Childhood Education Innovations

September/October 2020

“Going to Zoo at the Zoo: Nature-based education”
Nestled in the urban core of San Antonio, Texas, is a nature-based preschool that is taking a wild approach to learning about conservation. Will Smith Zoo School, part of San Antonio Zoo and named in honor of a boy who opened his heart to the world with his love of animals and the outdoors, is a licensed preschool that uses nature as the integrating thread tying together its guiding principles of innovation, compassion, and resiliency. With over 200 students from nearly 60 different zip codes and a tuition assistance program, Will Smith Zoo School is leading the way in providing nature-based education to diverse populations.

“Staying Connected During a Pandemic: Leveraging digital technologies for Vietnamese home-based care providers”
Today, over 80% of Vietnam’s factory workers are women and 1.2 million children are living in 300 industrial parks in more than 30 economic zones. Despite the large number of young children, there is no public child care for children under 3 years old and public kindergartens are out of reach for many families because of high associated costs and residency status requirements. Given these barriers, an alternative of home-based care centers (HBCs) has emerged to fill the service gap. OneSky, in collaboration with the Vietnamese government, launched a program to provide training to home-based care providers.

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“Educators Are the Global Goals”
As an educator long focused on global citizenship and global education, I immediately recognized the Global Goals as an entry point for classroom teachers to see themselves in the work of social change and advocacy for human rights. And I was not alone. Other global educators saw the potential of the Global Goals. Following a simple tweet that asked the question, “Who is connecting classrooms to the work of the United Nations and the SDGs?,” I found myself joining a group of educators at the UN Headquarters in New York City being tasked to answer this question. Realizing that we could not possibly speak for a world of teachers and that we needed many more voices, we set out to assemble like-minded teachers who were ready to take action and mobilize on change at local and global levels.

“Positive Tomorrows: Pathways to success for children experiencing homelessness”
Positive Tomorrows, a nonprofit organization in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has a new home, in a building that has been called the “Disney World of Schools.” It is a fitting title, since the activity inside is magical. Positive Tomorrows partners with local families experiencing homelessness to educate their children and create pathways to success for the whole family. The organization’s main asset is a private, tuition-free school serving students in pre-K to 6th grade.

“Creating Successful Learners Through Arts Integration”
Children who are more engaged in learning in the first few years of their lives are better prepared for success in the classroom later on, and teachers need tools and best practices that help facilitate that engagement. Knowing the power of arts to engage children and effect positive change, Wolf Trap sought to help educators and parents who were looking for ways to reach their students from afar.
As one of the hallmarks of Wolf Trap’s multi-faceted approach to arts-integrated learning, Wolf Trap’s Classroom Residency Program deploys a team of Teaching Artists to provide customized professional development training to teachers working with children in preschool through 1st grade. They use their artistic skills to illustrate key learning concepts to students through music, dance, puppetry, and drama. The arts create a bridge for students, translating each lesson into easily digestible songs, rhythms, sequences, and movements that make learning fun and relatable.

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“Forest School to Desert School: An innovative project in Al Ain, UAE”
The benefits of Forest School are many, including opportunities for children to practice risk taking and immerse themselves within their outdoor surroundings. In Scandinavia, where the Forest School approach originated, the outdoors is relatively easy to access; the weather is cool and the environment offers abundant trees and shade. However, in other parts of the world, the outside environment is not so accessible and Forest Schools have not been implemented due to the difficulties of having children engage with inhospitable environments. This very problem is faced in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is an oil-rich Gulf State located in the Arabian Peninsula.

“Teachers and Students Find Purpose Through Leadership Programs”
For many educators, the inspiration to teach comes from a desire to make a positive difference in students’ lives. As they seek to guide students toward their big goals through trying times, teachers need resources that strengthen social and emotional skills. Facing this very challenge, Allison Silverman, a teacher at Port Chester Middle School in Port Chester, New York, turned to the lessons in the Lead4Change program. Lead4Change is a free student leadership curriculum that provides opportunities for strong student engagement through collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and reflection.

“A Hopeful and Sustainable Future: A model of caring and inclusion at a Swedish preschool”
This article focuses on Sweden’s inclusive hospitality as manifested in the public institution of school. One school at the socio-economic margins serves as an example, benefiting from the commitment of its leaders to the ideals of multicultural inclusivity. Located in the woodsy outskirts of Uppsala, the fourth most populous municipal area in Sweden, Ringmuren Forskolan, a public preschool (forskolan in Swedish), serves children from 1 to 5 years old. The neighborhood served by Ringmuren Forskolan has a high percentage of immigrants hailing from a diverse mix of cultures, including Turkey, Syria, Iran, India, China, and Somalia, as well as other European Union countries (Greece, Spain, Poland, and the UK, among others).

“Virtual Reality in the World Language Classroom”
All world language teachers want to inspire their students to travel and see the world, learn about other cultures, and use their new language to do so. But what if world language teachers could bring the world to their classroom? This is the question Ines Wishart, Spanish teacher at Chatham High School, asked herself as she embarked on the district’s Reflective Practice program, which allows teachers to ask an investigative question and then spend 1-3 years pursuing the answer. Ms. Wishart’s question was “How can virtual reality (VR) improve language production in the world language classroom?”