Lower School: Kindergarten–Grade 3
Through exemplary teaching and a careful balance of nurture and rigor, children in the Lower School are encouraged to develop their individual talents and skills, to express themselves with clarity and confidence, to think creatively and critically, and to make connections between their learning and the world outside the classroom. Children enter Kindergarten ready and eager to participate in the learning process. They leave Grade 3 with the confidence to initiate learning – to discover and create, experiment and question, and master and apply ever-increasing skills, strategies, and concepts.
Our integrated approach to teaching literacy blends the explicit teaching of skills, the broad use of literature, and varied daily opportunities to read and write in many genres. From a Kindergartner’s reading of Mac and Tab, an early Primary Phonics book, to a Grade 3 student’s reading of Sharon Creech’s beautiful and poignant Love That Dog, children encounter literature of gathering sophistication and complexity as they grow as readers and writers. Young writers are transformed into published authors by frequent visits to the school’s Publishing Center. Children also regularly visit our wonderful Elementary School library to hear a story, browse the shelves, and check out books.
Drawing on history, literature, music, and art, social studies expands children’s sense of self and understanding of their place in the world. Students in the Lower School “travel” to Mexico. They explore the cultures of China, Japan, and Russia and the folktales of West Africa. They study the diverse cultures and regional customs of American Indians and learn about the 50 states. Students in Grade 3 imagine life in the early colonial settlements before embarking on field trips to Jamestown and St. Mary’s City. Students learn to read maps, charts, and timelines, moving on to the Upper School ready and eager to explore ancient civilizations and American history.
We recognize the importance of language in understanding mathematical concepts and explaining strategies for solving problems. We also recognize that mathematics is its own language. The Lower School math curriculum offers a series of connected investigations of mathematical ideas within the areas of number, data collection and analysis, geometry and measurement, and the mathematics of change. By Grade 3, students have learned the principles of two- and three-dimensional geometry, identified increasingly complex patterns, and learned multiplication and division, including fractions and decimals.
The science curriculum emerges as an upward spiral of concepts, content, and skills so that students build on the knowledge acquired in previous years. The study of water, for example, might begin with surface tension experiments in the Nursery School and spiral upward to the investigation of the physical and molecular composition of water in the upper grades. Students in the Lower School leave the classroom for the lab, where they engage actively in hands-on learning. When off campus on field trips, Lower School students might identify local trees or animals in the nearby Potomac watershed, connecting the world of school to the broader habitat of Washington, D.C.
Because the groundwork of fluency in a world language is best established early on, we begin teaching Spanish in Grade 1. Three times each week, Lower School students are immersed in a multi-sensory learning environment that moves from the alphabet, numbers, and basic greetings to weave vocabulary into conversational phrases. Study and celebration of various traditions and customs in the Spanish-speaking world add interest and texture to lessons on grammar and vocabulary.
Lower School children work with a range of specialist teachers not only in science, but also in religion, art, music, physical education, and technology. Within each subject, students begin to learn the language, skills, tools, and ways of thinking and knowing unique to each discipline, whether drawing a still life, designing a crayfish experiment, or playing an Orff instrument.
Taught by the Day School chaplain and a religion teacher beginning in Kindergarten, religion classes examine the stories of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus as well as a variety of other faith traditions. Through religion classes, children study the ways personal and community values develop and what it means to be individuals of integrity.