In Lower School, the humanities subjects — such as reading, writing, history, grammar, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary, and handwriting — are sometimes taught separately, but more often as part of a larger study. Reading and writing are part of every content area, and the technical skills of language arts are taught in the context of reading and writing. And all of them are part of the overall, year-long Theme, or Central Subject, at each grade.
The idea of a theme is deceptively simple: we make one idea, carefully chosen, the focus of the curriculum for an entire year. We relate all of the subjects, whenever possible, to it. The theme must be one that is inherently interesting and accessible to the children, that provides a richness of possibilities, and on which it is worthwhile to spend an entire year.
These themes are the glue that binds together the interdisciplinary arc of the year, and they grow and develop over time and are influenced by the interests of the students. Recent themes have included:
- PreK: Elections, Civil Rights, Origin Stories, and Beliefs
- Kindergarten: Mystery, Big History, da Vinci
- First Grade: Identity and Community
- Second Grade: A People's History of Immigration in the Bay Area
- Third Grade: Creation of Culture (including Egypt and the Malian Empire)
- Fourth Grade: Joseph Campbell's Path of the Hero (specifically in ancient Greece)
The theme provides motivation to read and write, and the reading and writing further the understanding of concepts and the retention of facts. And, of course, areas such as math, art, drama, music, library research skills, and even physical education both enhance our study by providing more ways to think about and express new ideas and knowledge, and are enhanced by the excitement generated by the central subject. All of these activities allow students to integrate many subjects and to make interdisciplinary connections while engaged in creative endeavor.