Raise All Ships

In my career I have practiced with children in various child development settings and philosophies. My first position existed in municipal recreation and our programs would now be called “Play Based.” The younger children arrived in the morning for preschool and then departed in the early afternoon. The older children arrived after pick up from school and enjoyed their afternoon playing in the park, creating crafts, cooking, sewing, playing board games, and so on.

My practice then moved to a school district where the program personified the “Project Approach” but in a more structured way. The program featured a structured curriculum of projects the children could choose to work on or choose to play games, Lego's, on the playground, and practice homework. The program grew rapidly because the philosophy lived to accommodate all families who required care and the program philosophy adapted as necessary to serve the community.

Later in my career I landed at a University. The program followed a “Social Constructivist” approach. The program evolved from a traditional play based program and has continued to evolve under great and caring teachers who keep searching for what direction makes the learning environment optimal for children.

Now my practice exists in a Montessori school and I have been learning and loving the approach the guides practice in their work with children. I can envision the influence of Montessori education in other philosophies and the impact of Maria Montessori on Early Childhood Education. Many of the methods different philosophies employ feature a direct connection to Dr. Montessori's work.

Looking back this influence makes sense. Dr. Montessori started practicing with children in 1907, twelve years before Rudolf Steiner started the first Waldorf School in 1919. The Schools of Reggio Emilia experienced their beginnings in 1945 and became more established in 1963 and have flourished ever since. In 1998 Lifeways established a program in Wisconsin influenced by a philosophy created 79 years earlier.

The establishment of all child development philosophies has a purpose, to help children, serve families, and build community. Our opportunity represents giving back as early childhood educators. I experience concern that our mission embodies compromise in the effort to protect our own philosophy. Early childhood educators own a tendency to choose a philosophy and stick with teaching one way when other information and practices about child development exist and may add benefit to the children and families we serve.

Many philosophies of child development feature organizations to promote their ideas and ideals. The organizations represent a wonderful place to learn more about your philosophy of choice, become certified, and acquire training. I wonder if the organizations lived open to collaborating if the great ideas of Montessori educators could be shared with Reggio educators and the great ideas of Reggio educators shared with Waldorf educators and beyond. The tendency to remain in our lane and only encounter our work through the lens of our philosophy is keeping the field from growing as a profession in an effort to raise all ships.

Recently I attended a conference where two different programs and philosophies shared their story of a long-term collaboration. The presentation shared the differences of each philosophy and the process over many years of working together to make the program even better for children, families and community.

If one program can modify and evolve, early childhood educators can evolve if we choose. I would love to discover more stories about programs with different philosophies coming together and sharing ideas. Even more important I would love for early childhood educators to come together in real collaboration, with a willingness to learn some of the ideas from other pedagogies and actually implement the ideas in our programs. If educators believe our mission represents serving children, families and building community then living open with a growth mindset claims precedent over philosophy, pedagogy and style.

Have you ever collaborated with a program of a different philosophy than your own?

Have you practiced in different types of programs? What was your experience?