Lower School CurriculUm
Grades Kindergarten - 3
V enture into the hallways of Potomac’s Lower School and you will see children joyfully engaged in learning, whether in classrooms, the hallways, or the great outdoors. The Lower School curriculum encompasses a broad range of literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, technology, and more. Through Social Emotional Learning and Responsive Classroom strategies, we emphasize building cohesive classroom communities and developing collaborative learning skills.
Lower School parents enjoy a strong partnership with the school through frequent communication and participation in school activities. A weekly Sharing Assembly highlights student learning and builds self-confidence in our children as they share their talents in music, poetry, public speaking, and theater. Lower School children and families demonstrate their commitment to our mission of “generosity of spirit” as they actively engage in school-wide service learning. Students also benefit from interactions with older Potomac students through many exciting multi-age activities.
Lower School classes take advantage of the rich learning environment that is Potomac’s 90-acre home. Our students hike our trails, use their imaginations in our creative play spaces, and develop a deep appreciation for our beautiful campus and their stewardship of the land. All that we value at Potomac has its roots in the Lower School.
- Language Arts
- Physical Education and Health
- Social Emotional Learning and Guidance
- Social Studies
In Lower School art, students explore, design, and create, using techniques from drawing and painting to collage, sculpture, ceramics, bookmaking, and printmaking. Students work with a multitude of tools and materials to find their unique artistic voice and develop personal works of art. An introduction to master artists as well as the role of cultural diversity in art are important parts of the curriculum. Working independently or collaboratively, the young artists develop a strong sense of respect, responsibility, care, and self-worth through artistic expression.
The Lower School Language Arts program is taught through the Workshop model for both reading and writing. All six elements of the literacy diet are targeted through Language Arts instruction:
- Phonemic Awareness
Reading Workshop is launched each day with a mini-lesson targeting a grade specific strategy. Students then practice these new strategies using self-selected texts at their “just right” reading levels. Students also work in teacher-directed small groups to further stretch their thinking as readers.
Writing instruction goes hand-in-hand with reading instruction. During Writing Workshop, students generate their own topics to write in a variety of genres including personal narrative, non-fiction writing, poetry, persuasive, and procedural writing. Writing units often include links to our science and social studies curriculum. Students will work through the writing process (planning, drafting, editing, revising, publishing) throughout each unit. Explicit instruction in writing craft, grammar, and mechanics is embedded in mini-lessons and in one-on-one writing conferences.
Word work is an essential component to both reading and writing. Using a multi-sensory approach to phonics instruction, students have the opportunity to learn letters and their sounds in a variety of ways.
Kindergarten Language Arts instruction is designed to build a strong foundation in story language, phonological awareness, and letter-sound relationships in order to foster a lifelong love of reading and writing. Each day children work in small teacher-directed groups experimenting with letters and sounds, navigating simple rhymes and texts, or reading at their appropriate level. Phonemic awareness activities allow students to blend, segment, and manipulate sounds in words, leading to strategic decoding in reading.
During Writing Workshop, students are given many opportunities to share their own ideas and experiences in writing. Students begin generating their own topics by sketching experiences from their daily lives. As letter-sound knowledge increases, children label their drawings and later compose sentences and stories to accompany their pictures. Students are encouraged to stretch out words to record the sounds they hear, and high frequency words are posted for their reference. Correct letter formation, spacing of words, and use of both upper and lower case letters are reinforced through our handwriting program.
During Reading Workshop instruction is focused on developing sight vocabulary, building fluency and automaticity, enriching vocabulary, and strengthening comprehension. Reading mini-lessons equip students with word-solving and comprehension strategies, which the children practice using self-selected texts. Comprehension is further enhanced through daily activities such as reading stories together and discussing the thoughts and actions of the characters. Students begin to draw conclusions and make inferences from the material they read or have read to them.
During Writing Workshop students plan and organize their thoughts and apply letter-sound knowledge to record their ideas. First grade writers learn to elaborate upon their ideas using more developed language and sentence structure. Students also practice letter formation, appropriate capitalization, punctuation, and spacing of words.
During Reading Workshop students work to develop their fluency skills and build their independent reading stamina in order to hold onto meaning in longer books. Books in a series play an important role in second grade and allow students to practice new strategies and build comprehension and fluency in their reading.
Through Writing Workshop, the children become immersed in the writing process working towards increasing their writing volume and studying the author's craft to give voice to their written work. Using the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and capitalization, more emphasis is placed on editing and revising their own writing, culminating in the publication of a favorite piece.
Building on a base of solid literal comprehension, students learn higher level comprehension skills. Students learn to synthesize information in order to make predictions, infer and draw conclusions. Vocabulary development is a focus in third grade as an additional comprehension strategy. By third grade students are reading independently for longer stretches of time allowing them to increase their reading volume and in turn, strengthen their comprehension skills.
Using the writing process, children revise their drafts considering elements such as word choice, figurative language, and other craft elements in order to enhance the quality of their work. During the writing process, students continue to proofread their work to look for mechanical elements such as punctuation, spelling, and capitalization, as well as structural conventions such as forming a complete paragraph. Students are also introduced to cursive writing and keyboarding.
The Michael Granger Library is the heart of the Lower School. Our goal is to help students become lifelong learners who know how to use books and libraries for information and enjoyment.
Maintaining an impressive collection of picture books, early readers, chapter books, and nonfiction titles, Lower School Library classes make valuable contributions to the curriculum at each grade level. During their twice weekly library classes, a teaching librarian shares a wide range of children's literature, from wordless books to biographies and from emergent reader titles to complex chapter books. Author studies allow classes to dive deeper into children’s literature. Additionally, students build cultural competency and global citizenship skills through exposure to books about varying cultural and religious traditions. The librarians also teach information literacy skills, including finding, organizing, using information, as well as crediting sources. Integration of a variety of electronic resources, including subscription databases, is assured through collaboration with classroom teachers and the technology innovation coach.
Through the continuing generosity of the Granger family, the library hosts authors and illustrators throughout the year for special assemblies. These gatherings give children a peek into the creativity and hard work that go into publishing children’s literature.
It is our hope that every child who leaves the Lower School does so with a passion for books and stories and an appreciation of the power of books to inform individuals and impact the world.
More information about The Michael Granger Library, including our catalog and subscription databases, may be accessed from the library website.
Our math classrooms are places for discussion, flexible thinking, problem solving, and perseverance. Mathematics learning is active, and students are encouraged to explore and represent ideas, discover relationships, study patterns, and justify answers. Emphasis is placed upon the interrelationships among the curricular strands: numbers and numeration, operations and computation, data and chance, geometry (2-D and 3-D figures), measurement (time, money, distance), and algebraic thinking. We strive to reach the range of all learners by providing many contexts for students to further develop a strong sense of numbers and to master numerical skills. Students develop robust, conceptual, and procedural knowledge of all operations. They are taught to make connections between mathematics and the world around them.
In kindergarten, activities using concrete manipulatives lay the groundwork for conceptual understanding. Children work on developing a solid foundation of numbers, while also exploring patterns, geometry, and measurement.
Students are introduced to new concepts through exploration. Students work in pairs and small groups where communication, collaboration and problem solving are emphasized. Learning continues with a mini lesson during which students discuss the discoveries they have made. Making mistakes and taking risks is celebrated. The lesson culminates with independent practice. Students are encouraged to show what they know. STEM projects are woven in throughout the year to foster communication, collaboration and problem solving.
The first grade math program continues to be hands-on and active. Number relationships and place value concepts are emphasized, and students are empowered with strategies to solve increasingly complex facts. Students continue to use exploration as an entryway into new concepts. There is a heavy emphasis on both oral and written communication. Students are constantly asked to explain their thinking. Students work on finding multiple ways to solve a problem. Risk taking and making mistakes are celebrated in first grade. Geometry, measurement, and probability concepts continue to be explored.
The second grade program continues to revisit important mathematical concepts and skills at progressively more complex levels. A special emphasis is placed on building computational strategies that promote fluency with mental arithmetic. Students are immersed in the study of numbers: number properties, number operations, place value, and estimation.
Students use math manipulatives to develop ease with the four basic operations, as well as estimation and rounding, grids and arrays, spatial manipulation of shapes, and many other mathematical ideas and skills. Multiplication and division are introduced; exploring the relationship between the two inverse operations. Students will begin to commit to memory different multiplication facts. They are expected to master addition and subtraction facts and are introduced to multi-digit addition and subtraction.
In third grade, students solidify their mastery of place value, improving computational fluency by practicing strategies for more complex problems involving addition and subtraction to 10,000. Multiplication is explored in-depth, beginning with the study of arrays and building toward accurate computation using both facts and flexible strategies. Students will extend their experience with multiplication for the facts 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Students use manipulatives and visual bar models to solve multistep word problems. In the second half of the year, measurement, geometry, and fractions are studied. Throughout the year, students develop increasing confidence in their abilities to reason and communicate mathematically.
In Lower School, we strive to foster the joy of making music. The Lower School Music Program is built upon the Orff-Schulwerk approach, which uses speech, singing, movement, and barred instruments to discover and develop the innate musicianship of children. Through imitation, improvisation, and composition, students experience a variety of musical styles and genres during their time in Lower School Music. The process of creating and making music is our focus.
Materials and inspiration are drawn from American folk songs, music from other cultures, as well as traditional nursery rhymes and games. Beginning in third grade, students participate in chorus and learn to play the recorder. All students have the opportunity to sing together and share what they are learning at weekly Friday assemblies with their classes. They also perform at special assemblies throughout the year, including the Folk Dance Assembly, Halloween Assembly, Lower School Carols, and the Grandparents Day Assembly.
The overall goal of the physical education program is to motivate every student to participate in physical activities leading to healthy, lifetime habits. Our objective is to help students master a range of motor skills that are age-appropriate in an atmosphere of trust, cooperation, and enjoyment.
Each child is encouraged to develop a level of physical fitness based upon his/her potential, and is taught elementary fitness concepts for living a healthy lifestyle. The emphasis of our curriculum is on skill development and comprehension of movement concepts.
Health and fitness concepts are explored in physical education classes. This includes, heart healthy activities and class discussions regarding the heart, its function in our bodies and the many ways to take care of our hearts through exercise, nutrition, and living a healthy lifestyle.
In kindergarten science, scientists learn through observation, experimentation, and exploration. Throughout the year, they study the circle of the seasons, meteorology, the physics of magnets, kitchen chemistry, buoyancy, fossils, and forces and motion. Emphasis is placed upon using their five senses to interpret and understand their world, becoming familiar with scientific inquiry, and learning how to make predictions and gather results.
In first grade science, scientists learn through experimentation, exploration, and a variety of engineering design challenges.They continue to build upon their foundational knowledge of the scientific method by making predictions and gathering results; they also begin formulating educated conclusions. Throughout the year, they study arthropods, the engineering design process, human body systems, space science, and vertebrates.
In second grade science, scientists experience, interpret, experiment and learn about their scientific and natural world. They explore and analyze Potomac’s 90 acre campus as they learn all about Eastern Woodland animals and their ecosystems. They study flight, mapping, and the life cycle of plants and animals. By second grade they have honed their use of the scientific method and are able to thoughtfully complete and design experiments.
In third grade science, scientists collect, experiment, analyze, conclude, and build. They use the scientific method to conduct a range of experiments in physics, geology, biology, and engineering. Third grade scientists share one of their discoveries through the design and creation of a science fair project of their own choosing during the Third Grade Science Fair.
The Lower School places a strong emphasis on the social and emotional development of students. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is woven throughout the students’ day to build a strong school and classroom community. Classroom lessons focus on building each student’s strategies and skills to increase self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.
The Lower School Counselor and classroom teachers design lessons to support our students in expressing feelings, making connections with classmates, maintaining friendships, and learning to collaborate with others. Lessons and activities are geared to meet each student’s stage of development to enhance their listening and communication skills, empathy, and the ability to see another’s perspective.
The kindergarten curriculum begins with self examination and an exploration of the classroom, Potomac School, and local communities. Students begin to build their understanding of identity as an individual and as a member of the greater community. Grounding enduring understandings include where you live affects how you live and individuals can make a difference. Units of study focus on identity, community, holidays around the world, farming, the environment, and what it means to be a good citizen. Unit topics are integrated and taught throughout the day in language arts, mathematics, art, music, and science.
Through discussions of nonfiction literature, class field trips, class discussions using artifacts, graphing and photograph analysis, students learn about helpers in the community and how they can make a difference. Students also examine how people use our environment and understand the importance of conserving and protecting these valuable resources. Fictional stories, research, and projects expand the children’s experience and spark their imaginations. Kindergarteners move into first grade with an appreciation for the similarities and differences in each other, an understanding of different communities, and curiosity to learn more about the world.
The first grade curriculum focuses on helping students to build classroom communities by sharing about themselves and learning about their classmates. Students explore what makes them unique and discover similarities and differences they have with their peers and the wider community. Many different voices and perspectives are shared through literature study to help them better understand and relate to the world around them. Emphasis is placed on social emotional learning to help students communicate and collaborate effectively with others as well.
Students have the opportunity to share a family tradition with the class, allowing classrooms to celebrate the many stories and perspectives that each student has to offer. Students also investigate and learn about communities, cities, and maps. They then use these skills to create different kinds of maps.
What is a change maker in the past and in the present?
The second grade social studies curriculum includes a year long focus on identity development that builds on the language and experiences from kindergarten and first grade. This identity work is crucial as the students begin to look at cultures from the past and present that are possibly different from their own. We believe it is essential that students are able to effectively engage with groups and individuals different from themself with humility, and curiosity. Native American cultures from the Eastern Woodland region are studied with a deliberate connection to the present day tribes in Virginia and Maryland. Change makers from a variety of backgrounds are studied, as students debate what qualities change makers possess. These questions invite students to make connections and see themselves as possible agents for change. Finally the story of the Pilgrims is explored as well as technologies and perspectives from Colonial Virginia. The students grapple with essential questions such as, “Why do people move?”, “How do we know about the past?”, “How does where you live affect how you live” and “How do events from the past affect our present?” “How does perspective influence the story of history?”
Third grade students continue the study of American history during the 18th and 19th centuries, highlighting the various regions of the United States. As they explore the unique histories of each region, students consider multiple perspectives of the people who lived in these areas at that time. Indigenous tribes, both past and present, are highlighted as the students follow the Corps of Discovery’s journey. By hearing many people’s stories, students are able to develop closer ties to the past.
After studying the history of each region, students make connections from the past to the present day. They examine the geographical characteristics of the various regions in the United States and the particular ways of life within those regions. This reinforces the enduring understanding that “where you live affects how you live.”
Third graders research the modern day states with a focus on geography, culture, and economy. They culminate their study of the fifty states by selecting one state and applying their research skills to gain a deeper understanding of their chosen state.
Students build their technology foundation in the Lower School. As the use of technology transitions from toy to learning tool, students are exposed to a wide range of applications and resources. The integration of technology and curriculum is highly valued throughout the Lower School, with students using various applications to support their learning as well as programs that give students the ability to communicate their understanding in a variety of ways. The critical areas covered in the Lower School technology program include:
- Digital Citizenship & Media Literacy - responsible use of equipment, online safety, finding balance with technology use
- Multimedia creation - graphic design tools, presentation software, video editing applications
- Curriculum Support Materials - programs such as Seesaw, Dreambox, and Reflex as well as Google Workspace for Education applications
- Introduction to Keyboarding - keyboard layout and finger placement
- Coding and Robotics - Offline coding, Scratch coding platform; Beebot, Wonder Workshop, and Vex Robotics resources.