We begin with our youngest students in pre-kindergarten by familiarizing them with learning through their visual, auditory, and kinesthetic channels. Students progress to reading and writing in kindergarten using the Orton-Gillingham approach. This multi-sensory approach provides direct and explicit instruction that allows all students the foundation and strategies needed to decode our language. It is a method that de-mystifies our language into recognizable and predictable patterns, making reading and spelling attainable for all students regardless of their learning differences.
Direct instruction in these patterns continues throughout first and second grade, supplemented with lessons and practice in reading comprehension of age-appropriate material. Beginning in third grade, our students also begin to explore books as works of literature. In small book groups, they practice text analysis and literary interpretation, learning about elements such as diction, imagery, point of view, tone, and genre. In addition, these books provide a platform for free and open discussion about important social and historical issues, giving our students a chance to share their developing point of view.
Spelling and Vocabulary
Our spelling program, Words Their Way, utilizes a multisensory, sequential, phonics-based approach with explicit instruction in spelling patterns and rules. Our students enrich their vocabulary through Wordly Wise, a program that incorporates reading comprehension and morphology into the study of words.
We provide formal instruction in the rules of grammar and punctuation in order to give our students the tools they need to communicate and express themselves effectively. We approach grammar with the goal of teaching students to write stronger sentences, which leads to better proofreading and editing skills as well as stronger overall writing in all subject areas. We begin with parts of speech and basic sentence structure in the first and second grades, and progress to a more detailed study of complex sentence structure and the rules governing composition.
We begin incorporating writing into the daily routine of school from the beginning. Our youngest students free-write daily in journals, gaining comfort with the process of letting thoughts and feelings flow easily into words. At the same time, we begin to show our students how to mold those words into a structure. In first and second grades, our students focus on writing effective sentences that provide the information required in a clear yet interesting way. By third grade, our students advance to constructing different types of paragraphs, using a systematic, step-by-step process that gives them a dependable pattern to follow and expand upon.
We teach cursive handwriting beginning in pre-kindergarten. We believe in the importance of writing by hand in the early years, as it improves perception of letters and contributes to better reading and spelling. Cursive writing supports the development of fine motor skills in young children. It allows students to write fluently, with fewer stops and starts, so that they are able to develop an automaticity in the physical act of writing. This automaticity lets students focus on the content and structure of their writing earlier in the learning process without being hindered by learning different handwriting skills.
In the first years of schooling, we focus on establishing a strong understanding of the basics of numbers and arithmetic. Using oral practice, games, manipulatives, and written exercises, we work on number recognition and writing, counting, sequencing, classifying, sorting, and simple addition and subtraction.
The foundation of our elementary math curriculum is Math Mammoth, a curriculum which emphasizes conceptual understanding and presents the material in a logical sequence. Math Mammoth's student workbook introduces each new concept with simple and clear explanations, instructions, and examples. A variety of types of practice problems, including review, follow each new concept. This format allows us to tailor our math curriculum to strengthen students' particular challenges so that they can achieve mastery of a concept before proceeding to the next. In addition, we utilize manipulatives, games, and partner and small group activities to build confidence and strengthen skills.
Latin is one of the components of a classical education, and an important buttress in our language arts study. Since Latin is the foundation of the English language, it reinforces students' understanding of vocabulary and grammar and helps with the later acquisition of the technical vocabulary of the sciences. In Lower School, we use games, songs, stories, manipulatives, and interactive spoken Latin to teach basic vocabulary. Beginning in third grade, our students are introduced to more advanced grammar concepts, such as morphology, gender, and adjective agreement, in order to prepare them for future study of Latin grammar.