By: USC Rossier School of Education, March 16, 2015

A new concept in early childhood education is the inspiration for a new preschool in San Clemente. Dustine Rey EdD ’09 is the founder and executive director of The Gratitude Garden Preschool.

“We aim to increase the well-being of our students, their families and the community,” says Rey. “Our program extends into the whole family unit through our wellness workshops and monthly parents night out program. This integrated approach was inspired by the courses, research and experiences provided to me during my time at USC Rossier. My education at USC taught me to analyze gaps in educational services and personal motivation, as such I developed this school to address the gap in high quality early childhood education that is well-rounded, flourishing is creativity and nature, while also reflecting the best in current research and practice.”

“We are a nature-based Reggio Emilia–inspired school with a balanced focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), social and emotional development and artistic expression,” says Rey. “Early exposure to these concepts ignites intellectual creativity, critical thinking and establishes a foundation of curiosity that supports academic well-being and a joy for learning.”

This integrated approach was inspired by the courses, research and experiences provided to me during my time at USC Rossier.

The newly designed school utilizes the rich teaching opportunities and discoveries of nature. The classrooms are both indoors and outdoors, allowing students to explore, play and apply early concepts in math, engineering, physics, science and ecology. Students also participate in martial arts, cooking, world languages, dance, music and various forms of artistic expression.

“Children are naturally little scientists, curious about how the natural world works and why. Preschool is the perfect time to connect young curiosity to the foundations of STEM in a fun and playful way,” says Dr. Rey.

As its name suggests, The Gratitude Garden Preschool places great emphasis on gratitude. “We know that children are at their best when they are given opportunities to be kind, experience appreciation for things and feel gratitude toward others,” says Dr. Giacomo Bono, psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and co-author of Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character. “With habits of gratitude and kindness children not only experience better moods, they engage their minds and senses more in activities, cooperate better with others and make greater use of their character strengths and imagination. Quite simply, they start growing a motivation to do more for the world and themselves. It is in this kind of supportive community where children learn better to bounce back from adversity and grow their natural capacity to connect more strongly with school and family.”

“The development of gratitude and generosity are priorities at our school,” says Dr. Rey. “Through the use of art, stories, songs and theater, students here learn to appreciate the world and people around them, and we take every opportunity to nurture such positive motivations and character strengths in our students.” Dr. Rey conducted her dissertation on the relationship of gratitude and well-being to academic success; she has since incorporated her findings into age-appropriate curriculum for the formative years of children’s development.

Original article is available here.