Lower School Curriculum

Language Arts

The primary goal of language arts instruction in the lower school is to inspire students to read for pleasure, learn new information, share their thoughts and feelings, and speak confidently and dynamically. To meet those goals, teachers in grades K-3 focus on reading skills that include print knowledge, alphabet awareness, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, and fluency. In grades 4 and 5, reading instruction focuses on vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension. Students learn and practice three types of writing in grades K-5: opinion/argument writing, narrative writing, and informative writing using a workshop model where students are provided with clear goals, as well as responsive, assessment based feedback.

History & Social Studies

A strong understanding of social studies and history is the foundation of well-informed, civic-minded citizens. Our K-5 scope and sequence begins with exploring relationships that students have within their immediate circle of family, friends, teachers, and neighbors. Then students learn the basics of geography, economics, and citizenship in the context of expanding their view to include the local community. Learning broadens from there to an awareness of local and global communities, the exploration of different cultures, and public service roles. Finally, students begin to learn about American history from the first migration into the Americas to the 20th Century.

Science

Just as children explore concentrically larger circles of community in social studies, the science curriculum teaches them to understand and appreciate the physical world around them. Students take part in engaging, hands-on investigation focused on the following four areas.
  • Plants and animals- their impact on the environment, parts and functions, interdependence in ecosystems, variations of traits of different organisms, functions of internal and external structure in growth, reproduction, and information processing, role of decomposers, consumers, and producers in a healthy ecosystem.
  • Matter & forces- properties and functions of different kinds of matter, how they effect the way objects move, how light and sound travels, effect of balanced and unbalanced forces, patterns in wave motion, how energy is transferred by sound, light, heat, and electric current, identify matter as particles of matter too small to be seen.
  • Weather - how it changes over time in recognizable patterns, quantify and predict weather conditions, interaction among the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
  • Sun, moon, and stars - patterns in the apparent movement, processes that shape Earth over long periods of time, weathering, erosion, and deposition in shaping Earth’s surface, patterns caused by the relative position of the Earth and sun.

Math

K-5 math instruction and curriculum are carefully designed to allow students to connect with, build upon, and refine their mathematical understandings. Students use metacognitive strategies when they engage in solving mathematics problems to not only understand specific concepts, but also the process by which they learned them. Six content strands are at the core of instruction in all grade levels: number and numeration, operations and computation, data and chance, measurement and reference frames, geometry, patterns, and functions, and algebra. These six areas are broken down further into grade-level goals which are linked to formative assessments. Using a Professional Learning Community model, teachers analyze the assessment data and support each student’s developmental stage of understanding. They work closely in teams to design instruction of both remedial and enrichment needs allowing them to support students at all levels.

World Languages- Mandarin

Beginning in kindergarten, lower school students have the opportunity to study both Mandarin and Spanish. This allows young students to gain exposure to both languages and equips them with the necessary experience to decide which language they would like to study in more depth beginning in third grade. There are three main goals for lower school students interested in learning Mandarin: 1) Building up a strong foundation of high-frequency vocabulary. Frequent and consistent exposure to high frequency vocabulary greatly increases the comfort level of students as they begin to communicate in a new language. 2) Working on the basic grammar rules, sentence structure, and discourse patterns. Chinese can seem very intimidating to students when they first begin learning the language; however, the introduction of common sentence patterns coupled with frequent practice in relevant contexts can greatly increase the rate at which students develop language proficiency. 3) Developing cultural knowledge and global awareness. Lastly, a critical goal for lower school students in the Mandarin classroom is to provide opportunities to understand the similarities and differences between their own culture and that of various Chinese populations around the world. Students have the opportunity to go on field trips, eat new foods, learn about daily life for students their own age in China and learn about and celebrate the various important Chinese holidays.

World Languages- Spanish

The goal of lower school Spanish is for students to become effective and confident communicators in the Spanish language. In the lower school Spanish classroom, the teacher and students only speak Spanish, forcing students to act out or circumlocute words they do not yet know. Using Organic World Languages (OWL) techniques as well as Total Physical Response (TPR) and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), students begin to feel comfortable exploring the world around them in a new language.  In grades K-2, students focus on building vocabulary through stories, games, and the program ¡Hola Niños!. Third grade is a transitional year: students start off by reviewing and building upon the words learned in previous grades, and transition to chorally reading a chapter book and beginning to express themselves through writing.  In fourth and fifth grade, we review the vocabulary and skills learned in grades K-3 and then transition to reading a level-appropriate chapter book in Spanish. Students read chorally, in partners, and independently. They act out, draw, and write scenes from the book and use the book as a starting point for further discussion.  Students will leave the lower school able to understand and speak Spanish as well as reading and writing according to their level.

Visual Arts

Lower school artists use paint, clay, collage, sculptural and digital media to explore artistic expression in a structured and supportive environment. One of the main goals of the art program is to familiarize students with an art studio setting and teach them to navigate safely and confidently through this space. In addition they learn about artists, art movements and how to move from concept to creation. Students learn the vernacular of art and build a vocabulary that grows with them as they progress from grades K-5.

Each grade focuses on a specific theme as follows:
  • Kindergarten: Art Exploration
  • First grade: Artist Studies
  • Second grade: Community and Art
  • Third grade: Art Around the World
  • Fourth Grade: Storytelling Through Art
  • Fifth Grade: Principles and Elements of Design Study

Performing Arts

Movement, singing, and playing are second nature to children. Our lower school performing arts curriculum uses the Kodaly approach to music education, which takes full advantage of these innate skills. Spoken word with rhymes, games, songs, and dances become learning tools as students are encouraged to improvise, compose, and interact musically as a group. In addition, K-2 students jump right into developing fundamental skills, learning how to identify musical notation, including rhythms, pitches, and dynamics symbols. In the third and the fourth grades, students continue to build their knowledge of written music and improvisation as they study piano and recorder, respectively. Fifth grade beginning band is an evolution of the musical skills learned the previous year, but this year, students have the opportunity to play the instrument of their choice such as Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone and Baritone.

Public performance is a fantastic way for young learners to develop confidence and is an integral part of our program. Throughout the year, lower school students showcase what they’re learning for peers and parents at town meetings, recitals, and seasonal performances. When students graduate from lower school, the goal is that they have a strong knowledge of the written mechanics of music and a greater sense of the community, character, and creativity that are built by singing, playing, and creating music together.

Physical Education

Physical education helps children develop physical as well as social-emotional skills to become healthier young people through different sports and games. Sportsmanship, work ethic, communication, and inclusion are daily lessons woven into each activity. Classes use a number of facilities including our gymnasium, climbing wall, synthetic turf soccer field, and exercise room. The end goal is building confidence, self-worth, and problem solving through a physically active lifestyle that will enable children to enjoy traditional sports as well those that define our mountain lifestyle.

In addition, taking full advantage of our unique cross-age learning environment, lower school students may elect to participate in seasonal development clinics in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse. The clinics, which are held after school, are led by VMS varsity athletes who teach fundamental skills and introduce the basic rules of each game.