At Little Owl, we believe we shortchange our children when we provide them with an uninspiring learning environment. This can negatively impact learning. If children are not motivated and inspired, then they will not learn. Therefore, stimulating learning environments are essential for young children’s growth. Research suggests that an environment that nurtures learning provides the necessary resources and time for investigative play and experimentation. It is one in which children are free and motivated to make choices and to explore answers without feeling intimidated. Opportunities such as these provide the development of critical thinking skills.
At Little Owl, the environment is considered the “third teacher” as well as an essential component of our curriculum. This means that the classroom is child- centered, with meaningful and interesting materials provided to facilitate small and large group explorations and focused project work.
A supply of backup materials is kept in storage and used on a rotating basis to supplement interests emerging in children’s play. Some materials are presented with guidance to introduce new skills and techniques. Most are as open-ended as possible to inspire multiple ideas to take form. We believe that children have a right to be educated in an inspiring and welcoming environment.
The building design was based on playground needs, privacy needs, and maximization of natural light. The form is essentially a large light-fixture for sunlight. Custom sunshades and light shelves work with sloped ceilings and walls to project natural light to all spaces. The need for artificial light is effectively eliminated during the day.
Tall ceilings, large stairwells and functional windows on every wall provide natural ventilation in all spaces to minimize energy use.
Classrooms are connected directly to the playgrounds.
A natural playground integrated with fruit trees and a vegetable garden surrounds the building and plants even thrive on the vertical front and rear walls.
Roof gardens provide private exterior space. The green roofs and green walls assist with building insulation, moderate the temperature on site, minimize water runoff, and provide a beautiful nature-based environment.
Classrooms are located both indoors and outdoors and connect with each other. Anything done inside can also be done outside.
Indoor classroom space is large and flexible with boundaries formed by sliding walls allowing for a variety of space configurations.
Large teacher work areas allow for both private and collaborative group work.
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education” – Luther Burbank
At Little Owl, the outdoor classroom offers our children a myriad of experiences. Any part of the curriculum can happen inside or outside. Art, literacy, science, dramatic play, music, small and large motor skill activities all come outside to further the children’s interests. The textures, smells, light and variety of spaces in the outdoors allows creativity to blossom and grow.
Natural play helps concentration and self-disipline, encourages in-depth play and promotes positive problem solving skills. Natural play is what children did in the past before so many media intrusions began replacing more and more outside play. Those pursuits included: climbing trees, building forts, making mud pies, playing in sand, watching a spider spin a web, jumping in leaves, discovering gravity through the flow of water, and recreating play space to suit needs over and over again.
Our vegetable garden and fruit trees offer children the opportunity to plant, nurture and understand the source of some of the food we eat. Working with teachers and our chef, these planting, harvesting and cooking experiences promote a respect of food and an interest in healthy eating.
Animal Friends at Little Owl
Our chickens and Leo the Tortoise:
Animals provide so many ways for children to grow and learn. Each part of the curriculum from motor skills, social-emotional growth, literacy, math and science comes into play when children have an opportunity to engage with our animals.
When chicks arrive, they learn about the need to keep them safe and warm until they are bigger and can join older chickens in our coop. All our chickens are hens, girls. Roosters are not kept at Little Owl. The eggs our hens provide often go home with the child who discovers one while checking the nesting boxes. This is an important connection to help children understand more about where our food comes from. Nothing is better than a freshly laid egg a child has gathered, taken home and eaten. Wonderful stories come from these experiences. The children have held, fed and run free with the chickens. The conversations and observations are rich and have led to projects big and small. Portraits of the hens and tortoise have been done in many art mediums. Shy or introverted children may connect with our chickens and tortoise before they feel comfortable with their human friends. They have cared for, worried and grieved when we have had a chicken pass on. Planning a memorial and good-bye helps children show their love and empathy and to ponder the life cycle of living things.
They laugh at the animals’ silly antics, a chicken trying to sneak inside the classroom, a tortoise who comes to a meeting to listen to a song about another tortoise. They wonder about big questions; “How can chickens smell without a nose?” “How can Leo sleep so long without food and water when he hibernates?”
We treasure that Little Owls, chickens and a tortoise co-exist here with joy!
Some of my favorite books about chicken raising are listed below. If any of you might be interested in raising your own chickens, these are quite helpful.
- “The Chicken Chronicles…Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned With My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, the Gladyses & Babe: A Memoir” by Alice Walker- Lovely, eccentric essays on the meditative role of watching chickens and much more.
- “City Chicks” by Patricia Forman- a great guide to urban chicken raising
- “A Chicken in Every Yard” by Robert & Hannah Lift- another practical guide for urban chicken raising
Edible Schoolyard Project
Little Owl is a member of the Edible Schoolyard Project founded by Alice Waters in 1996. The project helps to create gardens and teaching kitchens in schools with the goal of enriching both the school’s curriculum and the life of the community. Please check out their website at http://edibleschoolyard.org and find Little Owl on the map on the Network page that links us with over 5,500 programs from 53 U.S. States and territories as well as 64 countries around the world.
In addition to the Edible Schoolyard Project, we are a State of California Monarch Butterfly Way Station. http://www.monarchwatch.org