Back to San Francisco Preschools

The Little School

1520 Lyon Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

(415) 567-0430


48 parents took the survey TAKE THE SURVEY

Philosophy & Approach

School Philosophy

General Approach to Learning: Play-Based

From the Director:

Pieces of all of the above fit our program. We do believe children learn best through their own inquiry and exploration. Children are able to choose the activities they want to engage in for a good part of their day. But there is also valuable learning to be gained from teacher-planned, teacher-directed times, and some children feel most comfortable and most able to learn during these structured times. We absolutely believe that children's development varies during early childhood and we support children's varying pace and style. We do not have a formal structure to our curriculum in the sense of rigid developmental milestones. At the same time, development occurs through a combination of maturation and experience. Using our in-depth knowledge of child development, we plan and provide a rich, stimulating environment to support that experience. As with any good curriculum, ours allows for a responsive, individualized approach that meets and supports each child wherever they are.

Curriculum & Teaching Approach

Learning Philosophy & Tools

  Play- based mostly teacher led not formally in curriculum conducive environment
Language       more

More Information

  • Tracing paper and other writing instruments
  • A well-stocked bookcase
Oral language  
Nursery rhymes, poems, songs  
Storybook reading  
Emerging literacy skills  
Cognitive development
Math & number sense more

More Information

  • Puzzles
Time & space more

More Information

  • Calendars and clocks
  • Parquetry blocks, pegboards, and mosaic toys
  • Maps
  • Building blocks
Sci. reasoning/physical world more

More Information

  • A place for science activities such as growing plants
  • Pets for children to watch and care for
Music more

More Information

  • Musical instruments
Visual arts more

More Information

  • Materials such as paint, ink, paintbrushes, crayons, markers, chalk, paper, etc.
  • Art work on the walls
Physical activity more

More Information

  • A playground with climbing equipment
  • Bean bags, balls, and other objects that children can throw, kick, and play
  • Tricycles
  • Enough room for children to move around and play and a suitable indoor alternative to the outdoor playground on rainy days
  • Sandboxes and/or water stations for play
Other subjects taught Our school has a very strong emphasis on social and emotional development. Helping children learn skills for coping with emotions, separation, conflict and other social encounters is central to our curriculum. We have also thought carefully about how to include values, character building and issues such as how to be a friend and how to be a member of a community as part of our embedded and explicit curriculum.

From the Director:

Again, one size does not fit all. Teachers are available to read to children during open choice. Teachers may also read a story to the whole class. There are always art materials available during open choice. For older children, there also may be an time when the entire class works on an art project together so that children who might not normally choose this activity can enjoy and experience art as well. Teachers look for teachable moments during open choice for scientific reasoning, and then may bring the activity to a meeting time so that all of the children can apply their thinking and reasoning skills. Each child's needs and interests affect what happens in a class.

Quality of Teaching

Individualized Teaching: From the Director

We observe each child carefully and talk to parents. Our response to individual needs is based on these observations and conversations. Support comes in a variety of forms depending on the child's needs. For example, we might change the environment, embed certain teacher responses or support at various times of the day, or incorporate the specific child's interest or needs into the routines of the class or activities of the day. We are committed to ensuring that each child thrives in his or her preschool experience and believe that preschools should be individually responsive to children's needs. So we think carefully, respond, observe some more and do whatever it takes while giving the child time to grow at his or her pace, taking our lead from the child and looking for when we don't need to step in, but simply need to step back.

Day in the Life

General School Mission

The Little School was founded to provide children with a developmental, child-centered preschool experience. We are committed to providing individualized, quality attention to children, parents and staff. As an institution, we are committed to helping each member of our community grow in the ability to communicate and respect one another. Additionally, we are a relationship-based program. This means that we recognize the central role that relationships play in the learning process and look at how the relationship between child and teacher, child and child and child in the class community can be used to foster development of the whole child (cognitive, emotional, social, language, physical and creative development). Finally, we serve a wide range of children including children with special needs, believing that each child benefits from exposure to a diverse class community.

A Typical Day

A four year old would enter a class set up with a variety of familiar areas and some new activities. He would be able to choose freely; the first hour is open choice with teachers serving as facilitators and guides. At the end of open choice, the child might clean up the block area with a buddy, matching the blocks to the shapes on the shelves. Then time for community meeting-a time when the class discusses problems, dilemmas or exciting creations that occurred that morning or a host of other things important to their lives. From community meeting, they might go for a long period of free play outdoors, come in for a teacher-led music or movement time and end the day with a communal lunch. These four year olds also have as part of their week an all school music time, a teacher-led small group, and one day a week when as a class they hike, climb and muck about in the Presidio. Two years old have a simpler day with open choice, clean up, circle time, snack and outdoor play.

Home-School Connection

Home-School Connection: From the Director

Daily teacher-parent interactions, teachers also have dedicated time each week to connect with parents by phone, email or in person, weekly class newsletter describing activities, class dynamics, current conversations, issues and interests, weekly school newsletter including topics of interest to ECE, two formal parent-teacher conferences, class-parent meetings with teachers, parent education classes. Parents are also often invited into the classroom to experience their child's world or to share something about their child with the rest of the class. A few class social events for parents, children and teachers continue to foster the home-school connection including a class camping trip at the end of the four year old year!In the beginning of the year, we offered detailed guidance to parents as a group about the kindergarten process and how parents can approach the process sanely, with integrity and with an approach that will lead to a good school match for their child. We advise and support parents throughout the process.

Parents Say They are Encouraged to:

  • Sit on the board of trustees
  • Hold social events at the school to build community
  • Fundraise
  • Are required to make donations ourselves
  • Are able to visit the school anytime we want
  • Go on field trips
  • Volunteer in the classroom
  • Receive newsletters

Modes of Communication

  • Notes
  • Phone Calls
  • Voice Mail
  • Email
  • Special Meetings
  • Two or More Regular Conferences
  • Drop-Off
  • Pick-Up
  • Regular newsletter/printed updates circulated to the whole school


Separation is Handled through:

  • Pre-entry meetings with parents at school
  • Small group sessions
  • Extra staff dedicated to handle separation
  • Parents in classroom early on
  • Abbreviated schedule at start of school year

Handling Separation: From the Director

For two year olds: A pre-meeting with parents describes our approach and philosophy about separation and the importance of the parent's role. Parents are encouraged to share questions and concerns. The first three classes are a short day with only half the class. An adult important to the child stays the entire first class getting to know the teachers and routines of the day. After that day, teachers and parents will formulate an individualized separation plan. Parents may stay in class several more days or may leave the second day. Parents and teachers will stay in close touch. For older children, teachers and parents design whatever makes sense for the child.