Chicago Free School

All Understanding Begins With Wonder


A Typical Day – PreK/K

  • 8:30 – Arrival and free play
  • 8:45 – Class meeting
  • 9:15 – Centers, projects, art activities, and free play
  • 11:15 – Clean up and snack
  • 11:30 – Outside play
  • 12:30 – Lunch
  • 1:30 — Quiet time (PreK), Free play and electives (K)
  • 3:00 – Closing meeting and cleanup
  • 3:15 – End of day

A Typical Day – 1st-8th

  • 8:30 – Arrival, outside play, and independent projects
  • 9:15 — Class meeting
  • 9:45 – Literacy and math activities and projects
  • 12:00 – Lunch, cleanup,
  • 12:30 — Free choice, independent projects, and special clubs
  • 2:00 – Elective classes
  • 3:00 – Class jobs and closing meeting
  • 3:15 – End of day

Core Subjects

We believe that it is important for all students to study literacy and math each day. Literacy and math look different for each student based on their individual interests, level of skill, and learning needs.  For example, a 3rd grader might listen while a poem is read aloud to the whole class, then work with a small group of peers on writing a collaborative poem, then read an independently-chosen novel.  Another student in the same class might listen to the same read-aloud, then write independently, then play a vocabulary game with a peer.  In math, one 7th grader might work on a geometry activity measuring the diameter and circumference of different objects, while another might be practicing word problems with surface area.

Examples of Literacy Projects

  • Reading and writing poetry
  • Researching the question “What animal should we get for a class pet?”
  • Writing and editing the school newspaper
  • Writing letters to elected officials based on civil rights issues that we learned about during Black History Month
  • Writing and performing their own plays

Examples of Math Projects and Problem-Solving

  • Creating model tree houses and measuring the materials required using area and perimeter
  • Making conjectures about which fractions will convert to repeating decimals
  • Writing their own word problems that incorporate addition, subtraction, and multiplication
  • Using straightedge and compass constructions to create artworks
  • Using coordinate graphs to decode a secret message

Class Meeting and All-School Meetings

Each class holds a class meeting daily.  In these meetings, we do community-building activities and games, share personal news, plan field trips together, and discuss upcoming events and elective classes.  We also problem-solve about how to make our classroom communities safe and harmonious.  In grades 1-8, students also use class meetings and whole-group council meetings as one option to help resolve conflicts. These meetings are led by a student who is elected to chair the meeting.


Makerspace is open for business after lunch. This space is stocked with a variety of crafting tools and materials, including saws, hammers, hand-drills, hot glue guns, and sewing equipment. Students can design their own project or work on the “project of the day.” Projects have included building model houses, designing and building marble mazes, and binding books.

Partial List of Field Trips

  • Museum of Science and Industry Innovation Studio
  • Weaving workshop at Chicago Cultural Center
  • Pottery workshop at Hyde Park Arts Center
  • Field Museum
  • Art Institute
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Ace Hardware
  • Parker’s Pets
  • Chicago History Center
  • Smart Museum
  • Black Storytellers Festival
  • The Weaving Mill
  • Jackson Park
  • The Mitchell Museum of Native American Culture and History

Partial List of Elective Classes

Wood Crafts(K-8, taught by DeeAnn, Heba, Jessica & Becky)
Wood Crafts is your opportunity to work with wood and be creative! Each week, we will choose something to build using wood. Students will have the freedom to design their creations and decorate them according to their own creativity. Creating is the highest form of critical thinking according to Bloom’s Taxonomy and this class will give students many opportunities to challenge themselves in this capacity. Depending on the weekly activity, students may work collaboratively in groups or alone. Wood Crafts is great for students who learn through doing and enjoy math.

Back to list of electives

Mathematical Art(Grades K-5, taught by Lauren)

In this class we will create different art projects using mathematical and geometric ideas. Projects will include tessellations, 3D pictures, scale maps, and drawings with compasses.
math art

Back to list of electives

Creative Writing & Contemporary Literature (Grades 4-8, facilitated by Russell)
In this creative writing workshop designed for older students, we will craft and constructively critique our own poetry and short stories while learning about literary techniques and devices to hone and present our unique voices and visions on the page. We’ll read some contemporary and classic work as conversation inspiration and special guest writers and publishers will visit the class to provide insight and perspective! This time around, we’ll add readings and analyses of contemporary writers writing right now (many of whom will chime in with their own words)!

Back to list of electives

Yoga (Grades K-8, taught by Terri, Erin & Heba)
Yoga is beneficial to kids in many ways. Children encounter emotional, social, and physical challenges or conflicts, a dedicated and intentional yoga practice that includes breathing techniques, behavioral guidelines, and physical postures can be incredibly valuable for them. Yoga is something children can practice anywhere. The breathing, the concentration, the poses, and the way kids learn to act or react to situations, will lead to constant self-discovery and inquisitiveness.

Back to list of electives

Spanish(Grades K-8, Lauren & DeeAnn)
In this class we will learn vocabulary, songs and activities in Spanish. We will emphasize conversation practice and speaking and listening as a foundation for later language study. No previous Spanish experience is necessary but we will accommodate a variety of levels. Our group will be combined for some activities while the older students will work in a separate group with one teacher for some more advanced reading, writing, and conversation activities.

Winning Words
The Chicago Free School is partnering with the University of Chicago’s Civic Knowledge Project to present Winning Words, an elective that merges writing, theatre, and discussion with philosophy to sharpen critical thinking! From their website:

“With Winning Words, young people on Chicago’s South Side are introduced to the joys and wonders of philosophy and provided with greater educational opportunities for practicing considered self-expression, reasonable and cooperative conversation, collaborative inquiry, and thoughtful self-examination. They practice the arts of philosophical dialogue and the famous Socratic method, along with public speaking and reading, dramatic performance, and other verbal arts drawn from the humanities. And they do this in ways that are engaging and inspiring—fostering the sense of wonder that is at the root of true wisdom, intellectual growth, and ethical reflection.”

The wildly successful philosophy-based discussion class is run by guest teachers who present different scenarios that let us think about our values, beliefs, and identities. We also play games that get us thinking about deeper ideas and concepts in our everyday lives. To supplement Winning Words, older students also have a break-out debate class to talk about values, beliefs, and identities, but we’ll also take on tough social issues, taking stances and presenting points of view in speeches, writing, and discussions. We’ll learn about the forms and structure of argument and logic, too.

Back to list of electives

Computer Programming(Grades 4-8, taught by Lauren)

In this class we will learn computer programming using a variety of computer languages designed for students, such as Scratch and Logo. No previous knowledge of programming is required. Students will work at their own pace on independent projects in addition to group activities.

Back to list of electives

Ancient Egypt – (Grades K-3, taught by Lauren)
In this class we will learn about mummies, pharaohs, and pyramids.  We will read about ancient Egypt, build our own pyramids, and practice writing using hieroglyphics.  We will also learn about scientific and mathematical discoveries from ancient Egypt that impacted history.

Back to list of electives

Beading and Jewelry Making (Grades K-8, taught by DeeAnn & Heba)
In this hands-on class we will learn to do intricate bead work and detailed wire wrapping to create one of a kind jewelry pieces! The children will use fine motor skills to string small beads onto wire, math skills to form bead patterns, and social and emotional skills to collaborate and share ideas. We will learn how to use beading tools like pliers and wire cutters to crimp and cut. We will create things like necklaces, bracelets, earrings and sun catchers. I encourage all students to give this class a try! From making gifts for others to experimenting with wire wrapping stones, children will learn something new about the art of beading and jewelry making. All that choose to enroll are asked commit to each class with enthusiasm and an open mind.

Back to list of electives

Comic Book History and Drawing (Grades K-8, taught by Russell)
This popular all-ages elective is all about the fascinating and fun history of comic books, but also a hands-on art class! We will draw upon (pun intended) the histories of comic books, from ancient hieroglyphics to serialized newspaper strips to superheroes to biographies and creative nonfiction to draw our own comics! Art meets history on the page in this class, and it’s taught by a real-life comic book nerd who uses the infinity symbol in the title because he liked it when Marvel Comics used to do that!

Back to list of electives

Weather, Climate, and Climate Change (Grades 3-8, taught by Lauren)
Have you ever wondered about weird weather?  In this class we will learn about the natural forces that cause weather patterns like heat waves, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, hail, and fog.  We will spend time outside making detailed weather observations and collecting data to learn about our local climate and compare our measurements to historical averages and patterns.  We will learn about climate change, its potential future impacts, and what scientists and citizens can do to protect our environment.

Engineering (Grades 3-8, taught by Lauren)
In this class students will solve engineering challenges by designing and building projects such as bridges and gliders, using readily found materials.  We will work on challenges such as an egg drop contest and a moat-crossing vehicle.  Students can also undertake independent projects.
engineering elective

Back to list of electives

The Chicago Free School Radio Show (Grades 3-8, taught by Russell)
Democracy on the air! This show will be about having conversations about issues both in and out of school, developing our own rules and styles for creating interesting and fun discussions, and learning about Podcasting. This popular elective is about running our own show, produced, directed by, starring, and sound effected by the students! Segments so far have included Free School News, music reviews, sports, tech report, comedy skits, and interviews about the paranormal. We’ll continue developing our own rules and styles for creating interesting and fun discussions, and learning about Podcasting so we can broadcast our show on the internet! The only limits for our show are the limits of our imaginations. All of our podcasts can be accessed here.

Art History and Art Making! (Grades k-8, taught by DeeAnn)
In this elective we will study 12 different artists’ work and become inspired to create art in the same way each artist did. From painting, sculpture and even performance art, we will use our imaginations to explore and have fun. This class is open to 15 students K-8.

Back to list of electives

All About Animals (Grades K-2, taught by Lauren)
In this class we will learn about different species, families, and classes in the animal kingdom, including mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and amphibians. We will spend time outside observing animals in our local environment and recording our observations.  We will learn about the unique features of different types of animals and how each animal has a unique place in a ecosystem, as well as the things that all animals need such as food, water, and air. We will learn about the habits of animals including what they eat, how they care for their families, and how they live in shelters.  We will also invite guest speakers to share their knowledge of animals with us.

Back to list of electives

Sports and Games Grades K-3, (taught by DeeAnn)
Come play with us! Together we will explore games like soccer, flag football, four square and even checkers! Learn how to cooperate and work as a team.

Biking (Grades 3-8, taught by Heba)
Bikes represent fun, freedom, and fresh air — everything that’s good about being a kid and we’re offering it at CFS! Students will help choose a route, learn about bicycle safety and ride during this elective. Helmets are a must!

Back to list of electives

World Geography & History (Grades 3-8, taught by Russell)
This is a world geography class with so much more! Through readings, presentations, projects, trivia games, and discussions, we’ll learn where the world’s 195 (or 196, depending on who you’re asking…) countries are and select the places that interest us most to put together immersive explorations of their histories, languages, peoples, climate/topographical facts, and beyond. It’s not such a small world after all!

Back to list of electives

Middle School Curriculum

Middle school students deepen their study of academic subjects through thematic units that incorporate hands-on learning, projects, and research and writing skills.

Math class focuses on solving problems and collaborating with each other, giving students the chance to work at their own pace. Students have worked on everything from integer operations to the type of algebra and geometry that most students typically wouldn’t see until high school. By incorporating games and a variety of problem types and texts, students gain confidence in their mathematical skills and learn to experiment and “play” with numbers.

In literacy, students write articles, editorials, comics and much more for the school newspaper. They think of problems in the world, such as climate change and violence in the city, and do the research to explain the problem and propose solutions. Students also have wide latitude in choosing reading topics, covering many genres and styles. Classes regularly invite students to analyze poems and write their own to share. Students also enjoy playing word games to expand their vocabulary and practice their spelling. The middle school class typically spends Tuesday morning browsing books and using computers at the local library.

Science Group meets to study topics agreed upon by the group. Student created a guide to identify neighborhood trees. Student practiced using a microscope to examine different types of cells. Another unit included discussions of what happened in the Big Bang. Again we see students proposing their own topics to study and then using available resources such as books from the school library, books from the local branch library, internet resources, and expert volunteers to pursue answers to their questions.

The social studies group this year similarly gives students the opportunity to propose topics to study in detail, such as the beginning of written history, or more specific topics such as the events, personalities, and continued relevance of the Reconstruction period. Students use a variety of resources and are able to explore history interactively, such as in mock trials.