Start from the Heart: Writing Your Program Philosophy is Easier Than you Think

By Rebecca Brown

Receiving a Welcome Kit and opening up a brand new, bright shiny Spark Portfolio brings out a mix of emotions for most early learning educators, including curiosity, excitement, and….a feeling of being overwhelmed.  Some of the Spark standards are easier to meet than others, but don’t let the first one, “The program is guided by a written statement of philosophy,” intimidate you.  The philosophy comes first because it’s the basis of everything that happens within the program, and it is easier to write than you might think. Whether you are participating in Spark or not, having a written statement of philosophy is a way to share the  beliefs that are important to you in your decision making and to help you prioritize, maintain focus on your values, and be accountable to yourself and the families you work with.

Creating a program philosophy can feel like a vague or confusing task.  But, most likely, you already have one!  It is just a matter of writing down the values and beliefs that guide you in making decisions about your program.  Start by thinking about the question; “Why do you do the things you do for children and families?”

Jill Ramirez, a Quality Improvement Specialist with Child Care Resource Network in Medford, shared what she noticed while working with early learning professionals who were creating their program philosophy. “They all had program philosophies. They just had never written them down. I told them ‘It doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be from the heart.’”

To create a written philosophy statement is simply to put into words why you operate your program in the way that you do. Examine what you are doing and why. For example, do you adapt your environment and activities so that all children can participate? If yes, why? Possibly because you believe that all children should be included. Do you seek input from families about their child’s interests and needs? It sounds like you believe that partnering with families is important!

Jill posed the question to her group, “Why did you get into the field of early care and education?”  Here are some more questions to think about as you begin to put your philosophy into words:

  • What do I believe about children and how they grow, learn, and thrive?
  • What do I believe about including all children in my program?
  • What do I believe and value about the role of families in my program?
  • What other beliefs and values guide my decisions?

Answering these questions will create a program philosophy that represents your program and can guide how you operate.  What is most important about a philosophy is not its length or the words it uses, but rather how it captures what is true for your program.

Once you have created a written program philosophy ask yourself, how can I make it visible? How can I share it with families? Where can I place it in my program for everyone to see? If you have staff, are they familiar with it and do they use it as a guide? Is the program philosophy seen in action? Do your relationships, practices and policies align with it? Would a visitor be able to describe your program’s philosophy based on what they see, hear, and read in your program?  For example, if your philosophy indicates you believe children learn best through play, would a visitor see children engaged in play-based learning activities?

Do you already have a written program philosophy? Have you checked in with it recently? Does it still reflect your policies and practices in a visible way?  Philosophies can be revisited and revised. Beliefs and values change over time as we grow and learn. Look over your philosophy to make sure it has evolved along with you on your quality improvement journey!

A philosophy statement is a commitment to children, families, staff and your community that you will act based on your beliefs and values. To see more about how unique a program philosophy can be, take a look at Spark Stories.  You will find many inspiring examples from programs in a variety of early learning settings.  We can’t wait to see your own written philosophy in your Spark Portfolio!