Upper Elementary Level Program
Our upper elementary group is a multi-age 4th through 6th grade class. The group shares a home base room and core teachers. During the day they move through the building for various classes and work with all of the teachers. The upper elementary group integrates with the rest of the school before the start of their Morning Meeting, and at recess, weekly All School Meeting, Wednesday Workshops and Mentors.
Students have free time inside or outside for games, sports, projects, talking or reading.
8:40 Morning Meeting
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, sing, and discuss plans and issues that affect the group. Everyone gathers for an All School Meeting once a week.
9:00 Language Arts
10:15 Science and Social Studies and the Arts
Through the year, we engage in a series of inquiries in the areas of science and social studies. The upper elementary group spends one quarter of the year with a daily science focus, then switches to social studies for the next quarter, and so on. Each inquiry provides a focus for learning in depth about an aspect of the world, 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 observing the aerodynamics of an insect wing under the compound light microscope, learning about the energetic demands of migratory birds while banding, studying the chemistry of composting in the school garden, or creating projects to explore different forms of energy.
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.
12:30 Lunch and Recess
We sit down and eat together, then head outside. Common activities at recess include playing various sports and games, working on a building project in the outdoor classroom, creating a village on the edge of the woods, sledding on the hill and skating on our ice rink in winter, woodworking in the yurt, climbing and swinging on the play structures, helping in the garden, and undertaking whatever else students invent to do.
1:30 Independent Reading
Students read for a half hour daily at school, and a minimum of a half hour daily at home (many students read beyond the half hour at home). We want reading to become a habit and a way of life. During independent reading time, a teacher confers individually with students, and tracks book choices and progress.
Mondays: Sports & 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 undertake day long wilderness adventures, exploring on snow shoes or yak tracks, or cross country skiing.
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. Partners sit together at All School Meeting and other special gatherings, and pair up during field trips for the whole school. These relationships are significant for both the older students—who are developing leadership skills and the ability to empathize with and support others—and the younger students—who appreciate the security and nurture that having an older student look out for them and take an interest in them provides. Older-younger partners often seek each other out each day.
Inspired by the Chautauqua movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s that was based on the concept of life-long learning, we invite people from the area who are doing interesting things to come in and give an interactive presentation, or we go and visit them.
Students choose between participation in a music ensemble that emphasizes improvisation and musical conversation, and choral singing.
Wednesday Workshops 1:30 – 2:45M
On Wednesday afternoons, students all participate in workshops that typically last for a four-week session. Teachers, some older students, and community members lead these. Students choose a workshop among those that are offered for each month-long session. Workshops are offered in the arts, handcrafts and living arts, outdoor adventure, and other experiential learning opportunities. Many workshops take place outside.
Students help to clean and take care of the school, 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.
Every student is expected to read for a minimum of a half hour each day for homework. Upper elementary students additionally have 30 – 40 minutes combined of math and writing. We find that homework enables a depth of learning and an ownership of learning that invigorates our students’ experiences. We give homework that relates directly to what we are doing during the school day, and homework that has clear meaning and purpose. We work with students to develop homework that they can manage independently.
Sharing of Learning
Students periodically share their learning with the school community, including other students and the parents. This takes the form of oral presentations, visual displays, projects, multi-media presentations, writing, art, handwork, and the performance of short plays, poetry and dialogues.
Arts Immersion Week
For a week during mud-season in March each year we turn every classroom into an art studio and immerse in the arts. Students choose among weeklong morning and afternoon workshops. Recent Arts Week offerings have included short plays, portrait drawing, Japanese culture, video making, sewing with felt, fashion design, small boats & whirligigs, the art of Colombian cooking, pottery and woodworking.
Wilderness & Cultural Trips
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 tents and 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 resilience, 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.