Students at Fieldston Lower are curious learners who are intensely interested in the world around them. We feed that curiosity through experiential learning that utilizes Fieldston’s expansive and lush Riverdale campus to celebrate the environment and engage young children in the social studies and science work that forms the core of the curriculum.
At the same time, we recognize children as social beings who need to build a community with their peers and the adults in their lives, embracing the multiple perspectives that a diverse population of students and faculty bring into our school. We strive to ensure that the climate in our classrooms invites collaboration, thoughtful dialogue, and mutual respect by highlighting literature, songs, and art that celebrate world cultures and languages.
We encourage families to share these customs and traditions. We believe that our educational approach leads children to both wisdom and responsibility. Our goal is to develop in children an ethical sense of what it means to be a positive member of an inclusive and diverse democratic society, where care for the community and for the environment go hand in hand.
The environment is a major component of school life in PreK. Through outdoor play, class trips, and science projects, children discover the wonders of the world around them. The curriculum is designed to offer students rich, varied experiences with language and math.
Language arts occur within the daily activities of the classroom as children build listening skills, phonemic awareness, and oral language. Engaging their innate creativity and imagination, children explore mathematical ideas through block-building and natural opportunities to sort, count, and use logic.
Children in this grade study the development of the monarch butterfly. They use emerging literacy and numeracy skills to write, read, and record the changes that they see during this study. Language arts occur within the daily activities of the classroom as children build listening skills, phonemic awareness, and oral language.
A study of the architecture of bridges and the boats that ply this area’s waters allows students to use scientific principles to understand how people stay connected through modes of transportation. Kindergarteners also learn about the neighborhood around the school, exploring what is necessary in a community and who provides these services. In math, children begin to develop number sense and gain an understanding of the importance of mathematics in their lives.
Like the butterfly study in kindergarten, the first-grade bird study connects our students to other living creatures in their midst. This study enables children to develop their understanding of the similarities and differences in species. In first grade, the language arts program focuses on skill development, working with an Orton-Gillingham approach to phonics.
Spelling and literature work is intertwined with the bird study. Students explore a variety of forms of writing, including narrative accounts, responses to literature, journal writing, and informational writing. Math is experienced in realistic and relevant contexts through integrating data from other curricular areas. After‐school math support begins in first grade.
In second grade the social studies curriculum is centered on the child, the family, and the school. It is a flexible curriculum that builds upon the diversity of the school and the surrounding community, keeping the mission of our school and the philosophy of our founder, Felix Adler, as a guideline. In addition, children study the history of ECFS, relating it to schools of the past and schools today. This runs parallel to the ongoing study of the Hudson River, which lasts through the year. Students interact with the river through sailing, seining, and fishing.
They also integrate language arts, math, and science skills into a research project, distinguishing and classifying fish and sea creatures and using their knowledge in a child-created interactive museum. By second grade, writing instruction involves vocabulary building, parts of speech, capitalization, punctuation, and sentence writing, and reading becomes more literature-based, with students experiencing different genres, from historical fiction to biographies.In math, facility with mental math and estimation, building blocks upon which all other mathematical learning will be constructed, is emphasized. Key elements of the math program in second grade include critical thinking and problem-solving skills, organization and communication of ideas, and collaboration. Starting in second grade, students can work on an online summer math program.
In the third grade, students study the Eastern Woodland People. This study is supplemented throughout the year by trips to a recreated Lenape village, a hike through Inwood Park, a winter visit to Greenbrook Nature Sanctuary, and a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, among others. This provides the groundwork for an understanding of culture, practices, and beliefs and how geography, climate, and human and natural resources influence the adaptation and survival of people. Various hands-on projects in the classroom, such as painting murals, the making of a wigwam, and the construction of a model of Inwood Park, provide the children with creative opportunities to work both individually and cooperatively. Their experiences are expanded in Social Studies Workshop, where they sew tunics and make baby dolls. In woodshop they make cradle boards, canoes, and pump drills. In writer’s workshop the children create stories in the third person as well as record events and trips.
The science curriculum closely parallels the seasons, and the students plant vegetables, collect maple syrup, and dry fruit. In reading, children explore fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, poetry, plays, non-fiction, and articles and write about them to demonstrate recognition of story elements and support summarization. In math, students work on activities to acquire needed fluency with math facts and use iPads to produce and store some of their work. Calculators are used, when appropriate, as are computer applications to model data, visualize concepts, understand relationships, and practice skills.
The fourth grade social studies curriculum is an in-depth study of the Pilgrims and New Amsterdam. Students begin to understand what life was like for people arriving in the “New World.” The students participate in experiential learning with a trip to Harriman State Park, where they are divided into three groups: the cooks, who will find food in the woods and cook it; the shelter builders, who will build a temporary shelter for the group to live in until a permanent site is located; and the explorers, who map the area to decide on the best location for a permanent village. Students also spend a day and a night at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts to reenact life as a Pilgrim. Each student does a final research report on one colonial craft or trade.
Starting in fourth grade, Fieldston Lower uses a Comfort Group model for assigning math groups. After a series of self‐evaluation exercises, students consider their learning styles and their preferred setting (large group, small group) and then select the pace at which they feel most comfortable learning. Students may move from one Comfort Group to another based on the unit and their experience within it. In language arts, children learn to appreciate different genres of literature by responding to text through illustrations, webs, diagrams, graphic organizers, and writing. They continue to develop note-taking and research skills in conjunction with the themes of the social studies program. In writing, students learn to express their ideas clearly, revise their work, and develop editing skills to improve their mechanics.
Children in the fifth grade focus almost entirely on the Middle Ages through a multicultural perspective. The children begin learning about European culture through a study of the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and the Normans. The children become familiar with various ancient cultures such as the Kingdom of Benin, China, Japan, the Aztecs, and the Incas. A culminating project, the annual medieval feast, has the students write and perform plays based on the various cultures that they have studied. In reading, fifth graders begin the year with poetry, which leads to memoir writing and culminates in literature circles where the entire class reads the same book.
Students learn to incorporate the literary devices they have been encountering in their reading into their writing, and special emphasis is placed on story structure, note-taking, composing structured paragraphs, and essay forms. In fifth grade, math assessments occur through homework, classroom work, quizzes, and tests, and students use laptops to produce and store some of their work. Children write, perform, and produce Mathcasts as a way to enhance and clarify their understanding of mathematical concepts presented in the classroom, as well as to engage them in an activity that requires effective communication skills and creativity.
The art program at Fieldston Lower is exceptionally rich, with multiple opportunities at each grade level for ceramics, painting and drawing, and multimedia sculpture. The challenges in each of these media are developed sequentially, with technical and interpretative skills increasing at each level. The art studio is a place for personal exploration, with a balance of individual and collaborative projects relating to the core curriculum and those relating to the elements of art. Students discuss their own work and study the work of artists from many cultures, times, and traditions, travelling to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan, Dia in Chelsea, Dia Beacon, the Whitney, and art galleries.
The focus of the lower school music program is learning by doing, and it is organized to be as fun as possible while still teaching music fundamentals. The lower school music curriculum includes assemblies, movement and dance, singing, proficiency in recorder, pitched percussion, introduction of instruments of the orchestra, music history and appreciation, musical notation, and interdisciplinary work with the social studies curriculum. By the time students leave lower school, they will have a working knowledge of conventional notation and a mind open to the possibilities that music encompasses across genres, cultures, and individual expression.
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Science, along with social studies, serves as the core of children’s studies throughout their years at Fieldston Lower. In the lower grades the curriculum centers around the individual, family, and community, as well as the easily observable components of the natural world around us: seeds and seasons, birds and butterflies. In the upper grades the core is centered around history and more complex natural phenomena, such as ecosystems and severe weather systems. The objectives of teaching science include expanding the children’s knowledge of their surroundings and encouraging critical thinking about the social and natural worlds. The study of a community is the foundation for looking at the broader society, while the study of a specific species or class of animals and its relation to people is the foundation for an understanding of the concept of ecology. This knowledge, gained through firsthand experience and information from a wide variety of sources, combined with many opportunities to discuss, recreate, and express their questions and understanding, leads children to both wisdom and responsibility.
The sequence of projects in Social Studies Workshop follows the sequence of social studies topics that are being covered in the classroom. In this way, content can be integrated through a variety of media and be expressed in diverse ways by a student population with diverse strengths. This is learning with a goal of creating individuals who will be innovative problem solvers in the 21st century. The goal of the projects is to help students experience subject matter with all their senses and express their learning through the objects they create. This provides students with techniques that build their fine motor skills and develop in them the close attention to detail necessary to formulate ideas and express themselves.
Spanish at Fieldston Lower is about fun and learning at the same time. Students practice vocabulary and grammar by recreating everyday activities such as going to a restaurant, visiting the doctor, or making use of their passport. All activities are designed to encourage conversational skills. Singing, puppets, games, short stories, and cooking are part of the program.As the Spanish program continues to be enhanced, we have moved from an exposure program (FLEX) to a Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program. With the FLES program, the children get three to four contact times of Spanish per week, and all lessons are in the target language. Major improvements have been perceived with the new model, and students seem more engaged. The students get the extra contact time through Mónica Mella, our Spanish Integrator, who goes into the classrooms and runs morning meetings, lunchtime, and work time with the children. This more involved approach not only allows students to visualize and utilize Spanish within their regular routine, it also allows us to turn Spanish into a more interdisciplinary subject.
The cultural aspect of the Spanish program is an important element of the redesign. Music from Spanish-speaking countries is introduced through various activities with the participation of the music department. The customs and cultures of Hispanic countries are also emphasized through hands-on activities.
Thanks to the collaboration of the classroom teachers, we have been able to double the contact time of the kindergarten, first, and second graders. Moreover, we have restructured the entire Spanish curriculum with specific themes to make it even more relevant to the children.In third and fourth grade, we are introducing homework to the students, allowing them to use the Spanish website as a resource, and integrating morning meetings in Spanish once a week.
Lastly, in fifth grade, Cristina Mella uses an educational concept called “flipped classroom.” In this innovative teaching model, students familiarize themselves with new vocabulary at home using videos, flash cards, interactive games, and animations and come to class ready to practice what they have learned. Research shows that this model of instruction is excellent for students as it allows them to learn vocabulary and basic grammar structures at their own pace, providing more opportunities to practice in class and accommodating different learning styles.
The physical education/movement programming for PreK through second grade at Fieldston Lower is founded on movement education and exploration. Students are taught spatial awareness and interacting with peers, with an emphasis on games, rhythms, and locomotor/movement concepts. In third through fifth grade, the curriculum explores personal fitness, sports, and games. In each unit, game rules are introduced with a focus on sportsmanship, teamwork, skill development, and strategy. Non-traditional physical education units such as yoga, juggling, cup-stacking, and circus art keep young minds and bodies active and engaged and demonstrate to students that they can experience movement and stay fit in a variety of ways.