As our world grows ever more complex, we believe that the focus of education must be on how to think rather than on memorizing a large number of specific facts. Thus in many instances, isolated facts within the topic of the curriculum are less important than the larger ideas embedded in the topic.
In this way, children who graduate from The Children's School are equipped with the critical thinking skills that help them become lifelong learners and problem solvers.
Our goal is to see that children become life-long readers. Many schools focus on isolated skills taught from basal readers. Our approach is to provide a wide variety of authentic reading materials available in the classrooms for children to explore. Adults read what they are interested in and this is no different for beginning and early readers. We want our children to come to books with interest and excitement in school as well as outside and throughout their lives.
Reading involves many layers of understanding, including phonemic awareness, flow, comprehension, point of view, and context. It is not until all of these skills are integrated into a child’s daily reading pattern that true reading occurs. Our goal is to support our students while they learn to integrate all the aspects of reading and to encourage their interest and excitement in reading.
The acquisition of reading skills occurs on a developmental spectrum that typically falls between ages 4 and 8. In the same way that children develop the skill to ride a two-wheeled bicycle, reading happens when there is readiness. Small class sizes at all grade levels allow us to keep a careful eye on each child to make certain he or she is demonstrating developmentally appropriate steps in their approach to reading.
Writing, like reading, develops in stages and over time. Our goal is to have children express themselves through writing with confidence, fluency, and accuracy. From kindergarten through eighth grade, we help children to critique writing and develop a sense of how a story is organized. We examine the elements of a story, such as setting, characters, problem, and solution. We ask the children to include these in their narrative stories at developmentally appropriate levels.
Our goal is to have the children create stories that are clear, interesting, and fully developed. We teach basic grammatical rules and spelling at developmentally appropriate levels. We do not require accurate spelling on first drafts or informal writing pieces. However, when we are using writing to communicate formally, such as final published books or a research report, we ask that they use accurate spelling and grammar.
We use a “writer’s workshop” model in which the children sit with peers or with a teacher to ensure all the elements of a story are present and appropriately developed. “Publishing” is a time when the child reads his or her completed work to classmates and gets positive feedback. These experiences provide powerful opportunities for children to define themselves as published authors and successful writers.
We do not want to limit a child’s capacity to share information via writing based upon the neatness of her or his handwriting. We use the “Handwriting Without Tears” books to provide children with opportunities to practice proper writing form. These books are introduced at all grade levels and offer an excellent opportunity for children to practice and refine their penmanship.
An integral piece of project-based learning is research. Small class sizes and lots of group discussions yield many questions and wonderful opportunities to “find out more.” We help children articulate their questions and identify sources for information. The culmination of research for a young student may be a few thoughts or pictures written down on paper or an idea shared orally with classmates. As students progress, they learn how to formulate questions, search for answers, organize the information they collect, and finally to present their analysis to others. Research reports are often illustrated and posted for the entire community to read. Our older students may present their findings in a variety of ways, including formal research papers, power point presentations, or short movies.
Our program promotes a deep conceptual understanding of mathematics, emphasizing the quality and quantity of connections children make with existing ideas. Our objective is to develop critical thinking and fluency in problem solving. We stress that there can be different paths towards the same answer and instill in children confidence in their own ability to problem solve in math.
Daily Number Routines. In each classroom, daily routines around numbers and mathematical thinking help children develop fluency and confidence. For example, children might be asked to share a “problem of the day” whose answer incorporates the day’s date. Younger children might say “6 plus 1 equals 7,” while older children might instead offer “49 divided by 7 equals 7.” Children benefit not only from creating their own equations, but also from hearing the equations other children create.
Students learn best when they make sense out of math concepts rather than just being shown the steps to follow. We utilize open-ended problems to allow for multiple entry points and solutions. We also utilize real-world problems wherever possible, including problems drawn from the classroom itself. Students are encouraged to collaborate in problem solving, sharing ideas and strategies. For example, second and third grade students studying geometry recently began by learning about geometric shapes and angles, creating designs and exploring the topic using manipulatives. This evolved into the creation of a quilt where the students worked together to identify the size of each finished square and then worked backward to calculate length, width, and perimeter of individual pieces. Working this way generated a deep understanding of geometry and geometric thinking, as well as a beautiful quilt that demonstrates the application of this knowledge.
We want students to explain their reasoning and share strategies. We create an environment where it is okay to make mistakes, as this is how we learn. Teachers respond to children’s articulation of math strategies in a non-evaluative manner, such as “how can we tell if your answer makes sense?” In this way children learn from each other and understand multiple strategies or perspectives in mathematical thinking.
Children are naturally curious about the things they see in the world around them, and we work to foster that curiosity. Our science program is inquiry-based, encouraging students to explore and create meaning for themselves as they develop skills of scientific inquiry and exploration.
Scientific knowledge is characterized by observations, empirical criteria, logical argument and skeptical review, leading to a body of accepted knowledge that is constantly modified as new information is received. It is an ongoing process of observing, hypothesizing, controlled testing, comparing results, evaluating and drawing conclusions, which may form the basis for a new hypothesis.
Children are introduced to the scientific method at each grade level in a developmentally appropriate way. For example, kindergarteners may open a pumpkin together, count the seeds, and then make drawings of their observations over several days as the pumpkin begins to decompose. Second and third grade students may investigate electricity and magnets by exploring questions like “What is electricity?” and “How does it work?” and “How do electricity and magnets work together?” Questions become the stepping off points for experiment design, research, and drawing conclusions for presentation in written reports.
Parent volunteers may lend their talents as well. In the past, a physician has helped our students dissect a sheep’s eye while a nutritionist has facilitated conversation about the effects of candy on the human body.
Cultivating an awareness of and a respect for nature is integrated throughout our curriculum. We are dedicated to teaching children about ways in which they can each contribute to creating a more eco-friendly environment via means such as renewable energy, recycling, composting and other subtle lifestyle changes that collectively impact our environment.
Outdoor Education is a formal presence in our curriculum where students spend time fully experiencing nature with all five senses. They learn about plants, animals, watersheds, geography, natural history, and how ecosystems work. Through visiting the same natural area (e.g. woods, dunes, prairies) multiple times throughout the year, students observe changes over time and season. They also learn about native (and invasive) animal habitats and the importance of maintaining natural areas.
Connections with these lessons are seen throughout the school. Active worm bins compost lunch scraps. Children then count, sort, and harvest rich compost throughout the year. The compost enriches an urban garden at the school planted by the children. First graders oversee a recycling project to sort, weigh, and track the school’s reusable waste papers and containers. Older students coordinate electronics recycling, which prompts questions about the safety and scope of recycling as well as the feasibility of living sustainability. In this context, a daily activity such as packing a healthy lunch in a reusable container isn’t only good for you, it’s also fun and feels right.
Here are downloadable information sheets (pdfs) on our curricular goals for each level and for our social justice curriculum: