Nothing is more important than the first few years of a child’s life. They are incredibly formative and can play a huge part in their growth as a human. Because of this, our society understands that it’s imperative that a child’s preschool experience be as positive and as educational as possible. Early childhood centers like Sea Star Village in Corona Del Mar create joyful, authentic experiences for children, also finding ways to seamlessly integrate the child’s caregivers.
“We embrace the whole family because we believe that children thrive when they enjoy respectful partnerships with adults,” says Sea Star Village’s director Christina Sbarra. “Teachers model and encourage parents to be fully present with the children, and allow the children to initiate interaction as well as solve their own challenges, with support.”
The idea is to start building positive — and necessary — relationships with adults from a young age so children gain the building blocks to initiate and maintain similar relationships as they get older.
Always drawn to “progressive learning philosophies” like those of Waldorf Education, John Dewey’s teachings, Constructivism, and the RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) Approach, Sbarra previously helped open three other schools: a bilingual Spanish-immersion charter school and a private Waldorf school in Long Beach, as well as Sage Hill School, a college-prep high school in Newport Beach. “The idea to open Sea Star Village came out of conversations with Waldorf colleagues and co-members of Community Congregational Church in Corona del Mar, which had previously housed a Waldorf-inspired playgroup,” she explains. “We wanted to work with families in the earliest years of their children’s lives, offering them the support of community as well as the guidance of experienced educators and parents.”
Sea Star Village’s classes and classrooms embody the RIE and Waldorf approaches to parenting and teaching with warm, home-like classrooms paired with non-goal oriented classes that allow children to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient. “We encourage parents to be a loving authority for their children while also allowing space for the child to discover and develop their own capacities,” Sbarra says.
The center’s progressive approach is meant to counteract the sometimes obsessive focus on intellectual and higher education-related activities given to children at a young age, aiming to provide a safe and open space for them to be present.
“Children are missing out on childhood and are constantly pulled out of the present moment and out of their natural, childlike way of being in the world,” Sbarra explains.
“We aim to embrace and nourish the unique opportunities of childhood by giving children plenty of time and space to play, to engage their senses, to build their physical capabilities, to use their imaginations, and to develop friendships.”
And this approach doesn’t just stop at the child’s experience at Sea Star Village. “We also encourage the adults in their lives to slow down, be present, and trust the child’s natural ability to learn by exploring their world.”
Although progressive teaching methods are often questioned and criticized in the media, Sea Star Village stands firm in their conflict resolution methods. “We support respectful interactions through the respectful culture we have built and through modeling respect in our own words and actions,” says Sbarra. “In our small classes, it is easy for teachers to offer individual support and age-appropriate guidance as needed so that children can practice resolving their own conflicts. We do not use rewards or punishments.”
Parents who’d like to enroll their children into Sea Star Village can first expect to have a tour of the center, child in tow. “We want to give the parents an opportunity to meet the teachers and asks questions. If it seems like the right fit for everyone,” Sbarra says. “Then enrollment is just a little bit of paperwork.”
Logan Cross is a writer, editor, and dancer based in Los Angeles. You can find her scrolling through her own Twitter likes and listening to every fictional podcast her phone allows her to download. You can also follow her on Instagram.