CCS is a learning community rooted in a progressive approach to education, in which children and adults are valued as learners and teachers. The emphasis at our preschool is on utilizing practices that educate the whole child—the emotional, social, physical, and intellectual being. We encourage students to use all of their learning resources—visual, kinesthetic, auditory, emotional, and interpersonal—to explore, develop awareness, strengthen connections, and express understanding. We honor childhood and nourish students’ strong sense of connectedness and engagement.

Play-based, emergent curriculum

Our teachers build our curriculum every day in response to the children’s strengths, interests, and needs. As the children play, work, and talk, teachers document the children’s thinking and use their observations to create learning experiences that are meaningful to children. Teachers plan a wide variety of activities and explorations connected to children’s interests; the variety allows children to explore different ideas at different times in different ways. Activities and ideas are revisited over the course of days and weeks, and children’s understanding grows over time.

Play is woven throughout every aspect of our curriculum process. Our experience teaching—and scientific research!—tell us that the learning done through play is the richest, deepest, and most likely to stick long-term. Children’s play gives teachers insight into their strengths, interests, and needs, which the teachers use to create curriculum plans. Activities and lessons are planned to use play and playfulness as tools for learning. Children show their understanding of concepts through their play, which is the context for assessment.

As an example of an emergent, play-based project, one year the Oak class (2-and-3-year-olds) showed a shared interest in superheroes. The Oak teachers guided the children in creating a 3-month project around learning about superheroes which strongly engaged the children’s interests while meeting learning goals for socio-emotional development (learning to listen and respond to others during pretend play); language development (collaborative storytelling activities); physical development (gross-motor “adventures” and “saving the day”); literacy (making books from storytelling activities); math (using shapes and patterns for costume-making); science (investigating physics of making toy people “fly” with catapults); technology (using ropes, pulleys, and levers in “machines” for pretend play); health and safety (exercising self-care during rough play); social studies (recognizing the needs and qualities of others in the stories we shared); and creative arts (costume-making).

The four pillars

There are four areas of learning that drive our teaching and help focus our efforts in the classrooms.

Mindfulness is the practice of learning to be present in the moment, which connects to skills like self-control and self-knowledge. Young children are being mindful when they name an emotion they are experiencing; when they consciously use a strategy to change their response; when they take time to notice something; when they are calm, aware, and attentive.

Community is the ability to identify and participate deeply as a member of a group, which connects to skills like conflict resolution and communication. Young children are participating in community when they collaborate with peers on a project; when they allow others’ perspectives or ideas to influence their thinking; when they work to meet the needs of someone they care about; when they build connections with others.

Inquiry is the process of noticing interesting things, wondering and asking questions about what is noticed, proactively investigating those questions, and creating theories and answers based on evidence. Young children are participating in inquiry when they rebuild a block tower that has fallen down; when they investigate a frozen bowl of water on a cold morning outside; when they work with friends to solve a problem; when they watch the doors open on a bus and say, “I wonder how they do that”’; when they watch their friend jump off a rock and then try it themselves; when they puts a small ball through a hoop and then try a larger ball.

Justice is a mindset in which one is attentive to and aware of fairness in the world and active in taking steps to seek fairness for oneself and for others. Young children are working toward justice when they participate in a group discussion and listen to others’ ideas; when they work together to make positive changes in their world; when they notice unfairness in a story and suggest a way to change the story to make it better. (Read more about social justice at CCS.)


Within our interdisciplinary curriculum, students are given rich and varied opportunities to develop and practice academic skills and specific content areas. Literacy, math, and science are woven through everyday activities and curriculum, making particular use of play and real-life contexts for learning.

Our goal is to help children to become confident, articulate communicators who are skilled in expressing their ideas and in understanding the ideas of others; who build relationships with text; and who to build identities as readers and writers. We create a wide variety of meaningful experiences for children to interact with texts, as both consumers and creators. Literacy skills (such as spelling, handwriting, letter-knowledge, etc.) are one aspect of building relationships with text. Instruction in these skills is most effective when it occurs as a part of meaningful activities related to other curriculum—for instance, noticing letter sounds when reading a book related to an investigation, or writing a sign to describe a block construction.

Children understand mathematical concepts best when they are given the opportunity to explore in a concrete, hands-on manner, especially in the context of meaningful, real-life activities—for instance, helping to prepare and set up snack (children count the students and determine the number of plates needed; they portion out and serve food; and so on)—and when integrated into playful learning experiences.

Science is a process: the process of wondering about something, formulating a question, making a plan for how to find out the answer, following through on that plan, and sharing your findings with others. Science is also a set of skills and approaches, such as observation, data gathering, organized and systemic thinking, and communication. Both as a process and as a set of skills and approaches, science is very similar to the process of emergent curriculum. The entire curriculum at CCS is focused on finding things out, an essentially scientific concern. Teachers approach every investigation with children through the lens of scientific research.