What is British Primary?

  • The British Primary educational philosophy is a unique instructional approach created 40 years ago under the direction and leadership of Founding Head Carolyn Hambidge.

    This philosophy encompasses the practices of many well-known educators and theorists, best described as constructivists, including Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky. 

    Constructivists believe people cannot be "given" information and then instantly understand and use it. Instead, individuals must "construct" their knowledge and understanding for themselves.

    Under this theory, Stanley BPS emphasizes hands-on problem solving that allows children to tap into their natural curiosities. As educators, we focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understanding in students. 

Living British Primary Blog

  • Where does Stanley’s joy come from?

    Posted by Joanna Hambidge on 9/17/2020

    In my thirty years of working at Stanley, I have never experienced the joy that emanated from our campus at the beginning of this school year! Last week while a cohort of sixteen sixth graders ate a socially distanced lunch together in the middle of the Witter field, a hum of jovial banter and laughter mixed with the now-fresh Colorado air. After fifteen minutes of eating and talking, spontaneously eight of the sixth graders stood up and broke out into a dance. Most of the cohort then began singing “Sweet Caroline,” which was popular when I was in Middle School! As the cohort transitioned into playing football, they continued to sing “Sweet Caroline” throughout the duration of recess.


    Joy Our school’s vision statement reads, “We envision a community of joyful, lifelong learners prepared to make a positive difference in the world.” Why is the word joy in the first sentence describing what is important at our school? K-1-2 teacher Julie Miles shared with me that joy is why she chose Stanley for her children and joy is why she chooses to work at the school. Throughout the years, as visitors move through our classrooms and hallways, they often remark that there is a positive energy, that the children seem happy, and that people are smiling. I do know that it is not always this way! I have experienced tears on the playground! But what is joy? Where does joy come from? Can we do anything to spread joy?


    At our August retreat before school started, the faculty and staff focused on joy and shared what brings each of us joy. I shared that loving my children, walking through meadows with wildflowers, singing and creating classrooms where children love learning are some of the things that bring me joy. Pause for a minute… What brings you joy?


    Stanley faculty and staff discovered that although what brings each of us joy is different, there are common themes. We decided that we experience joy when we connect to what is meaningful, when we engage with our passions and interests, when we love/care for others, when we immerse ourselves in nature, meaningful places and experiences. We also realized that we can have agency, that we can facilitate and support ourselves and others to experience joy. Here are some of our ideas for creating joy at our school and in our lives:

    • Bring our authentic selves. Be brave. Share our passions. Be open-minded.
    • Build intentional relationships. Listen. Connect. Joy in being heard! And loved! Take the moments with each person. Ask people, “What brings you joy?” We are all unique.
    • Emphasize community. Take time for connections. Collaborate and play games.
    • Provide opportunities for pursuing interests and passions. Differentiate. Joy looks different for different people. Give Choice. Play music. Dance and move. Be outside!
    • Explore and Discover. Wonder. Play. Honor Curiosity. Provide new experiences. What will they discover? Discovery on their own time!
    • Take time. Slow down. Get lost in the moment. Flow of time disappears!
    • Provide space and time for creativity. Engage. Realize visions. Gain confidence. Feel successful.
    • Find joy in the little moments. Be Mindful. Be positive. Joy of here and now!


    While I watched the sixth graders at lunch and recess, I knew they were experiencing joy. They were expressing themselves through dancing and singing; they were connecting to each other and feeling part of a community; they were getting lost in the moment; they were reveling in being outside in the Colorado sunshine after two days of rain and snow. At Stanley we believe in the importance of recess and all that goes into making a joyful community in which to learn and grow. Maya Angelou writes, “We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.” May you experience joy, love and connection this fall, and all year.


    With love,


    About the author: This year, Joanna Hambidge is stepping into a new role as Head of British Primary professional learning. This position was an outcome of realizing one of the pillars of our strategic plan in an effort to ensure the long-term commitment of the British Primary Philosophy at Stanley. As part of this role she is working with faculty and staff on regular professional development throughout the year, collaborating with faculty to articulate the key tenets of our philosophy, and working on a multi-year project to craft a book. As a school, we’re devoted to highlighting our commitment to our philosophy, and Joanna will be featured once a month in the Bulldog Blast to highlight aspects of the British Primary Philosophy and update us on her work in her role. 

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Foundational Principles

  • Friedrich Froebel, Constructivist Educator Our Founder Carolyn Hambidge's views as an educator were dramatically influenced by the principles of Friedrich Froebel, a German educator known for his progressive views of early education. Carolyn was educated at The Froebel Insititute, now a college within the London University systems.

    Key elements of a Froebelian education in action at Stanley British Primary School:

    • There should be intense respect for the person being taught.
    • People should be active agents in their own learning.
    • There should be a continuing relationship between the learner and the teacher.
    • Learning should be a cumulative, integral process rather than one consisting of fragmented, discrete elements.
    • Education should be focused on personal growth, fulfillment and care for others.

    Learn more about Stanley's fundamentals through our Vision, Mission & Values.

  • "The Art of Being Human"  Our philosophy in a colorful nutshell: "The Art of Being Human," available at school, on Amazon.com or Tattered Cover in Denver. School-sales proceeds to Stanley teachers!

On Froebel

  • "Froebel had a very different way of looking at children and teaching, which was radical in his time. He valued children as children and felt they should develop all sides of themselves. He saw the classroom as a garden, which the teacher would create, providing materials that were aesthetically pleasing and yet challenging to children that would bring out of them what was natural to them. 

    "To do this, you must realize that each child is unique, and learns in a different way. So you must understand where the child is developmentally and then provide him the opportunities to learn in the way he learns best."

    —Carolyn Hambidge, Founding Head Stanley British Primary School


In the classroom

Froebels's Principles in the Stanley Classroom

  • Froebel Trust

    Our method and practice of teaching rely heavily on many of Friedrich Froebel's principles. They include:  

    • Skilled and informed observation of children, to support effective development, learning and teaching 
    • Awareness that education relates to all capabilities of each child: imaginative, creative, symbolic, linguistic, mathematical, musical, aesthetic, scientific, physical, social, moral, cultural and spiritual 
    • Parents/carers and educators working in harmony and partnership
    • First hand experience, play, talk and reflection 
    • Activities and experiences that have sense, purpose and meaning to the child, and involve joy, wonder, concentration, unity and satisfaction 
    • A holistic approach to learning which recognizes children as active, feeling and thinking human beings, seeing patterns and making connections 
    • Encouragement rather than punishment 
    • Individual and collaborative activity and play 
    • An approach to learning which develops children's autonomy and self confidence

    Source: The Froebel Trust