Out of our respect for children as active learners, our "curriculum" is structured around a "workshop" model and a developmental, or constructivist, educational philosophy. The workshop approach is one which is child-centered. A workshop model sets up a framework and structure in which learners of any age work "alone together" to develop and hone their interests and skills, much the way that professionals in science, math, writing, and art do. We want our place of learning to function as much like the real world - the science laboratory, the artist's studio, the writer's favorite coffee shop - as possible. The workshop approach encourages independent, resourceful learners.
The structure of the workshop approach is consistent whether it be for sciencing, writing, or art; whether it be directed towards seven-year-olds or twelve-year-olds. It starts with a mini-lesson, where a concept is introduced or expanded on. In writing, this could be discussion of a genre (e.g. What makes a report a report?). In science, a new set might be introduced or expanded on. The mini-lesson generally takes five to fifteen minutes.
The children then write, do science or create art for the next 40 to 50 minutes. They key to the workshop approach is that the child is in charge of what he/she is doing. In this way, the child is intrinsically motivated and excited about what they are doing. In writing, they are picking their own topic to write on. In science, they are coming up with their own questions and can choose what set to work with, whether it is magnets, drops, or rocks. In art, all the art materials (paints, clay, colored pencil, silk-screening, etc.) are available to choose from. The children are never working from a model. They are never given an experiment to replicate - of course, they may choose to try someone else's experiment, but it is not a demand. They aren't told to draw a picture just like the teacher's. They are not writing from prompts (although this is sometimes used as mini-lesson activity to demonstrate, for example, how to add detail to a sentence).
In a workshop approach, the children get support in their activity by conferring with the teacher or other students. In writing, they may get help in choosing a topic; they may read their work to a peer and get input on what works really well in the story for that listener and what isn't really understood. There are also sharing opportunities when the child shares his/her work with the entire group, and gets feedback. The child knows that he/she is the author, and just like the real world, people need feedback for their work, and then can choose whether or not to address those comments.
Optimally, there are real events in which the child can publish or share his/her work. In this way, children's work is "authentic" and directed toward a real goal. At The Attic, children are working, whether it be in science, math, art, or writing, towards an authentic event, e.g. publication in an Attic magazine or newspaper, sharing their work at a family potluck, or a portfolio presentation where they get a chance to display their knowledge.
"For many of us, one of the most difficult things to do is to share control. It's so easy to be in charge, to decide from our vast experience and continuing education what's best for our students. But they learn by making their own decisions whenever possible, and in so doing they develop a sense of responsibility and ownership." Elinor Parry Ross, The Workshop Approach: A Framework for Literacy, Christopher-Gordon, 19996, pg 5.