Lower School Academics
The Nursery year is one of the most valued and valuable points in a child’s development. We weave enjoyment, excitement and FUN into our days as we foster growth in this delicate stage. We have carefully designed a set of lessons with a purpose to educate the whole child. We accomplish this through an integrated program that balances activities in areas of Character Development, Physical Development, Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. The TIGER PRIDE motto (Thoughtful, Inclusive, Generous, Empathetic, Respectful, Polite, Responsible, Integrity, Dependable, Enthusiastic) is introduced in the Nursery and we use the principles and spirit of the acronym as a reference to encourage thoughtful behavior.
We view each child as an individual and believe children learn best when actively involved in their learning. Encouraging marvel and wonderment, we regularly use a hands-on approach in the child initiated and the teacher directed activities presented. As our goal is the development of productive habits and abilities, in nearly all we do our focus is on the processes and experiences involved in the activity at hand. We promote children taking appropriate risks while teachers continually guide and probe to keep every student stimulated and challenged. Through open-ended and structured tasks, children are encouraged to investigate, inquire and predict. A strong readiness-skills curriculum is incorporated into the Nursery program with a leading emphasis on social and emotional development. To accommodate each child’s needs in each area we build subtle and apparent differentiation into the curriculum. Our schedule includes Morning Exploration, Morning Meeting, Snack, Story Time, Project Time, Playground Exploration and co-curricular classes in Music, Library and Physical Education*. The Nursery children’s experiences are further enhanced as they regularly join our “reading buddies” in the first and sixth grade. They also attend all the class plays of the Lower School as well as many educationally enlightening assemblies.
The well planned curriculum allows for flexibility, leaving room to take advantage of opportunities each day has to offer. At times our discussions center on current as well as historical events and we are hoping that our classroom parents will enrich our learning by sharing in cultural experiences. We encourage you to come to the classroom to share your family’s heritage and traditions through stories, food and other activities. We find these multisensory exposures deepen the children’s appreciation of diversity as well as help them make further sense of the world around them through first hand experiences. We also invite parents and family members to come in to read, cook and/or share other entertaining skills with the children throughout the year.
The pre-kindergarten year is an integral step in The Greenwich Country Day School learning process. Our goal is to facilitate the pre-kindergarten student to become more independent, self-directed and adept at problem solving, while gaining the readiness skills necessary for the formal learning of later years.
We provide differentiated instruction allowing for individual guidance, extension activities, and collaborative experiences that supports each child’s learning profile and stage of development. We strive for a curriculum that balances teacher directed activities, small and large groups, with time for independent choices and free discovery of activities and materials. Activities are presented through a multi-sensory approach. Through direct sensory experiences in learning we enable children to explore, participate and interact with their environment using fine and gross motor movements. This incorporates all areas of the pre-kindergarten curriculum including language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and discovery. A thematic based curriculum provides the framework for this integration.
We support and guide each student through productive and cooperative peer interactions. Opportunities are provided daily for interactive modeling of problem solving techniques, and taking responsibility of ones own actions. Students are supported as they learn to understand and express their feelings, thoughts, and actions as they relate to their daily peer interactions. Thoughtful, inclusive, generous, empathetic, respectful, polite, responsible, integrity, dependable and enthusiastic are the key components of social emotional development in pre-kindergarten. We are laying the foundation of character development through Tiger Pride as a member of the larger GCDS community.
The pre-kindergarten program stimulates the development and integration of expressive and receptive language. In doing such children will learn to speak clearly in full sentences, use proper syntax, developing sequential storytelling skills, and develop the ability to follow multi-step directions. The program also encourages the development of perceptual skills through the integration of the five senses. Children will refine their discrimination, memory, and motor within both visual and auditory contexts.
Cognitively, the program provides experiences, which focus on the development of phonemic awareness and readiness skills. Under this umbrella, the pre-kindergarten language arts curriculum focuses on the identification of upper and lower case letters, and their corresponding sounds. Children also develop an understanding of rhyming, opposites, analogies, synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms.
The math curriculum in Prekindergarten is built upon a focus on early number sense, an important indicator for long term success in mathematics. Students work to become fluent in recalling number sequences, forwards and backwards. Children also work to build a deep understanding of a number as a measure of quantity, learning how to match symbols with words and pictorial representations. They also begin to work with structured manipulatives, such as 5 and 10 frames to establish early understanding of these important benchmark values. In Prekindergarten we capitalize on opportunities to mathematize play and daily routines, such as counting days of school, sorting shapes, describing and extending patterns with toys, comparing lengths of items around the room, or collecting and displaying data about the weather and our friends. Student mathematicians develop mathematical habits of mind- problem solving, reasoning, flexibility, justifying, modeling, resilience, and perseverance throughout collaborative learning in partner and small group activities. Extending activities are presented through self-initiated independent learning tables. Core skill activities are integrated into the thematic units of the Prekindergarten curriculum.
Science is incorporated into the daily pre-kindergarten curriculum and thematic units. Our goal is to nurture and develop a child’s natural curiosity about the environment, through hands on experiences. Learning through direct contact with both living and non-living things and situations is an essential component of investigation. Through guided participation children are introduced to the process of making observations, formulating questions, finding answers, and drawing conclusions while utilizing their senses as the basis for exploration. Children are encouraged to use scientific terminology, share their ideas and discoveries, and make connections between experiences to formulate an understanding of the world around them. Extending activities are presented through self-initiated independent learning tables.
The term “community” is incorporated into each thematic unit of study. Beginning with their classroom, children are exposed to differences and similarities amongst themselves and what it means to be a part of the classroom community and later on the larger school community. Responsive Classroom and Tiger Pride are an integral part of the program developing in young children a foundation for interacting with people.
Children in the pre-k are encouraged to share their ideas and knowledge about the thematic concepts in large and small group discussions. Through discussion they incorporate new information with existing knowledge developing critical thinking skills.
Through discovery play and role-play children communicate, collaborate, problem solve and act out what they have learned, helping them to further understand the world around them.
Literature is a key component of the pre-k social studies curriculum. Carefully chosen books provide the children with an exposure to different cultures and points of view broadening their awareness of themselves and the world at large.
The kindergarten program is composed of age appropriate curriculum in the areas of language arts, math, social studies and science. Throughout the day, the children are engaged in stimulating hands-on activities used to help them grasp important concepts, build skills and make connections between the content and their daily lives. This, we feel, is what makes learning relevant and tangible for the kindergarten child. Below is a brief overview of our kindergarten program.
Our language arts program consists of three components: the Beginnings Letterbook series, Handwriting Without Tears and Writing Workshop. The Beginnings Letterbook series is a vital component of our language arts program. The phonetic based lessons in these books support each child in their quest to confidently and consistently identify letters and sound/symbol relationships, as well as to practice blending sounds together to form words. Poetry, rhymes, word lists, syllabication and vowel differentiation exercises, and language games are among the different approaches we incorporate into our program to help each child begin to explode the reading code. As the year progresses, all children will engage in small group lessons that are designed to meet the specific needs of each child’s growing skills. In addition, penmanship lessons, fine motor practice and comprehension questions in response to aural stories are important skills practiced throughout the year.
The goal of the kindergarten writing program is to introduce the children to the concept of expressing themselves through writing - to embrace the idea that the curved and straight lines put on the paper have meaning and are an essential aspect of communication. Through the process of storytelling, and then using personal experiences in combination with emerging phonemic awareness and penmanship, writing skills begin to develop. This is accomplished through both guided and independent writing experiences. As a result, a growing confidence and motivation to write emerges. We launch the program by recognizing who are writers, copying words and compiling lists using clues found throughout the classroom and inventive spelling. Units of study throughout the year include: small moments and personal narratives, writing for readers and exploring various forms of writing, and author study and poetry.
Our math program, Everyday Mathematics, is based on the idea that children build understanding and develop skills as a result of many meaningful and connected learning experiences. Mastery of mathematical concepts and skills comes with repeated exposure and practice. The routines of September, such as building calendars, counting days, recording temperatures, patterning, and graphing data provide beginning mathematical foundations and will continue to be practiced. The following content strands, skills and concepts will be emphasized throughout the year: number and numeration, operations and computation, data and chance, measurement, geometry, and functions and rules. In addition, our Kindergarten chess program will soon begin.
The goal of kindergarten science is to provide a hands-on approach to learning about the environment and what makes it unique, as well as its animal inhabitants. Kindergarten science focuses on the skills of observation, communication, comparing, organizing information, experimenting, inferring and applying what has been learned through a variety of experiences. Vocabulary is introduced and children are encouraged to apply scientific vocabulary in their observations and discussions. Environmental awareness is built into each unit. Units of study include: The 5 Senses, Our Planet, Nutrition, Animals Life Cycles, Adaptations and Habitats, and Weather.
The kindergarten social studies curriculum was created to build upon and expand the social and emotional learning of the GCDS student. The curriculum is designed to follow a natural progression of study beginning with the individual and then extending outwards to the study of community. The study of community encompasses a student’s family, classroom, school and town communities and the student’s role in each. Through a variety of interdisciplinary learning opportunities, students develop their understanding of positive relationships, character values and TIGER PRIDE, and the importance of being a responsible, active member of their community. The program’s activities include the use of relevant literature, games, projects, maps, globes, technology and community resources. A community service component is also included, providing students with the opportunity to give back to the communities they are a part of. Units of study include: The Individual, My Family Community, My School Community, My Town Community, Community Celebrations, Making a Difference in the Community, GCDS Community (Kindergarten Circus) and a Character Education unit that spans the entire school year.
The first grade program is composed of age appropriate curriculum in the areas of language arts, math, social students, and science. Throughout the day, the children are engaged in hands-on learning experiences that will help them to grasp important concepts, build skills, and make connections between the content they are learning and their daily lives. Below is a brief overview of our first grade curriculum.
First grade students extend their knowledge of language arts in significant and exciting ways, learning skills that enable them to read and write more independently.
First grade students will receive 30 minutes of small-group reading instruction four times per week. Step by Step practice books and word lists will come home every day, and we recommend spending ten to fifteen minutes a night helping your child review their lists and books. Nightly read-alouds are also encouraged. Once a list or practice book has a sticker or smiley face on it, you may keep it at home. New sight words are introduced on a weekly basis, and as students expand their repertoire word cards may be sent home to allow for continued practice.
We continue to work on a variety of phonics skills to build fluency, and students are using a variety of reading strategies to assist them in decoding unfamiliar words. Some of the strategies include: breaking the word up into individual sounds and then blending it together, getting lips ready to make the first sound, stretching the word slowly, looking at the picture, and chunking the word. The students are encouraged to use more than one strategy depending on the word they are reading. Students will also learn to attend to punctuation and read with expression. Basic comprehension skills such as predicting, retelling, and summarizing are also practiced.
First grade students learn from day one that their lives are full of stories to tell. Continuing the work they began in kindergarten, we encourage students to embrace the opportunity to express themselves through writing. We begin in the fall by asking them to take a small moment from their life and stretch it across several pages, and attention is also given to letter formation and pencil grip. Writing Workshop is a balance of whole-group, independent and guided writing experiences, and while approximated spelling is encouraged, students will also be held accountable to correct spelling for familiar sight words and vocabulary that is posted around their classroom. They are also encouraged to use punctuation, spacing, and capitalization in their work, with expectations changing appropriately as the year continues. Units of study throughout the year include: small moments and personal narratives, author study, non-fiction and literary non-fiction writing, expressing opinions and reviews, and poetry.
Our math program, Everyday Mathematics, is based on the idea that children build understanding and develop skills as a result of many meaningful and connected learning experiences. We will also be integrating units of investigation from Contexts for Learning in Mathematics throughout the year. These units will help our students develop and solidify important concepts such as numeracy and place value. They will also supplement and reinforce concepts integrated throughout Everyday Mathematics. The following content strands, skills and concepts will be emphasized throughout the year: establishing routines, everyday uses of numbers, visual/number patterns and counting, measurement and basic facts, place value and number stories, geometry and attributes, money and fractions, and the ability to complete math tasks mentally and articulate mathematical thinking in words and in writing.
The first grade science curriculum is rich and varied. First graders attend lessons in the Science House twice a week, and lessons focus on the skills of observation, comparing, organizing information, experimenting, and inferring. Units of study include: The Long Island Sound, local habitats and wildlife, the human body, and trees.
The first grade social studies curriculum is focused on maps, map skills, and our local and global community. Students will begin the year with a study of the GCDS community and the larger community of Greenwich, and will learn how the town they live in relates to their home state, country, and continent. First graders will learn about the seven continents and four major oceans, as well as learn how to use a map and a compass rose. They will be provided with a variety of learning experiences to enrich their knowledge of the world and its vast collection of cultures and communities.
The language arts curriculum in second grade has three components: Word Study, Reading, and Writing, both creative and expository. An hour each day is dedicated to word study and the teaching of reading. Spelling patterns taught compliment learned decoding skills in reading. Along with fluency, comprehension skills and strategies are a focal point of our language arts curriculum. While there are writing exercises included in the time allotted for reading, formal direct instruction of structural skills takes place independently. Second grade students are fully immersed in Writers’ Workshop, a program that started in Kindergarten, and students continued in grade 1. Creative stories, personal narratives, All About Books, and poetry are a few of the highlights of our writing program. Through collaborative learning, in small groups and partnerships, as well as teacher conferencing students “grow” their writing over the course of the year. The intents of the second grade teacher is to be certain language arts is cross curricular in nature, and lessons can be differentiated to meet the learning styles and abilities of each student.
The second grade math program is a continuation of Everyday Math which began in pre-k. We emphasize developing thinking strategies through active learning situations. We play games that are an integral part of the program. These games reinforce concepts and require strategic thinking. The program challenges at all levels, and can be taught in small or large groups. The lessons and games can be extended or simplified asneeded. The program is called Everyday Math because it provides continual use of concepts from every day, real life situations. It is a spiral based curriculum which means it revisits concepts again and again. Mastery of the concepts is only expected after several exposures have taken place. Our main second grade concepts include: addition and subtraction fact recall, multiplication and division as operations, geometry, time, money, measurement and fractions. We also include math fact supplements because we feel that math fact mastery is so crucial. These are practiced using flashcards, with Mad Minutes, on the homework, and using the laptops.
Animal studies continue with cold-blooded vertebrates, amphibians and reptiles. The three types of matter are reviewed during a unit focusing on air and weather. The movements of the Earth and its moon are explored. Simple experiments that provide opportunities to practice the scientific lab skills, as well as discover facts and patterns in nature, are frequently conducted. The scientific method is formally discussed with the students choosing their own variables and performing their own experiments independently. In the spring, ponds are studied with an emphasis on the interdependence of plants and animals in a community.
The second grade social studies curriculum incorporates the idea of community within the four units of study. The children will begin the year by studying the town of Greenwich, as well as the GCDS community. Next, the children explore the Eastern Woodland Native Americans from the New England region. The community comes to life with our visit to new Pong Farm in Redding, CT. Here the children experience what life was like for these people by being able to sit in a real long house and participate in hands-on activities. In the winter, the children begin an exciting study of another community, the Inuits of Alaska the students discover the geography of this fascinating state and how the people of this community lived long ago. In addition, we explore what life is like today for the people in Alaska and follow the Iditarod race in early March. Finally in the spring, we focus on our last community, the Southwest Native Americans. The children learn about this group of people living in the western part of the United States and how they survived based on their surroundings.
The children read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. We are using terms such as: genre, point-of-view, plot, and first person. We work on the comprehension strategies of determining cause and effect, making reasonable predictions, summarizing, and sequencing events accurately. All the while we return to the big picture question, “What does it take to be a good friend?”
The children also read and learn from current events and articles of general interest every week. We have a “Lending Library” in our classroom that the children may use at their leisure.
Each third grade class also has a kindergarten class of reading buddies. We have enthusiastic, expressive readers working hard to engage and entertain a younger audience. It is a true joy to witness enthusiastic reading role models as they create bonds and bridge connections through books.
In writing, we learn to identify sentences and turn fragments into whole sentences. The children are beginning to regularly construct complete paragraphs with topic, detail, and concluding sentences. We are working to identify and properly punctuate different sentence types: statements, questions, exclamations, and commands. The children learn about common and proper nouns, as well as using adjectives to create vivid, descriptive writing.
Our math program promotes creative and abstract thinking, develops and reinforces vocabulary, concepts and computation strategies, and gives students confidence as they explore multiple ways to problem solve. Our Everyday Mathematics lessons work with units from Contexts for learning to include: addition and subtraction of whole numbers (fact families/fact triangles), fact extensions, use of base ten blocks, place value, money, telling time and calculating elapsed time, number patterns, use of a number grid, estimation, graphing, problem solving, and algorithms, measurement, multiplication, and division. Students will continue to increase their knowledge of addition and subtraction math facts.
Our Sunrise/Sunset project has begun and will carry on throughout the year. Each week, the students use the sunrise/sunset times to calculate the numbers of daylight hours. They learn about elapsed time and relate the number of daylight hours to the seasons. We graph the data on a large classroom wall display to provide a visual representation (a bar graph) of our days “getting shorter” and subsequently “growing longer” following the winter solstice. The children begin to get a sense that the earth is rotating on an axis that changes its position over time as it moves around the sun, thereby dictating the “length of day” as we pass through the four seasons.
Third grade science begins with a study of birds and the physics of flight. A special in-house birds of prey program visits the third grade. The children learn about and observe how birds of prey amazingly adapt for hunting and survival. Additionally, they learn how these birds are rescued for rehabilitation and protection. Later in the year the children enjoy a geology unit focusing on the three forms of rocks found on Earth.
The third grade social studies curriculum is designed to help students develop a broad perspective on our society based on the historical studies of Early Explorers, Colonial America and Westward Expansion, combined with the continuous development of geographic concepts and discussions of current events. Third graders begin the year reviewing map and globe skills which are threaded into our lessons throughout the school year. The children learn about the compass rose, cardinal directions, continents, oceans, grids, map keys, and scale.