Many words could be used to describe Bellwether’s curriculum. It is emergent and follows a continuum; it is designed to be engaging and developmentally appropriate; it supports growth in all areas of a student’s development; it is experiential and emphasizes hands-on learning; it is integrated across subjects.
The Bellwether School is a Holistic Education school. A holistic approach recognizes the interconnected nature of a child’s learning and development. It is an integrative approach and its highest goal is the cultivation of relationships between and within the learner and his/her world - meaningful relationships between self and society, humanity and nature, intellect and emotion, adult and child, history and the present, and so on.
We support and are responsive to each child’s whole development including intellectual, social, emotional, artistic, physical, and spiritual development.
We draw forth the intrinsic motivation of each child so that learning becomes an interactive process that values imagination, creativity and joy.
We encourage members of our learning community to understand, honor, and respect diversity and to pursue this in their actions.
Our teachers build relationships, allow students to construct their own learning, and foster the inquiry and critical thinking skills that inspire a child’s connection to his/her world.
We teach children to honor the rights of the individual and embrace responsibility to community.
We develop in children an understanding of how to live harmoniously with the environment both now and over time.
Domains of Learning
At Bellwether, learning follows a continuum from preschool through sixth grade. As students mature, they revisit concepts and skills in various subject areas at increasingly advanced levels. Our curriculum highlights complementary activities through eight domains of learning. This integrated approach gives vitality and depth to our curriculum while helping students develop analytical thinking skills. As experience builds on experience, students reflect on their learning, make connections, see relationships, and appreciate the interconnectedness of their learning – gradually fitting knowledge into a meaningful whole.
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Why Emergent Curriculum?
Bellwether uses an emergent curriculum as the foundation for our project and inquiry based learning. Emergent curriculum develops when exploring what is "socially relevant, intellectually engaging, and personally meaningful to children". Emergent curriculum connects learning with experience with prior learning. It includes the interests of children and responds to these interests rather than focusing on a narrow, individual, or calendar driven topic process. The curriculum typically evolves from ideas teachers bring to the classroom, observations the teacher makes of what is drawing children’s interest and a planning process by the teacher(s) to develop interdisciplinary projects. Projects allow for in-depth exploration of topics and provide a basis for understanding, making connections and for deeper thinking processes to occur. In emergent curriculum both adults and children have initiative and make decisions.
How do you Assess Learning?
We believe that the primary purpose of assessment is for the teacher to plan instruction, not to make comparisons between students. We have no letter grades, preferring to describe students as learners broadly and deeply in narrative form and through work sampling. By employing this type of assessment and instruction, teachers respect unique learning styles while ensuring that every student continues to grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
What is it like in the Classrooms?
Daily life in a Bellwether program reflects a respect for a student’s need to move, converse, and be active. Daily work is generally process-oriented, rather than product-oriented. Teachers and students are on a first-name basis. The close connections between students and teachers foster an atmosphere of honest and trusting communication where students are invited to voice their opinions and to learn the art of active listening. Students help to form classroom guidelines at the beginning of the year because they accept rules better when they have a part in making them. Our classrooms are multi-age which provides a flexible setting that recognizes the variance in student experience, maturity, and ability as well as honors the diversity in the group. Boundaries of age and grade level are erased allowing students the opportunity to be both learners and teachers.
THE DOMAINS OF LEARNING
We recognize and nurture each child’s innate desire to explore and foster relationships in his/her world – relationships with self, with others, and with learning. Teachers and students take care of these relationships through intentional conversation, reflection, modeling, and noticing. Children learn to be self-aware and emotionally-literate, to resolve conflicts and solve issues, to build strategies for self-expression, to follow their passions, to see self and other as deeply connected, and to tap into their areas of strength/interest in order to support their areas of growth/challenge.
The Human Experience
Children learn more about their bodies, how to take care of them, and ways to support physical growth and nutritional health. Teachers and students balance movement with stillness, expansion with contraction, and large with small actions; they discover that, by taking care of our physical bodies, we are tending to our mind and heart too. Children learn body- awareness, body control, and self-help skills both indoors and out.
Ecological Understanding and Scientific Inquiry
Through a hands-on, inquiry-based curriculum, Bellwether students begin to view science as a way of thinking, wondering, and questioning as well as a way to gather information. Teachers and students build an understanding of and respect for the interconnectedness of our world, recognizing that, while we can temporarily view something as “separate” in order to learn more, we ultimately need to understand it as part of a greater whole. Children learn to ask questions, to make predictions, and to create experiments that allow them to test their hypotheses.
Service learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection, the fundamental elements of experiential learning. Students work with others applying what they learn to community issues. They reflect upon their experience as they seek to achieve real objectives for others as well as a deeper understanding of themselves and their ability to make a difference in their community.
Children express and represent their ideas, experiences, and emotions to make meaning of and to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge of the world. With an emphasis on the creative process, children explore and work with a variety of materials. The visual arts, music, and drama are all integral parts of the educational experience at Bellwether. Children find ways to communicate through artistic mediums while building an appreciation for aesthetic beauty.
Children develop their ability to communicate meaningfully and effectively, while discovering the vast world of language and literacy. Developing language is an ongoing process, and teachers and students learn and model many different forms of communication, including body language, written language, oral communication, visual representations, and sophisticated expressions such as storytelling, poetry, and playwriting. Literature and books are a central part of the school day, and children learn to recognize and appreciate the feelings and ideas of others, as well as become able to express their own ideas.
Each child's social understanding about the world begins with the self and family, evolves to the classroom setting and then expands to the world community. Younger children explore their immediate environ-ment, while older children have the capacity to explore larger communities, both in current and historical perspectives. Social studies projects include elements of history, geography and mapping, cultural studies, and anthropology.
We recognize that math is all around us and take those real world, mathematically rich situations we encounter to build a more robust and meaningful relationship with math. Teachers and students deepen understanding while learning to express their mathematical thinking through talking, drawing, and writing. We cover a wide range of math concepts such as number sense, counting, numeric operations, geometry, measurement, fractions, volume, patterning, probability, estimation, deductive reasoning, and data exploration. Our mathematics curriculum emphasizes the skills of mathematical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication.