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Innovative Programs Catering to Early Childhood Development

By Vanessa Abrahams, CEI Intern and Christine Mason

P21 held a 21st Century Leadership Summit in Washington, DC recently. Representatives from several of their award winning exemplar schools and other innovative programs, including the Center for Childhood Creativity and VIF International Education, participated in that summit.


Tapping into Creativity in Formative Years

In the formative years of development, children explore the world through sensory stimulation and immersion in their surrounding environments. In California, the Bay Area Discovery Museum is paving the way for more creative thinking at home and in the classroom to build children’s confidence.The Bay Area Discovery Museum offers immersion into science, art, and literacy through six featured exhibits and a mission to promote self-expression, the museum is an innovative center for children learning to tap into their creativity.

The Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, VA and its Center for Childhood Creativity are committed to advancing the goal of recruiting, preparing and retaining 100,000 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers by 2021. The Center for Childhood Creativity provides many innovative ideas in a white paper, Inspiring a Generation to Create ( Hadani & Jaeger, 2015). That paper describes the important role of imagination and play in setting the stage for innovation and creativity. It includes activities such as ‘finding patterns in nature,’ ‘finish the drawing,’ ‘the unusual uses game,’ and ‘the fairy tale flip.’

  1. The Museum’s Art Studio incorporates sand, beads, paint, crayons and other art materials into the creative process, which builds their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Parents are encouraged to facilitate this at home as well by having a creativity ‘˜safe zone’ where children can play happily and most importantly messily. Besides the Art Studio, there is Bay Hall, Discovery Hall, Lookout Cove, Tot Spot, and Wave Workshop for children to stumble upon.

  2. In Discovery Hall youngsters are encouraged to dive into their imagination and uncover the mysteries of the narratives told during storytime. This element of storytime is critical the development of listening and audio-visual skills that foster their audio development, key to engaging young learners in literary activities.

  3. In the Lookout Cove, a large 2.5 acre miniaturized outdoor interactive exploration exhibit featuring natural, cultural and manmade landmarks of California’s own Bay Area, children discover boats and shipwrecks and walk trails with their parents. Parents are encouraged to introduce conversations with their children as they explore the field.

In essence, the museum is a one-stop shop for all things free expression and creative exploration. Their philosophy to self-expression and guided play stems from the Center for Childhood Creativity’s research and development.

The Center for Childhood Creativity is an effort of a team of researchers and staff coordinating projects that explore their mission to ‘ignite and advance creative thinking for all children.’ Their website features tools and resources for parents to utilize that will encourage creative thinking at home. These free and downloadable resources can also be used by educators desiring to incorporate more creativity and self-expression in the classroom.

The museum also promotes a preschool that is decidedly not a school. The Bay Area Discovery Museum prides itself in its child-directed play, place-based exhibitions, developmentally-appropriate practices, process-focused, open-ended curriculum and so their not-a-school preschool is more of a laboratory for creative thinking and collaboration than a run of the mill classroom. When children are allowed a platform to learn where there is an open-ended curriculum, their development is benefited.

VIF International Education is another program that participated in the recent P21 Summit. Based in North Carolina, VIF International Education’s main goal is balancing immersion and creativity in the global environment by partnering with ‘districts and schools to prepare global-ready teachers and students’ for the future. Their pioneering programs: Passport Global Schools, Splash! Language Immersion, Cultural Exchange and Global Gateway offer a comprehensive learning experience for students so they can excel in the core curriculum and develop valuable 21st century skills. By raising cultural awareness, and building creative thinking and problem-solving skills, students will be successful in future endeavors as globally competent citizens in an increasingly global market.

The Carolina International Forest Elementary School is a KF Passport School in Jacksonville, North Carolina has cultural exchange teachers from England, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Jamaica and the Philippines to assist in the development of global citizenry. The school is a Spanish Immersion School.

Other examples of P21 Exemplar schools can be found at


Hadani, H. & Jaeger, G. (2015). Inspiring a generation to create: Critical components of creativity in children. Sausilito, CA: Center for Childhood Creativity.

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