What We Do at Hayground

When you first visited Hayground school what probably jumped out was the beauty of the space, the wonderful artwork, and the sense of joy and energy coming from our students. We hope what hit you next was the thoughtfulness, intelligence, and love of children coming from our staff. Don’t take this lightly. Smart well educated adults who love children are the core of any school, and they’re not that easy to come by. A great deal of research shows that the single most important ingredient of high quality education is the sustained time children spend interacting with knowledgeable, intelligent, caring adults. It is all too easy to underestimate the impact this has on a child’s educational outcome.
Hayground is premised on the idea that the most important educational task during childhood is to acquire certain habits of mind: the habit of curiosity, and the ability to satisfy that curiosity, the habit of informed and opened minded argument, the habit of thoughtful reading of a wide range of materials, and the habit of using what you read each and every day, the habit of writing as a way to think and to communicate, the habit of developing and critiquing ideas, the habit of hard work, and the habit of thinking about the perspective of others.
We also believe that there are specific skills which are necessary for these habits- but that those skills are best learned when children are deeply engaged in meaningful work. How do we define meaningful work? Work that has some purpose for oneself and others beyond offering students practice, or showing a teacher what a child can do- work that entails a wide variety of skills and materials, and that will actually result in something that matters to others. This is not a new idea- Dewey articulated it in the beginning of the 20th century. But few schools have found a way to bring that idea to life.
So, when you walk around our classrooms, look to see if children are engaged in serious challenging work. Look for signs that the work is complex, and entails a variety of intellectual domains (scientific inquiry, the visual arts, arithmetic, mathematical problem solving, writing, reading, history, visual representation of information, discussion). Notice whether children are collaborating with one another. See if children are sweating (working hard). Look for clues that children care about what they are doing. Take note of whether adults are inspiring children, providing them with new ideas, solutions and information and nudging them towards better work. Don’t feel frustrated that you cannot see enough of what they do each week (this probably means you are wishing you could see a pile of pages done in a book, or concrete projects your child has completed). Don’t try and check off the usual school subjects (don’t feel worried if your child doesn’t “have” art or reading each day). Look instead for the depth of their engagement, and the richness of their activities.
Listen to your child’s conversations. Watch and see what he or she is working on when you visit the school. When you learn about the work Haygrounders are doing making maps, building a library, cooking lunch (and a host of other endeavors) find out what kinds of problems they have discussed, what kinds of investigation they are conducting, what they hope to accomplish by December, what kinds of challenges they anticipate, and what sources of information they are using. This will tell you a lot about the habits of mind we are fostering in your child.

Susan Engel, Ph.D
Director of Program in Teaching
Dept of Psychology
Williams College
Williamstown MA 01267