In the beginning of the year the 8s delve into their first City and Country Job—the design and maintenance of the School Post Office. Central to the Group’s Job is the daily responsibility of collecting, sorting and delivering the School’s mail. The Group maps the school to learn room locations, builds mailboxes in Shop and makes paper in Science. Over a period of several weeks they work in small groups on creating a work space, pricing and organizing supplies, creating a messenger service and advertising. The Group visits the Chelsea Post Office and a neighborhood mailbox store. Inherent in the 8s’ Job are many opportunities to develop and practice math skills as the children price merchandise, total sales, write receipts and make change for customers. The Group also studies stamps, letter writing and how letters get from one place to another.
Following the Post Office study, eight-year-olds at City and Country are, for the first time, asked to consider the people of a particular historical time period; the Lenape people who lived on Manhattan Island before Europeans arrived. To gain some perspective on the ways of the Lenape, the Group begins by concentrating on the natural environment and animals of NYC long ago. The 8s investigate places that are still as they were long ago, which may include trips to Inwood Hill Park and the forest at the New York Botanical Gardens. This initial study represents the first instance in which the 8s employ a research methodology. This method begins with questions the 8s have about a topic, continues with a period of research using trips, people with information, books, etc. and is followed by the representation of this knowledge. These three steps do not exist discretely, but are steps happening in tandem. Research and representing knowledge often produces more questions. It is this constant act of questioning and experimenting with new knowledge that forms the basis of 8s research.
Once the 8s have an understanding of NYC long ago, they are prepared to understand the daily lives of the people who lived here. During the Lenape study 8s explore daily life, construct artifacts similar to those used by the Lenape, establish a Lenape experience in the room-often the construction of a Lenape wigwam- and practice American Indian customs. The learning ultimately represents itself in the 8s play, which consists of scenes that have been explored in Rhythms, on trips, and in the classroom.
The Group then investigates Henry Hudson’s voyage to the New World and the encounter between the Lenape and the early settlers. Next daily life in New Amsterdam is the focus of the Group’s study and the 8s often visit nearby historic houses and colonial village life at Historic Richmond Town.
This study of the history of their immediate environment, New York City, allows the children to speculate, draw conclusions and make connections to their own lives with rich, relevant, concrete resources nearby to enliven their imaginations. Children engage in their history study through trips, individual and group research, read alouds, exploring primary sources, creative hands-on activities, writing experiences and dramatic play interpretation.
Reading: The 8s establish a highly enjoyable and productive routine in their daily half-hour visit to the Library. Teachers and Librarians help children select, focus on, understand and talk about appropriate and interesting fiction. One-on-one conferences with children allow teachers to address particular comprehension or decoding issues with individual children.
In addition to Library, each child participates in small, teacher-directed Book Groups which serve as a more intimate forum for lively discussions. Book Groups serve as opportunities for students to practice reading aloud, express their own point of view, consider alternate points of views and share the joy of a good story. Regular Book Group homework assignments encourage children to read for greater detail and equip them to steer discussions toward their own ends.
A key component of the 8s Language Arts program is the reading aloud of fiction three times a week. This type of reading is a time for quiet listening but also for group conversations about the books which often grow out of teachers' or students' questions. During these talks children share relevant personal stories, make predictions, consider motivations of both author and character and help each other make sense of the material.
Writing: During writing, children primarily choose topics from real experiences which hold particular significance and develop pieces by moving through the main stages of the writing process: generating ideas, composing rough draft, revision, editing and final copy. As students move from one stage to another they meet with teachers and peers to address issues of content and craft such as making sense, including detail, being specific, sequencing, plot and character development and word choice. Children are encouraged to share their pieces - works in progress as well as final copies - and receive and give feedback.
Mid-year, after the 8s have studied Lenape storytelling, they undertake crafting their own Lenape story.
Additionally, children write descriptive explanations of math problem solutions, pieces related to the social studies units, personal reflections and analysis for Book Group assignments and as a form of self-assessment.
Word Study: Each Monday the Group is introduced to a unit of words and spelling patterns, the bulk of which is derived from Frances and Deborah Bloom’s Recipe for Spelling. Each concurrent lesson reinforces the weekly unit via small group games and individual Morning Work. Lessons may include poetry and rhyming activities, word games, syntax games, and kinesthetic games as a means of reinforcing weekly spelling patterns. Word Study also includes dictionary skills, grammar and word usage. Word Study homework is assigned once each week and each week concludes with a Friday morning spelling quiz. The aim is to inspire an attention to and delight in the complexities of the English language.
Handwriting: Although the 8s continue to compose using manuscript handwriting, halfway through the year they practice cursive writing through the Handwriting Without Tears method. The children are introduced to all lower case letters and are instructed in proper formation and connecting strokes.
The 8s explore pattern, place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, geometry, measurement, money and time within a program that consistently emphasizes problem solving, approximation, estimation and efficient means of computation. It is expected that all children develop a solid understanding of addition and subtraction with two- and three-digit numbers with and without regrouping required. Activities with multiplication and division are designed to help children recognize the relationship among all operations (multiplication is repeated addition and division is the opposite of multiplication) patterns in multiples and real-life problems in which the operations become useful. All children begin and some complete the process of memorizing multiplication facts.
Often math activities grow from real dilemmas faced by individuals or the Group as they run the Post Office, buy supplies or ingredients, cook from historical recipes and other experiences. The children manipulate unifix cubes, cuisenaire rods, base ten blocks and pattern blocks in order to explore new concepts or reinforce understanding. Children are encouraged to represent symbolically according to individual comfort levels and understandings.
Homework assignments are given daily for the first time in the 8s. Children are expected and helped to develop habits that allow for consistent management of time and materials as they work approximately a half-hour per evening. Some assignments, such as spelling and Book Group journals, are given regularly while some are introduced as extensions of particular classroom studies or activities.