As the idea of our “new normal” is still sinking in, childcare and education remain at the forefront of my concerns as a parent. I was thrilled to receive an invitation to tour Discovery Village, a unique local childcare and preschool facility.
They remained open throughout the pandemic and utilized these unprecedented circumstances as an opportunity to not only improve but transform their way of teaching. Standing tall on their three pillars: relationships, experiences, and values, they truly embody the notion of it taking a village to raise a child. In this case, the village is made up of teachers, children, and families.
I was so impressed with my visit on so many different levels. This establishment had it all covered, from safety precautions to their core values and curriculum. Where do I even begin? How about the main entrance!
As I am sure you can imagine, check-in procedures have been revised to include COVID-19 precautions. First things first, there is no entry without a face mask. I was actually able to witness a parent who accidentally made it to the front door and had forgotten their mask in the car, which so many of us do often. The staff members did not skip a beat! Someone noticed, and before allowing entry, they simply grabbed a new mask from the office and stepped outside to give it to the parent so that they could walk their child in.
Once inside, your temperature is taken. The next step is to grab a clean pen and sign in. They even have a separate area for pens to be placed immediately after use to be sanitized. I absolutely loved that they also provide disposable shoe covers so that the areas where children are not fully mobile, still crawling, and spending time down on the floor, stay clean.
I loved to see the teachers sitting on the floor with the children. These classrooms are truly designed to foster independence and a love of learning at all ages and stages. It was clear that even the infants are kept busy with activities designed to develop their sensory, social, emotional, and communication skills.
Everything that the children need is at the perfect height, from the toilets in the restroom to the tables and workstations. By pairing the younger toddlers with the soon to be preschoolers, they can teach and learn from one another. I spoke with a teacher who explained how early on they strive to strengthen their little villager’s language skills by encouraging speaking in full sentences, asking lots of questions and singing songs that help them remember the topics at hand. These little ones even sang an awesome song about manners for me!
Each separate area was beautiful in its own way. Still, the preschool classrooms truly showcased the love of creativity and expression through art that Discovery Village incorporates into their Reggio-inspired curriculum. The hallways were adorned with colorful projects. There are monthly celebrations and open-ended projects that allow the student to select a theme and use their own ideas to bring the activities to life in their own unique way.
What is Regio-inspired learning?
Discovery Village Founder and CEO, Shira Leibowitz, Ph.D., explained that Discovery Village is designed to be a village for children, extending to embrace active family involvement. The teachers, children, and families all work together to create an optimal environment for growth.
Each teacher has a background in education, and the teachers’ assistants are certified or in the process of becoming certified head teachers. All of their staff are trained in first aid and CPR. A number of them have completed medication administration training as well.
Discovery Village is committed to the highest quality of learning and care. From infants to toddlers, to preschoolers, there is a robust curriculum emphasizing creativity and discovery. Children receive the literacy and numeracy preparation important for kindergarten readiness, and so much more. Social-emotional skill-building, creativity, and life skills and goals are interwoven into learning. Playfulness is used to capture children’s interests and design experiences stemming from their innate love of learning. For example, rather than making hand hygiene another tedious chore, teachers saw how much fun children have splashing in the sink. They transformed this interest into an investigation into water, a full range of playful activities, and weaving frequent handwashing into the very fabric of the day, a moment to playfully transition to the next activity.
Discovery Village has also incorporated a wellness plan into their curriculum to assist with lifelong social and emotional health. The children go outside for at least 30 minutes twice a day as long as the weather permits. Also, they do daily movement activities and exercise. Healthy meals and snacks are prepared fresh on-site every day.
Local & Global Engagement
Children can contribute to drives and even buddy programs with seniors, which create connections between them and their community on a local level. On a larger scale, Discovery Village has partnered with schools in South America via Zoom meetings, which allow the children to practice their Spanish language skills, which are also taught at the facility while engaging with students on a global level.
Diversity & Inclusion
The children and staff are made up of various ethnicities, which models acceptance and love for our differences. After the death of George Floyd, Shira wanted to ensure that her staff members were well educated about anti-racist and anti-biased learning. Children develop ideas about race from infancy, so the staff came together to create some organic yet sophisticated ways to be sure that they were inclusive of everyone and truly connected. The children embraced themselves and the differences of their classmates by painting colorful self-portraits.