At The Walnut Ridge School we believe in the importance of research-based early childhood models that empower students through innovative, play-based curricula that ultimately equip students with the cognitive, social-emotional, self-regulatory, and foundational academic skills to become ready-learners prepared for Kindergarten and the world around them. For these reasons we have fully embraced the Tools of the Mind curriculum. “Tools” has been recognized by the NJDOE as one of four “best practice” curricula for Preschool students. As a result, Tools aligns to the NJDOE’s Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards, is authentically built for the inclusion of students with disabilities, and is centered around rich, yet developmentally-appropriate, content, as well as optimizing child engagement and socialization.
Tools of the Mind is based on the Vygotskian theories and neuroscientific research in education that sought to identify the best approach to learning. His research led, in part, to an understanding of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). ZPD refers to the conceptual difference between what a child can do independently and what they can do with the aid of a teacher or skilled peer. Thus, our students are consistently placed in situations where they are motivated and challenged to strive for learning that is just within the limits of their efforted reach. Tools teachers are focused on helping children become intentional and reflective learners, creating a classroom in which instruction in literacy, mathematics, and science reflect children’s learning capacity, rather than age-level expectation.
The philosophical Tools approach manifests itself in many ways in the classroom. One example is “play planning” in which students engage daily. Through play planning, students are able to make mindful decisions regarding how they will play in their class, therefore showcasing their developing executive function, self-regulation skills, and core academic skills. Because play plans are individualized, students are able to work at their own pace and at a level of rigor commensurate with their individual development and ZPD. Over the course of the school year, our students develop in their ability to play plan and begin to develop and scaffold skills that lead to writing, reading, and content literacy.