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Our Philosophy

Theoretical Influences on Our Practice

There are several educational and child development theories and creeds that guide teaching practice at the Arlitt Center.


Based on John Dewey’s inquiry based learning philosophy, we take a pragmatic and interactive approach with children where provocative situations are explored by the class through data collection and the testing of hypotheses. An extension of this, project based learning, guides many of our curricular decisions as we facilitate intense study of a topic, idea, or problem of great interest to the children. Classroom environments are intentionally designed to provide children with beautiful and thought provoking materials and experiences. We continue to be inspired by the work of the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, as well as current research into this approach from authors such as Lillian Katz, Sylvia Chard, and Ann Pelo and organizations such as Harvard’s Project Zero and North American Reggio Emilia Alliance.


As an extension of the above-mentioned influences, we engage in project-based learning. This is designed around the inquiry approach, facilitating intense study of a topic, idea, or problem of great interest to the children. Classroom environments are intentionally designed to provide children with beautiful and thought provoking materials and experiences. Classrooms schedules are designed with large blocks of open-ended time to allow for child exploration and independence.


Based on the educational ideals of Maria Montessori, we create beautiful and realistic classroom environments with order and structure designed specifically for children. Furniture and materials are of real and high quality, accessible to the children, and open-ended. Children are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves, others, and their environment.


We subscribe to Erik Erikson’s life stages human development to guide our expectations of and interactions with the children. Specifically, we respect children’s need to exert independence through making authentic choices and setting clear limits. We view the children’s development through a positive lens, focusing on gains instead of deficits to support healthy development.


Jean Piaget’s theories and research inspire us to provide real world experiences for children through play. Physical objects are thoughtfully included in the classrooms to help children develop abstract thought. Open-ended materials and questions, with no predetermined usage or answers, support children’s thinking, advancing inquiry skills that support cognition and thought.


Lev Vygotsky’s work guides us to structure our classroom days to allow for frequent opportunities for children to work together, with more competent peers, and with adults, encouraging conversations. His concept of the zone of proximal development to support advanced problem-solving skills inform us as we observe children closely and plan classroom experiences, providing provocations that stretch children’s currently held understandings of the world around them.

Sustainability of Practice

In essence, we situate our practices within a constructivist framework based on the considerable works of many historical and contemporary psychologists and philosophers. We believe that children develop knowledge of their world through playful activity and problem-solving and that socio-cultural interactions and environments influence and impact a child’s development. We are also keenly aware of the research on best practices in early childhood education and neuroscience, particularly with regard to the importance of self-regulation, working memory, and executive function for school success. Thus, we support children’s social and behavioral development within a continuum of constructivist to positive behavioral supports, always aiming for children to learn to make positive and proactive decisions within our preschool environments – the classroom, muscle room, playground, and playscape. As a lab school within the School of Education, Arlitt teachers and staff study their own practices and welcome research from our affiliated faculty to both substantiate our current practices and grow in our profession as new information and research results are presented. 

Finally, Urie Brofenbrenner posited the child at the center of an ecological system, one where environments, connections, social and cultural values, and changes over time are central to human development.  Within the multitude of interactional influences and contexts that comprise these nested systems, we are committed to fostering a sustainable world view among our children, families, and staff where our each of us does our part to “build the kind of world—economically, environmentally and socially—that we want to live in, and one that we want our children and grandchildren to inherit” (UC Office of Sustainability). We embrace families and the community at the Arlitt Center and believe our pedagogy is embedded within a sustainable world view.

Synopsis of the Arlitt Child Development Center’s Philosophy:


  1. Children learn academic and life skills through playful experiences within a supportive and creative environment.

  2. Children’s cognitive, language, motor, social, and emotional development is enhanced by playing with thoughtfully selected materials, large motor equipment, and loose parts.

  3. Concepts, skills, and development are further advanced through these types of experiences plus social interactions with peers and adults.

  4. A practical curriculum that focuses on what is important to children, their capabilities, and their agency is best practice in preschool.

  5. Practices that focus on respecting one another, problem-solving issues and conflicts, and caring for the environment will build a sustainable world view.

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