Curriculum

As one thinks about 21st century learners, young readers’ and writers’ enthusiasm for literature contributes to the development of their critical thinking, awareness of cultural diversity, and an appreciation of one’s self in relation to others.

PreK and Kindergarten is where children develop reading and writing identities. In addition to daily read-alouds, they also develop their listening and speaking skills, as well as reading and writing through dramatic play, songs, and share time.

First graders learn to choose books carefully, to love reading and to understand and connect to literature as they continue the process of learning to read. Writing is seen as central to the program, and students compose poems, personal narratives, opinion pieces and non-fiction. Writing is a means of expression, but also a craft that improves with practice.

Second graders are immersed in poetry, short stories, legends, fairy tales and novels. Emphasis is placed on comprehension as well as expressive reading. Writers’ notebooks are introduced. Children write for a variety of purposes, honing their skills with forms of expository, narrative and descriptive writing.

Third graders continue to read for meaning, looking at texts critically. They participate in book clubs and literature circles, and continue to refine their independent reading skills. Having developed fluency and confidence through a variety of writing practices, learning about grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, and style enables children to become effective and powerful writers. Students continue to use their writers' notebooks as they craft pieces in fiction, memoir, poetry, nonfiction and multigenre work.

Fourth graders investigate a variety of genres in their reading and writing as they continue to refine their language arts skills. A strong focus on nonfiction allows students to explore individual interests as they immerse themselves in the research process. Guided reading groups, book clubs, literature circles, and independent reading continue to be an integral part of language arts.

The Lower School math program pulls ideas and activities from a variety of math resources and experts, but the core of the PreK-4 program is based on the curricular materials from the latest editions of the research-based Everyday Math program. This approach lends the coherence of a division-wide program, and offers crucial technology, formative assessment, and differentiation components.

The goal of the math program is to help students become confident, creative and effective problem solvers. At the same time students are expected to demonstrate computational fluency.

Throughout the curriculum, students work extensively with contexts and models that represent the place value structure of our base 10 number system. They use concrete modeling to build and visualize how numbers are composed. Students work on making sense of mathematical problems. This process includes developing efficient strategies, recording their work, and sharing strategies with others. Work with computation emphasizes accuracy, flexibility, and efficiency.

Across the grade levels, our math work will

  • build conceptual understanding through modeling
  • strategy development and math talks
  • adapt to the students learning styles and needs
  • integrate group lessons with lots of game play and strategy shares
  • require collaboration and problem solving tasks to develop thinking strategies
  • encourage the development of mathematical practices*
  • PDS follows the Mathematical Practices laid out by Deborah Ball, Jo Boaler, et al. in their 2009 work:

    Make Sense and Persevere
    They make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
    Reason
    They reason abstractly and quantitatively.
    Construct and Critique
    They construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
    Model
    They model with mathematics.
    Strategically
    They use appropriate tool strategically.
    Precision
    They attend to precision.
    Structure
    They look for and make use of structure.

    The overarching theme for all our social studies units is communities. Children begin close to home by studying their families, homes and neighborhoods. As they grow older, their studies move farther out into the world and further back into history. Geography is an integral part of the program.

    Pre-Kindergarten
    "What can we learn about the world and what does the world have to offer?" Early in the year, PreKers explore their families, friends and school community. We discuss our collective similarities and differences in relation to each other and the world around us. PreKers learn about themselves and their world through play, stories, drama and discussions.

    Kindergartners begin the year with a focus on themselves and their families. The curriculum continues with an exploration of the importance of feelings and how they affect our relationships. The central question is "Who am I, and how can I get along with others?" We incorporate current events as well as holidays into our year-long unit on family, friends and feelings.

    First graders explore the central question: "What does our food come from?" First grade studies food production by working in the PDS garden. They plant and harvest their own food, which helps them understand the meaning of, “from seed to plate.” They visit local farms and farmers’ markets to view food production on a larger scale. This hands-on curriculum allows children to gain a deeper understanding of the basic need for food and how their food connects them to other living things and to their environment.

    Second graders explore the essential question: "How does the land affect the people and how do the people affect the land?" Second graders explore a variety native cultures, including the Lenape people who inhabited New Jersey, the Inuits of the Arctic, the Hopi of the desert, the Yanomami of the rainforest, and the Plains Indians of the southwest. Each student is guided through a research project related to his or her area of study.

    Third graders study Colonial America, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Underground Railroad and the Westward Movement, with a focus on the question, "What happens when communities are in conflict?" Each student is engaged in an inquiry project related to his/her interest, using a variety of research tools. Students learn the 50 states, as well as geographical terms.

    Fourth graders are guided by the question: "How do various cultures in the global community compare and contrast?" Units in the fourth grade curriculum focus on world geography, the history of the immigrant experience in America, the ancient, natural, forgotten and modern wonders of the world, and a study of various countries and cultures of the world. The children celebrate the culmination of their world studies unit with an International Festival. The study of current events is also integral to help broaden students' awareness of global issues.

    Our program takes advantage of the natural curiosity of young children by opening up the world of science through hands-on activities and experimentation. Our curriculum is laboratory- based, emphasizing learning by doing. Our 92-acre campus, with its pond, woodlands, garden, apiary, orchard and wildlife, provides many opportunities for on-site science exploration.

    Every year the Pre-Kindergarten studies a variety of topics. The program involves many hands-on experiments and observations. Among these are explorations of the properties of water, magnetism, shadows, and the five senses.

    Kindergarteners explore three broad topics. During the tree unit, they learn the parts of a tree and each parts importance. In the sink and float unit, the students engage in hands-on experiments that enhance their ability to predict, observe, and experiment. During the third unit, the world of insects, students study insect characteristics, categories, metamorphosis, behavior, and habitats.

    First graders develop their observational skills by taking a monthly “Earth Walk” on the PDS nature trail. They study seeds and carry out plant experiments. During a unit on simple machines, they experiment with wheels, levers and pulleys. They are also introduced to embryology and the life cycle by hatching and caring for chickens.

    Second graders strengthen their skills of observation, inquiry and problem solving during interdisciplinary units such as the study of dinosaurs, phases of matter, marble challenges, and understanding their place in the solar system. WeDo Lego kits are introduced as students build and program moving structures. Students participate in a citizen scientist program with other schools to investigate living and non-living objects within our campus.

    With an interdisciplinary approach, third graders continue to develop their skills in scientific inquiry as they investigate static electricity, magnetism, and the moon. They also study energy and motion through a unit called boat basics. Students continue to work with programmable Lego Kits called WeDo. In the spring students investigate our ravine stream and complete a survey on macro-invertebrate life.

    Fourth graders refine and broaden their scientific knowledge and skills as they study electricity, physics, ecosystems, and chemistry. Lab and fieldwork are emphasized during two ongoing projects that revolve around an in-depth study of pond life and a stream monitoring partnership with a local environmental group. Students also participate in an interdisciplinary project to maintain and enhance our nature trail around the campus and add to the self guided tours that use QR codes to inform visitors of local plants, animals, and insects. Students complete the most advanced WeDo Lego units as well.

    The Lower School Foreign Language program is an exploratory program designed to introduce a new language to young students. Our goal is to develop an appreciation of the value of communicating in another language and motivate our students to continue language study in the future.

    All Lower School students are introduced to a foreign language.

    PreKindergarten and Kindergarten students are exposed to French and Spanish twice a week for half a year each.

    From First Grade on, students choose one language, which they study twice a week through the Fourth Grade.

    Classes are taught in the target language, with an emphasis on developing careful listening skills as well as cultural and linguistic awareness. An authentic accent is encouraged while building basic vocabulary through stories, poetry, songs, and games. Finally, a variety of age-appropriate projects selected for each grade help familiarize the children to the cultures of the languages they are studying.

    It is the goal of the Lower School art program at Princeton Day School to provide a variety of visual art experiences that support a joyous culture of creativity where divergent thinking is nurtured. In such a program, students learn to work in two and three dimensions. They use a variety of media, including but not limited to paint, inks, pencils, chalks, markers, clay, wood, Styrofoam and various plastics. Each student works in a sketchbook on a regular basis. Students are actively engaged in making their own art and discussing it. They also learn about and make connections to art from various cultures, eras, media, and technologies. This involves many types of interdisciplinary work. Much of their work is done individually where they are actively engaged in and focused on an assignment. Group projects encourage teamwork and completing a task that supports the efforts of the class. The work in the Lower School art studio lays the groundwork for a future of enjoyment and learning in the arts.

    Pre-Kindergarten
    Students learn to use the art studio by exploring various materials, including clay, sculpture, collage, paints, pastels and other drawing media. At times, the children's studio work connects with classroom activities.

    Kindergarten
    Students continue to explore a variety of art materials and processes, including printmaking. Color mixing is introduced. Independent work in sketchbooks is encouraged as a tool for developing ideas and record keeping. Students also learn to solve problems creatively while working on collaborative projects.

    First Grade
    Students continue to build sketchbook skills, including drawing from observation. They review and expand color mixing, and plan at least one large interdisciplinary project. Elements of design are introduced, including composition, line, shape, negative and positive space, texture and value. Students also work with a wide range of materials via batik, papermaking, moldmaking, scratchboard drawing and various sculptural media.

    Second Grade
    Students are exposed to an overview of art history from cave painting to modern art. Emphasis is placed on the relationship between art and culture. Students study and make primitive pottery, continue independent sketchbook work and create autobiographical drawings and paintings. Projects often relate to the social studies, science and language arts curriculum. Students work with clay to develop hand-building techniques.

    Third Grade
    Students learn techniques of book illustration and work with several visiting artists through a special program each spring entitled "Imagine the Possibilities." Visiting artists and writers have included: Ashley Bryan, Floyd Cooper, Earl Lewis, Jerry Pinkney, Mary Pope Osborne and Naomi Shihab Nye.

    Fourth Grade
    Students focus on learning to draw the figure, face and hands, joints of the arms and legs, and the body in space and in action. Understanding of facial features and expression is introduced using historical references, and explored through the construction of ceramic masks. Students plan and develop their own ideas for an independent project inspired by a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Our music program fosters enthusiasm for music in every student.

    Through a variety of experiences including the Orff-Schulwerk & Kodaly approaches, students gain competency in basic skills such as singing, rhythm, movement & dance, dramatic expression and instrument playing. Over the course of their Lower School careers, students are exposed to hand-held percussion, barred percussion and recorder. High-quality musical literature is introduced in an age-appropriate manner. All students participate in a number of performances throughout the year. Some highlights are the Thanksgiving Sharing Assembly, the Lower School Holiday Concert, the Fourth Grade Operetta, and the Final Assembly.

    In addition to our exciting PreK-4 classes, PDS students may participate in a vibrant Lower School Strings Program.

    Pre-Kindergarteners learn to move to a steady beat, and respond to basic musical concepts and correctly play classroom instruments. They build a repertoire of songs through chants, games, stories, poems, and a variety of joyful activities.

    Kindergartners learn to play a steady beat, correctly name and play classroom instruments, respond to basic musical concepts and notate rhythms. They continue to build a repertoire of songs through chants, games, stories, poems, and a variety of joyful activities.

    First graders increase their knowledge of singing and begin to notate songs. They respond to music through movement and dances and develop rhythmic accuracy and independence.

    Second graders increase their vocal range and continue to notate songs in the pentatonic scale. Round singing begins in the second half of the year, and students gain rhythmic independence through classroom instrument playing. Poetry is expressed both through song and creative movement.

    Third graders continue to sing and notate songs using the diatonic scale. Round singing and partner songs help to promote musical independence. They continue to notate rhythms, work with the lines and spaces of the staff, and begin playing the recorder in the second half of the year. A focus on square dancing is one of the highlights during the spring.

    Fourth graders continue to increase their recorder skills and gain competency with reading notation. Ensemble work is stressed through playing a variety of instruments and participation in the Fourth Grade Chorus. In the early spring, the fourth grade performs an operetta with original music and choreography. An appreciation for dances, music and traditions of other cultures are a focus during the spring.

    Lower School Players' Circle (extra-curricular)
    Three times each year, JK-4 students may participate in an informal recital, regardless of instrument studied or length of study. In front of family and friends, students are guided through the process of being "onstage" – announce your piece, announce your composer, render your very best performance, and then bow. Ensembles are welcome to participate as well.

    Performers are expected in the Lower School Music Room immediately following school dismissal, accompanied by a responsible adult. The event begins at 3:15 p.m. and is followed by a short reception for performers and the audience.

    Increasing competence and practice in using the tools of technology are essential elements of learning in the 21st century. The Lower School classroom teachers, the librarian and the technology coordinator work together to design and adapt the classroom curriculum in new and innovative ways, using best practices in the use of technology for education. Teachers connect, solve problems and collaborate within their own classroom as well as with other students, teachers and experts from around the globe. In the Lower School, iPads, Apple desktop computers and Apple laptop computers are the primary tools of technology that the students and teachers use.

    Students in Pre Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade have access to Apple desktops, laptops and iPads in their classrooms. Students in Third and Fourth Grade are given their own iPad to use for the year. Every classroom has an interactive Smartboard with an Apple TV which allows for the teacher to project wirelessly from any computer and iPad. Students in Third and Fourth Grade also have an email account using First Class to email their teachers. Keyboarding is emphasized in Third and Fourth Grades. In the beginning of the year, every Third and Fourth Grade student spends 20 minutes a day for 9 weeks honing their keyboarding skills.

    Our technology coordinator meets with every class once a week and teaches lessons on digital citizenship, research skills and coding. In addition, our coordinator introduces and integrates various projects, apps, and websites to all areas of the curriculum studied in each grade.

    The lower school physical education program emphasizes the development of social skills, gross and fine motor skills, and sportsmanship with particular emphasis on the interaction among classmates in cooperative and competitive activities.

    Beginning in Pre-Kindergarten, students are introduced to a variety of basic motor skills, such as running, skipping and jumping. These skills are developed and refined through activities which incorporate space, movement in different directions, creativity and speed. Activities are presented in a sequential manner; each learned skill is the foundation for more refined movements. A variety of activities are offered, such as ball skills, cooperative games, track and field, floor hockey, tennis, jump rope, dance and rhythmic movement.

    Every winter term lower schoolers learn to ice skate in our fully enclosed rink. A fitness component is included at each grade level. Students understand the value of exercise as it is incorporated into the entire educational process. Stretching, strength training and cardiovascular endurance are included.

    2nd grade

    From their first days at Princeton Day School, students find that learning is not something that happens to you. Learning is exploring, posing questions, and solving problems. Lower School students spend their days asking “What do we know already?” and “How can we find out more?” PDS teachers make learning exciting, providing a safe environment where children feel loved and appreciated.

    Creating Connections
    To make learning meaningful, lessons in the lower school connect ideas with one another, with the real world, and with students’ lives. When children explore the immigrant experience, they host classroom visitors who themselves came to the U.S. from other countries, they visit Ellis Island and its “Treasures from Home” exhibit, and they complete an interview with a friend or family member about that person’s own immigrant experience. Each activity adds understanding, making the subject more real and more relevant.

    Focusing Strongly on Writing
    To write well is a wondrous ability—and a teachable one. At PDS students practice the skills required: how to catch the reader’s attention, how to develop a point, how to create the language of poetry, and how to keep a writer’s notebook. By writing and rewriting every day, as well as practicing public speaking, students build abilities of clear communication that they will hone throughout their years at PDS. When children’s author Georgia Heard visited the school, she immediately recognized it as “an oasis for writing and writers.”

    Learning Through Active Engagement
    From their first days here, students find that learning is not something that happens to you while you sit and wait, but a process of exploring, posing questions, and solving problems. We ask “What do we know already?” and “How can we find out more?” We build batteries and visit the school planetarium. We turn our classrooms into deserts and rain forests. We explore the multi-faceted lessons that lie in our school garden. We read great books, and in every way imaginable, we also learn beyond the pages of books.


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