The Lower School Faculty uses a variety of techniques to teach reading, including whole language, phonics, sight, and kinesthetic approaches. Children learn to read for information, gain critical thinking skills, and develop an appreciation for the pleasures of reading. Books are chosen to complement classroom themes, and individual selections are tailored to the reading level and interests of the child. In the early grades, students are encouraged to use "intuitive" spelling in their writing in an effort to encourage the flow of ideas. Formal spelling programs begin in grade 1. The "writing process" is taught beginning in grade 2 as students learn to write, edit, and rewrite their own work. Two reading specialists are available to provide individual support for students as the need arises.
Throughout the Lower School, a sequential mathematics program provides an "applications-oriented" approach that helps students understand the many ways in which math comes into play in their daily lives. Students gain the ability to gather, organize, and interpret data as well as develop basic computation skills. Manipulatives are used extensively in the early grades to ensure a thorough understanding of basic concepts before moving to symbolic and abstract levels. Cooperative problem-solving is a thread that runs throughout the curriculum and encourages students to use diverse approaches to solve problems. A math coordinator provides acceleration and remediation in the math center. An early morning math club for grade 4 students allows further cooperative exploration of concepts.
The Lower School social studies curriculum is divided into two units. The content of the fall unit is driven by the year's theme. Topics, which have included the Renaissance world, islands, literary places, and the tropics are selected to encourage students to recognize and appreciate the racial, religious, and ethnic diversity of the world. As soon as the year's theme is chosen, teachers begin to design the accompanying social studies unit. It is social studies that links each of the other disciplines to the theme. In the spring each grade studies the same general theme, although classrooms will follow their own curricula. For example three sections of first grade all study Asia; one section studies India, another China, and the third Japan.
The science curriculum stresses an appreciation for conservation and ecology, utilizing gardens, woods, a bird blind, and ponds on our 18 acre campus. From nursery to grade 4, all students have regularly scheduled classes in the science lab. A hands-on, experiential approach is used as students cover a variety of disciplines including biology, botany, and the basic principals of chemistry and physics. Children are encouraged to use their acquired knowledge to solve real-life problems.
Computer classes are designed to complement the learning that takes place in individual classrooms. Students and teachers use classroom, library, and lab computers to research, compose, calculate, draw, read stories, and reinforce math skills. Digital cameras and scanners are used to add graphics to newsletters and student publications. In addition, Internet sites are used to broaden students' knowledge of geography, the arts, and spoken language. Students in grades 3 and 4 are introduced to word processing, databases, desktop publishing, and keyboarding. Interested 4th graders design their own web pages using HTML.
Lower School students participate in a rigorous physical education program that stresses a sequence of developmentally appropriate skills. Younger students work on balance, eye-hand coordination, and cooperative games, while older students develop skills in specific sports such as soccer, field hockey, and basketball.
All students, nursery through grade 4, participate in the Spanish program. The approach is hands-on, and includes the use of games, puppets, props, dialogue, storybooks, and music. Instruction is conducted in Spanish but is integrated with the overall curriculum. Children learn to listen and understand spoken Spanish as they practice their own speaking skills.
Art and music classes in Lower School are designed to challenge and stimulate creative expression. All classes use a multi-media approach and integrate history, theory, and an appreciation of the masters with opportunities to explore clay, papier-mache, tempera, and water colors and printmaking. Music students learn to read musical notation, become acquainted with orchestral instruments, and sing.
The library fosters students' love for reading and teaches them important research skills. Students visit the library at least once a week and have over 14,000 books to choose from. Skilled librarians introduce them to best in children's literature. A wide variety of age appropriate materials and laptop computers make it possible for full classes to do research simultaneously.