Educational theorists from John Dewey to Jean Piaget have expressed the value of play in child development for decades. We believe a mixture of both guided and free play are an integral part of the development of children’s cognitive, social, and moral abilities.  Play is not seen as the "dessert" at the end of a week filled with worksheets and lectures, but a natural part of the learning process filled with risk-taking, creative thinking, and failure...and, it’s super fun.


(Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) Carl Sagan said, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” We believe that students should apply observation, critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving, not just in the traditional STEAM disciplines, but in every aspect of their lives. In this way, STEAM attitudes become a natural part of our students’ world view.


Making encompasses creativity, craftsmanship, problem solving, and design thinking. We give our students ample opportunities for “thinking with their hands”. We want them to engage with the world as innovators who see a variety of creative solutions to everyday and large-scale problems. Making helps children to recognize their ability to affect the world around them. Our students are producers, not merely consumers of knowledge, ideas, and products.


We embrace a balanced approach between phonics and whole language learning, including the Language Experience Approach, using engaging texts and authentic language experiences. Hands-on, relevant experiences provide a context for developing literacy. Students will have opportunities to read or be read to every day.


We strongly believe in a high-tech, low-tech, and NO-tech approach to daily activities. Technology is a tool, and humans have been developing their skill with tools for hundreds of thousands of years. Sometimes, Catalyst students use ancient tools, such as a needle and thread in “maker” activities; other times, they employ recent, high-tech tools such as computers,tablets, and 3-D printers. Additionally, no-tech role play activities provide for embodied learning. Students are encouraged to investigate different tools to communicate, explore, create, and research.


Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a vital component in the development of the whole child. Building and maintaining relationships, fostering self-awareness, developing character, appreciating perspectives, and learning empathy are just a few pieces to the puzzle of becoming a healthy and happy contributor to a better world. At the Sycamore School, our approach to SEL is supported by systems thinking and is enhanced through collaborative work and play opportunities.  A cognizance of social health is woven into the fabric of the daily student experience.


Even the word “classroom” conjures images of desks in rows. We embrace a view that the world is our classroom; therefore, our learning spaces take on a very different character. We believe in maker spaces, idea labs, adventure rooms (with mobile furniture so that students can create their own learning environment), greenhouses,  kitchens,  reading nooks, and beautiful outdoor areas with grass and trees, and the ability to move through the surrounding environment as we expand far beyond the walls of any school building.  Continuous learning is a more easily developed life skill when all spaces are seen as learning spaces.


Having a wide variety of authentic experiences is fundamental to developing a broad and well-rounded perspective. Field trips should be a regular part of the student experience. Giving kids a chance to get out and explore their environment reinforces that the world is their classroom. These trips foster ecological awareness and provide relevant contexts that have been shown to improve literacy. What happens beyond the dining room of a restaurant? How does a water filtration plant work? How does an ecologically friendly farm operate?  The benefits of experiential learning and exploration are invaluable.


We are concerned for more than simple “awareness.”  An appreciation for our environment is a good start; however, we wish to build a love for and healthy curiosity about our world as well as a desire to find solutions to its problems. Catalyst students will learn to see themselves as global citizens and stewards of our planet.  We believe in applying a systems approach to the natural world, allowing children to see the connective tissue between the environment and human impact affecting it while developing the skill and knowledge to create plausible solutions.