The first years in school are vitally important for establishing independent work habits and developing social skills. The Lower School Program is designed to provide a firm grounding in these areas, as well as opportunities for cognitive, emotional, and physical growth.
Lower School classrooms are equipped with ample space and an abundant supply of carefully chosen, open-ended materials, including blocks, paint, clay, paper, wood, sand, and water. These materials, along with teachers who expertly guide their use, promote children’s active involvement and independence while also inspiring creativity and cooperation. Children use the materials to explore, experiment, and, in the process, build a foundation in the academic disciplines of social studies, reading, writing, math, and science. As the children advance through the Lower School, academic skills are taught more formally.
Because children naturally learn to read and write at different rates and in various ways, our approach to the development of literacy skills is eclectic and individualized. Teachers read aloud to their groups daily—fact, fiction, and poetry— selecting from the wide range of books for research and reading found on the classroom shelves. Long before the children are able to decode the complex symbols that make up words, they develop a rich appreciation for books and an enjoyment of literature. As the children begin to express themselves on paper, their drawings become the basis for stories that are often recorded by teachers through dictation. Beginning in the 5s, children devote time each week to creative story writing and sharing. They also begin to label their block buildings with handwritten signs and are increasingly able on their own to read the research books they borrow from the Library. In the 7s, children begin to spend a half-hour each day reading for pleasure in the Library—a School tradition that continues through the 13s.
Math and science concepts are embedded within the children’s daily work with the basic materials, and become more complex with each passing year. For example, children hone their understanding of volume while pouring at the water table, and their grasp of fractions and patterns while experimenting with unit blocks. Repeated use of the basic materials, in combination with formal lessons, gives children an understanding that goes beyond the memorization of facts and formulas.
Central to the Lower School are the wooden unit blocks designed by Caroline Pratt, which are now used in schools worldwide. At City and Country, block building frames the context for the Social Studies Program. Blocks, and the dramatic play that accompanies block building, offer children multiple and diverse opportunities to express their understanding of the social and physical world in which they live. From the early efforts of two-year-olds to stack and balance blocks to the dynamic communities of stores, services, and homes built by the six- and seven-year-olds, the children experience a growing and vital sense of community. Working collaboratively to design block buildings, they learn to articulate and solve problems, to negotiate, and to cooperate.
Providing a wealth of opportunities for firsthand research, trips are an essential component of the Social Studies Program. The youngest children visit sites within the School, such as the Library and School Store. At 4, groups venture into the neighborhood, and, by the 7s, children travel throughout the City. Their observations provide new content for block building, dramatic play, discussions, and research.
In the 7s, children engage in a formal study of the infrastructure and geography of New York City. Through extended block work, they explore the relationships among city systems of government, transportation, communications, commerce, and utilities. New issues continually arise: Who makes the laws, and how are they carried out? How does traffic flow? Where does water come from? The city study culminates with the building of a permanent city, complete with running water and electricity, and an historical study of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The city study encourages collaboration, and the children meet daily to discuss the planning and execution of their schemes. Because each building is part of the greater block city, children are expected to work together toward common ends, to resolve conflicts, to make compromises, and to recognize each other’s needs and abilities— all of which adds to their understanding of the complexities of everyday life in a social democracy.
In expanding their world in this way, the children naturally face challenges— and so enhance their skills—in math, geography, language arts, and science. Children leave the Lower School prepared to take on the more advanced academic and social responsibilities of the Middle School.
Middle and Upper School
In the Middle and Upper School years at City and Country, children apply and expand the academic and social skills they have acquired in the Lower School.
The widely-known Jobs Program offers multiple avenues for learning and practicing skills in mathematics, writing, reading, and group problem solving. Each Group performs a specific school Job that affords rare opportunities for practical, engaging, and meaningful learning experiences. The 8s run the School’s internal Post Office, while the 9s manage the School’s Supply Store, each acquiring the knowledge of how a business works within the School community. The 10s are the School’s Sign Makers, and the 11s master the intricate workings of a 19th century Chandler Price Treadle printing press, printing most of the forms used by each classroom (such as attendance cards). The 12s work with the four-year-olds, often called “the adolescents of early childhood,” and the 13s are responsible for the School Newspaper, which they write and edit themselves. In addition to instilling in children a deep respect for and understanding of a full spectrum of social roles within a community, the Jobs Program teaches children to be responsible to themselves, their Group, and the School. Because they are performing real jobs that meet real needs, the children develop a genuine sense of ownership and a distinct pride in their school community.
Beginning in the middle years, our social studies-based program focuses on one period of history for an entire school year. We firmly believe that this in-depth approach to learning helps children develop a multifaceted understanding of history. Social studies encompasses geography, archeology, sociology, philosophy, economics, religion, politics, and art in an attempt to understand what people believed and how they conducted their lives. Investigation into these areas is skillfully guided by the teachers but based on the interests of the children themselves, borne from their questions and pursuant research.
Throughout the Middle and Upper School years, past cultures are thoroughly explored through the eyes of Native American Indians, American immigrants and pioneers, Ancient Greeks, and those living during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Trips to historic sites and museums, first-hand accounts such as journals, diaries and newspapers, plus literature from and about the period being studied provide rich source materials for research.
The process of learning from firsthand experiences remains at the heart of the Middle and Upper School Program. For example, to culminate their study of westward expansion, the 9s embark on a week-long country trip that replicates the daily life of travelers on the Oregon Trail, complete with a Conestoga wagon they make themselves. The ultimate goal is for the children to become so involved in their study of a specific period that they will know “in their bones” what it was like to be a person living in that time.
Specials become an integral part of the weekly routine, providing the children not only with multisensory modes of learning and the skills intrinsic to each discipline, but also the opportunity to express the information they are acquiring through their social studies research in the classroom.
As children progress through the Upper School (grades six through eight), their work demands greater independence in both thought processes and personal responsibilities, and more emphasis is placed on developing abstract thinking skills. Teachers create activities in which children form an opinion and defend it in written and oral presentations, see the cause and effect of an historical event, and predict an outcome for a similar situation today.
When children graduate from City and Country School, they understand at a core level how to pursue their curiosity about life, and they have the confidence to do so. They have developed a love for learning and the self-motivation to succeed. Empowered by their experiences as fully vested members of the School community, City and Country graduates become active members of their future school communities and ultimately of the world at large.