First grade marks an exciting transition in childhood and our curriculum acknowledges the growing capacities of children at this age. Our first graders are welcomed by the 8th graders in a tree-planting ceremony on the first day of school, and this tree becomes their responsibility to care for throughout their journey. First graders are often eager to learn, eager to demonstrate how capable they have become, and look forward to the challenges of each new day.
Academically, we ask more of them than we did just a year before in Kindergarten because of this new interest and level of readiness, but this is done through reverence, rhythm, and relationship - the 3 "R's" of the lower grades.
Reading and writing are introduced through story, whole-body engagement and independent writing. We use Roadmap to Literacy as our curricular foundation, but teachers work within this framework to meet the skill level and needs of each class and student. We ask students to create their own work through their own unique experience with the stories and lessons presented, rather than work from handouts and copied materials. These "main lesson books" demonstrate progress through writing and illustration, and are a running record of each student's accomplishments.
Math is taught in a similar way - by building a relationship to the meaning of numbers and observing how they work together. Story provides the foundation from which to learn the four operations and numerical patterns. We use an approach laid out by Jamie York Math, and this recognizes that students learn best and are most engaged when they are actively taking part in the discovery of math. Again, whole-body learning is emphasized and our goal is to not only build skill, but to foster curiosity and interest on which to build learning in later years.
Themes in first grade include seasons and nature, fairy and folk tales from around the world, and learning to care for our classroom and each other. All of these emphasize the "one-ness" that we are all a part of - in our class, in our community, and in our natural world. We all have parts to play and jobs to do, and doing it together makes it fun and meaningful.
On Being Human - Foibles and Virtues
From the foundations of Grade One, we move into the nuanced year of second grade. Here we see students start to practice judgement and see the world with a stronger sense of right and wrong. The curriculum of this year gives them many examples of individuals who have used skills to better the world around them or to serve others, as well as people who stand out as examples of kindness, generosity, and understanding. This is contrasted with stories of characters who make mistakes, learn lessons, and help to point to the duality that lives in each of us.
Language Arts continues in much the same way as it did in Grade One, with the expansion of phonics skills, reading our own writing as well as the writing of others, and experimenting with new ways of recalling stories in the group.
Second grade math is also a deepening of the the skills introduced in Grade One - fluidity in working between all four processes, mental math, story math (word problems), and movement-based activities are all part of this year.
The theme of human nature is told through world legends and fables so that students are given an opportunity for self-examination and self-recognition without explicit instruction. For example, it is easy to recognize both our strengths and challenges in a story such as the Fox and the Hare, and students use these tales to fine-tune their moral compasses throughout the year. Nature stories and a continued connection to the seasonal rhythms around us provide further content for observation and engagement.
Putting Down Roots
"Firmly on the earth I stand..." is the beginning line of a well-loved autumn song, and nowhere is this feeling more true than in Grade Three. In this middle year of the lower school experience, children are beginning to experience their individuality, and the curriculum is designed to support that exploration.
Using the guiding framework of the Hebrew legends, students deepen their reading and writing skills by retelling and reflecting upon the stories they hear. Cursive writing is introduced in Grade Three, which is an exciting step toward "growing up" and taking pride in their finished work. Both choral and independent reading and recitation are practiced and this gives students an opportunity to experience themselves as well as continue to be supported by belonging to their group.
Mathematics, like much of our curriculum in Grade Three, becomes practical in nature. While previous skills are practiced and times tables are introduced, new subjects such as time and measurement give students the opportunity to understand and engage with the world around them in a different way. Often a class building project - perhaps a small shed, garden beds, or benches - offers the opportunity to work together and use our new learning to be of service to the community.
This theme of practical skills weaves itself throughout the third grade year; not only through story, but in blocks that are unique to this grade. Farming, food preservation, fiber studies, and traditional skills are introduced to support the students' growing sense of independence. We also study shelters, both traditional and modern, to consider why they are built the way they are and how people have adapted to the places in which they live -which is just about anywhere! When we are certain of our ability to exist in the world, we can step more confidently into it.
Forging a Path
The world around us is a wide and wonderful place - and fourth graders are eager to go out and conquer it! (Often in a very loud way)...but for all of their larger-than-life qualities, they still want us to know that they value home and want to be able to return there whenever the seas get stormy.
We introduce Norse legends and other similar cultural mythologies to not only meet that boisterous energy with a "like cures like" approach, but also because these stories contain plenty of lessons and wisdom behind the drama and humor. Character descriptions, theatrical writing, and verse are added to our writing skill repertoire, while reading character parts encourages awareness around inflection and pace.
Grade Four is the year of fractions in math, and this is again done through hands-on experience. Students enjoy cutting just about anything if it can be eaten after - apples, pie, pizza, dividing a gallon of fresh cider - and they rarely tire of new ideas. The times tables are further strengthened this year, and multi-step problems offer greater challenge.
Blocks unique to fourth grade include Zoology and Local Geography. The intentionality behind these blocks is found in the idea of moving out from what is familiar. We have spent the first three years learning about ourselves and our place in the world, and now we are ready to look at New Hampshire (and, more broadly, a bit about New England) and learn to see how people have interacted with this place over time. Likewise, we begin formal science studies with Zoology because the animal kingdom is the closest to ourselves. Sometimes called the "Human and Animal" block, we use defining characteristics of animal groups to teach us more about ourselves - what we share and yet how we are different. Field trips throughout the year provide curriculum experiences, while also allowing fourth graders to explore the world around them.
Coming Into Balance
Often called the "Golden Age" of childhood, Grade Five offers a unique opportunity for students as they embark on their final year of elementary school. It is not unusual for them to reflect back on their previous years and offer unexpected insight and clarity. They finally see how it all comes together, and they are ready for what lies ahead.
Poetry, composition, fictional and report writing, and summary are all important elements of Language Arts in fifth grade. Students are also given independent reading books for several blocks, which are then discussed in class and used for writing assignments.
Fifth grade math offers both a sense of accomplishment and the enjoyment of challenge. New topics for this year include the Metric System, decimals, and - everyone's favorite - freehand Geometry. Puzzles and games play a bigger part in skill work, and the work of the previous four years is solidified to ensure a strong foundation for moving into middle school.
The theme of expansion can be found in the Fifth Grade blocks: Ancient Civilizations, Botany, and North American Geography. We broaden our view to another level beyond where we were in fourth grade, yet use the same perspectives to see where we find similarities and differences. How are we like and yet different from the plant world? How does living in New Hampshire feel similar and different from the midwest, or even Canada? By taking a step back to India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece, we use history and culture to look at the development of humanity and how we have come to where we are now. A traditional Greek olympic pentathlon is a culminating event of the year which students work hard to prepare for. This is not like the Olympics of today, rather students are asked to aim for personal bests, and to value good form and sportsmanship over winning. It is often noted as a favorite memory long into their adult years, and offers a great way to bring the community together to celebrate.