Frequently Asked Questions
Open Door School is a Progressive Preschool. What does this mean?
Progressive education is a movement that was first described by John Dewey in the beginning of the last century. Its mission is to help children grow into self-confident, ethical members of society.
The progressive school teaches the child to think for himself instead of passively accepting stereotyped ideas. It keeps always in mind that each child is different from every other, and that what makes an educated person useful in his particular walk of life, what makes him interesting, what makes him an individual, is not his resemblance to other people, but his differences.
- John French
- At Open Door School parents, staff, and children cooperate with one another and with others outside the school to create a joyful and challenging climate for learning. This makes us a community school.
- At Open Door School we help children discover the power and excitement of their minds, their feelings and bodies, their relationships, their art. We assure children of their value, encourage their accomplishments, and respect their individual learning styles. We value diversity. This makes us a child-centered school.
- At Open Door School we emphasize cooperation; promote self-reflection, support innovation, and value change. We share our philosophy and practice with others and learn from them. This makes us a progressive school.
- At Open Door School we value justice, gender-fairness, and conflict resolution. We begin to educate children to live as responsive, responsible members of their own communities, now and in the future. We aim to make the world a better place.
Discipline/Conflict Resolution Skills
What is the discipline plan in place at ODS?
Discipline at Open Door School involves the careful construction of an environment which fosters independence, respect, warmth, and comfort. Expectations are stated in a positive rather than negative form. Whenever possible, children are allowed to experience natural and logical consequences of their behavior. Open Door School staff do not punish children and do not force children to apologize. They will, however, encourage children to take notice of their peers’ verbal or facial expressions of feelings, to discuss the choices to help their peer feel better; and think of various acceptable ways of handling similar situations. At times children may be asked to take a few moments to step away and “cool off” (always within view of the teacher) and to rejoin the group when the child feels (s)he is ready. This question is explained in more detail in the Discipline & Inclusion policies on page 28-30 of the parent handbook.
I want to know more of the repertoire of conflict resolution techniques used by teachers.
The Conflict Resolution techniques at Open Door School involve helping children to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings, as well as encouraging them to listen to and strive to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. Conflict Resolution typically involves hard feelings for all children involved. It is an opportunity for the children to think about what they really want and how to get it without hurting people’s feelings, and to practice speaking their minds. As children learn to express their feelings appropriately and respectfully and work on collaborative decision-making processes, they learn that there are different ways of doing things and many possible solutions to challenges. Having said this, each Conflict Resolution situation is unique, and is handled with consideration to both the developmental abilities and the personalities of the children involved. Basic guidelines for Conflict Resolution are addressed in the parent handbook in the Discipline Policy on page 28.
How do the teachers gauge when to get involved in a conflict and when to hang back and let the children resolve it? Aren’t there times when children need intervention?
At Open Door School, children are allowed to resolve their own conflicts as much as possible. This does not mean, however, that the teachers never intervene. When children are engaged in conflict, the teachers watch closely. If the conflict escalates to a point where a child seems overwhelmed or if no solution seems imminent, the teachers will objectively mediate without posing a solution or taking sides. This is usually achieved by leading a question-based discussion with the children involved, to help bring clarity about each child’s point of view. If the conflict becomes physical, the teacher may separate the children to ensure their safety.
How have ODS parents used the communication and conflict resolution skills they’ve learned at ODS successfully across the age ranges (for instance, with sibling rivalry)?
For this question, we asked some parents with multiple children, who have been involved with Open Door for a few years, to respond. Here’s what some parents offered:
I think having each side have a chance to be heard is the most important. It gives them a sense of power and that their opinion matters. For the most part my kids just want to throw their 2 cents in and know that they have both had a chance to voice their own opinion. Then they usually will meet some place in the middle. It is challenging for me to have the patience to get them to calm down, talk, and listen. I want to say “we do not do that ...or we respect each other...or we..."just to get the issue resolved quickly and move on. But in most cases they are not really listening to me because they are thinking about what their side of the story is...that is why letting them each talk and the other listen usually gives them time to calm down.
from Katie Catron
I have implemented ODS on a daily basis with my kids (ages 5,2 and a baby). I let them resolve their differences with little interference (as long as there is no one getting hurt). I also let them come up with ideas of how to resolve problems. I do not try to make things fair if someone has taken something from someone. I am much more conscientious about waiting and thinking through my reactions and interactions with the kids.
from Dara Whittle
Two ODS alums offered a play date for their children. One child refused, saying she was angry at the other child. The mothers met with their children at a park and suggested to the children that they discuss what had caused the problem. The children had a brief but animated talk about sharing and hurt feelings, and soon they hugged and all was well.
from Holly Adams
When children are allowed to work out conflicts for themselves, their solutions are often unfair. For instance, if Child A takes a toy from Child B, and Child B does not protest, hasn’t Child A learned that it’s alright to take toys away, and doesn’t Child B adopt a sense of defeat? How does ODS encourage children to stand up for themselves, as well as to consider the feelings of others?
In general, if a child at Open Door School does not ask for help, and does not seem distressed by a situation, we will not intervene. This holds true whether a child is struggling with a button on their coat, or dealing with another child having taken something out of their hands. We do not make a problem out of a situation that a child does not see as one. On the surface, this may seem unfair and possibly detrimental. However, when taking into account a child’s innately developing sense of ethics, it is more respectful of both children to allow them to decide what is fair and what is not. As the children grow and mature, their sense of “fair” and “unfair” will start to look more like ours, and the same child that allows a toy to be snatched from them today may protest loudly tomorrow. When that protest occurs, we will recognize that the time for guidance has come, and will help the child.
How is it handled when a child is proud of his/her art creation, and another child insults it, or says it does not look like what the creator says it is?
It is possible that the creator in question will not be apparently bothered by the remark. If this is the case, the teacher says nothing. If the creator expresses distress through words or expression, the teacher may ask, “What do you think of that comment?” The teacher will acknowledge the feelings of the creator, and very likely involve the other child in that acknowledgement by encouraging the creator to say something like, “That hurt my feelings.” The teacher may then ask the creator if (s)he likes the creation, and point out that matters more than someone else’s opinion.
What is the adult’s role when children begin discussing committing violence towards mythic figures or people they know?
Talk of violence is viewed as the beginning of children’s exploration of many important questions, such as: What is power? What is right and wrong? What is fair? What is life and death? What is real and what is fantasy? How can one balance the desire for power with the need for friendship? When we ban the discussion, we are sending the message that the questions are disturbing or frightening, and that the best (or only) way to handle disturbing or frightening questions is to stop them from being asked. Therefore, discussion of violence and death is permitted at Open Door School. If teachers observe something occurring that seems threatening or upsetting to a child or children, they will get involved and guide the children to help them see different reactions and opinions.
Children using derogatory language, name calling, coercion, or exclusion would all be instances where the teacher would quickly become involved to guide the talk so that insults or hurtfulness do not become a part of it. Our goal is to make sure that all children feel safe and respected at school.
Why do you allow weapon play at Open Door School?
Open Door School does not have any toy weapons of any kind. However, imaginary weapon play is allowed for many of the same reasons that talk of violence is allowed. Superhero or weapon play is a way for children to explore such BIG concepts as power, independence, control, and fear. As with any type of play, rules regarding physical safety and respect for others are maintained. The three basic rules always followed are: do not hurt others, do not hurt yourself, and do not damage materials.
Isn’t it dangerous to put hammers, nails, and even saws into the hands of young children?
Our woodworking room is equipped with real materials and tools, and offers children invaluable learning opportunities. Mathematics and basic laws of physics are part of the measuring, fitting, balancing, and use of force. Practice in coordination, decision making and planning are all benefits of woodworking. To ensure the children’s safety in the woodworking room, we carefully review the rules about safety and the use of the equipment with the children. Our adult-child ratio is 1:4 maximum. We maintain close supervision, limit the equipment available based on the children’s developmental abilities, and require the use of safety glasses at all times. Because the materials are real, the children at Open Door School tend to have an inherent respect for the “realness” of the work they do at woodworking. There is a long history of safety behind Open Door School’s Woodworking program.
Why does Open Door ask that clothing or items depicting commercial characters not be worn or brought to school?
We have noticed that there is often a direct connection between the children’s choices during free play or art and the character imagery present. Typically seeing the imagery of commercial characters guides children to reenact the ideas of adults who have created those images. We believe that the best way to foster children’s free-thinking abilities is to provide them with open-ended materials that engage their imagination. Commercial imagery, in our opinion, influences and hinders children’s thinking.
Open Door School does not allow cookies and candy, and discourages individually packaged or disposable lunch items. Shouldn’t these things be left up to the parents?
When children’s lunches reflect the importance of good nutrition and environmental consciousness, it lays the foundation for respect for one’s body, as well as for the planet. This is directly related to an individual’s ability to make mindful choices and utilize self-discipline.
Is there a general difference between boys and girls regarding conflict and/or communication skills?
The brain structure of boys and girls is different. Boys often explore their autonomy and power physically, while girls tend to explore these elements on a more verbal & emotional level. Of course there are many varying degrees of these tendencies, and at Open Door each child is respected for his/her individuality.
Are there gender restrictions? For instance, are boys allowed to dress-up in girls’ clothing?
There are no gender restrictions at Open Door School. The children are respected for their individuality. Boys and girls are allowed to use any of the materials available to them without judgment. This applies to everything, including dress-up.
How does Open Door School prepare children for Kindergarten, since there is not a specific focus on academics?
The assertion that Open Door School does not focus on academics is a common misinterpretation of our philosophy. Aristotle defines “academic” as “relating to studies that are liberal or classical, rather than technical and vocational.” Open Door School students think “outside the box” and master self-discipline and the ability to focus on specific tasks, all of which are crucial for true educational success. When children are involved regularly in the discussion of ideas, their curiosity and hunger for knowledge grows. Activities at Open Door School, from cooking to block-building to drawing, promote true understanding of the concepts that underlie the basic academic processes taught in Kindergarten. Open Door nurtures preschool children’s natural tendencies to think concretely and to learn from experimentation so that children will learn to ask questions and seek the answers for themselves. What can be more academic than that?
Will my child learn letters and numbers at Open Door School?
Every day, there are numerous opportunities for hands-on math and literacy exploration in the classroom. Measuring, sorting, making patterns, playing memory and rhyming games, and creating stories are regular activities at Open Door. Materials in the older children’s classrooms that contain the alphabet and numbers often trigger children’s interests in writing and math that evolve into different projects. For instance, children in the 4/5s class have been known to create mailboxes where they leave notes for one another. Whenever a child expresses interest in writing letters or numbers or starting to read, the teachers will nourish their curiosity.
How are decisions made about dismissal times? Why are the two year old classes only three hours long?
Dismissal times are based on several factors. In the case of the two-year-old classes, it has been observed that the children tire after about two and a half hours. Two year olds tend to play individually, and learning to think through choices and interact peacefully in a group setting is especially exhausting for them. Since the acquisition of these skills is a core concept of our philosophy, we choose to keep their school days only three hours long to help them be successful.
The specific dismissal times of other classes are based on limited classroom space at Open Door School, as well as a consideration of the waiting time for children in Carpool.
Why doesn’t Open Door School celebrate or acknowledge holidays?
Erin Demund, an ODS parent and teacher, wrote a note to the parents in her class that we feel sums it up perfectly. She has given us permission to post it here:
“Although our children are not always privy to why we seem so stressed and rushed around holiday time, they certainly feel it. Feeling that sense of hurry in my own life has made me realize how much I appreciate Open Door as a "holiday-free zone". I think it is easy to see a decision to not include holiday celebrations at school as a nod to diversity. We won't leave anyone out or create a conflict with anyone's beliefs if we choose not to celebrate any holidays. I am finding, though, that keeping our school a calm, predictable environment, free from the rush of the season, is an even more important benefit to not bringing the holidays into our classrooms. We know that the children will talk about what is going on at home and the fun that they anticipate having. We would never discourage them from doing so. But, just as we try to keep commercial characters home, we will keep our classrooms as free from reminders of the holiday season as we can.”