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Our Progressive Approach

What is the philosophy of the school?

    At Painted Oak, our Core Values compel us to build community, foster independence, and encourage creativity. We are dedicated to providing innovative, nature-centered, place-based education in small, multiage classes drawing inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach to develop a lasting appreciation for the natural world. We are a progressive school committed to promoting a new, reformed model of education; one that allows students to tap into their interests and talents, to direct their own learning under the guidance of supportive adults, and to be excited to learn! 

What curriculum will you be using?

     We will utilize a place-based, self-directed learning project approach in our Kindergarten through 3rd grade programs. What this means is a large block of time in the morning will be spent working on a project that the children have developed on their own, or with a small group of like-minded classmates, with the teacher's help and mentorship. The teacher will meet with each individual student to assess where (s)he is academically in regard to reading and math basic skills. Together they will discuss in depth what the student's interests are, learning goals, passions, hobbies, etc. to zero in on a topic that the student would like to create a project around. They will develop the project to be detailed enough to require long-range focus and work in order to complete. It will also be designed to incorporate any skills that the student needs to be working on in order to get practice and reinforcement of skills within a real-world context. So, for example, if the student has decided to take on an engineering project in his/her Outdoor Classroom, and may need work on developing writing skills, the plan may blend in writing a letter to local businesses asking for donations to support the project. A culminating Learning Expo will be held at the end of each season to celebrate and share student projects with parents and families. 

     While many literacy skills are organically woven into Project Time through reading, writing, research, note taking, speaking, and keyboarding, an intentionally structured, teacher-directed math skills block is scheduled first thing in the morning. This provides students additional skills that can be applied to their projects as so many of them are S.T.E.M.-based in nature.

     As the day goes on, students are given multiple opportunities to tap into their talents and broaden their interests through visits to the Art Studio and/or the Loose Parts Workshop, by participating in Enrichment or Elective classes, as well as Facilitator-Initiated Learning at the end of the day. This block of time allows students to take classes rooted in the sciences and humanities, which serve to inspire further research and future projects. 

Is nightly homework assigned? How is student learning assessed?

     As a progressive school that follows the work of educational writers Alfie Kohn and the late Sir Ken Robinson, we support the research that "there is no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school," (see Washington Post article, and "Rethinking Homework" article.) Therefore, nightly homework is not assigned at our school, for any age, in any grade. If students choose to extend their project work or research at home they are welcome to as it then proving beneficial to them personally in meeting the goals that they have for their own learning.

     Formative assessments are an integral part of any progressive educational model, and as such, they are blended into all of our programs. This comes in the form of teacher observations of play and learning, formal and informal student interviews, exit slips, KWL charts, class discussions, and group work. We maintain that assessments such as these give us a more authentic, daily view of each child's learning and understanding, and in turn serve as a planning tool to drive teacher instruction. Early Years parents receive nightly emails which include links to photographic documentation of the day's learning, all parents receive newsletters communicating completed units of study, as well as detailed narrative summaries three times a year. Students maintain a Learning Journey documenting their developing interests, goals, and understandings, which parents are invited to review with their child's teacher(s) twice a year; the second meeting is led by the student. We do not utilize standardized testing to measure student outcomes.      

What will the class size be?

     Class size is kept low throughout our Primary School in order to create small leveled groups for Core Skills. Our 5 year old group, known as the Raccoon Homebase, and our 6-7 year old group, known as the Foxes Homebase, enrolls up to 18 children guided by two highly experienced Co-Teachers. The Bobcat Homebase, made up of students aged 8-10, enrolls up to 15 students with one teacher. Small class size allows us to facilitate deep discussions of current topics and interests. There are many opportunities throughout the day for all classes to intermingle with one another for there to be a sharing of ideas, a differentiation of instruction, peer feedback on projects, and friendships across a wider age group, as well as connection with other adults.  


How will you provide learning for students across various grade levels? 

     We utilize various teaching formats to ensure that each student receives the instruction that they are ready for. For instance, during Core Skills time, students are grouped according to academic readiness, thereby allowing the teacher to present skills in a targeted and effective manner. During Civics, Science Lab, Art, Music, and Project-Based Learning, the students enjoy the camaraderie of a wide age range of peers. This approach to learning works well for multiage classrooms. Due to the fact that time and focus is spent on independent and/or collaborative projects, the wider the age range, the greater the exposure to other ideas, ways of thinking, and work styles. This approach most closely matches a real-world learning and work environment.

What is the attendance requirement?

     The Department of Education and the Compulsory Education Law of New Jersey "requires attendance at a public school of a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments." Kindergarten is not currently required in the state of New Jersey. If a student [in traditional grades 1-8] chooses to attend Painted Oak less than everyday, he or she will be required to register as a homeschooler. In the state of New Jersey, this is a very simple process. 


What regulations are followed?

    Painted Oak Nature School is registered with the New Jersey Department of Education as a Nonpublic School. 

Who should I contact for more information?

Nicole Langdo, M. Ed. 

Founding Head of School

Ph: (609) 466-1010


174 Lambertville Hopewell Road

Hopewell, New Jersey  08525

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