Welcome to the Atelier – A Preschool Innovation Space

The innovative learning space will be the first of its kind in the South Sound

By Rixa Evershed, Beginning School Director

The excitement at Charles Wright Academy is palpable as we work to complete the expansion of our “Beginning School” preschool program over the summer. Starting in the fall of 2022, the Beginning School will serve children ages 3 to 5, expanding our vibrant learning community for our youngest Tarriers. A central feature of the Beginning School will be a brand new Atelier.

An Atelier is a learning space. Looking in, the observer will notice art, science, music, language, and technology happening. It is a place of research, invention and empathy expressed through a number of symbolic languages. The “languages” of a child refer to how they communicate and emphasizes the importance of providing children with many different ways to share their thinking about the world around them. The languages also represent the infinite amount of potential each child naturally has and each child’s individual view and understanding of their community. Our atelier will be a shared environment, in which children will engage with varied materials in ways designed to provoke creativity and discovery. Provocations to learn usually take the form of project based learning experiences or play based learning experiences. They are closely linked to classroom learning and curricular outcomes. Atelier experiences are also deeply tied to child voice allowing each child agency to follow their own curiosity while in a space of co-learning with educators.

Below we share an interview with our inaugural Atelierista, Avery Wittstruck.

Q. Describe your vision for the atelier.

The atelier is a place for exploration, wonder, mess, taking risks, and getting to know ourselves and one another. Special art and science experiences live here, where we can allow them the time and space they need. The atelier is a shared workspace between the atelierista and the children, partnering together to design a creative environment that provokes curiosity and respects its outcome.

Q. What motivated you to become an atelierista?

When I studied in Reggio Emilia, I was able to witness the impact of a designated atelier. The children were confident in their use of materials and created such interesting works of art. Many of the materials I saw in the atelier were real; Hammers and nails, sewing machines, wire and wire cutters, photo-editing software, and fine art material. Once I experienced this, my work as a teacher transformed. I have brought elements of this Italian atelier into every classroom I have worked in since, but have yet to see anything like this in any schools in the United States. Being the inaugural atelierista at the Charles Wright Academy Beginning School (Early Childhood program) is a truly special opportunity.

Q. What do you want children to experience in the atelier?

I want children to come in and create. It will be their space. All of the items they may need will be available and accessible for them to find and use without needing to ask for adult support. I want children to be able to see a project through, from the conception of the idea to the final product, and feel confident in their own abilities during the process. There is a certain magic that exists in the space between creativity and creating, and I want that magic to feel abundant here.

Q. How will you connect to learning in the classroom?

The homeroom teachers and I will collaborate so that activities in the classroom and the atelier support one another to enhance the children’s learning experiences. Each classroom may be investigating different topics, so the atelier will be reset for each class with materials and provocations to compliment their current learning journey. The children will be accompanied by their associate and assistant teachers so that the experiences the children have in the atelier will be seamless with the experiences they have in their homeroom.

Q. How will you support children’s curiosity?

The curiosity of the children is the spark that ignites meaningful learning. The atelier will be a place for “yes” and leaning in, “why not” and trying new things. Following the children’s curiosity in any way I can is the foundation of my job.

Q. How will you support both individual inquiry and group inquiry?

Just like in the classroom, there is room for both individual and group learning in the atelier. It is important to hold space for each child’s interests and abilities as we move through learning as a group. Whether that means individual lengths of time, materials that correspond to a special interest for one or a few children set aside for them, or having room to explore something entirely different, this is a space for everyone.

Q. How will you engage families in the process?

In my previous work as the Lead 3s Teacher, I documented the children’s learning throughout the year with narratives, photos, and their artwork in a cumulative journal. The children would leaf through their journals during the class day and reflect on their learning, and families were able to keep the journal at the end of the school year. This year, I would love to create an atelier journal that is both a physical journal that lives in the atelier for the children to reflect with as well as a digital journal for families to view their children’s work in the atelier. Additionally, I would love to host bi-monthly open houses where families are welcomed into the atelier to observe the current atelier work and completed projects.

Preschool students painting

“Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, their eyes, their ears, the resources of forms, materials, sounds and colors.” – Loris Malaguzzi

Preschool students at work in the atelier