Cairn Hill An Educational Collaborative

Cairn Hill is an after school program that seeks to enrich the education of children in underserved communities

Home | | 781.648.4605


"The nature of life is that it is a story." —Jerome Bruner, educational psychologist

"If you want to raise intelligent and compassionate children, tell them stories. If you want your children to be more intelligent and more compassionate, tell them more stories! " —Albert Einstein

Our Stories

margaret teaching

The cornerstone of our program is the vocabulary-rich storytelling which provides a framework for related verses and art activities: beeswax modeling, handwork and drawing. For instance, we presented to the children the Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse, after which the students made a beeswax mouse. The children wondered about where the beeswax came from, so we created a story about industrious bees visiting a radiant sunflower. This story was followed by a taste-test of honey comb and sewing a bright, yellow sunflower.

The seeds of the aging sunflower led next to a story of a squirrel and chipmunk who gathered the seeds and made shelters for their winter dwellings. Our teachers enlivened the spoken story with hand puppets illustrating the actions. We accompany these stories with a mix of “realia” (e.g. a live sunflower) with a symbolic image of a sun made of a gold silk disc.

Vocabulary Instruction

Because our children come to us with English language skills that range from very limited to fluent, we recognize we need to provide differentiated vocabulary instruction. The stories are written in two styles: the “original version,” containing rich, poetic language, and targeting the vocabulary words learned in Grades 1 and 2 during the school day, and an “ELL version,” with simplified language and structure, and more basic target vocabulary. We use a whole-part-whole approach to vocabulary instruction. Initially, the target words are woven into the stories, in a way that provides information about their meanings. This sentence, for example, presents the target word, shelter : ‘ “This is just what I need to build myself a shelter where I can live for the winter--- a warm winter nest,” Sebbie said to himself.’ Students are then taught the meanings of target words through explicit instruction, and finally, presented once again with words in context.

The target words are featured verses and rhymes we create, and in art activities.

Verses and Rhymes

margaret pea pod

Consistent both with the principles of Total Physical Response, a language teaching method developed by James Asher, and Waldorf pedagogy, our approach uses whole body learning. Example for target word ascend: “Ascend means to go up. Let’s all say it—ascend“ , we say as we get up from our chairs. “Ascend means to go up, and here is how it looks…”. Then we show the word written beautifully and artfully, and display this word in a pocket chart. The children learn the words ascend, shelter and dwell which appeared in the story A Winter Home for Sebbie and Chippie, through a verse accompanied by gestures:

Whisky Frisky, hippety hop
Up he ascends to the tree top!
Whirly, twirly round and round,
Down he scampers to the ground.
Where is his shelter?
Where does he dwell?
High up in the branches
In his shelter made well.
(Adapted from a Waldorf Kindergarten Verse)

Art activities

Because children learn best by doing, we revisit the target words through art activities. For the final activity teaching the words ascend, shelter and dwell, the children received a page with a tree drawn on it. They glued the target words on the page in the appropriate places, each word a distinct shape to identify its proper location, for instance: ascend- along the tree trunk, shelter –arching over an oval in the tree branches and dwell – fitting inside the oval. Lastly, they colored the scene as they desired.