Nurture, Challenge and the Power of Play

At The Children’s School, we often say “play is serious learning,” and our early-learning through eighth grade school community seeks to preserve childhood for all of our students. For over 50 years, we have embedded challenging and rigorous academics within our nurturing environment. 

“We talk a lot about ‘nurturing challenge’ at TCS, and some parents may believe they are faced with a false choice: we’re going to academically challenge your child or we’re going to be kind and nurturing, and at TCS, we simply believe there’s no conflict between those,” notes TCS Assistant Head for Academics and Director of Upper School Allen Broyles. 

The comfort that is born from a supportive classroom experience allows our students to be challenged, to stretch and develop competence and confidence, while maintaining their love of learning.

“The word ‘play’ is often misinterpreted as frivolous, but really, ‘play’ is what our brain feels when it’s engaged, and this is what we mean by ‘play,’” Allen adds. “We don’t believe that having a challenging academic set of outcomes is at odds with having a really great time.”

As TCS students get older, play gives way to playfulness. Students are able to go deeper into content as they explore topics and solve problems using a hands-on project-based learning approach. The research shows that learning this way leads to deeper academic understanding and content retention.

“I wanted (our daughter) to go someplace where she could be challenged and really have a love of learning,” said eighth grade parent Jill Luse. “My primary concern was that she would be in a safe learning environment where she could thrive and have the freedom and confidence to mature, grow, and adopt this love of learning. She has definitely done that at TCS.” 

Each and every day our students tackle things that are hard. Whether it’s hard mentally and intellectually, physically, or socially and emotionally, TCS students are completely engaged in their learning, and they’re having fun while doing it. We call this type of learning “hard fun.”

Director of Lower School, Melissa Scott shares this insight: “We know when students are actively engaged and experiencing hard fun, that’s where the magic of learning comes to life.”

TCS’s early learning through grade 8 structure allows children to mature gently. Acclaimed researcher, educator, and psychologist, Peter Gray, in his book “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” explains how children who are allowed to be children longer are healthier, happier, socially and emotionally stronger, and more resilient. They also better develop critical core competencies that lay the groundwork for academic success.   

TCS Head of School Roslyn Benjamin shares, “The beauty of an early learning through eighth grade school is that it allows our youngest students to see what they can grow up to be. But it also allows our older students to remember what it’s like to be a child and to really nurture and preserve childhood is important.”

“The Children’s School encourages our students to be a child. We want them to continue to enjoy learning for learning’s sake, not because they’re trying to get an “A” on a test, but because learning is fun, and it means making mistakes at times. Giving students the room to make mistakes is really important at an early learning through grade 8 school like TCS,” continues Roslyn. 

TCS students leave our school after eighth grade prepared to succeed and thrive at a range of high schools.  

“The wonderful news is that playing with each other is not only what’s best for our emotional and physical health, it’s also the surest way to develop the strong academic and cognitive skills that students need,” Allen continues. “This is the foundation of the academic and social success our students have had and continue to have as they move on to other highly competitive schools.”

“We hear from the schools that our kids go to, both on the public and private side, that our TCS alumni are the ones who are coming into ninth grade and transitioning quite easily,” Allen shares. “Our alumni are known as flexible, adaptable learners, who have the skills to engage adults and advocate for themselves as learners when they need it. All of the things we have poured into them here, in our nurturing and challenging environment, have given them the skills they need to be incredibly successful.”