Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Preschool Blog

The Heart of our School: The Atelier

Chances are, before learning of this school or the Reggio Emilia approach, you rarely heard the word ‘atelier’ and may never have used it yourself. Yet here you are now, reading an entire post on the subject! But let’s just say you’re not entirely sure what happens in the Atelier, or maybe the visiting grandparents are wondering why their 3 year old granddaughter is excitedly shouting, “It’s ‘tilier day! It’s ‘tilier day!”. This month’s blog post has you covered!

By definition, an atelier is a workshop or studio typically used by an artist or designer. Think Parisian houses of fashion. To the innovative educators of post WWII Italy, however, the Atelier became an essential piece of the reimagining of education for young children. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, realized that schools needed to do a better job of teaching children how to think, not what to think. He saw that reinforcing only verbal language in schools was stifling the chance for many other languages, ideas, skills and abilities to be recognized and developed. He had the idea to bring professionals from many other creative fields into schools. Artists, architects, engineers, etc. were invited to share their skills and knowledge with the children. Malaguzzi’s hope was that the learning environment would engage all of the senses, therefore allowing everyone to connect to the space. From this, the idea of an Atelier was formed, and the creative professional who guided it became the Atelierista. The Atelier would become a place where children’s learning, social development, cognition and creativity were reinforced and guided with open-ended materials, innovative tools, and thoughtful provocations and questions. The Atelier also came to serve as the creative heart of the school community.

Across the ocean, and many decades later, the Atelier at PPP remains true to Malaguzzi’s vision. Upon entering the space, children are greeted by the scent of lavender and the quiet sounds of piano music. They arrive in small groups once or twice a week for the better part of an hour. Miss Melanie, our visionary Atelierista, greets them smiling at the door. The room is light and airy, colorful but peaceful. Children may be guided to briefly sit together to discuss a project or an idea. They might listen to a story about color, a desert creature, or emotions. Then they are invited to explore the room. The children are taught early on how to use the materials and tools in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Students as young as two can be found rolling clay into carefully formed balls, refilling water jars for paint, or softly cradling a real bird’s nest. And there, observing, documenting, and asking thought-provoking and confidence-building questions is Miss Melanie.

Miss Melanie has been Atelierista at PPP for 8 years now. Just as in Reggio Emilia, Melanie comes from an art background, rather than a teaching one. And just as in Reggio, Melanie is the creative guide of our school. In reflecting on the importance of the Ateiier, Melanie shared, “It is a joyful space for relationships across the board…relationships with each other and with the materials. This, in turn, builds confidence for those children to communicate with the world.” The learning that occurs in this joyful, shared space is often deep and complex. And it is not just the children who learn and grow here. Melanie remembers the moment she learned the importance of asking a child about their work. A student created a collage that very clearly resembled an elephant. But, instead of saying, “Tell me about your elephant…”, Melanie simply asked the child to tell her about his picture. What followed was a beautiful story of the relationship between a lightning-fearing, long-tongued cow and the tree that protected it. This story might never have been told if Miss Melanie had labeled the cow as an elephant in her question!

The Atelier is also a place where family members are welcomed throughout the year. Each year, families have an opportunity to create clay tiles that will adorn our school walls for years to come at our Tallulah Project days. Miss Melanie also welcomes parents to her “Prepping Parties”, where they assist with anything from sorting beautiful papers by texture to creating documentation for our annual Art Walk. If you have yet to spend a few moments in the Atelier this year, pop by and ask the students (or Miss Melanie!) to tell you about their work. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Constructing Collaboration

It is 10:30am on a Wednesday morning at Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool. In a shady spot under the eaves of the covered walkway, three children stand at a long wooden counter. One four year old girl expertly swings a hammer, nailing together two pieces of wood in what appears to be an airplane shape. Next to her, a three year old from another class watches closely, then gives her own nail a solid whack. She smiles with satisfaction and shows her work to the big girl. The third child, also a seasoned 4 year old woodworker, uses a saw on a piece of wood held tightly in a clamp. “This can be the tail!”, he tells his classmate as he carefully maneuvers the saw back and forth.

Guiding this work is Miss Susanne, PPP’s very own Project Coordinator. Miss Susanne fills many important roles at our school, but among the children, she is best known as the keeper of the tools — real tools the children use to construct anything imaginable. When Miss Susanne enters a classroom, children flock to her, eager to discuss their newest project idea or tell her about a tool they used at home that weekend. The children work with her in small groups, and often these groups are made up of children from various classrooms based on shared interests. Projects might be as simple as creating an airplane from two pieces of wood in one hour, or as complex as designing and constructing a wooden go kart over the course of several months.

Miss Susanne sees collaboration as the common thread running through each woodworking project, and she is inspired by watching the children learn from and listen to each other.  She especially notices this in mixed-age projects, where the older children are able to say, “I can do this, and I can teach you to do this, too!” She also sees a great deal of negotiation at the workbench, both verbal and nonverbal. Negotiation of ideas, space, and shared tools are skills she continually watches develop over the course of a project.

Miss Susanne believes this project work has been successful because she keeps the groups small, and children have the opportunity to revisit woodworking repeatedly over the course of the year. While she could have ten children learning how to use a hammer at the same time, the projects would lose complexity, and offer fewer language opportunities and chances for meaningful collaboration.

Some of Susanne’s favorite woodworking projects over the years have been a full-size foosball table (try it out in our Outdoor Classroom!), a functional go kart that had one amazing run before it crashed into a tree last year, and a wooden Barbie doll with securely nailed yarn hair (the problem-solving for the hair alone was noteworthy!).  What does Miss Susanne have in mind for next year? The answer, my friends, is locked away in the imaginations of our future project workers. We can’t wait to see what their collaborations will construct!




















Technology and Young Children: A “Device”ive Issue!


Each year, technology commands an ever-growing presence in the lives of young children. At PPP, we have devoted considerable time to understanding the effects of technology use on young children and to develop our own position on best practices. As our 2nd Annual Screen Free Week Challenge approaches (April 1-7) we would like to share some of our research and ideas in hopes that you are inspired to think deeply about the use of technology by your own children and students. 

First, some numbers. According to Common Sense Media, children under the age of two have an average of 53 minutes of screen time a day, while children ages 2-4 have an average of 2 1/2 hours. In the past four years, they have seen that, while the average amount of screen time has remained consistent, the way in which children are receiving the screen time has not. The amount of time a young child spends on a handheld device has tripled in the past four years. While not surprising, it does bring us into uncharted territory as to what effects this new usage has on the developing brain. Portable devices are much more private, leading the viewing experience to be less social and more individualistic. At this critical point in a child’s social emotional, language, and fine and gross motor development, more time spent alone holding a device could lead to notable delays in these areas.

As educators and parents, how do we use this information? We acknowledge that technology use among young children, especially in the form of iPads, smart phones and video games, is here to stay. But, we do have the power to limit a child’s time with these devices and to make their screen time meaningful and interactive. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines on media use align well with PPP’s own stance on the use of technology. Most applicable to young children, they recommend no more than 1 hour a day of high-quality screen time for children ages 2-5. They also recommend that this viewing or usage be done as often as possible with a parent. This co-viewing has many benefits. Children learn best from in-person contact, and concepts or questions can be discussed as they come up or at the dinner table later. You might also have a little much needed fun yourself. Have you ever gotten 3 strikes in a row on Wii Bowling?! It’s a great feeling! Most importantly, AAP reminds us to “Keep the face-to-face up front, and don't let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech.” Click here to view the AAP’s entire list of media tips:

A great way to reset screen time habits for your children AND for yourself is to join our Screen Free Week Challenge, taking place April 1-7, 2019. Taking a week to step away from our devices allows us to remember the beauty of human interactions and to marvel at the creativity of our smallest humans. Happy Rebooting!

Conscious Discipline 101

Last week, PPP’s yearly Parent Conversations took place, giving the teachers and parents a chance to share and delight in the growth of our incredible little learners. In many of these conversations, we referred to Conscious Discipline strategies used in our classrooms. While it would take a year of blog posts to do justice to the many layers of the Conscious Discipline model, we hope that in reading this today, you gain a better understanding of this impactful program.

First, let’s start with some basic points:

  • Conscious Discipline helps children learn how to regulate their own behavior, rather than having behavior regulated by an adult. It’s effects, therefore, are powerful and life-long.

  • Conscious Discipline’s success is based upon working with the children to create a safe community, teaching them to identify their own emotions, and finally teaching them how to regulate these emotions.

  • Conscious Discipline is effective at school AND at home.

  • Conscious discipline is a brain-based approach. When you understand what a child is capable of based on his or her stage of brain development, you better empathize with and react to this child’s behavior.

  • The Conscious Discipline model was created by Dr. Becky Bailey, PhD, a former educator

PPP began our own Conscious Discipline journey several years ago, and during the 2016-2017 school year, we made it the focus of our professional development, embracing the approach whole-heartedly. This is visible in the routines, language used, and in certain “structures” in our classrooms. But most obviously, it is visible in watching our students interact with their peers and teachers, solve problems, recognize emotions, and regulate their own behavior.


 Upon entering our classrooms each morning, children are greeted by a teacher or classmate at the door. This greeting ritual is intentional and a very special way to make sure each child is welcomed into the space. Eye contact is made, and children are often given a choice: “Would you like a high five? A hand shake? A Wave? A hug?” Our morning gathering times, called Kivas, are another time where we foster the classroom community. A morning song is sung, the day is discussed, and the children feel a sense of security in the rituals of Kiva.


In our classrooms, you will also see specific “structures” that support and guide our children’s social-emotional learning. The Kindness Tree is one of these. Our classroom Kindness Trees may be different shapes and sizes, but they all support the same idea: teaching children to recognize kindness in others. By age 4-5, our students are able to spot a kind act and proudly tell the class “Kindness Reporter” who will then add a heart to the Kindness Tree.


Another important structure you will see in each classroom is the Safe Place. The Safe Place exists as a retreat that our students learn they can visit whenever they feel they need to reset their emotional state. In the Safe Place, children will find books, cards, stress balls, and other items that help us return to a calm emotional state. At the beginning of each school year, they learn and practice various strategies that can be used in the Safe Place. A favorite is being a S.T.A.R. (Smile, Take a Deep Breath, And Relax!). The most important idea to remember about this area of the room is that it is not used as a time out. We may suggest a visit to the safe place, but never force it.


The most important part of Conscious Discipline, however, cannot be seen. It is the empathy and understanding communicated by teachers, parents, caregivers, and children. There are several concepts and phrases that we find powerful here at PPP. As caregivers, our most important job is regulating our own emotions and behaviors. Not only does this act as a model for the children, but it allows us to be neutral and do what Becky Bailey calls “downloading calm” to any situation. Giving a child empathy when he or she is angry is especially important, too, and the language we use when helping a child identify her own emotional state goes something like this: “Your face is like this. Your hands are in fists. You seem angry. Are you feeling upset because your friend kicked your block tower?” We also teach our students to use their own “Big Voice” right from the start. We use our Big Voice when a toy is taken, when we would like a turn on the tire swing, when someone is sitting too close to us in Kiva, anytime a child needs to advocate for their own emotional well-being. You will hear our students saying, “Please stop. I don’t like it when you take my shovel. Please give it back.” Or “Please move over. You are too close to me.” It is direct. It is neutral. It is powerful.

So, the next time you see a teacher high fiving a child for using her Big Voice, or hear your own child’s delight when he reports that he saw “5 kindnesses” on the playground, we hope you will smile, take a deep breath, and relax, knowing that Conscious Discipline is on the job! is an amazing resource for anyone wanting to learn more. Check it out!

A Provocation A Day Keeps the Classroom at Play!

Listening in on a collaborative planning meeting between teachers in a classroom at Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool, you would undoubtedly hear the term “provocation” used in the discussion. Provocations are an important part of our learning at PPP, but what is a provocation exactly, and how are they used?

The Reggio-Emilia approach follows the idea that there are three primary teachers in a young child’s life: the parent, the classroom teacher, and the environment. It is this focus on the environment that forms the basis for the importance of provocations in a Reggio-inspired classroom. A provocation is very much what its name infers: It is an invitation, a generator of ideas and creativity, and a prompt to ignite the children’s thinking.


In the classroom, you will see various types of provocations, all with the intent to scaffold an activity, offer intention to a set of materials, or prompt new levels of thinking from the children. Provocations also serve a purpose to the teachers, as well, reminding us of our intentions as we engage with the children. Provocations can be:

-A question or prompt written and displayed at a particular table or area of the classroom. For example, “We wonder what types of lines you can create with these charcoal pieces?”

-A picture, photo or book displayed at a particular table or area of the classroom. For example, on a recent exploration of lines and shapes, students were introduced to the artist Miró. One of his works was placed in a frame on a table that included collage materials made up of lines, colorful shapes, glue and paper.

-An actual item or set of items arranged thoughtfully to elicit certain activities or outcomes by the children. Examples might include a beautiful display of flowers in the center of a watercolor station, the addition of a new material or tool to a familiar set up (adding rolling pins and stamps to the clay table after children have become familiar with manipulating the clay using their hands), or the subtraction of a familiar item from a set up that elicits problem-solving strategies (removing the scissors from a collage station…will the students begin to rip the paper, or fold the paper in new ways to fit it onto their page?).

-A verbal question or challenge given to a large or small group at the beginning of an activity by the teacher. For example, during Kiva a teacher might tell the class, “We have seen some amazing creations in the block area this week, and they seem to be getting taller and taller! I challenge you to measure your towers with this measuring tape and write that number on this chart!”

Once we shift our minds to see a child’s environment as an important teacher, it is easy to see provocations all around us. Now we challenge YOU to create your own provocation for the children in your life!


Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool has been on a journey to grow and learn from the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy for over 20 years. This journey is never-ending (as all good learning should be!), and this year we are excited to add a physical journey to our philosophical one. In May 2019, 13 members of the PPP staff will spend a week where it all began; absorbing, connecting and challenging ourselves in Reggio Emilia. We are lucky enough to be members of an individually tailored 5 State Tour of the schools and centers of Reggio Emilia, and equally lucky enough to have the support of our school community to make this dream a reality!

PPP’s director, Sabrina Ball, created the Reggio Journey Fund early last year with the goal of sending as many of our staff to Italy as wanted to go. As a team, we worked to identify and create new events for our preschool families that would enrich their lives as much as the funds were enriching our path to Reggio. And it has been a tremendous success!

Parents’ Nights Out have brought many of students together in a fun way outside of the classroom while their moms and dads spend some lovely time connecting with each other. Our first ever Mommy/Son Superhero Day and Daddy/Daughter Tea Party made lasting and beautiful memories. This year we have added a few more activities, including movies under the stars and an intimate Indian Cooking Class with our beloved Miss Juliet. The PPP staff is in awe of our community’s enthusiastic participation in these events and the kindness and excitement shown by our families when they hear about our upcoming journey.

Behind the scenes, the member of the 5 State Tour are busily preparing for this magical week. We are studying together, reading The Hundred Languages of Children and reflecting on our reading with members of the tour from all over Arizona. The PPP members have started a book club, meeting once a month and engaging in deep and exciting conversation about how we can create positive change from our learning in Reggio Emilia. 

We cannot wait to bring back all of the learning that we will experience this May to our very own PPP community, and let it guide and foster your own children’s early childhood experience. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for supporting our Reggio Journey!

“Teachers-like children and everyone else-feel the need to grow in their competences; they want to transform experiences into thought, thoughts into reflections, and reflections into new thoughts and actions.”

            -Loris Malaguzzi, inspiring developer of the Reggio-Emilia approach

Notty pic for blog 2.png
Notty pic for blog.png

After another long desert summer, a slight coolness can be detected in the mornings here. It is a signal to desert dwellers that a much needed break is coming. And it is a signal to us at Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool that our dear friend Notty will be back soon. Notty has spent his summer in Colorado, as he does each year. Being a small woodland elf, the desert heat is simply too much for him. But last week, the classrooms at PPP each received a very special (and very tiny!) piece of mail. It was our first letter of the year from Notty! Notty shared that he would be making the trek back to Arizona over the weekend. He expected that he would be back at school by Monday morning, so friends should look for him and his camper when they went outside to play. Sure enough, there was Notty’s camper tucked under a tree! Students investigated his tiny house: a loft bed with a ladder, a soft and snuggly blanket for cooler nights, miniature cookware, and a treasure box full of Notty’s most special things. Questions immediately arose: Where was Notty? How did he get his camper to Arizona? What did Notty cook in his camper? How tall was Notty? What does he look like?

It is at this exact moment that the magic of Notty begins each year. PPP teachers gently guide the students’ inquiry. They show them where Notty’s mailbox can be found, and explain that if we write a letter to Notty, he will write one back. Teachers set up tiny letter writing stations in their classrooms, and spend time together in Kiva writing down the students’ questions, sounding out the letters in Notty’s name, and demonstrating to their eager students how to fold a sheet of paper small enough to fit into a tiny envelope. For the rest of the year, “Notty Mail” becomes an integral part of our emergent curriculum. The students’ chose to write, draw pictures, create tiny gardening tools, entire homes, in fact, for this little friend they have only corresponded with via mail. They worry about Notty when a storm comes during the night (“I was so nervous that Notty’s camper would have a flood!”). They LOVE Notty, the tiny elf who gives them such kind, positive feedback. And we love him, too, for all the amazing learning he inspires each day in our beautiful preschool home. Welcome Back, little friend!

A New School Year, A New Blog

PPP is excited to embark on our very own blog journey this year! We hope to share information with preschool families, colleagues, and anyone who draws inspiration from our Reggio-inspired, Sonoran Desert world. With the first week of school quickly approaching, we thought it fitting to begin by offering a few of our tried and true transition tips.

For many of you, this will be your child’s first time in a school setting, and it can be an incredibly emotional milestone for us moms and dads! With that in mind…

Tip #1: Have no fear, preschool is here! One of our teachers has this to say about parental confidence: “Your child is amazingly perceptive and picks up on all of your non-verbal cues. If you are happy and relaxed while dropping your child off at school, your child takes note of this. If, on the other hand, you are anxious, nervous, or hesitant, your child also sees this. Consider the way you want your child to feel about coming to school in the morning and lead the way! Your child will ‘catch’ the attitudes you exude.”

So, what exactly should this confident drop-off look like?

Tip #2: Short and sweet drop-offs are the best kind of drop-offs! At PPP, we believe strongly in the Conscious Discipline approach to social-emotional learning and use many of its strategies in our daily routines. In the morning, you will often hear something along the lines of, “Good morning, Annie and mommy! Welcome to school! We will keep Annie safe today while you are at work and we will see you at pick up. We’re going to have an amazing day together!” Follow that with a hug and a purposeful walk out the door, and you have just given your little pumpkin
a confident start to the day.

Of course, the morning goodbye is just one small part of the transition process. How you prepare your child at home has just as much of an impact on success!

Tip #3: Bring the preschool into your life at home. There are many ways to do this. Before the school year begins, you may want to create a simple picture calendar to keep handy. Especially if your child attends school just 2 or 3 times a week, this calendar will help a child become accustomed to the rhythm of their new schedule. Once school has begun, one PPP teacher suggests taking pictures of familiar locations at school (the front of the school, classroom, playground, and any other areas your child might adore). Having these pictures handy on your phone to look through when discussing school helps keep it familiar to your child on those days away.

We hope we have equipped you with a few new tools for your transition toolbox. Some of you will never need to pull out your toolbox at all, while others will need a toolshed to keep all the tools you have tried during the year! Either way, know we are here to support your child and family every step of this beautiful process!