An Authentic Montessori Environment: providing a peaceful, mixed-age, child-directed environment.
In identifying Montessori as our guide for Wildflower schools, we were drawn to the unique combination of a few factors. The Montessori Method emphasizes the potential of the child, if served well, to change the world. We valued its intrinsic respect for that potential, its promotion of peaceful communities, and its specific pedagogical structures. As a model which prioritizes the development of the individual child, we value the balance of Montessori’s scientific approach to children’s development and its assertion that childhood is a unique period of growth to be protected at its own pace.
A Shopfront, Neighborhood-nested Design: committed to remaining small, teacher-led, integrated in the community, and responsive to the needs of children
Inspired by the work of Christopher Alexander, Wildflower schools are shopfront schools that consist of a single classroom, with the faculty both teaching in the classroom and administrating the school. By preserving a small scale, teachers are able to make decisions in their day-to-day teaching that respond to the intellectual needs of the children, and are able to make decisions on a school-wide basis that respond to their own vision and the contextual needs of the families. The shopfront model also allows these communities to seamlessly integrate into neighborhoods. Children are visible in the community as they walk to and from school, to their local playground or garden, and to civic spaces that would otherwise be on-site in a larger institution.
A Lab School: serving as a research setting dedicated to advancing the Montessori Method in the context of the modern world.
Each of the Wildflower schools serves as a lab school to help us better understand and advance the Montessori Method, and to help us propose empirically-supported design for new materials. We seek to integrate modern technologies in observation and documentation without changing the concrete, didactic nature of the classroom itself. We further seek to refine the development of Montessori-consistent apparatuses that prepare children for the cognitive patterns of modern fluencies.
A Seamless Learning Community: blurring the boundaries of home-schooling and institutional schooling by placing high priority on parent education and giving parents and integral role in the classroom.
Wildflower schools look for ways in which children’s home, school, and community environments can offer more seamless experiences, reflecting consistent perspectives on children’s development and engaging them as authentic contributors in each setting. We believe that parents and families offer a knowledge about children which is equally important to the professional preparation of teachers, and seek opportunities for parent-knowledge to inform classroom practice and teacher-knowledge to inform the home.
An Artist-in-residence: bringing richness to the learning environment by giving the children opportunities to observe and interact with adults doing day-to-day creative work.
Because we believe that children learn best in environments that model lifelong learning and creativity, each Wildflower school engages an artist-in-residence. Each school offers their artist studio space in a place accessible to the children, where the children can see them doing the work of their lives. In exchange, artists offer their work back to the classroom weekly, teaching children about their craft and helping children to develop their own skills. Through the artists-in-residence program, we seek to increase the awareness of the inner lives of children available to artists of all kinds and to protect children’s understanding that learning and creating can happen throughout their lives and beyond their formal school experiences.
A spirit of generosity: Reflecting a spirit of generosity to all stakeholders, to children, to parents, to those in need, and to the local community.
Often, schools are seen as a service relationship, with parents as customers, teachers as service-providers, and children as recipients of the service, to be filled with information and assessed. We see it differently -- we see that each constituency brings their special gift to one another. We see the teachers bring the gift of their love and skillfulness to the children and the parents, the parents bring the gift of nurturing and advancing the teachers in their practice and growth as teachers and leaders, and the children bring the gift of helping all of us see in a new way. Importantly, this spirit of gift extends beyond the walls of the school: each school seeks to bring their gifts to the broader community, by being involved in the local community, by making educational opportunities that are free to the public, and by reserving slots in our schools for those in need.
An Attention to Nature: emphasizing the nonseparation between nature and human nature through a unique living-classroom design and extensive time in nature.
It is both a contemporary imperative and an essential quality of our design that we think proactively about the impact of our work on the environment around us. By limiting the footprint of each school to a storefront, we necessarily limit the availability of private, outdoor space. Instead, we design the interior of the school to allow children to learn to care for their living environment and to surround them with abundant plant life. We site schools near to public play spaces and work with city partners to design sustainable urban gardens for which the school and neighborhood community can care. We carefully consider the materials used in the classroom and choose sustainable, nontoxic and earth-friendly options. Finally, we maintain nutritional standards that are earth-conscious and protect natural, healthful diets for children.
A Role in Shaping the Neighborhood: working with the community to improve local parks, streets, and establishments to create an urban environment that is healthier for children.
Wildflower schools should change the way their immediate communities function and, as a part of a larger network, change the nature of their entire cities. The integration of children and families into the daily fabric of the neighborhood, we believe, will influence the lives of other neighbors, the questions asked in other educational settings, and the priorities of policymakers. We implement, then, structures that make our work transparent to their communities and expand who we define as “stakeholders” to include more than just the families we serve. From opportunities for passers-by to stop and observe the classrooms to the presence of children in local eateries, from the public gardens we create and tend, to the regular, open information sessions to inform our community about our work, we judge our approach not only by its influence on enrolled children and their families but on the city beyond our rolls.
An Open-source Design and Decentralized Network: advancing an ecosystem of independent Wildflower schools that mutually support one another.
Finally, we recognize that issues of scale -- including increased centralized decision-making, larger administrative bureaucracies and operational overhead -- decrease the autonomy available to individual classrooms. At the same time, we value the practical benefits of a community of learners and professionals working together, and the economic efficiencies that can arise from shared resources. To balance those concerns, each school sees itself as a node in a network, maintaining autonomy in school-level decision-making while able to access the resources of the network when those resources are useful and compelling to the school. Reciprocally, each school also sees itself not only as responsible for its own operations, but as responsible for helping other schools in the network, and for helping other interested family groups to start their own Wildflower schools.