Lower School Curriculum
At the heart of all Lower School learning experiences are high expectations of each student, spiritually-based character development, and a commitment to differentiating the curriculum so that every child is fully engaged.
The aim of our reading program is to enable students to think within, about, and beyond the text—constructing meaning from language while developing fluency. Applying a writing workshop model that includes focused mini-lessons followed by independent and group practice, students explore the various writing phases (drafting, revising, proofreading, and publishing) and different forms of writing (informational, narrative, persuasive, and poetry).
Our program helps students master the key mathematical concepts of quantity, size, space, portions, proportions, and relationships in a way that makes sense in everyday life. Starting in kindergarten with the Math in Focus® program, we follow a three-step process—moving from the concrete to the pictorial to the abstract. Using manipulatives to demonstrate a concept, followed by a pictorial or graphic re-creation of it, sets the basis for understanding the concept through numbers and symbols.
After sorting, classifying, measuring, identifying patterns, exploring number concepts, and practicing logical thinking in first grade, students move on to topics such as basic geometry, time and temperature, money, graphing, and place value in second grade. From third through fifth grade, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division become increasingly complex with fractions and decimals introduced at the higher levels. We also teach geometry, averages, mean, median, and mode, and the interpretation of graphs and charts, along with estimating and problem-solving skills. Students have opportunities to apply their math skills in both science and social studies projects as they conduct research and report on their findings.
Lower School students explore three main strands of science—physical, life, and earth sciences. An emphasis on place-based learning—applying scientific principles in our immediate environment and context—provides opportunities to transfer learning from the classroom to the community. Using our campus, students enjoy learning firsthand about habitats and ecosystems, as well as making observations in our permaculture orchard, at our ponds, and in the woods.
Working with hands-on kits, the students learn the essential basics of engineering design, including how energy, electricity, forces, and motion work and how they can be harnessed for practical use in designing and programming robots. Units are aligned to the National Research Council’s NextGen science standards, and consider three key dimensions of science:
Scientific practice—particularly what constitutes scientific inquiry and investigation,
Crosscutting concepts—patterns, similarities, structures, and functions that apply across all domains of science, and
Core ideas from physical science, life and earth science, space science, and engineering design
The Lower School social studies program prepares students to be responsible, caring citizens in an interdependent, culturally diverse, and democratic society. Learning experiences provide students opportunities to grow in awareness, understanding, and appreciation of peoples, cultures, and ideas—past and present, local and global. Each unit culminates in projects or performance tasks which are authentic, relevant, and demonstrate the students' knowledge, skills, and understanding. Social Studies units integrate learning across multiple facets and content areas, including literature, math, art, music, PE, and digital media. Children deepen their understanding and transfer of skills and knowledge through place-based activities and student-centered inquiry. The primary grade units focus on family, personal, and local history, and include field trips around Principia and the surrounding community. The intermediate-grade units focus on history, state and national government, and participation in local, hands-on field trips. Fifth grade culminates with a weeklong trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia, and Washington D.C. to engage in the history they studied throughout Lower School.
Our studio is a hub of creativity, visual problem solving, and self-expression as we harness each student's sense of wonder in weekly art sessions. As they observe, reflect, express, envision, and explore, students expand their world and their appreciation of themselves, others, and the beauty around them.
The art teacher works closely with classroom teachers to integrate lessons in the art room with learning in the classroom. As a result, students often create art and craft works that relate directly to their study of science and social studies.
Music and Band
Movement, rhythm, and repetition are all part of music education—an essential aspect of the Lower School experience. In weekly classes, we use the Kodály Method to introduce children to elements of rhythm and tone through folk songs, games, dances, and Orff instruments (tonal devices such as xylophones, metallophones, and glockenspiels). By the end of third grade, students learn how to play recorders, read notation, and play the pentatonic scales.
In fourth grade, we introduce students to band instruments. After an evaluation process, students choose their instruments and are ready to begin their band journey. Participation in band is required in fifth grade (and on into sixth grade in Middle School). Students perform in two annual concerts beginning in fifth grade and participate in the annual ABC Solo and Ensemble Festival, hosted by Principia. These occasions provide early opportunities to develop poise and stage presence.
IDEA LAB (STEM Integration Program)
All grades have weekly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) class in our newly renovated IDEA Lab, with direct instruction and independent exploration time.
We call our STEM program the IDEA Lab because it engages learners as they apply technology to projects of their own design. As they work on their projects, they build academic connections and develop future-ready skills. Whether students are exploring robotics, coding, websites, video broadcasts, circuitry, or structures, they’re developing critical-thinking skills. Students are solving problems, collaborating, and learning valuable project- and time-management skills. Additionally, they’re reflecting, communicating, and presenting not only their projects but their learning. Students build skills, knowledge, and interests critical for college and career success.
Our Lower School students have fun with active learning through movement.
Physical education classes for students in kindergarten through fifth grade meet four days a week. Our facilities include a renovated playground, with natural and man-made features, and two sports fields. Lower School students also have access to the School track and turf field, a climbing wall, and an indoor pool which allows for swimming instruction in grades first through fifth.
PE classes reinforce children’s natural joy in physical activity. In all classes, students learn the importance of respect, responsibility, honesty, and moral courage—and they practice teamwork, problem solving, and leadership. The early grades focus on spatial awareness and movement, and relationship concepts, as well as fundamental locomotor, non-locomotor, and manipulative skills to achieve movement competency and proficiency. In the upper grades, students apply these skills as activity-specific motor skills in a variety of settings.