Lower School Curriculum Guide
First grade provides developmentally appropriate experiences with particular attention to process rather than product. The primary focus is to develop students’ skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. The program incorporates multi-sensory teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles and abilities. Some of the highlights of our year include the Rye community study, child directed interviews during the RCDS community study, and a study of communities around the world. First graders are active participants in hands-on activities, which foster creativity and excitement for learning. In a nurturing environment, children become self-motivated, independent learners. With high expectations for attainable goals, students demonstrate academic, social, and emotional growth. Through Responsive Classroom, the social curriculum is deemed as crucial as the academic program, and both social and academic growth are fostered simultaneously and harmoniously.
- Language Arts
- Social Studies
- Visual Arts
- Physical Education
Language arts activities in first grade focus primarily on the development of written and spoken language. First graders practice “active listening” throughout the year. In the fall they are engaged in an inquiry based community study of the school, where they facilitate interviews of many important members of the RCDS faculty and staff. Throughout the year, their listening skills are refined through auditory comprehension activities and teacher guidance in sustaining attention during whole group discussions and instruction. Listening skills are also developed through continued expansion of phonemic awareness using our reading and writing programs.
Oral expression is also an integral part of the first grade language arts program. During the RCDS community study and the study of the City of Rye, students practice creating questions that will evoke the desired information. Oral expression is also developed through Responsive Classroom. Students are engaged in many different role-playing activities where they practice using appropriate empathetic and assertive language in a variety of social situations. Portions of Morning Meeting are also designed to allow students to participate in meaningful “shares,” which call for clear and articulate expressive language. Oral expression is also refined through reading responses as students strengthen their ability to retell stories and reflect thoughtfully upon a text.
First graders develop valuable reading behaviors such as choosing appropriate books independently and developing an appreciation for different authors and genres. The students are immersed in a balanced reading program, which focuses on decoding, fluency, and comprehension.
Our multisensory approach to reading demands that visual, auditory, and kinesthetic skills are developed simultaneously. Children work in small groups, at an appropriate pace, to move through the sequential program and build upon the structure of written language. This program incorporates phonics, reading, spelling, and grammar into one integrated lesson.
Another component of the first grade reading program is guided reading. While our word study concentrates more heavily upon phonemic awareness and phonics, guided reading focuses upon the contextual aspects of reading. Students meet in small book groups to practice using contextually based reading strategies and to stretch their comprehension skills. Some of the reading skills that are taught include: sequencing the elements of the story; identifying the main idea; describing character, setting, problem and solution; comparing and contrasting; retelling a story; making predictions and text-to-self connections, and articulating basic inferences. Students also are taught to attend to punctuation, to build on their sight word vocabulary, and to develop fluency.
The final portion of the first grade balanced reading program is independent reading. Each day, students are given the opportunity to practice and master their new skills and strategies to become more independent and effective readers. This is also a chance for the teacher to read individually with students.
Written expression is an area of specific focus in first grade. Students learn to record their thoughts and ideas meaningfully as they work to develop and strengthen their sentence structure, initiate a writing task, evaluate and edit their own work, engage in journal writing activities, and develop greater writing fluency and stamina. In the fall, the writing workshop process is launched, and the students develop their skills in choosing a topic, expressing ideas using accurate sound/symbol correspondence, and expanding upon their written work by including interesting and pertinent details.
Throughout the winter, students are engaged in an informative/explanatory “How To” and an Author study. In preparation of writing their own “How To” books, students write instructions that demonstrate multiple steps in a sequential order. Students learn to reread and revise for clarity, proper sequencing, and missing steps. The author study is a springboard for opinion writing where students learn to state an opinion, support their thoughts with a reason, and provide an ending. In the spring, students learn the structures and conventions of letter writing and build on their emerging writing skills to compose their own letters. At the end of each unit of study, there is a publishing celebration. Students share their writings with their third grade reading buddies, present their “How To” books to kindergartners or publish their work in a professionally bound book.
Throughout the writing program, students learn the importance of writing mechanics. Students work on their writing posture, pencil grip, grapho-motor fluency, letter formation, spatial orientation on a page, the use of phonemic knowledge, capitalization, punctuation, dictation skills, and the memorization of priority spelling words.
The first grade math program, Singapore Math, relies upon a concrete, pictorial, and abstract process that has our students first working with tangible materials, and then exposing them to a pictorial representation of the mathematical concept, before moving to more abstract numbers, notations, and symbols. This program emphasizes the communication of mathematical ideas, encouraging students to be conscious of the strategies they use to solve problems and to share these strategies with their peers. With a teacher’s guidance, students are led to select the most efficient and accurate strategy for solving a problem.
In the first two months of school, students focus on exploring, understanding, manipulating, and discussing numbers up to 10. They learn to think of numbers within a number bond format and think of a whole number being made up of a combination of numbers (parts). The activities allow students to internalize their understanding of the basic facts up to 10 with an expectation for accurate recall of those number facts before moving onto understanding the inverse relationship of addition and subtraction through various number stories. Students learn to represent the stories using addition and subtraction equations with an emphasis on distinguishing between parts (addends) to whole (sum). As they explore two digit numbers, students are introduced to strategies that help them to decompose two digit numbers into tens and ones and thus allow them to recombine numbers easily. For example, when adding 6 + 7, students are encouraged to think of 6 as two parts, 3 and 3. By adding one 3 to 7, they have 10 and when adding the remaining 3, they have 13.
In the second half of the year, students use repeated addition and arrays to solve multiplication problems within 40. They use sharing and grouping experiences to understand division and begin to relate division to multiplication. Students also explore money, time, fractions, and geometry. They identify and know the value of coins and dollars. Students count combinations of coins and bills and use the cent and dollar sign. They learn about the parts of an analog clock and learn to tell time to the half-hour. In the fraction unit, first graders recognize and name halves and fourths. Finally in their geometry unit, they identify, describe, and categorize two- dimensional and three-dimensional shapes.
During daily morning meetings, students count to take attendance, use the calendar to establish the day and date, and review the day’s schedule. This exposure helps develop fluency with counting while also establishing a routine that gives students the opportunity to explore the structure of time in the context of a season, school day, a month, a week or a year. These daily discussions give children practice with vocabulary to talk about time (morning, noon, midday, afternoon.) Through the use of standard and nonstandard units of measure, students develop a foundation of skills for accurate linear measurement, such as knowing where to start and stop measuring and understanding that many measurements are not reported in whole numbers. Throughout the school year, students collect, record, and discover different ways to represent their data by creating surveys, describing attributes of objects, and then using these attributes to decide how to sort. Then students use pictures, bar graphs, tallies, and diagrams to represent and categorize their data.
First graders continue to learn about themselves and their responsibilities as community members in the classroom, at the grade level, and within the school. Rye Country Day School, as a dynamic work and study environment, provides a microcosm for in-depth examinations of community. The study expands as students learn about the city of Rye and its infrastructures. Social studies, science, and art are combined in the spring when the first graders learn about the different types of natural resources and the importance of conservation.
The social studies curriculum begins with the students identifying their role in the Rye Country Day community. Students discover the needs and characteristics of our community and also, through student-generated questions, interview many of the faculty and staff who enrich our School.
Keeping with the theme of community, the first graders transition to study the city of Rye and develop an understanding of the larger community that exists around them. They go on a guided tour of the Rye Post Office, using this experience to help them create their own Lower School Post Office. First graders design and sell stamps, gather, sort, and deliver mail while building their interpersonal skills. The money collected from their efforts is donated to a local charity of their choosing. Following the Rye Community unit, students will take on a global perspective to recognize and understand culture and the practices and traditions that define a culture. We will compare and contrast our local community to specific ones around the world. To complete our social studies unit, the first graders learn how to sustain our beautiful community. Through research, the students learn about natural resources and the importance of reducing and recycling various products to help preserve our natural resources.
Each year the Lower School art program has an overarching theme for its curricular focus in conjunction with our Choice Based art philosophy. In first grade, the overarching theme will be “Art Around the World,” which will include topics such as: Rangoli design from India, Adinkra printing from Ghana, Gyotaku printing from Japan, and Mexican bark paintings, to name a few. Some of the lessons at the start of class will focus on the curricular theme while at other times, the focus of the lesson will be on a material or technique within a certain medium. After each lesson, students will then have the choice to work on art inspired by the special project or an original creation. Students are encouraged to bring their own ideas to art and learn how to independently set up their own materials, which are located in centers around the room. The students can choose: drawing, painting, Inventor’s Workshop, clay, printmaking and fiber arts. Work at the first grade level is both realistic and imaginary, developing observational and creative thinking skills. First graders reflect on their artistic process by taking photographs of their artwork using Artsonia with the apps on the iPads and learn basic photo-editing skills as well as how to add titles and artist statements.
The eight Studio Habits of Mind are incorporated into daily life and language in order for students to learn true artistic behavior. Those habits include (in no particular order) envisioning, observation, expression, developing craft, stretching and exploring, engaging and persisting, reflecting on their work and understanding art worlds.
The first graders begin the year exploring safe ways to use computers at school and at home. Their curriculum is deeply integrated and collaborative with the child’s homeroom and specials classes. These collaborative projects allow each child to use technology to develop, refine, and ultimately share a broad range of first grade curricular knowledge. We also do shorter, stand-alone assignments that are designed to develop independence and resilience. In conjunction with their science curriculum, each student creates an interactive quiz to help identify the songs of birds found in various Rye habitats. They also build upon their math curriculum when creating pattern block puzzles and “tens trees.”
To support the students’ study of the City of Rye, they use the Sketch Up application to create a 3D re-design of a downtown building. They also use the Scratch coding tool to navigate a journey through a map of Rye. The students apply fundamental word processing and editing skills to create postcards from migrating birds to resident birds. Graphing software is used to compare physical attributes of local birds. The year culminates with each first grader using Microsoft Word to write and edit research for a field guide of Rye birds. While building skills through independent and group work, each child is developing an understanding of what computers and other technology can and cannot do.
The Lower School library is a place of inquiry and discovery for all who use it. Students visit the library on a regular basis so that they can explore their own interests; be introduced to new stories, concepts, information and ideas; and discover who they are as readers and thinkers. The library program is designed to support the first grade curriculum. Students are introduced to material that support their units of classroom study, as well as other authors, books, and genres that help them grow as readers.
Inquiry-based projects are developed in collaboration with other teachers according to the classroom curriculum, and allow students to develop their research skills. These topics of study include: schools, community and garbage/waste. First graders also participate in a study of folk tales, and are introduced to digital tools. Every library class includes the opportunity for children to use the library independently. During this time, students decide for themselves the books they want to read and/or take home to borrow.
First grade is a year of tremendous musical growth. Students experience music and rhythm through singing, dancing, speaking, and playing. In first grade, students will decode the songs and poems learned using the solfege and rhythmic syllables. Emphasis is placed upon the proper development of the singing voice and differentiation between beat and rhythm. Students also begin to explore western composers and their contributions to the world of music and other art forms.
The first graders participate in a physical education program that allows the students to understand and apply movement concepts and to become competent in basic motor skills. The motor skills that are taught and practiced on a daily basis include: skipping, hopping, jumping, chasing, galloping, sidestepping, and running, to name a few. Specific skills are taught in themes and include: throwing, catching, jumping and landing, striking, kicking, dribbling and volleying. Some lifetime sports are also taught in class and include: tennis, yoga, ice-skating, bowling, and fitness. In the winter, students also ice skate for four weeks as part of the curriculum. Throughout each activity, safety, cooperation, teamwork, and sportsmanship are emphasized.
A key component is teaching children to feel positive about themselves and their participation in physical activity and thus encouraging them to try new and varied activities. With clear safety practices set forth by the teachers, the students practice specific patterned movement skills to enhance their manipulative skills, develop spatial awareness, and broaden their movement repertoire. In addition to skill development, students participate in community events such as the American Heart Association’s “Kids’ Heart Challenge, the “Fun Run” that kicks off Wildcat Weekend in the fall, and the Lower School Field Day in May.
The first grade science program provides a variety of “hands-on” activities as the students become totally immersed in the scientific method and use related process skills. Throughout the year, children focus on the different science disciplines of physical, earth, and life sciences. The units in first grade science are closely aligned with their language arts, social studies, art, library, music, and computer curricula. The integrated units, such as the one of birds, help children to make connections across disciplines.
In the fall, the students begin viewing the school community as being comprised of natural and human-made elements. This extends to the year-long study of global communities where the students are first exploring the natural world of birds, developing an understanding of how humans impact the community’s natural resources, and then brainstorming ideas that they may use to positively help the environment using natural and human-made strategies. Children will begin by learning about the calling, singing, feeding, flying and nesting behavior of birds from different communities around the world. Then, they will learn about the earth’s natural resources including soil, water, animals, and wind. Finally, the students will build upon their knowledge of simple machines from kindergarten to investigate windmills and build a working prototype as one human-made strategy for helping the environment.