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Lower School

Taking the first
important steps in a
lifetime of learning
and caring.

A community that values every child.

Students are nurtured very early on to be both independent learners and community builders. They learn how to plan and work with others. Articulate their learning and thinking and share it with schoolmates and parents. Research and present their findings. Care for classmates and those in different times and places. Each child is affirmed for the unique qualities and strengths they bring to the classrooms and to see limitations as challenges for growth in new ways.

Cultivating skills in literacy and mathematics.

Our students start their journey in literacy by developing a love of story. In the middle of their kindergarten year they begin composing, reading, and writing their own stories. By the end of the year, they’re reading simple stories. In first grade, students are actively involved in word-solving strategies and reading books. They complete a number of writing projects such as writing “how to” books and friendly letters. Second and third graders expand on this foundation, developing stamina, reading and writing both fiction and nonfiction text — biography, poetry, fairy tales. Math at all grades goes beyond numbers and operations to include the domains of geometry, algebraic thinking, measurement and data, and math practices. Students do more than rote calculations. They learn different strategies, develop number sense, and a variety of ways to problem-solve.

A hands-on approach to social studies and science.

Science and social studies are at the center of integrated learning. Exploring essential questions leads students into research. This uses the skills of reading, writing, math and artistic expression as they investigate to discover answers. In a study of flight, first grade students hear about the Tuskegee airmen and the innovators who designed aircraft. They make a variety of paper airplanes and parachutes as they study lift and airflow. They examine pictures in books, noting details. Make their own intricate drawings. And write about what they’ve depicted to share their learning. Second and third grade students learn about Westward Expansion as they study the Oregon Trail and the Trail of Tears. They dramatize encounters. Read about events and record them on a timeline. Write a narrative about one journey. Create artifacts of that era and describe how they were used in presentations to classmates and parents.

Deepening learning through art and music.

We place a strong emphasis on learning through art and music. This continues throughout our students’ time at Mustard Seed School. On a daily basis, they’ll process what they’ve learned in the classroom using artistic mediums. They’ll engage in musical expression, singing, and worship. Each student is unique in the ways they learn and understand. The arts offer a language for students for whom pencil and paper and words are not their primary mode of learning.

For others, the arts present a significant challenge. In a school where so much learning is project-based, skill and a deep understanding of music and art offer students a variety of ways to express their learning. We also know music and art education makes an impact on academics and social-emotional development. These are some of the reasons why Mustard Seed School students have music and art class multiple times a week. And it’s also true that we want children to learn music and art because they’re a part of human flourishing.

01

Kindergarten Who am I? The overarching theme of kindergarten

Kindergarten is a time when young children find their place at school. When they form their identities as students. The social studies curriculum begins by exploring the question Who am I? Then students consider their relationship to others in their learning community and then to those in the world around them.

02

First grade Exploring and Discovering

First grade students are enthusiastic and ready to explore. That’s why first grade encourages students to put their energy into discovering their world.

03

Second/Third grade Meadows, Forests, and Mountains

Second and third grade students work together in multi-grade classes. Each of the three classrooms, the Meadows, the Mountains, and the Forests, is a wonderful mix of second and third grade students.

Curriculum

Kindergarten: Who am I? The overarching theme of kindergarten.

Kindergarten is a time when young children find their place at school. When they form their identities as students. The social studies curriculum begins by exploring the question Who am I? Then students consider their relationship to others in their learning community and then to those in the world around them.

Children continue to learn through play and the art languages in kindergarten. For the young child, learning is unbounded. It is limitless. And boundaries dissolve as curiosity fuels engagement. Through interdisciplinary projects, the arts are infused into all areas of learning, increasing connections in the mind and deepening understanding.

All the while, academic skills are layered in. Children learn across domains. They experiment with number concepts in music and with science in the visual arts. Collage becomes a vehicle for expressing facts learned about architecture in Mexico. Singing folk songs from the Zulu people connect children to the culture. Painting is a medium for showing the anatomy of a plant.

Our skilled kindergarten teachers instill a love of story and a need to communicate. The balanced literacy program used in kindergarten is composed of units of study from Fountas and Pinnell’s Phonics and Guided Reading program and Lucy Calkins at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Another important component is the multisensory approach to learning letter formation from Handwriting Without Tears. Projects and activities designed by classroom teachers respond to student needs and interests. Kindergarten students build a strong foundation of literacy skills and reading readiness.

Mustard Seed follows the TERC Investigations curriculum for mathematics. Math skills begin with classifying and counting tasks. Graphs and measurement skills enter the classroom as students need to communicate and understand quantity. Composing and decomposing numbers in different ways develops the concepts of addition and subtraction. Geometry. Data. Probability. Math is a dynamic study and the students will always be active, using manipulatives, games, and movement in their experience of math in kindergarten.

Other distinctives of the kindergarten year include the baby food collection service project, leading the school in a worship celebration of the story of Palm Sunday, and daily experiences in the Studio, a multidisciplinary arts space.

Additional instruction includes art, music, physical education, and library.

First grade: Exploring and Discovering

First grade students are enthusiastic and ready to explore. That’s why first grade encourages students to put their energy into discovering their world.

Explorers and discoverers are at the heart of the science and social studies curriculum. The integrated themes of study use modules from Delta Science. For example, a science study of water coincides with a social studies unit on those who sailed the seas. A science study of the solar system leads to a study of flight and those who explored in airplanes and rockets. Field trips to the Transit Museum, Central Park Zoo, and the Liberty Science Center, among others, support these theme studies.

Reading and writing happens everywhere in the curriculum. We want each child to experience success and confidence in learning to read and write. A balanced study of literacy occurs in a workshop approach, with small groups meeting and reforming into different groups as students gain skill. Here the teacher walks alongside students as a guide for developing readers and writers. In this format, students work at their own skill level. Teachers provide feedback about the quality and content of their work, strategies for improving, time to learn and practice new skills, and opportunities to share their work with peers and teachers.

The balanced literacy program used is composed of units of study from Fountas and Pinnell’s Phonics and Guided Reading program and Lucy Calkins at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Another important component is the multisensory approach to learning letter formation from Handwriting Without Tears.

Mathematics instruction continues in the TERC Investigations curriculum. Students develop a strong sense of numbers and different strategies to calculate. Numbers and their operations focus on numbers within 100. Other areas of study include measurement, geometry, statistics, and probability.

Instructional time is focused on four critical areas:

  • developing understanding of addition, subtraction, and strategies for addition and subtraction within 20
  • developing understanding of whole number relationships and place value, including grouping in tens and ones
  • developing understanding of linear measurement and measuring lengths as iterating length units
  • reasoning about attributes of, and composing and decomposing geometric shapes.

First grade distinctives include leading the Pentecost celebration, Senior Friends Day, and a 100th day of school celebration. Additional areas of instruction include music, art, physical education, library, and daily experiences in the Shared Space.

Second/Third grade: Meadows, Forests, and Mountains

Second and third grade students work together in multi-grade classes. Each of the three classrooms, the Meadows, the Mountains, and the Forests, is a wonderful mix of second and third grade students.

To ensure that all students interact with interesting challenges, students follow a two-year cycle of study. In this two-year cycle, each year brings new topics.

At the same time, students also progress through the skill expectations that are appropriate to their age and grade level. Math, Spanish, music, and language skills are all presented to students at their particular grade level.

Literacy instruction is often connected to the social studies or science studies the students undertake. The balanced literacy program used is composed of units of study from Fountas and Pinnell’s Word Study and Guided Reading program and Lucy Calkins at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Another important component is the multi-sensory approach to review proper handwriting from Handwriting Without Tears.

Mathematics instruction continues with the TERC Investigations curriculum. Students learn a set of math practices and different strategies to calculate. Areas of study include numbers and their operations, measurement, geometry, statistics, and probability.

In Grade 2, instructional time focuses on four critical areas:

  • extending understanding of base-ten notation
  • building fluency with addition and subtraction
  • using standard units of measure
  • describing and analyzing shapes

In Grade 3, instructional time focuses on four critical areas:

  • developing understanding of multiplication and division and strategies for multiplication and division within 100
  • developing understanding of fractions, especially unit fractions (fractions with numerator 1)
  • developing understanding of the structure of rectangular arrays and of area
  • describing and analyzing two-dimensional shapes

During the fall term each class leads the whole school in celebrating three fall Jewish festivals: Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. Additional areas of instruction include, art, physical education, library, and daily experiences in the Shared Space.

Second/Third Grade Cycle 1: Celebrating Community

Second and third grade students are walking about every week. They explore communities, using Hoboken as a classroom. They ask many questions and visit places in Hoboken that help them explore the answers. For example, students will wonder about government, elections, public works, and city operations. How do people make decisions in our town? How are beautiful things like parks and waterfronts planned? What happens with our garbage and recycling? Who are our local leaders and community servants and what do they do? leads to a walking trip to City Hall or a visit with the mayor or a councilperson.

Hoboken has a history of different communities that have existed within this square-mile city. As students ask community questions at each place they visit, they will find out so much more about where people have come from. What art and architecture they have created. What stories they have to tell. At the same time, of course, they will find out more about themselves!

The study of different communities within Hoboken builds connections to other countries around the globe. During each term students engage in public speaking and present their work with artifacts and labels to their fellow students and parents. From the Lunar New Year to Passover, students will begin to research a country, first China, and then a partner study of another country, which ends with an exhibition at a grand “Global Expo” in early spring.

Second/Third Grade Cycle 2: Changing America

Second and third grade students look at who is an American and how movement within the country, through different time periods, continues to redefine who an American is. In the fall, the focus of study is on immigration and the reasons why people would immigrate to America.

In the winter term, students read and learn about Americans who have been change agents. Then they choose a notable American of their own to research and bring to life as they write a biography and create an artifact, a project that culminates in a wax museum presented to the whole school and parents. In the spring term, students will follow the Oregon Trail and the Trail of Tears as they study the Western Expansion era.

Throughout the year students also complete investigations in science concentrating on soil science, states of matter, and the life cycle of butterflies and moths. A study of poetry rounds out the year as students celebrate their learning in a poetry reading and recital presentation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you teach second and third grade students in a multi-grade environment?

The benefits of multi-grade learning are clear:

  • It enables children to be grouped by need, ability, or interest, not just by age.
  • It builds leadership and responsibility in older children.
  • It solidifies the skills of older children because they have the experience of teaching and working with younger children.
  • It stimulates younger children through working with older children.
  • It increases social experiences. Students have a broader social experience with increased opportunities to lead, follow, collaborate, and foster peer relationships.
How are students assessed?

Lower School students are continually assessed by the teaching staff. This happens in a variety of formats through written work, presentations, representations of knowledge with models and artifacts, interviews, as well as more typical quizzes or tests.

Education is not just about bits of pieces of knowledge shown in a moment. It’s about on-going habits of work and mind, critical and creative thinking, deep understanding, persistence, and flexibility. Meaningful learning activities in school — comparing and contrasting, arguing and defending, gathering and weighing evidence — are important assessments. They show students and teachers what is known and what needs to be learned next. This is the kind of assessment that makes a difference.

Do Lower School students learn a language?

Formal Spanish instruction begins in grades two and three. Prior to that and continuing on through their years at Mustard Seed, students are exposed to many different languages in songs and through interactions with the Spanish teacher.

What does homework look like in the Lower School?

The purpose of homework in the Lower School is to nurture literacy skills and build a strong foundation for independent work on the part of the student. Homework is practiced first in school during the first weeks. Then it is sent home and expected to be completed independently, for the most part. In general, homework is given Monday through Thursday, and not on the weekends.

Homework in kindergarten consists of a parent reading to a child daily.

First grade students, as they learn to read words, shift from having a parent reading to them, to them reading to a parent. Journal writing is introduced and throughout the year expectations increase for the amount of writing students complete at home.

In second grade, students are expected to read and write on their own. Math homework is introduced.

In third grade, students continue with reading, writing, and math.

As a student moves through the Lower School, homework grows in layers, building on previous foundations and preparing students for homework in the Middle School.

Time Limits:

Students should spend about 20 minutes reading or being read to daily. In addition to reading, students should expect to spend the following amount of time on homework:

  • Grade 1: 20 minutes which includes 10 minutes of reading
  • Grade 2: 25 minutes which includes 15 minutes of reading
  • Grade 3: 35 minutes which includes 20 minutes of reading

If homework for any student seems to be taking longer than the given amount of time on a regular basis, inform the teacher so an adjustment can be made.

How will I know how my child is doing?

A parent teacher conference is scheduled for each family in the fall. In this conference, teachers will share observations about a child’s life at school, especially how a child is developing in habits of heart and mind, learning and work. Teachers share a few goals they are working on with the child and ways the family can support these at home. Additional conferences are scheduled as needed.

There are also numerous informal ways to stay informed about what is happening at school. Each week families receive a newsletter from the teachers that contains links to a blog where families can see pictures, student quotes, and descriptions of classroom activities. A weekly school-wide newsletter provides important information about dates and processes for school events.

Teachers keep in touch over email as well. Please don’t ever hesitate to share any questions or concerns you may have with your child’s teacher.

Why is there a “Shared Space”?

Students learn and represent their learning in many ways. This room is dedicated to hands-on experiences for students in the Lower School to facilitate their learning. Visual arts and drama become channels of exploration and discovery, investigation and research, simulation and creation of artifacts connected to the studies in the classroom. When students have many ways to represent their learning, their connections broaden and their understanding deepens.

How firm are you about age cutoff dates?

We’re flexible about many things. We’re firm about our cutoff dates. Years of experience and research back up our policy. A child must be five before September 1 to begin kindergarten. A child must be six before September 1 to begin first grade. Read more on this topic.

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