Progressive Education: 4 Hallmarks of Child-Centered Learning | Chicago North Shore Moms

By Baker Demonstration School


The fourth grade classroom at Baker Demonstration School on January 17, 2019. (Photo: Heather Eidson)


Born with innate curiosity, children learn best when they are actively engaged in environments that honor their developmental needs, abilities and interests. This knowing is at the heart of true progressive education.  Baker Demonstration School, located on the border of Wimette and Evanston, has been at the forefront of progressive education since its founding a century ago. Four hallmarks of progressive education are discussed in this helpful article.




1) Play is the language of childhood:

“A hallmark of progressive education is the belief that play is the language of childhood,” says Head of School Carly Andrews. “Play is the foundation for all academic and cognitive learning beginning in preschool all the way through eighth grade. Every project, question, and interest students develop during their formative years at Baker emerges from a child’s proclivity for play – the ability to imagine creative solutions to problems, the joy of exploring new viewpoints in a meaningful discussion. A playful mind is central to the love of learning.”



2) Teachers & students are learning partners:

A second hallmark is that teachers and students are learning partners, co-creators of the learning experience. This partnership ensures that learning is challenging, engaging, and meaningful. Baker’s preschool classrooms are considered the ‘third teacher’, and each morning teacher’s prepare the space to invite children to investigate, to build, to take apart, to put together, to taste, to listen, to invent, to collaborate, and to struggle, to solve problems…and most importantly to reveal themselves to each other and their teachers.



3) Learning is child-centered:

A third hallmark is that learning is child-centered—student interests help shape the curriculum and guide learning. Through thoughtful experiences, Baker preschoolers grow into inquisitive kindergarteners who delve into a wide range of project and inquiry-based learning themes. From the explorations the butterfly metamorphosis in Kindergarten to the study of the life-cycle of a chick, thoughtfully chosen materials and rich experiences give the children opportunities to explore, create and cooperate. The social-emotional, physical, linguistic and cognitive development of each child centers around engagement in enriching classroom experiences.


In a progressive model, the child is seen as strong and capable, wrapped in the love and experience of family. At Baker, it is an unsaid agreement that parents are the experts on their child, while educators are the experts on the broader developmental level. Baker faculty understand different behaviors and capabilities of three, four, and five year-olds and understanding these developmental patterns and dispositions guides how we lead them to success.



4) Social & emotional development are essential in young children:

A fourth hallmark is an emphasis on the social and emotional development of children, an essential part of a child’s learning.. In the context of play, the child acquires the skills of planning, decision making, negotiation, focus, managing disappointment, and the satisfaction of success. “Baker teachers create spaces that engage young learners in experiences that not only develop skills in language arts, the sciences, mathematical thinking, and social studies, but the socio-emotional skills that will serve them in relationships throughout their lives – the ability to express a need, the importance of listening to another’s perspective, the need to identify a solution in order to move forward. “Honoring diversity in voice and idea contributes to the development of a rich community of young learners,” added Ms. Andrews. “Experience is the central practice in a progressive education and play is the language of childhood.”




About Baker Demonstration School:
Baker Demonstration School for students in preschool through 8th grade is located on the border of Evanston, in Wilmette, and is nationally recognized for educational excellence. To find out more about the dynamic learning that happens every day at Baker, please visit and call 847-425-5800 for your family’s personal tour.



*This thoughtful article is sponsored by Baker Demonstration School. Thank you!

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