Our 2018-19 school year kicked off at our new location in the St. Edmund's school building at the corner of Pleasant and Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois. The new faciliity allows more space for expanded programming, events and more!
Both in our previous facility and in setting up classrooms at our new Oak Park location, we design our classrooms so that students can move freely about, working and playing as independently as possible at their developmental level.
In a typical classroom you will see: work areas of tables and chairs rather than individual desks to foster collaboration and cooperation; a rug or other meeting area where the entire class can come together for discussions, stories, planning sessions, etc.; a play area with blocks, games, and puzzles; a cozy reading area where children can snuggle up with a book, enjoy independent study or a quiet conversation.
Rarely will you see commercially-produced posters or decorations on the walls; instead you will see artifacts of the children’s current learning projects.
Our classrooms are purposefully designed so that they can be easily rearranged to accommodate a large project. At any given point in the year, you may walk into a classroom and find it reconfigured as the International Space Station, or an American town during the Great Depression, or a tropical rainforest. We want the curriculum to live and breathe in our classrooms rather than being constrained by furniture.
A RETURN TO OUR ROOTS
Our school was founded in Oak Park by Daniel P. Ryan, Ed.D., where in 2004 we had 13 students in grades K-1 in a two-room space. We moved to St. Mary of Celle campus in Berwyn in 2006, where our school grew and we added a middle school in 2014. In 2018, we returned to Oak Park, and are now located in the former St. Edmund's parish school building. Learn more about our history, or enjoy a video describing our early days at TCS.
"The Riverside" at TCS - An Innovative Urban Nature-Based Play Area
“The Riverside” is The Children’s School’s innovative outdoor play space replete with alcoves for imaginative-play, physical challenges, and interaction with natural elements in new ways. The school developed this courtyard area under the guidance of Lea Schweitz, PhD, an expert on urban green spaces and the importance of nature education in childhood development and learning.
TCS decided to create the space around a natural riverside theme. That’s why you will find a blue river painted on the asphalt and elements that build on the theme. The upper balcony of the courtyard, dubbed “The Bluff,” now boasts a huge sand-play area with an adjacent mud kitchen. It has direct access from our Kindergarten, allowing increased access to safe outdoor play year-round.
The Riverside and Bluff offer multiple play areas: A circle of enormous log stumps of varying heights and angles are perfect for jumping or as an impromptu outdoor seating area. A traditional playhouse and a rowboat offer venues for imaginative play. Nearby, children can build their own play forts or innovate structures with a wide assortment of scrap lumber, bricks, branches, sticks, and twigs.
There is room here for students to take risks, handle heavier materials, and play unstructured games of their own design. Both the non-traditional look of the space, with its rough and recycled materials, as well as the very real risks involved in jumping from one angled log to another, or wielding bricks, eight-foot timbers, and heavy shovels, takes some visitors aback. However, such materials would be very familiar at the adventure playgrounds appearing in Denmark, Great Britain, Japan and elsewhere.
TCS agrees with research showing that an element of risk-taking is an essential component of learning, and of building self-confidence and self-esteem for children. The Riverside aims for a balance that allows open-ended nature play, large motor and sensory experiences, and reasonable risk for K-8 students. The results? Extraordinary play that is collaborative, multi-age, immersive, joyful, and purposeful.
Plans are still unfolding as TCS hopes to add a vertical garden, rainwater harvesting for a water wall offering hydro-engineering play, and the continual adapting of features based on feedback from students and faculty as we evaluate how the children are using the space and its materials.
The Riverside is now one part of what Lea Schweitz praises as the three critical pieces of nature experience for school age children at TCS: inside nature play (exploring nature inside the classroom), outside nature play (in the Riverside and Bluff, walking outside in the neighborhood, or in nearby parks), and “beyond” nature play (field trips to the forest preserves, outdoor sites, and excursions). The Riverside has also transformed an asphalt courtyard from a perceived limitation to a valuable asset for TCS in play-based learning.