A Day in the Life in the Elementary Years
As the sun rises above the evergreen trees, signaling a new day at Nature School, our elementary Oakers, known as the Foxes and the Bobcats, meet on the large field for a game of Gaga ball before the school bell rings from the Barn or a chance to warm themselves by the campfire on frosty mornings before saying goodbye to their parents. By the call of their class 'mascot,' they run to gather under the juniper tree signaling the beginning of a new day of learning. After singing some well loved Painted Oak favorites, bringing forth their love for jumping in puddles with ‘Happy Mud,’ or reviewing the afternoon's Enrichment offering with a made up song, they head into the wondrous open-air Outdoor Classroom. The log circle beckons for all to sit down, so Morning Meeting can begin by welcoming the day with a Mindful Moment, checking the class mailbox, and then reviewing the daily schedule so everyone knows what to expect. With minds settled and focused, community conversation begins through answering the Question of the Day. There is no one right answer to the QOD as it is meant to encourage connection, support multiple intelligences, and provoke conversation. It is typically mathematical in nature, as every day begins with Core Skills Workshop, a 75-minute block of time when students build their foundational skills outside through open-ended math games, numerical inquiry, as well as shared reading and writing.
With the gentle sound of the rain stick, students wrap up their math work for the morning, grab their snack if they are hungry, and gear up for a bit of unstructured outdoor play, climbing, balancing, free exploration and their all time favorite, gaga ball. This time plays a crucial part in enhancing social awareness and communication skills.
As the children return to their Outdoor Classroom they become aware of the multiple provocations set out on the picnic tables and log stumps with the purpose to provoke further thought or predictions into the topic of study for the day. They serve as an introduction to, or a continuation of, a unit of study that has arisen from the student’s interests. Since stewardship is central to our school mission, many projects have a driving question or questions that strive to fulfill a community need. These studies take advantage of the people, the resources, the seasons and the landscape around us. Throughout the course of the year, these place-based units of study touch upon three essential questions; How do animals work? How do plants work? How does the world work?
After a lively group discussion meant to encourage the students to generate answers and theories among themselves, and listening to a book or a minilesson, the children set forth to work individually or in teams depending on their interests within the central group topic at hand. Unbeknownst to them, the children are given the opportunity to include age appropriate skills in a hands-on manner as they develop their ideas and culminating projects. Literacy in the form of writing, comprehension and reading along with math topics such as measurement amongst others are used to create a cohesive outcome that displays all their acquired knowledge. These culminating projects, known as a Story of Learning in Kindergarten, and Guided Explorations in 1st, are used as documentation to display the children's learning from the beginning driving questions of the project to the end product.
It has already been a packed morning of learning, conversation, trial-and-error, fresh air, and inquiry. For the remainder of the morning, students look forward to indoor lunch with younger friends returning from Forest School, and another block of unstructured play on the Sport Court- chalk drawing, Four Square, fairy houses under the trees, and worm searching are frequent favorites.
Feeding our creative souls are first on the agenda for the afternoon. For the Foxes, this looks like walking over to the two Ateliers - the Art Studio and the Loose Parts Workshop. Here our youngest Primary School students provide leadership to the full-day Forest Kindergarteners. Together, they collaborate on creative endeavors and tap into new interests that may provide further inspiration for ongoing project work. For our Bobcats, they attend a different Enrichment class each day of the week such as art, science, tinkering or world languages.
Alas, this very busy day isn't over yet for our 1st - 2nd graders. They return from Enrichment to find their teachers, along with the Upper Primary teacher, eagerly waiting for them to jump into the day's Peer Collaboration and Coaching session. This last hour of the day provides Primary students time to work together around common interests in the maths and humanities, time to share progress made on their long-range projects and get suggestions for next steps, time to discuss the latest chapter in their book club book, as well as time to provide feedback within their writers' group.
Rounding out the day is Closing Meeting, a time to reflect on the day and for each student to share his/her ‘Rose, Bud and Thorn,' a favorite moment, a least favorite moment, and hopes for the next day.