Hanahau‘oli School

A Century of Lifelong, Joyful Learning

Hanahauoli School

Photos: Hanahau‘oli School


Lia Woo
Lia Woo
Head of School

“Hanahau‘oli makes sure you understand the ‘why.’ Everyone here cares about what we do,” says a recently graduated sixth grader of this unique O‘ahu school nationally recognized for its exclusive focus on Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6—the early formative years for children. Celebrating 100 years in 2018, Hanahau‘oli (“happy work”) has proven success in its progressive, child-centered approach that “honors childhood as its own unique and important stage of development and validates the work of children, which is play—in diverse forms,” says Head of School Lia Woo (’88).


“We build upon a child’s natural curiosities,” she explains. “By observing and listening, our teachers develop rich, experiential learning experiences that naturally engage and stimulate a child’s quest for more learning.”  The school’s small-by-design community, says one student, enables students to realize how special it is “to rely on your teachers to know you well.”


Hanahau‘oli’s multi-age classrooms recognize that each child’s learning progresses at its own pace along a development path. Students marvel at being able to learn from older kids. “Then after you learn (from them), you get to reflect and teach others what you’ve learned,” says one student who experienced being both a follower and a leader. This interactive learning context also more closely mirrors the real world, leveraging how diverse social and collaborative relationships enrich our lives.


“By observing and listening, our teachers develop rich, experiential learning experiences that naturally engage and stimulate a child’s quest for more learning.” — Lia Woo, Head of School


Students are challenged with a creative, interdisciplinary and age-appropriate curriculum of social studies, the sciences and arts, grounded in direct experiences and genuine problems. Hands-on learning also encourages opportunities for students to cooperate and problem-solve with others.


“Our school routines and traditions celebrate each individual’s strengths while reinforcing the grounding idea that we each have a responsibility to self, others and the community,” says Woo. Working and communicating with parents, who are their child’s first educators, is at the core of promoting a close home-school connection for successful learning.


Key to progressive education is engaging children in authentic work. Fourth and fifth grade students recently discovered they can make a positive and real-life difference in the community. The students did research and learned about design and building working with architects and engineers to help create a functional and visually appealing plant propagation space for Mānoa Heritage Center, whose work includes the important perpetuation of native Hawaiian plants.


Hanahauoli School


While preparing students for an ever-changing world, Hanahau‘oli also values tradition and constancy in children’s lives. To commemorate the school’s 100th year, the entire school community came together to create a mosaic, titled “Joyful Embrace.” Each child, faculty and staff created a unique clay piece for the mosaic, while parents, grandparents and alumni cracked and laid tiles to hold the many pieces in place.


“A core value of our school community is celebrating the contributions of every child, parent, teacher and staff.  The mosaic is a lasting art piece to embody the joyous work of our school,” says Woo.


1922 Makiki Street, Honolulu, HI 96822  |  (808) 949-6461  |  Hanahauoli.org


Hanahauoli School