“How do you do what you do?” ….. Jill Buckey

Jill has been teaching at the Oakland school since we opened it some six years ago. She is one of the most authentic co-researchers I have ever watched engage with young children. She was good enough to go first in this experiment – further proof of her game dedication to the process!


What is the best part of the day? The worst??

“I love it all. I wake up every day thinking about what I’m going to get to do with my young friends. The only thing I don’t care for is when dissent sets in. When there is some discord in the air …. those times when there is a seemingly intractable problem that keeps everyone from having a good time. ”

What was a “magic” moment for you as a teacher?

“Sam explaining exactly how he figured out how to build his working fan on the electric circuit board. It was toward the end of the first take-apart project when the kids were becoming interested in how to make the things they had taken apart work again. Another example was when I realized that the natural materials was becoming a beautiful and long lasting form of expression. They did far more with that than I ever would have imagined.”

Why RTG?

“At first, because I was able to bring my own young children …but I’ve stuck around for the philosophy and awesome people!”

What gets you up and out on those cold dark mornings?1290073_10151571893941389_1768933956_n

“Plenty of good, strong coffee and knowing I’m going to learn something new and have fun in the process.”

What are your favorite books?  As a kid and as an adult.

Trumpet of the Swan  &  Lord of the Rings

One thing you’d really want to have with you on a deserted island.

“A lifetime supply of chocolate … oh, and a Labrador puppy!”

What are your hobbies?

“Practicing and teaching Karate” (she’s a black belt!)  “Hiking and camping with my family.”

Sports teams you root for?

The Boston Red Sox601811_495084227211440_771385232_n

“What is your special gift?”

“An abiding sense of wonder and joy.”

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Its the process not the product.

What is more quintessential to preschool than paint? And crayons? And pastels, clay, wire, glue, buttons, paper …. the list is endless and the answer is nothing.

In the Reggio Emilia, art is elevated to be the chosen medium for young children to represent their feelings and ideas. Children of this age are still a long way from a complete and nuanced vocabulary and the ability articulate complex and abstract ideas, but putting brush or crayon or pencil to paper is a natural and joyful act that, when honored and respected, speaks volumes.
The thing that we as the adult observers have to remember is that it is not about the art, per se, but about the ability to express thinking. It doesn’t matter whether it looks like a horse – it matters that the child was free to mix color, choose paper, discuss, reflect and take all the time they require to be satisfied that they have expressed their ideas about a horse. The only time young children are frustrated or disappointed in the accuracy of their rendering is when an adult has given voice to that goal and made it a primary intention.


When we are tempted to “show” children how to draw or create something or do it for them to then “color in”….we have sabotaged their process of discovering their inherent ability to make marks that express and represent. Instead of connecting with the materials and developing an understanding and mastery of them, they are distracted by images that are not their own. No matter now primitive you may think your drawing skills are, they are more controlled and accurate than those of a three year old so their efforts will never compare favorably and now the focus is on the drafting and not the expression. Confronted with the difference between their work and ours – they are inclined to give up and either move away from drawing entirely or become dependent on adults providing the work for them.
The adults at our school behave as co-learners. When there is a question from a child, they will return with a question that will start the exploration of ways to represent what the child is thinking.
Where have you seen a horse? What colors do you think of when you think of horses? Can we make that color? Where could we see pictures of horses so we can talk more about how you want to make your horse?
So, while the kids are following their own time and route to being able to express their ideas with art, the teachers are learning about that child, their thoughts, ideas and interests.
Young kids are still in a critical developmental stage of discovering drawing, writing, symbology and representation and to offer a model is to short-cut that process. If you give them a model before they have reached a particular stage, it has no real basis for, or connection to, their understanding of their abilities. At RTG, we are inclined to offer kids a variety of supports and provocations rather than do actual representations for them. If you’re not sure what to do when your child asks (demands?!) you to draw a picture for them….ask clarifying questions about what they know, think and see in their mind’s eye. You’ll have an amazing conversation and, more than likely, some amazing art that you could never have imagined.
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FAQ or “what kind of child does well at RTG?”

How old do they have to be to start?

Children need to be three years old by September 1 of the year they begin preschool. This is not only because of developmental readiness, but also to be aligned with the age requirements of California Department of Ed.

Do the have to be potty trained?

Yes. And here’s what that means….potty trained means that the child is aware of their body’s signals and are able to notify an adult that they need to go or independently get themselves to the toilet with or without an adult’s accompaniment. Accidents are a fact of life with any recently mastered skill – so having some extra clothes is always a good idea.

Are the kids grouped by age?

No. One of our core values is the essential need for people to interact successfully with a wide variety of personalities and skill sets. The organic learning that takes place when kids of different ages play together is much richer and more complex than single age classrooms. It requires children to resolve difference, compensate and adjust to different abilities and to have positive experiences both as learners and leaders.
Do you teach the alphabet and numbers?
We have purposefully created a language, number and symbol rich environment and are mindful to notice and make their practical use visible to children. The demonstration of the contextual value of reading something or writing a sign or book or note is a powerful motivation for a child, when ready, to challenge themselves to master these skills. Teachers narrate their use of all aspects of the environment so children are being made aware of many possibilities and always with the message that they are competent and can learn whatever they are interested in and motivated toward.

What do you do about “discipline”?

We practice mindfulness, social justice and practice democratic process for settling all kinds of problems, conflicts and questions. Recognizing that other people’s feelings and wishes are of equal value and must be respected as such creates a compassionate backdrop for defining the way the group will make choices, use materials and how they will interact with one another.

Is lunch provided?

Children bring lunch from home. You will be notified if there are any children with serious food allergies and the expectation is that the community will support that child by eliminating those products from school lunches. We ask that lunches contain a variety of easy to manage, wholesome and nutritious foods. Kids can access their lunches throughout the day so a few extra items may be appropriate. Snacks are provided and consist of fruits, vegetables, cheese, nut butters, crackers and different breads. If there is a cooking project, sometimes the result will be snack for that day.

Are there naps? What if my child doesn’t nap?

Anyone can rest or nap on any given day. The younger kids have a more formalized rest time each day. Older kids have a rest after lunch where the take time to lie down, relax and listen to a story or look at a book on their own. We find that a collective “deep breath” in the middle of the day refreshes everyone before starting the afternoon activities.

Will my child be “ready” for Kindergarten?

Absolutely. Children from RTG have gone on to be vibrant and successful students in public and private schools. By making the confidence and competence of each individual our primary focus, we’re preparing kids to be strong learners. Believing in your ability to meet challenges is a lifelong strength and what is most developmentally essential. Kindergarten is where children go to learn to read and write. We believe preschool is where they go to learn about how to successfully comport themselves in the context of a school community.

My child is really active – how much outdoor time is there?

The outdoor space is considered classroom so it is open and available to everyone most of the day. The only exceptions are the times when everyone is gathered together, lunch and morning meeting for example. During project time, there is purposeful work happening outside as well as inside. The outdoors is as carefully prepared and facilitated as the other areas of the program.

So, what’s the answer to the question about the kind of kid that is successful at RTG?  Just about any child will flourish in this environment of compassion, encouragement, community building, self-awareness, social justice, joy and love. The real question is if this is an approach that feels right to you as a parent. Your support and confidence is what is necessary to build a relationship based on trust and respect for kids and their process of finding their gifts, strength and heart. 

Did we miss your question? Let us know what other info would be useful in this format….oh, and join us for an Open House. I promise you’ll see and hear way more than we could possibly convey on a website!


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Further inspiration for creating a space that supports kids on their individual journeys.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Excerpted from On Children by Kahlil Gibran

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IDEC : Wrapping up and moving forward.

Now that we’ve been home from the conference for a few days and have gotten some sleep, I can start to unpack what all I took away from this experience.

I can’t begin to convey the depth and breadth of honest and earnest commitment to youth we experienced over the week. The dedication to social justice, equity in educational processes and the opportunity for all kids to find their individual route to being a self-actualized learner.

None of this happens without taking a long, hard look at what our current beliefs and biases are around equitable and humane attitudes and actions towards kids, families and other teachers. We at RTG are a fairly self-critical bunch anyway …we never met a new idea we didn’t want to get to know better and lively discussion at staff meetings is part of the culture of the school. I, for one, am confident that this challenge will be a welcome one for the folks I work with. But a challenge none the less.

This year, we’ll be making another commitment to question ourselves and invite families to join us in checking our assumptions about what should happen and then involve the kids, involve the kids and involve the kids some more, in the process of creating a rich and organic learning space that will be a respectful place for each and every person who passes through our school.

Can’t wait!


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IDEC day four : We’ve never gone this way before.

We have walked miles and miles around this campus the last four days. In our daily back and forth, we’ve developed a habit of trying a new path when we come to one, saying to each other “We’ve never gone this way before!”

It’s a pretty good metaphor for how I feel about the day’s experiences. The theme for today was Equity. The morning gathering was large, over a hundred people in one big room, sitting in concentric circles, taking turns talking about what equity and social justice in education looks like for them. Remember, these are folks from over a dozen countries and every imaginable socio-economic, cultural, racial and age group.

Every person spoke with so much personal honesty and courage. People shared their thoughts and feelings about love, acceptance, mindfulness, frustration, humility, anger, impatience, hope and perspective.

We listened. We laughed. We cried. But most of all, we thought and then thought some more about what it means in our lives and work to really stop and listen to the experience and stories of others. I am moved to think consciously about how my needs intersect with the needs of others and whether I’m truly allowing the space for relationships to develop in ways that are most honest and respectful.

What this means in the school community is a willingness to try the new route to solutions. To view who and what’s around us through a fresh lens. To never assume that I’m not making assumptions. To remember that each person is one unique piece in a puzzle that needs all the pieces equally to be complete.

The staff and families at RTG have always been open and excited to try the new and unexpected, but I’m pretty sure that we’ve never gone this way before.


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IDEC day three : Lessons in changing the world.

The thought that has a hold of me today is about context. Where you are in your family is context. Who you are in the school community is context, as is your neighborhood, your city, your region and, ultimately the world as the final, universally binding context.

Place-Based education is taking the concept of context and using it to provoke questions that lead to investigations which results in a deep and rich understanding of, and connection to, the varied contexts we exist in. It encourages the learner to become actively involved with the people, the place and the condition of their communities.

Today I met a documentary filmmaker who looked at this approach in several schools in various corners of the country. Some were average communities and some more disadvantaged, but no matter where they were, the questions the kids were asking were entirely authentic and relevant to their context. Kids in a small Appalachian town wondered about the very unnatural color of the creek behind their school and started the ball rolling on water testing, data mapping, community involvement and action for cleaning up the effects of a nearby mine. Their new relationship with the community led to noticing other needs and answering them by baking bread for hospice patients and rebuilding a neighborhood playground. The breadth of learning that took place is vast to say the least, but their authentic connection and inspiration to the community could not have been achieved in any other way.

I have always been a huge believer in contextual learning. When you have a need, you learn the necessary skill to meet that need. When you are curious about something, you will pursue understanding and mastery intrinsically. Our responsibility as parents and educators is to be close enough to hear the question, engaged enough to acknowledge it and supportive enough to stand back and trust the process and the kids to find their way to the answers.


“Tell me, I forget – Show me, I remember – Involve me and I understand.” -Carl Orff

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IDEC day two : Overwhelmed and exhausted.

I guess it’s a good thing to hit the wall early on, it gives you plenty of time to regroup and finish strong. The workshops I attended today were interesting, frustrating and provocative …. undoubtedly a really strong combination for personal and professional self-analysis, but on this day it was too much to sort out with any sort of eloquence.

So, I went out for a nice dinner with a wonderful family member that lives here in Boulder. Back at it tomorrow.

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IDEC day one : Who are these AWESOME people?!

I just got back to my dorm room — kicked off my shoes and plugged in the phone. We will be heading to dinner in about an hour and then a full evening of Opening Ceremonies, presentations and an amazing comeraderie, but first I want to share a bit.

I just spent the last three hours meeting and talking with our “home group” of about 20 people. Included in just our little group are people ages ten to sixty who have come from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Japan, China, Germany, Israel, NY, Indy, and right here in Colorado.

We started by talking a bit about why each of us is here and where we came from – geographically as well as philosophically. Everyone shared what their work looks like, how it relates to this conference and what they hope to gather from the experience. One of the first revelations I had was realizing how much broader the idea of “democratic education” is than anything I’ve been working on this year. I’m very motivated to explore the greater context as we continue to refine and define what it means at RTG.

It is beyond inspiring to hear what is going on all over the world around education reform, connecting disparate factions to support meaningful learning and advocating for the change process … economically, politically and socially.

We played some theater games to get everyone out of their shells (I am very glad that improv was part of our teacher in-service this past week). From there we talked in small groups about what our ideas of Place and Migration were(our group reflection point for this week) and then created small and large group performance tableaus that conveyed those ideas. We will perform them for the Opening Ceremonies, and for those that know me – this is not my comfort zone. That said, I’m actually looking forward to it – this is a place of such encouragement, empowerment and acceptance, how could I not?!
There we are….being “Place”.

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It’s kind of like losing all the colors in your 64 pack of Crayolas until all you have is burnt umber.

The Hundred Languages

The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worldsto dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach


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