The Prairie Dog Language Arts curriculum includes activities in which each child can make use of language in listening, speaking, writing and reading in order to communicate or receive the communication of another’s ideas, thoughts or feelings. The level, pacing and methods of teaching, as well as the materials used, vary according to the developmental needs and learning style of each student. Some language arts activities, like journal writing and independent study, are completely individual. Other activities use small group instruction, e.g., reading a story or doing a phonics lesson or working on a joint project. The language arts curriculum is based on the recognition that children have a deep desire to make sense of their world, including language and print, and, given appropriate direct instruction and rich experiences will do so, though not in a uniform way or timetable. Comprehension skills—the ability to derive information from written material, to draw conclusions and make inferences or predictions and to recognize a sequence of events– are also an essential part of the Language Arts curriculum. The curriculum continually reinforces the connections between reading and writing. Children receive instruction in the proper formation of letters, the mechanics of placement of writing on the page and basic punctuation as well as the process of sounding out words for independent writing. The writing curriculum also fosters the attitude that writing is a way of communicating, that writing is an enjoyable and worthwhile activity and that editing and revising are important tools in the writing process. Reading and writing are integrated into all subject areas. Over time children increasingly become independent readers and writers. The Language Arts curriculum addresses speaking and listening skills by encouraging children to express their ideas and feelings in a clear and constructive manner, to listen attentively to what another person is saying, to respond appropriately with questions or comments and to appreciate differences of opinion so all participants in a discussion feel safe and can be helpful in solving problems and sharing information. The specific activities of the Language Arts curriculum are: story time (reading stories or poetry aloud to children); circle time (a time for announcements, listening and sharing); creative writing and other writing projects, including research projects; language experience activities (including individual and small/whole group writing activities in which children learn to read their own writing and that of others); exposure to children’s literature; and D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read), when each day children are able to read with or without a partner for a sustained period of time or to read to the younger children.
The Prairie Dog Mathematics curriculum views mathematics as much more than computation. It is the study of mathematical relationships and ideas and as such covers much more than addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The math program is based on mathematics as applied to problem solving and hands-on experiences using such math tools as Cuisenaire rods, Unifix cubes, the abacus, blocks, geoboards, scales, pattern blocks and fingers. Even as children become more confident with basic concepts, manipulatives continue to form a basis from which to gain understanding of new concepts. The emphasis is on truly understanding what one is doing through concrete experiences and feeling comfortable enough to experiment with number or problem solving. The solid understanding of concepts which comes from manipulating real objects and putting their skills to use in “real-life” situations better prepares children for the more abstract paper-and-pencil record of math problems they will encounter as they move into the higher grades. With respect to the particular math skills covered, the program uses as a guide the standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. As with other skill areas, the mathematics curriculum allows the teacher to determine what each child in the group needs in terms of instruction, materials and pacing. While most structured instruction occurs individually or in small groups, there are also many times when the whole group is involved in a math-oriented project such as graphing, cooking or measuring how much bird seed we have used in a week. By encouraging a problem-solving attitude in the children, math occurs throughout the day, not just in prescribed instructional times. The following characteristics of students who feel confident about math, taken from Marilyn Burns, About Teaching Mathematics: A K-8 Resource, describe the attitudinal goals of the Prairie Dog mathemtics curriculum: interest in finding solutions to problems; confidence to try various strategies; willingness to risk being wrong at times; ability to accept frustrations that come from not knowing; willingness to persevere when solutions are not immediate; and understanding of the difference between not knowing the answer and not having found it yet. In addition, through their participation in this math program children will come to realize that there may be more than one right answer to a particular problem. A further realization for both teacher and child is that the process or strategy used to arrive at an answer is more interesting and more important than getting the “right” answer. Games are also used to teach and practice math skills. Given any particular child or group of children, more mathematical concepts may come up and be explored, depending on the unique interests and conceptual understanding in the group. The program encourages a sense of play and exploration in mathematics. The overarching goal of the mathematics curriculum is to ensure, through a wide variety of activities, that the children fully understand the process which leads to mathematical algorithms or rules. Children are not truly competent in math if they only memorize abstract procedures or produce answers by rote. True mathematical fluency comes from understanding the process by which these procedures are derived, so that one sees when certain operations or procedures make sense and can really explain the what and why of how one is approaching a mathematical problem.
The Prairie Dog Science curriculum is primarily a hands-on learning experience. It seeks to develop a sense of wonder about the natural world, an appreciation for all living things and a sense of stewardship. A science project will often involve an ongoing study. One such study of rivers included inquiries about water, its properties, the water cycle and surface tension. Children may also engage in independent study projects on topics of particular interest to them. As with other curricular areas, science is not restricted to a specific time of day. Teachers recognize that the desire to discover and explore scientific concepts is constantly with the children. If a child brings an interesting insect or rock to school, it may lead to a spontaneous study of that object. Often a story time chapter book leads to interesting paths of scientific exploration. Many children’s toys operate on scientific principles. Goals for the science program include: how to ask thoughtful questions and develop possible answers; forming and testing a hypothesis and drawing conclusions using the scientific method; heightening children’s observation skills; developing a responsible use of natural resources, respect and responsibility for all living things; exposing children to commonly used science tools; building confidence in creating one’s own questions and the means for finding the answers to them; and risking ideas and brainstorming to encourage flexible creative problem solving and thinking.