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Our History

The Little School was founded in 1959 by Dr. Eleanor Siegl. She was determined to create a school that embodied the convictions she had developed through her own life experience and studies. The result was The Little School – a school anchored in the philosophy of progressive education. Here, each student would be treated as an individual, at the center of their own learning. Integral components of the school’s educational approach would include the active involvement of students in the learning process, development of multi-cultural awareness and respect for others. Her goal was to move children from behind their desks, unfold their hands, open their minds and allow them to learn with an approach and pace that best matched their skills.

In the early years, The Little School was a preschool at the University Unitarian Church in Seattle. The program expanded in 1964 to include elementary grades, and as the size of the student body grew, it became apparent that the school would soon outgrow its space. A generous gift in 1968 provided a 10-acre site in Bellevue for the school’s new home. The Meadows and Woods classroom buildings were constructed, but the Big Field and six acres of woods were preserved to provide an outdoor classroom to encourage imaginative play and the first-hand exploration of nature. The creation of the Eleanor Siegl Library Learning Center and the Roush Family Library, and the acquisition of the Northup Schoolhouse and additional land served to preserve our natural environment and strengthen our programs.

A vintage picture of Dr. Eleanor Siegl and TLS students.

“Traditions remind you that we are connected. Like Sing, Sing says everyone is a singer and everyone is a musician. Everyone.” 

— Maya, TLS Alumna

An oil painting of the TLS garden.

Throughout The Little School’s history, our size and location may have changed, but what has not changed is the dedication to our progressive education ideals. Julie Kalmus, our current head of school, is committed to building on the good work of Founder Eleanor Siegl, long-time Heads of School Paul Brahce and Peter Berner-Hays and the many other dedicated heads of school, faculty and staff members, trustees, families and students, both past and present, who have constructively collaborated to create The Little School. New studies tout the benefits of forest kindergarten, and the latest educational trends are aimed at helping students develop 21st century skills through project-based learning and authentic assessment. Yet, each of these components has been part of The Little School's approach for more than 60 years. We are focused on meeting the developmental needs of our students, allowing them to be active participants in their learning to feel connected and cared for while growing as well-rounded individuals and as contributors to their communities. This video from 2014 shows the commitment to childhood, joy and experiential learning that remain the hallmarks of The Little School to this day.