Treehouse Learning will be closed this year in observance of Martin Luther King Jr Day, the first time we’ve ever closed in observance of this holiday.
Why does this matter to Treehouse Learning?
Quite simply, it’s part of who we are and what we believe. The mission of building the world we want to see begins with imagining the world we’d each like to be part of.
At Treehouse Learning, we’re obsessed with our mission: We exist to help humans thrive and co-create a kinder, more compassionate, and more just world- the kind of world we’d all wish for our great-grandchildren to inherit. We do this through our philosophical approach to a whole brain/ whole-child curriculum and our holistic model at the business/organization level, where we believe that children thrive when the adults and systems around them thrive.
Our goal in all we do at Treehouse Learning is not simply to empower children with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the world they inherit from us. We seek to inspire young humans to imagine what kind of world might be possible and to empower them with the social-emotional skills of empathy, tolerance, compassion, and a bend toward justice so that all children truly care enough to WANT to build a better world.
Children Notice Justice
We embody our program vision at Treehouse Learning through our curriculum or our daily practices and habits across the program in different classrooms. This is expressed through an intentional framework of anti-bias and pro-tolerance which are embedded into a curriculum developmentally appropriate for children ages birth – 5 years old in the context of a quality early childhood education center. Even our youngest children know what fair and unfair feels like and can grasp concepts like equity and justice.
At Treehouse Learning, children and adults talk about feelings, and we talk about what feels fair or unfair. When we notice or observe something that feels unfair or the presence of injustice, our teachers guide children to problem-solve and explore how we can each be part of the solution.
We begin with building skills of emotional literacy and intelligence to recognize, name, and appropriately respond to feelings in ourselves and others. When children develop self-attunement and perspective-taking skills of mindsight (the capacity to gain insight through noticing one’s internal emotional state) and empathy (or “other-sight,” referring to the capacity to connect to the emotions behind the experience of another), children naturally seek justice.
Every day as professionals in early childhood education, we witness the expression of empathy and the seeds of a kinder, more just world in action when we see a toddler console a sad friend by offering a toy or a hand to hold. We see the roots of compassion in a preschool-age child suggesting an encouraging idea to a struggling child.
We see fruit on the tree of a positive classroom climate when we witness a group of children modeling positive classroom expectations when another child is struggling with behaviors that are hurtful to the child, others, or the classroom.
We also see the roots of resilience to overcome challenges and problem-solve when we witness our Kindergarten learners collaborating to find a solution that feels fair to everyone in collectively navigating a shared challenge.
Building a Culture of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging – From the Bottom Up
Humans are meant to thrive in diversity. Nature models the abundant biodiversity of living things.
Plants and animals fare better in diverse ecosystems versus monocultures. Ideas in echo chambers rarely receive the nutrients of diverse thoughts to flourish and develop into really great ideas. Differences are critical to whole-human-ness, and our differences represent our strengths and individual uniquenesses.
Humans, from birth, are born noticing sameness and differences and look to adults around them to make meaning of these experiences. For these reasons, we ensure that the baby dolls in our classrooms are reflective of all different skin tones. We strive for diverse representations of all different types of bodies and abilities in our materials and books.
Books as Doors, Windows, and Mirrors
Additionally, we ensure that the books in our program are also diverse in terms of material, content, characters, and representations. Books act as windows into perspective-taking through the capacity to empathize with a beloved book character.
For instance, toddlers can connect to the emotions of the Dump Truck, scared and stuck in the mud in the book, Little Blue Truck, and out of this perspective-taking, begin the process of cultivating empathy.
Books also act as mirrors that reflect the lived, embodied experience of children who “see” themselves in the characters or families of a story. For a Black child in our program to share a story celebrating a family and reminds this child of their own family is a reflection of belonging rooted in joy and connection. This should be the birthright of all children: safety, connection, belonging, and feeling truly seen.
Finally, a story also invites the capacity to transform, acting as a doorway into a deeper understanding or a new way of seeing and engaging in the world.
Every year in November, our classrooms share different cultural tellings of the folktale, Stone Soup, embodying in our actions the experience of a shared community meal where all children are invited to share, participate, or help. (Our older children are put to work chopping softened vegetables). A book is an invitation that shapes our actions and the way we engage in the world.
At Treehouse Learning, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, headed by children’s author and educator Nyasha Williams, are applied via research-based best practices across appropriate levels of child development to intentionally build a culture of inclusion and belonging.
This is an expression of our values around a whole brain, whole person approach curriculum. Our goal, rooted in compassion and empathy, is a world where we truly see one another, rather than see one as “an other.”
Idealistic Dreams of a Better World?
To some, the concept of building a juster, kinder, and more compassionate world may seem idealistic, or even unrealistic, out-of-touch woo woo. But not to us.
Every day we double down in hopeful expectations of the kind of world we believe is possible. In fact, we believe it is the duty and responsibility of all those in the field of early childhood education and anyone who touches the lives of a child to tirelessly persevere towards a world that all children, all humans, and all living things deserve.
At Treehouse Learning, we firmly believe that the capacity to change the world begins by first imagining a more just world, as well as each of our individual capacities to be the change we want to see.
On a personal level, if not for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and the unrelenting efforts of those who came before and after him, my own family likely would not have emerged into existence as an interracial family living in a county with a Black population of less than 1%.
I am a white woman of mostly European descent, and my ancestors mostly chose to cross an ocean in pursuit of a better life for their descendants. My partner and four children are descended from African ancestors who were stolen and enslaved, and who did not choose to cross an ocean. And yet, our family’s ancestors persevered and continued, migrated to northern cities as part of the Great Migration, and continued to persevere in the relentless pursuit of liberation and justice, and a better life for the descendants who follow.
Our own family emerged out of resilience born from hopeful expectations that once began in the imagination of individuals. A single person had to simply imagine, and hope that a better, more just world is always possible.
Change may be slow, but it is simultaneously inevitable. The cumulative and collective impact of small nudges towards justice and intentional steps towards a vision of a better world must first be imagined to be realized.
The long arc of history bends towards justice, reliant on brave people and spaces committed to imagining a world where kindness, compassion, and justice are truly possible and expressed, embodied, and experienced by all. These champions for a brave and beautiful world are not simply heroes of the past that we often read about in books on Black History in the march for Freedom or Civil Rights, such as Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, or Rosa Parks.
These heroes also include the voices of countless Black and Indigenous leaders, past and present, with large or small parts to play in the collective narrative woven as a culture and world.
Most of all, the bend towards justice begins with ordinary and everyday people, just like you and me, imagining and working towards a kinder, more just world. When individuals engage in positive collective action, no matter how big or small, we spread positive emotional contagion to those around us.
Sort of like COVID, but instead spreading positive emotions, thoughts, and actions, rather than viruses and germs. We seek to inspire, empower, and encourage others, especially children, through our own modeling. Let us all be the example we’d like them to follow.
Children thrive when the adults around them thrive. At Treehouse Learning, our whole-brain/whole-person approach, as well as our entire value proposition of supporting whole-person development and integration through intentional, responsive, and respectful experiences, is not simply expressed through our curriculum as something we apply to children. This approach is quite literally because of children.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and the collective dreams we all share about what kind of world is possible, please consider two less-often quoted words from Dr. King. We invite reflection on each of our individual capacities to be the change we want to see in the world, and how we encourage, inspire, and empower that in others around us, especially young humans who are still pretty fresh on this planet.
A better world, whatever we imagine that looks like, is entirely possible and it begins with us. It begins with each of our capacities to build self-leadership skills to support our own whole-brain, whole-person integration, where our own embodied expressions of empathy, compassion, and bend towards justice spreads as a positive emotional contagion outwards into the world around us.