Lower School Curriculum
The curricular content for even our youngest students is substantial, relevant, enriching, and challenging. Collaboration and integration within subject areas encourage our faculty to develop content which allows our students to explore the full breadth and depth of the topic. Teaching methodologies are developmentally appropriate, active, and authentic, piquing our students’ innate curiosity. When education involves choice, and is experiential and interactive, students will build meaning and think conceptually which, in turn, builds their confidence and passion for learning.
Time after time, studies have proven that children achieve more academically when exposed to play, the fine arts, world languages, physical movement, literature and technology. In a time when many schools are cutting these programs, Lake Ridge Academy places great value in offering a robust, well-rounded educational program.
The strong academic and social foundation that our students gain in Lower School enables them to confidently progress to the Middle School, ready to take on new experiences and responsibilities.
In the Lower School, our social curriculum is just as important as our academic curriculum, and we purposefully plan for our students to gain the social cognition skills they need to become self-reliant, empathetic and effective. We integrate Responsive Classroom approaches with the goal of creating a safe, challenging and joyful classroom and school-wide climate for all children. We plan opportunities to leverage the best attributes of a child’s developmental stage, and to help each child find their “best” self. Instead of finding discipline charts, you will see classes establishing their own classroom rules, and, when a conflict arises, teachers supporting students as they learn how to deliver effective messages, and fairly and peaceably solve problems. Over time, children become responsible for their own behavior and develop the tools necessary to be effective problem-solvers.
Natural World Education
As a balance to a technologically reliant world, our philosophy of a natural world education offers a learning context for understanding the world that engages a child’s innate sense of wonder, exploration and imagination, while fostering academic and social competencies.
Empathy between the child and the natural world is the main objective for Kindergarten through second grade. Children of this age feel a strong connection to the natural world through their feelings. Songs, stories, celebrating seasons, and fostering their innate sense of wonder and exploration are the primary focus. Exploring the nearby world and knowing your place within it is the primary objective from second through fourth grade. Children express a keen interest in bonding with nature at this age so activities like making forts, creating small imaginary worlds, following streams and pathways, taking care of animals, and gardening are perfect activities. Social action is also introduced in grades four and five as the students begin to explore the connection between self and society. Environmental commitment may begin to emerge from firsthand experiences with real places on a small, manageable scale. Managing school recycling programs or cleaning up a nearby stream are activities that lead the students to a deeper understanding of a local need or concern.
A strong sense of community is truly what makes our school special. Our families’ incredible diversity in background, beliefs and thought is what makes our community unique, and each family’s myriad contributions to our community make us better. Our students participate in many community traditions and activities, but for the Lower School, family groups, comprising mixed-grade students, and mentored by a faculty member, provide our most revered community experiences. We meet in our family groups regularly at assembly where classmates announce one another’s birthdays, and the latest “bucket filling” acts of kindness are shared with one another. Monthly family group lunches help children develop close and lasting bonds as they come to know and value one another.
Standardized Testing and Homework
At Lake Ridge Academy, we use our time to engage in meaningful educational pursuits instead of teaching to a test, or spending our valuable hours practicing for mandated exams. Because standardized testing does have purpose as one measure of a student’s aptitude or achievement, and to practice test-taking skills for future college entrance exams, we use sections of both the SAT 10 and OLSAT instruments beginning in third grade.
When designed purposefully, homework has a place in the learning process. In the Lower School, nightly reading is encouraged as this practice builds fluency and an enjoyable, life-long habit. “Homework” in the kindergarten and first grades may involve a family project. Beginning in second grade, developmentally appropriate homework serves as a valuable home-school connection, giving additional opportunity for classroom practice and review while building time management skills.
Lower School Curriculum Highlights
The vital interconnectedness of reading, writing, and language is continually recognized at all grade levels in the Lower School. The goal of our language arts program is to develop confident, enthusiastic, and skilled readers and writers who are also effective communicators. We meet children where they are, help them progress at their own rate, and celebrate their successes along the way.
We provide numerous opportunities for reading, providing an ample literature-based environment from different genres. Children often meet in teacher-led small groups and student-led literature circles to discuss story elements and vocabulary. Content is emphasized as students engage in writing for real-life purposes, including authoring and publishing books. Our curriculum helps children see themselves as writers capable of sharing their personal experience. Younger students are introduced to conventions such as spacing, punctuation, spelling, and letter formations, eventually moving towards further skill development in grammar and the mechanics of writing.
Oral communication skills are also emphasized. We teach students to present all forms of information with clarity and poise, be it research on a specific topic, retelling a story in a compelling and concise fashion, or stating personal opinions. Students have numerous opportunities to develop public-speaking skills, including discussions of books and current events, research reports, and multimedia presentations.
A continuum of reading and writing development is useful for identifying challenging but achievable goals. Individual variation is to be expected and supported. The use of our developmental continuum enables teachers to assess individual children’s progress against realistic goals or benchmarks and then adapt instruction to ensure that children continue to progress.
Our mathematics program is structured to introduce mathematical thinking and reasoning skills in the early K-2 years by identifying numerical and analytical relationships through activity-centered programs and hands-on use of a variety of manipulatives and materials. They are encouraged to demonstrate flexibility in working with mathematical ideas and problems by learning to apply a variety of strategies, techniques, and materials when solving problems. The program provides a blend of experiences in computational skills, logical thinking, abstract reasoning, problem-solving techniques, and mathematical applications.
Students continue to apply their reasoning skills in the 3-5 grades, as they master basic arithmetic and explore more complex mathematical skills such as algebraic expressions, fractions, graphing, estimation, probability and geometry.
Understanding the scientific method begins as early as Kindergarten at Lake Ridge Academy. In every grade, the idea that everyone is a scientist is emphasized through scientific questioning, gathering and analyzing data, and conducting hands-on investigative experiments in the classroom, the lab and outdoors. Early concepts of engineering are also introduced in the classroom and through our K-12 robotics program.
In grades K-2, thematic studies on plants, weather, insects, animals, the human body, and simple machines provide ample opportunities for young students to begin to apply the scientific method of developing a hypothesis, observation, data gathering and analysis, and conclusion communication.
As their understanding of the world and mathematics skills expands, students in grades 3-5 continue to refine their scientific skills and knowledge. They study life, Earth, space, and physical sciences. Particular attention is paid to sustainability as they begin to think critically about how the natural world operates, and their own opportunities to effect change. Methodologies include a variety of techniques, activities, and materials to stimulate scientific awareness and make science relevant and engaging for students. Hands-on investigations are designed to promote inquiry/process skills within the scientific approach. Major topics in these grades may include measurement, matter, work/energy, electricity/magnetism, light/sound, the human body, the classification of living organisms, and aeronautics.
Understanding one's place in the world is a continually developing experience for children. Our social studies program introduces the concept of community in a measured way. Grades K-2 begin with thematic studies of basic social concepts primarily related to the classroom, their family, careers, community helpers, animals, and important figures. Grades 3-5 begin to investigate the cultural and historical aspects of the world along with its integration with earth science/natural resources, traditions, and government, through the studies of Native Americans, European exploration and the formation of the United States.
The Lower School’s music program follows the Orff Schulwerk, a world-renowned and highly effective way to start students on a lifetime of musical knowledge and pleasure. It is a teaching and learning approach, not a method. It incorporates the spoken word with singing, movement, and the playing of instruments. Lake Ridge Academy is lucky to have a recognized Orff Schulwerk music specialist leading our students.
Music instruction occurs every other day for students. Music in the Lower School is based on things children like to do: sing, chant rhythms, clap, dance, and play Orff instruments (xylophones, metal glockenspiels, and a number of unpitched percussion instruments). These instincts are directed into learning music by hearing and making music first, then reading and writing it later. Creative movement and folk dancing are special aspects of this program. All K-5 students perform at the annual winter concert, an exceptional artistic display of storytelling through singing, folk dance, visual art, instruments, and musical scores composed by our students.
Grades K-2 students concentrate on developing the head voice and come to identify a sense of beat through simple folk songs, playing games and instruments. The instruments are layered together as in a small orchestra, helping students become sensitive listeners and considerate participants. Students in grades 3-5 build on these emerging skills. Simple improvisation and creativity become the focus during these years. This segues into elemental compositions and simple notation by 4th and 5th graders. Musical forms, singing in two- and three-part harmonies, and creating interesting textures are a part of the musical emphasis.
Beginning in 4th grade, we offer group string instruction in viola, violin, cello, and bass. Instrumentalists have performance opportunities throughout the year, including concerts, recitals, assemblies, community outreach projects, competitions, clinics, and special events.
Visual art in the Lower School is taught in a spiraling curriculum designed to lay the groundwork for future skills while reinforcing those that came before. Developing good work habits, personal judgment about artwork, and an appreciation for good craftsmanship are emphasized. The introduction of new techniques is sequenced so that students build confidence in working with materials and equipment. These lessons are often integrated with homeroom instruction or other special subjects and typically reflect students’ interests and their diverse learning styles.
By studying various artists, using the techniques of those artists, and having class critiques, students learn how to solve problems, communicate ideas and feelings, exchange multiple solutions to an artistic problem, and respect the work of others. In addition, studying the art of various cultures enables students to gain insight into the beliefs and origins of their own culture.
Research shows that students exposed to a second language perform far better with their work in English than those who have not had such an opportunity. Exposure to a world language tends to broaden vocabulary and it advances reading and analytical skills in one’s primary language. In addition, world language study improves memory, logical reasoning, creativity, self-discipline, and it enhances verbal and problem-solving skills. Students can also gain greater insight into their own society and themselves by learning about other cultures. Students emerge as more enlightened citizens, comfortable and prepared, as they enter a globalized society.
In the Lower School, instruction begins in kindergarten and continues through fifth grade. In kindergarten through second grade, students study both French and Spanish on alternating days, following a kinesthetic approach of matching words with movement, song, and dance. In third grade, each student can select which language to continue to study throughout the Lower School. All four areas of language development (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) are taught and reinforced. As students advance, more emphasis is placed on developing skills in reading and writing.
Technology is used as a tool to reinforce, extend, and enrich what students are learning in the classroom. Students work on projects and conduct research on the computer individually, in small groups, and in class groups. All students receive computer literacy instruction while using age-appropriate software.
In the primary grades, the emphasis is on using interactive software to support math, language arts, and social studies projects. Students are also introduced to paint and word-processing programs. Third, fourth and fifth-grade students increasingly use productivity software to publish their writing, conduct research, construct spreadsheets and graphs, and develop multimedia presentations. Internet access enables students to communicate with experts and other students around the world, to participate in and contribute to scientific research projects, and to access educational resources. Beginning in 4th grade, students receive instruction in keyboarding in order to use the computer efficiently as a word processing tool.
Learning to use a library correctly is as important to our students’ education as learning to use the computer. Library and information skills are taught in such a way that they correlate with curricular content, helping make these skills inherently meaningful and useful. Students can research items of interest immediately, satisfying their curiosity and resulting in a better learning experience. Our automated card catalog gives students the opportunity to easily access materials from the collection. Each class is scheduled for one “book exchange” period during the week, but students are always welcome to exchange books outside of their regularly scheduled class time.
Small groups of students can work in the library at the same time to research, read, or participate in activities related to books and reading. The librarian and classroom teacher encourage reading for pleasure through the sharing of literature, poetry, and storytelling. Author visits to Lake Ridge Academy stimulate students’ imaginations and honor our commitment to the language arts.
The aim of the physical education program is to provide a quality student-centered program that contributes to the total growth and physical, mental, and social development of each child. Our program provides positive yet challenging experiences that contribute to students’ self-confidence, overall health, and enthusiasm for learning, as well as helping each student make responsible, informed choices about a healthy lifestyle. At all grade levels, students are encouraged to set personal fitness goals and demonstrate an understanding of basic health-related fitness concepts.
Movement education is the main focus at the primary level. This includes activities to develop loco motor, perceptual-motor, rhythmic, manipulative, fitness, and body management skills. A variety of developmental games and activities are employed. These activities also foster social and cooperative interaction skills. For students in grades three through five, more emphasis is placed on refining movement and manipulative skills related to individual and team sports, as well as on the basic rules, strategies, and knowledge necessary to participate.