Lower School Curriculum
A World-Class Curriculum
Lower School students are learning and living in the 21st century. Our academic program is a balance of the tradition of a liberal arts education and the innovation of a curriculum that prepares our students for the future. Students engage in a curriculum that is comprehensive and evolves with our continuing knowledge of research-based practices in teaching and learning.
- Social Studies
- Modern Language
- Visual Arts
- Performing Arts
- Physical Education
- Service Learning
- Social Curriculum/ Character Education
The Lower School literacy curriculum reflects the belief that literacy begins long before a child enters a classroom. Our goal is to support students as they develop powerful communication skills. Cultivating the love of reading, our teachers begin in preschool by making connections from speaking to writing to reading through language rich, print-filled classrooms. Literacy skills grow and deepen from preschool through fourth grade. Reading proficiency is nurtured through immersion in quality literature, as well as explicit teaching of the underlying skills and strategies that promote success as a reader. With comprehension at the core of reading, increasingly complex ideas are explored through meaningful conversation and instruction. Teachers carefully monitor and support each child’s development as a reader.
Lower School students build their skills as writers as they become increasingly confident. The units of study in the Lucy Calkins writing program serve as a foundation for writing instruction. Preschoolers begin with telling stories through pictures, gradually adding words and sentences. As children move through Lower School, they have experiences with the genres of narrative writing, poetry, non-fiction writing and research. With greater sophistication, they develop voice and style in their writing and expectations increase for greater precision with grammar and writing mechanics. Students are formally taught manuscript and cursive writing. Reading and writing are integrated within the content areas. Two literacy resource teachers support early literacy development.
Primary goals of the Lower School math curriculum include the development of number sense, the acquisition of computational skills, the application of problem-solving strategies, the understanding of measurement and the exploration of numbers in data, patterns and graphs. In preschool, children have a wide range of experiences where they see number patterns and use concrete materials to demonstrate number conservation, counting, sorting, classifying, making graphs and one-to-one correspondence. Math skills are acquired through active engagement with materials and concrete experiences. The Singapore Math In Focus program is used in kindergarten through fourth grade. Through the curriculum, students develop skills moving from concrete to pictorial to abstract, and apply their skills in solving meaningful problems. A focus on mastering a limited number of concepts helps students develop understanding at a deeper level as they build their mathematical understanding for algebra. Teachers differentiate instruction within the classroom to meet student’s abilities/needs. Within the math program, students also develop communication skills and confidence as mathematicians.
In Lower School, a full-time math resource teacher supports and extends student learning.
Lower School students explore science concepts through a curriculum that promotes the development of science research skills. Our Real Science program provides opportunities for students to explore the natural world through a year-long immersion into one broad topic. Our 53-acre campus that includes wetlands, ponds, native prairie grasses, and a wide-range of wild animals provides the laboratory for observation, data collection, journal writing, and experimentation. Students also experience science first-hand during field trips into the community where they visit the Minnesota Zoo, send data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, take trips to the Science Museum of Minnesota and travel down the Mississippi River. Beginning in preschool, our students see themselves as scientists and develop a positive attitude and affinity for science.
The Lower School social studies curriculum develops an understanding of self and one’s relationship to others and to the environment. Through the curriculum, students study and develop an understanding of history, culture, geography, economics, government and citizenship. Social studies topics are integrated into a variety of curricular areas. Students engage in classroom discussions, research and project-based learning to deepen their knowledge of our community, state, country and the world. Woven throughout the curriculum is diversity and multicultural awareness, as we make connections to a broader picture of the world and our place in it. Guest speakers and field trips are used as resources to expand our lessons and ideas beyond the school walls.
The modern language curriculum promotes the development of the effective use of a second language including confidence in speaking, reading, writing and listening. Through their studies, students enhance their understanding of other cultures. Lower School students begin the study of either Chinese or Spanish in preschool and continue to study this language through the fourth grade. Students in the early grades focus on speaking, listening and developing vocabulary through singing, dancing and conversation. Third-and fourth-grade students apply their language skills in conversation, performance and written form. Technology is integrated into the modern language program. Students entering the fifth grade may choose to continue their Lower School language or choose from other Middle School language offerings.
The visual arts program encourages personal fulfillment through art experiences as well as an appreciation of the artistic process and the role of art in society. Process is stressed equally with product. Concepts, vocabulary and technique are all important. The child’s experiences, based on sequential and developmental timelines, include exploring art forms (drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, fibers, jewelry) as well as elements of design such as color, line, shape, form, texture and value. Lower School students extend their learning about culture and history through field trips to local museums. The Lower School Art Show is an annual celebration of young Breck artists.
The Lower School music program introduces students to music’s universal quality as a common bond in our diverse culture. Each grade level works toward mastery of appropriate learner outcomes within the basic concepts of music: melody, rhythm, harmony, form, dynamics, texture, timbre, tempo and movement. Orff-Schulwerk, Kodaly and Dalcroze are methodologies used in music instruction. Additionally, fourth- grade students participate in a band/orchestra rotation. Students may take private string (Suzuki and Traditional), piano, percussion or guitar lessons before/after school or during recess, for an additional fee.
The Lower School library/media program is designed to promote the pleasure of reading as a life-long activity. Students read aloud, discuss and recommend books to each other. Each library period provides time to choose books and read independently. Our library supports both an open and a scheduled system. Students may also come to the library any time to do research or browse the collection. Technology is becoming an ever-increasing vehicle that supports reading and research. The library/media staff is committed to developing enthusiastic readers and skillful library users.
Technology is used throughout Lower School to enhance and support the academic program. In preschool, kindergarten and first grade, students use iPads to reinforce skills and create work. Second-and third-grade students are engaged with content applications, presentation programs and online research. Fourth graders begin the one:one laptop initiative and use their computers throughout the day to compose, research and blog. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) curriculum offers Lower School students experiences in design, engineering and technology. STEAM lessons are integrated with classroom content in science and math to give students opportunities to be innovative, creative problem solvers. Students are introduced to coding by our STEAM facilitators.
The physical education department aims to develop appropriate skills, an atmosphere of cooperation and respect, personal confidence and a healthy sense of well-being. The focus is on individual skill development and lifelong fitness. The curriculum is a carefully planned series of units that rotate from year to year. Lower School students participate in activities in our gyms, swimming pool (grades 1-4), ice arena (K-4), and outdoor fields. Units include ball handling, soccer skills, track, gymnastics, aerobic fitness, swimming, ice skating and rhythms. Health, nutrition and physiology are part of the physical education program.
The Lower School religion curriculum centers on the student’s relationship to God, to others and to service. Stories from literature, the Bible and our own lives are shared in classrooms and in Chapel services, becoming the path to learning about values and religious traditions. In our community, we are enriched as we celebrate many faiths and cultures in the hope that through diverse experiences we might all come to deepen our own spirituality.
The Lower School guidance curriculum focuses on friendship skills, conflict resolution, bullying and mindfulness. With the guidance counselor, students develop and practice skills to enable them to live and work in a safe, collaborative community. Our C.A.R.E. (Character Always, Respect Everyday) curriculum promotes a respectful community and supports children as they demonstrate responsibility, respect, friendship, kindness and honesty. Teachers use “Morning Meetings” and daily opportunities to integrate the C.A.R.E. curriculum and the Responsive Classroom program. Throughout Lower School, dimensions of good character are practiced and reinforced.
Embedded in Breck’s Mission is the goal of instilling in each student a deep sense of social responsibility. What does this mean for a Lower School student? Within the school, our third and fourth graders are learning to give back to others by serving lunch to our youngest children each day. “Biddying” gives our older students the opportunity to help and befriend those who are new to our community. In service to our greater community, we provide students with experiences that will promote an understanding of the needs of others. Kindergartners visit local nursing homes to share stories and songs, fourth graders prepare food bags at Feed My Starving Children and the entire Lower School participates in food, clothing and book donation drives for our community. Our reach has spread nationally and globally as we’ve assisted in stocking a library for a school in California and collected funds to “raise the roof” of a school in Africa. We want our young children to see the impact they can have on the world ... with one act of kindness, a generous heart and a helping hand.