Project Profile: AKIDEMY Preschool – West Springs
AKIDEMY Preschool is a wonderful early learning environment in West Springs, Calgary, Canada. We first had the pleasure of connecting with the founders, Dina and Tristan seven years ago. When opening their Reggio Emilia inspired preschool they were looking for learning furniture that contributed to creating a nurturing and stimulating environment in which children’s curiosity is respected, creativity valued, and collaborations supported.
Recently Dina and Tristan completely renovated the preschool, not because it wasn’t already wonderful – you can see the original story and photos of AKIDEMY here – but after seven years they wanted to change things up and create an even more inspiring, magical place for the children in their care. The founder’s intention for their young learners time at AKIDEMY and beyond is to provide them with a deep love of learning, to develop a thoughtful awareness of themselves and others, and to have the confidence to pursue their passions.
We were delighted to be able to catch up with Dina and Tristan again, see their beautiful new space, and ask them about their vision for AKIDEMY, their reasons for starting the preschool, and what they value most.
Q: What inspired you to be an educator?
A: Dina – I started out as the community babysitter, camp counselor, school volunteer and eventually found myself doing a practicum at the preschool I went to as a young child. The children amazed me and challenged me with their curious minds and their incredible approach to learning. After completing my bachelor’s degree in child studies and working with a network of different early childhood professionals; my passion continued to grow alongside my skills. I am continually inspired by my own three boys, my peers and the children I work with every day!
A: Tristan – At an early age, I felt strongly that it was important that children felt respected, heard, and valued. My parents instilled this belief in me, and I had many teachers along the way that carried that same understanding, and some that did not. These experiences motivated me to be an educator. I wanted children to know that they had the right to be treated respectfully and as partners in the learning process. After studying Early Childhood Education, and working in many different capacities in the field, I am thrilled to be able to partner in creating a place that reflects these values.
Q: What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
A: Dina – My favorite and the most rewarding aspect of my work is cultivating relationships with the children and staff in our program and watching them grow over their years at AKIDEMY. I especially love mentoring and coaching staff and new practicum students. We are building strong community roots by providing a quality program to the families we serve in Calgary and that is also extremely rewarding.
A: Tristan – The most meaningful and rewarding part of my work is having the opportunity to create inspiring environments and experiences for children. I believe that children are competent and capable learners, and that our environments are reflective of our view of children. Our Reggio-inspired approach values the classroom environment highly and sees it as a participant in the educational process.
When planning activities, I strive to find experiences that consider their current interests and abilities, while providing opportunity for the children to experiment with materials, work through questions and test their theories. It is incredibly rewarding to see a child have that light bulb moment as they are playing and working. That is how they construct their knowledge, and I think it is so exciting when they feel they have done it by themselves.
Q: What best describes the unique aspects of the program that you offer?
A: Our programs are a place where children can succeed in a safe, nurturing environment. Children are provided opportunities to explore, discover, and express ideas through hands-on learning experiences. We are a blend of the Reggio approach and emergent curriculum. We weave many of the philosophies approach into our environment and programming. Our environment is quite unique as it is not a large space, but we are able to provide an exceptional program using innovative and unique space design and equipment. We have overcome many challenges with our space and have achieved a successful niche and unique concept that has attracted many families to our program.
Q: Were your students involved in the process of creating the learning environment?
A: We took feedback from the students from the things that we have learned through the years and every decision made was with the children’s each unique perspective, view and wonder they have for the world. It was important for us to ensure that was reflected not only in the creative side of the design but also in the practical and physical parts; having sinks and toilets at the children’s level, for example, was important.
Ultimately, we worked to design a space that was as flexible as possible so that our classroom can respond to the ever-changing interests and projects happening between classes. Because we are a preschool, we operate four different classes within our space and over the course of two days have 96 children in attendance. We are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach and guided by an Emergent Curriculum. Each class can have different projects happening at a time, which means that our classroom needs to be able to adapt and support all the different learning happening from morning to afternoon and day to day.
Q: What was your experience creating your learning environment with Natural Pod?
A: We have been incorporating pieces from Natural Pod in our program over the last seven years. The tables, shelves and benches are not only attractive from a design standpoint, but they are flexible, sustainable and durable. These are all the elements we were looking for when creating a whimsical and beautiful space for our children and staff.
Q: What aspects of Natural Pod learning furniture attracted you?
A: For us, we wanted to work with a company that has the same beliefs and values of children. The aesthetics and commitment to sustainability aligned with everything we do at AKIDEMY. We loved that Natural Pod is a Canadian company. That was important to us and we are glad we could support another local business.
Many thanks to Dina and Tristan, and congratulations on creating such a beautiful and inspiring preschool! We can’t wait to hear more about what your young learners feel about their new space.