photos provided by Our Piccola Accademia

Of Curiosity and Wonder

Our Piccola Accademia Fosters Curiosity and Wonder Through Real-World Learning

Our Piccola Accademia (OPA) is a unique home-based preschool that serves families desiring hands-on, real-world learning opportunities for their children. “We believe in the whole-child approach and that all children have multiple intelligences. We identify most with Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, and take strong influence from Reggio Emilia teaching practices,” said OPA Founder Shannon O’Donoghue.

OPA’s mixed-age classroom, natural play yard, and urban farm is situated along the Batiquitos Lagoon, providing not only a picturesque scene but a tangible launching pad for real-world learning. They serve only 100-percent organic meals and snacks, “as we believe in supporting sustainable practices and the health and well-being of not only our bodies, but the planet,” shared O’Donoghue. Located just steps from the lagoon, learning expands to the great outdoors daily, with frequent walking trips and significant time exploring nature.


The primary vehicle for learning at OPA is play. OPA believes children are naturally curious and are playful, masterful learners. Interest areas constantly evolve, with projects stemming from the child’s personal interests and cultural background. “Prior to agriculture, industry, and early religious schooling, play was naturally the way in which children learned,” O’Donoghue explained. “There is no research or logic to suggest we should think children need anything else.” O’Donoghue, a teacher and early intervention specialist, struggled to find a program that shared this philosophy for her own son, who later became the motivation behind the founding of OPA.

“We want our daughter to have rich, new, and mentally stimulating experiences, fostering a desire for adventure and knowledge. OPA provides this and more.” – Alton Hitchcock (current OPA parent)

Core outcomes of OPA’s inquiry-based learning are child-initiated work projects. Projects are not just single exposure instances – they weave together to help children investigate and learn in a multi-dimensional approach. Projects fall into several categories including themes, environmental, daily life, and self-managed.

OPA places a strong emphasis on creating community. Parents and family members develop close friendships with one another and become an extension of one big family. Various community-building events, such as the annual Spring Art Show and Fall Open house, are conducted each year.

A truly unique aspect of OPA is their support for part-time homeschooling students, and their partnership with The Native School, a local nature immersion enrichment program for preschoolers, kindergartens, and mixed-age homeschooling families. “We facilitate part-time homeschooling support for our alumni, furthering the advantages our family approach to learning provides,” O’Donoghue said.

All teachers at OPA exceed the California requirements for preschool education. Additionally, OPA supports all teachers’ participation in ongoing professional development including but limited to NAEYC-accredited programs, and scheduled creative workdays. “If we expect our children to jump on the learning journey,” explained O’Donoghue, “we need to invite them by constantly growing ourselves.”



Name of Business: Our Piccola Accademia
Owner: Shannon O’Donoghue
Partnership: The Native School
Year of Establishment: 2011
Phone: 760-814-9870
Description: Our Piccola Accademia is a Reggio Emilia-inspired program serving preschoolers and elementary age homeschoolers. The classroom is family style, mixing preschoolers of all ages. Inside and outside interest areas, as well as the great outdoors, provide inquiry-based learning and open-ended projects stemming from each child’s individual interests and play preferences. Empathy and quality friendships are sparked through scaffolding conversations and daily urban farm animal care.