Island Discovery is administered by the New Westminster School Board as a Distributed Education Program. Our BCTF certified teachers facilitate the classroom programs and also provide support to families for their home- and community based learning.
A committed group of parents, one of them an innovative and experienced teacher, spent several years developing the concept, and in the fall of 2003 the “Learning Centre” was born. Our staff has grown over the years to include a number of other creative and inspired educators, and our community now includes over 30 families. As in our first years, the goal is to create a rich, flexible and respectful learning community for our children and families, drawing on the expertise of professional teachers, parents, community mentors and the children themselves.
A number of founding principles guided the initial design of the program, and continue to inform the long term planning for the program as well as day-to-day decisions. Most of these pertain more specifically to the Classroom component of the program, but the intention is similar for the Full-time Home Learning component, as well.
The teacher, parent and child are partners working together to develop and support a learning plan for the child and to provide/engage in enriching learning experiences for the child. Parents and children are also part of the process of evaluating learning that has taken place. Teachers, parents and children are partners in running and supporting this program. We each have specific roles and responsibilities as well as a shared sense of enriching the program and building a healthy learning community together.
Inviting Learning and Engaging Curiosity
Children will be invited and encouraged to participate through the enthusiasm, engagement and skilled leadership of the teachers and mentors. Children will not be forced to participate or to ‘learn’. Instead, teachers build on and engage the children’s natural curiosity and joy of learning and build and support critical thinking skills. At the Learning Centre, learning as something we do with the children rather than to them. It is our experience that when children are invited to participate and truly experience partnership in learning – they flourish – intellectually, emotionally and socially. Children experience the Centre as a place of exploration, a place to share feelings and ideas, a safe and exciting place where each child is recognized and valued. This teaching approach provides an education that prepares children to continue to enjoy and have success in learning throughout their lives. They also learn to relate well to others and themselves, be creative, flexible and venturesome and have empathy for others.
We aim to respect each person’s feelings and individuality as we interact and work together (adults and children alike). We also respect the integrity of each person and their individual learning styles and differences. This is reflected in individualize learning plans and appropriate learning support in the way that each child is taught, heard and evaluated. Each person is treated with empathy and caring by teachers, parents and each other. Our goal is to do this, and to model and teach these skills to the children and ourselves. Conflict resolution processes are based on respect for all involved and on building positive skills for all involved.
Parent Participation is a key element of the program, both for practical and philosophical reasons. Parent help in the classroom allows for small group focused activity and allows the teacher more energy to focus on the children. Parent involvement in the classroom also helps to create mentoring relationships for the children with adults other than their parents and a stronger sense of community. This also allows parents to have a direct experience of their children’s learning in the classroom and a deeper understanding of the classroom program, which enables them to more deeply support their own child’s learning and more fully participate in the conversations about program development. In addition to scheduled “parent helper days” parents are always welcome to spend time at the Centre.
Home Learning (and learning in the wide world)
In this program, the time spent outside the class is a valued part of the child’s learning experience, and parents engage in supporting their children’s learning at home and in the community. Families have freedom to approach this part of the program in a way that suits the learning styles and interests of the child. Teachers will provide guidance for creating learning plans and for record keeping requirements.
We value the role of family involvement in a child’s learning and healthy development. We also value the ways that a community of families can support each other, both practically and by enriching the mentorship and learning opportunities available to our children. This value is reflected in welcoming parents in the classroom; providing time for family involvement in each child’s learning plan; involving families in the running of the centre; partnership in developing learning plans and evaluation; and in including families in special events, celebrations, (some) fieldtrips and workshops.
Small Group Learning
Our group size is kept small (13 or less) in order to allow for a calm, focused atmosphere, lots of teacher attention and the chance for a high level of discussion and hands on work. It also allows the teacher to connect with each child and build strong relationships and a deeper understanding of and support for unique learning styles.
In order to create a socially and developmentally healthy learning environment and to allow each child to experience themselves both as a mentor and as a learner (both proven to be key elements of deeper learning), the classroom groupings cover an age range of 2-4 years. This also allows the teacher to group children based on readiness rather than age. Smaller group activity ensures that all ages are appropriately challenged.
Children are invited to attend the Centre at scheduled times. They may (in consultation with parents) choose to attend less, or miss class-time when they are pursuing other interests. Commitment for specific lengths of time may be required to take part in some classroom activities in order for groups to work together effectively. Within the class-time students may choose to pursue independent, non-disruptive activity if they choose to opt out of a particular group activity.
Part-time classroom component
Each student is invited to attend classroom time up to 2.5 days a week. This allows for small group focused classroom learning where more children are likely to bring their full attention and enthusiasm to group learning. It also allows families to meet the unique needs and interests of their child outside of the program time – making for a more meaningful, individualized learning experience for each child. From a program planning perspective it allows us each to meet our own family needs without trying to build a program that tries to "do it all" for everyone.
Independent Community Location
In order to maintain the unique character of our learning community, our small size, and our link to the wider community we choose to operate out of a community-based location.
We understand that our community is rich with real-life experiences and mentors with specialized areas of expertise. Involvement in and connection with our wider community provides children and families with an invaluable resource for learning. Finding ways for our children to contribute to our community builds a strong sense of confidence and responsibility as well as hands on, real life experience as citizens.
High Quality Materials and Resources
We prioritize the purchase of well-researched and high quality books, materials and resources for our children to use at the centre, to create a rich, inviting and varied learning environment.