Creating an environment for learning

“It’s about creating an environment where children can ask questions, can live in the mess, and can be risk-takers,” shared a fourth-grade teacher in a recent conversation about teaching and learning. “I want students to be thinkers,” remarked another. “This lesson requires mental effort and I want students to challenge themselves by coming up with their own idea,” reflected a second-grade teacher. Reflective practice, deep thinking about pedagogy, and personalizing the learning experience for each student is part of the everyday work of a Lower School teacher in our Breck community . . . and students are the benefactors of a faculty who teach with purpose and intention.

The Lower School program is rich with learning that has been developed at the grass-roots level by teachers who are inspired by research in how the brain learns, child development theory, and content-based practices. Four programs illustrate the uniqueness of the learning experience our students engage in each day.

  • Step into a first grade classroom during the literacy block. Three teachers are facilitators of reading instruction – each sitting around a table with small groups of children talking about books. The guided reading model integrates word study, phonemic awareness, text features, literature components, and comprehension strategies. Around the table, children read books that are selected for their instructional level with opportunities to support and stretch their skills. Children see themselves as readers and find joy on the pages of a book.


  • “Is a hunch like a hypothesis?” asked Natalie. “Will the car have more momentum on a longer ramp than a shorter ramp?” wrote Kallen and Ayva. “We’re being scientists and just wondering!” he remarked. This kind of conversation is typical in our Real Science classrooms. On this particular morning, second graders were engaged in an integrated study of science and technical writing. They were exploring how a change in one variable impacts the outcome of an experiment. This learning speaks to the readiness of our students for complex, open-ended thinking. “It’s not a snowy owl, it’s a barn owl because of its heart-shaped face,” explained a third grade ornithologist. Partnering with Cornell University, our third graders collect data from their observations of birds at our feeders, and send that data to researchers who are advancing the understanding of nature and the study of birds. “I’m thinking about a zip-line challenge to enhance the fourth graders study of mass, friction, force and motion,” shared the Director of the Challenger Learning Center MN as we gear up for Engineering Week in February. 


  • Perseverance . . . I use a growth mindset to keep going is this month’s CARE theme. CARE is our nationally-recognized character education program developed by faculty to instill the values of self-awareness, community, and work qualities within our students. Lower School students learn valuable skills that are important not only for their school years, but will be invaluable in their futures. Mindfulness is an extension of this program and another skill we believe is critical for our students to internalize for their health and well-being. Making time for social-emotional learning is an essential component of the learning for our students.


  • Where in the world will our children find themselves when they move beyond Breck? Surely, most of them will live outside of Minnesota and perhaps the United States. Will they be prepared to do so? Beginning in preschool, every learner begins the study of a world language. We know the brain is receptive to language at an early age, thus the beginning of the P-12 language sequence. Speaking, writing, and culture study is embedded in the Lower School curriculum. 

We know differences in educational experiences impact a child’s understanding of themselves, confidence in their abilities, and attitudes towards learning. Opportunities for leadership, public speaking, chess, artistic expression, and the P-12 community add to the comprehensive Lower School experience for our students. 






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