The children are taught to read using a blended program which helps them master the mechanics of reading while also learning to understand and connect deeply with texts. All of our classrooms are literature- and print-rich environments, and reading is a part of each Lower School student’s day. In addition to word study and development of vocabulary, children are exposed to many different genres of literature through class read-alouds as they become engaged in reading for information and pleasure. The children learn to infer meaning, make connections and examine authors’ motives in class discussions, readers workshop and book clubs. Beginning in kindergarten, students work in small groups that target specific phonetic and comprehension skills.
Children’s initial attempts at writing in journals with invented spelling are supported and encouraged. Our students see themselves as authors from the beginning and they work hard to improve their craft and to communicate clearly and engagingly with their audience. Gradually, they learn standard spelling through a structured program and are also taught to organize their writing in increasingly sophisticated ways. Children participate in genre studies where, using “mentor texts,” they try their hands at a variety of types of writing, including “how-to,” narrative and persuasive pieces. Through our Visiting Speakers Program, children in all grade levels have the chance to talk to and learn from a variety of professional authors, including a poet-in-residence who works with our third grade students. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project informs much of our work in language arts.
The ability to speak in front of a group with confidence and clarity remains an essential 21st century skill. At each grade level throughout Berkeley Carroll, students are provided with opportunities to find their voices and express their opinions in developmentally appropriate ways. The Responsive Classroom approach used throughout the Lower School emphasizes the skills of listening, posing clarifying questions and building on others’ suggestions and ideas. Lower School students are encouraged to participate by sharing their ideas in all areas of the curriculum.
The essential goals of our math program include building children’s number sense, expanding their understanding of place value and operations and developing computational fluency for accurate, efficient and flexible problem solving. Our math curriculum draws from two programs — TERC Investigations and Contexts for Learning — and uses a variety of best practices to teach right to children’s needs. Students explore concepts, share strategies and apply their skills to solve real-life problems. For example, third graders work in teams to run a fictitious factory and use their math skills to track inventory and orders and keep the books. Teachers take the time to make sure concepts are grasped and add extension activities when they see the opportunity. Algorithms are taught as reinforcement to understanding concepts and students master their use at appropriate age levels. This approach enables children to be confident enough to experiment and play with numbers, while having the tools they need to find accurate, efficient solutions to problems.
In the Lower School, children develop an ever-expanding concept of community, starting close to home and moving gradually outward. PreK children begin with a study of themselves and their families as they learn what it is to be part of a classroom community. Kindergarten students do an expansive study of the five senses, which connects with the science curriculum and also gives them the chance to learn about people who are differently-abled. First graders study the school community and much of their work centers on conducting interviews, doing research and recording and presenting their findings. Second graders build on their understanding of community through a study of the city, which includes looking at the needs and wants of New Yorkers. Learning about the geography of the area leads to a study of transportation. Third grade students explore both historical and modern immigration. They end the year with a study of Mexico, which ties in with current issues as well as with our focus on the Spanish language. Fourth graders study the Lenape and other local Native American people and then consider the idea of perspective-taking as it applies to the narratives of explorers and those of different parties in colonial New York. Studying current events and developing media literacy rounds out the over-arching theme of stories.
Many aspects of our curriculum are taught in the context of social studies and our approach is interdisciplinary. Questions of diversity are addressed at all grade levels throughout the year. Selected books for read-alouds offer opportunities for thoughtful discourse. Another common thread is the theme of changemaking; students on all grade levels study individuals who have made a difference in the world and discuss how the actions they take can make them changemakers as well. Service learning projects are a natural extension of these discussions.
All of our Lower School students participate in our Spanish Partial-immersion program. For a portion of each day, Spanish is used exclusively in each classroom and is woven into the existing curriculum in many areas — in group activities such as songs, games and read-alouds, as well as during routines that students already know and understand. During the course of a typical day, students may have their morning meeting in Spanish, play a math game, organize snack distribution or do an art project in Spanish. Children are not so much taught Spanish, but taught in Spanish, and our goal is that Lower School students will acquire the language in much the same way that they learned their first language — in the context of their daily lives. The partial-immersion program will continue into Middle School and at that time students will also begin to learn Spanish grammar. Our goal is that children who have come up through our Lower School will be bilingual by the time they graduate from our Upper School.
The Lower School science program teaches students to make and test hypotheses and use effective inquiry to learn about things. Students learn through hands-on study and exploration of the natural and built world. Students in PreK through fourth grade work with a science specialist and spend time in our science labs, where they have the opportunity to interact with everything from hissing cockroaches to robots. Among the many topics of study are systems of the human body, weather, trees and plants, a variety of animals and habitats and simple machines and bridges. Prospect Park is used as a resource throughout the program.
The STEAM Hub is a collaborative learning space specifically designed for first through fourth grade students. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. In the STEAM Hub, students engage in projects, activities and discussions that focus on developing skills in these areas in an integrated way. While there is a specialized STEAM curriculum, the overall goal is to make connections with classroom and other specialists’ programs.
First and second grade students visit the STEAM Hub once a cycle. While students learn specific skills like touch typing and creating various types of presentations, they also delve into technology in the broadest sense of the word and have opportunities to build models and prototypes with a variety of materials. Engineering and design challenges are designed to strengthen their problem-solving skills and they become familiar with the design process. Third and fourth grade students have access to the STEAM Hub during Integrated Learning Blocks and various other project work times. Coding is an important tool for building and inventing with technology and we aim to cultivate students who cannot only USE apps, but BUILD them. Students in first and second grade work with Kodable, while third and fourth graders work on a number of projects using the Scratch programming language. Third and fourth graders are a part of the school’s one-to-one iPad program (which continues up through 12th grade) and are issued their own iPads for in-school use in all subject areas. Extensive discussions and activities regarding digital citizenship are ongoing.
LIBRARY AND RESEARCH
The library and research program develops students’ abilities to effectively use libraries and information technology. Research units are planned in collaboration with classroom teachers and specialists at every grade level, from PreK through fourth grade. In third and fourth grade our librarian and STEAM specialists push into the classroom to team teach and support the students’ research. Students have opportunities to build skills around locating and identifying quality sources, providing citation information, synthesizing and then presenting what they have learned.
The early childhood library and the private elementary school library hubs are learning and resource centers for students, teachers and parents, providing reading and other multimedia materials that enrich the curriculum and foster a love of reading in each student. The program also sponsors periodic visits by authors and illustrators, along with a variety of other literary events.
Berkeley Carroll's Lower School Arts program celebrates creativity and strives to instill the confidence in each of our students that they can be an artist in both visual and performing arts.
From PreK through fourth grade, art projects are an integral part of the classroom curriculum. Art begins as a separate subject taught in kindergarten. The teachers emphasize the importance of process, planning and revision, all the while helping the children to create artwork that is distinctly their own. A rotating display of children’s work adorns our walls year-round.
Children from PreK through fourth grade participate in our dance program. The younger children learn the basics of movement, while older students have the opportunity to choreograph their own work and interpret the works of great dancers.
Students in PreK through fourth grade have music at least once per cycle. Our music curriculum begins with the Kodaly method and gradually introduces traditional music notation. Students use Orff and various percussion instruments on all grade levels and they begin to study recorder in third grade. The use of the voice as an instrument is emphasized throughout and children begin participating in choruses in second grade. There are either open class presentations or concerts in both music and dance for each grade, so that children have the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. The Fourth Grade Showcase, the capstone event of students' Lower School years, provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning in the arts for the school community.
The Berkeley Carroll Athletic Center houses a pool, a gymnasium and fitness center. Students in Lower School have classes in physical education and aquatics. The physical education classes emphasize cooperation, good sportsmanship and lifelong fitness as the children are taught fundamental skills they may use competitively in Middle and Upper School. Children in kindergarten through fourth grade swim in our pool once per six-day cycle for an hour. The children are taught the four basic strokes, breathing techniques and diving, preparing them for competitive swimming in the older grades.
Homework is a part of school life and we introduce it gradually in the Lower School. Students are given homework in order to practice skills learned in class, as well as to develop their independence and responsibility. In first grade, children receive homework twice a week and assignments generally take 10-15 minutes to complete. Children in grades two through four are given a homework packet at the beginning of the week which they are expected to work on nightly, Monday through Thursday, for 20-40 minutes, with the time lengthening as they get older. Each student in grades one through four is also expected to read (which can include being read to) for 30 minutes a night.