about reading? We hear these questions each time we meet with prospective families and share our school philosophy with them. The answers to these questions are complex, require deep inquiry and create an opportunity for families to reflect on their values. Our school's values are always aligned: observe, respect and support the children's inquiries. We approach a child's interest in literacy in the same way that we do a child's interest in painting: we observe, document, reflect, collaborate and support the continued exploration of the child. If a child shows interest in reading or letters (which nearly all of them do at some point during the school year), we honor that interest and help that child develop skills in that area.

Our emphasis on outdoor education supports children's learning in many ways. Current research shows that outdoor learning helps develop children's executive functioning, collaboration, problem-solving and motor skills. England recently published a Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, which explores why outdoor learning is essential for children's cognitive and physical development:

"By helping young people apply their knowledge across a range of challenges, learning outside the classroom builds

bridges between theory and reality, schools and communities, young people and their futures. Quality learning experiences in ‘real’ situations have the capacity to raise achievement across a range of subjects and to develop better personal and social skills.

When these experiences are well planned, safely managed and personalized to meet the needs of every child they can:

  • Improve academic achievement.

  • Provide a bridge to higher order learning.

  • Develop skills and independence in a widening range of environments.

  • Make learning more engaging and relevant to young people.

  • Develop active citizens and stewards of the environment.

  • Nurture creativity.

  • Provide opportunities for informal learning through play.

  • Reduce behavior problems and improve attendance.

  • Stimulate, inspire and improve motivation.

  • Develop the ability to deal with uncertainty.

  • Provide challenge and the opportunity to take acceptable levels of risk.

  • Improve young people’s attitudes to learning."







Currently, WLC is fine-tuning its developmental goals for children preschool through kindergarten at our school. They will provide a framework for parents to understand their children’s progress as well as a lens for them to view their children’s investigations and play. These goals include the following developmental areas: cognitive, social, emotional, physical, communication and collaboration. We provide an environment that encourages and supports children’s explorations in the areas of literacy, language, math, science, engineering, community integration, art, music, drama and movement. Additionally, we provide them the tools to understand their own values, to take care of themselves at an appropriate level  and to regulate their emotions. For more details about our guiding principals, please visit Our Educational Approach.


Because we are a school that values children's competence and creativity, our primary work is observing, documenting and reflecting on the children’s work and play. We collaborate with parents and teachers as we reflect on our own documentation and create provocations for the children. Provocations can be questions posed, materials supplied, purposeful hikes in nature to explore a topic, books presented and more. The goals of the provocation are two-fold: to see if the teachers’ reflections on the children’s play is accurate (When reflecting on photos and other documentation of the children, did we hypothesize correctly what the children’s inquiry was?) and to provide opportunity for the children to test out their own hypotheses. In short, we study the children as they study the world.


WLC educators take documentation very seriously and view it as an essential component of our approach. The goal is not simply to have beautiful photos around the school. The goal is to make children’s learning and thinking visible so that we can see them accurately and support their learning inquiries, which leads to cognitive, emotional, social, physical and language development.

"The power of play as the engine of learning in early childhood and as a vital force for young children’s physical, social, and emotional development is beyond question. Children in play-based kindergartens have a double advantage over those who are denied play: they end up equally good or better at reading and other intellectual skills, and they are more likely to become well-adjusted healthy people."

-Joan Almon, Alliance for Childhood

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