We believe children learn through meaningful experiences that challenge them to interpret and engage actively in their world. We immerse them in topics and challenge them with questions that are inspiring and thought-provoking, from studying of various civil rights movements and how communities work together for change, to exploring our planetary system and asking how we might develop a colony to sustain life on Mars. Students have opportunities to read and think deeply, express themselves through language, movement, music, and art, and use numbers to interpret patterns and larger mathematical concepts.
- Language Arts
- Social Studies
- Computer Science and Technology
- Health Education
- Physical Education
The goal of the Language Arts curriculum is to develop avid, knowledgeable, lifelong readers; strong writers; confident speakers; and careful listeners. From Kindergarten on, we use a wide range of language experiences to nurture critical and reflective thinking. Using a Readers’ Workshop model, the students are given explicit instruction in reading skills, from decoding words to inferential comprehension strategies, as they engage with compelling literature throughout the school year. Beginning with our youngest learners, there are meaningful opportunities to enhance their written expression as well, through journal writing, Writers’ Workshop, and research projects. Thoughtful instruction in spelling, vocabulary, mechanics, and handwriting are also key components of our program. Two reading specialists support all students as needed across the grades, through small group and individual sessions.
Our mathematics instruction is designed to ensure that students develop a deep number sense and flexibility in their mathematical understanding. Children work together as a community of mathematicians, employing a variety of strategies and tools to model their thinking. We encourage them to look for patterns and mathematical relationships through investigations in the context of the real world, developing their own conjectures and testing these ideas, leading to generalizations that facilitate algebraic thinking.
Our students have occasion each day to demonstrate their knowledge of and comfort with mathematical vocabulary and principles that govern the numbers system. They learn a variety of algorithms and explore why they work. Opportunities to use different strategies help students develop automaticity with basic facts—and underscore how facility with these facts contributes to their accuracy and efficiency as problems become more challenging.
Two mathematics curricula—Investigations in Number, Data, and Space and Contexts for Learning Mathematics—are used in grades K-5 as a foundation for developing these mathematical skills and capabilities, and we enhance the program with a variety of other resources.
The social studies program serves as the thematic center of the Lower School curriculum. Students develop a broad knowledge of and respect for history, geography, and populations across diverse cultures and communities.
Teachers design each thematic unit to provide entry points for students to learn from multiple perspectives. Students study local and global communities, paying particular attention to social justice, history, culture, and customs.
There are many occasions to integrate the social studies program with language arts. Coordinating the music, art, and woodshop programs with social studies enhances the subjects and provides rich interdisciplinary connections and thematic unity.
Samples of the social studies curriculum include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Second graders study the Lenape of the early 17th century, as well as Colonial Pennsylvania life. Students read and write historical fiction in language arts as a part of the unit;
- Fourth graders explore Ancient Greece and its contributions to modern society, culminating in an integrated experience known as “Greek Day,” which involves the art, woodshop, and physical education departments;
- Fifth graders study the Middle Ages and the rise of Islam during that period. Their experience concludes with an interdisciplinary May Day celebration and performance in the spring.
The Lower School science program is highly experiential, with hands-on activities in every period at all grade levels. We believe that children learn best through a combination of observation and experimentation. With a strong environmental focus, our program builds on children’s natural curiosity, covering a wide variety of topics, including physical science, Earth science, life science, and natural history.
We teach extended, in-depth units, favoring mastery and competence over broad coverage. Our goal is to lay a foundation for young learners to become scientifically literate in both their knowledge and skills. We make frequent use of the outdoors and take our students on regular field trips to see how the topics they are studying relate to the world around them. We want them to maintain their sense of wonder about their environment and their excitement about studying it, even as they are beginning a more formal study of science. Studies also include explorations of space, electricity, and robotics, among other topics. Kindergartners have science with a specialist once a week in half groups, and it is incorporated into their daily explorations as well. Students in first through fifth grades go to science class twice a week, and science teachers collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate and further extend the study of science.
In choosing this particular world language for integration in our program, we demonstrate a commitment to our local Philadelphia community, where Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the home. Early acquisition of a second language has been proven to increase awareness and deeper understanding of other cultures, flexibility in problem-solving, creative thinking, and analytic skills across the curriculum.
Beginning in Kindergarten, our expectation is that Spanish is the only language spoken during Spanish class, both by teachers and students. This encourages close observation and listening, pattern seeking, and problem-solving, as students work to develop their skills and understanding. Use of literature, songs, games, and images or objects to provide visual cues help to develop student comfort and confidence in this environment.
After the introduction of key vocabulary and phrases, our focus is on encouraging students to apply their language skills. This occurs through integration with other subject areas, such as math, science, art, and social studies, and through the exploration of cultures and traditions throughout the Hispanic/Latino world. Spanish instruction occurs in the classroom three days a week in all grades, and is reinforced through the use of vocabulary and key phrases in other classes as well.
Through our Computer Science and Technology curriculum, students become increasingly independent in their ability to explore, collaborate, create and present information using technology. Technology is used in the classroom as a tool to serve students’ learning; through use of SMART Boards, iPads, Chromebooks, and other resources, students engage with conceptual material, practice skills, research, write, and revise with ever-expanding facility. In the upper grades, they also use the Google for Education platform to collaborate with teachers and peers.
The Lower School Computer Lab serves as a resource for teachers and students and a clearinghouse for best practices in integrating the use of technology into everyday classroom instruction. Students begin visiting the lab for regular instruction in second grade. They become familiar with a variety of common software applications, learn to type, and in the upper grades, learn Scratch and other coding applications.
Through a cross-grade course entitled “Ethics in Media and Technology” that is taught in second through fifth grades, children learn to exercise responsible digital citizenship when accessing materials via the network. This course includes discussions on and explorations of video game and internet use, parental restrictions, cell phone and email etiquette, social networking concerns and how to accurately judge the quality of web resources.
Students in the Lower School art studio are given the opportunity to explore a variety of different mediums. They are encouraged to experiment, engage, and create using paint, clay, collage, sculpture, and digital media in a structured and supportive environment. The studio work is closely tied to studies in the classroom as well, from prehistoric to contemporary art. Our students develop a series of sequentially-taught skills throughout their Lower School art experience, including color mixing and theory, tempera painting, clay, claymation, paper collage, watercolor, monochromatic printing, and oil pastel. Students attend art class once a week in half-classroom groups in grades K-2, then participate in a one semester art intensive (paired with a Woodshop intensive for the other semester) in grades 3-5. Students in the upper grades are also invited to “art lunch” weekly to pursue their own creative endeavors.
For more information about art at GFS, click here.
Each year virtually every Lower School student has an opportunity to participate in a dramatic performance usually related to a topic or thematic unit being studied. Prepared by individual classroom teachers often in collaboration with Lower School music faculty, Lower School plays enrich the social studies program and bring the unit lessons to life. Recent examples include Amish Day, Korean Dancers and a Medieval Festival and Joust.
For more information about drama at GFS, click here.
Health education in Lower School is designed to familiarize students with basic anatomical and physiological systems relative to the total framework of a healthy body. This includes providing information on nutrition, healthy life habits, and human sexuality. The classes provide age-appropriate opportunities to discuss information about growth, development, and human sexuality in its physical, emotional, and social dimensions.
Health topics are integrated into the curriculum and activities in Kindergarten-grade 2, and we add specialized health instruction in grades 3-5.
The library serves our student population in a variety of ways. Our collection consists of fiction and nonfiction titles that support and enhance the Lower School curriculum and stimulate interest in various topics. We hope to instill in our students a love of the written word and to create a generation of lifelong readers. At the end of the school year, students are given a list of suggested summer reading and are encouraged to participate in the Summer Reading Club, a program designed to promote recreational reading and book discussions during the summer break. All Lower School students visit the library once a week during the school year.
For more information about library visits in Lower School at GFS, click here.
Our comprehensive music curriculum helps students become skillful, enthusiastic music makers and appreciators.
Folk songs, representing a variety of cultural traditions, rounds, hymns, spirituals, and contemporary children’s music, form the basic repertoire throughout the Lower School. Instrumental activities are introduced as appropriate throughout the grades, including 10 weeks of small-group violin instruction in third grade and recorder instruction in fourth and fifth grades. Games involving song and movement lay the foundation for dance work.
Kindergartners through fifth graders have music twice weekly, but singing and performing are incorporated throughout the curriculum, through weekly Kindergarten singalongs and regular Lower School assemblies.
Designed to complement the Lower School musical curriculum, Music Ensembles allow students to take part in World Percussion, Chorus, and Orchestra after school, free of charge.
For more information about music at GFS, click here.
The goal of the Physical Education department is to provide developmentally-appropriate activities that are inclusive, stimulating, and safe for all students in grades K-12. Our emphasis is on leading students to discover and develop their individual movement skills and interests through participation in co-educational classes at each grade level. By providing opportunities to develop the social skills requisite for successful group work, competence in movement skills, and an appreciation for the diversity of movement activities, fitness, and skill levels, we hope that students will participate enthusiastically in class activities and beyond. Lower Schoolers attend PE classes at least three times a week, using our indoor and field facilities.
Lower School Woodshop begins in third grade and offers a highly interactive, hands-on experience with tools and materials. Students develop manual dexterity, confidence in problem-solving, and an understanding of how things fit together. A variety of techniques, such as carving and shaping, joinery, mechanical fastening, and applying finishes, are explored in the program to give each student a broad understanding of the scope of woodworking.
For more information about woodshop at GFS, click here.
Quakerism in the Lower School
Our Quaker curriculum provides our community with developmentally-appropriate materials that allow the students access to understanding the history of Quakerism. The curriculum also guides students in developing ownership of the six Quaker Testimonies known as the “SPICES”: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.
Each year, the Lower School focuses on two of these testimonies to guide our work. This allows students to gain an understanding of Quaker history and principles, as well as their appreciation of their dual roles as members of both our local and global communities.
Activities and possessions should not overwhelm us.
Each life is precious and unique.
We are seekers of the truth.
We care for each other.
We are all equal before God.
We use God’s gifts wisely.