An Integrated Curriculum
An integrated curriculum taught through themes allows children to learn and develop skills through a variety of approaches, making meaning of knowledge. In this way, learning becomes part of every child, fosters deep understanding, and connects them to the world around them.
Teaching through themes, or a "core curriculum," allows us to engage children in sophisticated thinking skills such as observing, listening, questioning, analyzing, and drawing conclusions. We believe that skills are retained and made relevant when taught in a rich, meaningful context and that students learn best when they are actively engaged in and appreciate the process of learning. At Far Brook, these ideas and approaches are found in what is called the core curriculum in the Lower School and social studies/history in the Upper Schools.
The early years at Far Brook School are a pivotal transition period for children as they move from the familiarity of the personal environment of home and family to the social structure of school and then out to the ever-widening world around them. Through theme studies such as Birds, Color, Nature and Ourselves, and Penguins, the stage is set for a deeper and broader understanding of a variety of social concepts, beginning with family, caring, friendship, and community.
Our youngest students come to understand their place in their world and their place in the community through the study of patterns, discovering patterns in nature and in their environment, as they begin to internalize their understanding of how they relate to the world and to build their own identities.
Exploring the cyclical patterns of their own day, of day and night, and of the seasons prepares Lower School children for a year-long study of Child and Universe, which begins by focusing on the children themselves, their interests, joys, and connection to family, friends, school, and the rest of the community. The child’s world is connected to the greater universe by observations of the sun and shadows and through an investigation of the planets in our solar system.
The students’ core curriculum experience in the Lower School culminates with a year-long study of the Native Americans of North America through myth and story, art and research. Students consider the lives of Native Americans past and present, and they explore the ways in which stereotypes have shaped our perceptions of this segment of the American population.
Each Grade in the Upper Schools immerses itself in a year-long, in-depth social studies or history core curriculum. Beginning with Ancient Egypt and continuing with Ancient Greece, Rome and the Middle Ages, Ancient China, and concluding with American History. Literature study, student research, and class plays grow out of each Grade’s curriculum. Students read mythology and primary sources such as D’Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, Beowulf, and The United States Constitution. Topics for research projects include Egyptian gods and goddesses, theater in Ancient Greece, the role of women in medieval society, and the causes of the Great Depression. Class plays have included Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and Arnold Arent’s One-Third of a Nation – A Living Newspaper.
These core curriculum topics provide a rich, meaningful context for learning by utilizing critical thinking skills such as analyzing, comparing, and drawing conclusions, and they help students appreciate the important role the arts play and have played in cultures across the world and through the ages. When their time in the Upper Schools is complete, students will have painted in the style of the Egyptians, competed in the Greek Olympics, taken their seat at a medieval feast, and debated Constitutional cases and issues. They will, in other words, have lived the lives of the cultures they have studied.
As children examine the patterns and the ever-changing nature of the universe, the cycles and rhythms of the natural world, and explore other cultures, both past and present, they develop - along with essential academic skills - intellectual awareness, rational wonder, and empathy for the human experience.
The literacy program is at the heart of our curriculum with a goal of not only developing highly skilled readers and writers, but passionate ones as well.
At each grade level, students read as a class literature that is broad in scope and deep in meaning that explores a range of emotions and the rich cross-cultural diversity of the human experience.
Each student is encouraged to develop a rich independent reading life, learning how to choose, analyze, and write about a wide range of fiction and nonfiction texts. Our writing program utilizes a process approach in which students learn - across a variety of genres - to write, revise, and edit their written work. We believe that students develop best by using the skills they are learning in a supportive environment, where they practice what they have been taught, and where they receive immediate feedback and coaching from teachers and peers.
Students learn the pleasure of creating their own texts, shaping and turning words into poems and stories that are uniquely their own. The literacy curriculum in the Lower School focuses on listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The focus for our youngest students is on developing phonemic awareness, pre-reading and pre-writing skills, and an appreciation of literature. Our philosophy holds that each child will develop reading and writing skills at his or her own pace.
Literature and poetry are carefully chosen and include works by authors such as Leo Lionni, E.B. White, Louise Erdrich, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and William Shakespeare for the power of their language, word imagery, and thought-provoking messages.
Reading great literature hones students’ reading comprehension skills and develops an appreciation for fine writing.
For all grades, the writing curriculum is designed to teach students that learning to write involves noticing details, writing about the meaning of events in one’s life and in the wider world, and being playful and creative with words and their meanings. Students also learn that writing involves flexible thinking and multiple efforts at revision.
Full-group discussions are important components of our methodology. We believe that learning takes place within a community, and that each voice should be heard and respected. Readings are often tied to the excitement of theme studies, core curriculum, or history and focus on exposure to archetypal themes and close analysis of text to explore the richness of language. In the Upper Schools works by authors such as John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Charles Dickens, Lorraine Hansberry, and William Shakespeare are representative of some of the texts that are studied.
Language experiences occur throughout the day in all aspects of the curriculum.
Reading aloud is central to the reading instruction throughout the School. Teachers read rich and challenging literature to students and model how to think about a text. Strategies [for understanding complex texts] are explicitly taught, and students are supported in applying these strategies to their own reading. Additionally, students are asked to write about their reading in order to help them articulate and deepen their thinking.
At Far Brook, literature comes alive on the stage. Play-acting and reader’s theater in the Lower School classroom move into class plays as part of the drama program in the Upper Schools. Class plays are outgrowths of the core curriculum. The culmination of a Far Brook student’s experience with literature is the graduation Shakespeare play - either The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Far Brook curriculum is a balance of the sciences and the arts, for at their deepest level both rely on original questioning and on a penetrating imagination…No discovery or new concept of truth comes without a leap of the imagination…Science at Far Brook is a creative process of thinking…
- from The Roots of Excellence, Winifred Moore, Founding Director
We foster a love of science in children and develop an understanding of the scientific process through hands-on experiences.
Children at all levels ask thoughtful questions, attempt to find answers by repeatable experiments and observations, confront setbacks, consider alternative explanations, and build pictures of the world whose parts they try to connect into a consistent whole. Through our science program, we strive to instill in students the spirit of the discipline.
Beginning in the younger Grades, science classes focus on skills such as observation, classification and sorting, pattern-recognition, and prediction-making. Open-ended and structured exploration, indoors in the classroom or outdoors in the Wetlands Habitat, garden, or playground, enliven children to the world around them and increase their exposure to phenomena and organisms that excite their curiosity and interest. Our woods, fields, brook, garden, and Wetlands Habitat provide us with a living laboratory for scientific exploration.
In Middle School, students become proficient in the science practices. They develop hypotheses and perform and create experiments designed to test their ideas, learning that the way an answer is found depends on the question being asked. They collect data and learn how to best represent it, creating a strong math/science synthesis. It is not uncommon to hear a surprised Fifth or Sixth Grader ask whether he or she is in science class or in math. Students develop the skills of making close observations, producing detailed scientific illustrations, and recording these results in science journals, science binders, written lab reports, and long-form science essays.
In science, students are increasingly asked to apply the skills they have acquired as they see fit. While still guided in more traditional experiments, there are more frequent opportunities for Junior High students to create their own experiments, to design and build models or objects to embody ideas they have learned about, or to take ownership over the small variations in how their individual lab group carries out an experiment to explain anomalies or outliers in data.
As independence in experimentation increases, so too does the burden of justification and explanation – of explaining how and why things happen. Students learn to write explanations and more formal lab reports that are not only accurate but deep, thoughtful, and meaningful. The Junior High program provides students with a thorough foundational understanding of the important principles underlying science, with a goal of preparing them for the challenges of secondary school science.
Mathematics is approached vigorously and creatively at Far Brook. Our goal is to make math challenging at all levels of ability.
In addition to arriving at the correct answer, Far Brook students are engaged in a meaningful process of solving mathematical problems. Our math teaching is based on research that has shown that critical thinking, analysis, and communicating about thinking processes result in excellence in student performance in contemporary math. Far Brook School’s math program is aligned with the Standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
In the Lower School, math is taught through hands-on experiences, which enable children to explore, question and reason, construct meaning, and problem solve. Through purposeful play, teacher-designed materials, and text resources careful attention is given to the exploration and investigation of mathematical concepts and their applications. These experiences support a deep understanding of patterns, encourage acquisition of number sense, and foster connections and interpretation of data. Students experience math as a living discipline as they investigate mathematics in real-world situations. Classroom experiences in building with blocks, cooking, quilting, measuring, and graphing help children make sense of the math in their everyday lives.
The skills of problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and analysis continue to evolve in math in the Middle School. Emphasis is placed on problem-solving processes and sound computation skills as students master the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division as applied to whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. Hands-on activities and math games deepen and enrich student understanding and application.
Studies of geometry and probability become increasingly sophisticated as the abstract thinking skills of the students grow. Oral and written communication of mathematical ideas as well as analyzing problems become more important in the process of transitioning into more abstract concepts of early algebra. The formal concept of algebra, ratio and proportion, percents, integers, graphs, and variables are introduced.
Skills developed throughout the earlier Grades at Far Brook are combined with more advanced creative analysis and sequential thinking in the Junior High math courses. Algebra is a focus and is the context for fostering the reasoning skills necessary for success in higher level mathematics. Math classes include investigations and presentations to the class for discussion. Student learning experiences are maximized through the use of technology and a variety of resources.
Student work done individually and collaboratively facilitates a broader and deeper understanding of math. We acknowledge that children reach cognitive landmarks at different times throughout their adolescent years. Allowing for their individual differences, ongoing consideration is given to ensure that each student is placed appropriately.
This continuum of rich experiences and carefully selected resources provides Far Brook students with the deep understanding, the knowledge, and the skills of math to meet the challenges of high school math programs. At Far Brook, these skills are taught in math and are well integrated into the arts, the sciences, and the over-arching theme studies for each grade.
A Far Brook student’s experience with a world language is a ten-year-long journey that begins in Nursery and continues through the end of Eighth Grade.
Central to our teaching philosophy is the belief that children acquire a second language in much the same way that they acquire their first language: through conversation and reading, both of which become increasingly complex as students progress through the grade levels. Through our French program, we strive to create a supportive and engaging environment where children feel secure in taking intellectual risks and participating to their fullest capacity. Through authentic, meaningful language-learning experiences, children acquire French and gain a deep understanding of the language as a whole. The French teachers strive to teach for proficiency, and prefer to teach in a way so that students have functional ability in the language.
We seek to instill in our students a love of language learning, cultural understanding of the French-speaking world, and a lifelong appreciation of other cultures and languages. Lower School students are immersed in French from their very first day of class, with the teacher providing a language-rich environment that is made comprehensible through the use of body language, illustrations, and - when necessary - translation, with an abundance of repetition through personalized mini-stories.
Our instruction follows the natural order of acquisition from listening to speaking to reading, and at last, writing; the focus for our youngest students, therefore, is mainly on auditory comprehension and a little speaking, with some attention given to reading and writing in the final years of the Lower School French experience.
Our youngest children’s ability to speak consists mainly of short phrases, isolated words, and two-word or three-word utterances. The children learn to express simple needs and basic courtesies, and they retell mini-stories with the help of picture prompts. While developing their language skills, the students also learn authentic songs, cultural traditions, and practices from French culture.
As students progress from Lower School to the Upper Schools, an increasing emphasis is placed on reading, writing, and speaking. Middle School students read typed-up versions of their class’s mini-story or another class’s version, and they write their own short stories using acquired vocabulary. By Junior High, students are ready to read longer texts and short novels. Most Junior High students are able to speak spontaneously in response to a situation, a picture prompt, or a written story or article, and are able to write lengthy pieces with a good degree of accuracy.
Grammar questions pertaining to such issues as verb endings and adjective agreement arise naturally in French class. Grammar topics are viewed in context and as part of the whole language. We balance integrating grammar into authentic learning experiences with explicit grammar instruction. Discrete grammar exercises and verb conjugations are introduced in Junior High in order to prepare students for high school placement tests.
A Far Brook student’s ten-year study of French culminates with a trip in the Junior High to French Canada. This trip adds excitement to the program by bringing the language to life and by providing an authentic context in which students can use their acquired knowledge of the French language and Québécois culture. The Canada trips allow students to see just how far they have travelled throughout their years in the French program.
“Music,” as Founding Director Winifred Moore wrote in The Roots of Excellence, “is the spiritual fabric of Far Brook,” and so we begin each school day with music at Morning Meeting, listening either to recordings or to live performances given by faculty, students, or guest artists, as members of the Far Brook community enter and exit Moore Hall. At the close of Morning Meeting we sing songs and rounds selected from a range of periods, styles, and traditions.
The Lower School music experience begins in Nursery, where children are introduced to the instruments and families of the orchestra. They also start to learn the body of Far Brook songs that are sung in Morning Meeting, and they sing traditional North American folk songs as well as folk songs from around the world. This repertoire is the primary vehicle for learning basic musical concepts and rhythms, clapped and played on percussion instruments, but it also serves to make connections to diverse peoples and heritages of the past and the present.
Musical activities gain depth and refinement throughout the students’ Lower School years. First Graders begin to read music on the staff while learning the vocal techniques that enable them to sing more difficult songs. Second Graders participate in singing choral music and learn to listen analytically to instrumental music. They also take part in the Lower School Philharmonic, a rhythm ensemble that stresses independence and interdependence in the child’s first organized ensemble experience. Third Graders meet twice a week, once for vocal music and once for a recorder class, which introduces the students to formal instrumental instruction and advances their ensemble experiences.
All students in Grades Four and Five meet as the Far Brook Choir to study sight-singing, theory, vocal tone development, and to begin choral part-singing. Formal music classes for Fourth and Fifth Graders include music history and appreciation, theory (ear-training, sight-singing), and singing. In addition, Fourth Graders continue their recorder work for half the year, delving into more sophisticated and chromatic repertoire.
The Sixth Graders serve as apprentices to the Junior High singers in the main Far Brook performing choral ensemble affectionately called “Group,” which meets twice weekly for the entire year. This ensemble studies more complicated part-singing repertoire and prepares for the major traditions of the school year (Thanksgiving Processional, Harmonia, Stabat Mater and the Spring Choral concert).
The Junior High choral ensemble, the Group, sings more challenging part-music and serves as the main performing choir at Far Brook. A Boys’ Choir, consisting of Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Graders, provides an opportunity for boys whose voices are changing and deepening with adolescence to continue to enjoy singing and participating in the School’s vocal music programs.
Students are admitted to the Far Brook Orchestra at the discretion of the Director of Music. Small instrumental ensembles, such as string, woodwind, or percussion, may be formed as needed or based on the interests of advanced students.
Private music lessons for all orchestral instruments and piano are offered as part of the music curriculum. Instructors specializing in an instrument are engaged for private lessons during school hours.
Far Brook has developed thinking in its children through an intellectual curriculum completed and fulfilled through the Arts.
- from The Roots of Excellence
At Far Brook, art is an essential component of every child’s experience and is at the very heart of the School.
The art program at Far Brook allows students from Nursery through Eighth Grade to experience the pleasure of artistic creation. Students experiment with basic materials and tools so that they may become skillful and confident in using them to give expression to their imaginations.
Skills in art build cumulatively as students move through the grades and are put to use on projects that are carried out either individually or in collaboration with classmates.
Emphasis in the early years is placed on the acquisition of fine-motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and the challenge of interpreting what is seen in the mind’s eye and transferring that vision onto a two-dimensional surface or in a three-dimensional format.
Projects produced by students in the art studio often relate directly to the core curriculum of the classroom. In Nursery, where the core curriculum reinforces the social values of family, the students work on painting, drawing, and cutting-out in order to create a mural-like scene that depicts all members of a family, using natural, found objects to represent an owl’s habitat.
In Kindergarten, students create a series of circus animals from foam core. Their animals are then attached to wooden painted stands formed in woodshop.
Students do more than create art; they come to understand how and why visual imagery is such a powerful tool for communicating ideas and experiences.
Students in First Grade create a self-portrait titled the “inside/outside me.” This double portrait has a self-portrait created on acetate on top and an inner portrait on canvas board inside. The inner portrait represents desires, dreams, and hopes for the future. One can view both simultaneously.
Second Graders study “Child and the Universe.” They create large painted suns of their own original design.
Third Graders study of Native American people is represented in various projects throughout the year. Students create dioramas of living structures which include wigwams, teepees and longhouses.
Creating an Egyptian death mask out of plaster in Fourth Grade supports the study of Ancient Egypt and brings that civilization more fully to life. A glass mosaic tile project, which begins as a collage of colored paper, utilizes themes from Greek mythology and supports the year-long study of Ancient Greece in Fifth Grade.
Sixth Graders create their own original package designs and logos with an emphasis on consumer psychology.
The exhibition spaces at Far Brook, which include Moore Hall, the Old Library, the Segal Family Library, the art room, the administration building, and classrooms, provide an opportunity to infuse art throughout the entire campus.
Seventh Graders expand their knowledge of the history of the world and study specific cultures in depth. In art, they are taught the principles related to the formal issues of art, particularly perspective and color theory, in preparation for their diptych project using oil paint on canvas. This project emphasizes conveying color, depth, and form.
Eighth Graders create an introspective assemblage box utilizing various two and three dimensional materials to encapsulate feelings, ideas, and themes. Students are required to write a word document that supports their themes and describe in what way the visual imagery expresses and represents those themes.
Historical and modern art images in the classroom reflect diverse geographical areas and come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. By utilizing images that draw from a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, the students are exposed to new ways of seeing and imagining, which may influence their own methods and styles of expression.
Great plays are given children here, for they deeply understand them in part and return to them all through their lives.
- from The Roots of Excellence, Winifred Moore, Founding Director
The core curriculum of history and literature is made experiential at Far Brook through class plays directed by a working theater professional. Beginning in Fourth Grade, each class rehearses and presents a play to the school – thus everyone in the community has the benefit of participation in a full season of theatre.
Every student in each grade in the Upper Schools becomes a member of the performance ensemble of his or her class play, as they first begin to explore and master working together to create their group performance.
The Fourth Grade has two public performances: one a presentation of poetry drawn from the work of authors as various as Shel Silverstein, e.e. cummings, and William Butler Yeats, which acts as a bridge to the second, a full production presented in the spring based on the legends and myths of Ancient Egypt, which the students study as part of their yearlong curriculum.
The Fifth Grade play facilitates the students’ transition to the investigation, rehearsal, and presentation of a classic Greek tragedy or comedy, in conjunction with their study of Ancient Greece. The production is somewhat more elaborately staged than in Fourth Grade, reflecting the students’ growing confidence and proficiency in ensemble performance. This is facilitated by the choral-based structure of Greek drama, in which the interactions between individual solo characters and the Chorus create the dramatic center of the play.
“History and literature come alive and stay in the memory of children through the drama of the ages.”
- The Roots of Excellence
The Fifth Grade Greek play, a modern translation from a classical text, provides a bridge to the Sixth Grade play, which is drawn from the worlds of Ancient Rome or the early medieval period. The students take on more complex and challenging texts, often Shakespeare plays set in Roman or early medieval times (Julius Caesar, King Lear, Cymbeline), and sometimes actual Roman plays in translation (such as the comedies of Plautus and Terence).
Also in Sixth Grade, the technical elements supporting the production, especially period costuming, become a larger part of the process, helping the students enter even more fully into the world of these historical periods.
The Seventh Grade play is drawn from the full range of the world’s dramatic literature, from historical and original period sources, either in composition (Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Richard III, or Twelfth Night), or in setting and subject (Shaw’s Saint Joan, Brecht’s Galileo). The productions grow gradually more complex in length and breadth.
The Eighth Grade students perform in two distinct productions in their final year at Far Brook. The Eighth Grade play, which reflects the students’ study of American history and literature, draws from the vast spectrum of the work of classic American writers from Thornton Wilder, Langston Hughes, and Eudora Welty to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Damon Runyon, James Thurber, and Edgar Allan Poe.
As part of their graduation ceremony, each Eighth Grade student writes a short speech and reads it to the audience of teachers and families prior to the performance of their graduation play, either The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The graduation play itself is a full-dress Shakespeare production that is accompanied by an incidental score composed by Music Director Emeritus, the distinguished composer and arranger Edwin A. Finckel and performed live by an ensemble of professional musicians. The graduation play is a performance whose complexity, grace and power have been made possible through the growth and full integration of their theatre work throughout the curriculum of Far Brook over the preceding five years.
Central to Far Brook’s sports program are the concepts of full participation and physical vigor. All students participate to the best of their abilities, and all students in Grades Five through Eight are members of the Far Brook interscholastic athletic teams.
Through the quality of Far Brook, the individual finds himself accepted at whatever level of interest and skill he is. The development of fairness and courage is the aim, teaching the player to think in terms of his team as he enters a more competitive age.
- from The Roots of Excellence, Winifred Moore, Founding Director
The physical education program at Far Brook focuses on the skills and movements necessary for participating in team activities. The activities undertaken and sports played are the vehicles through which skills are developed and learning takes place.
Far Brook students enjoy the simple physical pleasure of using their bodies well and developing their athletic abilities.
The main goals of the sports program are participation, teamwork, and skill development.
The entire athletic program at Far Brook is based on full participation. Starting with our youngest students in Nursery, daily movement is stressed. Nursery students have three structured 30-minute classes per week, consisting of two sports classes and one dance class.
Students in Kindergarten through Grade Three have five scheduled movement classes per week: four sports classes and one dance class. These classes are 30 minutes long as well. Middle School and Junior High students have four classes per week that last for 45 minutes each.
Students are given an opportunity to develop leadership skills and to support the leadership of others thus building and strengthening the community.
In Fifth Grade, an interscholastic sports program begins and continues through Eighth Grade. Boys play soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring, while girls play field hockey in the fall and lacrosse in the spring.
While a number of Far Brook graduates go on to excel in varsity sports at both the high school and college levels, all have experience in how to cooperate and how to bring out the best in their teammates as well.
The School’s philosophy of including everyone in an activity, regardless of skill level, is exhibited clearly in the sports program.