Early Childhood Campus

A school designed to allow students and faculty to collaborate and interact with the learning environment in an unparalleled way

Architecture firm Epstein, consultant Barbara Pollack, and contractor Bulley & Andrews worked together to create the Chicago Early Childhood Campus for Bennett Day School at 657 W Fulton Street in close collaboration with the school’s senior team, advisory board, and faculty. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach and best practices in education from around the world, the learning environment is intentionally constructed as a ‘Third Teacher’ alongside the faculty and school families. In this way, space uniquely serves a higher function as a canvas for interaction, inspiration, and reflection via student and small group work displayed and shared with our community.

In the Reggio Emilia approach, time, space, and natural light are key elements to facilitate learning and exploration. To that end, classroom design at Bennett Day School provides on average nearly double the space required per child by regulations.  Windows are located to fill classrooms with natural light and views of the green spaces surrounding the campus.  This intentional design is crafted in recognition of children’s Hundred Languages of Learning in the Reggio Emilia approach.

Opened as a brand new facility in Fall 2014, the 5,000-square-foot Early Childhood Campus is home to the entire Bennett Day School community through the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 academic years for students up through 1st grade.  Beginning in the fall of the 2016-2017 school year, the Chicago Flagship Campus will become home to students in SK and higher grades.  At that time, the Early Childhood Campus will serve only our youngest students in the PreK and JK programs.  This purposeful growth plan has enabled the school to build a warm and inviting community of founding families before expanding with a larger campus.

Spaces to Tinker in Small Groups, Gather as a Community, and Reflect Upon Student Work

Beyond the Welcome Area at the Early Childhood Campus, one steps into a unique space, the TinkerLab.  Surrounded by plywood, wood planks, a dry erase wall, cork, pegboard, and magnetic surfaces, the space is truly interactive and a canvas for learning.

Supplemented by JBL sound, AppleTV, and state-of-the-art Cisco Meraki wireless equipment in the TinkerLab and all classrooms, faculty and students can easily display and interact with images and media on the wall with side-by-side NEC short-throw projectors in the TinkerLab or via a classroom projector and dry erase wall — at Bennett Day School, technology is viewed as a tool to facilitate student learning and to enable students to understand how things work.

A critical component to student learning, and for a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach in particular, is to display student work at student height for reflection and interpretation, as shown in the pictures below.  Also note that pieces of student work are not alike, a key indicator that the educational experience is individualized and differentiated for each student.

While students meet in their classrooms daily for Morning Meeting, the entire school gathers together for All-School Morning Meeting on Fridays so that students can present to each other what they have been working on in the prior week and to receive comments and take questions.  This ‘real world’ experience of presenting one’s work and both giving and receiving constructive feedback is a critical piece of this collaborative approach to learning.

Access to the Outdoors at Two Nearby Parks

Access to the outdoors and green space is a priority in the Reggio Emilia approach with the environment as the ‘Third Teacher’.  To that end, students at Bennett Day School are outside with faculty every day weather permits, either at Trio Park right on the same block of Union Street or at Fulton River Park just blocks away at Kinzie Avenue and Desplaines Street.