Although the following sections describe curriculum within traditional disciplines, most learning in the Lower School takes place through integrated work involving two or more subject areas. Often a thematic approach is employed, involving children in an interdisciplinary experience connecting language, math, science, social studies, and the arts. This practice allows students to study topics in a richer, more realistic way, and helps them better see the relationships between various points of view.
Though thematic studies are more than the sum of their parts, it is important to identify and acknowledge the essential nature of these building blocks of the curriculum. Teachers and students are also mindful of the components involved in interdisciplinary work. Each discipline contains skills and content that are important to convey, whether in the course of thematic studies or in more isolated work. The essential goals and topics in each subject area are listed in the sections that follow.
- Language Arts
- Social Studies
- Visual Arts
- Creative Movement
- Physical Education
- Digital Literacy
Language Arts is essential both as a discipline and as a means of communication about all other areas of study. In the Lower School, children are engaged in a language-rich environment where their natural interests and abilities are expanded. They have many opportunities to listen and speak in formal and informal settings, developing their capacity for effective communication. A love of reading is fostered throughout each school day as teachers share stories with children and encourage them to interact with a variety of texts. As their literacy skills expand, students move from deciphering pictures and reciting familiar stories to reading simple books on their own, and eventually to reading more challenging texts. Writing progresses developmentally from the initial stages of drawing and dictation to writing independently using phonetic and increasingly conventional spelling to eventually incorporating the editing process. Students are encouraged to write for a variety of purposes ranging from notes, lists, and simple stories in the lower grades to more detailed stories, poems, biographies, and research reports in the higher grades.
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The Lower School math program provides practical experience in mathematical skills and helps children see the importance and aesthetic qualities of mathematics. Children are engaged in a rich learning environment using a wide range of manipulative materials so they may build a strong, broad-based understanding of math concepts and relationships. Concepts are introduced and practiced at the concrete level with hands-on work; abstract representations are then learned through projects, games, and written work. Using a problem-solving approach, the program follows recommendations from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards and draws from the Common Core Standards for Mathematics.
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In the Lower School, children begin to build the skills and knowledge for participation as informed citizens living in a democracy. They are engaged as active participants in a wide range of in-depth, interdisciplinary topics that encourage both cooperative learning and independent inquiry. Building on their own existing knowledge, students begin by studying themselves and move outward to family, school, and communities. Key tenets of civics, history, geography, and economics come to life through the use of open-ended questions, observation, reading, writing, discussion, and debate. Integration of social studies with language, math, science, and the arts provides a rich, meaningful experience, enabling children to pursue concepts in depth. Teachers strive to incorporate local community resources into classroom studies and welcome opportunities for exposure to varied backgrounds and cultures. A yearly highlight is the Global Studies program, which involves the entire Lower School in a shared study of one country or region.
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The Lower School science program seeks to nurture children’s natural curiosity about the world around them. Students are engaged in interdisciplinary, experiential activities that help them develop proficiency in the processes of scientific inquiry. They observe closely and ask questions, design ways to generate and test hypotheses, conduct experiments, and discuss what they have learned. Integration of science with language, math, social studies, and the arts provides a rich, meaningful experience, allowing children to pursue concepts in depth.
In addition, Lower School science teachers strive to plan flexibly in order to respond to and facilitate the pursuit of children’s interests. Often, science learning results from unplanned observations or experiments designed to answer spontaneous questions. Such opportunities are the lifeblood of genuine scientific inquiry and are welcome in this curriculum.
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The Lower School Visual Arts program is designed to help students develop capabilities for creating, understanding, and appreciating symbols and images. Students participate in a wide range of activities to encourage and expand creative expression, to broaden their understanding of the arts in a historical and cultural context, and to develop a personal sense of aesthetics. Sequential instruction in drawing, painting, ceramics, and printmaking form the core of materials-based learning. World cultures, historical and contemporary artists, and stylistic movements are blended into the curriculum.
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In the Lower School music program, students develop musical literacy through creative participation in individual and group experiences; gain understanding of our rich musical heritage and those of other cultures; and develop an appreciation of the connections between music and other forms of artistic expression. Incorporated into these guiding principles are pertinent areas of study as defined by state and national standards for arts education. These include listening, creating/improvising, movement, rhythm, singing, reading and writing notation, playing instruments, and evaluating and understanding artistic culture.
The Lower School music program offers the necessary time and space for exploratory play, and provides scaffolding to guide students toward musical form and understanding.
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Creative Movement classes in Early Childhood, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 introduce the principles of dance movement and the use of four elements: space, shape, force, and rhythm. These basic elements of movement provide students with a limitless vocabulary of movement possibilities, an awareness of self and each other in individual and group sessions, and a greater awareness of themselves in relation to the surrounding space.
Classes begin each year with an emphasis on the theme of opposites. Through improvisational movement, students explore the concept of antonyms (light/heavy, fast/slow, soft/sharp, and enter/exit). An animal theme is also taught in coordination with stories and fables read in the classroom throughout the year. Literature comes to life through movement and the creative retelling of traditional, popular, and original stories. The program promotes a sense of accomplishment, discovery, and confidence at a pace that is both comfortable and challenging.
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Physical Education in the Lower School promotes the mental, physical, social, and emotional growth of each child in an environment of mutual respect, personal challenge, and fun. With close attention to individual differences, our physical education teachers help students develop both fine and gross motor skills. Our learning objectives also include locomotor movements and manipulative skill themes. Concepts of fitness, sportsmanship, cooperation, and individual growth are central to the philosophy of the program. Through trial and error (with instruction and feedback), students learn how to grow at their own pace with specific skills and objectives.
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Lower School faculty and staff members are committed to promoting a healthy lifestyle throughout the school day. The Lower School fosters self-confidence and responsibility in a learning and social environment structured specifically for children. Students are encouraged to make increasingly informed and independent decisions and to better recognize the outside influences that affect their personal health. Students develop interpersonal skills, learn scientific knowledge essential to a healthy lifestyle, and gain fitness and confidence through physical education. Health goals overlap with personal and social skills, science, social studies, and physical education, and promote the interpersonal skills, scientific knowledge, and social understanding that underlie a healthy lifestyle.
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Taking advantage of the benefits of early language instruction, Lower School students study Spanish in Grades 2-5. The Lower School Spanish teacher and members of the 2-3 and 4-5 faculty teams collaborate to design curricula integrated with other disciplines in the Lower School program.
Goals for the Grades 2-5 Spanish programs include the development of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills, as well as knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures. Activities include songs and chants, role-playing and skits, games, reading, arts and crafts, and the use of props and culturally authentic materials. The 4-5 Spanish program marks a shift from primarily oral and aural activities to more reading, writing, and grammar skills development, laying a foundation for the continued study of Spanish and other foreign languages in Middle School.
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The Lower School takes a balanced approach to technology integration. We believe that using technology instruction to support the academic curriculum not only provides students with necessary life skills but also broadens and deepens student learning. Computers and other mobile technologies are used to foster skills that are critical to success in the classroom: creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration. Used the right way, technology can engage and educate young learners in each of these essential areas. The teachers in each multiage classroom determine how best to incorporate technology to meet the developmental needs of their students.
Lower School teachers also introduce technologies and programs that can help support, challenge, and engage students with differing learning styles and abilities. New technologies and programs enable us to
- increase differentiation and student-centered learning,
- incorporate open-ended and project-based learning activities,
- provide greater access to learning tools,
- tailor organizational tools to the individual, and
- allow for authentic documentation of student progress.
Technology serves the curriculum; it is not the focus of the curriculum.