Visiting the Bing Nursery School and Summer Institute
"Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul." -Friedrich Froebel
As part of preparation for the ED407/507 Mind in the Making class, I attended an inspiring weeklong Bing Institute at Stanford University in July. It was an incredible relearning experience for me as an early childhood educator, especially regarding their use of basic materials curriculum and how they facilitate such an authentic learning for young children. The Bing Nursery school is a laboratory school for research and teaching at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. The school 's curriculum approach, serving two to five years olds, is authentic and rich in nature, child-centered, and play-based, focusing on children’s developing minds.
At the first glance, the school seems a typical preschool setting. Each of the Bing Nursery school classrooms has a large open space with a huge outdoor area, and well organized with several stations such as drama play, language/books, construction, arts and crafts, and music/movement for children to freely move around to follow their curiosity and interest. However, a very special feature of the school comes to its adaptation of five basic materials to its main curriculum approach: blocks, clay, paint, sand, and water. Using these easily accessible materials on a daily basis throughout the whole year, children explore, elaborate, expand, and take it to a deeper level of learning through various forms of play and creativity as they become comfortable and familiarized with the nature of the materials.
I believed children are already amazing learners and born as scientists and artists by nature; but through this kind of open-ended exploration of basic materials on a regular, long-term basis, I realized that they have limitless potential in developing their inquisitive minds and research skills. I was fascinated by how the simplicity of five basic materials could bring such genuine learning opportunities for children. Essential to this process was how the teachers make poignant questions and respect children’s learning while observing them carefully side-by-side and allowing children to make connections and grow through complex, critical thinking processes at their own pace. Children are truly “honored guests” and the primary focus at the Bing Nursery school and this is well represented in their philosophy valuing Jean Piaget’s notion, "…each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered for himself, that child is kept from inventing it and, consequently, from understanding it completely.”
On the Bing Nursery school’s website, you will find the following introduction:
"Bing Nursery School is a national treasure," described Eleanor E. Maccoby, Professor Emerita of Psychology at a recent event in the Psychology Department. The School was constructed as a laboratory school in 1966 with a grant from the National Science Foundation and a gift from Dr. Peter S. Bing, a recent undergraduate at the time, and his mother, Mrs. Anna Bing Arnold. The purpose of the school is to provide a laboratory where undergraduates at Stanford can learn first-hand about child development and where faculty members and graduate students can conduct research in child development. "In order to do this, we need to provide an exemplary nursery school," stated Robert S. Sears, Professor of Psychology, who was Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at the time the school was founded.”
The following are quotes from two students who have taken the Mind in the Making class this summer who researched the Bing School through their website:
“I think that it is amazing that their programs mirror so much of what the book we’re reading demonstrates is important. I think that in a world where we try to give our students “the leg up” and teach them so much as soon as we can, it is really refreshing to have a program value play as an essential form of learning. Not only that, they take it one step further by being so interactive with the kids within their play. Instead of play time being the down time, it’s the focus. I’ve never seen any program that is structured as well as that. They seem so educated and on board with their philosophy, and still seem to have the common sense and compassion that is required to work with children…. I was inspired. You read books (e.g., Mind in the Making text by Ellen Galinsky) about how things should be, or how things can really help students, but then a lot of times, it’s hard to find something similar in the “real world.” I love to see schools that have the nerve to do things differently (with the goal of improving a structure that’s already in place), and to see how successful they can to be. – Sarah Krueger from the Mind in the Making class, summer 2011
“At first, I thought that the use of the so called five basic materials was rather restrictive to student expression and exploration, but I quickly learned that if fact, it was just the opposite. The possibilities for creativity are endless and ever changing with these five materials. With these materials, a child can create anything they wish, and express themselves in numerous different ways.” – John Barber from the Mind in the Making class, summer 2011
You may enjoy reading their news-letter, lot of interesting ideas Bing Oct 2010 Newsletter (.pdf)