Curriculum

The Language Arts program at Princeton Day School is designed with 21st century learners in mind. From their first days at PDS, students explore, pose questions, and work individually and in teams to solve problems. Lower School students spend their days asking, “What do we know already?” and “How can we find out more?” PDS teachers guide young readers and writers to foster a deep love of literacy. We read and write about what we are learning in STEAM class, keep notes on what we are noticing in the school art gallery, create videos about our research projects in technology class, and turn our classrooms into deserts and rainforests to inspire our readers and writers to dig deeper and immerse themselves into the world that surrounds them.

In all grades literacy is woven into cross-curricular topics through read alouds, projects, and discussions. It is important for PDS students to think critically, understand cultural diversity, and appreciate one’s self in relation to others.

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 write poetically, how to write research papers, and how to keep a writer’s notebook. By writing, rewriting, and editing, students build confidence in the process of becoming a skilled writer in several genres.

Lessons are scaffolded in ways in which students discuss and learn strategies, create connections, and explore through active engagement. Teachers draw on a balanced literacy approach to incorporate workshop, conferring, and small group work to reach students at all levels of their literacy development.

PreK is where children begin learning the skills needed to become lifelong literacy students. Students develop phonemic awareness by matching and manipulating sounds. They begin to develop their reading and writing identities through books and explore how to record the stories of their lives. In addition to daily read alouds, they also develop their listening and speaking skills through discussions, dramatic play, songs, and share time.

Kindergartner students begin to identify themselves as readers and writers. Students continue to build their knowledge of letters and sounds and connect this work to their reading and writing lives. Their day is rich in read alouds, shared readings, poetry, and discussions about comprehension and vocabulary. Students begin to write down their own stories and learn what it means to begin capturing knowledge and stories of their own lives through print and pictures.

First 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.

Second 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.

Third 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.

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.

Community is the overarching theme for the Lower School Social Studies curriculum. This study of community begins at home exploring their families and neighborhoods. As they progress through the Lower School, the idea of community expands farther out into the world and further back into history. Geography and service learning are integral parts of the program.

Kindergartners begin the year with a focus on themselves within their own kindergarten community. The curriculum continues with an exploration of the importance of feelings and respect of self and others. They become mindful of how their actions affect relationships with their peers, teachers, and families. This directly affects their day to day decision making and how they approach their learning, the environment, and their community at large. Learning to be considerate active listeners becomes central to how they interact with their peers in the classroom. With this foundation in place the children begin to thoughtfully question and take academic risks within the friendly confines of our PDS kindergarten.

First graders develop civic understanding through the building of a classroom community. The students develop awareness of their relationships with their peers and others, and learn about strategies to reach consensus and resolve conflict. The diversity of our student population lends itself to the study of global cultures as children learn about their peers’ family traditions. The values of respect and responsibility are modeled and practiced in the classroom. As the children become more aware of their classroom community, they branch out to learning about the larger communities of their state and country. Map skills and landforms in New Jersey and the United States are introduced. Children learn about voting and partake in a grade-wide lunch or snack election that parallels the US election process. The relationship between people and the environment is developed when first graders explore the cultural universal of food, asking, "Where does our food come from?" Children work in the PDS garden, visit local farms and farmers’ markets, and hatch chicks. This helps the students understand the meaning of, “from seed to plate.” Our 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 learn about a variety of native cultures, including the Lenape people who inhabited New Jersey, the Inuits of the Arctic, the Hopi of the desert, and the Yanomami of the rainforest. Each student is guided through research projects related to these areas of study. Additionally, students build geographical literacy by learning about a number of map and globe skills. As second graders begin to understand the concepts of place through geography, they continue to develop a greater appreciation for what a community is, how to be a positive community member, and how they are a part of many different communities. Throughout the year, students engage in multiple service learning opportunities that benefit the communities of which they are a part.

Third graders focus on the essential question, "How and why do people organize themselves into communities and governments?" They study US History and focus on Colonial America, the Revolutionary War and its aftermath, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Underground Railroad and Westward Expansion. Students learn map skills and understand how and why maps change over time. Additionally, 3rd graders connect with students in different geographical locations to develop a more global mindset. Students practice being historians by conducting multiple inquiry projects, using a variety of research tools. These projects are interdisciplinary and span the time periods studied.

Fourth graders are guided by the question: “What are the intersectionalities of the global community?”

The experiences of people moving and finding a “place” provides the extended metaphor for the social studies curriculum in the fourth grade: Immigration to the United States and International Studies.

Themes of continuity and change and the responsibilities of citizenship in a new land are emphasized. Multiple essential questions guide our curricular studies: Why do people immigrate? What are their journeys like? What are their initial impressions of the new country? In what ways do they assimilate? What parts of their culture do they keep? How are they treated by those who came before them?

We begin by studying current and recent immigration trends and stories through novels, films and current events. Students become historians by conducting their own oral history interviews of someone in their lives who has immigrated to the U.S. as well as creating “containers”, ranging from short films to illustrated posters, to share what they learned with their peers. We then begin to explore historical immigration patterns of European immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s, focusing on Ellis Island, followed by a study of Angel Island and Chinese immigration. In tandem with the Immigration Unit, students continue to build map skills and develop cartographic strategies. In the second half the year, we turn to a geographical, historical and experiential exploration of the countries and cultures of the world, to expand our understanding of and highlight our connections to the shared values and exciting differences of various people and places of the world. Using an extensive collection of digital and print resources, the students end the year by sharing their research through their “containers”, adapting and performing folktales and preparing an international feast of flavors.

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.

 

Our inquisitive Pre-Kindergarteners explore and learn about familiar aspects of their world. Using hands-on experiments, engaging books, kinetic activities and close observations, our youngest scientists explore the properties of water, bubbles, magnetism and the five senses.

Kindergarteners study foundational concepts in biology and physics through exploration, observation and structured play. We begin the year with a study of the elements of weather (precipitation, wind, temperature and clouds), seasons and types of severe weather. As we see the seasons changing, we discuss trees, their parts and functions, why leaves change colors, the importance of trees and tree products. Switching gears, in the winter we begin a study of balance and motion and end the unit with an engineering design project where students design and build a bridge that will be tested for strength, stability and cost. In the Spring we begin a fun unit on insects and invite some living friends into our room to observe as they grow and change.

First graders are very busy year scientists. Our students embark on a year-long study of birds that weaves through every subject area over the course of the year. In science students study bird adaptations (with a focus on beaks, feet and feathers), camouflage, migration, nesting, bird songs and how to identify and create songs with spectrograms. We also discuss the amazing egg and prepare for incubating chick eggs in the Spring. First graders also study vertebrates and plants with a focus on their parts and functions and how we have used their designs for inventions: biomimicry. Students also study light, shadows, and the movements of the earth, sun and stars.

Second graders strengthen their skills of observation, inquiry and problem solving during units such as the study of dinosaurs, phases of matter, marble challenges, and understanding their place in our solar system. WeDo Lego kits are introduced as students build and program simple models. Students develop their use of SeeSaw as a way to document their work and to keep their parents apprised of in -class activities. Students also engage in several Mystery Science episodes to investigate shadow movement, day and night, and the water cycle.

Third graders continue to develop their skills in scientific inquiry as they investigate the moon, static electricity, and magnetism. Students use the engineering design process as they build and test speedboats and sailboats. Later in the year, students develop and build tools to help clean a local canal. Students continue to work with programmable Lego Kits called WeDo. Students also engage in several Mystery Science episodes to investigate mapping, erosion, forces and motion, and magnetism. In the spring, students work on mapping the campus to better understand our watershed and to discover where and how water travels on our campus.

Fourth graders refine and broaden their scientific knowledge and skills as they study electricity, ecosystems, and chemistry. Students participate in interdisciplinary units that involve maintaining an on –campus nature trail and learning about and caring for our apiary. Students complete the most advanced WeDo Lego units. Throughout the seasons, students visit a pond to witness the changes it undergoes and to study the macro-invertebrate life within it. Students also engage in several Mystery Science episodes to investigate habitats, heredity, change over time, energy and motion, ecosystems and food chains, chemical reactions, and properties of matter.

STEAM BLOCK
All students in Grades 2-4 are also actively engaged in an interdisciplinary STEAM block that last for seven sessions. During these classes students learn new skills, cooperatively work together, and use the engineering design process and design thinking.

PreK, Kindergarten and First Grade

Students take one semester of French and one semester of Spanish. 

The goals are:

  • To develop an interest in foreign languages for future language study.
  • To learn basic words and phrases in one or two foreign languages.
  • To develop careful listening skills.
  • To develop cultural awareness.
  • To develop linguistic awareness.

*Students choose one language (French or Spanish) at the end of 1st grade.

Second Through Fourth Grade

After First Grade, students continue with either French or Spanish for the next three years, with the following goals:

  • To develop listening and speaking skills.
  • To build up reading and writing skills progressively.
  • To acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures and to become better Global citizens.
  • To tie language learning to the content of the grade’s curriculum.

Children love to create visual art. In the Lower School, they learn about the basic elements and concepts used in visual media: color and line, shape and texture, harmony and contrast, and so forth. Students apply these concepts across a variety of projects. Arts instruction also builds foundational knowledge about art history and criticism, techniques, and aesthetics. From the very beginning students are given opportunities for self-expression. Our young artists develop abilities and habits of mind that complement their learning across curriculums. They communicate ideas using all available tools. They analyze and respond to others' creative efforts. They create, revise, and reflect on their work to solve aesthetic problems while practicing patience and resilience.

PreK
PreK “Color Play” is the heart of the Prek art experience. Students explore color through various media in the art studio. Visual thinking strategies and artwork is related to emergent curriculum.

Kindergarten
Kindergartners explore color, form, texture, line, and shape through various media. Drawing and painting are at the forefront. Color mixing skills are strengthened and artwork is related to emergent curriculum.

First Grade
Use of color, form, texture, line, and shape is expanded in First Grade. Sketchbooks are encouraged as a tool for developing ideas and planning projects. First graders work with a range of materials and explore various media.

Second Grade
In second grade emphasis is placed on the relationship between art and culture while continuing to develop foundational art skills, such as drawing and painting. Students continue independent sketchbook work that informs the process. Projects often relate to the social studies, science, and language arts curriculums.

Third Grade
Third graders expand their skills using elements and concepts of visual media. Projects often relate to history and culture and are influenced by various artists and works. Independent sketchbook work is encouraged for further developing ideas. Artwork is often related to curriculum.

Fourth Grade
Fourth graders cycle through a three-part rotation in visual arts. In addition to coming to the art studio, they visit both the ceramics studio and the wood shop in the arts atrium located in the upper school. The group sizes are small, approximately six students per class. These small groups allow for in depth work tailored to the specific interests of the group, as well as exploration of a range of media. Larger projects span over several weeks. Emphasis is still on using the elements of art to inform the creative process, and artwork is often related to curriculum.

Children in Princeton Day School, Lower School music classes experience and learn music in playful, child-like manner. They are offered active and creative music making that builds musicianship through singing, playing instruments, speech, and movement. This is based on the Orff-Schuwerk approach.

SING: The primary instrument in class is our voice. SAY: Speech exercise comes at the beginning of all musical practice. It is both rhythmic and melodic. MOVEMENT: Music in Orff-Schulwerk in never music alone, but forms a unity with movement, song, and speech. PLAY: Children explore a rich pallet of sound; a variety of unpitched percussion, and a friendly set of wooden xylophones, metal glockenspiels and metallophones are ready to use.

The Orff-Schulwerk approach in combination with the Kodaly method of singing (moveable DO with tonic SO-FA and the Curwen hand signs) are weaved together to assist in vocal and music notation literacy.

On any given day, walk into class and you might find children dancing with scarves, floating like leaves, hopping like frogs, playing in recorder ensembles, singing in canon, composing a pentatonic melody, improvising on barred instruments, or leaping to the Nutcracker. It really is a wonderful place to be.

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, PreK-Grade 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.

The Lower School math program pulls ideas and activities from a variety of math resources and experts, but the core of the PreK-Grade 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.

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 PreK, 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 PreK and throughout their Lower School experience, students develop and refine essential growth motor skills and focus on fitness through activities that incorporate space, movement in different directions, creativity and speed. Stretching, strength training and cardiovascular endurance are included. Activities are presented in a sequential manner; each learned skill is the foundation for more advanced work. A variety of activities including ball skills, cooperative games, track and field, floor hockey, tennis, jump rope, dance and rhythmic movement, are explored. Every winter term, lower schoolers learn to ice skate in the comfort of our Lisa McGraw ’44 Skating Rink. Students understand the value of exercise as it is incorporated into the entire educational process.

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 nurturing environment where children feel loved, appreciated and supported, and where making mistakes is seen as an opportunity to deepen learning.

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
Students in the Lower School are doers not passive recipients of information. We experience the garden as a living laboratory, build batteries, explore the school planetarium, turn our classrooms into different geographic environments, create structures and works of art, experiment with and apply computer coding principles to practical problems, and in the process become writers, mathematicians, scientists, artists, musicians, performers and sports participants.