I founded The Play Lab because I have a passion for progressive early childhood education, but I was very disheartened with our educational system. I witnessed overpopulated classrooms, unappreciated teachers, schools that had become more and more laser focused on academics and with preparing students for incessant testing. They kept inundating these young minds and our educators with never ending piles of paperwork, traditional and rote learning that didn’t empower the multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles. All without taking the time out to nurture and establish relationships with the children and their families or their teachers. My own personal experience as a child and witnessing this lit a spark within that grew to a powerful flame. One that fueled my inspiration and led me to my Vision for The Play Lab.
I wanted to cultivate an environment that was engaging and nurturing while focusing on the “Whole Child”, where children would be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. All while utilizing play, inquiry, and a hands-on exploratory approach to learning. My idea was to keep the class sizes small to ensure that each child benefited from more personal attention as opposed to slipping through the cracks. This model would also include tenets each child would carry with them through life as we taught acceptance, tolerance, service, charity, social justice, meditative breathing, mindfulness, and the Growth Mindset. We’d also make sure to include much needed learning experiences regarding finance and entrepreneurship as well as fun fitness, social emotional learning, and early exposure to Spanish as we know being bilingual gives an obvious advantage in life, career, and the workforce. We also implement a balanced approach to learning through project-based learning that follows children’s interests while also introducing new engaging content through a progressive integrated curriculum of engaging Topic Studies. We believe in learning through doing, strengthening the bond and partnership between home, school, and community and that our environment is a teacher as well. Lastly, I wanted to create an empowering culture that was supportive of the students, families, and our staff. There had to be buy in all around and our values had to align. We are partners in learning and relationships are reciprocal and mutually beneficial.
It was my goal to prove that we could meet and exceed the Illinois State Early Learning Standards through our methods. These methods include meeting children where they are, being developmentally appropriate, focusing on each child’s individual strengths all without putting unnecessary pressure on the children through rote learning, worksheets, or homework. It has and always will be my goal to have children beaming with excitement to go to school and become life-long learners. To have them anticipate learning through their studies, because through other’s eyes all they are doing is playing and having fun. In truth, it is play, and it is incredibly fun, but they are also learning and being empowered by that play. Gaining lessons that will follow them through life.
Personally, a little background about me. I was a child who would have greatly benefited from a thoughtful “Whole Child” School, such as The Play Lab. Sadly, a school like that did not exist. Instead, I had a horrible Kindergarten experience which led me to feeling ostracized and negatively labeled by my teacher which greatly diminished my self-esteem. Being called stupid by a teacher when I was 5 stuck with me. I believed it. If she had only taken the time and put in the effort to get to know me, she would have realized how wrong of an assessment that was. She would have realized I couldn’t focus because I had things weighing heavily on my heart and mind. Things a 5-year-old shouldn’t have to deal with. Fortunately, I was blessed with an amazing first grade teacher.
She was a teacher that cared wholeheartedly about my well-being, and she loved all of me. She would hug me, wipe my tears, and listen to me as I shared my feelings. She truly cared about me and took the time to teach me how to read while the other kids were at recess, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. Through her care and support I excelled all the way to the top of the class. As you can see, all it took was someone to genuinely notice and care about me. It wasn’t about the academics for her, it was about “me” as a person. She knew that if she focused on ME, that I would excel in my academics. When children are encouraged, empowered, and nurtured they THRIVE. When they are healthy, when they feel valued and loved THEY CAN THRIVE! My students are not nameless and faceless numbers defined by their environments, their situation, or their circumstances. They are BEAUTIFUL little human beings with a remarkable capacity and potential to learn. Through this holistic approach and allowing for flexibility they will grow, develop, lead, teach and thrive as they head into bright futures.
You have no idea what every child carries in their hearts and minds when they come to school. You have no idea unless you take the time to invest in the child. That’s what we do at The Play Lab. As the adults in their lives, we must be thoughtful of what the child might be going through and nurture every part of them. As I continued to grow personally, I found that meditation and mindfulness helped me. Also, I found that the lessons I attained through my community work had become a driving force in my life. I knew at that point that I wanted to create a curriculum that had what I saw was lacking in traditional education. It was something that had helped me in my personal healing as well. I wanted to cultivate a curriculum that was inclusive, thoughtful, and engaging. As I learn, grow, and evolve, so does The Play Lab. We are intentional in our teachings and ongoing professional development to stay abreast of the latest research of what’s best and most thoughtful of children.
We’re off to a very blessed start as The Play Lab was 1 of 5 Schools in the State of Illinois to be recognized as a Whole Child School this year. Winning this Award and Recognition as a small progressive home preschool and kindergarten against large schools and school districts who have extensive staffing, support, funding, and financial backing speaks volumes about the type of school and familial environment we’ve created here at The Play Lab! Very excited to grow The Play Lab and matriculate students who are not only thoughtful, collaborative, and bright humans, but wonderful citizens, leaders, innovators, and thinkers!