Dr. Sandy Lizaire-Duff, Head of Lower School at King School, focuses on community well-being and experiential learning

Dr. Sandy Lizaire-Duff joined King School this year as Head of Lower School. In this conversation, she shares her perspective on her focus during her first year and on how students benefit from experiential learning.

Q:  What is your main focus during your first year at King School?

We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Our teaching schedule is different. The structure of our classrooms is different. However, who we are as a community is the same. We are committed to providing our Lower School students with the King experience within the confines of our social distancing protocols.

During my first year at King School, my main focus is community well-being. The well-being of our students and staffulty are of utmost importance to me. Knowing that school looks different, It's particularly important to me that I partner with the faculty and the parents to ensure that our students have a learning experience that infuses academic excellence with joy, wonder, and love. A learning experience that is rooted in kindness and a culture where each child is known and seen for their gifts and wonders.

My priority throughout this year is to get to know the community, to listen to parents' experiences, and to the hopes and dreams of the staffulty. It's important to me that our community feel heard and supported. I enjoy my daily visits to classrooms because I can see the teachers and students in action. I witness how kind, curious, creative, and eager to learn our Lower School students are every day. I feel the passion and energy of our incredible faculty supporting students.

This fall, for example, it's been fascinating to learn alongside PreKindergarten students who are designing stained glass windows, Kindergarten students who are constructing "worm city" outside on the playground, Grade 1 students exploring how Stamford works, Grade 2 students who are learning about landforms, Grade 3 students tracking weather patterns, Grade 4 students learning about nonfiction structure, and Grade 5 students discussing their personal mood meters. It's an absolute joy to be part of the "aha" moments and the "let's think about it together" moments as I partner with students and teachers. 


Q:  How is experiential, hands-on learning beneficial to young children? 

Children learn best by doing, which in turn makes the learning personal and more meaningful. It's also a lot easier for the students to grasp the concepts and retain the information, because they have interacted with it.

Experiential learning allows our students to be courageous thinkers by exploring the world around them while engaging in the learning process in a way that allows them to make mistakes, get messy, and try and try again without feeling pressured to get it right all the time. Trial and error is a valuable part of the learning process where our students are active collaborators in their learning and are guided by their teacher to use a variety of materials to imagine, engage in discovery, communicate, and demonstrate their understanding of concepts in a nurturing and welcoming environment. Research shows experiential learning teaches students not to fear mistakes, but rather to embrace and value their mistakes. The research also indicates that experiential learning bolsters critical thinking and self-assessment skills. 

Beginning in our Reggio inspired PreKindergarten and Kindergarten early childhood program, our faculty prioritize play based learning and project-based learning. We look at the whole child. We believe in depth over breadth. We provide our students with the attention, tools, and time they need to explore, wonder, make mistakes, and try again. We are dedicated to fostering a lifelong curiosity and wonder for learning. Our PreK-Grade 5 program exists to guide and challenge children to be problem solvers and courageous thinkers.

We want our students to understand the power of their own mind. King's play-based and project-based learning frameworks are one of the primary reasons why I chose to join the King Lower School community. As a former Montessori teacher and a proponent of play-based learning, the Lower School was a perfect match for me.  This approach to learning aligns with our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan which affirms our commitment to the student experience as our top priority and which sets our bold vision for King School to be the country's premier PreK-12 research-driven institution in which students embrace open minds and courageous thinking.

Learn more about King School's Reggio inspired early childhood program and Grades 1-5 program.