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Toolkit Case Study: Beta Academy, Part 1

"A return to the golden age of childhood." Read how one school in Texas combines joy with rigorous learning.

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General Overview

  • School name: Beta Academy

  • Location: Houston, Texas, USA

  • Open date: 2010

  • Joined the Toolkit: July 2020

  • Number of children in preschool program: 60

  • Number of ECE teachers: 16

Meet the HEI Schools Partner

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Helen Abernathy

Director of Research and Development

I believe that students should be taught in a delightful, whimsical way, and pushing kids hard is having the opposite effect of what we want. With the Finnish approach, children work smarter, not harder. If you look at the research, the play-based approach works with children of all ages, especially early childhood, so I knew it was the right choice for our school.

Challenges faced

  • There was a heavy focus on academics to meet state requirements with little active time
  • Teachers were not trained to deliver play-based approach
  • Many children in preschool program were unhappy and stressed



Having always had an interest in Finnish education, Helen read the book Let the Children Play by Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle. It convinced her that the country’s progressive approach was the way to go. With the approval of her team, she began to research companies that provided Finnish-style education, which is how she discovered HEI Schools. She appreciated the research-based component of the company, that it had a close connection to the University of Helsinki, and how the design was “simultaneously simple and beautiful.”

As Helen dove deeper into the Toolkit materials, she was delighted by the comprehensive set of teacher training materials available to support educators as they learn and implement the play-based approach. She knew from experience that such resources would be critical in helping her teachers transition to a radically different approach. Well-designed and interconnected activities would also help her teachers practice the new style of teaching without feeling overwhelmed by detailed lesson plans and material lists.



There will be more time for children to play and enjoy the outdoors


Teachers will feel confident in delivering the play-based approach


Children will engage in joyful and active learning every day


The HEI Schools Teacher Toolkit provides all the tools to help Beta Academy’s preschool teachers shift to an entirely new mindset and equip them with the skills to implement the approach. Children, parents and teachers will be happier with this child-focused, playful pedagogy, and Helen can’t wait to get started this coming fall:  “For so long, there’s been so much high-pressure testing with academia being pushed to lower and lower ages. It’s stealing the joy of learning, so our goal with the Toolkit is to return to the golden age of childhood. We hope that with this approach, children will maintain their love of learning and become independent, creative thinkers who are confident in themselves to learn and do anything.”

Want to learn how it worked in practice? Go to Part 2 to read on!

Download the full PDF here