Our core curriculum in Lower School grows out of our fundamental beliefs that each child has special gifts and a unique voice, and that children learn best by action and collaboration.
Our curriculum features:
- Math in Focus curriculum which utilizes a multisensory approach to teaching math; a math specialist also supports students
- Inquiry-based science grounded in active research, observation, and analysis
- iLab and Project Block programming
- Columbia University Reading and Writing programs
- Experiential Spanish and a program for heritage speakers
- History: ancient civilizations and the Renaissance that focus on the human experience (music, culture, language, and food) and United States Social Studies, which focuses on the history of this continent from pre-European contact through the abolishment of slavery
- Library and Media Curriculum
- Farm + Forest, our outdoor education program
- Studio and performing arts
Students’ days are full and built around core curriculars like math, science, reading, writing workshop, and social studies. Additionally, students have special projects and units of study into which they get to delve more deeply. Here is just a sampling from each grade, all examples of how we deliver on our educational promise.
Primary Circle (Pre-K & K)
Primary Circle comprises both pre-K and Kindergarten. Research has shown that in mixed-age classes, children are often more social, more likely to practice leadership skills, better known by their teachers, and more likely to resolve conflicts peacefully. In Primary Circle, play-based learning and building community are central to the curriculum, and teachers strive to make the environment an extension of home. Other features of Primary Circle include:
- Emergent Curriculum: a philosophy of teaching and a way of planning a children’s curriculum that focuses on being responsive to their interests, creating meaningful learning experiences for them
- Emphasis on creative expression (art and music classes meet several times a week)
- Nearly immersive Spanish class begins at pre-K
- Building confidence to develop inter/intrapersonal skills
- Developing a sense of self that helps students understand their place within the classroom community
- The study of self, family, and community
- Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/Social-Emotional Learning curriculum
In first grade, one focus is on community and what everyone brings to our classroom from our unique backgrounds, discussions, and differing social experiences. In our shared space, feeling welcomed and exhibiting kindness is important. Reading instruction is foundational to the first grade curriculum and takes place every day in a variety of settings. Reading instruction is taught with conceptual understanding and skills growing through word study and reading and writing workshops. Students receive formal instruction on forming all of the lower case letters, and the expectation is that they apply what they have learned in all of their writing.
In math, students develop number sense and lay a firm foundation for mathematical thinking, and building fact fluency. First graders also have multiple opportunities to work with our math specialist in a small group setting.
Other curriculum highlights include:
- Community – Students learn what makes a community beginning small (in the classroom) and go beyond (the campus). Our students visit people and places on campus to learn about the history of our school and the people who make up our community.
- Rainforest – Children research and then write a book about a rainforest animal. They create a “live” rainforest in the hall of Lower School and select a service project to help preserve the rainforest. They learn that the Amazon is the habitat for the butterflies and many of the birds they study during the year.
- Author Study – Students read a number of books by an author and learn to notice the themes across the books and become acquainted with the characters as they change. First graders learn to distinguish story elements —characters, setting, plot, climax and resolution—discerning the underlying message.
Second graders work toward independence, listening to directions, gaining organizational skills, and exercising collaboration. Becoming an independent reader is a feature of second grade. In math, students hone their number sense and make connections between topics. Teachers want students to understand that they have a unique story to tell. Second graders work on writing with confidence so they can express themselves. Developmentally, students are learning how to make and keep friends, so attention is given to conflict resolution. In morning meetings, time is spent on social-emotional learning; diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons; mindfulness; and self-regulation. Special projects in second grade include:
- Children Around the World: Students study childhood around the world to help them broaden their perspectives about how people live and demonstrate that there is more than one way to grow up. They interview boarding students and parents who grew up in other countries to learn about the school experience in other places.
- Service Project: Trick or Treat for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Second grade organizes and promotes the benefits of UNICEF. They set a goal for what the donated money can buy, then sort and count the change.
- Sea Box Exhibit: The sea animal book research and writing unit culminates with students creating dioramas of the habitat of the animal they study. Students practice answering questions about the animal they studied and describing their diorama, to prepare for an exhibit where other Lower School classes and teachers to learn about the projects
- Space Day: to culminate the study of our solar system, students participate in a series of hands-on stations meant to simulate living and working in space. An exciting experience for the students is getting to wear space suits for the day!
In third grade, the language arts use the Columbia University Teachers College reading and writing program to enhance reading, comprehension, and writing skills. The Math in Focus curriculum utilizes a multisensory approach to learning math. A highlight of social studies is the study of the Renaissance. Students research a figure from the period and write a report. Other distinctive projects include:
- Community Map Projects: Third graders work collaboratively to build 3D maps of fictional communities after studying the question, “What makes a community?” As students create these maps, they consider the essential elements of a community – the people, the infrastructure, and sustainability features. Students present their work highlighting the process of collaborating and producing their final project. Students start studying communities at a local level, then move toward a more global outlook, and eventually they study world geography.
- Africa Unit: The intensive study of Africa begins by asking the essential question, “What gifts does Africa give to the world?” Students begin to study the continent and learn that there are 54 distinct countries within Africa. They work collaboratively researching the different countries. Then the 3rd grade community creates and builds a 3D physical map of Africa highlighting economy symbols, tourism, mining, notable sites, and landforms.
- African Dance: As part of the unit on Africa, the children participate in an African dance residency and workshops in masquerade, storytelling through music and dance, and capoeira in collaboration with Jeannine Osayande & Dunya Performing Arts Company.
- Study of the European Renaissance, with a focus on research and biographies of notable people from that time period. Students study a painting by Pieter Bruegel which depicts children’s games from the Renaissance time period. Students then create their own games based on their observations, and celebrate with a Renaissance Game Festival.
The overarching expectations for our 4th grade community are that students work to the best of their ability, develop good study and listening habits, and work both independently and collaboratively. Teachers use the Responsive Classroom approach to introduce routines, create shared expectations, and develop a
positive, safe learning environment. A significant goal of 4th grade is for students to become competent readers who display independence while developing a lifelong love of reading. Writing is often focused on what each student knows best —their personal experiences. In math students have in-depth study of whole numbers. The goal is to help students develop fluency and mental flexibility while working with larger numbers. The use of the bar model strategy helps students learn to picture real-world problems and find entry points into solving more difficult problems. Regardless of the topic being covered, students are encouraged to think creatively, examine alternative strategies to find solutions, show their work, and share their reasoning.
- Guided reading allows for small group instruction using books that lift up diverse characters and perspectives.Our reader’s passport project encourages students to read books from many different genres throughout the year.
- Students learn about American history through the essential questions framing all social studies work: Who is telling the story? Who is being left out? Who holds the power? Who is being marginalized?
- The social studies content focuses on Pennsylvania history, from the study of the Indigenous Lenni Lenape people’s history prior to European contact, through the Underground Railroad. An overarching concept is that of movement, by choice and by force. We developed a place-based curriculum taught from multiple perspectives that incorporates primary sources, guided inquiry, and critical thinking.
- Recycling: fourth graders are responsible for the weekly recycling for all of Lower School. In their science class, they learn about the importance of recycling and then share their knowledge with the broader Lower School community during weekly Gathering messages.
Fifth grade is an important time in which students have the opportunity to exercise their leadership skills in their academics and in the community life of Lower School. Fifth graders use the Reading Workshop model to become stronger readers and exercise independence to find books that are at their appropriate reading level and track their own progress. Students use the Writing Workshop model to develop and refine their writing skills through a variety of written works including the practice of persuasive writing and personal narratives. In all writing, they continue the practice of correcting grammar and mechanics, identifying and punctuating run-on sentences and fragments, as well as correct capitalization and clear wording. In math, students learn whole number multiplication and division, evaluate numerical expressions with exponents, parentheses, brackets, and braces, and use a variety of problem-solving strategies.
Additionally, signature experiences in fifth grade include:
- Leadership: Fifth graders hone leadership skills and take on leadership roles in the Lower School. They lead Gathering (the Lower School assembly on Monday mornings); lead the weekly Meeting for Worship; are reading buddies to younger children; and help set up the monthly diversity, equity, and inclusion display.
- Expedition: Fifth graders experience a three-day camping trip to Echo Hill, on the eastern shore of Maryland. This trip is tied to the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which students read before their departure. Students investigate the ecosystems of the forests, meadows, and shrub swamp that border the Chesapeake Bay, and participate in a multi-faceted adventure challenge course. A highlight is a Meeting for Worship on the beach under the stars.
- History: Students have a comprehensive unit on ancient Egypt culminating on a presentation of their research.
- Peacemakers: Students choose a peacemaker to research and write about; this multidisciplinary unit incorporates art and technology.