Students have outside time for sports and games, sledding, and barn chores.
Each group begins with a Morning Meeting to focus on community building and to orient for the day. We greet each other, exchange important news, share announcements, and discuss plans and issues that affect the group. Everyone gathers for an All School Meeting once a week.
Through the year, we engage in a series of intensive inquiries in the areas of science and social studies. Each inquiry provides a focus for learning about an aspect of the world in depth, and gives us a context for developing critical thinking, communication skills and creativity. We integrate academic study, hands-on projects, field experiences, meeting with knowledgeable and interesting people, literature, and the visual and performing arts, to kindle curiosity and foster understanding.
Science explorations include an emphasis on developing observational skill, precision in data collection, and making connections. Students conduct research and experiments, discuss and share their learning. Students often draw what they are observing to heighten perception. Some time is spent each week discussing current issues in science. A given day might find the students collecting data from our weather station, observing the aerodynamics of an insect wing under the compound light microscope, learning about the energetic demands of migratory birds while banding, or studying the chemistry of composting in the school garden.
Social studies explorations focus on historic time periods and social issues. Students read a range of information sources, primary sources and historical fiction. They conduct interviews, dramatize and re-enact key moments and time periods, create sketches, murals and handwork, visit field sites and museums. Students write historical fiction of their own, and describe and interpret their learning in writing. The group engages in much discussion of ideas and issues.
The arts are largely integrated into projects in the content areas. Students draw to heighten observation and express understanding. Various art forms are taught and explored in connection with specific projects. Examples include water color wax resist painting to portray animals they are studying, building hanging wooden bird mobiles, rendering hand drawn maps in a social studies project, creating Rube Goldberg type contraptions while studying physics, or developing a play as part of a language arts project. Workshops in the arts are also offered regularly as part of our Wednesday Workshops. Examples of arts workshops include screen printing, jazz improvisation, mask making, drawing, and environmental sculpture.
Elementary students learn arithmetic, geometry and pre-algebra while engaging in both group and individual activities. New skills are taught at the beginning of each class and then practiced and applied to real life situations. Students learn to communicate using the language of math. Computational fluency is developed through regular practice and review of skills. Content and exercises are pulled from the Bridges program and supplemented with a variety of math resources. Science class often provides data for use in our math class. Projects such as the school garden, construction in the outdoor classroom, and planning for trips, provide opportunities for the students to apply their math learning to real life problems.
We sit down and eat together, then upper elementary students head outside. Common activities at recess include playing various sports and games, checking on the chickens, working on a building project in the outdoor classroom, creating forts, woodworking in the yurt, sledding on the hill and skating on our ice rink in winter, climbing and swinging on the play structures, helping in the garden, and undertaking whatever else students invent to do.
Students explore conversational Spanish and study grammar and vocabulary. We focus as well on Spanish speaking cultures and world issues.
Each younger student in the school is paired with an older student and given support to form a yearlong relationship. Partners work with each other on projects, read together and play games.
We play sports and games that develop physical stamina, strength and coordination, and which encourage cooperation and friendly competition. During the winter months we sled on our hill out back, skate on our ice rink, and ski (downhill, snowboarding, and cross-country) one afternoon a week.
Students choose between participation in a music ensemble group that emphasizes improvisation and musical conversation, and singing in a chorus.
On Wednesday afternoons, all students participate in workshops that typically last about four weeks. Students give input into ideas for the workshops, and choose among workshops for each session. Workshops are offered in the arts, handcrafts and living arts, outdoor adventure, and other experiential learning opportunities. Many workshops take place outside. In the winter, the whole school participates in our ski program on Wednesday afternoons.
Students help to clean and take care of the school, do barn chores including care of the chickens, help maintain the outdoor classroom, and work in the garden. Some of these jobs are included in workshops and projects. Others are attended to at the end of each day. We involve students in care of the school to develop ownership, personal responsibility, respect and stewardship.
Upper elementary students are expected to read for a minimum of 30 minutes each day at home. We also give about 30 - 40 minutes combined of math, writing and word study homework.
At the end of each trimester, students share their learning with the school community, including other students and their parents. This takes the form of oral presentations, visual displays, multi-media presentations, writing, art, handwork, and the performance of dramatic skits, poetry and dialogues.
For a week during mud-season each year we turn every classroom into an art studio and immerse in the arts. Students choose week-long morning and afternoon workshops to pursue. Recent Arts Week offerings have included improvisational theater, small boats, mural painting, chair design, wood carving, the art of South American cooking, pottery, pack-basket weaving, African drumming, and trumpet.
Each fall we undertake an overnight camping trip with the upper elementary group. We hike in the Green Mountains or the Adirondacks, and camp in lean-tos in a campground near the area of our hike. We plan the food and activities with the students. These trips help foster a love of the outdoors, build physical confidence, develop independence and flexibility, and create a group bonding that provides a strong social foundation for the community of the class.
Each spring we undertake a cultural trip with the upper elementary group that ties into the year’s social studies focus. Recent trips have included Montreal in connection with a world studies focus; Boston and Sturbridge Village as part of a study of the American Revolutionary period and early 1800s; and Plimoth Plantation while studying pre-contact New England native peoples and the contact period.