We were looking for an early learning program that would support both of our twin five year olds in developing a great foundation for social and academic success. The B.E.N was the perfect place for us. The small classes and unrelenting dedication of all of the staff members in fostering a strong sense of community for the students and families was a profound experience for our family. Our kids transitioned very well to the school and we had regular communication with all of their teachers in order to continue to problem solve and create environments of success for both of our kids. Each of our kids made strong friendships at the B.E.N and developed their own unique learning styles in a supportive, safe, and caring atmosphere.
We knew the B.E.N was the right fit for us the minute we took our first school tour. The calm energy and quiet nature of the school, along with the warm and welcoming presence of Ilaria, the school administrator, left us without a doubt in our minds. This was the place for our family. Ilaria kept in regular contact with us and was always available to help navigate various situations as they arose. Her flexible and loving nature as well as her incredible ability to connect with all of the students had an amazing impact on the lives of our kids at the school.
Our kids both had excellent experiences with staff at the B.E.N. The B.E.N places a deep value on community building and sets up a variety of extra curricular events throughout the school year. This meant that on many occasions, staff were at the school late in the evenings or on weekends to help lead and facilitate activities. This over and above commitment to family learning and wellbeing is exceptional. They are an excellent team who work hard to connect with all of the students at the school. Report cards were always written in easy to understand language that left us feeling as though they deeply understood each of our unique kids and this always translated into very good parent teacher meetings. Staff were always available to dialogue with and happy to connect about strategies that could be put in place to develop student success.
The B.E.N embraces a whole child approach that supports encouraging children through areas of strength and moving with their interests to develop academic materials that reflect their interests and motivations. There was one period in time where our son developed a deep attachment to bunnies and insects and the teaching staff developed a long range art project connected to gardening and bunny making that engaged all of the students but also allowed my son's interests to be heard and validated. Our daughter deeply connected to the visual art aspects of the school and developed her self regulation and mindfulness skills through regular opportunities to express herself through visual arts. Both of our kids enjoyed the numeracy component of their time in the kindergarten program and developed very good number sense skills through creative and hands on approaches to mathematics instruction.
Our kids were too young to participate in any type of formal extra curricular programming, however, the B.E.N summer camp was an excellent way to help our kids transition into the school in advance of the Fall and to build fun and positive associations with the school in advance of beginning the formal academic year. Ilaria and the team were very flexible around start times and allowed our kids to attend half days (Ilaria even recommended in advance that for our son we start with only a 90 minute block and work up to a full morning). This type of care and attention to transition plans ensured that he had an excellent start of the school year and helped to lower our own anxiety about the start of the school year. The multitude of family events ie/ Pancake breakfast, family movie night, holiday concert etc were excellent opportunities for families to meet and interact but also for the kids to play together and come together as a community.
Because the B.E.N is a micro school, even though students are technically divided into rooms by age group, they spend a lot of time bonding as a whole. For our daughter this was a crucial piece of her transition puzzle. By allowing her lots of opportunities to interact and be in "leadership" style roles with the younger students, but also to be mentored by the older students whom she greatly admired, our daughter was able to navigate the social dynamics of school in a much more successful environment versus a traditional thirty kid kindergarten classroom. The physical structure of the school (with a large yard along with a separate mountain top style area) along with a sandbox, allowed students to mingle and play with students of a multitude of ages, abilities, and interests.
We loved our time at the B.E.N and were sad to leave such a tight knit loving community. That being said, we feel strongly that the solid foundation that the B.E.N provided was integral to facilitating a fantastic transition to public school for grade one. Both of our kids transitioned very well to public school (they went from a 30 child micro school to an 800 student public school) and this transition was developed through the teaching and modeling of self regulation, social, emotional, and academic skills. Both of our kids were diagnosed with high functioning Autism and anxiety and we were very apprehensive about the shift into a public school environment. However, through the modeling of strategies, social stories, play based learning as well as a constant attention to the individual needs of each child, our kids have managed to thrive in a public school setting.
We received weekly and daily communication from the B.E.N staff about events and important dates. Events were fantastic opportunities to connect with fellow families (both from times past and present) and allowed us also to connect socially with the staff. On top of these events, Ilaria and Isky would also host parent information evenings on various topics to help support parenting and learning at home. We always felt very included in the daily goings on in the school and in the loop of the various events as they unfolded. One of the only areas that I would have liked to see more developed were more field trips. The school location does make it somewhat challenging to take public transit to various locations, however, given the small size of the classes it would have been nice to have the kids out more in the greater community at arts events, and other activities.
The school is situated in a house in a residential neighbourhood. The outdoor space of the school is truly exceptional and extends very far back and was perfect for hosting the community events. The only draw back was the physical location. Due to the nature of times for before and after care, and the lack of access to direct transit routes, we needed to get a second vehicle in order to make sure everyone arrived at school and work on time. As well, the school is situated on the downward slope of a substantial hill. Drivers speed down very quickly, which needs to be monitored vigilantly when bringing kids in and out of cars. Also, it is a very very challenging hill to navigate in snowstorms.