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Lucy Sprague Mitchell (1878-1967)

(Burghardt, Davis, Bashforth)

"We hope to imbue students with an experimental, critical, ardent approach to their work and to the social problems of the world. If we can do this, we are ready to leave the future to them." - Lucy Sprague


Lucy Sprague was born on July 2, 1878 in Chicago. Despite being one of six children, she was a shy, nervous, and withdrawn child who suffered from uncontrollable nervous twitches until she was sixteen. That was when she first started to regularly attend school and became interested in John Dewey and Jane Addams' educational ideas. In 1896 Sprague began attending Radcliffe and, in 1900, she graduated with honors. She then worked at numerous University positions until she became the first Dean of Women's Studies at the Univeristy of California at Berkeley and also volunteered in Lillian Wald's Henry Street Settlement in San Francisco.
In 1912, Sprague married Wesley Clair Mitchell with whom she had two children and adopted two more. He became a Professor of Economics at Columbia University after the two moved to New York in 1913 where she began to take University classes from John Dewey and visit Caroline Pratt's Play School. She liked Pratt's school so much that she turned over her stable and backyard to Pratt's school, which became the City and Country School. This inspired her to do a number of things. In 1916 she founded The Bureau of Educational Experiments, later known as the Bank Street Collage, with her husband. Then, in 1931, she opened the Co-operative School for Student Teachers, later known as the Co-operative School for Teachers (CST).
In 1921, Lucy Sprague Mitchell published a classic collection of short stories called the "Here and Now Storybook". She also published "Know Your Children in School" in 1954. This book highlighted child development, as well as the outside factors that influence a child's school life.

Works Cited:
Pioneers in our field: Lucy Sprague Mitchell -- Teaching the whole child. (2001) Retrieved on October 2, 2009 from
Sexton, T. (2007) Two minute biography: Lucy Sprague Mitchell Retrieved on October 2, 2009 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/111089/two_minute_biography_lucy_sprague_mitchell_pg2.html?cat=4
Smith, Mary k. (2000) Who was Lucy Sprague Mitchell...and why should you know? Retrieved on October 2, 2009 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3614/is_200010/ai_n8907594/?tag=content;col1


Lucy Sprague Mitchell developed her theories based on the idea that children have a unique and natural desire to learn. She believed that in order help children grow into lifelong learners, early childhood educators need to nurture the natural desire to learn so that it can continue to increase. Her reformist philosophies were developed from the influences of her father and her husband, as well as from her own experiences as a child.

In order to further develop her theories and understand the development of children, Lucy ended up opening what was called the Bureau of Educational Systems, which allowed her to practice her theories and thoroughly study children’s language development and learning patterns. Within this educational system for young children, Lucy did extensive research on the kinds of environments that achieves the best possible growth and development of children. She did so much research on this particular aspect of education because she believed that children learn best in environments that are appropriate for their age and stage of development. She also did in depth studies on language development and the different processes that children go through in order to develop their language skills. During her research, Lucy found that language is a lot more important in the early childhood years than was thought before. Another idea she uncovered about language development is the fact that children use language not only for communication, but also for artistic and sensual aspects as well. These findings put a movement towards teaching language in more holistic way which puts tactile connections between words rather than only teaching the abstract of words to children.

Lucy continued to experiment with developmentally appropriate environments in an attempt to develop each child into the utmost well-rounded person possible. She wanted to acquire a formula for a classroom which would work best for chexternal image LSMPortrait1.jpgildren because she understood the importance of the early childhood years. Since scientific research was the Bureau’s original purpose, Lucy united her educational system with Caroline Pratt's Play School and Harriet Johnson's nursery school. This mergence of the different systems worked hand in hand which meant that children would be studied and analyzed within a school setting, and in turn the classroom would develop and change with accordance to what worked best for the children and with what they were interested in. Eventually, the Bureau of Educational Systems developed into Bank Street College, which still exists today.

Through her studies, Mitchell concluded that children do not develop at the same rate and she put the empasis on this as she educated the teachers of her time at the Co-operative School for Teachers. She wanted teachers
to "know and understand each child as never before, to help each child grow in the way that is best for him"Quote link so that he/she can be fully developed in an all around way. Her work led to the developmental-interaction approach to learning that we see today. This approach emphasises children's growth through the different developmental stages and understand the "inseparability of the social, emotional, and intellectual components of a children's mind"Quote link.

Works Cited:

BANK STREET SCHOOL Bank Street School Official Website


The Bank Street School emphasizes educating the whole child: the intellectual, emotional and the physical. (Bank Street School for Children: About the School: Philosophy)They use the developmental-interaction approach which requires students to interact with their environment and using his/her own observations; explorations and experiences the students develop their own interpretations and understanding of their experiences and the world around them. (Nager, 2009)
Classroom Structure:
The Bank Street School offers three programs: the lower school program is a composed of a nursery school, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten; the middle school is designed for students from the ages of six to ten; and the upper school is designed for students aged ten through fourteen. Each classroom has a head teacher, assistant teacher and a student teacher. Together they provide a dynamic environment that encourages active play, participation and independence. The classroom materials that are used lack structure which encourages activity, experimentation, imagination and transformation. Each classroom also provides activities such as cooking, planting, weaving, and computers. There is a lot of flexibility in the class schedule which allows for extended periods of time for students to actively explore the materials, take trips or work together on a project.
Role of the Teacher: The role of the teacher in a Bank Street Classroom is to guide the students by asking meaningful questions and to plan opportunities for their investigations such as trips or activities. The teachers meet regularly with the Librarian so that they are aware of the available resources in the area they are studying. The teacher is also responsible for assessing the development of study and modifying it where needed. (Nager, 2009)
New Bank Street student teachers learning the Bank Street teaching methods
Social Studies: The curriculum is social studies based and focuses on several themes and concepts that recur with increasing complexity: people and their physical environments; community, from the family to the world; continuity , communication from generation to generation through which we build up and transform the past; meaning through myth, religion, science, and art; values, in the systems people develop to structure individual and group behaviour; change as a basic fact of life; how people solve problems. (Nager, 2009) The students study these themes by doing interviews with people in their family and community, observations of the world around them, field trips and the discussions they have in class. The students record their observations on trip sheets, graphs, charts, in the stories they write, their drawings and their murals. The students then discuss their findings to build an understanding of the relationships that happen all around them. The students also help make connections through imaginative play where they can test their hypothesis and use the data they have collected in order to process their experience and reconstruct their knowledge. New questions often arise from the imaginative play, interrelationships are discovered and the need for more information then becomes evident. The teacher then makes note of this and makes plans for the students to further the students experience or to discuss during the next group meetings. (Nager, 2009) The lessons are designed to help foster a student’s ability to think analytically; develop skills in problem solving; making generalizations out of details and facts; posing questions; answering questions through research; and integrating the use of skills from other academic areas. (The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide)
Literacy: The literacy program is based on the belief that literacy is learned across the curriculum in conjunction with social studies, science, math and other subjects. The four communications skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are practiced as the students learn in those subject areas. The facts that the students are reading and writing purposefully helps them understand what they are learning.
Math: The Bank Street math curriculum uses a problem-centred and inquiry based approach to math instructions. By setting a tone in which students ask questions, experiment and explore, teachers serve as guides during structured explorations where a wide variety of materials are used. Questions are posed to actively engage students in the learning process which in turn develops a student’s ability to respond analytically and creatively to mathematical inquiry and problem solving situations. Science: The major themes of study are living organisms; the earth as an environment; the study of physical systems; and the study of chemical system. The students inquire; observe; hypothesize; experiment; collect record and analyze data; and come up with conclusions and generalizations about the phenomena under study.
Foreign Language: All students at the Bank Street School learn a second language. Language is taught the same way that we attain our first language. Initially, students verbally experience the language and then they experiment with the verbal language. Student will then add meaning to the sound they hear and begin forming associations between sounds and meaning and eventually start to communicate with others. Part of the foreign language instruction is the study of culture through authentic stories, art, crafts, and games, cooking experiences, trips and projects. The students in the lower school take Spanish as an additional language and when student enter the upper school they can continue their Spanish or switch to learning French. (The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide) Art and Shop: Art is used throughout the curriculum as a means to communicate ideas, recreate and integrate curriculum experiences. Students have many opportunities to share their ideas both visually and verbally in the classroom, shop or the art room. (The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide)
Music: The music program is designed to allow students to experience music by playing instruments, singing and moving to music, listening to and creating music. Students acquire a working knowledge of musical concepts and theory that enables them to generate music with their classmates. (The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide) Library: Library instruction is given to students in the Middle and Upper School. Students are instructed on how to access and analyze, synthesize and produce information in many formats. (The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide)
Physical Education: The physical education curriculum has three goals: first is to help students feel good about their bodies; the second is to develop and refine skills , strategies, competencies and fitness through their involvement in tumbling, gymnastics, games and sports; and the third is to develop their social learning through good sportsmanship and playing co-operatively. (The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide)
Works Cited
Bank Street School for Children: About the School: Philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2009, from Bank Street School for Children: http://www.bankstreet.edu/sfc/philosophy.html Nager, H. K. (2009).
The Development-Interaction Approach at Bank Street College of Education. In J. R. Johnson, Approaches to Early Childhood Education (pp. 250-267). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
The Bank Street School for Children Curriculum Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2009, from The Bank Street School for Children: http://webstaging.bankstreet.edu/gems/sfc/CurriculumGuide.pdf