One of the first question speople ask us about Woodland Community School is, “Are you like a Montessori school? A Waldorf school?” Below we have compared WCS to four educational models in order to further your understanding of WCS. This is not meant to be a complete description of these models or of WCS but rather a brief comparison of some of the aspects of each.

Montessori Schools

Teachers of Montessori and at WCS are primarily facilitators and observers. Both models use respect as a primary guide for their programs: respect for children and respect for their love of learning. Both schools allow children to be guided by their natural curiosity and in using hands-on investigation. Both models give children broad choices of what to work on, but Montessori schools impose limits on the availability of some materials, making them available in a planned sequence based on the Montessori model’s ideas about what is developmentally appropriate. At WCS students are free to learn skills and knowledge in the order that is natural for them. In addition, while traditional Montessori schools do not include time spent outside in their curriculum, outdoor time is an essential part of WCS’s educational experience.

Sudbury Schools

Sudbury schools and WCS are similar in some ways. We believe that children are driven to learn by their innate desire to make sense of their world, and that they are naturally curious, able to interact with the physical world and able to interact with other people. Students rise up to being responsible for their learning as people do when allowed to take appropriate responsibility for themselves. Also, students can work with whomever they choose, regardless of age because both schools recognize the innumerable advantages to mixed age relationships- reduced competition and increased cooperation among them. At Sudbury schools students choose for themselves what they will do for all of each day. At WCS the activities of the afternoon are guided by the current Journey of Discovery with critical skills development being a natural part of experiencing the Journeys. The morning at WCS is filled with activities the students choose for themselves. Sudbury schools manage all concerns among adults and children democratically, but at WCS students and teachers democratically manage daily concerns together while a board of adults governs the school.

Waldorf Schools

Both Waldorf schools and WCS envision education as helping children develop what is inherent within them: the capacity to think clearly and individually, to feel deeply, and to develop a reverence for life that translates to concern for others. Like children in Waldorf schools, children at WCS awaken to their capacities, their interests, and their strengths. Similar to the Waldorf elementary experience, the experience at WCS is multi-sensory, without prescribed textbook work, and without grades. Waldorf schools are spiritually based in Christianity and Anthroposophy while WCS is ecologically based with a sense of community and connection to the natural world. Unlike the Waldorf model, at WCS there is no preplanned curriculum. The students at WCS learn through Journeys of Discovery and Free Choice. We recognize that learning is natural for children, and that they do not need to be taught how to do it or what to learn next.

Reggio Emilia Schools

The basic philosophy about children and childhood is similar in the schools of Reggio Emilia and at WCS. We believe that children are filled with enormous curiosity and potential, and they are by nature strongly motivated. Three of the main components of the Reggio Emilia approach: documentation, collaboration, and project driven curriculum can all be found at WCS. Documenting the activity and voices of the students in Reggio schools is accomplished in a very structured and deliberate way. Using a less formal method, the teachers at WCS observe the students with keen eyes and ears and use this information to help guide the curriculum and to write narrative assessments. WCS also values the strength that collaboration between teachers, students, parents, and community resources lends to education. WCS is perhaps most similar to the Reggio Emilia approach in that their projects and our Journeys of Discovery form the backbone of the curriculum. In both Reggio schools and WCS a particular project or Journey of Discovery may go on for a few days or many months - as long as the students desire without interruption from the clock or calendar. The role of teachers at WCS is also similar to the teachers’ role in a Reggio Emilia approach. They are researchers gathering information about their students and about themselves, and they are partners in learning with each other and with their students.  Woodland differs from Reggio Emilia, valuing free play as an essential way of learning, by including our morning free choice time.

Project Based Learning

The core of the curriculum of both Project Based Learning and Woodland is the project or, as we call it, the “Journey.” In both models the projects are student driven investigations that allow children to explore one topic on a deep level using all of their senses. At Woodland and in PBL it is important that the students lead the journey from start to finish while the teachers are a resource and guide. There is no predetermined outcome for the project. As is revealed through the choice of project as curriculum, both models believe in cooperative learning and the learning of critical skills within a context. Both also respect the students as curious, engaged learners who will learn best when they are genuinely interested in the subject matter. As for assessment, both PBL and Woodland stress the importance of assessment that is authentic, although the methods to achieve this are slightly different. While PBL students are graded on their work in ways that reflect the project, at Woodland students are free from the competitive environment that tests, quizzes, and grades promote. At Woodland we rely instead on observation, narrative reports, self-evaluations, and conferences to communicate each individual child’s progress.