An independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, DC

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.


In Lower School art, students explore, design, and create, using techniques from drawing and painting to collage, sculpture, ceramics and glazes, and printmaking. Students work with a multitude of tools and materials as they develop unique 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, caring, and self-worth through artistic expression.

Language Arts

The Lower School Language Arts program is comprised of three major components: Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, and Word Study. All six elements of the literacy diet are targeted through Language Arts instruction:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing

Reading Workshop is launched each day with a mini-lesson targeting a specific word-solving or comprehension strategy. Students then practice new strategies using self-selected texts at their “just right” reading levels. During the Workshop, 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 letters, and procedural writing. Explicit instruction in writing craft and mechanics is embedded in mini-lessons and in one-on-one writing conferences.

The Word Study component of this balanced approach to literacy allows students to examine, sort, and manipulate words and pictures according to their stage of spelling development. Spelling knowledge is built by identifying patterns and features in words.


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. Over the course of the year, they explore a variety of genres, including narrative, writing like scientist, how to and persuasive. 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. They learn beginning grammar and mechanics skills and start to check for these in their work. Correct letter formation, spacing of words, and use of both upper and lower case letters are reinforced through our handwriting program.

Grade 1

During Reading Workshop children read in teacher-directed small groups, independently, and with partners to develop sight vocabulary, build fluency and automaticity, enrich vocabulary, and strengthen 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 experiment with a variety of genres including personal narrative, poetry, realistic fiction and informational writing. Students also practice letter formation, appropriate capitalization, punctuation, and spacing of words.

Grade 2

Reading Workshop combines reading, small group instruction, partner work, and individual conferences with the teacher allowing second graders to practice new strategies and build comprehension and fluency in their reading. Readers explore many genres of literature, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, biographies, and poetry.

Through Writing Workshop, the children become immersed in the writing process, generating their own topics and creating a first draft. Using the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and capitalization, children learn to edit and revise their own writing, culminating in the publication of favorite works. Writing units often include links to our science and social studies curriculum. Students author "All About" informational books as part of an in-depth study of the indigenous people and animals of the Eastern Woodlands. During our Pilgrim unit in social studies, students try their hand at historical fiction, writing a journal from the perspective of an actual Pilgrim aboard the Mayflower.

Grade 3

Building on a base of solid literal comprehension, the third grade curriculum develops inferential and evaluative comprehension skills during Reading Workshop. Units of study allow children to explore many literary genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

The children are engaged in many types of writing during Writing Workshop, including narrative writing, persuasive letters, informational, and procedural writing. 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. Integrated with our science curriculum is the writing component of the annual Science Fair. Students complete an experiment using the scientific method and write an accompanying lab report to share their findings. Our social studies unit on the Westward Expansion provides students the opportunity to write as a fictitious member of the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the early 1800s. Students also engage in research on a selected topic and organize their facts to create an informational text. During the writing process, students are taught 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.


The Michael Granger Library is the center of Lower School. It is an open, inviting, gathering space where the joy of reading flourishes. Maintaining a broad collection of picture books, chapter books, nonfiction books, and magazines, the Lower School Library makes a valuable contribution to the curriculum at each grade level. A full-time librarian meets twice a week with each class, providing a rich program of children’s literature and an introduction to information literacy skills, which includes finding, organizing, and using information, as well as crediting sources. Integration of a variety of electronic resources, including subscription databases, is assured through collaboration with the technology innovation coach.

The Michael Granger Library 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, concrete manipulative activities lay the groundwork for symbolic understanding. Children work on developing a solid foundation of numbers, while also exploring patterns, geometry, measurement, and probability.


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. 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. 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. Multiplication is explored in-depth, beginning with the study of arrays and building toward accurate computation using both facts and flexible strategies. Division is introduced and its relationship to multiplication is examined. 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 our rich American folk song heritage, 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 share at weekly Friday assemblies with their classes and also perform at special assemblies throughout the year, including the Halloween Assembly, Lower School Carols, and the Grandparents Day Assembly.

Physical Education and Health

Physical Education

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 taught elementary fitness concepts for living a healthy lifestyle. The emphasis of our curriculum is on skill development and comprehension of movement concepts, rather than competition.


Lower School health includes interactive lessons on hygiene, nutrition, and sleep. Lessons are facilitated by the Health Coordinator, often in conjunction with the Physical Education teachers. Lower School health also provides opportunities for younger children to learn from eighth grade students when they pair up to discover ways to take care of their hearts. Additionally, at the end of the year, the importance of staying safe is reinforced when kindergarten through third grade students participate in the Lower School Summer Safety Fair, hosted by eighth grade students.



In kindergarten science, children learn through observation and experiences. Throughout the year, students witness the changing seasons through exploration of the ponds and trails on-campus. Discovering the beauty around us fosters a respect for and an appreciation of the natural world. In the lab, these young scientists try a variety of experiments in chemistry, physics, engineering, and botany, learning how to make predictions and to gather results. They learn to understand and appreciate a variety of animals living in the lab.


During the year, students in first grade make comparisons between invertebrates and vertebrates. Using the on-campus stream, ponds, and trails as resources, children learn to identify and to appreciate a variety of animals.

A study of the human body and how it works leads to experiments using the five senses. Later in the semester children explore several topics in physics: light, sound and motion. Using a variety of reusable items brought from home, students create an object that either makes sound or moves.


In second grade, students build on their skills of observation and classification. During the study of habitats, children explore a variety of ecosystems, learning what animals need in order to survive. Integration of a habitat project with other subject areas enables these young scientists to make connections between science and other parts of the curriculum.

In the beginning of the school year, each student adopts a tree on campus. Throughout the year, students measure and observe any changes, recording their discoveries in their journals. These observations translate well during our spring study of plants. Later in the year a study of flight gives each student opportunities to design and experiment with several planes, discovering how different forces impact flight.


In third grade students explore, collect, experiment, and build. An archaeological study of the stream on campus reveals an abundance of geologic observations as well as a variety of artifacts that are connected to the past. Students use the scientific method to conduct a range of experiments in chemistry, physics, botany, and biology. Third grade scientists share one of their discoveries during the Third Grade Science Fair. At the end of the year, students will design and build a structure out of recycled objects.

Social Emotional Learning and Guidance

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. Monthly SEL assemblies with kindergarten through third grade as well as individual classroom lessons focus on building each student’s “tool box” of 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.

Social Studies


The kindergarten curriculum centers on exposing children in vibrant and meaningful ways to new environments and cultures. As with our entire curriculum, unit topics are integrated and taught throughout the day in language arts, mathematics, art, music, and science. Units of study focus on comparing environments, ecosystems, and cultures, and include such topics as ocean and Polar regions, Africa, and rainforests.

Through nonfiction literature, field trips, artifacts, graphing, and photos, students learn about different climates and environments and the animals, plants, and people native to each area. Conserving and protecting these valuable ecosystems is integrated into our study. Fictional stories, research, and projects expand the children’s experience and spark their imaginations. Later in the year, we turn our attention to Africa, followed by a study of the rainforest. Kindergarteners move into first grade with an understanding of different ecosystems, an appreciation for the similarities and differences in cultures, and curiosity to learn more about the world.


The first grade curriculum is designed to draw upon the life experiences of six- and seven-year-olds, allowing them to share those experiences and compare them to the experiences of others.

Literature, discussion, and both independent and group projects are woven throughout the four main units: the classroom community and families, local communities and mapping, worldwide communities, and ecological awareness. Each area allows the children to further explore their world and understand the importance of recognizing and celebrating all the differences and similarities in people.


The second grade social studies curriculum expands on the children’s ability to conceptualize events that took place in the past, focusing on events that occurred right here in the eastern region of the United States. Recognizing that the Eastern Woodland Native American culture was already well established before the Europeans settled, the students become immersed in Eastern Woodland Native American life of the early 1600s.

Our study then leads to the arrival of the colonists at Jamestown and the Pilgrims at Plymouth. We follow the creation of additional colonies along the Eastern seaboard, and then begin our study of the 13 colonies that gave birth to the United States of America.


Third grade students continue the study of American history during the 18th and 19th centuries, highlighting westward expansion and the various regions of the United States. Through their study of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, students examine how and why westward expansion occurred while discovering the role the expansion played in building our nation.

Throughout the year, the students make connections between geographical characteristics of the various regions in the United States and the particular ways of life within those regions. Third graders sharpen their map skills, develop research techniques, and expand their writing skills. Using historical fiction, students develop closer ties with the past.


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.

In kindergarten, while developing basic computing skills, technology is used to create original work in support of language arts, math, and social studies units. In first grade, the use of technology is integrated more deeply with homeroom curriculum; many projects allow students to demonstrate their understanding related to language arts and social studies concepts, in particular. Students are also introduced to reading, writing, and math software that reinforces their classroom learning experiences. In second grade, students further their independence in navigating the resources available on Potomac's network while exploring uses of blogs, apps, and other multimedia concepts. By third grade, students focus on more advanced skills in familiar software and begin their formal keyboarding instruction. Additionally, the Lower School librarian and academic technologist collaborate to provide third grade students with an introduction to information literacy skills, including the use of online databases and Internet resources.

Students learn about digital citizenship, including safe and responsible Internet use, and are exposed to a range of programs and tools including: Pixie and other drawing/painting tools; Microsoft Office, PowerPoint and Word, digital photography and video, online database exploration, and language arts and math programs that relate to the curriculum. Students use these technology tools to build a greater understanding of the curriculum they learn throughout the year.