For Courtney Platt, early childhood education needs creativity and space to flourish. That’s why the teacher and mother of two decided to start The Ridge Preschool & Learning Center at her home in Gardiner.
“I’m a licensed teacher in New York State. I started teaching in 2005 in Colorado,” Platt explained. “I started teaching at a Reggio Emilia preschool out there, and ever since I’d always had an idea that I wanted to open my own.”
Reggio Emilia, like the Waldorf or Montessori educational movements, is a style of teaching. It tries to nurture creativity in kids by getting them to solve problems themselves.
The Ridge Preschool is a fusion of Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and other styles, but it owes a lot to the Reggio method, Platt said.
“It’s a unique philosophy,” she said. When kids create a project, their work is documented to record why they made the decisions they made and what conclusions they came to.
“My kids go to preschool in Woodstock. My husband teaches sixth grade over there. And when I was thinking at first that I would have to send them to preschool here, I didn’t see exactly what I was looking for. There’s good Montessori schools, good Waldorf schools, but I just wanted something a little more creative.”
Reggio-style schools allow kids to learn tool use in their own way. It exposes them to clays, paints, beads and materials galore, but the process is self-guided. “There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. In some philosophies, there’s a right way to use the tools and materials. Here it’s just a really creative space.”
The Ridge also practices what’s called the “emerging curriculum,” which uses a child’s pre-existing interests, spinning them out into useful lessons. An interest in carnival games, for instance, might lead a Reggio-style youngster to create their own games. They’d have to think about how that game would be scored, its rules and design — a lesson in math, logic and engineering all rolled into one.
“It’s not like some schools where it’s the ‘Letter of the Day’ and every April you learn about gardens,” she said. “It’s really based on what the kids are interested in. It could be random. It could be spiders. It could be gravity. It could be gardening.”
By expanding lessons and projects from kids’ interests, it helps them buy in. Sometimes, they forget they’re learning.
“It’s a way to build their knowledge and give them new vocabulary,” Platt said.
Reggio-influenced preschools — like The Ridge — try not to patronize kids or think them incapable. It looks for the skills and talents within them and tries to empower that, she added.
While not completed yet, The Ridge is working on a “natural playscape” out back. That is to say a playground built around the features of the land, crafted from wood and other natural building materials.
Inside the classroom, there is a dress-up area — complete with a series of disguises and costumes. There are shelves full of blocks and tubing, paints, beads, crayons and clay. There are drums and musical instruments, abacuses for counting, letter blocks and a sensory exploration station.
Platt got her bachelor’s from Cornell University, but got her masters in educational psychology in Colorado.
For the 2014-2015 school year, The Ridge is keeping it at six kids. So space is limited, but there is still time to sign up and a few spaces open. Interested parents can schedule a visit. It is for ages 2.5 to 6.