John Dewey, the renowned progressive educator of the early twentieth century, wrote, “The child's own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education.”
True to this powerful proposition, a Walden education begins with children’s natural wonder and encourages them to be both curious critical thinkers about learning, their community, and our world.
Our curriculum is based on a balance of academic excellence, social-emotional growth, and respect for each child’s unique pace and individual style of learning. We not only expect our children to become well-educated; we care that they also become wise. Through innovative pedagogies that are grounded in inquiry, experience, and collaboration, our forward-thinking educators support each student in developing and expressing their voice.
Social studies is the study of humans in relation to each other and to their world. Drawing upon the understanding they are gaining from exploring this relation in the past and in the present, Walden students engage their social imaginations to design systems that are life-giving, just, and equitable for both people and our planet. Social justice, anti-bias, and environmental stewardship lenses are woven throughout all our social studies units. Students construct their understanding through child-centered pedagogies such as Imaginative Inquiry as well as through integrating art, reading, writing, field trips, and block building. By exploring the problems that humans have faced over time, and being empowered to imagine solutions, children build the foundation for wisdom required of being an active, global citizen.
Elementary children are concrete learners who learn most deeply through directly seeing, feeling, listening to, touching, and experiencing the content and themes they are studying. Place–based education is the process of using the local community, history, and environment as the content to teach concepts. This helps students develop a strong and concrete sense of place and connection to their neighborhoods and communities. This connection to place, in addition to free play in nature and an adult mentor who models care for the earth, is known to be a better predictor of environmentally-friendly attitudes and behaviors in adults than traditional environmental education programs. In other words, children need to love the earth before we teach them to save it. Sitting in the sunlight next to our pond on campus, experimenting with how the Tongva might have built a weir to catch fish in the L.A. River, walking through the neighborhood with clipboards in hand to observe city systems, sketching adopted native plants at their “sit-spots” on campus, interviewing local business owners about their countries of origin, or going on field trips all over this incredibly diverse and international city of Los Angeles are just some of the ways that place-based learning comes to life at Walden.
One of the most abundant and dazzling powers children possess is the ability to imagine; to use play to explore their world, experiment with ideas, and construct their knowledge. Dewey’s quote invites us as educators to go beyond relegating this powerful capacity to the playground, and center it in the curriculum itself. Imaginative Inquiry is a unique pedagogy that does just this. Learning goals, content, and inquiry questions are embedded in compelling imaginary contexts that allow students to experience critical issues of a time and/or place, consider multiple points of view, develop empathy, and step in as expert problem-solvers. Students become a team of time-traveling archeologists, urban farmers, city department workers, archivists, investigative journalists, workers at a company that campaigns to preserve historical sights, or designers of green cities of the future, immersed in stories that not only engage their highest-order thinking skills, but allow them to practice taking action to build a better world.
To prepare students to be global citizens, we follow the social justice standards of the Teaching Tolerance anti-bias framework. The main pillars of identity, diversity, justice and action are lenses through which we design all social studies units. Students experience that people’s multiple identities interact and create unique and complex individuals. They learn to understand their own multiple identities and develop a strong sense of confidence while honoring the value and dignity of others. We guide them to notice and celebrate differences in each other and in the world, leading to an understanding that diversity is a vital value not just for their classroom community but all communities. Students also learn about stereotypes and the harmful impact of bias and injustice throughout history and in the present. They practice recognizing and naming inequities, and then taking action to change them.
Self and Family
Local Food Systems
Local Transportation Systems
Self and Family
City Systems/Government Native Flora and Fauna of Los Angeles
Self and Culture
Native Flora and Fauna of Los Angeles
Los Angeles River Over Time/Tongva Culture
American History (Founding of the Nation/Enslavement and the Fight for Freedom)
Boyle Heights (Ellis Island of the West Coast) Immigration to California
Change through Democracy: Civics and US Government Change through Social Movements: Civil Rights Movement (including LBGTQ Rights)
Through Imaginative Inquiry, Kindergarten and 1st grade students became a team of urban gardeners, exploring where our food comes from, learning about food accessibility in the city, and designing their own community garden with fruit trees, vegetables, herb gardens, open spaces for playing, and even an outdoor kitchen! In the story, they turned into bees for a day, pollinating the fruit trees and vegetables, gathering nectar, and working together to build hexagon cells out of blocks in their beehive. During their study, they visited community gardens in Pasadena, interviewed community garden activists, and grew tomatoes, peppers, herbs, cucumbers, and carrots in garden boxes on campus.
The fourth and fifth grade students immersed themselves in an Imaginative Inquiry study centered on Boyle Heights, “The Ellis Island of the West Coast.” Students stepped into role as a team of historical preservationists who found a house in Boyle Heights that was slated for demolition to make way for a luxury apartment complex. They discovered four (imaginary) boxes in the house full of artifacts from families who lived there throughout the 20th century, leading them on a journey of learning that took them through a people’s history of Boyle Heights and its history of diversity and activism.
Everyone is a reader. This is one of the first things our teachers tell students in Reader’s Workshop. We nurture each student’s identity as a reader, someone who can delight in stories and books, and support them in moving through the reading skill development stages at their own unique pace. In the early grades, the Reader’s Workshop program empowers students to explore strategies for decoding tricky words and emphasizes comprehension of text alongside reading fluency. We teach phonemic awareness and phonics skills in ways specific to each child’s individual needs. As readers grow, they work on fluency, comprehension, identifying themes and points of view, and reading for information. Students set goals and engage in book clubs, reading partnerships, and independent reading.
Reader’s Workshop is a time to practice reading skills. In a mini-lesson, students explore mentor texts to learn a new reading strategy related to decoding words, fluency, or comprehension. They then practice this new skill on their own or with a reading partner before they gather back together to share experiences and offer support to each other. Outside of Reader’s Workshop, students are immersed in opportunities to develop reading fluency with joy. They practice fluency as they read and discuss literature with a class reading partner, select and read stories to their younger buddies, and prepare for class and school assemblies and presentations.
Our teachers purposefully choose read-aloud texts to draw in, support, and stimulate a community of curious learners. In conjunction with a history unit on the founding of America, the 4/5 classes read aloud “Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge.” Reading and discussing this powerful book about a young woman’s daring escape from her enslavers, George and Martha Washington, gave students the opportunity to learn about a relatively untold but important story, to study an excellent storyteller’s craft, and to practice supporting their growing knowledge base about systems and acts of resistance with evidence from the text.
At Walden, we believe that everyone has a story to tell. We nurture a space where children learn to be courageous enough to tell their own stories and humble enough to hear and learn from the stories of others. The Writer’s Workshop approach is both highly individualized, allowing every student to grow as a writer in their own way, and highly collective, as each student is a member of a writing community where they receive feedback and inspiration from others and give it in turn. Students explore writing conventions and strategies such as punctuation, word choice, pacing, order, and sentence structure before practicing these tools in their own writing. Through trying out a multitude of genres in informational, narrative, and persuasive writing, students lay the foundation for becoming strong and insightful communicators.
In our “small moment” unit of study, we ask Kindergarten and first grade writers to take personal narratives and use details to make them more concise in scope and richer in description. Often, personal narratives at this age detail entire days and nights with enthusiastic abandon. We call these “watermelon” stories and encourage students to choose just one moment from this event to write about as they find their “seed.” Perhaps it is writing about eating that one extraordinary egg or scoring that amazing goal of the season’s final game; whichever seed they find for their “small moment,” it is a chance to celebrate our young writers and practice the writing process.
During virtually every writing activity, pairs of students are working together to discuss each other’s ideas and drafts. These writing partnerships serve to support and extend the work in Writer’s Workshop. Sharing their work with a peer increases students’ confidence and sharpens their critical lens. Over time, students learn to give and receive feedback and confer in meaningful ways, with writing partners becoming important sounding boards and supporters for each other to do their best work.
Bringing the latest in elementary school math research into our classrooms, Walden uses the highly acclaimed K-5 Bridges in Mathematics program. This engaging, hands-on curriculum focuses on developing a deep contextual understanding of mathematical concepts, proficiency with key skills, and the ability to solve complex and novel problems. Learning activities tap into the intelligence and strengths of all students by presenting material that is as linguistically, visually, and kinesthetically rich as it is mathematically powerful. Students engage in exploring, developing, testing, discussing, and applying mathematical concepts.
In 6th grade, students expand their mathematical knowledge and skills through the College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM) program.
Science, Technology, and Engineering in Math
In all grades, the math curriculum culminates in a hands-on science and engineering project, integrating key skills and concepts learned throughout the year. Students collaborate with classmates to design and build models as they engage in investigations and measurement, generate and interpret data, create graphs, and manipulate variables that affect outcomes. Their findings allow them to make conjectures and draw conclusions. From building complex marble runs and bridges in 2nd and 3rd grade to building their own working solar ovens in 5th grade, students are immersed in the usefulness and beauty of mathematics in the real world.
Rich, open-ended, and increasingly complex mathematical problems are the center of the Bridges program. During Problems and Investigations, the class is introduced to problems that compel students to encounter and grapple with mathematical concepts while solving them.
The Bridges math classes are lively moments of the day at Walden. During Workplaces, students are working in pairs, playing engaging mathematical games and working on challenges that are carefully crafted to build and solidify skills. They are encouraged to discuss their mathematical processes and thinking with their peers, a technique proven to increase math achievement.
Number Corner is a physical space in the classroom where colorful mathematical models become a part of the visual fabric of the learning community. Students gather daily around the Number Corner for quick-paced brain workouts that introduce, reinforce, and extend skills and concepts. A central element of the Number Corner display is the calendar grid, which successively reveals complex mathematical patterns through cards that are being turned over for each school day. Before the card for the day is revealed, students excitedly predict, argue, and support their theories with evidence.
Classes in Art, Dance, Library, Music, PE, Science and Outdoor Education, Technology, and Spanish are an integral part of the Walden experience from Pre-K through 6th grade. Taught by our specialist faculty, these classes are designed to encourage a spirit of Renaissance learning, nurture passions and interests, and support our students in becoming well-rounded citizens who understand the world through multiple perspectives.
- Science and Outdoor Education
- Technology and Design Thinking
- Physical Education
Children are innate scientists with their profound depth of curiosity, desire to experiment, and relentless need to ask “why.” In Science, these skills are honed through problem solving in a project-based learning approach. Combining their boundless imaginations and inquisitive nature leads to creative expression of scientific concepts. Through studies such as trees and weather, plant and animal adaptations, local watersheds, astronomy, ecosystems, and energy, students explore the world around them. They apply their learning to hands-on projects such as creating travel brochures for a vacation on Jupiter, xeriscaping re-designs of the school yard, and creating community food gardens.
Outdoor education adventures complement our Science instruction with a progression of overnight trips arranged each year beginning in 3rd grade. These trips are integrated with the curriculum and take students to diverse environments including Joshua Tree, Idyllwild, Catalina Island, and the Grand Tetons. Experiential in nature, the trips provide opportunities for leadership and risk taking, enhance students’ appreciation for the natural world, and encourage steps toward independence.
Where does our water come from? Following pipes and faucets around campus, students wonder what brought the water to the school. They crumple a piece of paper and expand it to model a mountain, and then rain down with a spray bottle to watch the water move through their miniature watershed. Next, students draw out their ideas of water sources such as oceans, lakes, and rivers connected to the school by intricate pipes, filters, and other transport systems. Finally, they experiment to find how these sources could provide drinkable water as they uncover documents from the past that show the need to build aqueducts and move on to the next question, "What’s an aqueduct?"
What is DNA and how does it impact us individually and as communities? Students extract DNA from strawberries while learning how each step of the process teaches us about the compostion of our cells and the recipe book inside of each of us. However, just because our DNA is filled with recipes, it does not mean all the food will be made. Often, environmental and socio-economic factors decide what genes are turned on and off in our bodies. Through an excersize of a coin flip, students create a scenario for a person who may be exposed to air pollution, has a physically intensive job, and lives in a food desert. Through drawing and storytellling, their created person tells their story and how they’d make policy changes to keep all communities healthy.
Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once [we] grow up.” At Walden, we agree! That’s why our art program celebrates exploration and autonomy. While art tutorials and class projects provide a framework, each student is an artist on their own path, guided by their own interests. Structured activities provide students with inspiration, creative problem solving, and techniques and media appropriate to their age level, while still allowing for choices and artistic expression. Students learn that the responsibility of the artist is to give their best effort to their creative work and push oneself towards excellence.
K through 3rd grade students begin with mindful centering, calming their minds and bodies and getting ready to give their best effort to their creative work. Next, they observe a brief tutorial on an art technique such as collage, origami, or blending using oil pastels. The largest part of class time is devoted to their own creative work. Students set up their workstations with different art materials of their choosing and enthusiastically dive in. After clean-up, students share their creations with pride! They may choose to take their art home or leave it to work on the following week.
After mindful centering, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders participate in a brief class discussion where they are asked to respond to a piece of art or an event in art history. From there, they set about working on long-term projects, which might include stop motion animation, costume design, splatter painting, or figure drawing, to name just a few options. Older students enjoy the most freedom in the art studio, having mastered the various art centers in their previous years at Walden. Their creative offerings frequently turn into hallway displays and pop-up galleries across campus.
Music classes at Walden, centered in the Orff-Schulwerk philosophy, challenge the status quo by recognizing every student as a musician regardless of their level of experience, and encouraging them to explore all musical elements through sound, speech, singing, improvisation, and the playing of instruments. Balancing choice with guidance, coursework is geared toward students’ interests. Over time, a creative and supportive musical community is formed with children learning that, with patience and practice, everyone can create something meaningful. Our program builds upon concepts and skills established in Kindergarten, which increase in depth, diversity, and complexity in the higher grades. Students in all grades collaborate with their classmates to rehearse and perform songs and dance numbers from a wide variety of genres at the annual Spring Show.
Students have the experience of rehearsing and performing music and dance numbers with their class in front of the entire Walden community at the Spring Show.
Students self-select instruments that they want to become more proficient at and often form bands and ensembles with their peers. A concerted effort between students and our music teacher leads to the creation of both formal and informal performances during assemblies and lunchtime. Students also practice and perform with their classes at the Spring Show.
Students in grades 4-6 are collectively called "The Ponderers" at Walden. They participate in the Ponderers’ Choir and collaborate to produce and perform songs from a wide variety of genres at the Walden Winter Sing and the Spring Show.
Our dance program lays the foundation for an appreciation and understanding of the art form, as well as instilling in each child the numerous benefits of moving rhythmically and expressively to music. We encourage children to freely experience the joy of movement and awaken their personal expression while introducing a multitude of genres to their musical awareness. Our dance teachers also emphasize coordination, dexterity, flexibility, balance, knowledge of left and right, rhythm, and the ability to remember a sequence of movements. Dance empowers children to become self-reliant, grounded, and integrated movers and learners.
On any given day in Dance, Pre-K students joyfully leap, carefully tip-toe, and calmly twirl. They crawl, roll, skip, and jump, exploring all the wonderful ways they can move their bodies! Our youngest dancers engage in short dance sequences based on the seasons, nature, and their lives at home. In the “Bug Dance,” students closely observe and carefully mimic the movements of various insects. Using imaginative play, they create dance sequences that allow them to practice hearing musical cues, increase self-awareness of their bodies in space, and rehearse sequential memory.
2nd and 3rd grade students are co-creators of their performances for the annual Spring Show. To collaborate on their original choreography, they use their knowledge of the elements of dance such as shape, space, size, levels, and pathways in lengthy sequences from other dances in class such as “The Russian Sailor Dance,” where they focus on weight shifts in lower body movements, and “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” where they focus on arm, side, and cross-body movements with an increased tempo.
Our library provides students a place to explore literature – to sample diverse styles, voices, and ideas as they develop a voice and an understanding all their own. It is a place to seek new knowledge, to learn how information is curated and organized, and to access and evaluate material in the collection. Students build a fundamental repertoire of research techniques that can grow with them and support their curiosity and drive for lifelong learning.
In keeping with our emphasis on mindfulness, social justice, and laying a foundation for wisdom, we incorporate technology into our students’ learning as a tool for critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Our comprehensive approach is anchored in three central strands: The Walden Wonderlab, integrated technology, and digital citizenship. Together, these three areas teach students to see themselves as empowered change makers and responsible creators rather than passive consumers of technology.
In the Wonderlab, students are introduced to the mindsets of being a builder and a maker. They embark on the process of being a design thinker: empathizing, ideating, prototyping, testing, and refining. In Kindergarten and 1st grade, technology class is screen-free, giving students design challenges with 3-D materials such as wooden blocks that grow their brains and bodies as well as lay intuitive foundations for physics, engineering, and mathematics concepts. In 2nd and 3rd grade, students build on these foundational design thinking skills as they use a block-based coding program to program physical robots. In 4th and 5th grade, students explore digital content creation, including using software tools to create inventions, stop-motion filmmaking, and editing with a green screen. In 6th grade, students are introduced to coding with Python, a user-friendly, practical, and expressive computer programming language.
The integrated technology strand utilizes the materials and technology students are exploring in the Wonderlab in the broader curriculum to enhance projects in science, social studies, math, and language arts. Technology becomes a tool to communicate and express students’ learning. Whether designing a robotic moving model of a green transportation system in their “L.A. River of the Future” project or filming a stop-motion film for their California History Museum, students at Walden are using technology in context.
Spanish classes at Walden are a hands-on exploration of the vast and varied Spanish-speaking diaspora that inhabits the Greater Los Angeles Area. As students explore elementary vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and basic reading and writing skills, the curriculum centers the importance of the language as a tool of connection with their community and the Spanish-speaking world. Through field trips, art projects, singing, holiday exploration, and food experiences, students learn about the distinct cultures and histories of Spanish-speaking countries, while they develop an ear for the language and the confidence to speak it.
In Spanish, students engage in real-life experiences and tasks to practice vocabulary and simple sentences. In the "Ensalada de Frutas" unit, Kindergarten and 1st grade students' creativity flourishes as they write epic fruit salad recipes that include their favorite fruits and practice their numbers. They take a walking field trip to the fresh produce section of a grocery store to purchase the necessary ingredients while practicing their vocabulary, and make a fruit salad to share in class!
In 6th grade Spanish, students show their spontaneity and confidence by immersing themselves in the dramatic arts. During a unit of study in Spanish class, students choose a fun idea and develop it into a play they write, build the props for, and act out in groups. Through this process of creating, rehearsing, and performing, they polish their Spanish writing and language flow.
Our PE program provides children with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to make active, healthy living a lifelong habit. We want each child to feel confident in their physical ability. Cooperation, fair play, teamwork, communication, and respect are at the forefront of all our activities and sports. Beginning with collaborative and problem-solving games, we build sportsmanship before moving to skill-building units that nurture students’ aerobic capacity, improve flexibility, and prepare them for various sports.
The first six weeks of the school year are dedicated to cooperative games and problem-solving activities where we task students with confronting a specific scenario or a problem to solve collectively as a group. These activities focus on fostering cooperation, encouraging strategic and supportive dialogue, listening to different opinions, and having fun at the same time. In other words, students are learning and practicing collaboration and communication skills that are essential for the success of any physical activity, game, or sport.
Even though we de-emphasize competition in PE, big feelings are naturally flaring up during our team sports units. Common phrases that can be heard on the yard include, “Hurry up!,” “I’m not good at ___,” “They cheated,” and “If you would have _____, then we would have won.” After each game, or even in the middle of an activity, we come together as a class to reflect on the game. Students can offer other teams or individuals feedback or suggestions to help them succeed. We all share ideas to mutually support one another and help the group feel successful.