We strive to create an inquiry driven, child centered, authentic, and experiential curriculum that emphasizes the connectedness of all things.
— Prairie School of DuPage

Here are definitions of terms you may hear us use from time to time.

Authentic learning - a style of learning that encourages students to create a tangible, useful product to be shared with their world. Once an educator provides a motivational challenge, they nurture and provide the necessary criteria, planning, timelines, resources and support to accommodate student success. The teacher becomes a guide and facilitator, not a dictator. 

Child-centered - a learning environment that has the child at its heart. Children participate fully in and take responsibility for their own learning. For example, activities are geared toward children's exploration and interest or from ideas generated by children.

Common Core - national standards for literacy and math. These benchmarks are skill based and not content based. They promote deep critical and independent thinking skills. Prairie School of DuPage uses these benchmarks as a framework for goal setting.

Constructivist - teaching based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction rather than passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Constructivist teaching fosters critical thinking and creates motivated and independent learners.

Curriculum - a written plan that drives instruction. It delineates skills and concepts.

Developmentally appropriate - the environment and the curriculum meet the needs of each child in the classroom. Children do not learn to walk at exactly the same age, nor do they learn or understand specific concepts at exactly the same age. Good books on this subject are The Hurried Child by David Elkind and Yardsticks by Chip Wood.

Differentiated instruction - a method that attempts to match learners' abilities with appropriate materials, including a blend of whole-group, small-group, and individual instruction; it includes the use of numerous approaches to facilitate teaching and learning, and continually adapts to learners' needs based upon frequent, consistent, assessment.

Emergent curriculum – is not a linear process. An emergent curriculum is constantly evolving in response to children's changing needs and interests, parental and community interests and concerns, and teachers' priorities. Each of these key elements shapes the direction for future learning.

Environmental education - at Prairie School the environmental education is mostly modeled through use of best practices in conservation and sustainability.

Experiential learning - the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing". Experiential learning is distinct from rote or didactic learning, in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role.

Formative assessment - refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. The general goal of formative assessment is to collect detailed information that can be used to improve instruction and student learning while it’s happening. 

Hands-on learning - learning by doing, getting involved with a problem rather than hearing someone talk about it. It is engaging and emphasizes the process of learning. Children are active participants, and many things are made available to enhance the process.

Integrated curriculum - multiple subject areas are brought through a singular project, or are linked together around a topic or theme.

Inquiry-based instruction - a teaching technique where teachers support students as they are challenged to solve problems and/or explore ideas.  Inquiry as a technique has most often been used in science.

Multi-age classroom -  a self-contained classroom with a range of chronological ages as well as a wide range of social, emotional, physical, and educational abilities.

Nature studies - informal study of the local environment through direct experience. Nature studies are taught through-out the grades at the Prairie School.

Open classroom - the open classroom is flexible and informal, and makes use of learning centers, interactive approaches to learning, and projects rather than textbooks. It promotes a cooperative community of empowered learners, movement within the classroom, and individualized learning. Children are allowed to find their own space for working and interacting with others.

Outdoor education - at Prairie School outdoor education is the teaching of skills necessary to both enjoy and feel competent participating in adventurous challenges outdoors such as hiking, camping, orienteering, canoeing, etc., and are presented at developmentally appropriate times.  First aid, fire building, shelter building, etc., would also fall into this category as some of the skills needed to participate in outdoor adventures safely and competently.

Place-based education - an education philosophy, developed by the Orion society, led by David Sobel.  Deeply rooted in the history, culture and ecology of the local environment. Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students' local community as one of the primary resources for learning. Place-based education is often hands-on, project-based and always related to something in the real world. 

Portfolio Assessment - is a compilation of student work assembled for the purpose of (1) evaluating coursework quality and academic achievement, (2) creating a lasting archive of academic work products, and (3) determining whether students have met learning standards or academic requirements for courses, grade-level promotion, and graduation.

Project based learning - an immersive, multidisciplinary study of one topic, usually with an authentic tangible outcome – this style of learning brings subject matter to life and allows your child to develop independence, critical thinking skills and deep insights.

Scaffolding - In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. 

Summative assessment - used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of a defined instructional period—typically at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year. Prairie School uses summative assessments in math to determine if a student is ready to move from one unit to the next.

Thematic instruction - the organization of the curriculum around themes, with the teaching of cognitive skills connected to real-life experiences. The theme crosses all areas of the curriculum.