Philosophy and Values
WELCOME TO NECK OF THE WOODS
At Neck of the Woods, we firmly believe in a strengths-based approach to education and learning, to social and emotional growth for children as well as their families and communities. Here, in the heart of the Mad River Valley of Vermont, we see ourselves as a vital thread woven into the tapestry of our community. With a child-centered approach to teaching a sense of place, a sense of self, and a sense of wonder, we encourage deep communication skills, collaborative play (& work!), natural affinity-building, academic growth, and holistic wellness. With inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach to education, in connection with Howard Gardener’s Multiple intelligences, we strive to provide a high quality, developmentally appropriate environment. Our environment and our curriculum values the rights of children, emphasises respectful communication, empowerment and resilience as key pieces of a healthy child that grows into a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult.
THE 6 FOUNDATIONAL PILLARS OF NOW’S PROGRAMMING
The bedrock of our values is the idea that Neck of the Woods is an integral part of our community. This includes understanding our role as partners to parents, caregivers, families, schools, and other community organizations that help grow children and families. As such, we seek to partner with parents, schools and community organizations to best support children as they grow.
Individuals, families and children face challenges throughout life. As a connected support system for families, community and staff, Neck of the Woods is a resource to assist in navigating difficult situations. This may come in the form of skill-building classes, parenting/community support groups and training, and this will include connecting children, families and staff to the right help outside of our organization. NOW has a commitment to
supporting the mental health and well-being of families, community and staff.
providing staff with a livable wage, above the local area average salary for child care providers.
recognizing that a liveable wage and affordable childcare are two very important factors that play a vital role in the health and well-being of our families, staff and children.
Neck of the Woods harnesses growthful empowerment in children, families, community and staff through self discovery and skill-building techniques, the modeling of strong communication, engaging environments with opportunities to contribute strengths and exercise new skills. Included in our curriculum are conflict resolution techniques, empowerment of children so they are able to grow, learn, take risks, make mistakes, and master new learning opportunities.
Neck of the Woods offers a model for working through difficult moments, not only for the children we serve, but for staff and families as well.The ability to recover and rebound from difficult or challenging experiences is a key component to becoming a successful adult and community member. It is our hope that through practice and modeling both adults and children involved in our community will be able to foster resilience, and to find strength within themselves and also within a community that rallies together and supports one another.
Neck of the Woods firmly believes that beyond all else the most important skill we teach is empathy. Like any muscle, empathy is something that must be practiced and exercised to grow and define. Empathy is a skill that, when developed, opens the door for healthy communication, positive relationships, growthful experiences and more opportunities throughout life.
We at Neck of the Woods are lucky enough to have stumbled on an offer to own a beautiful campus along the Mad River, with 11 acres, solar panels, and a building built to eventually be netzero. While we move in that direction, we believe that climate change must inform our decisions about infrastructure, programming, planning, and how we teach about the future. Children are aware, and we do them no service by hiding this change from them; rather, we work to give hope for the future by being proactive. Further, we ascribe to David Sobel’s theory of place-based education and E.O. Wilson’s biophilia, as described by Sobel, here:
“Nature programs should invite children to make mud pies, climb trees, catch frogs, paint their faces with charcoal, get their hands dirty and their feet wet. They should be allowed to go off the trail and have fun. Second, environmental educators need to focus way more on hands-on experience with children and way less on systematic knowledge. Or at least understand that systematic knowledge can emerge organically from lots of hands-on experience.” (https://orionmagazine.org/article/look-dont-touch1/)
Through hands-on experience in the natural world, children learn to love and care for the earth, and Sobel asserts, evidence shows they later come to fiercely protect what they love. By making the simple tasks of ecological stewardship routine and unemotional, we make protecting the environment part of our day and make it automatic. When we add in the love of nature & deep understanding of ecology developed through experience, children are equipped to tackle climate change in their own ways, and we get to re-experience the joy of discovery along the way, as they share their finds and adventures with all of us.
EMPOWERING OUR FAMILIES FOR THE FUTURE
ROLE OF ENVIRONMENT
In ordinary times, the center’s physical space is set up to encourage connections & communication between groups of children so that they come to recognize themselves as part of a larger community. In covid times, this type of engagement was restricted to the single group’s classroom; as Vermont opens up based on the current available science, so do we here at Neck of the Woods. The environment is set up to be enticing, engaging, and to create meaningful interactions with peers, adults, and materials. Materials are selected to spark learning and curiosity, and may include traditional toys, real life objects, natural materials and loose parts. The natural world and our 11 acre parcel of land are central pieces of our programming, from infancy through school-age summer camps.
ROLE OF TEACHER
We see the adults at NOW as being guides, narrators, and facilitators for children to explore with, mirror, observe, and make connections with. Teachers not only provide learning experiences, but model behaviors and give words for emotions, express themselves so children learn to share their own thoughts and feelings, and help children take ownership for their own minds, hearts, and bodies. Adults model collaboration with one another and parents, as well as with children, and help children to collaborate with one another. Adults provide experiences where children can be self-directed and successful.
We align our curriculum model with the Multiple Intelligence theory of Howard Gardner, and project-based teaching theories such as Emergent Curriculum and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Education theory is often changing and shifting, and best practices include utilizing the Vermont Early Learning Standards, developmentally appropriate practices, and current research on education, psychology, and brain-based learning. Teachers also observe children across their abilities, using informal and formal assessments, recording skills, and watching the hard work of play.
ROLE OF CHILD AS LEARNER
Children of all abilities and interests are active, engaged, and determined learners bursting with curiosity and potential. They are contributing members of society, home, and school, and all have the right to their education. Special rights are afforded to those who need extra in order to access their right to an education. Children learn through play and imagination, and this work of childhood is to be respected and honored.
Here at Neck of the Woods, we encourage families and the community to engage with us, our program and their children. No parent or caregiver will ever be denied access to their child, at any time, unless there is a legal reason to do so. While covid policies presented to us by the state health department prevented us from inviting families into the building in the ways we are used to, such as at pick up or drop off, or from engaging in the classroom as we would normally encouraged, all parents & guardians are always able to access their child at any time. As vaccination rates increase, allowing us to engage with families and the community, we will continue to update our policies and share those changes with the Neck of the Woods center and neighborhood.
We see NOW as a piece of the larger Mad River Valley community, and we recognize families as valued, essential partners in the systems that support young children’s development, learning, and wellness. We encourage caregivers to share their skills, talents, time & effort with our center, and always welcome input about ways we can better support families.
Classroom and Behavior Management:
Our center, culture and philosophy in the classroom promotes growth and learning in all children of all abilities, backgrounds, and differences based on their personal strengths. Inspired by the idea that all children encompass multiple intelligences and everyone has strengths to share, we manage behaviors from a positive perspective. We view the environment and curriculum as an additional teacher. A carefully planned space and activities lead behaviors naturally in a positive direction, where children are allowed to shine and show their best selves. Further, we recognize that negative or disruptive behaviors are an expression of needs and wants, and we can help children to meet such needs in a safe and appropriate manner.
In the Early Childhood Program this may look like redirection, gentle reminders, adult intervention, talking through a situation, or removing a child from an unsafe environment. We see young children as unique individuals who are learning what it means to express themselves, get their needs met, and engage with others. Rather than forced apologies, we put the focus on checking in with one another around feelings and safety, followed up by asking what we can do to work towards a solution together. For young children this is often an apology, or a hug, or the sharing of a toy. Working through the process helps them to name & share their emotions, hear others, and to work collaboratively to support a safe and welcoming space in the classroom for all.
When difficult situations arise with older children, adults observe to see if children are able to handle the situation themselves, and follow up by making observations about what went well. Solutions may include redirection, engaging children in creating solutions, and encouraging them to take ownership over their own behavior and the effect it has in their learning environments. We utilize a system for conflict resolution that we call “fire breaks”. It is a tiered process that allows children to step away from the group, and center themselves, and then to share with an adult and other children involved how they perceived the situation. We also ask them to check in with others and ask how they are feeling. Together, they will then work on solutions. Adults are present to help as needed, but children lead so that the solution is authentic, positive, and easily implemented. Once resolution has happened, children rejoin the group.
At all times, safety and respect are non-negotiables, and we work to help children understand what that means, and what it looks like. We expect that they may forget, have questions, need guidance, and make mistakes. Through these processes we are able to help children bloom into compassionate, respectful, resourceful and responsible young people.
Differences and Inclusion
We define diversity as inclusive of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, family structure, neurodiverse learning styles, age, ability, nationality, immigration status, physical appearance, religion, belief systems, language, and more. A diverse, inclusive, and respectful community enhances the academic and emotional intelligence of all students and lays the foundation for them to make a change in meaningful and mindful ways.
We believe that inclusion of all kinds enables us to better understand ourselves and others, value multiple lived experiences, practice advocacy, and become co-conspirators and activists towards creating a more just and equitable world.
Differences lift us.
We believe in respecting and celebrating the families we serve, and recognize that this means there may be a range of holidays, celebration styles, and important traditions in our NOW family. Some teachers are more comfortable than others bringing holiday traditions to the classroom, but all families are always welcome to share about their culture, history, and unique experiences with the classmates in their child’s group. We also welcome parents (post covid) who wish to share a teaching experience or project about their cultural history with NOW.
Racism of any kind at any time will not be tolerated. That said, we recognize that expressions of racism are a teaching opportunity, and we will use it as such. A year has gone by since George Floyd's murder. Here at Neck of the Woods, we believe that Black Lives Matter and that justice begins with the conviction of Derek Chauvin for his murder. We recognize the systemic racism within this country and will continue to educate our students about these injustices. We, as an organization, are making a commitment to continue to examine our own personal biases and to promote inclusion here at Neck of the Woods through employment opportunities, enrollment, and challenging systemic racial issues wherever we see them.