Guiding Principles

Identity, Belonging, Fairness and Freedom


“A school needs to be a place for all children, not based on the idea that they are all the same, but that they are all different.” —Loris Malaguzzi

“Who am I?” “Who are you?”

We know from research that even very young children notice the ways that people are different from one another, and begin to make judgments about those differences. Our hope is that kids will learn that it’s a fine thing to wonder and talk about all sorts of diversity — age, gender, ability, race, culture, religion, body type, family structure – all of it. And we also hope to engender respect for those differences, and to empower children to demand that respect for themselves and for each other. And beyond respect, we hope that kids will come to know that, when each person’s identity is seen and affirmed, our differences can be sources of wonderment, joy and strength.

We actively seek diversity in admissions, because the differences represented within our own community provide the most powerful opportunities for diversity learning. We further enrich diversity through our group of Friend Dolls, storytelling dolls who have distinct and diverse identities that both reflect and extend the diversity in the group. And we also enhance diversity through everyday materials like books, baby dolls, and puzzles.


We explore and celebrate the many differences that exist in our group. This may mean exploring differences in the way our families worship and celebrate and create family culture, which is why we encourage families to come and share their family traditions with the group. It may mean helping kids to represent what is unique about themselves, like mixing paints to match our skin colors. It may mean going more deeply into questions of Identity that arise in any particular group. For instance, when kids are preoccupied with who is “little” and who is “big,” we go more deeply into the issue, and measure the height of everyone in the community (parents, too!) and relate that array of results to people’s ages.


“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” —Brene Brown

We see belonging as a birthright, grounded in the simple but profound truth that each of us matters. We want children and their families to know they belong in the world, and that they belong in and to this learning community. We know that a sense of belonging is a prerequisite to any meaningful work that might happen here, for teachers, families and children alike. We must feel that we are on the “inside” of someplace safe in order to step outside of ourselves and grow. Likewise, all the citizens of our community share a responsibility to extend that sense of belonging to each other.

Read more about how Children First creates a culture of belonging.


Vivian Paley called Fantasy, Friendship and Fairness the three defining preoccupations of early childhood, and we agree. Day in and day out, children wrestle with the question “What is fair?” It is an intellectual puzzle that demands reflection and conversation; a declaration of need, brimming with emotion; a spark to the imagination that invites speculation and dreaming; and a challenge to their world-making aspirations. We feel privileged – and humbled – to walk alongside them in that important inquiry.


“We have not come here to take prisoners, but to surrender ever more deeply to freedom and joy. We have not come into this exquisite world to hold ourselves hostage from love.” —Hafiz

When Freedom joins with Identity, their message is, “You have choices.” They say, “You are free to be yourself, and I am free to be myself – and together, we can co-create a form of freedom that is respectful and considerate of the other.” This is what we mean when we take a deep breath, spin around in the sunshine, and say, “I feel so free” – alive, awake, infused with possibility.

When Freedom joins with Belonging, their message is, “You don’t have to sacrifice ‘you’ to be part of ‘us.’” We recognize the difference, as Brene Brown puts it, between “belonging” and “fitting in.” Free belonging feels safe and secure -– warm, easy, and open.

When Freedom joins with Fairness, they insist that we attend to the uses of power; to boundaries; to mutual responsibility. They keep us attuned to the difference between leading and bossing. They wake us up to the defining and confining social structures we all live inside, and invite us to question, resist, protest, reform and create. This pairing is agency and power, fueled by imagination.