In Lower School, social studies themes often serve as the basis for thematic instruction. Literature selections, art experiences, field trips, classroom visitors, stories and traditions from their home lives, and lively activities are blended into cultural explorations to enrich children’s growing knowledge about themselves and the world. As students learn to read for information, they become more adept at extracting important ideas from resources. Their environmental studies in science provide context for understanding the impact of climate and natural resources on civilizations. Math units about graphs, charts, and statistics become opportunities to investigate populations, distances, and historical time.
Discovery of self and other are the essential themes in kindergarten. Children begin their studies of societies and groups by learning and practicing ways to describe themselves and the people they know. Within the first weeks of school, colorful self-portraits appear on the classroom walls. Families play an important role through visits and objects from home, which help to explain celebrations and traditions. Our annual maple sugaring project “belongs” to the kindergarteners, who tap the sugar maple trees around campus and celebrate their harvest with a pancake breakfast. The children’s connection to the Foote community is strengthened as they meet and learn about the responsibilities of the adults at our school and create a campus map.
The year begins with an expansion of the local community study that began in Kindergarten. Students’ concept of “community” soon expands to include the New Haven area, with local explorations to investigate the features of our city. From the top of East Rock, children consider the city with a new perspective, which helps to inform beginning studies of maps, distances and landforms. They then embark on a cultural or historic study to compare and contrast “here and there,” or “now and then.” In alternating years, the comparison is either to an African community or the indigenous people of the northeast woodlands. Throughout the curriculum, lessons about identity, multicultural diversity and social justice enhance the children’s learning.
Perspective-taking provides the framework for the third grade social studies program. In the first half of the year, students immerse themselves in 19th-century New England, with a focus on the local history of Connecticut. Oral histories, visual arts and artifacts offer opportunities to learn from, and make interpretations about, primary sources. Moving from local to far away, the class embarks on a comprehensive study of Australia. Historical and environmental factors, the indigenous people of the continent, the Great Barrier Reef and contemporary life in Australia are all incorporated into a lively exploration. The year ends with a biographical research unit about inventors, focusing on the ways in which innovation has impacted people’s lives.
Places and changes are at the heart of fourth grade social studies. The year begins with an investigation of the immigrant experience—the conditions people face and the challenges they overcome by relocating to America. A second exploration involves the physical and social changes of puberty. As our students recognize their own emerging strengths, skills and abilities, they study the lives of influential people to consider the impact that individuals can have on the world. Independence and joy in learning are especially visible during the study of US geography. Students take responsibility for a substantial research project about one of the states, culminating in a celebratory 50 States Fair, which provides a showcase for their accomplishments and their new knowledge.
The significance of place—as a habitat, cultural foundation and basis for stewardship—grounds fifth grade social studies. The year begins with an overnight environmental study. The trip serves as a cornerstone for both the academic and the social curriculum. In the classroom, they consider the factors that contribute to cultures and societies. Units about ancient Egypt and Greece lead to conversations about rights, power, authority and government. Students investigate artifacts and analyze myths to identify cultural values. They write and perform plays based on mythological themes and characters. They consider laws and social practices that continue to influence civilizations today.
Computer coding is an interactive, hands-on pursuit at Foote. For a third grade STEM project, students design robots using LEGOs and program their movements using click-and-drag Scratch coding.