Lower School Curriculum
Areas of Study
- Thematic Units & Social Studies
- Language Arts
- Creative Movement
- Physical Education
Thematic Units & Social Studies
Thematic studies in the Lower School grades unify our curriculum studies. They provide ideas for reading, writing, and math, and they enrich all areas of learning. The emphasis is on learning the basic concepts and the process of collecting information, dealing with facts, drawing conclusions, and communicating with others. Interwoven with these thematic studies, social studies includes geography, cultures, relationships of people to one another and to their environment, history, the development of arts and sciences in response to human needs, and civic ideas and practices. The subject is integrated into various areas, including reading, writing, math, and the arts, and it is used to help students develop critical thinking skills.
Examples of thematic studies for 1st and 2nd graders are migration, insects, weaving around the world, shelters, Ghana, India, oceans, and roots. Third graders have an additional social-emotional layer in their thematic studies, beginning each year with a unit on friendship. This unit then segues into a concentration on selected environments of North America, in which students study Native American cultures, both past and present, and life in early America. In 4th grade, thematic units such as geography and celebrations around the world expand children's worlds and transform them into true global citizens.
Building on the foundations laid in Pre-K and Kindergarten, the 1st grade language arts program continues to develop reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills through the use of various techniques, materials, and activities. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are not taught separately; rather, they are intertwined throughout all of the language and theme-based activities in which students engage. The program focuses on helping children to break the reading code, develop reading strategies, learn how to comprehend an author's text, understand how to be responsive listeners, and become skilled at communicating their own messages and ideas orally and in writing.
The 2nd grade language arts program is a rich and diverse one that concentrates on the natural development and interaction among reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Skills and strategies related to reading and writing are emphasized through each component of the program, which is designed to develop a love of reading and writing and to increase stamina and fluency in both areas to prepare for content work in 3rd and 4th grade. The program focuses on developing comprehension skills, understanding texts, supporting opinions about reading selections, being responsive listeners, and communicating one’s own messages and ideas orally and in writing.
In 3rd and 4th grades, the language arts curriculum focuses on a literature-based reading program and a process approach to writing. In the reading program, students learn to appreciate different genres of literature by reading and discussing various fiction and nonfiction materials. Through reading guided by the teacher and in small groups, children practice their decoding and comprehension skills, engage in discussions, develop a wider vocabulary, and use conceptual thinking to synthesize, summarize, and support their opinions about the written word. Children learn to gather information from articles and books—both printed and electronic—and hone note-taking skills in preparation for writing short reports and making oral presentations in class. Teachers also use literature to develop students’ writing talents, guiding them to express their ideas clearly and creatively. Students learn to develop editing skills and to revise their work, and, in the process, they develop fluency and confidence in all aspects of writing. This is done through a variety of writing assignments, during which teachers guide children in selecting story topics, producing rough drafts, revising the drafts for content, and editing them to improve spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Other areas that are addressed in the language arts curriculum are spelling and handwriting, as well as keyboarding.
The Primary Unit (grades 1 & 2) mathematics program focuses on instruction and practice with manipulatives as a way to help students discover and understand important mathematical ideas. Written work and games then follow, permitting children to explore the mathematical principles further and to gain skill in applying them. The Primary Unit uses two math programs to support student understanding in math: enVision and Investigations. Both programs allow the teachers to assess student understanding before, during, and after each unit, enabling them to assess each child’s mathematical understanding throughout the year and determine how to best challenge each individual and the class as a whole. Concepts learned in 1st and 2nd grade include: numeration; operations (+, -) and computation; data and chance; geometry; measurement; and patterns, functions, and algebra.
The 3rd and 4th grade mathematics program reinforces the important concepts and skills explored in the 1st and 2nd grades, and it builds understandings to include increasingly abstract concepts. EnVision Math continues to be the math program for grades 1–6. Instruction and practice with concrete objects help children to discover and understand important mathematical ideas. This is accompanied by written work, exploration activities, and games, permitting each child to explore and apply mathematical principles. The curriculum focal points include: data analysis; number and operations and algebra; fractions and decimals; measurement; and geometry.
Through exploration, discovery, and structured hands-on activities, Lower School students learn about the natural world and delve into problem-solving tasks and challenges. Specific topics also support and extend classroom themes, creating a seamless curricular experience as students move from one classroom to another.
In 1st grade, lessons include exploration of outdoor environments (forest, stream, field, sky), plants, animals, ecological principles, and problem-solving activities with manipulatives. Second graders are introduced to more quantitative elements of science that tie into their explorations; for example, they learn how to measure, analyze, and graph results from experiments. In 3rd grade, students have the opportunity to more narrowly focus on life science topics such as photosynthesis, food chains and webs, adaptations, and other ecological principles—topics of study that are naturally enriched by our outdoor spaces. As students move into 4th grade, their thinking becomes more global as they focus on the earth, including its structure and dynamic process, as well as the physical properties of rocks and minerals. Viewed on a spectrum, the breadth and depth of the science curriculum throughout Lower School gives children ample opportunities to experience a sense of wonder, gain an understanding of the physical world around them, and hone essential analytic and partnership skills.
In Lower School, the goal of the art program is to create an environment in which children can each explore, experiment, and give voice to their creative selves, while also learning to understand others’ artistic production and how to discuss and respond to others’ creative output with respect and empathy. They explore the properties of art materials to uncover infinite visual languages with which they can tell stories and represent their unique experiences. Students use a variety of materials that advance self-esteem, self-expression, and critical thinking. Students also learn to observe and visually represent the world around them. The art teacher engages in meaningful dialogue with children to help uncover the thoughts and ideas experienced during their artistic process, making their learning visible to all. Through close collaboration with classroom teachers, art experiences offer children the opportunity to extend their investigations and explore concepts with a variety of materials, document their understanding, and enrich their overall learning experience.
The 1st and 2nd grade music curriculum features concepts that revolve around basic elements of music: rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, tempo, timbre, and form. Skills include keeping a steady beat, playing and singing simple melodies and rhythms, and playing melodies and ostinatos on mallet and percussion instruments and belleplates. Students begin to use color charts and adapted musical notation, as well as standard notation. Throughout the year, strong emphasis is placed on caring for the instruments and working cooperatively as an ensemble.
Third grade students learn to play recorder, xylophone, ukulele, percussion, and other instruments. Skills include instrumental technique, reading rhythmic patterns, identifying line and space notes, compassion, collaboration, creative composition, singing, and instrument care. Students work together to create and learn pieces of music, and they have the opportunity to perform in a large ensemble format at school assemblies and concerts. Students read and perform music and learn concert etiquette as they participate in performances throughout the year.
In 4th grade, students build on their musical literacy, instrumental technique, ensemble skills, and performance etiquette. Ensemble pieces linked to their social studies curriculum will find them working as a group to play music from around the world. This process necessitates a great deal of coordinated ensemble playing, so students focus on teamwork as they fit their interwoven parts together. We continue developing instrumental skills on ukulele, and, if students are ready, we move up to guitar. In February, 4th graders perform a mini-musical, which they help to create. Meanwhile, skills developed in chorus include practicing healthy vocal technique and singing in unison, canon, and multiple parts.
The study of Spanish in Lower School is focused primarily upon the development of the four linguistic competences—speaking, listening, reading, and writing—and is integrated from the beginning of class to the end. Using a communicative approach, classes are conducted mostly in Spanish and are based upon the idea that learning a language successfully occurs through immersion in the target language and having to communicate real meaning. Motivation is also key in the process of acquiring a foreign language, so the teacher acts as a guide and facilitator and helps learners in ways that motivate them to work with the target language. Some examples of typical activities in Spanish class include games, basic math exercises, writing and reading of short texts in Spanish, watching videos to practice pronunciation, hands-on activities, and role-play activities.
First and second grade students each spend a semester in creative movement, a class that extends topics of study in the homecorner classroom to provide children with the space to explore and build knowledge through movement. During movement activities that encourage creative and spontaneous thinking, students develop motor control, spatial awareness, and the ability to work well with others and both share and listen to ideas. Examples of activities include using the body to interpret an idea, song, poem, or story; creating movement sequences tied to the Primary Unit thematic study; and moving in time with music using different locomotor actions. The semester culminates in an assembly in which students present final movement pieces that they have collaboratively created and practiced.
The major goal of the Lower School physical education program is to create a lifelong desire to develop the whole person physically and socially. This program is integral to developing students’ education as it pertains to the total fitness, growth, and overall development of the individual. Teachers provide a wide variety of opportunities to enhance the social development of students by providing them with opportunities to practice being a supportive team member, to learn about fair play, and to develop a mindset in which "playing to win" is not the ultimate goal. The program instills a sense of importance in promoting wellness and a healthy attitude towards exercise and the benefits it provides. Most importantly, the physical education department promotes respect for the uniqueness and differences of the self and others through a wide variety of games and activities.
Students in grades 1-4 continue to expand their literacy skills and their understanding of bias and stereotypes through read-alouds and scaffolded discussions of fiction and nonfiction, often in connection with classroom thematic units.
Students learn about the online library catalog in 1st grade and develop gradually increasing skill and independence in searching for and locating books. First and 2nd graders enjoy early-reader series and chapter books. Second and 3rd graders become familiar with STEAM picture books, picture-book biographies, and graphic literature. Third and 4th graders discover memoirs and verse fiction. Fourth graders hone critical thinking skills with discussions of sophisticated picture books about complex realistic, global issues. Lower School students check books out regularly.
Research lessons and mini-research activities, sometimes led by students, support classroom themes. Student volunteers in 3rd and 4th grades deepen their library skills as they help with book processing, signage, and other tasks.
The Head Librarian partners with classroom teachers to lead 3rd and 4th grade social justice book clubs throughout the year.