History & Approach

Our History

In the late 1990’s, a group of parents and educators, who had been working with the Reggio philosophy in the Aquinas College Child Development Center, decided to explore the possibility of opening a grade school so their children’s Reggio-inspired education could continue. In the year 2000, the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center opened its doors, with 85 students in grades K-2.  In 2003, the school became fully operational as a K-5th grade elementary school. Now, we serve 272 students in grades K-5 in the heart of Grand Rapids, MI.

The Reggio philosophy of learning comes from Reggio Emilia, Italy in the mid 1900s out of movement towards progressive, democratic, and collaborative early childhood education. The Reggio approach is considered contextual and unique in order to meet the needs of that particular school community (more on this below).   


Our Philosophy

We are a Reggio-inspired school.  This means that our educational philosophy, spaces, materials, curriculum, and practices are inspired and influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach. We are inspired by and adapt this philosophy to connect with our context and our K-5 children.  

We do this by being guided by these principles:

  • Prioritizing the Image of the Child as strong, rich in potential, and powerful
  • Collaboration and Connection- all education is based on relationships
  • Physical space both tells the story of and inspires learning
  • At the center of our system is the relationship between the parent, child, and teacher/staff
  • Honor the 100 Languages of Children
  • Curriculum is guided and influenced by the children
  • Documentation of learning happens to make decisions, celebrate, and support learning

Boards in Hallways- In the hallways, you’ll note that we have a number of boards and they are all painted black.  These boards lack the store-bought decorations you might see in other schools in favor of being filled with our students’ learning, thinking, processes, and projects.  Holding Boards- In classrooms, you’ll see boards full of current work documenting children’s thinking and showing where they are in the cycle of inquiry.  This work may look unfinished or not ready for “display”, that’s because in a traditional school it would be! In our school, this is another way that our environment tells the story of our learning.

Each classroom has a unique look and feel to it.  The look and feel to each classroom changes each year and even throughout the year!  This is because we believe that classrooms tell the story of the learning of children throughout the year.  Again, you’ll see an absence of store bought decorations and materials in favor of student-created designs. You will likely find in most classrooms some or all of the following areas (depending on age level): areas for construction, media, manipulation, mini- studio and a lab area.

Flexible Seating-  
Within our classrooms, you will see several options of seating to encourage collaboration and connection.  These vary depending on the room and the age level of children. You will likely see collaboration tables, rug space, couches, chairs and focus spaces.  You may also see risers, benches, and other types of seating. Throughout the day, teachers and children work together to choose seating arrangements that best support the type of learning and thinking the children are engaging in at a given time.

Small(er) Class Sizes, Paraprofessionals, and Looping-  
Through many of our area schools may have classes of 30 or more students, at GRCDC, you will find our class sizes are generally between 21-24 students.  These small class sizes are essential to our emphasis on close connection and collaboration between teachers, students, and families and allow for much more personalization of the curriculum.  Each student stays with their classroom teacher for two years (K-1, 2-3, 4-5). Classrooms are supported by paraprofessionals, as well. This allows us to make sure that every child has a deep and trusting relationship with the adults supporting their learning.

Our Green Space and Parkour Playground-
Because of our deep belief in the physical space as an important part of teaching and learning, we have a green space that serves as an outdoor classroom in the warmer months and a Parkour play structure that encourages children to adapt their movements to the environment.  

The Studio (the Atelier)
-  Our studio is much, much more than an “art room” and is central to our work!  This is a space in our school where students can engage in exploration, research, invention, empathy and problem solving with materials, under the guidance of our Atelierista (a teacher with an arts background who helps support the children in accessing their 100 languages in the expression of their learning).