Kindergarten is viewed as a unique transition year between preschool and grade school. Many elements of our Reggio Emilia inspired preschool program are continued in the Kindergarten year including student-directed investigations and documentation. In addition, fundamental reading, writing, and math skills are introduced into the curriculum using a hands-on, individualized approach. Kindergarteners participate in Spanish, art, music, outdoor education and farm and garden classes with specialists in these subject areas.
In the combined first and second grade class, students are inspired and carefully guided in learning to read using a unique combination of whole language and phonics-based programs. Specifically, TVCS uses strategies outlined by award winning author and reading expert Kathy Collins in her book Growing Readers. This proven program employs a daily independent reading workshop that not only teaches children how to read but also shows them why to read. This balanced approach to literacy also includes shared reading, “working with words”, interactive read-aloud, current events, and much more to ensure that all students are actively engaged in the reading process. Written communication is also practiced and refined every day using carefully planned writing workshops combined with the innovative Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.
First and second grade is when students begin the context-based Math Investigations program and practice and perfect the foundational skills of math using real world scenarios. While creative and applied language arts and math dominate the morning time, afternoons are spent on project-based learning that exposes the children to world geography and the social and natural sciences. For example, a recent project had first and second graders using multiple media sources, community resources, and field trips to investigate what it was like in the “wild west” and how it is different from contemporary life in Teton Valley.
During third and fourth grade, students begin to make the transition from seeing their world very concretely to having an understanding of more abstract concepts. In language arts, students investigate and discuss literary concepts and themes through age-appropriate novel studies, but also continue “working with words” and spelling practice. The Step Up to Writing program is used in a writing workshop format to expose students to the different genres of writing while helping them refine and practice their own creative writing skills. Additional emphasis is placed on practicing and perfecting the art of asking good questions and developing strong oral communication and presentation skills. The Math Investigations program is continued in third and fourth grade, combining direct instruction with small math groups that allow students to progress at their own pace.
Afternoons are dominated by hands-on, student-directed studies that integrate geography, science, and social studies using project-based learning. Teachers help define broad questions and/or problems, and students work collaboratively to come up with ways to research, investigate, synthesize and present their discoveries and solutions. Students in third and fourth grade, who have been studying Japan, recently researched natural disasters and emergency preparedness after hearing about the tsunamis in Japan. Their culminating assignment was to produce instructional videos for fire and earthquake emergency protocol at TVCS. In the process of completing their projects, students also hone their organizational and research skills, develop better communication with their peers and adults, and often work within their community while seeing the positive effect of their work.