Lower School Curriculum
Our thematic approach to education unifies learning across disciplines, from the core subjects of literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies to specials like art, music, physical education, and foreign languages. The unity allows Friends’ Central Students to develop the confidence to serve as advocates and allies, as well as the skills to articulate their thoughts insightfully and effectively.
The curriculum for each grade includes literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, art, library, music, physical education, and Spanish. The program for each grade is exciting, challenging, and dynamic. To compliment our Lower School curriculum, we offer a wide range of activities including instrumental music lessons, the Lower School string ensemble, a variety of after-school clubs, and the Lower School Electives and Athletics Program for students in grades 3 through 5.
- Social Studies
- Physical Education
- The Arts
- Maker Education
A love for reading and writing permeates every corner of the FCS Lower School community. From the joy of students racing to the Lower School library to pick up a new book to the celebration of reading and writing in our classrooms, the passion for literacy at Friends' Central is truly palpable.
In the early grades, as students begin to learn reading, writing, and speech, our dedicated teachers guide them through a journey of discovery. Through a combination of whole-class and small-group lessons, students acquire essential skills and develop strategies that will serve them throughout their academic journey.
At Friends' Central, we recognize the significance of explicit instruction in encoding and decoding, laying a strong foundation for proficient reading and writing. Our teachers skillfully demonstrate the art of how to think and talk about literature through engaging read-aloud sessions, sparking curiosity and nurturing a love for storytelling.
Employing a workshop-style teaching approach, our Lower School integrates social studies and thematic learning into literacy education, creating a rich and interconnected learning experience. Students learn to evaluate and synthesize information, honing their ability to navigate a world of knowledge. Through inquiry-based lessons, students engage in thematic explorations that bridge the gap between literacy and social studies. This empowers children to become authentic readers and writers, instilling a sense of confidence and ownership over their learning while expanding their knowledge of diverse cultures and historical events.
Through engaging activities and exercises, students actively participate in word work that enhances their vocabulary and language proficiency. Our approach to spelling and grammar instruction is informative and interactive. Whether crafting a compelling narrative, presenting a persuasive argument, expressing personal opinions, or conveying factual information, our students develop a versatile set of writing skills that serve them well across disciplines.
A guiding principle in our literacy curriculum is the concept of windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Through literature and integrated social studies, students explore diverse perspectives, providing windows into worlds they may not have experienced. Mirrors reflect their own experiences, allowing for self-discovery, while sliding glass doors open pathways to understanding others. This framework serves as a powerful tool, deepening our students' understanding of themselves and fostering empathy for the diverse narratives of their peers.
At Friends’ Central School literacy becomes not just a skill but a tool for self-discovery, empathy, and academic success.
A sequential mathematics program emphasizing problem-solving and conceptual understanding gives our Lower School students an applications-oriented approach that builds an understanding of the many ways math connects to their daily lives. Students develop basic computation skills and learn to gather, organize, and interpret data. In the early grades, use of manipulatives nurtures development of number sense. This ensures a thorough understanding of basic concepts before students move to pictorial and then to symbolic and abstract levels. Working in small groups, students expand and enrich their experiences through math games and cooperative math activities. Cooperative problem-solving is a thread that runs throughout the curriculum and encourages students to combine essential math facts with diverse and creative approaches to solve mathematical problems.
Teachers encourage students to question math terms and figure out why numbers and concepts work as they do. Problem-solving ability is stressed as students learn to break down math problems and identify what questions a problem is asking. Number sense continually develops. As the youngest work to understand the magnitude and relationships of quantity -- what each number means by itself and in relation to others -- older students develop the ability to use numbers fluidly, flexibly, and fluently in adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying, first in simple operations and later in multi-step problems.
While each grade has benchmarks for math achievement, teachers in all grades differentiate math instruction for students who are ready for more challenging work. Our learning specialists also provide enrichment and support as needed. Auxiliary support to strengthen math skills is also available as needed.
Our Lower School social studies curriculum is strongly committed to thematic education, a holistic approach that unifies diverse subject matter around a central theme and creates a depth of interest and understanding often missing in other approaches. Learning that is integrated across different disciplines helps students develop deeper comprehension and broader perspectives on facts and concepts. This integration of disciplines illuminates relationships and ways in which disparate aspects of the world are connected -- the past and present, geography and culture, the arts, literature, and history. All areas of learning and the stories of all people are connected by common threads.
A new Lower School fall theme is chosen each year and followed by grade-level themes in the spring semester. The topics selected encourage students to recognize and appreciate the racial, religious, and ethnic diversity of the world in a multicultural approach to education. As the students get older and their perspectives and knowledge deepen, lessons include the historical origins of current conflicts and raise questions of what can be learned from history and how history relates to the present.
The annual fall project unifies Lower School as all classes study the same theme from different perspectives. Sharing a common theme gives rise to interactions between classes and across grades, topical assembly programs, related service projects, group games, numerous collaborations and, overall, a great deal of fun and the satisfaction of understanding a topic well. Specialists in music, art, Spanish, physical education, and library link their lessons to each class’s studies during both the shared fall project and the individual grade spring themes.
This year's fall theme is Another Time, Another Place.
FCS Lower School students are intuitive scientists, and our approach to science education seeks to create lifelong relationships with the natural world. We offer an adventurous curriculum that explores their questions and ideas about the world around them. Brimming with curiosity, our students are empowered to challenge what they know, make observations and inferences about their experiences, and design and execute experiments to deepen their understanding. Using a hands-on, experiential approach, students cover a variety of disciplines, from biology and physics to astronomy and chemistry. They are encouraged to use their acquired knowledge to solve real-life problems through a unique curriculum that concurrently teaches scientific techniques and skills while also emphasizing an appreciation for conservation and ecology. Lessons build from N to grade 5, with developmentally appropriate differentiation at each grade level. Equal class time is spent indoors and outdoors, as our academic endeavors embrace the 18-acre campus, from our farm and temperate forest to the frog pond and serene bird blind.
One of the highlights of the Nursery-grade 5 science program is the community-wide participation in our annual Harvest Fest. Each spring, students sow seeds and tend to plants on the farm, in preparation for a community celebration where we harvest, prepare and eat the homegrown bounty. From seed to fork, the students not only learn the science behind growing food, but also participate in service to the community.
Use of technology is meaningfully integrated into classrooms. Students in Pre-K through grade 2 use iPads, and students in grades 3 through 5 use Chromebooks and the Google platform. Technology is just one tool present in our classrooms to enhance learning and meet the varied needs of our students. We strive to develop digital literacy skills along with other academic goals.
Educational content is curated by teachers to correspond with learning objectives and deepen understanding in our student-centered classrooms. Teachers use online resources to enhance many areas of study with virtual field trips, access to experts, and global student connections.
Lower School students participate in an active physical education program that stresses mastery of a sequence of developmentally appropriate skills and emphasizes teamwork. Younger students play cooperative games and work to develop fundamental movement skills, balance, and eye-hand coordination. Older students develop skills in specific sports such as soccer, field hockey, and basketball that prepare them for participation in the Middle School sports programs. Wellness is specifically taught in 5th grade health, but it is also discussed, taught and lived throughout the year in the entire Lower School physical education program.
Our youngest students in Nursery and Pre-Kindergarten are introduced to Spanish through active listening and speaking. They learn to understand greetings and to respond to basic instructions like forming a circle, raising a hand, lining up quietly, and listening as others speak. They actively take part in activities such as singing and playing games, all conducted in Spanish. Students expand their language skills by recognizing and naming animals, colors, numbers, shapes, body parts, and family members. They also learn terms related to size, clothing, food, and community. This interactive approach ensures a comprehensive grasp of the language from an early age and helps them build a solid foundation in the language.
Students in Kindergarten through grade 5 are introduced to the Symtalk method, a foundational approach to learning Spanish. This technique enables them to communicate from the very first lesson by substituting words with symbols. They progress in speaking, comprehension, and reading skills, covering a range of vocabulary including verbs like play, to go, have, and want, along with terms related to school, time, days, weather, numbers, animals, colors, places, and food. In grades 2 through 5, students further develop their Spanish proficiency by recording and practicing sentences they construct. Each year, we enhance their Spanish learning by introducing new verbs and expanding their vocabulary, building upon their foundational knowledge.
Lower School is rich in artistic excitement and expression. Students present plays, produce videos, make music, and fill the school with the visual arts. The dynamic art program turns hallways into inspiring galleries that reflect the children’s joyful creative spirits.
Children love to come to art class where they are given a wealth of materials as well as the time and opportunity to explore them. Lower School captures the natural and abundant creativity in every child, encouraging the development of visual literacy and awareness as well as helping students to understand and interpret the world around them. Self-confidence is built through successful self-expression, and our art spaces are designed to be welcoming and inspire students to express their ideas.
The art curriculum uses both traditional and nontraditional media to support fine motor and problem-solving skills. Students explore materials used for drawing, painting, collage, printmaking, clay, sculpting, and fiber arts. In addition to the practical making of art, the works of historical and contemporary artists are studied.
The art program often connects to topics and themes studied in our student's core and specialist classes. The art rooms offer an opportunity for discovery and appreciation for different cultures and personal perspectives. Given the materials and guidance, students build skills based on their individual experiences. These skills progress through each grade, scaffolding and supporting children’s growing abilities to express themselves.
The Lower School library serves as the information center of the Lower School. The library supports all educational programs and provides teachers and students with an up-to-date, curated collection of print and digital materials in which our students can see themselves and learn about the world around them. Our goal is to inspire a lifelong love of reading and to promote information literacy by teaching the research and library skills necessary to become independent learners. In addition to reading for pleasure and personal growth, students attend weekly library classes to learn research skills in the context of classroom curriculum.
The library offers a wide array of materials, including over 10,000 books and a rich collection of digital resources. In addition to weekly library classes, there is flexible scheduling for classes to use the library for research projects.
The Lower School library curriculum is designed to inspire and foster a lifelong love of reading, viewing, listening, and learning. The program also promotes information literacy, including visual, textual, and digital literacy to help children acquire the critical thinking skills needed to become independent learners. Children are taught digital citizenship and ethical behavior in the use of information and technology. The library collection offers a variety of materials that provide windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors for all of our students.
Lower School Library program highlights include visiting author events, a book fair, a grade 5 Reading Olympics team, and a Story Book Trail.
Students of all ages are encouraged to explore, experiment, and empower themselves to make wondrous creations in any of the maker studios of the Ulmer Family Light Lab. The Light Lab is fully stocked with high tech tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, and electronics, as well as low tech essentials like clay, fabric, craft supplies, and hand-tools. In collaboration with the Light Lab director, classroom teachers and specialists develop interdisciplinary opportunities to deepen their students’ understanding of concepts taught in the classrooms and in special subjects. Classes are welcome to visit any studio as needed to complete projects throughout the year.
Maker Education projects are designed to maximize student engagement through increased choice, a multitude of materials, and innovative technologies. Instructors play the role of curious guides, making way for students to experience hands-on discoveries through trial and error. Light Lab student engineers could be building parallel circuits in the Fabrication Studio, constructing cardboard castles in the Design Studio, or planting seedlings in the aeroponic grow towers of the Natural Sciences Studio.
Early childhood classes utilize the solarium to nurture indoor plants year round. They are also frequent visitors of the Natural Sciences Studio, learning food preparation and measurement techniques that enhance their understanding of global cultures and special celebrations. In the Fabrication Studio, our youngest learners use tools specifically designed for their age and dexterity. They focus on tool safety and construction skills using safe-saws, screwdrivers, and hammers.
The Fabrication Studio houses a robust library of technology selected to serve a wide range of ages and interests. Beginning in Kindergarten and continuing through fifth grade, students learn the fundamentals of electronics, robotics, and coding through playful connections to theme and curriculum. Instead of learning technology in isolation, students are encouraged to use these tools to enhance what they have learned, creating opportunities to teach others. In past projects students have been asked to create coded animations to bring their autobiographies to life, build robotic insects demonstrating their understanding of an insect’s anatomy, or construct an interactive piece of artwork for a class gallery utilizing conductive touch sensors, wiring, and voice recordings.