A Day in the Life during the Lower School Years
As the sun rises above the evergreen trees, signaling a new day at Nature School, our 6 - 10 year old Oakers, known as the Bobcats and the Coyotes, 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 deep thinking, support multiple intelligences, and provoke conversation at Morning Meeting. The QOD is typically mathematical in nature, in preparation for the first core skills block of the day, Math Investigations, when students build their foundational skills 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, are used as documentation to display the children's learning from the beginning driving questions of the project to the end product and celebrated at seasonal Learning Expos.
Late morning is used for content area studies. Students experiment in Science Lab and develop their civic mindedness through WE Schools, a global community of changemakers empowering them to address social issues that they feel strongly about while "building the key social and emotional skills to be future-ready, confident global citizens." Both classes also look forward to their time in the Zen Den with our Social Emotional Facilitator to focus on better understanding our brains, how they work, and learning strategies to help us stay 'regulated.'
Other weekly experiences to support the creative spirits of our Lower School students include regular classes in the creative arts, both Music & Performing Arts and Visual Arts in the Studio. And, of course our week together would not be complete without a session of Forest School with small groups of explorers organized by the Middle School students comprised of students in Kindergarten through 8th grade, along with two guiding adults.
Alas, this very busy day isn't over yet for our elementary students. They return from Lunch and Free Play to settle into pillows and bean bags for read aloud with our Literacy Coach who moonlights as a local librarian so she brings books to life! This sets the tone for the last core skill block for the day- Literacy, which at the elementary level, utilizes the Daily 5 Framework and CAFE model to focus on Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Extend[ing] Vocabulary. Each season, we select novels for class discussion that highlight one of three anchor standards that connect to our core school values- Community (Fall,) Independence (Winter,) Creativity (Spring.) For writing, we access our creative selves through the Power of Pictures approach, which blends art, visual imagery and rich language to encourage our word choice for poetry, narratives, and personal response.
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.