Chapel Hill Magazine November 2021

Page 50


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Child’s Play

Kids direct their own learning at this school focused on outdoor play By Hannah McCl el l an P h otography by J ohn Mi chael Si m pson


utside of a regal blue building with white trimming in Chapel Hill, nearly a dozen kindergarteners paint pictures, read books and swing in the trees. Inside, a woman sporting cowboy boots and a walkietalkie hums as she cleans the large back windows. “I’m Shelley,” she says, laughing, “director, owner and window washer.” Shelley Welch, a lifelong educator, is the founder and director of Wildflower School, a pre-K through kindergarten school focused on outdoor play and child-directed learning. She founded the school in 2016 after learning about the Reggio Emilia approach, which fundamentally believes young children are capable of initiating their own learning. “It helped me understand children and education in a way I had never before imagined,” Shelley says. Wildflower School has 50 students this year, with mixed-age preschool and kindergarten classes, and five teachers. Each class has two co-teachers,

48 November 2021