Lower School Core Curriculum
In this first year, children develop skills and phonemic awareness through songs, games, and daily exposure to language in its many forms. Each week features a new sight word, literacy station activities, and guided reading. By the end of the year, they have become comfortable matching letters with sounds and can write a sentence independently. Reading comprehension is developed with colorful projects in which children respond to themes in books such as Wemberly Worried or the Pete the Cat series.
First graders develop their comprehension skills while engaged in guided reading lessons and literacy stations. The guided reading rotations include: small-group instruction with the teacher; phonics and word study activities; listening to recorded stories; independent reading of "just right" books; and reading-response comprehension activities. Writing is integrated across all subject areas as the students build their skills within the context of what they are learning. Various approaches to writing include: personal narratives, creative story writing, responsive writing, recording information, and other genres.
With the introduction of the paragraph form, children have a deeper way to express themselves. The essentials of opening sentence, supporting details, and closing sentence are given life in writing about personal experiences, animals, nature, and people. Students also start learning to proofread for spelling and capitalization, punctuation, and clarity for their readers.
Building confident, thinking readers is the focus of the 2nd grade year. To this end, students are grouped based on instructional needs. Fiction and nonfiction books are chosen for targeted work at each group's level. Teachers work with each group on vocabulary, fluency, spelling, and comprehension. Students develop fluency by reading to the kindergartners. Readers Theater allows students to record themselves reading a script so they can self-evaluate their delivery and expression.
In 3rd grade, students first experience the thrill of choice: Within the language arts café, students choose from a weekly menu of activities to work on different skills. Vocabulary lists are tailored to each student's ability. In their reading, students are encouraged to choose books that will challenge them, while reading response and one-on-one time with their teacher helps further comprehension. Genre studies focus on specific types of literature; the biography study, for example, has students choose a person, read a biography, and participate in a project like a wax museum in which characters come to life by turn to talk about their lives. In 3rd grade, students start using iPads to access vocabulary lists, create digital portfolios, and record themselves learning new skills like spelling words in sign language.
Our math curriculum for kindergarten through 5th grade is based on the Bridges in Mathematics program, a flexible and comprehensive set of materials and activities. Students in the Lower School develop strong number sense, learning to look for different possibilities for solutions, as well as the application of math in the world.
Throughout the year, kindergartners will spend time in the Number Corner playing math games, and they work on skills during learning station time. The themes presented by the calendar each year—such as the lunar new year and the 100th day of school—offer many ways to engage with numbers. By the end of their kindergarten year, students are able to identify numbers; count to 100 by 1s, 5s, and 10s; and write their numbers to 30 or higher.
In 1st grade students start working toward developing multiple strategies for solving addition and subtraction problems; telling time to the hour and half-hour; understanding denominations of money and how to combine them; identifying 2- and 3- dimensional shapes; and identifying and creating patterns. The crab and sea star project takes a skill they became familiar with in kindergarten—counting by 5s and 10s—and builds their knowledge. Children create their own number story, illustrated with hidden-picture answers: "There are 10 arms. How many sea stars?" Then, they work in small groups or pairs to solve each other's problems. A key development in 1st grade is for the students to explain their process and model solutions and strategies in order to strengthen their mathematical thinking.
Flags of the world provide a colorful introduction to fractions; creating marble ramps gets students thinking about math as it applies to the world around them: The 2nd grade year introduces many concepts while reinforcing skills with time and money, which were begun in 1st grade. Students work to increase their recall of basic addition and subtraction facts to 20, solidify their knowledge of place value, solve word problems with a focus on explaining their thinking, and develop double-digit addition and subtraction algorithms using manipulatives, visual models, and number sentences. The concept of multiplication is introduced with the use of manipulatives and areas, and probability is built into math games.
Students in 3rd grade become confident with math facts and work daily on spiraling skills. Through the frequent use of base-10 and base-5 blocks, mats, tangrams, patterns, and more, they develop facility with manipulating ever-larger numbers with different types of operations. As in previous grades, games in the Number Corner have children identifying and predicting patterns. In teacher-led groups, students also explain their work to each other, often leading to "a-ha" moments when they show new solutions. It's all part of getting them to think like mathematicians as they prepare to move on to Upper School.
The seasons, our gardens, and local resources provide a wonderful entry into inquiry and exploration of the natural world. In the fall, students learn about apples and pumpkins and seasonal growing. In the spring, an annual field trip to Cedars of Marin, a residential community for developmentally challenged adults, provides lessons about growing plants used to make fibers that are then woven into textiles.
Our 1st grade science curriculum builds the skills of collaboration, creative and flexible thinking, problem solving, curiosity and questioning, and communication. "Wiggly Redworms at Work" is the first project-based learning unit in the year. The students learn research skills as they study redworms and vermicomposting. This unit culminates in the publication of books for our classrooms and the school library. The next unit has the students work in pairs to research facts about a mammal of their choice and design a game board to educate others about their mammal. Other units of study include: interactions of color and light; understanding solids, liquids, and gases; and observable lessons in life cycles, including chickens, butterflies, and ladybugs. The first graders also engage in hands-on explorations and lessons in the school's organic garden.
The 2nd grade science curriculum grows from the class's "journey" through Australia and Kenya. In Australia, the students will learn about how the continent developed, resulting in many unique species. They study the Giant Gippsland Earthworm as well as the Great Barrier Reef, adaptations animals need to survive there, and the need for conservation of this habitat. In Kenya, they will focus on not only the flora and fauna, but also on the environmental movement started there by Wangari Maathai. The class also studies weather, weather phenomena, and the water cycle, conducting a water-cycle experiment. A unit on nutrition is integrated with media literacy, discussing advertising and what's in foods such as cereals; this unit culminates with making fruit leather from scratch.
Science in 3rd grade is closely linked to social studies, as both subjects focus on Marin County. Field trips to a bounty of nearby sites bring life into studies of geology, plate tectonics and the Earthquake Trail, estuaries, plant ecology, animal life, and plant-animal dependency. Students do a research project on a Marin animal, and the farm-to-table unit uses our garden as the classroom to show the path of a plant from seedling to salsa (and pizza topping!). Our outdoor education program begins in 3rd grade, with an overnight trip to Walker Creek Ranch in West Marin, where the class hikes and has lessons with naturalists.
The kindergarten year is devoted to understanding oneself within the new community of the school and class. Cultural celebrations throughout the year provide a context for learning about family backgrounds and different world cultures. Woven into this are social-emotional learning lessons that help children develop important community skills: problem-solving, monitoring one's behavior, and understanding the feelings of those around them. In this year, they are introduced to the 12 tools of the Toolbox, which they will continue to rely on throughout their Lower School years: breathing, quiet/safe place, listening, empathy, personal space, using our words, garbage can, taking time, please-and-thank-you, apology, patience, and courage.
The focus in autumn is on immigration, with stories, activities, and guest presentations that explore different experiences of coming to the United States and living in a new country. As we learn about the life and contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr., the students gain a basic understanding of African-American history. In addition, we are fortunate to have two partner organizations in South Africa, which offer wonderful opportunities for comparing similarities and differences between these two countries.
With a year designed around journeys through the distinctive lands of Australia, Kenya, and Japan, 2nd grade social studies broadens student horizons even further. The itinerary roams among people, traditional arts, and the natural environment. Along the way, they will explore topics like What Makes a Hero in studying Wangari Maathai and the greenbelt movement in Kenya; Australia's history and modern daily life; and cultural traditions, arts, and ceremonies in Japan. "Back home" the students visit the Aldersly and Alma Via senior communities each month to read, socialize, and play games with the residents. This relationship is a long-standing part of our local partnerships program.
Language arts are integrated into the social studies curriculum: Fiction and non-fiction books are chosen for the different countries, and the students produce a magazine about their travels. Bon voyage!
The 3rd grade brings social studies home to Marin County, as students dig deep into the place we call home. The year begins with a study of the Coast Miwok tribe. The class visits the Earthquake Trail, learning about both the geology of the area and the folktales of the Miwok and their understanding of earthquakes. At Walker Creek Ranch in West Marin, students visit Grinding Rock to see its ancient divets, created by the Miwok in grinding acorns to make a paste. Studying modern Marin, they learn about some of the services available here, including the Marin Recycle Center, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the farmer's market. The farmer's market trip is an important part of the farm-to-table unit, and the class plants a pizza and salsa garden that the following year's class will harvest.
Children learn Spanish and Mandarin, for half the school year each, from kindergarten through 2nd grade. Prior to beginning their 3rd grade year, they choose one of the languages to continue studying until they graduate. The Lower School program actively engages our youngest students in learning another language by using stories, songs, dance, games, puppetry, and crafts.
Our language curriculum plays an important role in developing students' cultural literacy, and we continue to grow the connection between languages and our multicultural and global education initiatives. Cultural and linguistic skills are developed through activities and resources in- and outside the classroom. Upper Division Spanish students have the opportunity to communicate with students in our sister school in Costa Rica through Skype, e-mail, and possible travel in 7th or 8th grade, and we have established a student trip with our partner school in Beijing.
Our kindergarten and 1st grade students work on acquiring essential vocabulary, including colors, numbers, and words about oneself and one's family. The tones are introduced in kindergarten, as they are key to verbal communication. In 2nd grade, the key focus is on basic comprehension, pronunciation, and continuing to build vocabulary; students also start learning to form Chinese characters. Third grade is when they start "putting it together": They learn sentence patterns and further writing skills and are gradually able to express basic facts about themselves and their family.
The K and 1st grade years introduce the sounds, structure, and vocabulary of Spanish within the context of themes such as family, school, daily life, nutrition, and customs in the United States and Spanish-speaking cultures. In 2nd grade, comprehension and speaking are further developed, with a focus on accurate pronunciation and an introduction to writing. By the end of 3rd grade, students can comprehend and respond to instructions and questions, describe themselves, their families, and their surroundings, and they are writing short answers in response to prompts to prepare for Upper School.
Though media and information literacy is taught kindergarten through 8, our formal technology instruction begins in 3rd grade. Here we have a one-to-one iPad program that allows for seamless integration of technology as an academic tool. Students are introduced to basic keyboarding, along with navigation of applications and programs on the iPad. They also begin learning about the responsible use of technology.
In addition, MV Code Club teaches a coding fundamentals unit to all 3rd graders, as well as Upper School students, to empower them to understand what's going on behind the technology they use and to be able to control it.