How Our Curriculum Works

We follow an emergent, place-based curriculum, which allows teachers to create meaningful learning experiences based on what students are interested in and motivated to study and what their local environment and community have to offer. Emergent curriculum emphasizes project-based learning, learning through inquiry, problem-solving, while place-based education emphasizes learning that is rooted in deeply interacting with local ecology, community, and culture.

Our teachers begin the year with a planned framework for on-going projects that can take many forms and directions based on the interests, experiences, and skill levels of the students in their classes. From observing and working closely with the children, the teachers come to understand students' individual interests and skill levels. Using curricular standards as a guide, teachers then collaborate to create educational experiences for children that further their knowledge and help them develop important skills. Teachers also work to document and share this learning, making it visible to the students, their families, and the wider community.

These children are studying the birds that visit the feeder right outside the window. Using a graph, they keep careful records of which birds visit, comparing and looking for patterns over time, giving them meaningful practice in math and science. Literacy and art are also incorporated as they study the various species in detail and represent important distinctions via drawings that are matched to the written name. This project began from a child's simple interest in the birds outside and could be expanded further to include citizen science, migration, or nest-building.

Example Curricular Projects

  • Cycles & Seasons of the Natural World:

Children will explore in depth various cycles of the natural world such as seasons, darkness & light, life cycles of plants & animals, migration, hibernation, decay, etc. They will investigate the natural world around them and document the ways these cycles intersect and affect our lives.

  • Book-Making & Messages:

Students will explore the ways they can use writing to communicate with others, to represent important ideas or memories, and to explore their thinking on new topics. We will focus on understanding why--not just how--we write, giving extra attention to developing students' motivation to learn writing. Students will be encouraged to communicate their ideas, interests, & thoughts with one another in writing through exchanging messages, stories, poems, and information. They will also use writing in concert with other methods of representation to explore and communicate their thinking and learning on topics of interest and study. Students will be additionally encouraged to expand their thinking on what it can mean to “write” and to find intriguing and divergent ways to create writing, words, and letters using more than pen, pencil, and paper.

  • Belonging & Creating Community:

Students will explore what it means to belong and what it means to create a community with the goal of intentionally creating a respectful and inclusive school culture, helping us to define our values of mutual respect, kindness, inclusion, and diversity. To that end, we will work towards understanding and appreciating our unique differences. They will consider questions such as: How can we make sure that everyone is valued and heard? How can we make sure everyone is engaged? Who is included in “everyone”? What does it mean to belong to a community and to a place? How can we work together as a community and as individuals? What are the responsibilities of a community member to the community and what are the responsibilities of the community to individual members?

  • Material Study

A focused, in-depth study on a single material (e.g. clay, wire, paint, wool, etc.) that encourages children to become expert at representing their thoughts and ideas through that medium. This project encourages: skill in using artistic material, the development of symbolic thought and representational thinking, creativity and divergent thinking, fine motor development, and literacy development through the development of representational thought.

These long-term projects create an organizing thread through several smaller related projects and inquiries and can follow interesting and unexpected paths based on the interests, needs, and skills of the particular children involved. Teachers plan for these projects by first considering the interests and needs of the individual children in their class. They then use their knowledge of child development and state standards to help children develop particular skills within the framework of the long-term project or inquiry.