At Birchwood School of Hawken, we carefully considered how best to organize our preschool program so as to align ourselves with Birchwood’s mission in developmentally appropriate ways. We decided to group children based upon their social and emotional development (as we will continue to do throughout their years at Birchwood). Primarily, the breakdown will fall along children’s ages. We have found two metaphors which we believe are excellent descriptors for the development of children at these two stages: Seedlings and Sprouts.
Seedlings (3-4 year olds)
Seedlings are defined as young plants, the first growth out from the seed. In natural settings, at this stage, seedlings are growing through the soil, attempting to reach light. Upon breaking the surface and reaching the light, the seedling unfurls its first little leaves and opens to the light. As this point, it shifts from exclusive reliance upon the energy stored within the seed and transitions to photosynthesis, the developmental program of the plant life. Seedlings can also imply cultivation within a nursery, intended for transplantation. They are a tree, but not yet even a sapling.
This is an apt metaphor for this development stage regarding transition to a school environment. Parents, you have carefully tended your seedling in your family nursery, and now they are budding, ready for social engagement at another level. Their little beings are stretching for interaction with a bigger world. The world you have chosen, preschool, offers possibilities to feed their dynamic growth, but growth at this stage is not uniform and certainly not regulated. Seedlings may have a hard time leaving the nursery and being with strangers. Seedlings may be unfamiliar with a new community. Seedlings may still engage in parallel play, still preparing their beings for the ups and downs of cooperative play. The Seedling classroom and curriculum and instruction will focus on this kind of social and emotional developmental range. In this classroom, parents, you will find a partner-gardener-teacher, who sees the particular growth pattern of your seedling and works to nurture his or her social and emotional development.
Sprouts (4-5 year olds)
Sprouts, as a noun, are emergent plant growth. Whole they are still young plants, their roots are settling in. They begin to bud or form shoots. Interestingly, as a verb, sprout implies that this growth can be rapid as well.
We find four and five year olds, Sprouts, bursting with social and emotional development. Sprouts usually have experience with group play. Emotionally, Sprouts have begun to set down roots which allow them to venture into these settings with a sense of themselves as well as some enthusiasm. Now with some sense of self in an environment apart from their families, Sprouts are also more capable of empathy and sympathy. Social and emotional growth occurs, again, unevenly, but when it does, parents can hardly believe the changes even from one day to the next. The teacher-as-tender nurtures this budding stage by providing rich opportunities for healthy social engagement, while simultaneously supporting each Sprout as he or she navigates the emotional terrain in response to this engagement.
Cognitive and Academic Growth for Both Seedlings and Sprouts
Cognitive (and academic) growth during the preschool years often coincides with these stages along a spectrum. Our teachers design learning opportunities for the children which match their instructional level: the “sweet” spot of enjoyment and challenge in academic work unique to each child. The classrooms hum with activity as children work individually or in small groups at their cognitive level in developmentally appropriate ways.
Birchwood’s Preschool Teachers
Birchwood’s Seedlings and Sprouts are taught by two exceptional teachers, Mrs. Shumway and Ms. Hallett, who are dedicated to teaching children in a two-year Seedling/Sprout cycle. When your child begins at Birchwood as a Seedling they will be instructed by either Mrs. Shumway or Ms. Hallett and will then they will continue on to become a Sprout with their same teacher. This careful approach allows our Seedlings to develop into Sprouts with a teacher-guide who knows them well both socially and developmentally.