The Lower School spans grades K-5 and immerses children in a developmentally responsive curriculum that addresses the intellectual, social, and emotional needs of each student. Teaching and learning is organized around topics and activities that are meaningful, interesting, and relevant to children at each stage of their development.
Through weekly classroom meetings, Lower School students are encouraged to see themselves as important members of the school community and society as a whole. Integrated school-wide projects promote cooperation and problem solving skills and give older students leadership opportunities by mentoring our younger students.
The rich and rigorous experiences students have in the Lower School fully prepare them for the academic and social challenges of middle school.
Underpinning our approach to the teaching of reading and writing is a strong understanding of the necessary conditions for language learning. We believe that literacy acquisition is a natural process and that children enter school with much knowledge about reading and writing, books and literature. Optimal literacy environments promote risk taking and trust, using authentic and meaningful reading and writing activities.
We implement literature-based reading and writing workshops and multi-sensory decoding, spelling, and handwriting techniques. Throughout the grades children engage in extensive and intensive reading of a wide spectrum of notable picture books, novels, non-fiction trade books, poems, and short stories. This balanced approach helps students become joyfully literate while building vital literacy skills.
The major goal of the language arts program in Kindergarten is to develop strong literacy habits and positive attitudes. Children are immersed in a print rich environment where reading and writing are integrated throughout the daily schedule. Children are encouraged to read around the room; schedules, classroom labels, name charts, and morning messages provide children with early opportunities to read. Children hear good books read aloud to them every day and are given opportunities to enjoy books independently, with peers, and with the assistance of adults.
We expect students to develop a love of books and choose reading as a way to enjoy free time. We encourage children to act out and discuss stories through dramatic play and block building. Teachers model reading strategies to help young readers gain independence and confidence when reading. By the end of Kindergarten children know the basics of the print-sound code and understand that every word in a text says something specific.
Children at this age approach writing with excitement. Students are given opportunities to write daily during writing workshops and are encouraged to incorporate writing into their play activities. Children creating road signs in the block corner or recipes in the dramatic play center are common sights. These activities allow students to practice many new literacy skills. Teachers encourage children to use drawings and phonetic spelling to express their ideas. Multisensory games and activities help children move toward the conventional spelling of many commonly used words.
First and Second Grades
Children in first and second grade read books with more elaborate structure, plots, and themes. We encourage children to interact with literature by extending stories, making predictions, and drawing inferences from character actions and story events.
Teachers deepen and expand phonemic awareness and spelling skills through multisensory lessons. Children master the print-sound code and practice new skills with extensive independent and guided reading. Independent spelling lists cater to the specific spelling needs of each child.
Third, Fourth, & Fifth Grades
The upper elementary grades mark a shift in the development of reading. With their mastery of age-appropriate literacy skills comes a greater focus on deeper comprehension of literature and reading to learn throughout the content areas.
Through independent, small group, and whole class reading children are guided to thoughtfully discern the literal and interpretive layers of quality literature. Structured author and genre studies enable students to articulate and categorize their observations as well as sharpen their skills at interpreting, analyzing, and synthesizing what they have read. In order to better prepare children for middle school, writing literature responses that include personal reflection and text evidence are an integral piece of the reading workshop.
Over the course of the school year, children will polish 10 or 12 writing pieces for audiences in and beyond the classroom. Through daily writing children continue to see themselves as authors experimenting with new literary genres and structures. Like real authors, children are encouraged to use language deliberately to enhance the quality of their work. Children are now taught to write non-fiction feature articles, editorials, and fiction, in addition to the genres they were exposed to in the younger grades.
Our curriculum teaches children to reason mathematically and apply their skills and understandings to purposeful real-world problems. We believe children must explore, make conjectures, gather evidence, and construct arguments to fully develop an understanding of mathematics. Arithmetic skills are developed and practiced through problem-solving activities and games.
The Lower School integrates many mathematical experiences throughout the curriculum. This approach is based on the tenet that people learn best when they have a meaningful context to which skills can be applied. Mathematical integration manifests itself throughout the day in our classrooms: kindergarten children puzzle over how to evenly share cookies for snack; fourth graders use measurement and scale to plan a diorama of a Native American village.
Kindergarten children explore number concepts, data collection, measurement, patterns and functions, and geometric concepts through a host of integrated and teacher-directed learning experiences. Many mathematical concepts are developed through daily routines such as daily class graphs, and predicting patterns on the class calendar. Block building allows children to investigate spatial-relationships, measurement, and develop cooperative problem-solving skills.
In first and second grades, children are introduced to more formal symbols of the math language. Mathematical operations are introduced and most importantly children are taught strategies for selecting appropriate methods in problem solving situations. Mental math is developed using concrete materials in order to enhance children’s number sense.
Third and fourth grades build on mathematical concepts introduced earlier and introduce to children new ways to think about numbers. Multiplication and division concepts are taught and facts are mastered. Children are expected to use a variety of methods and strategies to solve multi-dimensional mathematical problems.
By the time children complete the fifth grade they have had numerous experiences with a variety of mathematical strands. In addition to solidifying computational strategies and number sense, children explore the properties of regular and irregular polygons, compare and order fractions, decimals, and percents using a variety of models, learn strategies for finding representative samples in statistics, and are introduced to pre-algebraic concepts.
We believe that learning science is an active process. To help children gain a strong understanding of the natural world, teachers introduce children to the work of scientists. A scientist doesn't simply notice a rock, she wonders what affected its shape, how old it is, and its composition. Through "hands-on" scientific explorations, children are taught to think like scientists. Even in the first few days of kindergarten children are taught to observe, question, collect information, construct explanations, and test those explanations in a variety of ways. Scientific discourse and reflective thinking are promoted during each science lesson, making lessons "minds-on".
Extensive science reading extends science experiences beyond the limits of the classroom. Through reading high-quality and current trade books children enhance their understanding of concepts and learn about the lives of people who have added to the scientific body of knowledge or applied scientific ideas to life situations.
Our science units are often integrated into the social studies curriculum. This reinforces the idea that natural phenomena directly connects to the development of humankind. Third graders study the ecology of the rainforest to better appreciate how it affects Amazonian culture. Second graders explore buoyancy to better understand the design of the varied ships they observe on the harbor during their Hudson River study.
Our hands-on multidisciplinary curriculum is organized around key concepts about humankind and the world. We believe children form developmentally appropriate understandings about our world, its organizations, cultures, and history through active and meaningful experiences. Our social studies curriculum endeavors to help students understand their roots, see their connectedness to the past, recognize the commonality of people and communities, and accept full participation in our democratic society. Essential social studies skills like data collection and organization, map making and interpretation, and deciphering facts from opinions are integrated throughout each study.
Through storytelling, class excursions, interviews, reading, and role playing teachers guide Kindergarten children towards the answers to three essential questions: "Who am I?" "What do I and all people need?" and " How do we get what we need?" Children begin the school year focusing on their interests and how they have changed and grown. Each child is celebrated as an individual and an important member of her family and school. By November, children begin to explore the needs of all people. Children explore different types of housing, foods, and clothing present in their community. "How do we get what we need" moves children further into the community and allows for early mapping and geography experiences. Throughout the year teachers provide children with opportunities to reproduce and extend what they've seen and heard through such materials as blocks, paint, and clay. These symbolic representations allow children to enrich and extend their understandings.
First and second graders are ready to learn about the world beyond themselves. They become increasingly interested in adult work and community structures. It is very common for first and second graders to want to pay for their own snacks at the grocery store or ask questions about the city's 911 system. Second graders also become increasingly capable of understanding communities of the past. Therefore, the overarching themes in first and second grade focus on the vital aspects of successful communities and reasons communities change and develop. Children explore markets, libraries, fire houses, and connect their immediate experiences with local history. Children are then able to connect the known with the unknown, the concrete with the abstract, as they compare their modern community to New York of the past. Trips and interviews continue to be an important resource for children with an added emphasis on non-fiction trade books.
The upper grades expand upon the work of earlier grades by exploring the concept of culture and its driving role on the development of the United States. Teachers help children to discover a history that is dynamic and that enhances their current understanding of the world by introducing them to the work of historians. Historians pose questions about human experience, seek appropriate sources of data, and attempt to develop explanations and inferences to answer those questions. As new data emerges, so does a new sense of history. Children learn to ask: What happened? How did it happen? And why did it happen? Children seek sources of data as historians do to answer these questions. Historians find information in a variety of places: museums, libraries, and attics. They examine and consider letters, paintings, photographs, charters, compacts, maps, and household utensils. Students recreate what they have learned using a variety of mediums including: writing non-fiction articles, recreating historical maps, and building museum exhibits.