Notre Dame Children's Class in Wenham, Massachusetts is more than a place; it is a composite of children, parents, and teachers who value and actively support the importance of learning in an environment that responds, nourishes, and respects the potentialities of the individual person. By "environment" we mean, the simultaneous interaction of children, adults, and the physical components of the plant. Our strength as an education unit comes from the membership of fifty families enrolled at our school. They represent more than eight communities on the North Shore of Boston. At Notre Dame Children's Class we directly serve the children of ages three to eight from these families. As parents and teachers we mutually value learning as a life process. We seek to create and maintain a school/home environment where children and adults, in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, can be encouraged to develop abilities, values, and a sense of self-respect and self-discipline which will serve themselves and society.

Children, we believe, are gifted with an immeasurable, innate potential for learning. This potential can be realized with encouragement or misdirected and discouraged, depending on the quality of sensitivity in the human and physical environment. As teachers and parents guiding this potential, we try to be aware of the importance of the learning experience and we realize how valuable it is to build a nurturing, learning environment in order to keep the educational experience joyful and encouraging. We feel that it is also our responsibility once we understand what encompasses a sensitive environment, to construct one that allows children to move positively towards self-development. At Notre Dame Children's Class we are continually constructing such a learning environment based on the needs of the children in our care.

In creating such an integrated environment, our first concern is that the basic physical, social, and personal needs of the child are met. We respect the individuality, and the ethnic and religious heritage of the child. The child presents to us a "self "that is very important because we believe, as Maria Montessori did, that "Children from within seek to create themselves."

Self-esteem for each child, we believe, is a necessary factor in the achievement of satisfaction so vital for personal growth. We try to foster that self-esteem by accepting as well as giving love to each child. Such nurturing support enables the child to feel confident about choosing and initiating learning experiences and accepting responsibility for them.

Children have the freedom to explore in an environment designed to meet their needs, to be creative, to laugh, to change, to try and to fail. As teachers and parents we feel a need to plan and support self-directed learning. Our role is one of facilitator and guide. Our responsibility is to help the child choose those interactions that will satisfy needs and that will contribute to the positive development of the person. In doing this we, as adults are also continuously learning and this reciprocal process is important to us. We are involved in a total family experience that is not just limited to the child.

Our school setting, which reaches beyond the boundaries of a building, must be an educational model that is developmentally consistent with the total growth of the child. The systematic development of cognitive skills is of utmost importance as is the development of sensory and motor skills at all levels. Concrete and manipulative materials provide opportunities for learning and reinforcement in both preschool and primary areas. The integration of the arts, music, poetry, movement, drama, and art is an important part of our curriculum and serves to present a totality in all the learning experiences. Environmental awareness through nature study, social study projects, and current events is explored and incorporated into daily learning. Sports, large muscle development and social play are encouraged in expansive outdoor settings.

In planning and presenting our program, we hope that children will find opportunities to learn how to learn from each other and will grow in appreciation of the individuality and character strength of their peers. Collaboration, cooperation, and constructive competition will be held as important values. We believe they demonstrate a constructive love and respect for life.

In order to achieve our goals to provide such a setting we must draw parents and teachers together, involve the community and work with other learning institutions. We seek to bring parents together through an organization called PACE (Parents Actively Concerned With Education) so that there is a cohesiveness beyond the children's actual attendance at school. These parents also bring to their communities an awareness of our endeavors and the purpose for our interest, involvement and concern. But our setting is never complete, finished, ideal. We are constantly striving to refine, to reshape, to update our skills and learning. We are not static but ever-changing as we look to new development in education, in family life, and assimilate them into our program. New knowledge comes from working with children and in discovering how each one learns. We learn, we grow, and we change because of our children. They show us what promise the future holds for all if we trust, love, and understand each individual child.

This philosophy statement was written by a group of parents and facility members in conjunction with the Evaluation Process conducted by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1976.