Cover Story

Creative Learning: The College School

The minds of children are in an important phase of growth, so it’s critical to plant the seeds of creativity at an early age. At The College School in Webster Groves, students are never considered too young to start developing interests and forging their own paths. The independent school offers a positive, empowering environment for those in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

According to Penny Allen, head of the school’s lower division, the early childhood program uses the Reggio Emilia approach, a style of teaching that encourages hands-on activities, exploration, discovery and individual expression. In line with the focus, it’s based on principles of respect, responsibility, community, discovery and self-guided curriculum. All students are encouraged to be their own advocates and share their ideas and opinions.

“The Reggio Emilia model is perfect for our school,” Allen says. “It focuses on the idea that kids are capable and full of ideas, and that flows well with how we do things.” One of its main points is that children can use ‘a hundred languages’ to express themselves, i.e., conversation, music, dance, art, drama, science, math and more. Early on, students develop listening, interviewing and presentation skills that will serve them well in life.

“At the beginning of the school year, teachers introduce new ideas, objects and experiences that we call ‘provocations,’” Allen says. “They ask students questions like, ‘Can you build a story out of these items? Can you use these materials to create a self-portrait? Do you know how these artifacts were used?’ Once teachers get a sense of each child’s interests, they can use them to design educational projects for the year. Students feel like a part of the curriculum here because they really are. They learn to find their own voices, develop curiosity and advocate for themselves and others.”

Allen says The College School sees the child as a collaborator and communicator; the teacher is a partner, nurturer and guide. “Parents are very involved as well, helping with projects, classroom activities and field trips,” she notes. And children are encouraged to support one another by example. A buddy program pairs older kids with younger ones to help them get settled, and students teach each other by creating videos, exhibits and other presentations.

Recent developments at The College School include a new family-style lunch program with meals prepared by an in-house chef. There are fun activities to teach healthy cooking, and students can learn how to use herbs and vegetables grown in the school’s greenhouse. According to Allen, there is an emphasis on trying different, nutritious foods and making healthy choices.

At the heart of the school’s educational philosophy is the idea that things work better when everyone works together, and independent thinking is encouraged as well. “We know that intellectual curiosity—having wonderful ideas and acting on them—is the basis of lifelong learning,” Allen says. “We believe that children understand the connectedness of the world around them, and we support their developing knowledge, imaginations and skills.”

The College School in Webster Groves welcomes students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, offering a positive, nurturing environment with an emphasis on experiential learning. Pictured on the cover: students create self-portraits with natural materials. For more information, call 314.962.9355 or visit

Cover design by Julie Steiler
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Pictured at top: Students at The College School enjoys hands-on learning.
Photo courtesy of The College School


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