At WSL, the curriculum is carefully designed to optimize each developmental phase of childhood. Hence we do not begin formal reading instruction until first grade. The benefits of this are two-fold. One, children are free to spend their nursery and kindergarten years engaged in creative, self-directed play, which is crucial for every aspect of their development. Two, when we begin teaching reading, students are ready, eager, and learn quickly and with confidence. This approach is used in other countries with highly successful academic programs, notably Finland. (See “The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland” in The Atlantic.)
Reading and writing instruction in the early elementary grades is based on oral storytelling by the teacher—a timeless tradition that engages students and helps them build a bridge from mental pictures to the abstract world of letters and words. The class teacher recounts classic fairy tales, illustrates the stories on the chalkboard, and writes out familiar passages on the board. The teacher also introduces writing (before reading), starting with capital letters. As their writing ability grows, students begin to copy into their lesson books what the teacher has written on the board. These writing exercises support students’ emerging reading skills.
As reading instruction progresses, students are introduced to consonant and short vowel sounds, sight words, and word families. A reading specialist joins the class in second grade to continue the teaching of reading and begin teaching spelling. Reading skills taught include phonemic awareness, word families, and strategies for reading, decoding, and spelling. Teachers use graded beginning readers that increase in difficulty as students’ skill level increases.
In later years, emphasis is placed on developing skill in research, composition, creative writing, and self-expression. In addition to language arts blocks taught by the class teacher, students in grades 6–8 meet multiple times a week with an English skills specialist to develop and refine their capacity for written work, reading comprehension, other essential language arts skills.
History & World Cultures
The humanities curriculum takes a thematic approach to language arts and social studies. The program begins with fairy tales in the first grade and fables and legends in the second grade, presented orally by the class teacher. These are followed by stories of the Old Testament in third grade, Norse mythology in fourth grade, and the ancient cultures of India, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Greece in fifth grade. Students also read excerpts from original texts and literature of or about the period. By the end of eighth grade, the students have journeyed from the days of the Roman Empire through medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Discovery, the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions, the World Wars, the economic upheavals of the 20th century, on into the present day. Studies include geography and histories of Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. Special emphasis is placed on the biographies of people who have altered the course of world history.