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On a typical day at SHED Children’s Campus in Andover, children all over the school’s two-acre campus might be gardening. Or climbing. Or cycling, or cooking, or discovering bugs. There really is no typical day at SHED. 

The preschool, Kindergarten, and after-school program on Phillips Academy campus centers its teaching around nature, using outdoor learning to cultivate children’s curiosity.

SHED takes the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching, a child-centered philosophy that values a child’s natural curiosity and sees the child as an active participant in their own education, similar to a Montessori approach. Their classrooms aren’t just rows of desks, but rather spaces for children to choose what they want to do each day. Learning is a reciprocal, active process, not simply a transmission of information. The teacher, the student, and the environment are all considered educators. Most of SHED’s teachers actually went to Italy, where the philosophy originated, for training. 

SHED’s five pillars include Reggio Emilia, Nature, Mindfulness, Gardening, and Community. “Our foundational pillars fit beautifully in these times,” says executive director Linda Shottes Bouchard. “It’s about learning through observation…. we’re on over two acres of land and thank goodness we have that for our children. We’re in every nook and cranny.”

And their unique learning style couldn’t fit any better with the times. Not only are children outside constantly, which is considered safer regarding the transmission of viruses, but they’re also learning essential values like mindfulness and community, crucial values in navigating turbulent times like these.

In mid-March, SHED swiftly switched to an online learning format as the pandemic ramped up, keeping their students engaged with daily programming like cooking classes, reading, and science projects. Licensed as a summer program by the EEC, SHED reopened in late June for summer programming, limited to ten children per classroom.

This fall, SHED offers two preschool classes, three “Springboard to Kindergarten” classes designed for older preschool children who missed the Kindergarten cutoff, and three Kindergarten classes. One of these classes, called “Forest Kindergarten,” is a 100% outdoor class, with a tent allowing them to hold class outside year-round. This year’s Forest Kindergarten is all filled up, but you can still submit an application for Full Day Kindergarten, still heavily nature based.

For elementary school aged children, SHED offers a day program compatible with hybrid schooling. If a student goes to school on Mondays and Tuesdays, they can come to SHED Wednesdays through Fridays and receive virtual schooling support that their working parents might struggle to provide.

When SHED, which stands for Shawsheen Extended Day, first opened in 1984, it aimed to support working mothers whose children attended half day Kindergarten—it covered the other half of the day. “I have to tell you, we’re back to the real, true grassroots,” says Shottes Bouchard. “We’re listening to our families and communities—how can we support them during these times? This is where we’re stepping up and saying we’re here for you.”

For Shottes Bouchard, the biggest challenge of the past few months has been navigating the constant changes. Some days it’s smooth sailing, and other days she’s scrapping old plans and coming up with new ones to fit the ever-changing guidelines. “The beauty of it is we’ve been doing it for so long,” she says, “that we’re able to shift at any time.”

At the end of the day, she makes sure to keep her work child focused. “How can we support our children? It’s about their emotional wellbeing … How can we be there for our children.”

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