Where learning comes to life
Where learning comes to life
We believe that children need to live vigorously in an environment that invites learning, and we know that they will thrive given the time, the space, the resources, and the gentle and respectful guidance of skilled mentors. Much as we value core academic skills, we also find it important to nurture and protect childhood, giving kids the chance to do things like climb, dig, run, unicycle, gaze at the clouds, sing, prepare and share food, and feel the earth beneath their feet.
In the first through sixth grades, our small academic classes are taught by specialty teachers in math, humanities, and science. The primary goal is to create meaningful classroom experiences that keep children engaged and active. In addition, students attend a daily arts class in music, art, drama, or circus arts.
This structure means single-subject teachers can provide a depth of knowledge in their field of expertise. It also gives students the opportunity to form relationships with a family of teachers who can follow a student’s academic progress through the grades. Kindergartners spend most of their day with one dedicated teacher but also have time with the arts teachers.
Our progressive approach prioritizes class discussion, open dialogue and hands-on experiences to ensure children are active, enthusiastic participants in their own education. We honor children’s curiosities, recognize they have different interests and needs, and encourage their ability to problem solve in a group setting.
Students are given the chance to design learning projects based on their passions and to lead class activities, both of which increase the depths of understanding. Competition among peers is deemphasized in favor of cooperative work and personal achievement. To this end, grades and testing are not part of the curriculum. Homework is limited to allow time for other activities outside of school and to help promote a well-rounded child.
Our campus is an integral part of the student experience at Orchard School. Teachers use every opportunity to bring the learning outside and allow children to interact with nature. In science, students might spend weeks tracking the bird activity around bird feeders they built in a carpentry elective.
In math, they might develop word problems based on counting legs, heads and tails of our farm animals. In language arts, they might gather for centering yoga activities under the trees, or to write poems about key features on campus. We know that children are happier when they develop a concrete relationship with the Earth and when they get to learn while moving their bodies.
Our life lab garden is comprised of about 2,000 square feet of sunny fenced land with many prolific fruit trees and raised vegetable and flower beds. As well as tending this garden, students help prepare two enormous and delectable meals each year with food grown on campus, for the annual Harvest Festival held in October, and the Thanksgiving Feast the following month. In addition, kids use garden-grown ingredients yearlong in the school’s hot lunch program and for cooking class electives.
Our spacious 14-acre property in the Aptos foothills boasts a seasonal creek, a meadow, play structures, a swimming pool, all kinds of trees and a redwood grove. Children are given ample time to run, climb trees, play field games, dig in the sand and mud, and build forts and fairy gardens. Extended recess time is valued because unstructured play time provides an important opportunity for deep engagement and cooperative, child-driven learning.
Three alpacas, a pot-bellied pig and a sizable flock of chickens live at the school. All grades take turns caring for the farm animals -- feeding them, cleaning the corral, collecting eggs, grooming, interacting and observing. Periodically, the whole school makes an enormous human fence by linking hands to let the animals run free for a time.