The Long Ridge School

Why an interdisciplinary curriculum for early childhood and elementary students?

By Kris Bria

Why Interdisciplinary?
By Kris Bria, Head of School
The Long Ridge School, Stamford, Connecticut

My first interdisciplinary course was as a sophomore in a college—It was an exciting revelation to me to study the relationship among the literature, music and art of early 20th century France! I loved the course in a way that no other learning had resonated with me.  A great teacher was a bonus.

Even two-year-olds at The Long Ridge School benefit from an interdisciplinary curriculum—one that connects experiences and information from a variety of disciplines to form a more cohesive and in-depth program than one that always isolates subject areas.

Throughout the school, theme studies connect the various curriculum areas to present content in integrated ways and to enhance the learning of basic skills.  Themes can connect literature, art, music, social studies, science, world languages, physical education, etc.  While it is not practical for all lessons to be related to a theme, themes are chosen that interest and engage students in meaningful learning at all ages.  Most themes are planned by teachers and include opportunities for students to pursue their own interests within the theme, pose and answer questions about the theme and initiate new themes.  For example, nursery students initiated themes abut robots and SCUBA diving that extended their studies of space and the seashore.  Theme studies can vary in length from one week to the entire year.

Examples of themes throughout LRS are:

Beginners: Animals, Seasons, Colors,
Nursery: Seashore, Farm, Music, Ourselves, Our World at Night, Birds
K-1: Folktales Around the World, Art and Artists, Authors and Illustrators
2-3: Medieval Times, Thinking Outside of the Box—the Having of Great Ideas from Ancient Egypt and Greece
4-5: Fresh and Salt Water Environments, Native Americans, Explorers, Immigration, Colonial America.

While the roots of interdisciplinary instruction can be traced to thoughtful teaching practices throughout the ages, John Dewey and other progressive educators implemented and studied the benefits of theme-based, interdisciplinary, “hands-on” learning early in the 20th century. Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, a leading advocate of interdisciplinary curriculum design, traces its history in an online Channel Thirteen Workshop and concludes, “Today, interdisciplinary learning has become a widely accepted tool for curriculum design.”  She cites two reports from the Carnegie Foundation and NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) that helped “interdisciplinary curricula enter the educational mainstream.  These documents advocated a new interdisciplinary vision for American schools at both the middle and high school level.  The currently dominant subject-oriented approach to the curriculum leads to students skimming across the surface of a vast curriculum, leaving insufficient time to gain deep significant understandings,’ noted the NASSP report.”

“Interdis” has become a new “buzz word” in middle and secondary education, but has a long tradition of providing our pre-school and elementary students with “deep significant understandings” and an engagement in learning for 75 years.

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