Thematic Studies– A Lake and Park Highlight by Eileen Hynes

Camille reading a chapter book to the beginning students
 at Mt. Baker Park
Thematic Studies is our way of integrating science, art and social studies into our students’ day in a seamless way. It helps students make connections and brings deep meaning to their learning.  When offering subjects that are thematically integrated, we provide powerful opportunities for students to practice important skills that they are already working on.  In this way they gain fluency.  When Once a connection is made, a student is often motivated to learn more about a subject.  The child then will eagerly work with others to read new information.  Writing skills are practiced  as they create a poster or a script.   Speaking skills are gained in order to practice for a presentation.  Understanding of any topic will deepen as children learn from peers and share what they’ve learned with others. 
Upper Primary student writing and drawing
about spiders.
 Throughout the school year thematic studies will take various forms.  As this year begins, classes have been working within their classrooms on projects that serve as a bridge by which students transition from summer to the school year.  The Beginning Group is being welcomed to Lake and Park through Camille’s structuring of their day to introduce school routines and materials, including exploration of our favorite neighborhood outdoor spaces.  The Primary Class began the year collecting seeds, harvesting our community garden and wondering about the markets in the city that sell produce.  The Upper Primary Group has created a thematic study around the main character in the class read aloud book, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, reading additional non-fiction and folktales about spiders, and observing spiders and webs in the field. The Intermediate Class revisited engineering challenges as they set norms for collaborative learning this fall, along with a dramatic investigation of favorite fairytales with a twist.

Primary students harvested and observed at the garden, then
returned to school to cook.

At regular times throughout the year the whole school will choose to explore a common theme – sometimes for just a week and other times for a longer period.   These learning opportunities may be based on a particular exhibit at a museum or a theater performance.  Whatever the theme is, our approach fundamentally remains the same – child-centered, hands-on, and intellectually stimulating.  Providing opportunities for children to question, explore, investigate, analyze, synthesize, collaborate and explain one’s thinking make up the constant behind each theme that we offer in any given year at Lake and Park School.
Water testing in the field.
Ongoing topics of study include our school garden at Colman P-patch and the raising of Coho salmon.  Both of these topics provide endless wonder and room for exploration and connections in all directions.  Last year we learned about the restoration project on the Elwha River and the removal of the Elwha dam.  The first fish in over one hundred years have reached the upper parts of the river this summer.  Scientists and environmentalists planned and prepared for the project for years, gathering native seeds and propagating plants to restore the habitat.  This year we plan to learn more about these native plants and work on a restoration project nearby at Colman Park.   In doing so, we will be given an opportunity to think about the connection between our work and the work done at the Elwha.  We will use all of our senses as we learn about the interconnectedness of the living things on earth. 
Salmon release April 2014.