Mills College Children’s School (MCCS) is the oldest laboratory school on the West Coast and serves as an integral part of the School of Education’s mission to prepare early childhood professionals and future elementary school teachers. We serve as a bridge between theory and practice for Mills students, provide quality care and education for children, and create classroom learning environments that offer research opportunities. Our K-5 students have the benefit of head teachers who have Master’s degrees or commensurate years of experience in the classroom and are responsible for curriculum and instruction, as well as student teachers who are careful observers of children’s learning and document their own work in modes that are accessible to families and visitors. The presence of these student teachers, who are preparing for a variety of careers in education, allows for small group instruction with focused attention on teaching and learning. MCCS teachers and administrators present workshops, classes, and scholarly research as part of the laboratory school’s role in expanding the knowledge of learning and teaching. Mills College faculty members consult with the staff on curriculum development, issues of public and educational policy, and engage in research in the school. Members of our teaching staff write for various educational publications and present at conferences around the globe.
MCCS is a progressive independent school with a constructivist model of education, a hands-on learning process that starts in our Infant/Toddler classroom and carries all the way through fifth grade. Teachers create spaces for design thinking, building, and constructing, giving all children the opportunity to enjoy experiences that foster exploration, creativity, and imagination. At the same time, our teachers approach education from an inquiry stance and model reflective practice with each other and the students. At the Children’s School, everyone has a stake in teaching and learning, with the result that children are engaged at their own levels of ability, challenged to take the next steps, encouraged to make hypotheses, and provided with the tools to test their ideas. Here, learning is respected, documented, and celebrated because our students are teachers just as our teachers are learners.
Common core content standards, student interest, and teacher passion form the basis of our curriculum mapping, with units of study that integrate science, social studies, language arts, service learning, design thinking, and a social justice component called “peaceful changemakers.” In each of our classrooms, a myriad of instructional models are employed to meet the needs of all children: workshops, centers, learning stations, direct instruction, and project-based learning. Our teachers have the freedom to draw from multiple curricula, including but not limited to Lucy Calkins’ Writer’s Workshop, Write Source, and Words Their Way for language arts; Bridges in Mathematics for math; Foss, GEMS, and MARE for science; and Energy Time, Responsive Classroom, and for social/emotional development. We supplement our core curriculum with visual art, music and movement, Spanish, and physical education. We take advantage of the beautiful Mills College campus for PE, which includes use of the track field, or on rainy days, the campus gymnasium. In the spring, students swim at the Mills College Pool. Music and Spanish classes incorporate singing, movement, percussion, recorders, and large Orff wooden xylophones.
In our multi-age classrooms, students with a range of skills have opportunities to both learn from and to teach one another as they develop a strong sense of community. The Elementary School program currently had two K/1 classrooms, two 2/3 classrooms, and two 4/5 classrooms. Class configuration may shift in response to enrollment changes, so as to provide a quality education.
We target approximately 20 students per classroom. Our head teachers have the benefit of student teachers in their classrooms approximately 60% of the week, but since these student teachers are part time, we consider our elementary teacher:child ratio to be 1:20. Small classes afford us the opportunity to get to know our students well, build strong relationships, and provide rigorous project-based learning experiences that address the needs of each learner.
In an effort to support families balancing togetherness and quality time with a home-to-school connection, we have created a progression that supports executive functioning skill development related to time management and self-discipline. Reading is the foundation for our homework trajectory, and so we start in Kindergarten by encouraging students to read 20 minutes per night with their families. Our 1st-3rd grade home-to-school connection builds on this foundation and adds math games and activities that can be practiced outside of school, plus occasional family projects for science or social studies. Finally, our 4/5 students see the addition of long-term projects with periodic deadlines.
We do not administer state assessments; instead, formative and authentic assessments inform our curriculum decisions. We offer parent-teacher conferences twice a year, as well as bi-annual progress reports that convey a description of each child’s mastery of content knowledge, without letter grades.
The school hours are 8:30 am to 3 pm for all grades, with early release at 2 pm on Wednesdays. Students have a 30-minute morning recess, including 10 minutes of snack time, and a one-hour lunch recess, 30 minutes for eating and 30 minutes for playing. Weekly schedules for each classroom are displayed at our tours.
Students have a 30-minute morning recess, including a short snack time, and a one-hour lunch recess, with half an hour for eating and half an hour for playing. Our morning recess is supervised by head teachers and student teachers on the elementary playground, while our lunch recess is overseen by the director of our after-care program, which is called School Age Care (SAC), along with a staff of Mills College undergraduate students. We have an expansive yard with two large lawns, basketball and tether ball courts, play structure, group seesaw, cloud swing, monkey bars, and a sand-and-water play area. Our children all play together at recess and it’s a wonderful opportunity to develop empathy and leadership. Our SAC director, who is also our PE teacher, ensures that students are developing gross motor skills while enjoying creative and cooperative play. Structured games (capture the flag, Frisbee golf, basketball, etc.) are offered at lunch time and our SAC director provides clinics, teaching specific skills, both physical and social, about how to play and include each other in play. On rainy days, students have recess in their classrooms and look forward to this free time with a variety of indoor activities and games.
We contract with a delivery service specializing in nutrient-dense, organic lunches that can be custom-made to suit any dietary restriction, picky eater, or big appetite. Families send their children with a morning snack from home and have the option of either packing a lunch from home or ordering hot lunch via delivery. We also serve a freshly-prepared snack to students who stay after school. Younger students (K & 1) eat snack and lunch on the porch outside of their classrooms, while the older grades (2/3 & 4/5) eat on the playground.
Before school care starts at 7:45 am and after school care runs until 5:45 pm daily with our School Age Care (SAC) program (see tuition sheet for pricing). Families have lots of flexibility with SAC: You can sign up for full time care, create your own schedule (one hour a day, three times a week, etc.), or drop in at the last minute by emailing or phoning the office. We believe learning through play is important for children so we provide a range of opportunities for open-ended creative play, fine-motor activities, engineering, art, cooking, games, and more. After school, families can sign up for any of the various enrichment classes (such as martial arts, drama, dance, chess, or a special art class) which are generally offered 2-3 days a week and vary each semester.
We believe that families are an integral part of a child’s education and we greatly appreciate our partnership with you. We welcome participation from parents and adult family members who have a skill to share or just want to come in and help out. Elementary teachers send out a bi-monthly newsletter to keep you informed about current curriculum, as well as upcoming events and reminders. Children’s learning is documented and displayed so families can see the process and product of the classroom projects. Our Parent/Family Association (PFA) is a thriving group of families that sponsor events and fundraisers to support our learning community. We ask that each family contribute 20 volunteer hours per year (10 for single parent households) and there are multiple ways to participate, both in and out of the classroom.