Mills College Children’s School 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 adult learners, 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 preparing for a variety of careers in education whose presence allows for small group instruction with focused attention on teaching and learning.
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.
Student interest, teacher passion, and State of California content standards 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; Tokyo Shoseki (Japanese Math) and Family Math for math; Foss, GEMS, and MARE for science; and Energy Time and Responsive Classroom for social/emotional development. We supplement our core curriculum with visual art, music and movement, 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 classes incorporate singing, movement, percussion, recorders, and large wooden xylophones.
The Elementary School program currently has four separate mixed-grade classrooms: two K/1s, a 2/3, and a 4/5. All of them serve students with a range of ages and skills. In our multi-age classrooms, children have opportunities to be both leaders and followers, to learn from and to teach one another, and to develop a strong sense of community. Class configuration may shift in response to enrollment changes, so as to provide a quality education.
We target approximately 20 students per classroom. 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.
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.
We value family togetherness and share your commitment to spending quality time at home. We also believe that homework provides a home-to-school connection and helps parents know what their children are learning. 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. First Grade builds on this foundation and adds some weekly focused practice work to be completed outside of school. Students in the 2/3 classroom receive weekly homework with reading, writing, math, and handwriting, plus occasional family projects for science or social studies. Finally, our 4/5 students see the addition of long-term projects with periodic deadlines. This progression supports executive functioning skill development related to time management, planning, and self-discipline.
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.
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.
Yes, we work with a delivery service called Flo’s Friendly Foods, 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 Flo’s 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.
After school, our classrooms and yard convert to the School Age Care (SAC) program, which runs until 5:45 pm every day (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. Students 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.