Children enrolled at Stratford come from many different neighborhoods and a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They are accepted, first-come: first-served. Prior to accepting an application, the director meets with the parents to outline Stratford’s program, show them the classrooms and equipment and answer questions. The purpose of this meeting is to determine whether the program being offered suits the parent’s objectives for their child.
Children attending Stratford are grouped in classes, according to age, primarily for social development. Interacting with others at their level of development, they form lasting friendships, based upon shared experiences. The class size is limited depending on the age of the children. The three year old and four year old classes are limited to 10 children as well as the junior kindergarten class. The senior kindergarten classes are limited to a maximum number of 13 children per class.
There is no lock-step learning. Stratford classrooms are “open”. The children may stand or sit, work or play alone, in pairs or in small groups. Meanwhile, the teachers encourage meaningful use of educational materials and equipment, which are abundantly supplied. The key is to keep each child engaged in stimulating, instructive work. Sometimes, the activity is one-on-one, teacher and child. Other times, a one-on-one task attracts others, and a cluster develops; yet, each child is learning, individually. Thus, a range of abilities exists within a class, but no child is held back, or pushed ahead for the sake of a group norm. It is not unusual to have children in a class learning individual letters of the alphabet, while others are beginning to read, or studying in a phonics workbook. The joy is watching each child blossom at his or her own rate.
Show and tell, which gives each child in turn an audience to address and one in which to learn to listen, is a favorite activity in the three and four year old classrooms. In the junior and senior kindergarten classes, student of the week provides students these same opportunities as well as a chance to practice their leadership skills. At recess children enjoy running, jumping and playing in the open space or with age appropriate equipment provided by the school.
Spread throughout the year, each class studies various age appropriate themes: seasons of the year, weather, plants, insects, birds, animals, family, transportation, etc. The teachers incorporate art, music and educational materials into each thematic unit. For example the three-year-olds studying the farm, learn the names and habits of farm animals and common activities of farm life, learn that flour comes from wheat and is used in the bread we bake. They churn milk to make butter, then spread it on crackers and eat. American and European farm sets and farm related puzzles and puppets are available for free play during this period. Parents may help with in-school activities and reinforce learning at home by reviewing new vocabulary. In addition, the children are introduced to classical children’s literature. They paint at easels, use stencils, water colors, tempera, chalk and even shoe polish to create beautiful masterpieces.
The director works with classroom teachers and with the children, individually, to ensure that each child’s developmental needs are met. Parents are encouraged to discuss their concerns with a teacher, or with the director, so that small matters, whether educational or administrative, may yield to minor adjustments, not grow into major problems. Success of the program—yours and ours—depends upon the faculty of well-educated, warm and loving teachers, who in cooperation with the parents are committed to giving each child the joy of learning and the foundational skills for a lifetime of achievement.
Our “open” classrooms permit children to move about and engage in interesting activity with age-appropriate materials, and our teachers’ expectations are geared to the child’s stage of development. Except that children are not allowed to interfere with one another, there are few “don’ts”. Should a child become unruly, he is directed to the “thinking chair/time-out chair” to relax and calm down; then he is allowed to rejoin his group. We may also have “talk-time” with a child to suggest alternative ways to cope, think of others, share and take turns. We do not use harsh words, verbal abuse or corporal punishment. If a pattern of unacceptable behavior starts to develop, we consult with the parents to devise a program to promote positive behavior, both in school and at home. Our goal is to help grow happy, responsible, respectful, self-confident young men and women who are able to develop to their fullest potential.
A pupil may be removed from school rolls at the parents’ request, or upon the school director’s discretion, should the child’s behavior threaten the well-being of other children attending the school. The director and teachers consult with parents continually as to each child’s progress to head off developing problems and afford every opportunity for any child to adjust to the program at school. Accordingly, no child would be permanently dismissed abruptly before parents have reasonable time to make other arrangements for their child. If parents expect to move from the area, we ask that they inform us, as far in advance as possible, so that we may fill the space without delay.