In the Elementary program, children jump into hands-on explorations and hear epic stories that illustrate the grand concepts of math, the mysteries of how plants work, and the history of our ancestors.
Lessons are presented in small groups of mixed ages, so that children can move ahead quickly in areas of strength, or revisit a previous lesson to get clarity on a challenging concept. After receiving a lesson on a core concept, students can explore in-depth those things which captivated them.
If you visit during school hours, you will find students of different ages, a bit like a one-room school house, with older children helping the younger. Instead of rows of desks, the room feels much more like a home, with coffee tables, family photos, and wingback reading chairs around a fireplace. Although the sound level is low, there is a quiet buzz of energy as students move around the room, selecting activities from shelves full of attractive objects.
Each class has two adults. One (the lead teacher) gives one-on-one lessons to children with hands-on materials. The children receiving the lesson seems attentive and entertained by the topic, while the other students continue with their own various undertakings. The second adult is available to assist children who have questions, need redirection, or perhaps who just want to share a story.
You may be surprised to see children executing tasks beyond their years, such as 1st graders discussing contracts and startup budgets, or older students conversing about geology or current affairs. We can’t guarantee that students will be academically advanced (though they often are), but what is certain is that the students are in an environment with adults who are closely observing what they have mastered, and who are evaluating on an individual level what lesson should come next in order for them to firmly grasp each concept. If a child didn’t understand his math lesson today, he can simply take out the work again later in the week, without fear of humiliation or worry that he is falling further and further behind. That same student may progress rapidly through lessons in another topic.
You may notice a student for whom sitting still seems to be a challenge, but instead of this creating a behavior problem, he heads outside into the attached garden and hula hoops for a while before settling in to study some insect on the ground. After about ten minutes, he returns inside of his own accord, evidently inspired to tackle a lesson that involves test tubes and mixtures.
In addition to traditional academic subjects, you will see students undertaking many practical skills. One student may be baking cookies or churning butter while another maps out the route to travel to their desired field trip destination. Perhaps you happen to visit on a day when the students spend the afternoon fishing in the local pond. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to check out the farm animals, where the children are raising pigs as one of their 4-H projects. Grace and courtesy are also emphasized: students learn to welcome a guest, resolve a conflict effectively, and facilitate a meeting according to Robert’s Rules.
Your time in The Hearth Room strikes you as somewhat like a summer camp—certainly the children are much happier here than the memories of your own school years. And yet, they have a much better grasp on current events, economics, science, and their faith than many adults you know. On your way out, you can’t help but think that you, too, would enjoy staying in this sunny, peaceful place.