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Our Program

The program at Play Mountain Place deeply and profoundly actualizes the school’s philosophy of respect and empowerment of children. Each day, children’s voices are heard and acknowledged in their fullest expression; relationships grow and change with authenticity and genuine engagement; conflicts are resolved and boundaries established in non-authoritarian ways; and children are able to learn with joy, freedom and self-direction.

Please read through all of the categories below to get the full picture of our educational approach at Play Mountain Place.

Play is highly valued at Play Mountain Place. Children possess a natural curiosity about the world around them. When children explore and play, they are following their natural instincts to feed that curiosity and make sense of the world around them. At Play Mountain Place, children are given space and time to focus on learning about our world through play. When children are free to pursue their own interests through play, they can gain knowledge and learn many skills.

Through play, children gain self-direction and self-motivation. They experience what it’s like to make plans, set their own goals and solve their own problems. Children become more self-reliant and self-assured when they are in charge of their own learning process.

Through play, children gain freedom and autonomy. They are able to take more initiative and rely less on adults and teachers to show them “the right way.”

Play involves cooperation and negotiation, because if other children are unhappy, the game will end. Children have to learn to navigate varying social situations in order to keep their games going.

Play is used by children to make sense of their world. Anything that a child is trying to understand or is processing will be shown through his/her play. In order to play together children must learn to understand their own emotions and the emotions of their playmates.

Play can encompass a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to: math (when children are weighing objects, counting friends or pouring water), literacy (writing notes, looking at books or hearing stories being read), science (mixing ingredients, floating objects, observing nature), and history (telling stories about their family, sharing important parts of their lives and drawing themselves or people they love).

Through play, children may also develop qualities and skills such as: curiosity; creativity; critical thinking; collaboration; courage; empathy; conflict resolution; compassion; enthusiasm; self-expression of ideas, feelings, and needs; a strong sense of self and tolerance of differences.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

– Fred Rogers

At Play Mountain Place, the learning process is child-directed. Children have control over the direction of their education and are at the center of their own learning process. Learning is bound to a child’s interest, and organically generated from that interest. Curriculum offerings by teachers are primarily “hands on,” experiential and developmentally appropriate for each age group. Our program is rich with opportunities, both child-initiated and teacher-offered, but all are choices, and no curriculum plans are compulsory.

This type of education preserves the desire to learn and helps children gain experience in finding their way to the information they need. When interest and experience meet information, the knowledge children gain is deep and lasting. Through their active engagement in their own interests, children learn skills and concepts and master the process of learning.

Much like Britain’s Summerhill School, children can choose from both student led activities and teacher-offered curriculum without being required to participate in either. A child’s inner pace of both cognitive and social emotional development is honored. Trust is given to his or her choices. Children are not pressured — whether it is about transitioning out of diapers, sharing a toy or learning to read. By allowing a wide range of choices and behaviors, experiential learning is fostered.

Phyllis Fleishman, Carl Rogers and A.S. Neill believed in what Rogers called “experiential learning” – the act of playing and doing. Rogers felt that by addressing the needs and wants of the learner, a student’s self-conscious control over initiating, planning, organizing and carrying out activities is encouraged. To this end, Play Mountain cultivates education as a process, not a product. Skills development (verbal communication, reading, writing, math, science, arts, etc.) become the child’s desired means to further learning, not an end to themselves. The school strives not to impose adult educational expectations on children or to demand that they acquire skills at a certain rate. In addition, since we do not want children to associate learning with coercion, anxiety or boring rote, we do not use rewards, punishments, grades or tests.

These education principles are not born of blind faith in our humanistic philosophy or in theoretical understandings of educators. Over seventy-five years of experience has shown us that they work.

Children at Play Mountain learn far more than the “Three R’s.” They learn to live fully and joyfully in the world, with a deep understanding of who they are, what they are interested in, and a profound respect for others. Students here are creative, self-motivated problem-solvers with an abiding curiosity about the world and, they become equipped with all the tools they will need for a lifetime of continued learning.

“In the end, the secret to learning is so simple. Think only about whatever you love. Follow it, do it, dream about it-and it will hit you – learning was there all the time, happening by itself.”

-Grace Llewellyn





“Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner – feelings as well as intellect – is the most lasting and pervasive.”

-Carl Rogers


At Play Mountain, children are encouraged to express all their feelings. Teachers help them find safe outlets for anger, fear, jealousy and sadness.

Tending to the child’s heart, as well as the head, children are encouraged to express thoughts and feelings freely and without judgment. All feelings are seen as “OK.” Indeed, repression of feelings often leads to greater problems later, which further complicate the child’s education and interpersonal relationships. All feelings are treated as a healthy, necessary part of life. Teachers are trained to help children find safe physical, verbal and creative outlets for their emotions.

Teachers also use non-authoritarian methods for assisting children in the conflict resolution process and in finding their own solutions to problems.

A problem between children presents a teachable moment and an opportunity to experience both freedom and responsibility. By learning to “work it out,” children develop personal responsibility as well as respect for others. Many visitors to the school comment on the apparent “maturity” of the children, the confident ease with which they interact with each other and adults. Attention to one’s own feelings, learning to accept others feelings and limits, and learning to tolerate differences and resolve conflicts in a way in which everyone is heard and in agreement, are the keys to this dimension of education at Play Mountain Place.

“If you want your children to really talk to you, then you must focus on their feelings and not confuse them with your facts.”

– Phyllis Fleishman

The humanistic learning environment is positive, enriching and nourishing.

The curriculum at Play Mountain Place addresses children’s social and emotional development as well as their intellectual growth. Teachers strive to encourage the empowerment of children by treating them with respect and by listening to their ideas and feelings with empathy, openness, and non-judgement. We strive to create an environment where children and families feel safe to be their authentic selves. All feelings are treated as a healthy, necessary part of life. Teachers are trained to help children find safe physical, verbal and creative outlets for their emotions. Teachers also use non-authoritarian methods for assisting children in the conflict resolution process and in finding their own solutions to problems.

On a daily basis, Play Mountain teachers also model another tenet that the school adopted from Carl Rogers: the idea of “unconditional positive regard.”

The child is seen unconditionally as a positive being and is treated with genuineness and empathic understanding.

“If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.”

– Carl Rogers

At Play Mountain Place, children are playing, but they are also choosing to spend time enjoying some of the plans that are offered by the teachers. At the Nursery level, teachers provide a rich environment full of developmentally appropriate activities that help build a child’s skills. At the Elementary school level, teachers begin to offer more classes and students and teachers collaborate on the content of many classes.

Within the plans and classes at both the Nursery and Elementary level, there are many opportunities to talk about typical school subject matter, concepts and relationships. It is the teachers’ responsibility to plan a program that is inclusive of a wide range of subjects from science and nature to arts and music, the social sciences and standard subjects of reading, writing, and math.

“Children who are allowed to make their own choices, in an environment where they have real choices and where those choices pertain to real life, learn far more, far more efficiently, than children who are forced to follow a curriculum that seems irrelevant to them.”

-Peter Gray

Language Arts

The children’s yards are language rich areas. There are many signs to name each area and signs to remind people about yard limits. Notes from Morning Meeting are posted in the Nursery Yards and notes that children have written to request visits in another yard are often visible. Books are often read aloud to small and large groups. Pictures and books are made and shared. The conversation in all yards is unfettered and imaginative. Older children have access to personal journals, reading and writing classes. The songs and music shared in all the children’s yards are another avenue for language enhancement. People with knowledge of languages other than English are encouraged to share either casually or in directed lessons.

Culture and History

In daily meetings, the problems of the community and relations between people and nations become vivid and tangible. Teachers offer suggestions for creating action plans and provide materials to make background information accessible to students. Field trips and special guests, or community members with special interests serve to broaden cultural awareness. Cooking foods from various cultures and holiday celebrations also bring world culture into the children’s yards. For several years, a cultural studies class has been offered to older children, and a school wide Multicultural Celebration brings a day of celebrating our many and diverse backgrounds and experiences of what culture means to us.


There are many opportunities for children to become familiar, comfortable and relaxed with the language of mathematics and to develop math skills. Noticing patterns, categorizing and counting things, and naming shapes in the environment are all common activities. Counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing are all skills that children learn by doing in the regular course of working out a real life problems. Woodworking, bookmaking, percussion, ceramics, sewing, movement, origami and sports are just a few of the activities that provide experience in mathematical thinking.


Observation and hands-on exploration of bugs, soil, water, sand, and trees; experiencing wind, sun and weather and discussing their impact on the environment; recycling, gardening and composting; creating domino rallies; playing with blocks and vehicles; making and flying kites; studying and making chemical reactions; and taking apart appliances are just a sampling of the experiences which help build a child’s knowledge of the world and the processes of science.

Support our long tradition of innovative, child-initiated, experiential education.