The Early Learner (EL) Program at Foothills is a unique early childhood educational program in the Treasure Valley. The program is inspired by the people and schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.
The EL program joined Foothills in 1998. The preschool program received a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation to create a classroom and laboratory school for preschool age children at Foothills School.
As Foothills School has evolved, the EL philosophy and approach have become not only the foundation of a comprehensive Foothills education, but also a strong influence on the rest of the school. The teachers in the EL program have worked to create a high quality program for young children and embrace the following tenets inspired by the Reggio approach:
A Strong Image of the Child
Early Learner teachers hold at the center of their approach an image of children as being strong, capable and full of potential. Rather than focusing on the weaknesses of students, the program’s philosophy is to focus on the talents, gifts and individual uniqueness that each child brings to share with the community. This image of children being capable thinkers whose ideas should be taken seriously permeates throughout Foothills School.
Foothills School provides a large, beautiful EL classroom that serves as a “teacher in the class,” and shows children that their education is important and valuable to the adults in their lives. Creative materials are plentiful to allow preschool children to express their thoughts, creativity, ideas and theories. It is an environment that lets children be in charge of their learning and reinforces the idea that adults think they are capable of achieving great things.
The Role of the Teacher
In the EL program, the teacher’s role is to create a stimulating and an exciting environment where children feel free to take risks and discover what amazes them. The teacher supports preschool students as they take personal risks, learn how to negotiate and problem solve, and become a contributing member of the class community.
A Negotiated Curriculum
Individual, unstructured play and work time are an important part of every day, providing children needed opportunities to explore and feel comfortable within the classroom community. Small and large group projects grow out of the interests of students, teachers, and parents, and evolve from group discussion and interest. Teachers track student interests, questions, and ideas through careful documentation, which is later shared during negotiated curriculum planning with EL teachers and parents, to create authentic extensions and new directions for projects.
Expression in Many Languages
The philosophy of the EL program is that pre-literate children are capable thinkers, able to represent their thoughts and to reflect upon and revisit learning using many “languages of expression.” Early Learners express themselves using the languages of music, art, science, drawing and writing, math, performance, discussion, and more. They investigate their own theories, extending their own thinking processes through interaction with their classroom teachers, other parents, and children in the classroom.