Our Lower School curriculum provides an enriching education for the whole child, nurturing the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth of every student.
Reading, Writing, and Mathematics
Small groups of approximately ten students and one teacher work intensively to build a strong foundation in the skills of verbal and quantitative literacy key to future learning.
Depth, Breadth, and Richness
The curriculum spans and often integrates substantive experiences within science, social studies, Spanish, technology, physical education, creative movement, art, and music.
Teachers take care in shaping instructional approaches to recognize each child's strengths and needs, offering added enrichment, challenge, or support as appropriate.
Social and Emotional Learning
Equally as important as academic learning needs, our rigorous social and emotional curriculum guides children to work with and support one another, develop peaceful conflict resolution skills, and make use of mindfulness-based practices.
- Design and Engineering
- Environmental Studies
- Language Arts
- Peace Education
- Performing Arts
- Physical Education
- Social Studies
- Visual Arts
Design and Engineering
We are...makers, designers and engineers.
There’s a buzz of activity in the classroom as young students measure wood and wield child-sized saws, hand drills, and bench clamps. They’ve designed and built creatures out of natural materials. Now they are building homes for their creations. A drawing shows the desired final look … a grid of square centimeters provides a template for the floor plan. The finishing touch will be an LED light, installed using their knowledge of circuitry gained in an earlier lesson.
Older students apply the techniques they’ve learned to more advanced design challenges. A small group of students is working on a wooden model that will show how the muscles of the human arm function. Fantastical insects hang on the walls, built to measure using imaginative scale drawings. A marble track with a bucket “elevator” runs around the classroom. A flotilla of motorized boats sails on the neighboring pond.
Outdoors, students use natural materials to construct “forts” of bamboo, sticks, and pine straw. A group has figured out a clever way to hold up the pine straw so that tunnels may be created. A carefully balanced pile of stones reinforces a key support post. Water play encourages young engineers. A recent rainstorm offers the perfect opportunity to experiment with dams in a drainage swale. Whether directed or independent, solutions to challenges are being sought everywhere.
It’s planting day. Classes have tilled soil in the Lower School garden, sown lettuce seeds in flats and watched them sprout, and now it’s time to transfer the young plants to their beds in the garden. In a few weeks they’ll be harvesting lettuce for a lunchtime salad bar. From gardening to leaf collections to crayfish analysis, these students are forging intimate connections with the world around them.
Outdoors, students use natural materials to create special play spaces.
Creatures from the creek are admired and then returned to their homes. Rocks migrate from a drainage ditch until a lesson in erosion control helps students understand why they need to stay where they are. During a walk on the campus nature trail, a group pauses to sit for awhile and listen to the sounds around them. As the quiet deepens, more birds are heard and an adventurous squirrel descends a tree trunk to investigate.
Around the school you can see recycling containers, compost bins, and solar panels. Art projects make use of materials that might otherwise become trash. Light pours into classrooms from skylights and broad windows. A geothermal system supplies heat and cooling to the newest building. We are stewards of this land. It is our task to know it, to keep it clean, and to protect it.
Unlocking the secrets of the printed page, students find new worlds to explore and share. In a small group setting, younger students practice letter sounds, find rhyming words, and review their personal vocabulary words. A pair of students share a book, alternating reading aloud. New words are added to the word wall. In a quiet corner, a student reads a book while cuddled up next to a parent volunteer.
Older students excitedly open their classroom library for the year with a ribbon cutting. A student shares an analysis of the book she’s just finished, comparing it to others in the genre and recommending it to her classmates. Book clubs of 3 or 4 students meet to discuss the novel they are studying together. Favorite authors are discussed. A hush falls over the room as students and teachers spend time reading books of their choice.
The Lower School library is a hive of activity. Whether before school, during scheduled library times, after school, or during lunch recess, you will always see students combing the shelves for books and checking them out independently. Sprawled on beanbag pillows or cozy child-sized sofas, these readers are in their own chosen worlds, off on a journey to a magical place.
“Look at the book I wrote!” A young student excitedly shares his work. The simple folded paper product, stapled together, has words and pictures on each page. The pictures may be simple, the words may be clumps of consonants…the pride is enormous. He reads his creation to a teacher or classmate. He is an author.
A teacher reads aloud from a book by Mo Willems. The class has watched a video of Mo in his home studio talking about the writing process. They discuss why he chose the style of the fonts and note that he always includes a drawing of Pigeon on the end papers. As authors themselves, these students understand the sections of a book and make decisions about everything from cover art to author biographies.
An older student journals about her week. A pair of students are working on a graphic novel together. In a Writer’s Circle, students offer constructive critiques of their classmates’ works. A teacher shares opening lines from various books as a lead-in to a discussion of how to engage your reader. In print and in cursive, on paper and in e-books, students share their opinions, their dreams, their research findings, their stories.
“Today is…” begins the student reading the calendar. Following the announcement of the date, students offer calendar-related observations: how many days left in the week or the month, how many days we’ve been in school, how long it is until their birthday. On the playground, students who have opened a “store” debate the value of pinecones versus quartz rocks as currency. Young joggers keep track of their laps with Unifix® cubes; ten cubes equals a mile.
Mathematical thinking grows. Young students sort buttons after determining shared attributes. Teams gather outside to determine the relative capacity of various containers by pouring water from one vessel to another. A student solves a problem on an iPad, recording both her written notations and her thinking process as she narrates her own work. Friends are creating their own set of Sudoku puzzles. On “Math Morning” students celebrate the fun of math with mini-classes such as tangrams, coding, chess, or geometric art.
Using computational skills gained through practice with beans, cubes, ten-frames, counters, and other manipulatives, students discover the truth of math operations. They practice their skills using math games and online tools. In small group settings, students share their strategies and discuss their preferred methods. They apply their knowledge to problem solving challenges, always asking, “Does this answer make sense?”
“They’re excluding me,” a tearful student reports to her teacher. “Tell me about it,” the teacher responds. The details are shared and the teacher asks, “Would you like a conference?” When the answer is in the affirmative, the teacher convenes the group of involved students. Each is given a turn to speak their view of the issue. “How can we change this?” asks the teacher.
An agreement is reached. The group will be more inclusive, and the student will be more vocal in stating her desire to join the activity. Back to recess.
At the beginning of the year, a class holds a discussion to design class rules for how they will treat each other. “We should respect people’s stuff, “ offers a student. Ideas are shared about what that means in terms of behavior. Another student talks about how listening to others is important.
The list is revised and agreed upon. A class contract is written on poster paper, signed by all the students and teachers, and posted on the wall.
On the playground, designated fourth-year Peacekeepers act as sounding boards for other students needing help with a social difficulty. They take their roles seriously and are wonderful mentors. A Peacekeeper helps a young student find his voice on the basketball court, and the game proceeds with the ball being passed more equitably. The basics of peaceful coexistence are being learned: noticing, listening, sharing, speaking from your heart.
It's dance afternoon. A group of students and their teacher head to the multi-purpose room, remove their socks and shoes upon entering, and spread out around the space, ready to move. A drumbeat sounds. Bare feet connect with the floor and the earth below, arms reach high and wide, bodies find shapes straight and curved as dancers interpret the dance vocabulary they've learned over the semester.
Under the guidance of the dance/movement teacher, students explore their range of motion, imprint in their bodies the concepts of fast and slow, high and low, and create sets of movements that evoke specific feelings or concepts. Moving singly and in groups, dancers mirror partners, build on each other's shapes, and experiment with props such as feathers, elastic bands, or ribbons. As they crawl, skip, gallop, turn, and freeze, they are reminded to be aware of their body in space.
Class may end with a sharing of dance pieces students have created, followed by a discussion circle where observers comment on what they noticed in the dance they watched. As students resume their socks and shoes to return to the rest of their day, they carry with them the body memory of the joy of movement. Arms spread like airplanes or feet on tiptoe, energized and enthusiastic, they are already looking forward to the next dance class.
“Oh, there ain’t no bugs on me!” No, it’s not a grammatically questionable commentary on mosquitoes, it’s the beginning of music class and the group is belting out an old a campfire favorite for which they have created many new verses. Twice a week, students' spontaneous music-making is encouraged through singing, games, movement, and call-and-response activities. Using instruments around them -- djembe drums, xylophones, bells, recorders, ukuleles – students create stories in sound.
Younger students are creating a song about weather. They experiment to decide which combination of percussion instruments will create the best thunder. Would a plucked ukulele sound like rain? Maybe we should use a xylophone, too? Much discussion and reworking happens before the group is satisfied. They use an iPad to record and notate their piece. They are beginning to understand the many creative decisions that go into making a piece of music.
Older students are learning their first notes on the soprano recorder. A 3-note tune emerges, a drumbeat is added, a pair of ukulele chords support the sound. The tune inspires lyrics, which are added to the traditional notation of the piece as it develops. A student has brought in a favorite CD to share. The group listens, then talks about the layers of instrumentation heard in the piece. These students are active participants in musical self-expression.
It looks like a parade. It’s the line of students snaking up the path toward the gym, accompanied by the physical education teacher. The group of 16 students chatters happily. Some are teasing the teacher for hints of the day’s planned activity. All are excited as the group gathers in a corner of the gym for instructions.
Today’s activity involves defending a set of bowling pins from thrown balls while trying to knock down the pins of other teams. Teams gather to strategize the best way to set up their pins within the given playing area. Some team members stand in a launch area and throw soft vinyl balls. A team member rolls around the area on a scooter board retrieving balls and returning them to the throwers. It’s loud and enthusiastic.
Teams take a break and the group discusses which placement of pins was easiest to defend. The teacher runs the students through a reminder drill on throwing and aiming skills. Team members change roles and the game begins again. Next week may bring a variation of this game played outside on the field. The parade returns to Lower School, sweaty and glowing, muscles and minds stretched, teamwork enhanced.
A cheer arises as the hundredth paperclip is dropped into a cup. Their bridge design is a success! The project has involved learning which paper folds are strongest, how to make cylinders as supports, what a counterweight can do. At the creek, materials are tested to see which ones float and which ones sink. Amid the testing, students stop to notice the tadpoles, some of which have begun to sprout legs. A rock glistening in the stream turns out to be fool’s gold – iron pyrite.
Student curiosity leads to research, experimentation, and discovery. Which rocks are hardest? Let’s put on some goggles and smash the chosen rocks together and see what happens. Do plants like sugar? Sprout some beans and feed a test group with sugar water.
How can we stop that cardinal from flying into the glass windows as he sees his reflection?
Will curtains help? What about the silhouette of an owl?
Students find tiny sharks’ teeth in a pile of fossil-rich dirt from the North Carolina coastal plains. They build patience as they sift through the earth for these minute treasures. The question arises, “If sharks are big, why are their teeth so small?” We’re off to the library for a book or a look at one of the online research tools. A class discussion turns from facts about the teeth of sharks to our own teeth and how they develop. Who has lost a tooth this month?
Curiosity, testing, questioning, and sharing all deepen our knowledge of the world around us.
We are...social scientists.
In the woods across the creek, a group of students is conducting a “dig” to explore the world of those who inhabited the school property before us. They have tried their hands at flint knapping, so they know the telltale signs of a piece of worked stone. The proliferation of flakes tells us that early peoples spent time here, perhaps on a rest stop as they traveled the nearby Occaneechi Trail.
The smell of frying potatoes wafts down the hall as a group of parents prepare latkes to serve as they tell Hanukah stories from their own family traditions. All of Lower School joins in a fiesta as we celebrate the culmination of a year of learning about our Mexican neighbors. A map study of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park leads to a writing project as we try to imagine how peaks like Bear Knob and Clingman’s Dome got their names.
In these and other interdisciplinary ways, our students explore a diversity of beliefs, values, and structures that help them understand the world around them.
“¿Como estas, niños?” sings the teacher. A rousing “Muy bien,” comes back from the class. The song leads into an activity about feelings. Students use their dramatic skills as they act out the Spanish words for sad and happy and excited and scared. Twice weekly, a group of 15 students meets with the Spanish teacher for conversational experience and instruction.
Students experience the language through games, stories, and hands-on activities. They learn concentration as the teacher speaks to them primarily in Spanish. They develop their skills in communication as they infer from the teacher’s gestures and facial expressions what she is saying. Back in their home classrooms, they learn to read the day’s date in Spanish, proudly rattling off the number of the day, the day of the week, the month, and the year.
Younger students learn to introduce themselves and to ask a classmate how they are feeling. An art project hones their knowledge of color names. Sharing about a frog they found outside adds the word rana to their vocabulary. Older students create a short play using words and phrases they have learned. Discussions of holidays, food, art, music, and legends all add to their understanding of the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
A student searches the online catalogue in the Lower School library to find more books by a favorite author. In a designated small room, a group of students use the green screen wall to put the finishing touches on their movie presentation. Later, a class will Skype with a class at another school. Each group will ask and answer questions as they try to determine where the other school is located. The activities are about connection. They are about humans, not hardware.
Another student loves sea creatures. Using a Chromebook and the online research resources available on the library website, she uncovers facts about dolphins and jellyfish and sharks. The facts and some of her own drawings will go into an e-book to be shared with her classmates. A teacher has introduced a new concept in math class. Some students practice the new skills using iPads and the IXL Learning site. Another group writes their own programming code to animate robots Dash and Dot as they move around the library floor.
Older students log in to their own accounts and continue working on research articles or creative stories. As the session ends, they carefully log off, shut down their tablet or laptop, and return the device to the charging station. In addition to the specific skills of keyboarding, word processing, coding, and presentation software, these students are learning to care for shared equipment and to be responsible digital citizens.
“What are we doing today?” “I need to finish the painting that I started last week.” “I brought this stuffed animal because I want to learn how to draw it.” “Did you fire the kiln?” “Is my clay pot ready so I can take it home?” These are words heard as 15 students and their teacher walk from their classroom to the art studio. Once inside, students look to the chart to see which creative centers are open for the day, then gather around the demonstration table for a short introductory lesson.
Today is opening day for the center titled “Inventor’s Workshop,” and the students are given the assignment of making a 3-D creature using cardboard. They have the additional challenge of including at least 2 moving parts and using 3 different forms of attachment when they make their creature. The demonstration lesson gives examples of different forms of attachment and teaches them how to use the tools they will need. For the next 30 minutes the students are busily creating, sharing ideas, asking questions, getting inspiration from each other, and then it’s time to stop and clean up.
All gather in a circle for some final sharing at the end of class. Two students are eager to show their finished animal to the group. Unfinished projects are stored on the shelf for next week. “Can I come back at recess tomorrow to finish my snake?” one student asks as they walk out the door.
In This Section
We are both intentionally secular and deeply informed by principles of mutual respect, a search for truth, and a desire for social justice
Thick and Thin Questions
Open-ended questions lead to unfolding paths of discovery. We teach our children to think beyond "yes or no" questions, to questions of real resonance and challenge.
We offer Extended Day care as well as Student Enrichment opportunities.