Preparing their climbing gear at the base of a towering pine tree on BB&N’s Lower School, arborists Remy Lee and Josh Snyder encountered something unusual in their field of work: a cheering section.
Visual and performing arts courses at the Lower School are taught by instructors who are practicing artists in their individual disciplines. Projects are often integrated with the social studies curriculum and may incorporate visits to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The visual arts program aims to offer children opportunities for self-expression, creativity, innovative thinking, and the development of confidence and pleasure in the creative process. During the Beginner year, students work with their homeroom teachers using a variety of creative materials. In Kindergarten through Grade 6, students work more formally with art teachers to develop basic skills in visualization, observation from nature, design, painting, and three-dimensional construction.
The woodworking program begins in Grade 1, where work with paper-making, origami, and cardboard helps children learn to visualize three-dimensional forms and understand how different parts fit together to become a whole. In woodworking shop, students learn to use a variety of tools in safe and effective ways; they work on projects such as pine birdhouses and replicas of Egyptian sarcophagi.
Our lower school drama program engages our 5th and 6th grade students in improvisation work, small group scenes and monologue work, as well as performance opportunities. Students learn to create characters, and dialogues in both small and large groups. Learning to analyze scenes and scenarios, and make connections to real life are all a part of the importance of theater for our brick building students. Our students have the opportunity to explore their creativity as well as develop their skills in observation, attention, imagination, physical expression, emotional awareness, interpersonal awareness, and narrative ability. The program also aims to stimulate and challenge those students already familiar with some aspects of theater. Emphasis is on the cooperative process of creating and working toward a goal. The 5th grade performs a one act play by homeroom, while the 6th grade participates in a full length musical with singing, dancing, costumes, lighting and special effects.
The music program at the Lower School encourages children to find the musician within themselves. Students become knowledgeable about beat, rhythm, and notation through activities such as clapping, tapping, and stepping. They are given opportunities to respond to changes in tempo, dynamics, pitch, and melodic themes through movement. Good vocal habits are developed through singing folk and composed songs, rounds, and singing games. Students learn from a variety of musical styles, including those from folk and ethnic cultures as well as those composed music from Western traditions. They sharpen their listening and analytical skills through creative movement and dance, illustration, written description, discussion, and dramatization.
Percussion instruments are used at all levels for accompaniment and for reinforcement of the concepts of beat and rhythm. All students learn to play the soprano recorder in Grade 4 and have the opportunity to choose the alto recorder or barred instruments in Grade 5. In ensemble experiences, students gain self-discipline, concentration, and appreciation for the process that carries them from first rehearsal to polished performance. Ensembles include chorus and orchestra for students in Grades 3 through 6. The young children also share songs in weekly and special assemblies.
The development of skills for listening, speaking, reading, and writing is essential in all grades. Listening and speaking are first practiced in “Morning Meeting,” when the exercise of sharing and discussing allows the children a chance to listen to others, express themselves, and be heard. As children progress, they give oral reports and speeches, conduct interviews, and present information which they research by working both independently and in learning groups.
Learning to read and write is important work in the Lower School years. In the early grades, teachers read to the children classic and new picture books, as well as fables and poetry. These books are often part of larger projects, which include art activities and play. Beginning in the early grades, children get a firm grounding in learning to read by decoding words, practicing to recognize sight words, and learning specific skills to comprehend what they read. Readers, literature, and information selections ensure a complete coverage of early reading skills.
As students progress through the Lower School, literal comprehension skills are solidified with a focus on making inferences, drawing conclusions, analyzing, evaluating, and summarizing. The goal of our literature program is to instill in all children the habit and pleasure of reading by teaching them to experience and interpret literature from the start. The faculty has developed for each grade a core book list from which specific books are chosen for close study. We emphasize an understanding of the patterns of literature: themes of universal human interest, characters, the shape and style of the story, and how books relate to the reader. These books, short stories, fairy tales, plays, and poems often relate to current issues or the social studies curriculum. They may include such readings as The Amazing Bone, The Turtle Watchers, Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back, Stone Fox, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Children are encouraged to read for pleasure on a daily basis, both in school and at home. Each classroom is stocked with books and students have a regularly scheduled time at one of the two Lower School libraries.
Creative and informative writing take many forms at the Lower School. Younger children dictate stories and interpretations of their various activities, while older children write literature responses, news articles, essays, research reports, stories, poems, plays, and summaries. Students develop an understanding of the writing process through pre-writing, planning, drafting, conferencing, revising, editing, proofreading, and sharing. Direct instruction in handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and mechanics is provided.
The study of Spanish starts from Beginners through Grade 3, after which time students elect to take French or continue with Spanish studies through Grade 6. The Lower School program is developed with age-appropriate activities, games, and songs that foster a love for language and build vocabulary necessary for basic conversation. The emphasis is on oral and aural comprehension and instruction, with attention to developing the listening, communication, and comprehension skills. In Grades 4, 5, and 6, instruction is based on the National Standards for Foreign Language, supplemented by differentiated methods and materials, traditional music, art, games, and poetry from Spain and the Americas, which create a comprehensive program and well-rounded global citizens.
The study of French begins in Grade 4. The main goal is to develop students’ basic vocabulary and knowledge of idiomatic expressions. The program concentrates on three basic language skills: speaking, listening and understanding. Although the emphasis is on oral (conversational) instruction, the children also practice writing French words and complete crossword puzzles and other written exercises. Various authentic resources are accompanied by listening comprehension and conversational exercises.
The Lower School mathematics program presents students with a variety of experiences while following a developmental continuum. Teachers make use of this continuum through concrete, symbolic, and abstract activities to reach students at all levels of development. Students are first given the opportunity to explore concrete mathematical concepts through tactile and free investigation with manipulative objects. Manipulative experiences are linked to the practice of math skills, with mastery a goal for each student.
Our mathematics teachers focus on enabling students to construct their own solid conceptual foundations in three areas of mathematics – computation, logic, and spatial reasoning. At all levels, students discover, develop, and use mathematical relationships. Real understanding occurs when students learn through their own investigation.
In accordance with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, we place great importance on developing the written and oral communication skills of our students. We are primarily interested in improving their ability to think clearly; we believe that if students are able to express their thoughts, their understanding and retention of concepts will increase. In all aspects of our math program, we encourage communication through exploring, investigating, describing, and explaining mathematical ideas.
Likewise, we feel that when children cooperate with peers, they have the opportunity to express their strategies for problem solving, hear and respect other points of view, and increase their collaborative skills. Throughout our math program, the children are encouraged to work together to solve problems designed to link conceptual and procedural knowledge.
We try to offer real-world experiences, relating math to the wide variety of interests and occupations that rely on mathematical knowledge. Believing that emphasis on intercurricular links among all subjects is essential, we frequently relate math topics to studies in science, literature, social studies, and the arts.
The purpose of teaching science at the Lower School is to instill in students an appreciation for the process and content of science. Students study science using a hands-on, inquiry-based approach. This approach allows students to develop and use process skills in order to gain a scientific body of knowledge. Such skills include observing, comparing, classifying, measuring, predicting, inferring, communicating, formulating hypotheses, designing investigations, collecting and interpreting data, and recognizing variables.
In Beginners, science is taught by the classroom teachers and is integrated into social studies, language arts, math, and art activities.
In Kindergarten through Grade 4, students meet with science specialists in small groups and balanced attention is given to following the main branches of science: life science, earth science, chemistry, and physics. Sample topics from these grades include acids and bases, insects, magnets, geology, electricity, bones, and growing seeds.
In Grades 5 and 6, science classes include lectures, discussions, hands-on activities, and labs. In Grade 5, students explore the major principles of Ecology including: biotic and abiotic characteristics of ecosystem, human interactions with ecosystems, and how scientists study these systems. There is a special emphasis on the place of water in our world as it relates to access for human needs, climate change and severe weather events. In Grade 6, the science program includes an introduction to cells and a survey of elementary human anatomy and physiology. This curriculum provides students with a comprehensive overview of the human respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and reproductive systems and addresses health issues affecting these body systems.
Social Studies at the Lower School is an exploration of the cultures, ideas, and beliefs of our past and present world. As part of their inquiry into neighborhood, community, and government, children are encouraged to make connections between their experiences and the curriculum.
The central goal of the curriculum is to present children with the skills and knowledge needed to be effective participants in their environment. We provide them with opportunities to learn about the American experience and the many cultures that make up the world. Thus, they discover and explore commonalities and differences among people and places. Forms of inquiry range from the experiential to research and often culminate in assemblies and festivals that demonstrate key aspects of their topics. Teachers of different disciplines work closely within the Lower School to provide an integrated experience of a content area. Topics of study are chosen and developed based on children’s stages of growth and the landscape of our changing world.
At each grade, topics are valued for their content but are also vehicles for skills that are introduced, practiced, met again, and developed throughout the Lower School Social Studies curriculum. These skills include asking questions, learning where to find information, making observations and generalizations, synthesizing, note-taking, writing (including research papers), participating in discussions, and performing oral reports and dramatizations.
The Social Studies program in Beginners, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 is designed to help students develop a positive sense of themselves, recognize cultural differences, and understand the dignity and worth of all people. For these young children, units of study may focus on the social structure of their own classrooms, homes and families, holidays, some current events, and thematic units. All classes become familiar with basic geography.
Through discovering and synthesizing information, children in Grades 2 through 4 come to know about cultures of long ago and the present, from Egypt and Africa to the immigrant enclaves of the Boston area. Children may take field trips, write puppet shows, take simulated trips to other countries, begin acquiring research skills, and undertake a variety of projects. A few examples of experiences children may have include trying on clothes, singing songs, and meeting visitors from other countries.
In the Grade 5 and 6 curricula, language arts and social studies are closely integrated. Students read historical fiction, non-fiction, and primary source material while exploring a topic. Their courses build on writing skills gained in Grades 2 through 4 and emphasize note-taking and writing summaries, essays, and research papers. Both grades present plays, assemblies, or festivals as a culmination of their studies. Topics may include the exploration and settling of North America, the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands, and the United States Civil Rights Movement. Students in Grade 6 also study the geography of Near and East Asia; focusing on the social structure, literature, religions, and laws of two or more countries, students practice skills of comparison and contrast.