The Upper Arlington Schools Informal Program was established in 1972 by a group of educators who were committed to a common educational philosophy reflected through the practices of progressive education. Our program was founded by educators, parents, and Ohio State University professors who felt that our primary responsibilities were to teach children how to learn and become responsible citizens in a democratic society. Today this alternative program is offered at Barrington and Wickliffe Elementary Schools.
The roots of our program date back to the early 19th century and the work of educational philosophers and theorists like Froebel, Montessori, Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky. Froebel had demonstrated that play is the learning vehicle for the young child and that young children learn through play. The work of Montessori alerted educators to the importance of materials and surroundings as a means for structuring the learning of young children. John Dewey, known as the “father of progressive education,” advocated for a reconfiguration of schools to be more like democratic communities. In his own lab school, Dewey recognized that learning occurs through experience and he advocated for teachers to consider the children’s interest as well as developmental level. His interpretation of curriculum as a whole rather than separate subject areas and of the world outside of the classroom as material for active learning have continued to provide direction for the Informal classrooms of today. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky emphasized that the growth of human intelligence is embedded in the process of children co- constructing their learning with their social and physical environments. The educational implications of these theorists have been clear and challenging: classroom environments should model democratic communities that foster children’s learning through engaging, purposeful experiences that honor the children’s interests and are authentic to the outside world.
Is this the same program of the 1970s? The answer to that is no and yes. No, from the standpoint that Informal teachers have adapted to the changing expectations of state and national standards. Yes, in that Informal teachers remain committed to our Ten Foundational Principles. These ten beliefs guide our daily teaching practices.
Why do we use the word “Informal?” The terminology for alternative practices was often used interchangeably in different settings such as open education, the open classroom, the integrated day, the British Infant School model, and the informal classroom. All of these practices reflect the work of the progressive movement.
Today, we use it describe the relationships between children, parents, and teachers. These relationships are family-like, with teachers and parents working together to coach, guide, and support children through their learning. Our classrooms remain trusting, positive, respectful places where teachers and children journey together – a journey filled with joy and wonder, in a quest for knowledge.