I want to know more of the repertoire of conflict resolution techniques used by teachers.

The Conflict Resolution techniques at Open Door School involve helping children to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings, as well as encouraging them to listen to and strive to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. Conflict Resolution typically involves hard feelings for all children involved. It is an opportunity for the children to think about what they really want and how to get it without hurting people’s feelings, and to practice speaking their minds. As children learn to express their feelings appropriately and respectfully and work on collaborative decision-making processes, they learn that there are different ways of doing things and many possible solutions to challenges. Having said this, each Conflict Resolution situation is unique, and is handled with consideration to both the developmental abilities and the personalities of the children involved.

When children are allowed to work out conflicts for themselves, their solutions are often unfair. For instance, if Child A takes a toy from Child B, and Child B does not protest, hasn’t Child A learned that it’s alright to take toys away, and doesn’t Child B adopt a sense of defeat? How does ODS encourage children to stand up for themselves, as well as to consider the feelings of others?

In general, if a child at Open Door School does not ask for help, and does not seem distressed by a situation, we will not intervene. This holds true whether a child is struggling with a button on their coat, or dealing with another child having taken something out of their hands. We do not make a problem out of a situation that a child does not see as one.  On the surface, this may seem unfair and possibly detrimental. However, when taking into account a child’s innately developing sense of ethics, it is more respectful of both children to allow them to decide what is fair and what is not. As the children grow and mature, their sense of “fair” and “unfair” will start to look more like ours, and the same child that allows a toy to be snatched from them today may protest loudly tomorrow. When that protest occurs, we will recognize that the time for guidance has come, and will help the child.

How do the teachers gauge when to get involved in a conflict and when to hang back and let the children resolve it? Aren’t there times when children need intervention?

At Open Door School, children are allowed to resolve their own conflicts as much as possible. This does not mean, however, that the teachers never intervene. When children are engaged in conflict, the teachers watch closely. If the conflict escalates to a point where a child seems overwhelmed or if no solution seems imminent, the teachers will objectively mediate without posing a solution or taking sides. This is usually achieved by leading a question-based discussion with the children involved, to help bring clarity about each child’s point of view. If the conflict becomes physical, the teacher may separate the children to ensure their safety.

It is frustrating that Open Door School discourages imagery of commercial characters. Why does it matter?

We have noticed that there is often a direct connection between the children’s choices during free play or art and the character imagery present.  Typically seeing the imagery of commercial characters guides children to reenact the ideas of adults who have created those images. We believe that the best way to foster children’s free-thinking abilities is to provide them with open-ended materials that engage their imagination. Commercial imagery, in our opinion, influences and hinders children’s thinking.

Isn’t it dangerous to put hammers, nails, and even saws into the hands of young children?

Our woodworking room is equipped with real materials and tools, and offers children invaluable learning opportunities.  Mathematics and basic laws of physics are part of the measuring, fitting, balancing, and use of force. Practice in coordination, decision making and planning are all benefits of woodworking. To ensure the children’s safety in the woodworking room, we carefully review the rules about safety and the use of the equipment with the children. Our adult-child ratio is 1:4 maximum. We maintain close supervision, limit the equipment available based on the children’s developmental abilities, and require the use of safety glasses at all times. Because the materials are real, the children at Open Door School tend to have an inherent respect for the “realness” of the work they do at woodworking. There is a long history of safety behind Open Door School’s Woodworking program.

What is the adult’s role when children begin discussing committing violence towards mythic figures or people they know?

Talk of violence is viewed as the beginning of children’s exploration of many important questions, such as: What is power? What is right and wrong? What is fair? What is life and death? What is real and what is fantasy? How can one balance the desire for power with the need for friendship? When we ban the discussion, we are sending the message that the questions are disturbing or frightening, and that the best (or only) way to handle disturbing or frightening questions is to stop them from being asked. Therefore, discussion of violence and death is permitted at Open Door School. If teachers observe something occurring that seems threatening or upsetting to a child or children, they will get involved and guide the children to help them see different reactions and opinions.

Children using derogatory language, name calling, coercion, or exclusion would all be instances where the teacher would quickly become involved to guide the talk so that insults or hurtfulness do not become a part of it. Our goal is to make sure that all children feel safe and respected at school.

Why do you allow weapon play at Open Door School?

Open Door School does not have any toy weapons of any kind. However, imaginary weapon play is allowed for many of the same reasons that talk of violence is allowed.  Superhero or weapon play is a way for children to explore such BIG concepts as power, independence, control, and fear. As with any type of play, rules regarding physical safety and respect for others are maintained. The three basic rules always followed are: do not hurt others, do not hurt yourself, and do not damage materials.

Why doesn’t Open Door School celebrate or acknowledge holidays?

Erin Demund, a former ODS parent and teacher, wrote a note to the parents in her class that we feel sums it up perfectly. She has given us permission to post it here:

“Although our children are not always privy to why we seem so stressed and rushed around holiday time, they certainly feel it. Feeling that sense of hurry in my own life has made me realize how much I appreciate Open Door as a “holiday-free zone”. I think it is easy to see a decision to not include holiday celebrations at school as a nod to diversity. We won’t leave anyone out or create a conflict with anyone’s beliefs if we choose not to celebrate any holidays. I am finding, though, that keeping our school a calm, predictable environment, free from the rush of the season, is an even more important benefit to not bringing the holidays into our classrooms. We know that the children will talk about what is going on at home and the fun that they anticipate having. We would never discourage them from doing so. But, just as we try to keep commercial characters home, we will keep our classrooms as free from reminders of the holiday season as we can.”

How is it handled when a child is proud of his/her art creation, and another child insults it, or says it does not look like what the creator says it is?

It is possible that the creator in question will not be apparently bothered by the remark. If this is the case, the teacher says nothing. If the creator expresses distress through words or expression, the teacher may ask, “What do you think of that comment?” The teacher will acknowledge the feelings of the creator, and very likely involve the other child in that acknowledgement by encouraging the creator to say something like, “That hurt my feelings.”  The teacher may then ask the creator if (s)he likes the creation, and point out that matters more than someone else’s opinion.

Why does Open Door School not allow cookies and candy, and discourage individually packaged or disposable lunch items? Shouldn’t these things be left  up to the parents?

When children’s lunches reflect the importance of good nutrition and environmental consciousness, it lays the foundation for respect for one’s body, as well as for the planet. This is directly related to an individual’s ability to make mindful choices and utilize self-discipline.

Are there gender restrictions? For instance, are boys allowed to dress-up in girls’ clothing?

There are no gender restrictions at Open Door School. The children are respected for their individuality. Boys and girls are allowed to use any of the materials available to them without judgment.  This applies to everything, including dress-up.

Will my child learn letters and numbers at Open Door School?

Every day, there are numerous opportunities for hands-on math and literacy exploration in the classroom. Measuring, sorting, making patterns, playing memory and rhyming games, and creating stories are regular activities at Open Door.  Materials in the older children’s classrooms that contain the alphabet and numbers often trigger children’s interests in writing and math that evolve into different projects. For instance, children in the 4/5s class have been known to create mailboxes where they leave notes for one another. Whenever a child expresses interest in writing letters or numbers or starting to read, the teachers will nourish their curiosity.

How does Open Door School prepare children for Kindergarten, since there is not a specific focus on academics?

The assertion that Open Door School does not focus on academics is a common misinterpretation of our philosophy.  Aristotle defines “academic” as “relating to studies that are liberal or classical, rather than technical and vocational.” Open Door School students think “outside the box” and practice self-discipline and the ability to focus on specific tasks, all of which are crucial for true educational success. When children are involved regularly in the discussion of ideas, their curiosity and hunger for knowledge grows. Activities at Open Door School, from cooking to block-building to drawing, promote true understanding of the concepts that underlie the basic academic processes taught in Kindergarten. Open Door nurtures preschool children’s natural tendencies to think concretely and to learn from experimentation so that children will learn to ask questions and seek the answers for themselves. What can be more academic than that?