Meet Berwyn’s Creatives: Nadine Brockman of The Children’s School

Welcome to Meet Berwyn’s Creatives!  While Berwyn has become a hot spot for urban professionals and entrepreneurs, the City of Homes is also considered a haven for the creatively minded. Berwyn is home to a remarkable group of makers who keep our community vibrant. Meet Berwyn’s Creatives gives us a chance to get to know what makes our local makers and arts leaders tick. Enjoy!

Meet Nadine Brockman of The Children’s School, a Unique Teacher in the Progressive Education World

Hometown:  Elmhurst, IL
Residence: Berwyn, IL
Nadine’s Bio: Nadine is a Kindergarten teacher at The Children’s School (TCS) in Berwyn. She has been teaching there for the past thirteen years and has been an educator for over twenty. Nadine earned a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education, focusing on the areas of deaf and hard of hearing from Illinois State University. She is the proud parent of four adult-aged children.

No matter the weather, you are sure to find Nadine out in the elements immersing herself in all things nature, from hiking to gardening to yoga. Her passion for nature and the outdoors shines through her distinct, forward-thinking classroom philosophies and activities at TCS.

Also in Nadine’s classroom is Ms. Lucy Coria. Lucy is an assistant Kindergarten teacher at The Children’s School and has lived in Berwyn with her husband and three children since 2004.   Lucy has been teaching since 2009 and loves that small class sizes allow her to really get to know each child’s strengths and personality.  When not in the classroom, you’ll find Lucy hiking nature trails, and visiting zoos and museums with her family

About The Children’s School
Established in 2004, The Children’s School is part of the Progressive Education Network. Progressive education creates a learning environment that encourages the unfolding of students’ curiosity. Through discourse, hands-on projects and developmentally appropriate curricula, students’ innate love of learning thrives. At the same time, the school addresses local, state and national learning goals in a child-focused system without traditional standardized testing.

The school offers small class sizes focused on inquiry and discussion. The students’ own interests, both individually and as a group, are what drive the curriculum. Children explore topics via formal instruction, investigation, projects, reading, research, field trips and discussion groups. They demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways using art, music, oral expression, collaborative projects and creative writing.

How is Progressive education different from Montessori school?
Though there are definitely some overlapping qualities, such as hands-on, experiential learning and individualized curricula, Progressive education differs from Montessori school. In Montessori schools the classrooms are calm and quiet, with each child pursuing their own work with materials provided by the teacher. The teachers in Montessori schools function as facilitators whose main job is to organize and prepare the environment so that students can learn and discover independently.

In Progressive education, the classroom is anything but quiet; instead, the classroom is busy as both children and their teachers interact in the pursuit of real-life tasks and problems. In this model of education, teachers are seen as fellow learners who nurture each child’s academic and social-emotional growth based on that child’s individual abilities, interests, ideas and needs.

How is TCS different from other schools in the area?
At the Children’s School each child is seen as a unique person and treated as such. Children are active participants in their own learning and in their own community. “Emergent curriculum” means the children’s own ideas furnish the impetus for project-based learning. Students are intrinsically motivated to learn about topics that are meaningful to them. When they do, it results in deeper, more powerful and more relevant learning.

The types of activities we do at the Kindergarten level are expansive and open-ended. The children participate in a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, from collecting food scraps to feed the worms in our worm bin to sculpting with our clay table to digging and playing in the sand. I use American Sign Language throughout the day as well to help the children strengthen their fine motor skills.

Our writing program is unparalleled. Children are taught that they are authors from their first day here and end up creating anywhere between 10-20 books in their Kindergarten year alone. Eventually, the students read their stories to their class and their families. We also keep math journals that apply to real-life situations, such as figuring out how many bus seats the class needs for a fieldtrip.

Our class sizes are capped at 15 students. We don’t give letter grades. Instead, the children receive narrative reports and attend conferences along with parents to discuss and reflect on progress toward the student’s individual goals.

We really champion being an active part of the community, at both the macro and micro levels. On the micro level, we have Group Meetings where children can discuss any issues that may be happening in the classroom community. On a macro level, students participate in Town Hall Meetings for the whole school.

Who are your greatest influences (personal or professional)?
One of my greatest professional influences is Daniel Ryan, the founder of The Children’s School. I had the opportunity to spend my first two years co-teaching with him. Working with Daniel taught me about progressive educational practices and helped me solidify many of my beliefs about teaching young children. During these years, I realized the endless possibilities that present themselves when children are taught that their voices can have an impact upon their educational experience.

Another major influence for me is the late Bev Bos, an early childhood educator and advocate for play-based learning. TCS provided me with the opportunity to meet and learn from her. Bev believed in the importance of non-structured activities and allowing the children to have down time. She used every ounce of space available in her classroom, including aerial space and tons of shelving to encourage challenging, hands-on kinesthetic play and the constant shifting of an educational environment. TCS provided me with the opportunity to meet with and learn from her. She continues to inspire me to be a strong advocate for children and their right to experience rich, open-ended play throughout much of their day.

What are you passionate about?
I have always been passionate about nature and the outdoors. I hike, garden, bike and spend as much time in the woods as possible. As a teacher, I try to find opportunities for my class to spend time outdoors and incorporate nature into our daily experiences. Following my visit with Bev Bos, the children’s parents and staff created an unrestricted outdoor space filled with sand, dirt, logs, sticks, loose materials and a water source. In this outdoor classroom, children learn to collaborate, problem solve, experiment, create, observe and navigate friendships.

I love our Kindergarten weekly class trips to Bemis Woods during the second half of the school year. During these visits, small clusters of children spend time in the woods with one adult and enjoy hiking, drawing, climbing and open-ended exploration. The groups work together to follow the interests of the children during each visit.

What is your fondest memory?
Many of my fondest memories come from backpacking trips while I volunteered as an outdoor education trip leader during college. I endured physical challenges while simultaneously experiencing the beauty of the environment. The terrain changed with each trip and if we were lucky, we would stumble upon the most amazing wild life. These shared experiences resulted in new, rewarding friendships. I will never forget late nights under the stars and waking up early inside my dew covered sleeping bag, looking up to the umbrella of tree branches above me and feeling the crisp morning breeze upon my face. My husband Tom took part in many of these backpacking trips and we continued to enjoy backpacking together after college. I haven’t been backpacking in a quite some time, but I hope to take at least one more trip in the near future!

Are you excited about learning something new?
I’m learning about meditation and am working on building it into my daily life. Though meditation resonates with me, I continue to find it difficult to calm the chatter and thoughts going on in my mind. I’m working on creating a meditation space in my home and to carve out time each day to meditate.

As I continue my journey with meditation, I have been trying to integrate it in the classroom. During class time, I have introduced “Starfish stories”—guided meditation stories—while the children are laying in Shavasana (“corpse” pose). This time allows the children to develop comfort with keeping their bodies still, offers a strategy for calming their bodies and helps them learn to meditate. The stories take them to places such as outer space, under the sea, underground and floating on clouds. The adventures here are endless.

What is most difficult about your profession?
As an early childhood teacher, I believe that setting the stage in the learning environment is a big part of my job—the needs of the children in the class should guide the changes in the environment. This is both one of my favorite things about teaching in a hands-on, project based environment, but it is also one of the most challenging aspects. Children need to challenge their physical, intellectual and fine motor selves. The amount of time and physical energy this type of teaching takes can be difficult. It is often challenging to find enough time in each week to prepare and create all the possibilities that come into my mind. The ability to work in a school that honors children in this way is very exciting and makes these challenges a little easier to overcome.

Connect with The Children’s School
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The Children’s School holds an Open House the first Friday of every month from 9:00 am until 11:00 am. Next First Friday Open House will be April 7th. Visit their website at www.thechildrenschool.info for more information.

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