Lower Schoolers Launch Into Their Year with Gusto

Serena Wilkie Gifford, Lower School Head
The seventh week of the school year is coming to an end, and the nervous anticipation that was palpable on campus in the early days of September has disappeared. The school year is well underway, and all signs point to a very good start in the Lower School at Shady Hill. 
At the heart of a successful launch to any school year and in many ways the most important work that teachers will do all year long is the creation of learning environments that are safe and comfortable for every child. According to Responsive Classroom pedagogy, a research-based approach to academic and social-emotional learning familiar to many SHS teachers, the first six weeks of school are a critical time for the effective establishment of healthy and productive classroom settings wherein student engagement and positivity, community norms, and developmental awareness are focal themes. With intention, SHS lower school teachers have by now introduced children to the people of the classroom and the school community, to the classroom spaces and materials, and to the expectations for learning. Also established are expectations for behavior, the limits that will be set, and the ways limits will be enforced. The first six weeks of school have been a time to introduce the routines that help children learn while taking care of each other and the environment.
As individual classroom routines fall into place and grade-level expectations become familiar, the children settle in and begin to develop a sense of themselves as kindergartners, say, or members of I South or IV Brewster. Each gradehead classroom draws up a classroom agreement particular to their homeroom and yet also reflective of shared school values. Just last week, III Bhalla shared their class contract with the entire LS at an assembly, describing its creation and providing personal examples of how each person does their part to uphold the agreement. At another assembly, the Lower School superheroes, a.k.a. The S.P.L.E.R.T. Squad, swooshed into the assembly hall, capes and all, to remind children of our values: struggle, play, limits & expectations, respect, and time.
Safety, comfort, established routines, clear expectations, caring for one another—if these are the ingredients of a recipe, then what’s being cooked up in the Lower School is an environment highly suited to student engagement and ownership of learning. Here’s a sampling:
Beginners moving about their classrooms independently, knowing how to access and use classroom materials, and relying on each other as resources for help and guidance.
Kindergarteners taking on the challenges of the “front” playground with courage, whether trying to hang upside down from the monkey bars or initiating a conversation about friendship and feelings with a classmate.
First graders buckling down during Fundations to do the very hard work of learning to read and relishing in the new privilege of having their very own library cards to check out books at the end of library class.
Second graders participating in “Number of the Day” problems, coming up with multiple ways to build a number and then sharing their work with the class, using the document camera to show and explain their thinking aloud to the group.
Third graders comparing whale facts and wonderings with confidence and curiosity as they spend a solid hour happily sketching the magnificent whale skeletons at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Fourth graders assuming leadership responsibilities as the oldest members of the Lower School, including walking Beginner and kindergarten children to classrooms during morning Drop-Off, raising the flag on the Green each morning, and bravely reciting memorized poetry to the entire Lower School during assemblies.
Seven weeks in, what a delight it is to share such a supportive, thoughtful, and dynamic school environment with lower-school children and teachers!
617.520.5260        178 Coolidge Hill    Cambridge MA 02138