Our approach fosters the young child's natural curiosity and nurtures each child's emotional and social growth in order to establish a foundation for intellectual development. Teachers in the Lower Elementary focus on helping children develop habits of heart and mind that lead to lifelong learning. We teach children how to incorporate patience, curiosity, perseverance, and passion into all that they do. Understanding and practicing the values of kindness, honesty, and respect, along with our monthly Life Skills, are at the core of all learning. As a family school, we celebrate the richness of a variety of cultures and the unique perspectives that diversity offers. The social and academic development of students is supported by character-building skills that help children succeed long after they leave the Lower Elementary and throughout their lives.
The Lower Elementary uses a balanced literacy approach to teaching language arts. Balanced literacy is a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to teaching reading, writing, and spelling. Within this framework, reading is practiced to, with, and by all children on a daily basis. Balanced literacy components are used in conjunction with one another during large blocks of uninterrupted time. The eight components of balanced literacy are Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Shared Writing, Interactive Writing, Writing Workshop, and Independent Writing. These components give students extensive opportunities to develop fluency and deepen comprehension. Students are taught to become strategic readers and writers as they are introduced to a variety of genres.
We believe that it is important for children to learn letter-sound relationships and use them to figure out new words. However, we do not subscribe to a “phonics-first” approach by which children’s reading materials are limited to the letter sounds the teacher has introduced. We teach students to use the three cueing systems – meaning, structure, and graphophonics – together, as a group of strategies, rather than in isolation. By giving students daily, extended periods of time to read books that are appropriately supportive and challenging, they get to practice the whole act of reading and experience how all parts work together. Teachers can accurately match leveled trade books with individual students by using running record assessments, which indicate a reader’s "Just Right" level.
Research shows that this approach improves children’s overall literacy and builds upon the attitudes and behaviors that make children lifelong readers and writers. Students play a very active role in initiating and assuming responsibility for their learning. As a school, we want students to appreciate the power that reading can have in their lives, and the Balanced Literacy program teaches children to read in ways that last a lifetime.
Word Study and spelling are one and the same in the Lower Elementary. Through weekly practice, students develop strategies and habits to learn the spelling of unfamiliar words. As students gain experience in reading and writing, they develop a wider repertoire of spelling strategies. Teachers guide students in this development through specific types of spelling explorations.The teacher provides opportunities for students to learn how words work by building words up and breaking them down
Handwriting without Tears is used in the Lower Elementary grades to teach handwriting skills. This program is a developmentally-based curriculum for writing readiness, printing, and cursive. The multi-sensory lessons teach to all learning styles – visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.
There is no other discipline that will build a child’s reasoning skills, like, math. Moreover, we believe a child’s attitude about math is the most important part to understanding math. Our math program is built on the Singapore Math approach. The key principles of understanding are:
- Number Sense;
- Metacognition [understanding of your own thought processes];
- Visualization [visualize multiple ways of getting to an answer];
- Generalization [applying known to unknown!]; and,
- Communication [explain & justify your thinking—and, practice the ability to take on another person’s understanding!]
We believe that there’s a difference between “finding the answer” & “understanding the math.” In our math program, we apply sophisticated thinking, even when the numbers are small; sometimes, big thinking, in the context of small numbers is the best way to develop deep understanding.
When we teach computational fluency, we foster skills in:
- Flexibility, and,
- Efficiency (the practice of matching a strategy to a situation)
Anti-Bias Workshop lessons occur in all grade levels, beginning in DK. The goal of the Anti-Bias Workshop is to promote awareness and acceptance, affirm equity, and take an active stance against bias in our community. We teach children to respect every family’s background, while introducing cultural competency skills to students in a way that addresses the impact of social stereotypes, bias, and discrimination. The Anti-Bias curriculum at Curtis School speaks directly to achieving the objectives of the Human Literacy strand of our strategic plan, specifically by diversifying and supporting our community of unique and valuable voices and backgrounds.
In addition to the core curriculum that is taught in the students' home classroom, children have six specialist classes: science, music, art, physical education, library, and technology. Children attend science, art, and music twice in every six-day cycle. Science, art, and music classes broaden and balance our students' learning experiences. Children attend physical education classes daily. The physical education program and playground facilities are designed to engage young children in a commitment to positive sportsmanship and good health. Library and technology classes are attended once in every six-day cycle. Formal lessons in technology begin in Kindergarten. The Library, Maker Space and Technology Lab directly support the instructional program and also offer children resources they can use to enrich their own learning.
The Lower Elementary is comprised of two Developmental Kindergarten classes and three classes at each grade level from Kindergarten through 2nd Grade, with a total enrollment of approximately 235 students. There are two teachers in every classroom: a lead teacher and an associate teacher in Grades K through 2; and a lead teacher and a teaching partner in DK.