What is the Roberts Field School Mission?
Roberts Field School is a holistic school founded on the skillful balance of academics with art, creativity, and nature. The curriculum at RFS is designed to provide children with experiences fundamental to their growth as creative, thoughtful, and compassionate human beings. RFS is devoted to fostering the evolution of early education with a joyous dedication to the needs of the whole child, through the union of academics, creativity, and the natural landscape as the source for indelible learning.
What is the philosophy of RFS? How is this philosophy put into practice by teachers and staff at RFS?
RFS is dedicated to the nurture of the whole child. We believe the whole child approach leads the child to human greatness, which includes being happy, fulfilled, inspired by life, and connected in healthy relationships. This approach recognizes the existence of multiple intelligences in each child and honors the value of each child’s strengths in the classroom and out in nature. We believe that the holistic spectrum of educational exposure for each child, each day, should include:
- intellectual engagement
- creative expression
- structured and unstructured movement
- musical expression
- exploration and play in nature
At RFS, we believe that the intellect, creative capacity, and individual proclivities of each child thrive most when a direct and consistent connection with nature is provided as a landscape for regular kinesthetic exploration and whole learning. The immersion of the classroom in the outdoor field of nature is key to the programming structure. With our philosophy of nurturing the whole child in direct connection with nature, we trust that students will develop a greater capacity in both creative and academic performance. They will emerge as competent, well- rounded students with an extraordinary strength of vision toward their educational direction and life goals.
What types of students and families are inspired to be a part of the RFS schooling experience?
RFS provides an educational experience that focuses on creative expression as part of all learning, including in traditionally academic subjects such as math or science. Side by side with lessons in math, writing, and science, students are offered a broad landscape of creative opportunities that foster the imagination and serve as resources for higher learning. RFS gives students choices in how they approach certain aspects of that learning. Families who are excited by this type of an environment will thrive at Roberts Field.
Likewise, families who are interested in RFS are inspired by our school’s commitment to nurture each child’s relationships with others: teachers, classmates, family members, friends, and world citizens. Our teachers come to know each child as a unique individual, provide encouragement and guidance for each child’s academic and creative interests, and introduce each child to new ideas as well.
Parents who do not want academic competition at the forefront of their child’s experience and who have faith in our interdisciplinary process that focuses on the maturation of the whole child will delight in RFS.
What is the Roberts Field School’s approach to academics?
There are a myriad of ways in which RFS approaches learning; however, there are two specific formal structures. The first is one-on-one, and the second is group.
There is a specified time, on the daily and weekly calendars, during which each child has private, one-on-one instruction in reading, writing, math, and handwriting. These same subjects are woven into the other parts of the Roberts Field group experience, such as classes in science, social studies, art, music, workshop, and the Day in the Field. In this group learning, each child is challenged and inspired in his or her individual process of learning and is encouraged to grow to full capacity.
We offer a full curriculum designed around the following:
- Nature Immersion and Environmental Science
- Traditional Academic Disciplines of Reading, Writing, Math, Science,and Social Studies
- Art, Music, and Movement
- Community Building and Mindfulness
We believe our curriculum reflects the aspects of education we value most:
Student life is guided around researching, understanding, serving, and participating in our school community, as well as the local and global communities to which we are connected. For example, RFS students take care of the local neighborhood and natural environment and serve elders and younger children through contributing time, care, and attention to special art and literacy activities for these communities. Students also become involved in local and global humanitarian efforts that are age-appropriate for research, correspondence, and participation. Second grade students regularly read to preschoolers as Story Ambassadors. Both first and second grade students regularly survey neighborhood action committees for assignments in which they assist in the care of the neighborhood, such as consistent trash, recycling, and composting efforts within Prospect Park.
Art, drawing, music, and 3D design and building are main activities in the curriculum and are incorporated into all aspects of learning. Creative pursuits are also included in academic presentations where innovation is encouraged as a way to share ideas and research.
In a recent Workshop study, students explored the circulatory system of the human body and used clay and yarn to sculpt the separate chambers of the heart and to show the trajectory of blood moving away from and back to the heart for whole body circulation.
Being mindful at Roberts Field is about bringing awareness to ourselves, our needs, and the needs of others. It is about how we center together as a group, and as individuals within that group, in order to foster harmony, cohesiveness, and compassion as a learning community.
For example, as an exercise in compassionate inquiry, students of the first and second grade classes partnered by sitting face to face, holding eye contact, and taking turns greeting, listening, and sharing with their friends about parts of their life. The questions asked included what part of their family life made them feel the happiest, what part of school made them feel the most excited, and what part of friendship brings them the most joy. They concluded the exercise by thanking each other for sharing and remembering these parts of each other that are special and unique.
Students collaborate to determine expectations, rules, and experiences that mean the most to them as a group of emergent learners. It is important that they express their thoughts, feelings, and motivations within certain parts of the curricular experience, including the way that their days and activities are structured. Classes develop manifestos of sharing, compassion, and democratic exchange that allow for each student to be heard, validated, and incorporated into group dynamics.
Just one illustration of this collaboration is that first and second grade students voted to have specific times during their Day in the Field to play freely and imaginatively in order to erect their own world, characters, and narratives. Students return to these narratives each week, evolving them throughout the seasons through writing, art, building, and role play.
All aspects of learning at RFS are reflected off of the experience of being within the field of nature. At school, students will often explore their own activities and will inquire: what is our behavior within the natural realm? How can we use our experiences in nature to understand the interconnectedness of life born from the earth and our surrounding neighborhoods? How do the natural and made-made environments mutually support each other, and what care and consideration must we give to how we live in order to preserve each one’s foundation?
One small example of that care and inquiry is that students regularly survey Prospect Park for different life forms and patterns in natural structures that mark the changes of the seasons, age, climate, and natural disasters. Learning from these elements of record, students are careful to chart, document, photograph, and draw from these discoveries, but remain committed to leaving the natural physical pieces of their discovery within the park environment.
Academic Skills and Knowledge
Academics are built into learning both from the creative activities and exercises that are a predominant part of the classroom experience and the separate periods of time in which they are the sole concentration for that period of the day.
For example, a subject like math may be taught as an interdisciplinary pursuit in the Field as a time of measuring the circumference of trees, determining the total yardage of a particular spot that the class is sitting within, or figuring out the average amount of a certain type of plant possible within a wooded area of the park. Math is then also approached as a sole concentration within the classroom, where students are simply focused on math studies alone.
What are the special features of RFS programming that are considered interdisciplinary? How are they prioritized in a way that does not sacrifice the focus on traditional academics?
Two or three times each week students participate in the RFS Workshop program. Workshop provides the opportunity for students to research, examine, and document a specific theme: art, sculpture, writing, movement or theatrical expression, The themes are alternately generated by an individual child, a small group, the entire class, or the teacher.
The first and second grade class will spend 6 weeks researching, exploring, and creating in Workshop about each Earth element: Air, Fire, Water, and Land.
For example, in one of our recent fire element explorations, Workshop Topics were:
Core of the Earth
365 Days Around the Sun
Native American Celebration of Light and Fire
Workshop is a critical component in the academic, artful, exploratory, and open-ended learning process.
Our premier program, the Day in the Field, provides children with a weekly immersion experience in nature. We explore the riches of nature in the depths of our city parks. We become acquainted with places in which we experience joy both in the environment and in the rich opportunities for learning. To honor and reflect the values of the RFS namesake, the Day in the Field is a transcendent and indelible learning experience. By sharing their magical, imaginative adventures in nature, children connect more intimately with their classmates, families, communities, and themselves. We celebrate and express connection through art projects, journaling, and mindfulness practices, among others.
Does RFS offer the chance for children to engage in emergent curriculum, open play, and daily access to the outdoors? If so, how do you integrate all of this into a full academic program?
RFS believes that daily access to the outdoors, open play, and freedom to explore are critical pieces in a full education, supporting both a healthy body and a thriving imagination. The amount of time allotted to these activities is determined by a child’s grade level, but is always fundamental to the RFS program.
This part of our program shares priority with academic learning because we believe it heightens the child’s ability to learn and grow to full capacity. Being outdoors and freely engaging the imagination is required for a child to remain enchanted by learning. A child’s unique brilliance comes to life and shines forth in these spaces.
We believe that students who are on track with their grade level at RFS do not need additional concentrated academic learning in order to be more proficient. The quality of the RFS academic program and the consistency of teachers who represent the RFS philosophy provide a strong focus of academic instruction. This leaves time to implement the other holistic elements of education to which we are committed.
Is RFS considered an academically accelerated program?
In the traditional sense RFS is not considered an academically accelerated program. The core values and educational approach of our school are not predicated on prioritizing academic competition, specific achievements, success, acceleration, or “Gifted and Talented” programs.
Our interdisciplinary approach is consistent and well-structured. We follow the New York state standards for academic learning. However, our first priority is nurturing the whole child. We believe that participating in music, arts, nature, kinesthetic learning, individual exploration into self-chosen subjects and mindfulness practices are equally as important as academic learning. Expanding education to include a child’s whole being is essential for indelible academic learning. At RFS, we emphasize the nature of relationships with others and social-emotional growth as the foundation of a rich life.
At the same time, we are committed to providing quality academic learning. We are passionate about introducing the subjects of reading, writing, and math as magical worlds filled with possibility. In alignment with our mission, all of our programs are presented as resources for creativity.
How will RFS develop and evolve?
Looking toward the future, the mission of RFS remains the same: to foster the evolution of early education with a joyous dedication to the needs of the whole child, through the union of academics, creativity, and the natural landscape as the source for indelible learning. Our next steps are focused on following innovative ways to best carry out our mission.
We hold weekly meetings with staff to identify and assess teaching methods that are most successful, and to determine why one project works better than another. We continually research current thinking around teaching methods, and brainstorm with staff to see if and how to best integrate innovations into our current methods. Some of these innovations will come from other schools. When we discover a school that shares our philosophy, we arrange a visit to see, first hand, if there are any practices that excite us enough to bring them back to RFS. We also explore theories and practices of other schools with whom we share similar philosophies around learning. We consult with specialists, artists, and others with perspectives, knowledge, and exciting ideas that align with our philosophy and support our mission. Through this research, as well as speaking to parents and caregivers, we believe that the forthcoming innovations will hold the integrity of our mission.
Roberts Field will continue to employ exceptional and diverse educators and artists who passionately believe in the RFS mission and who will work diligently to insure its intended result.
Roberts Field will continue to build its student and family community through the support, feedback, and dedication of parents who genuinely believe in our core values and offerings. We want these parents to continue to inform the evolution of our vision through their feedback.
It is our ardent belief that many of the value systems, beliefs, and approaches to education at RFS will become the common path as primary education evolves in the future.