Did you know that pre-K through Grade 3 accounts for more than a third of a child’s entire elementary and secondary education? Coupled with our understanding of the brain’s intense rate of development from birth to age 8, it is hardly surprising that these years are seen as a distinct and critical learning period—one that requires our best thinking and resources in order to bring a child’s cognitive, emotional and social abilities to fruition.
Given that children have such tremendous inner potential, the question is: What do we want them to know? The simple answer, if you could call it that, is encapsulated in the curriculum below, which outlines the skills children need to master. Yet the question also touches on process, or learning how to learn, a theme the school promotes in the classroom daily. The process of “getting there” is what feeds a child’s anticipation, excitement and inner sense of accomplishment about learning; it is as important as skill mastery, memory and acquisition of knowledge. Process is the great adventure we call learning.
These are the foundational years, the years between 3 and 8 that will establish a child’s trajectory for all his or her future academic endeavors. At The Children’s School, we support the unfolding of children’s spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and introduce them to the full range of learning areas—literacy, math, science, social studies, art, music and movement—because only then can they discover their individual talents and interests. Our focus is always on the whole child, on nurturing all the “multiple intelligences” that Howard Gardner has identified, including emotional and social intelligence. Whether our students are working with friends to build a tower of blocks, singing Spanish songs or experimenting with computer coding, the opportunity to follow their passions will, we believe, help them grow into confident, purposeful and engaged adults. Because that is the true mission of The Children’s School: to create forever learners.
That low hum you hear in the classroom is the beautiful sound of children learning about language. All forms of communication are encouraged at the school, from listening and speaking to reading and writing. This makes for a language-rich and highly expressive atmosphere at the school, one that nurtures a child’s sense of confidence in what he or she has to say as well as in how it is said.
Listening and speaking skills are fostered every day through individual lessons, small-group activities and the school-wide gatherings known as “forum.” Children learn that listening is an important way to show respect for others and a good tool to help them learn and understand unfamiliar concepts. Spoken language is developed by providing students with good models as well as learning materials for building their vocabularies. The school is deliberate about creating a safe haven in the classroom so that children feel free to experiment and play with language in order to learn about the world around them.
The goal of the reading curriculum is a simple one: to inspire a love of reading and books. Younger children are introduced to the sounds that letters represent, which is the beginning of phonological awareness. Then lessons and materials promote the understanding that words are comprised of these individual sounds. To strengthen the association between sounds and letter symbols, children start to blend and segment sounds. Once they are able to blend and say the sounds of simple three-letter words, older children are given early-reader books. As they strengthen their ability to decode—to identify and pronounce a word by breaking down its sounds—and increase their vocabulary and comprehension, children are encouraged to read with greater accuracy and fluency. Throughout, students are exposed to fine literature.
Writing skills are introduced at the school by offering a variety of writing instruments and materials to younger students in small groups and during individual lessons. However, the mechanics of writing and the idea of using writing to convey ideas are kept separate at this point. When children are ready, they are introduced to writing workshop, where they learn that writing is purposeful and targeted to an audience. The writing program gives children practice in expressing themselves clearly through the written word.
The goal of our language arts program is for students to develop the skills to communicate their ideas, opinions and experiences effectively in oral and written form, and to appreciate the oral and written expression of others.
Math is as essential to our understanding and appreciation of how the world works, and our place within it, as the spoken and written word; it has been described as “the poetry of logic.” A practical and needed tool, math is also a language, a window to deciphering the physical world as well as the forces that govern it. It also teaches an important habit of mind—problem-solving—that is crucial for children to begin learning.
The Children’s School brings math to life by anchoring it in the concrete, the domain that young children can grasp most easily; at every turn the classroom offers opportunities and materials for the development of mathematical concepts. The curriculum has its roots in the work of Maria Montessori, a visionary in her insight that children are capable of understanding high-level mathematical concepts such as multiplication and division. Like Jean Piaget, she believed that young children learn best through the concrete, and she designed an array of learning materials that help develop mathematical thinking. Through manipulating and arranging blocks, beads and puzzles, children develop spatial awareness, pattern identification and grouping skills, and absorb concepts like place value.
As children’s understanding of math concepts becomes more secure, the school turns to elements of Singapore Math, which emphasizes inquiry and problem-based learning without sacrificing computational fluency. Throughout, students strengthen their problem-solving skills and practice using mathematical language to explain their reasoning. Areas of study include patterns and algebraic relationships, number sense and operations, statistics and probability, and geometry and measurement.
Sensory experiences are the basis of the child’s world between the ages of 3 and 8. Touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and smelling is the child’s way of learning and knowing from the time he or she is born. Is the color light or dark? Is the person tall or short? Does the shell feel smooth or rough to the touch?
Concentrated sensorial experiences, such as the ones provided in the school’s classroom, are the building blocks upon which the human intellect and creativity are constructed, particularly the development of spatial skills, visual memory and feats of imagination, whether in writing, music or art. Without this important foundation, learning becomes much more difficult later on, even sometimes delaying the arrival of higher-order thinking skills such as reasoning and abstraction.
Brimming with sensorial materials, the classroom invites children to explore them in an ordered and sequential way. Each material isolates the development of one sense and connects it to a specific, often more abstract, concept. For example, a child learns the idea of dimension by first feeling “thick” and “thin” materials with his or her hands. Similarly, children become acquainted with pencils, tracing paper and sandpaper letters of the alphabet long through they are formally introduced to formal language and writing.
The goal of the sensorial curriculum is to lead children through a measured progression of understanding: from the concrete to the abstract; from sense-memories of touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing to higher-order problem-solving skills and self-expression through words and images. Younger children gradually refine their powers of discernment—including visual discrimination, analysis and differentiation—through working with materials and activities that ask them sort, match, grade and pattern real objects from buttons to rough and smooth boards, from shells to cubes.
When they are developmentally ready, children then move on to activities of greater complexity such as Venn diagrams, the pattern box and analogies; these materials ask them to consider several variables when performing a task or to identify and classify things by identifying common characteristics of seemingly disparate objects. These exercises lay the groundwork for budding chess masters and Othello players, whom you will also see in the classroom.
Social Studies & Science
It is a fundamental need of all children to define who they are within the social fabric of family, community and the larger world. Honoring this need, The Children’s School helps children to study their place in the world.
Our students learn about their community, the State of Connecticut and the United States; gain an understanding of local and global geography with maps and globes; and study the basic structure of a democratic government. The social studies curriculum reinforces what children learn and have modeled for them every day in the classroom: the importance of respecting and valuing people and cultures. An integral part of this message is to nurture an awareness of the responsibilities they bear as members of a family, of a community and as citizens. To put this awareness into practice, the children participate in community outreach projects, starting at age 3 and continuing throughout their time at the school.
Is there a more winning combination than children and science? Children love to explore natural phenomena and use instruments like magnifying glasses or specimen cups for collecting samples, which are indispensable to their investigative work. Plus, science has the added bonus of being messy!
The goal of The Children’s School science curriculum is to give children a solid understanding of the physical world around them. Through hands-on experiments, children learn the scientific method: making a hypothesis or prediction, designing an experiment, collecting data, recording observations and forming a conclusion. The curriculum touches on all areas of science, from physics to chemistry, Earth science to biology. Scientific concepts are introduced such as hierarchies of organization, weather changes and systems, cause and effect, models, and scales and measurement. Careful emphasis is placed on problem solving and critical thinking as well as on assuring that each child begins to see the importance of asking questions and seeking out information.
For more than 50 years, students at The Children’s School have been exposed to the fundamentals of world languages, long before studies showed that the early years are the best time for children to learn a second language with ease. Now, with an abundance of scientific evidence to support our approach, the school is continuing its work in this area, offering not only Spanish throughout the day in the classroom but also optional after-school classes in Mandarin.
Studies that map the human brain show that by their first birthday, children have already developed sophisticated auditory maps that allow them to distinguish the sounds in their native tongue. Thus, if a child does not hear the sounds unique to any language (such as the high-pitched hi’s and merged rr/lls of Japanese), they will have greater difficulty learning that language later in life. All of this points to the need to start exposing children to a world language early instead of waiting until they are in junior high or high school. By then, for many students, it may be too late to learn. Equally important, exposure to a language other than English nurtures a child’s awareness of other cultures and builds an appreciation of differences.
All children are born with the potential to express themselves through art, whether through music and song, movement and dance, or colorful paint and earthen clay. Nurturing this potential early and often is crucial, especially in ways that free the child’s imagination. As we teach formal artistic concepts in painting or music or movement, the school remains committed to the idea that nothing should encumber a child’s experience of art as a means of self-expression and storytelling.
Creativity and personal expression are encouraged through open-ended activities in painting, collage, and sculpture, both in groups and in individual lessons. The joy of discovery through active and sustained involvement in a project is emphasized—not the end product or result. Basic principles of drawing, painting, collage and clay, as well as other methods and materials, are introduced; so are basic elements within each medium, such as line, color and light in painting or space, volume and texture in clay. The history of art is explored by introducing children to various painting and sculptures, visits to museums, and through art books and discussions.
With evidence to suggest that musicality is set by the age of 8, The Children’s School has made its music program stronger and more vibrant with each passing year. The school has incorporated the Kodály method, which uses singing—especially folk songs drawn from a child’s own linguistic heritage—as the groundwork for all musicianship.
Kodály is a sequential system of music instruction that features well-defined hierarchies of skills and concepts based on a child’s developmental readiness. Thus, music at The Children’s School is all about singing and listening to music daily, as children gather in groups to experience traditional and new songs with their voices and ears. Students also participate in groups to interpret musical selections, explore musical instruments and perform syllabic chants, which are rhymed poems that help with language development. The introduction of musical notation gives children the understanding that music possesses distinct, written characteristics that are similar to other languages. Most recently, the school began producing sing-along CDs that showcase the amazing musicianship of both its teachers and students.
Our teachers have also started integrating the Dalcroze approach into our music program. This technique encourages children to respond to musical performances with natural, instinctive gestures and movements, sharpening their understanding of rhythm, tempo, dynamics and style and helping them learn to improvise.
The movement program at The Children’s School fosters a positive self and body image in each child through a graduated series of physical challenges. Since children often learn by moving their bodies, the program provides structured opportunities to develop physical skills such as locomotion, stability and manipulations. This enables them to develop an understanding of movement concepts such as spatial awareness (where the body moves) and effort (how the body moves). The children are encouraged to have fun and to develop healthy habits. Over the past few years, yoga and dance been incorporated into our movement curriculum.
The Children’s School encourages children to approach the world as makers and creative problem-solvers, and since its earliest days has incorporated robotics into its curriculum. Our students work with blocks, Legos, motors and sensors to master foundational engineering concepts such as sturdy building and construction. Using programs like Logo and Scratch, they learn to program their creations to react to the environment by experimenting with sequences, repeat loops, variables and conditional branches. Robotics allows children to learn by doing and figure out how to construct and share personal projects. Students become artists, inventors and storytellers by exercising their design instincts and solving technical problems.
Technology is carefully and meaningfully integrated into all curricular areas. The School uses tested, researched-based apps and websites to hone critical thinking and problem-solving skills in several learning areas. Furthermore, our faculty is continually learning about technology in order to better observe and assess each child’s strengths and needs. With new communication tools, our teachers can share virtually all elements of a child’s development. Through video clips of a child reading and digitized artworks and writing samples, our teachers use one another’s expertise to find ways to support each child’s learning progress. The Children’s School was honored to be recognized with a Leading Edge in Technology award by the National Association of Independent Schools for its use of video portfolios to share with parents during conferences.
In everything it undertakes, the School models what it teaches children: the importance of kindness and respect for others. To promote an equitable, just, inclusive and compassionate community with its walls, and the virtue of responsible citizenship within the larger community, it asks teachers and students to give back to others. The School reaches out to its families as well as to community organizations in Fairfield County and, when a catastrophic situation arises in our own or another country, provides support across the globe.
The children learn about the values of community and the importance of giving back by visiting the elderly residents at neighboring care home, where they share their art, music and favorite books. Annually, the school community collects bedding, clothing and books for children living in shelters. In addition, the school participates in food drives throughout the year for the benefit of local food banks and donates Thanksgiving fixings during our alumni-run Turkey Drive.
Our culture of giving extends to an awareness of national and global issues.