The Lower School program emphasizes the development of academic and social skills and habits in an environment that is joyful and challenging, honoring of both individuality and community. While simplicity is valued in our Quaker school, we do not mistake simplicity for over-simplification; our youngest students are challenged to ask questions and explore perspectives about complex problems. While learning can be complex, we have clarity in our approach. We strive to provide children with appropriate challenges, depth over breadth, and time to reflect, emphasizing the value of process as well as product, infusing their developing knowledge with purpose.
Reading and Writing
As students emerge as readers in the primary grades, they learn skills and strategies through whole-class and small-group lessons and through individual instruction that can meet a range of learners where they are. In the upper elementary grades, students are exposed to a wide array of literature to create flexible readers with the ability to choose and engage with a variety of texts. Book clubs provide children with opportunities to learn from one another and develop their reading skills across all grades. Our inquiry and workshop-based elementary reading and writing program promotes children’s natural love for stories, while systematically teaching the skills of investigative spelling and writing mechanics. Students are exposed to the writing process in many genres and asked to stretch outside their comfort zone, developing their writing voice as they learn to take risks and seek meaning as readers and as writers.
Math, Science, and Technology
Our math program allows students to investigate and explore mathematics in a hands-on, multisensory program. Our approach is constructivist; through experience, children build their understanding of mathematical ideas. We know that we must teach the foundations of mathematical thinking in context, bringing children to real understanding while learning discrete arithmetic skills.
The science program encourages students to think like scientists—asking questions, participating in investigations, and formulating concepts about the way the world works. It is both hands-on and minds-in. Discourse in math and science is part of the learning, as students begin to see that there is often more than one way to approach and solve problems.
Our technology program provides access to a variety of tools for creative use. iPads and SMART Boards are the primary technology tools in the lower school; teachers and children use them for learning, reading, research, and project work. Both our librarian and technology integrator work closely with teachers to seek the right tool for the right purpose and project. Beginning in 3rd grade, students have iPad carts and more frequent engagement with technology use in school.
In social studies, learning about different communities and cultures is approached with attention to issues of stewardship, justice, and equity. The emphasis is participation, experience, and critical thinking. Social studies expands out in concentric circles; students study communities close to them, how social systems work, and then engage in a broader study of California history in the fourth grade. Children in the lower school have many field trips around the Bay Area, from farms to the ferry building, the SPCA to City Hall and Fort Ross, integrating disciplines of science and language arts into their studies. Strong community partnerships are also part of our integrated social studies curriculum; students begin their exploration of neighborhood businesses and organizations, building mutually beneficial partnerships in service to understanding the communities we live in.
Arts, Foreign Language, Physical Education
Our co-curricular programs share our same core principles. Students are supported in developing healthy habits of mind and body, while engaging in hard work, individual projects, and collaboration. The arts department (art, dance, music, and drama) is made up of professional artists/educators who believe that experiencing the arts, from creation to reflection, is an essential part of the development of individuals and communities.
We teach Spanish early and often. Children have classes each week with a native speaker and are exposed to Spanish in our community in a variety of ways. In the K–2 classes, storytelling, songs, and games immerse children in the language. In grades 3 and 4, students begin to read and write even more. Teachers seek opportunities to integrate Spanish into other areas of the curriculum, such as with daily routines in the classroom and in our drama performances.
Our physical education program exposes children to skill and games of all kinds. We emphasize fitness, teamwork, sportsmanship, hard work and perseverance. In the lower school, children have P.E regularly throughout the week during the school day, and always look forward to our bi-annual Field Day—one of the best days of the year.
We believe we learn better when we are surrounded by people and ideas that are different from our own. Students have many opportunities to forge connections with a variety of peers in school, and build mutually beneficial learning relationships with those outside of school. Our Buddy program binds students together across the grades, K–8, for regular meetings, shared projects, and community-building events. We know that trust and partnership benefit a healthy learning environment. Small, flexible groupings in our academic programs expose children to a range of connections and perspectives that enhance their development and learning. Our Service Learning program across the grades seeks to expand the children’s experiences and relationships outside of the school walls, building understanding and empathy while learning about how the world works.
The Quaker Testimonies
Reflection is a regular part of our Quaker school program. Students have ample opportunities to talk and write about what they are learning about themselves and the world. Beginning in first grade, students learn the guidelines for a Quaker Meeting for Business. These meetings help our students convey how they perceive their school experience, develop their listening skills,and offer a forum for appreciations and recognitions of community members. Meetings for Business also provide an opportunity to resolve problems in a collaborative manner, seeking unity with one another. Through portfolio reflections, participation in Meeting for Worship, class meetings, and peaceful problem solving, students’ engagement in this reflective practice is evident. Students are encouraged to let the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship guide their interactions with one another and their behavior in general.