Through the Grades
Early Childhood Program
In the early years, life imprints the child much the way a foot leaves its mark in the wet sand. Every part of her is actively engaged with the world, and she learns by imitating or recreating all that goes on around her. It is a time of intense absorption; one need only attempt to interrupt a young child at play to discover this. Therefore, the young child is best nurtured by a simple, ordinary environment that allows her to relax into the rhythms of the day. In Enki schools periods of active play and movement are woven into a schedule that includes opportunities to explore through imagination, imitation, story, song and the many activities that grow naturally from living and working together. The young child’s innate sense of wonder provides us with a rare opportunity to celebrate the magic of the ordinary world.
All around the child, the natural world is in a continual process of change. One-season rolls into another, a rhythmic succession of endings and beginnings. In all of the early childhood activities and in the environment itself we seek to strengthen the child’s connection to that process. In October, colored leaves and bundled corn stalks may decorate rooms where children are grinding grain and baking breads. Winter may bring bare branches lying on blue and white silks and children carding wool or making felt beads. Spring may warm up the classroom with baskets of spring grass, flowers, paper butterflies and handmade nests – but for the most part the children will be found outside: gardening, climbing trees and squealing as they run about free of boots and mittens once again. This connection and natural delight are the essential ground from which the child will later explore all the arts and sciences.
Creative play and imitation are the most important learning tools for the young child. Therefore, great care is given to the environment. The classroom materials are carefully chosen for their aesthetic as well as their practical qualities; the approach is simple and embracing. In the course of a day, entire worlds are created and destroyed, as stones become mountains, a stool becomes a truck, a chair becomes a boat, a cloth the sea. By engaging in creative play, children are building foundations that later develop into the imaginative, conceptual and physical abilities essential to learning.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
~ William Blake
For the very young child, the Nursery School experience is a first step in expanding her sense of home and safety into a bigger world. Therefore, our nursery programs offer an extended family experience. In these home-school environments, the ordinary daily routine of a home provides both the rhythms and adventures of each day. Projects such as baking, animal care, gardening and cleaning fill the days; these can be developed into stories, songs, arts and crafts as the young child makes her first steps toward participating in a group.
The kindergarten student stands at a threshold of widening relationships and more structured learning experiences. She has begun to take a new kind of initiative, planning and organizing her play. For example, she no longer accidentally discovers a volcano in the sand that she has piled up for the sheer pleasure of the piling. Now she sets out to bury a hose in a great pile of sand, gather the class around and then turn on the water when, to the delight of all, the volcano erupts.
With this new sense of initiative, the kindergartner is now ready for more complex stories, projects and movement activities that will build the inner sense of rhythm and spatial awareness needed for the academic learning that lies ahead. In these more complex activities, the kindergartner is gently guided to learn and contribute as a member of a group. This combination of independent initiative and the ability to learn within the group will be key to her success in the grade school environment.
The Elementary Years
” Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” ~ Albert Einstein
While we recognize that each child is unique, there are also shared developmental processes and threads. We often intuitively recognize these as we easily distinguish a two year old from a four year old or a seven year old from a nine year old, regardless of their size. We find that by addressing these themes in our curriculum the children are eagerly engages and yet are free to take from the material and experience those parts which best nurture him in his unique growth.
The first grader is making her first steps into a bigger, more structured and more demanding world. Therefore, the theme for this grade is the interconnectedness of the world and the wisdom of the many who have gone before.
In keeping with this, the core of the language arts and social studies curricula is fairy tales from around the world. These stories present the child with an imaginative and archetypal map of the process of growing up. Again and again she hears of the challenges, blessings and victories that lie before her. Using these stories children practice letter and sound recognition, writing and early reading skills. This work is taken further in the children’s journals.
The math curriculum begins with an exploration of the qualities of numbers as they exist in nature. It then moves into exploring number relationships through the four processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and simple calculations with these. The children also work with number patterns in visual, movement and conceptual work.
Science focuses on the cycles of nature, in particular the science of seasonal change. Beginning with imaginative stories which describe the natural processes in pictures, the children are led to notice the details of the ever changing world around them. For example, children may hear of the color dancers who come each Spring, tapping the bare branches with their reds and yellows just before the last great painter hides them with her green. As the story continues, children come to see that the reds and yellows of Autumn have been within the leaf since the first of Spring. In this way, children are sparked to notice the subtle, cyclic changes in the plant world, long before they are ready for an analytic study of botany. This story, and the many arts and nature projects connected with it, will provide the living picture to support and enliven their fifth grade science studies of photosynthesis and plant nourishment. At that point they will learn the biological processes that allow us to see the reds and yellows in spring and fall, but only green in the summer; and they will marvel at the fact that they had actively watched this process since first grade. In the same way, each of the stories told heightens the child’s awareness and lays the ground for the more conceptual science they will learn in later grades.
The second grader becomes acutely aware of the wonders of social life and is all too ready to play a trick or turn any situation into a game. Therefore, the theme for this grade is the play of relationships. Trickster tales let the child explore her clever and mischievous nature in a safe context. Stories of sages from many cultures and traditions show the child how she can transform the conflicts of the world around her. In these stories, she comes to see how her own inquisitive, mischievous and stubborn nature can become a source of courage and strength to meet the world with compassion. Using these stories, students go further with their reading and writing skills. More phonic and sight word skills are introduced and spelling begins to be stabilized. All of this is further developed through journal writing.
The playful second grader also yearns for order. The mathematics curriculum meets this need with the introduction of place value, carrying and borrowing. Work with the four processes continues with more complex problems. Multiplication tables are learned through rhythmic recitation and clapping games, which fill the social, play needs of this age child. As well, the children begin to work with simple word problems.
The science curriculum continues with the description and exploration of energetic natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and volcano’s, as well as more ordinary events in the natural world. For example, children may hear of the corn stalks lying flat after a hurricane, and how quickly they can gather the strength to rise back toward the sun. Or they may hear about the forest creatures suddenly on alert, making all kinds of careful preparations for unseen danger, long before the earthquake actually comes. Here again, both these stories and the projects connected with them, lay the groundwork for later study. In fifth grade they will learn how auxins direct the cornstalk to grow back upright. Sixth grade geology will introduce them to the shifting plates of the earth, and so on. In these early years, imaginative pictures and nature projects help the children experience the constant interweaving and interdependence of ecological systems.
The third grade curriculum mirrors the child’s striving toward independence. Like many traditional societies we celebrate this eight-year-old transition with a simple rite of passage ceremony. This offers an outer confirmation of the child’s inner experience. Creation myths, which tell of this new birth and the challenges of life on earth, form the core of the humanities work. Stories about the Iroquois Sky Woman, the Hopi Spider Woman and the Hebrew Moses are among those that meet the child of this age. An active introduction to grammar is added to the continued work with reading, cursive writing, short compositions and spelling.
In her move toward independence, the third grader is eager to know the world around her and enjoys measuring, comparing and learning how things work. In mathematics this theme is taken up as the student learns to use the many types of measurement in the practical skills of farming, building and cooking. She also practices and utilizes the four processes and borrowing and carrying in this work. Word problems and mental math become very natural and necessary parts of all these practical undertakings.
At this age, the awareness of being a separate and unique individual grows, and the child becomes acutely aware of the many different and contrasting qualities of those around her. She delights in the extremes of experience and is eager to do battle one minute and lead peaceful resolutions the next. Mythologies, which highlight the extremes in human nature, are studied. The fierce and deceitful Yoruba Gods of Nigeria, the mighty Algonquin Glooscap and stories of the afterlife from Egypt, all become great companions for the fourth grader. This material is used in reading, composition and report writing, spelling and grammar work.
In getting to know herself, the fourth grader also wants to know her own roots – the study of cultural geography formally begins. The local geography, culture and simple history are explored and the first steps are taken toward placing this in the national context. This material is also used in language arts work.
To mirror the child’s new awareness of herself as a separate part of a larger whole, the mathematics curriculum focuses on the study of fractions. The students focus on work with the multiplication tables out of sequence and tackles more complex word problems. Long division and multiplication are also introduced. In conjunction with the language arts and mathematics curricula, library computer skills are introduced.
As the child becomes aware of her own unique qualities, she also notices many differences in the world around her. She begins to know who she is by noticing who she is not. The science curriculum focuses this awareness on the study of animals. What is the unique gift of each animal? What is its great challenge? How does it live: alone, in a family unit, in community? How has man tackled these very same challenges? All these are questions close to the fourth grader’s heart.
Having battled and explored the many differences between herself and others, for a short precious time the child now experiences a harmonious balance. This sense of balance will act as a keel in the rising seas that accompany pre-adolescence.
In the earlier grades, the student experienced the difficult challenges that arise when the glorious dreams and visions of mankind meet with hard, cold realities. Now she longs to see how these two can be brought together. In keeping with this interest, the history curriculum focuses on ancient cultures striving toward harmony. Myth, legend, biography and geography are all part of this study. Ancient India and Mesopotamia are two of the many cultures that may be studied.
In cultural geography emphasis is on experiencing the majesty of North America – continuing with the study of the US and expanding to Canada. Biographies from different ethnic groups reveal how various people have struggled with their dream, how they have been challenged by their physical and social reality, and how they have found harmony between aspiration and practicality. History and geography provide the content for developing language arts skills, including further work with independent compositions and reports.
In this year of balance the student longs to feel mastery. This makes it an ideal time to practice and polish the many skills she has learned since first grade in mathematics. She will also need an easy and sure confidence with these skills to face the far more complex and flexible thinking needed for the Middle and High school mathematics curricula.
In science, as in other elements of the curriculum for this year, harmony is the keynote. Students study the natural harmony of plant, sun and soil and the interdependence of plant and insect life. Composting, gardening, and collecting sap and honey support the fifth grade introduction to a more analytic study of plant anatomy, growth and reproduction, and the influences of the ecosystem.
Enki Virtual Community School, Grades 6 to 8/9
The High School Blueprint
The high school student is awakening to a truly new and independent sense of self. New powers of thinking arise; feelings overwhelm her and her body changes on an almost daily basis. With an unusual mixture of total conviction and overwhelming self-doubt, the adolescent seeks to discover who she really is. To meet this driving need we hold apprenticeship at the heart of our vision for the high schooler. As far as possible the mathematics and science curricula will support and extend the apprenticeship experience.
GRADE 9, nature/farming apprenticeships are supported by study of earth science, botany, climate and ecology. When possible students will work not only with farmers, fishermen or forest rangers but also in labs and field studies with scientists engaged in research. Mathematical formulae are applied to unraveling questions and problems presented by the natural world.
GRADE 10 will include a social service apprenticeship in hospitals, schools, community centers and the like. Sciences will support these experiences with the study of human biology/health care, embryology, child development, sociology and “life skills.” Here too, whenever possible lab experience with scientists practicing in relevant fields will be included. Math classes take up formal geometry and explore how these principles relate to human community in architecture and city planning.
GRADE 11 will include a business apprenticeship. Because it is hard to place a student in a meaningful role in business, schools may find it more useful to run their own small business. For example a children’s museum for displaying the 6-9 grade projects, a theater for school and public use, an acting troupe, or a farm store could all provide first-hand experience of business and serve the community. Emphasis will be on business math, algebra and computers. Science courses will be combined with the twelfth grade and offer a choice of chemistry, physics or earth science and astronomy. When possible students will work directly with scientists in their area of study.
HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS will choose the apprenticeship of their choice. Math will include algebra and geometry review and practice. Honors courses will be offered, including higher mathematics and science.
The history curriculum offers the students a way to reflect on the experiences of today by contrasting them with the past. Ninth graders will return to a study of Ancient History, with emphasis on each society’s perspective or worldview and the resulting social structure. Cultures from each continent will be included.
Tenth graders will bring the ancient cultures studied in ninth grade into the context of time by following each up to the present. Eleventh graders will take up comparative religion focusing on how the ideologies of each religion have unfolded over time. Twelfth graders will focus on modern global culture comparing it to ancient worlds. Particular focus will be on how this global culture impacts their lives and their “world view.”
Along with the need to make an independent contribution in the larger community, high school students still need to form their own community of peers. To support this, we will work with yearly wilderness trips and with regularly held class meetings. Our drama and music programs will strengthen the sense of high school community as well.
The adolescent is driven to answer the question, “Who am I?” Exploring her place in the larger community through apprenticeships helps her glimpse some answers. Comparing her world and beliefs to others of the past and present in the history curriculum takes her further. Working with her peers on wilderness trips, in plays and in class meetings adds more to her understanding. Still, ultimately this is a question she must investigate and experience on her own. For this reason all juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to undertake a “vision quest”. This is a structured and guided experience of being alone in the wilderness. After careful preparation, students spend 1 – 3 days alone in the wilderness. When they come back together as a group, they will process their experiences together and look at how the experience may impact their daily lives and dreams for the future. This offers the adolescent an experience free from expectations, roles, and demands as well as a chance to touch her own fear and her own courage.
I said in my heart
“I am sick of four walls and a ceiling,
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.
I will up and get me away
Where the hawk is wheeling
Lone and high,
And the clouds go by.
I will get me away to the waters that glass
The clouds as they pass….” ~ Richard Huvey