One City Early Learning Centers of Madison will be the first U.S. pilot site for the ground­breaking AnjiPlay curriculum. One City will feature environments and materials designed by AnjiPlay program founder Ms. Cheng Xueqin, and One City teachers and staff will receive training from Ms. Cheng and Dr. Chelsea Bailey of AnjiPlay World. Additionally, a series of AnjiPlay related events will be held in Madison from July 20-­26, making the city of Madison a leader in bringing the AnjiPlay approach to children outside of China.

AnjiPlay is a comprehensive educational approach grounded in a philosophy of love, risk, joy, reflection, and engagement. AnjiPlay is currently the full­time curriculum of 130 schools serving 14,000 children ages 3­6 in Anji County, China. The AnjiPlay approach was developed over a period of 15 years by Cheng, Director of Pre­primary Education for Anji County.

It was recognized by the president of China in 2014 with the National Award for Achievement in Early Childhood Education and will be adapted as a national curricular standard in China this year. Over the past two years, the world has begun to learn about AnjiPlay through conferences and talks at Mills College, Stanford University, Columbia University and MIT.

One City is a new preschool utilizing a two­generation model to prepare children, ages 1 to 5 years old, for school and life success, while working in partnership with parents and the broader community to move its children’s families forward. One City believes that strong families and neighborhoods produce strong children. Presently, the school is serving 30 children on the South Side of Madison, one of the most racially, ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in Wisconsin. It will grow to serve 110 children in its present location, with an eye to serving more than 1,000 children in Dane County in the next 10 years.

One City Early Learning Center
One City Early Learning Center

One City CEO and founder Kaleem Caire and AnjiPlay founder Cheng Xueqin first met during Cheng’s February 2016 visit to Madison in a meeting organized by Dr. Marianne Bloch, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin­-Madison. Cheng was deeply moved by Caire’s commitment to ensuring access to affordable, high-quality preschools in partnership with parents and the community. Caire was similarly moved by Ms.Cheng’s vision of how complex, self­organized play can shape the global future of early childhood education. Caire and Cheng agreed on ­the ­spot to work together to bring the joys of complex learning through true, creative and innovative play to the children of Madison.

“It is important to us that our children develop the knowledge, habits, skills, consciousness, and passion for learning, and learning about all matter of different things, at a very young age. We also want active learning taking place, as we look to nurture more creative, innovative and analytical thinkers, doers and leaders among our children,” Caire says. “Through AnjiPlay, our children get to learn and play while creating their own play every day. Through Anji, we can accomplish our mission and goals.”

“Children benefit from love in their environments, love expressed by one another, by families, by teachers, by schools, and by communities,” Cheng added. “Children must also be trusted to take risks and encouraged to seek their own understanding of the world. Children should enjoy challenging, open­ended environments and materials. All children should have access to these opportunities and resources. It is their right. In Anji, our views of childhood and approach to early childhood education involve entire communities and particularly the efforts of leaders in the community like Kaleem Caire. I am grateful that he has committed to providing all of the children in his community with access to the joys of a childhood filled with love, risk and discovery.”

Training of One City teachers in the AnjiPlay approach began in June and will continue through the summer of 2017. Dr. Bailey with work closely with Mr. Bryce Pickett, One City Director of AnjiPlay, and the One City teaching staff on site and virtually throughout the year, including site visits to the kindergartens of Anji, China. The first shipment of AnjiPlay materials will arrive in Madison from Anji during the second week of July. These sophisticated, minimally structured, nature­based materials were designed and developed by Cheng over 15 years of testing and observation in the kindergartens of China. These materials have been further standardized by RISD professor and noted toy designer Cas Holman.

Cheng will visit Madison from July 19-23 to take part in training of One City’s staff. Ms. Cheng, Dr. Bailey and Mr. Caire will be available to members of the press for interviews and comment. Cheng will participate in a series of events and activities during her visit to Madison, including a public presentation “The Benefits of Risky Play” hosted by the Madison Public Library on Saturday, July 23, 2:30–4 p.m. at Central Library.