Lower School Curriculum
Pre-K - Grade 4 Overview and Approach
The Lower School language arts program is based on a balanced literacy approach which incorporates both phonics and whole language instruction. This is accomplished through the use of Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop and Word Study.
In Reading Workshop, children are taught reading and comprehension strategies, how to make connections with the text, how to check for understanding, how to predict and infer, and how to choose books that are at their independent reading levels. Students are given the opportunity to explore quality literature and practice reading strategies in small groups, whole groups, and individual settings. Students are assessed throughout the school year and guided reading instruction is differentiated to meet the needs of each child.
In Writing Workshop, writing is taught by exploring mentor texts and authors’ writing styles. Teachers model how to choose meaningful writing topics and mini-lessons provide students with writing strategies they can incorporate in their writing. Mini-lessons focus on concepts such as capitalization, punctuation, grammar, expanding ideas, mechanics, revising, and editing.
Students maintain a Writing Notebook to gather ideas and create writing pieces such as poems, narratives, and information books, which they take through the writing process. Children work in a whole group setting, small group setting, independently, and one on one with the teacher which allows for differentiated instruction.
In Phonics, Kindergarten uses a combination of two programs. For phonemic awareness, Kindergarten uses Heggerty. This program allows students to recognize and work with the sounds of language through language play activities For systematic phonics instruction, Kindergarten is using Guided Phonics and Beyond. This program provides hands on explicit instruction following the Science of Reading scope and sequence. Kindergarteners work in both whole and small groups on differentiated lessons containing phonemic awareness, letter sounds, diagraph, blends, word building and decodable reading. Students also work on high frequency words (decodable and irregular), multisyllabic words and reading fluency.
In first through fourth grades, the Lower School uses the Zaner Bloser Spelling Connections program in which instruction is based on spelling principles and patterns, as well as phonics. Students work in differentiated groups, independently, and one-on-one with the teacher to dive deeper into spelling-meaning connection, vocabulary expansion, writing, and test practice. The program also highlights how to correctly use a dictionary and thesaurus.
Students in Pre-K through fourth grades use Dimensions Math which focuses on moving from procedural math to conceptual problem solving and number sense. Interactive lessons and differentiated instructional resources, ensure that all students are successful. Students make connections through visualization, variation and questioning for a deeper understanding.
Students are engaged in exploration, are encouraged to explain their thinking while learning to solve problems multiple ways, and emphasis is placed on the process. and As children most often learn best by discovery, math instruction uses a variety of manipulatives allowing students to learn things for themselves. At age appropriate levels, children receive instruction in topics which include: basic arithmetic operations, measurement; data collection and analysis; probability, logic and problem solving. Through continuous review, the math curriculum is designed to meet the ever changing challenges of new times.
The Lower School science program is a unique aspect of this elementary curriculum. Using a curriculum developed by the National Academies and the Smithsonian Institute, our youngest learners are doing real science. In a lab dedicated to the needs and talents of children, the students learn and explore life, earth, and physical sciences. Elementary students build complete understandings of concepts while learning the basic skills of science. The curriculum design allows students to work independently as well as cooperatively to do investigations; ask questions; make and test predictions; record, reflect on and share their findings; and apply the skills and knowledge they have gained to new situations.
The Lower School Social studies program aligns with the SRDS mission which, in part, states that we inspire each child to become a caring and ethical contributor to society.
Our Social Studies program provides students with a framework through which they can begin to understand themselves and others. They will learn about the history of the past, participate in the present and contemplate the future.
By studying and using map skills the students will build a knowledge of directional terms and a further understanding of spatial relationships. Learning about the globe will enhance their concept of the world. They will begin to realize the influence geography has on human behavior and habits. Students will acquire knowledge about diversity and various ethnic groups and recognize the relevance of contributions from different cultures.
The younger grades will learn about democracy and the value of good citizenship, partly through creating rules and understanding their impact and importance. Who makes the rules? How are they enforced? What happens when a rule is broken? Can a rule change once it is made? As their knowledge and experiences broaden they will expand their ever widening circles to encompass their local communities, the states, the nation and the continents. Upper elementary grades focus on geography by studying landforms, water, climate, and the ways people interact with the environment. The children explore the first Americans and how the environment, and location, impacted the lives of these early people. They will do an in depth study of the five regions of the United States and begin to discuss prominent events in American history that helped shape the country we are today. An emphasis is placed on reading and understanding facts through various sources of information. Research skills are taught as students learn how to apply and share their knowledge.
The primary goal of the World Language program in the Lower School is to establish a comfortable level of verbal and written usage of the Spanish language, which will provide a foundation for the continued study of languages in the Middle and Upper Schools. There is a firm focus on communication, cultural appreciation, and connection to various aspects of the school curriculum, such as reading and writing.
The program strives to instill a natural enjoyment for the use of the target language in order to express such things as greetings, family, clothing, animals, food, numbers, and classroom objects. Throughout their language acquisition, students will engage in simulations, games, and activities that will place them in real-life situations while reinforcing the subject matter. At each grade level the topics are expanded upon in terms of incremental vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Innovation, Design, Engineering, Arts, and Science
The IDEAS Lab curriculum builds on a constructive ideology, as introduced by Jean Piaget and developed by Seymour Papert, to form an experiential approach to education. They both recognized that playing, tinkering, and experimentation are all essential to a child’s cognitive development.
The primary goal of constructionism is to have learners create their own knowledge by creating and interacting with physical objects. It has clear connections to media literacy, as well as to self-directed learning. Innovative researchers and those who wish to see schools develop 21st-century learners - with the skills to work in today’s multidimensional career settings - know constructionism is a necessary tool. (Roffey, 2015)
In the IDEAS Lab, we often see students using a combination of the scientific method and their own creative process when working through a challenge. They have the opportunity to work out problems individually or in cooperative groups and have lots of practice with problem-solving, critical thinking, sequencing, estimation, logic, and ethical reasoning. When they complete a project, they present their work, gather feedback from peers, have time to reflect on the process and think about what they might do differently. Our students are expanding vocabulary, gaining independence in the new space, and developing a growth mindset that encourages them to believe they can learn to do anything.
The PreK - Grade 4 curriculum evolves every year but often involves coding, design thinking, 3D design/printing, robotics, problem-solving, critical thinking, strategizing, sequencing, cooperation, creative thinking, digital media creation, ethics, digital citizenship, writing, science, math, art, and engineering.
The Lower School music program is designed to bring the joy of music to each student and to provide the students with the fundamental musical understanding and skills that will prepare them for more advanced study in the Middle School. Music classes consist of singing, movement, learning to play Orff instruments and in the fourth grade, learning to play the recorder. The students are taught how to listen to music, proper vocal technique, how to read musical notation, how to use movement to understand rhythm, and improvisation is taught via the Orff instruments. In addition to Music Class, the students attend choir practice once a week, during which the students prepare pieces for concerts that take place in December and June.
The visual arts are a means to gain personal satisfaction through individual accomplishment in the creation of images and forms. The students are taught the basic elements and principles of art throughout their years in the Lower School Art program. Their projects involve the child in imagining, exploring, reasoning, inventing, and selecting; so that the experience will not only be rich in itself, but lead to personal creative growth, assimilation of information, and development of art skills. Students will enjoy creating both two and three-dimensional art pieces using a variety of techniques and materials. The students learn about a number of artists, styles and cultures throughout their art experiences. In addition to traditional studio art, fourth grade students begin the study of Graphic Design in classes where they learn what defines a graphic composition aimed at conveying a clear message in a powerful way. All students exhibit their artwork in the SRDS art show at the end of the year.
The goal of physical education is to teach students how to control and use their bodies to perform skills at the mastery level. In the earlier stages of lower school, we aim to enhance a child's throwing and catching ability, balance, and their spatial awareness. As students grow and mature through the lower school years, the program seeks to improve sport-specific skills, coordination, agility, and sport knowledge.
Activities and Service Organizations
Lower School clubs meet through the Coaching Academy and are conducted by SRDS faculty and staff as well as outside experts and professionals. Activities depend on interest and availability and are offered by the athletic season (Fall, Winter and Spring). The Lower School works with various service organizations each year based on local, national, and international needs as well as grade level skills, objectives, and interests. Organizations that the Lower School has worked with include The Seeing Eye Institute, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Unicef for Ukraine, American Red Cross California Wildfires, etc.