Self knowledge & search for truth
What are the highest possible human qualities and how are they developed? These are questions the staff at Running River asks as individuals and as teachers. We want children to be nourished by their own inner qualities, not just by their actions. Qualities stay with us as we change in life and are clearly manifested in all our actions.
Nature is a great teacher of qualities. For children to feel solid in who they are, they need qualities such as patience, receptivity, sensitivity, objectivity, stamina, joy, strength, gratitude and more. Since every aspect of nature is the expression of a universal quality or force, spending time in nature is one way we help children identify, develop and become attuned to qualities. We know that these qualities can take a lifetime to take root and flourish. By working together to develop these qualities, and focusing on them in our curriculum, we hope to give children a strong sense of what qualities are.
For example, when learning about overcoming obstacles we might spend time studying how rivers move around rocks. We can give children projects that develop qualities. Patience is required in raising rabbits, baking bread and making a book. Our theater productions help children develop confidence, fluidity and presence. Our councils teach attentive listening, opening to the input of others, taking responsibility for actions, waiting for inner answers, and respectful expression of feelings and ideas. These are just a few examples of the essential role qualities play in the development of our children.
Integration & depth in academics
In real life, everything is interconnected. One of our aims is helping children understand life as a whole process. In most schools, learning is fragmented into separate academic categories, with no unifying focus or interweaving thread. Running River works to connect all subjects with a yearly theme that integrates math, science, history, reading, writing and the arts. Through this process they develop minds capable of penetrating to the essence of a subject – its purpose, use, and connections with all other subjects.
Children also study the theme from every angle, developing skills necessary to learn about anything in depth, from the details to the bigger picture. This micro/macro perspective shift is the natural way for children to learn. Children always want to know why, and want to know more. Running River leaves no stone unturned when it comes to exploring children’s longing to understand, and connect to what they are learning. Rather than being satisfied accepting simple answers, we want our students to enter adult life with the yearning and skills to fully understand the world in which they live.
For our yearly theme, we begin with an essential question. For example: what is food? The class brainstorms the essential question to begin an in-depth, multi-faceted exploration into food. They employ all possible resources: books, computers, media, experts, field trips and hands on experience. Theme time might include: learning to cook, studying the history and origins of different foods (starting with what we harvest from our garden and local farms in the fall); managing a budget and learning to shop; studying nutrition and chemistry; using math to calculate meals; reading literature that relates to food; interviewing organic farmers; planting and harvesting food; building a coldframe/greenhouse, depicting food in art, learning songs about food, practicing mindful eating, and the list goes on. The theme attempts to combine all academic areas and learning life skills.
The children drive the process through questioning and problem solving in multi-age learning pods using collaborative learning to bring out every student’s interests, ideas and talents. Each child chooses a piece of the essential question to pursue. At the end of the year, children give presentations to demonstrate their learning.
Children learn and develop at their own pace. The myth that each child can be taught in the same rote fashion leaves many children confused, resulting in academic gaps which are either filled-in as adults, or never. There is no longer any question that there are many ways to learn (also called multiple intelligences). Each child has a way of learning that works best for him or her. Running River teachers engage those different learning styles.
Running River classroom ratios are 15 to 1.
In addition to teachers, volunteers and parents help in the classrooms. Teachers spend one-on-one time with each child, and pay close attention to their learning styles. As opposed to the labeling that is typical in the majority of schools, teachers at Running River work to understand the needs of each learner through observation, verbal interaction/conversations, working with parents and specialists when necessary, and by looking closely at every child’s work. With such small classes, material can be presented in a variety of ways, and children can learn in the style that maximizes their attention.
Students, starting in second grade, choose projects that are both part of a collaborative unit and a personalized area of interest. Meeting with their main teacher, they design the project, which includes setting goals in every academic area. Part of this process is to have students acknowledge their areas of strengths and address areas they are working on improving: academic, emotional, social, physical and intellectual. To complete a project, students give public presentations to classmates and parents. They self assess, with support from the teacher, their project based on how they met their goals.
At Running River every child is individually assessed in math and reading. This is not accomplished by testing, but by time spent one-on-one with the teacher using individualized assessment programs. In addition, parents fill out a questionnaire about their child’s strengths, weaknesses, passions, interests, learning style, and personal goals, which teachers use throughout the year.
There are no grades at Running River. All projects, and work from math, reading and writing groups, are put in portfolios. In addition, the teacher writes reports on all academic areas as well as the Arts, P.E. and the Emotional/Social arena. Conferences are scheduled twice a year, and can also be arranged whenever a parent or a teacher feels there is a need.
Long life health
We want every child to experience and develop their physical capacities. Children are full of energy and know the power and joy of passionately engaging in physical activity. Children have outdoor time 45 minutes every day. We conduct P.E. to teach the children skills and play team sports. We teach dance and yoga. We also hike every week. In winter we may snowshoe if there is enough snow!
The health of the body is directly linked to the food we eat. We teach children all about food: what happens when we eat, the energy that food provides us with, how different foods affect us. We have set times we eat lunch and snack so that children experience eating as part of the day’s rhythm, rather than something we do haphazardly whenever a craving arises.…. We teach children mindful eating: how to be present while preparing food and eating food. Rituals help us offer gratitude for the food we eat and for the work that goes into bringing it to our table. In addition, we have a garden where we grow our own food and give the children an experience of being stewards of the earth, involving them in the year-round process of food cultivation. We also work in other gardens. There is an old Sufi saying, “Man is Heaven for food.” We take this to mean that we have a responsibility towards the food we eat; to take the energy it provides us and to use it well.
All meals are organic, simple, whole and home made. Our meals are vegetable and grain based, and we include some poultry and fish. We work with children with allergies and sensitivities. All the children eat the food prepared at school, as it is part of our practice to eat together, as a guest would when visiting and being cooked for.
Every year the children learn about their bodies and how they work. As they grow older, the information becomes more complete and detailed, to include all the major functions of the body and hygiene. By the time they leave Running River, every student is well-educated about the components of lifelong health, and the choices they can make in order to take the best care of themselves.
Television & Media
The teachers at Running River School think it is rarely necessary to view a television program or video. However, they reserve the right to show a video to their class on topics that could greatly enhance an area of study and benefit the children as a group. For example, when we rewrote The Wizard of Oz we watched the movie to study the story and to pick certain scenes we projected onto the stage as part of our show. We did this after telling the story, talking about its deeper meaning, and beginning to rehearse scenes in our own way. Watching it after we had gotten ourselves immersed in our own version gave the students new insights into seeing the story in ways they might not have before.
We think that children especially need social contact and play to stimulate all their senses, as well as their emotional, physical and intellectual aspects. There are so many great ways to spend time than television watching or being on the computer, and when it is limited, children always find what those ways are!
The teachers have a collection of information regarding the effect of television watching and too much computer time on children’s growing brains, on their social skills and their overall development. If you are interested in any of the available materials on this topic, please ask, or check the website for additional materials or recommended reading on this subject.
Overall, we think that television watching in small doses can create a good, balanced relationship to watching t.v., especially if the family shares the time watching quality shows or movies.
There will be computers in the classrooms. For the younger grades, K-3, these computers are for the teacher’s use. However, we have had lots of fun together finding visual information on the computer. We have used the computer for you tube videos of outer space and plant and animal life, as well as to find great songs about topics such as photosynthesis. Looking for information that a child is passionate about, and sharing it with the class (or using it for a report) is a great way to guide children in computer technology.
In the older grades classroom, the computers will be used for writing some creative writing stories final drafts and for research reports or in other ways that contribute significantly to the curriculum. We used the internet to research different chickens and choose what eggs we wanted to hatch. We also found recipes for cooking acorn squash for our “Acorn Squash Challenge.” We also teach the upper grades how to conduct internet research, make charts and graphs, and design various kinds of reports. They also created slide shows for their end of year presentations.