Children enter Manhattan Country School with a natural curiosity about the world of language and with various levels of literacy skills. Some are already fluent readers, others develop their skills steadily and still others require consistent support as they build their skills. At MCS, students are surrounded by words, stories, discussions, books, debates, rhythm and poetry; namely, the life and purpose of language. For example, William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” (“so much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/ barrow”) may be read in one room, while in another, students share adjectives to describe a duck that has been brought into the classroom. Elsewhere, the opening to a story or report is drafted, charts and signs record classroom activities and children’s stories are compiled to make favorite classroom books. To encourage an appreciation of language as a vehicle for personal, social and intellectual exchange, teachers make opportunities for reading aloud and independently, for pleasure and for information. Students enjoy viewing literature as a window into other lives and cultures, searching for themselves and their experiences as they read. Reading and writing become the tools of imagination, skill-building, shared connections, self-knowledge and analytical thinking.
Children learn to read in many ways, and the program takes into account the learning styles of individual students. Formal reading is taught using a combination of methods (sight, phonetic, analytic and whole language) with individuals and small groups. Reading broadly and in a wide variety of genres fosters a love of literature and analytical thinking skills.
Teachers follow a sequential program of instruction in writing mechanics, vocabulary, spelling and grammar. As students acquire these skills, they apply them to their own writing with increased consistency. Assignments cover a range of literary forms: expository prose, creative stories, letters, original plays and poetry. The teaching of reading and writing in the upper grades is characterized by a critical exploration of text, voice and perspective, as well as the historical context of identity, including race, gender, sexuality and social class.