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Beginning School: 3PreK, 4PreK, and Kindergarten
Welcome to Rowland Hall's independent private preschool, an exceptional place for young children in Utah to learn. Early childhood is a time of incredible brain development, and you'll find actively engaged learners within our classrooms and outdoor spaces.
When you enter the Beginning School, it’s immediately clear: this is a place tailor-made to amplify the power and magic of young children. The intentional and joyous celebration of Rowland Hall’s youngest learners reverberates in every corner. And in every classroom and play space, you’ll find master teachers who are at the heart of what we do—provide experiences that encourage curiosity, compassion, expression, and deep thinking. In the Beginning School, students learn how to think, not merely what to think.
I am honored to be a part of this special place that fosters such exceptional learning and teaching in a warm and inclusive community. I hope you’ll come for a visit to see what I see and—more importantly—see what our students see.
Beginning School and Lower School Principal
In their final episode of the 2020–2021 school year, Rowland Hall princiPALS Emma Wellman and Jij de Jesus take on the topic of bullying.
When they leave the elementary years and get into more complicated and dynamic years—middle school, high school—that foundation of clear communication with your child is going to be really important.—Jij de Jesus, Lower School principal
While parents and caregivers are undoubtedly familiar with the term bullying, the definition can shift depending on who’s talking. Knowing this, Emma and Jij explain what it means when educators use that word, as well as walk listeners through what’s happening to kids developmentally during the early childhood and elementary years so that they understand what behaviors are typical and which may require intervention—areas that may not be clear to all caregivers as their children mature, but that school personnel see often and can help explain.
“As educators and people who work with children, we think about typical development all the time,” explained Emma.
The princiPALS also examine what parents and caregivers can do if they suspect their child may be being bullied—or might be the one bullying. Listeners will walk away with a better understanding of what is behind children’s behaviors and how to target support to help students gain skills that will help them manage tough situations for life. Additionally, they’ll hear tips they can put into practice starting today, including establishing open communication with children, an important step that benefits families for life.
“When they leave the elementary years and get into more complicated and dynamic years—middle school, high school—that foundation of clear communication with your child is going to be really important,” said Jij.
The princiPALS are back in the office to revisit one of today’s most essential topics: how to talk to kids about race.
Since recording their first episode on this subject—which won a silver InspirED Brilliance Award—in February 2020, princiPALS Emma Wellman and Jij de Jesus have often reflected on the importance of returning to this conversation. The need to do so was made especially clear after recent events, including ongoing violence against people of color, have continued to underscore our collective need to examine and talk about racism.
Demonstrations and discussions about racial inequity in this country initiated a massive shift in the conversations about race and racism.—Emma Wellman, Beginning School principal
“Demonstrations and discussions about racial inequity in this country initiated a massive shift in the conversations about race and racism,” said Emma.
And because these conversations don’t just happen among adults, the princiPALS wanted to give parents and caregivers tools that will help them teach children how to have thoughtful conversations about race and racial differences. With their trademark warmth and approachability—and their understanding of how children learn best during the early childhood and elementary years—Emma and Jij provide listeners with strategies to help kids develop positive racial identity and awareness and to teach the skills and vocabulary necessary to comfortably and respectfully discuss race.
“We’re talking about having the attitudes, capacities, and skills to navigate a diverse and dynamic world,” said Jij.
The princiPALS also give listeners tips to model antiracist behaviors for children, including simple steps that they can start using today to help dismantle racism, since, as Jij noted, “small choices can add up to make a big impact.”
Join Emma, Jij, and host Conor Bentley ’01, as they discuss “How to Talk to Kids about Race, Part II,” available now on Rowland Hall’s website as well as Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.
On a mild January morning, a Rowland Hall kindergarten class gathered around an imaginary fire. Surrounding them were the sounds of birds chirping, and the open fields and majestic trees of Sunnyside Park, a public greenspace located across the street from the McCarthey Campus. Behind their masks were the unmistakable signs of smiles as they called out the reading powers they’d been practicing.
“Beginning sound power!”
After listing all of their superpowers, the students picked up books, as well as pieces of carpet to help keep them dry, and excitedly walked to their favorite park trees. They settled down at the base of the trunks and began to read out loud. From across the field came the sound of little voices sounding out words. At each tree, a child sat focused, tracing a finger across a page to track their place and, occasionally, pausing to share an illustration with the tree.
The research is clear: spending time learning outdoors results in stickier learning, better emotional regulation, connection to and appreciation for nature, better collaboration skills amongst students—even improved appetite and eye development in young children.—Emma Wellman, Beginning School principal
Reading to the trees has become a beloved component of outdoor classroom, the newest addition to this year’s kindergarten curriculum. “There’s something magical about it,” said kindergarten lead teacher Melanie Robbins, who—with her background teaching outdoor classroom at the International School of Zug and Luzern in Switzerland, and studying nature education in Finland—has played a big role in introducing the learning method to Rowland Hall.
Put simply, outdoor classroom is the practice of taking school lessons outside to enhance learning. It’s a good fit for Rowland Hall’s Beginning School, where a focus on indoor-outdoor education and its benefits has always been a priority (design features of the Beginning School building even include access to common courtyards from all classrooms and a dedicated division nature yard).
“The research is clear: spending time learning outdoors results in stickier learning, better emotional regulation, connection to and appreciation for nature, better collaboration skills amongst students—even improved appetite and eye development in young children,” said Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman. Melanie agreed, noting that her early interest in outdoor classroom was sparked after seeing firsthand the benefits of learning outside, including the realization of how much more captivated students seemed to be in nature.
“I noticed that the children were even more engaged than they were when we were inside, and I wanted to know more about this,” she said.
And though an emphasis on outdoor classroom was already playing a role in plans for the 2020–2021 school year, the pandemic helped turn it into a priority (or, as the teachers view it, a COVID silver lining) since learning outdoors is safer for teachers and students. Many Beginning School teachers now choose to utilize Sunnyside Park for lessons each week—appointments that have become so cherished, teachers say, that students are “devastated” when a scheduling conflict or severe weather derails plans.
“I think there’s this freedom in the outdoors that they’re connected to,” Melanie explained.
In fact, the instructors say that despite the park’s many distractions, students are greatly connected to outdoor activities, and their focus and overall stamina for learning have improved outdoors. The story fire ritual that opens each session, for instance, is helping to sharpen their listening and imagining skills, while reading to trees is helping to build confidence and endurance (“We can read a lot longer outside than we do inside,” said Melanie). These benefits aren’t limited to certain subjects, either. Teachers can take almost any unit of study to the park (and some have been known to wheel two wagons’ worth of supplies over to do just that) and are also utilizing the space’s natural materials for lessons. As a result, students are trying all sorts of activities, from practicing measurements and studying patterns, to creating art and making science drawings.
“We want to get kids learning from the world around them, making real-world connections with science, and bringing math, language, and literacy into an outdoor space,” said lead kindergarten teacher Kelley Journey, who previously taught at a nature-based school in Massachusetts.
I used to think it was fun to take kids outdoors. But now I know that it is a uniquely powerful setting to help develop curious, happy, focused learners.—Melanie Robbins, kindergarten lead teacher
Outdoor classroom is also proving to be a way to build on already-successful units. 4PreK lead teacher Kait Abraham, who’s attended outdoor classroom seminars, brought it into her classroom this year and said it’s been a valuable addition to units like the evergreen study, which had previously only been conducted on campus. By including Sunnyside Park in this year’s study, Kait said, students could view more types of evergreen trees as well as access fallen branches, sticks, and pine cones to use in counting and sorting exercises.
“It was really cool to see how kids take what we usually study indoors into the outdoors and study it even deeper,” she reflected.
And that indoor-outdoor link is happening across the division, with teachers seeing children asking more complex questions and realizing that learning happens in all kinds of places. For Melanie, their joyful engagement, and the fun they’re having because of it, is a reminder of the initial spark that drove her to study outdoor classroom.
"I used to think it was fun to take kids outdoors,” she said. “But now I know that it is a uniquely powerful setting to help develop curious, happy, focused learners."
In the newest episode of Rowland Hall’s award-winningprinciPALS podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus discuss some of the most inspiring things they’ve learned (so far) while educating preschool- and elementary-aged children during the pandemic.
During the first months of in-person instruction since March, the princiPALS have learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community.
Recorded during the 14th week of Rowland Hall’s 2020–2021 school year, Emma and Jij reflect on leading their divisions during the first months of in-person instruction since the school moved to full distance learning in March. During that time, they said, they’ve learned a lot about the capability of children, the power of good teaching, and the strength of community. And though they’re aware that schools across the country are dealing with different learning models and regional challenges, they believe that their perspectives on in-person learning during the pandemic may help other educators—as well as answer some of the many questions parents and caregivers have as schools readjust learning models in 2021.
“Our hope is that these important things we’ve learned are helpful to anyone out there,” said Jij.
The princiPALS also draw on their top lessons to create tips that will help parents and caregivers continue to support children (and themselves) at this time, with an emphasis on making intentional choices rather than, as Emma noted, “letting the world wash over you.”
Listen to “What We’re Learning about Learning during a Pandemic,” along with other episodes of princiPALS, on Rowland Hall's website, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.