Our highly experienced and dedicated teaching staff creates our rich curriculum that is responsive to children’s interests and uses an inquiry-based, integrated approach, emphasizing hands-on activities. Teachers organize reading, writing, social studies, math, science, art, drama, movement, and music activities around core subjects–a thematic approach to learning. A classroom’s exploration may be focused on ancient Egypt, the immigrant experience in America, or the Atlantic Ocean, as examples. Teachers and students often develop the themes collaboratively. This integrated, thematic approach leads children to make meaningful connections as their knowledge of the world grows in breadth, depth, and sophistication.
The heart of Touchstone is the education of the whole child. We believe that the social, emotional, intellectual, physical, ethical, and creative aspects of children’s development are inseparably entwined. Here we work with students and help them learn to solve problems and approach new situations with honesty, confidence, and respect. We value play, in general, and recess times, in particular, as important opportunities for social learning for all ages. Our teachers weave a strong, interactive social and emotional component into the academic program and encourage children to talk openly about their ideas and concerns and to problem solve with others effectively.
Our integrated arts program weaves fine arts, music, drama, dance, and movement into each classroom’s thematic studies, and our students explore each of these disciplines in depth as part of an overall arts education. For example, a class of six-, seven-, and eight-year-old students engaged in an extended classroom study of India will explore traditional forms of Indian music, dance, and visual arts (engraving on copper and drawing radial rangoli designs in chalk, as examples).
Other arts classes are dedicated to creating sculpture using armature, watercolor painting and the properties of color, and line drawing using charcoals, to provide an arts education in techniques, ideas, and genres that expands beyond what the students’ thematic studies entail.
At Touchstone, we honor creation and experimentation within the arts; we also honor the work of revision, rehearsal, and reflection. We place value on all aspects of art–art that is personal or for an audience, art that is impromptu or polished, folk traditions, and formal theory.
Artwork is displayed at all stages. Performances may be improvised or rehearsed extensively; musical arrangements might be sung as written or emerge from the group’s experience of singing together. In this way, we encourage the interrelationships of artistic vision, audience awareness, and cultural history. Most of all, however, we encourage the joy of being engaged in the arts.
Spanish instruction is guided by the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning with its emphasis on “communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities.”
At the elementary level, Spanish emphasizes basic vocabulary–colors, days of the week, numbers, names of seasons, greetings, and expressions of courtesy–as well as vocabulary from cultural events throughout the year, such as the Day of the Dead, Three Kings Day, or El Cinco de Mayo. Stories, songs, rhymes, and games in Spanish strengthen listening and speaking skills.
Our physical education classes provide an environment of activity and movement designed to initiate physical, social, emotional, and intellectual growth. Students have the opportunity to explore and learn at their own pace, assessing their comfort level with various activities, and are encouraged to move out of that comfort zone and take safe risks. Activities are planned and designed to include elements of play, fun, critical thinking, and fitness in an environment geared toward enhancing the student’s personal success through group involvement.
We’ve adopted an Adventure Learning Approach founded by Project Adventure. Project Adventure describes adventure as a way of doing; it is not something that you just do. Adventure exists when participants are engaged in activities that are unique and relevant, include challenges, and have an atmosphere of safety and respect.
We place a particular emphasis on time spent outdoors, and when we speak of “outdoor education,” it refers to many things: organized ropes and challenge courses, active participation in our extensive gardening program, scientific inquiry of the natural world, and time spent outside at recess. We extend the classroom experience to include outdoor spaces in order to provide meaningful, integrated, contextual learning opportunities. We also send children outdoors simply to play.
The benefits children derive from being outside are myriad and well documented. From connecting in lasting ways to our natural environment to having free time to play in the fresh air and sunshine, children relish time outdoors. Aside from the fundamental health benefits of an active life, children develop leadership skills, curiosity, imagination, problem-solving skills, teamwork, respect for nature, and a strong sense of their own capabilities.
All of our students spend time outside every day–our younger students get an hour of recess daily, and after about age 10, students have 30 minutes of recess daily. Physical education classes regularly meet outdoors. Classroom teachers often take students out onto our nature trail or into our open-air gazebo either as part of their curriculum or simply to be outside. In addition, we feature regular field trips that include ropes and other challenge courses geared to each developmental level, camping and hiking trips, overnights to the Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts, and other outdoor educational experiences at every level.
Students are assessed by observation, individual conferencing between teacher and student, and ongoing portfolio development. Progress is reported through conferences and two written reports per year, the format of which varies from level to level. Parent-teacher or portfolio conferences are scheduled four times per year and are also available upon request throughout the school year.
Each conference serves a different function. During conferences, teachers and parents review each student’s progress and set goals for future learning. As children move into the higher classes, they begin to attend conferences with parents so that they become directly involved in the assessment process.
The school day begins at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 3:00 p.m. Morning care, beginning at 7:30 a.m., and afternoon care, from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., is available for an additional fee.
Our extended-day program (EDP) offers a variety of activities, play time, homework time, and healthy snacks. In addition to before- and after-school care, we run programs during the school year on curriculum days (when there are no classes and teachers plan curriculum) and during the February and April school vacation weeks.An after-school enrichment program providing instruction in music, the visual arts, and athletics is generally available at school during EDP for additional fees.
Students bring their lunches, drinks, and snacks from home.
We seek students from across the region with diverse backgrounds who will benefit from and contribute to our school community. We seek students who are committed to learning, who are eager to participate in partner, small-group, whole-group, and individual projects, and who are willing to actively engage every day. Our students are receptive to feedback, attentive to their teachers and peers, and willing to try new things. While our teachers spend one-on-one time with their students every day, students are expected to work independently and with peers when their teacher is working with other students. We recognize that students arrive here with different levels of skill and experience, but it is the demonstrated capacity to embrace these goals that is the hallmark of a Touchstone student.
Once parents submit an application, students are invited to participate within a classroom of peers. For the youngest students, the visit may last half a day, and for older students the visit is from one to two full days. During the visit, students have the opportunity to be active members of a classroom. They will spend one-on-one time with one or more teachers who will be assessing their current academic levels; they will also be observed in peer interactions throughout the day to gauge their ability to work and interact with other students.