Curriculum & Philosophy
Our students will be the movers and shakers in their dynamic, modern world. We prepare them to solve 21st century problems by coaching them to recognize and leverage their unique strengths.
We believe intelligence goes far beyond the three R's (Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic) of past decades. We take a global view of your child that embraces her as a unique individual capable of developing multiple types of intelligences. We educate the whole child, striving for her holistic emotional, social and cognitive development. This synergy allows your child to feel simultaneously supported, safe and challenged.
The result? Children who soar.
We want children to fall in love with the process of learning – to be comfortable in uncertainty, curious to explore and ask questions, and inspired by what they discover. We want them to digest setbacks, and integrate the lessons of failing as part of their pursuit of new possibilities. How we do this at the Terra Schools is what sets us apart.
Tailored, collegiate-track academics: For subjects like math and world languages, students are grouped not by age, but by their ability level. This is done through a structure called “banded scheduling”, so they remain engaged and challenged in their learning. By attending to a child’s unique constellation of talents earlier than the high school level, we help them discover their interests, prepare for future pursuits, and cultivate a love of learning.
Multilingual Spanish, Mandarin, & English education: Beginning in preschool, we immerse students in world languages in an effort to bolster critical thinking, comprehension, and neuroplasticity early in their development. Research shows that children who learn multiple languages gain critical empathy skills and the ability to understand others’ perspectives much earlier than monolingual children. After Kindergarten, students begin focused elective instruction in their chosen language. As they gain proficiency, they can work with their advisors to add a third language to their curriculum if they wish to do so.
Experiential, project-based learning: Our inquiry-based learning approach cultivates students’ natural curiosity and celebrates personal strengths in the classroom. In every academic discipline, students take on projects that appeal to their interests and test their problem-solving skills in the real world. Faculty encourage students to tinker, experiment, explore, ask questions, and approach challenges from new angles in order to find novel solutions.
"I came to Terra Marin because I wanted a challenge in math. At Terra Marin they give me math just at my level!"
- Eliza, 4th grade
"This week we celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival. We ate tang yuan and performed a song about the festival in Mandarin."
- Mariana, 2nd grade
"At Terra Marin you get to explore different things, and you're not just stuck in a room learning from a book. For science, if we have a question about something, Mike (the science teacher) will get an example and show it to us, and we actually get to see it, flip it around, look at it, and we get to explore it."
- Sara, 8th grade
"The Harkness Method is fun. You can't blend into the background. I used to not raise my hand or participate at my previous school. Here I have to participate, and I like that. You wait for the other person to be done talking, and then you talk."
- Noah, 7th grade
Presenting a child with an intentional environment shapes how they grow. We believe our role is to provide an environment that promotes creativity, resilience, patience, and passion in every child. Our aim is to help each child strengthen their relationship to themselves and the world by helping them step beyond their comfort zones, and develop the confidence and grit they need to live a successful life.
Earth education & outdoor school: Students venture into the natural Bay Area surroundings with highly trained Earth Education specialists once every week. From Kindergarten through 4th grade, students spend a second day each week outside for their academic classes. Foundational core curricula combined with progressive outdoor education methods fosters a sense of awe and connection with others and nature. Students feel a sense of wonder and grounding that helps them cope with stress, remain focused, and develop a love of learning that bolsters their academic performance.
Student-led discussions: We believe that empowering students to develop, voice, and adjust their thinking in group discussions promotes agency, empathy and respect for diverse points of view. Beginning in middle school, we give students the opportunity to direct their own discussions in accordance with the Harkness Method. This is a teaching style developed at Phillips Exeter that emphasizes active listening, speaking with confidence, respectful disagreement and creative problem solving. Learning to listen and sit with differences is vital, but we also encourage students to use their voice and advocate for their unique perspectives. This methodology helps students retain information with more detail, teach one another, and learn the soft skills of active listening, speaking with confidence, disagreeing respectfully, and seeking creative solutions.
Arts electives: At the Terra Schools, we believe children are natural-born creators and should have abundant opportunities to bring their individual perspectives to life. Drama, Music, and Visual Art are as important as academic subjects and life skills. For example, producing a play with your peers is planning, organization, and collaboration; writing a piece of music is relaying a moment of history; composing a collage is an inquiry and stating a thesis. While teaching skills and techniques that can bring their visions to life, we emphasize the value of their creative voices–that there is no “right way” to sing a song, play a role, or draw your dreams.
2-d Studio Drawing - Graphite, Conte and Charcoal, Pastels
Cake Decorating - Fondant textures
Large Art Installations and Reimagining Spaces
Vocal Collaboration Lab
Make a Music Video
Handwork - Embroidery
"Yesterday at the beach we got to carve sticks with knives, and we got to climb cliffs. It felt a little bit dangerous because I hadn't done it before. I liked it because it was exciting."
- Nathaniel, 7th grade
"The thing I like about this school is the three recesses!"
- Aaron, 1st grade
At The Terra Schools, we believe kindness is the cornerstone of forming a safe community where each person can thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. We consider it essential to an effective education to help children generate sophisticated language for communicating with their friends, teachers, families, communities, societies, and the earth. We treat healthy relationships at all levels as key to a child’s vitality.
Social-emotional learning: As part of our commitment to a strong community, we have dedicated an in-house social emotional learning (SEL) consultant to lead supportive efforts toward the mental health betterment of all students, teachers and administrators. Both staff and students understand that membership in a community means fortifying the internal resources of all individuals. For example, teachers and staff meet weekly with our SEL consultant about individual students who need extra support, so no student falls through the cracks and every child is given a clear path to thriving.
Student mentorship: We pair up older and younger students as “buddies,” so older students develop a sense of responsibility and younger students feel supported by someone who watches out for them. Cross-age friendships are common at the Terra Schools, in part because of our buddy program and because of the many opportunities to cross paths during banded scheduling classes and recess.
Family partnership: We believe it takes collaboration between students, families, and staff to foster our value of “belonging”. While all schools offer parent/teacher conferences, we take the family-school relationship a step further with social & emotional learning-focused monthly parent workshops. To foster a sense of connected community, we bring parents, kids, teachers, and staff together at our community events, such as our annual Lunar New Year celebration, the student Untalent Show, the student-produced school play, Upper School Spain trip, and Upper School Ski Trip.
“We believe our teachers’ job is to find the gift in each child, draw it out and nurture it so it can be shared with others."
- Shauna Sullivan,
Assistant Head of School
"The teachers are there for you."
- Noah, 5th grade
“I love interacting with all ages and teaching them what I know. I have become friends with people of all ages that I wouldn’t otherwise have become friends with, and now I get to enjoy having them as such close friends.”
- Edie, 8th grade