NESTLED IN A QUIET, TREE-FILLED PASADENA neighborhood, five cozy 100 year-old houses sit among the expansive play yards of Pacific Oaks Children's School. Comfortable porches lead to climbing structures, sand and water areas, rope swings, rocks, gardens, even an old row boat-all offering abundant possibilities for play, learning and discovery! Indoors, each of the houses "belongs" to a specific age group, and all provide warm and inviting living and learning spaces. The children, ages 2 to 6, meander indoors and out throughout the day, interacting with staff and the environment, as they explore who they are and what their world is all about. This is an early childhood community that encourages each child, family, and staff member to contribute to an environment rich in diversity.

The Children's School embraces a progressive philosophy. It is dedicated to principles of social justice and respect for diversity. The school's values guide curriculum, interactions with children, staff, and families, and program policies.

Jane Rosenberg, the school's director, offered an example of one of the many ways the programs try not only to respond to the developmental needs and strengths of children, but to what is happening in their daily lives as well:

A preschooler desperately missed his mother who traveled often for work. Though the school takes great care in dealing with separation issues, this child needed more. After discussing ways to help with staff members, I arranged with the boy's mom to have direct e-mail access to her out-of-town office. Soon the boy was sitting on my lap, dictating an e-mail message to his mom. In a short time, he was sharing the printout of the loving message his mom had sent back with his classmates. Soon, there was a group of parents who needed to travel for work corresponding via the director's office by computer. Not only did the children grow in their ability to separate comfortably, they also learned about technology and reading!

Pacific Oaks Children's School emphasizes the essential aspects of good early childhood programming. Experiential learning with open-ended materials indoors and out; staff who encourage children to think, reason, question, and experiment; plenty of space and materials to explore and meet age appropriate challenges; a cozy library of carefully chosen books; and an ongoing art program with a new artist-in-residence each year.

Head teacher Anne Schiller describes the school's approach to education this way: "Progressive education is a marriage between the teacher as guide and leader and a group of children who have a strong sense of democracy in the classroom: Children who learn by doing, and who bring their own questions, ideas, and interests to a classroom, where they know they will be listened to. The key word is respect - the conscious awareness that each child who walks through the door is filled with knowledge, skills, and stories."