Our Programs

Lower School Curriculum

    • Lower School at Friends


2022-2023 Lower School & Preschool Curriculum

A core belief of Quakerism is that “there is that of God in everyone.” Teachers value the individuality and voice of each child and create classroom environments where six testimonies are explored (in ways appropriate to the age of the students): Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. 

All lower school students gather weekly in Meeting for Worship, the center of Quaker expression. This time of quiet reflection is largely defined by each individual and informed by each person’s own religious tradition and identity. Sometimes a student or teacher may feel inspired to stand and speak, sharing a thought that is formed during worship. An example of a young child’s message might be, “I love my school because you get to have so many friends,” or, “I’m really sad that my dog is sick.” Meeting for Worship can look differently depending on the age of the children in a classroom, and the format in which it is set. For example, students meet for worship as a whole lower school division, with their buddy class or within their own classroom.

Teachers also carry the tenets of Quakerism into our conflict resolution program as children are supported in working toward independence in solving problems with peers.


The School Day
The school day runs from 8:00 -3:00 each day, with a noon dismissal option available for preschool and pre-kindergarten families. Early morning care is available, at no extra charge, beginning at 7:30 am. Families may enroll in the After-School Program, with a choice of 4:45 or 6:00pm pick-up, either by contract (for the same days each week) or as needed on a drop-in basis. Childcare is also available during designated school vacations and on designated noon dismissal days. Lower School Summer Camp operates for 10 weeks each summer, serving children ages three through fifth grade.
Staffing and Resources
Our Early Years classrooms (preschool and pre-kindergarten) are staffed with a lead teacher and full-time assistant teacher. Staffing in grades kindergarten through five is based on enrollment and our understanding of the needs of students as they move through the elementary grades. While younger students need more support in developing independence and school-readiness skills, older students are best supported in more academic-focused skill development. We employ a reading specialist and math specialists, who work under the direction of the Learning Resources Coordinator to complement classroom instruction in critical skill development. Depending on the needs at each grade level, this may include small push-in or pull-out groups, team teaching or other modes of support. 

In addition, we employ associate teachers who support the work of the homebase teacher. They are trained to provide additional academic and social-emotional support to students, as they gain valuable experience related to working in a Quaker, independent school setting. Though our staffing needs change from year to year, in grades K through two, classrooms are typically staffed by a lead teacher and an associate teacher, who works either full-day or part-day, depending on class size. In grades three and four, the addition of associate teachers is dependent on class size.
Interdisciplinary Themes
Much of the lower school curriculum is integrated and teachers work in teams to coordinate projects across disciplines. For example, a first grade insect study includes research skills, safe internet use, digital design and an art and Spanish component. 

Reading Blocks, grades 1-2
Class Structure, grades 2-4

Class Structure
Through grade three, students remain with the homebase teacher for the bulk of instruction in math, language arts, and social studies. In fourth grade, in addition to having a home base teacher who is responsible for instruction in reading and social studies,students rotate through classes in writing and math, with one teacher responsible for instruction in those content areas for the entire grade. In fifth grade, where there are three sections, students rotate through classes in reading, science and social studies. Each homebase teacher is also responsible for instruction in math and writing. The reading and math specialists, under the guidance of our Learning Resources Coordinator, partner with teachers in all grades to provide guidance and instruction as needed. 

Classes beyond the core subjects are known at lower school as “specials.” Beginning in pre-k, every student has classes each week in physical education, Spanish, art, and music; students are also introduced to STEM Lab activities starting in pre-kindergarten. Beginning in kindergarten, students also have science lab classes and computer lab classes. Library Media Center/Information Literacy classes are designed in coordination with homebase classroom activities. Preschool and pre-kindergarten students visit the arts studio for music and art. 

Throughout lower school, homework is designed to reinforce concepts and skills. Until fifth grade, homework is typically assigned for math and/or language arts, and occasionally in other areas. In first and second grade, children have a variety of math and language arts hands-on activities to choose from at home that are extensions of their learning at school. In third and fourth grade, more specific work is assigned on a regular basis. By the time they reach fifth grade, their homework assignments are longer and may not be due for several days in order to support the development of good time management skills. Reading is encouraged on a regular basis at home, and the expectation for independent reading grows as the student moves through lower school. By the time a student reaches fifth grade, they should be reading for 120 minutes per week, whether in shorter more frequent sessions, or in less frequent but longer sessions.
Optional Activities
Choir and band are offered to fourth and fifth-grade students and no audition is required. Band sectionals occur once a week before the school day begins, and the full band practices once a week during the school day. Choir practice may be scheduled before, after or during school, depending on interest and availability.
Progress Reports and Conferences
For preschool through fifth grade, progress reports are received four times during the year – once each term from homebase teachers and once a semester from each specialist teacher. Parent-teacher conferences are also held two times during the year – once in the fall and once in late winter or early spring; they are aligned with homebase progress reports. Reports from specialist teachers are issued in late January and again at the end of the year.

Technology Program
Wilmington Friends provides I-pads for students in grades PS-3 and laptops for students in grades four and five. The devices provide access to a variety of programs and activities that support learning in the classroom, from online reading catalogs, research sites, coding and web tools, and practice or enrichment in math and language arts. The availability of devices for students is not simply to expand the use of digital-age tools, but to make the most of the opportunities presented by technology in service of our educational and philosophical mission. The potential of technology for collaboration across all kinds of boundaries aligns with the Quaker belief in collective wisdom and the commitment tof Quaker schools to prepare and inspire students “to make a better world.” It also aligns with research demonstrating that technology as a thoughtfully applied tool within a quality curriculum deepens student engagement, supporting both independent learning (through differentiated instruction) and collaborative problem solving.

Lower school students progress from learning to read to reading to learn, with building skills in receptive and expressive language. Our focus is on the conceptual understanding that allows for inference, prediction, and abstraction. Throughout the program, students are immersed in a literature- and language-rich environment, exploring different genres, and learning to appreciate a variety of cultures and traditions through reading and research. Challenging students to meet high standards, while developing an enthusiasm for learning and a lifelong love of reading are key objectives of the program.

We seek to provide students with a variety of skills and opportunities for self-expression that will allow for their fullest possible participation in the learning process and in the school and broader communities. In the language arts program, students are supported in expressing their ideas, feelings, and observations openly, effectively, and appropriately in both written and verbal form. Again, expectations rise steadily throughout the program, with high standards in the development and organization of ideas, the use of strong word choice and clear sentence structure, and the application of proper grammar and mechanics. Encouraging students to feel confident in expressing themselves and in presenting their work is also of great importance.

We acquire core materials that support the philosophy and objectives of our program, but the curriculum and classroom tools are not limited to such materials. In language arts, materials include the Reading and Writing Workshop Models, Words Their Way, Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, Wilson Language Program, and the Wordly Wise Vocabulary Program.

In grades K-5, we use a “Singapore Math” based curriculum. The Singapore Math approach is grounded in problem solving. It emphasizes the development of strong number sense, excellent mental math skills, and a deep understanding of place value. The curriculum is based on a progression from the use of concrete manipulatives to pictorial representations to the abstract algorithm. This teaching sequence gives students a solid understanding of basic mathematical concepts and relationships before they start working at the abstract level. Of equal importance to the concepts and skills presented is the manner in which teachers engage students and provide opportunities for students to monitor their own thinking and develop attitudes of perseverance and confidence. You will often hear teachers asking students, “Are you sure; how do you know?” Whether an answer is correct or incorrect, students are encouraged to explain and articulate their thinking.

Our math curriculum has a strong emphasis on model drawing, a visual approach to solving word problems that helps students organize information and solve problems in a step-by-step manner. The bar modeling approach to problem solving offers a clear logic in solving word problems, a competency that can be difficult for children to master. Finally, math concepts are taught to mastery. While many U.S. math curricula have traditionally covered many subjects, this curriculum teaches fewer concepts in far greater depth. Teaching to mastery also creates an environment where students are able to develop a sense of ownership and perseverance when approaching their learning.

The lower school math program is grounded in the standards and principles of the Common Core Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), draws from national and international research, and applies the proven best practices of mathematics teachings, with a purposeful connection of mathematical studies to “real-world” situations and to other disciplines. Our goal is to help students achieve 21st century math literacy, with the full range of qualities necessary for them to succeed as mathematical thinkers.

Math is experienced and applied beyond “math class,” often in computer science and in science activities. Teachers in these disciplines work with homebase teachers to use common language and approaches.

Lower School Science is an inquiry-based program that fosters all aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and 21st century learning using the Next Generation Science Standards as a guide to student learning. Our program focuses on the three dimensions of science education: scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.Through hands-on, collaborative learning, all students engage in the science and engineering design processes. The science process utilizes children’s natural curiosity. They are encouraged to ask questions, explore, and investigate to find the answers to their questions. Each year, students are exposed to a variety of topics across all science disciplines including life, earth, and physical sciences. The engineering design process focuses on the application of science concepts, critical thinking, and problem solving. Students look to identify a problem, ask questions, imagine, plan, and create solutions to the problem. Our science program uses a “spiral” approach in which concepts and skills are continually refined, strengthened, and expanded upon in successive grades.

These explorations benefit from facilities including a “traditional” science lab and the STEM Lab. The traditional science lab is equipped with materials, lab tables, and stools that provide students a more formal setting to study biology and chemistry topics. The STEM Lab provides students in Prekindergarten through 2nd grade with materials and space to explore physical science and engineering topics. For example, first grade students may use the loft in the STEM lab as a platform to drop parachutes they design and build. The more "traditional" science lab is utilized by 3rd and 4th grade students providing them with age appropriate space and materials. Both labs have SMART Boards, and the STEM Lab also has a SMART Table that allows students to interact and collaborate with each other.

Many science topics are part of cross-curricular units. In the past, some of these units have been “Beans” in pre-kindergarten, “Structures” in kindergarten, and “Monarch Butterflies” in first grade. These units were taught in collaboration with science, Spanish, art, and the homebase teacher.

In pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, the social studies curriculum is centered in the homebase classroom, coordinated with work in the “specials.” Students study physical geography, culture, biographies, and history. The curriculum expands from the students’ own experiences (self, family) to larger communities of which they are members and in which they have responsibilities (school, city, state, country), with global connections throughout the progression. Skills in research and presentation are emphasized with increasing expectations at each level, with both teacher-directed and student-selected topics. In all of our social studies units, the Quaker principles of stewardship, peace, integrity, community, equality and simplicity provide a foundation for our learning.

The Spanish program is designed to introduce students to the Spanish language and to Hispanic cultures, both for their inherent value and to lay the foundation for future language learning and a lasting appreciation for diversity. Given demographic trends in our country, familiarity with this language and culture is especially valuable to students. The program revisits prior material to ensure that skills are reinforced annually, while new content is also added to provide more variety and depth as students progress through the program. Students engage in activities that generate enthusiasm for the study of language and culture while learning basic communication skills in the target language. The program focuses on developing strong oral-aural skills while gradually introducing reading and writing in Spanish.

The computer science curriculum is a critical thinking and problem-solving course designed to encourage active learning, creativity, and exploration. It is presented through the following five strands: computational thinking; collaboration; computing practice and programming; computers and communication devices; and community, global, and ethical impacts. Our curriculum is based on the National Standards set by the Computer Science Teachers Association. Beginning in fourth grade (and through 12th grade), students have school-issued laptops, as part of the “one-to-one” technology program at Friends.
Computational thinking is an approach to defining and then solving problems in ways that can be implemented with a computer. Our students experience collaboration most often in pair programming activities and in the collection and analysis of data. Computing practice and programming involve exploring the use of programming to solve problems. Topics under computers and communication devices include teaching about computing devices in everyday life and how to troubleshoot commonly encountered software and hardware issues. Whenever a new technology is introduced to students, we engage them in discussion around the impacts of that technology.
Children’s play is the foundation of a performing arts education. Speech, song, movement, and dramatic play combine to actively engage learners with the elements of music, movement, and drama. As students create music by speaking, singing, playing instruments and moving, they learn 21st century skills such as creative expression, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.

Through a sequential program encouraging active participation and self-expression, students develop musical understanding and appreciation. The music curriculum is coordinated with other classroom lessons⏤social science and geography studies, for example⏤so that students might learn music from cultural traditions they are studying, or so that composer biographies are timed to fit with other biographical studies. Skills in music are also related to other disciplines, such as the science of sound production and the math of musical notation.

Opportunities to participate in dramatic performance and dramatic play are woven throughout the curriculum, further developing creativity and self-expression. Through lower school, students cultivate a sense of themselves as creative and expressive individuals with responsibilities to a larger community, grow increasingly comfortable with risk taking, learn movement and drama skills, and develop critical and creative thinking skills.

All students perform in winter and spring concerts, and individual classes have the opportunity for smaller musical and dramatic group performances throughout the year. Every fifth grade student performs in a spring musical theater production. Students in fourth and fifth grade may choose to participate (no audition required) in band and/or choir.
The mission of the Physical Education Department at WFS is to promote lifelong learning through physical activity, exercise, and sport while supporting students in making health conscious decisions, meeting challenges, and participating in mentally positive behaviors.
The lower school physical education curriculum offers children the opportunity to develop their physical and social emotional skills. The program is spiraling and sequential, offering age-appropriate games, activities, and fitness opportunities. Effort, empathy, cooperation, communication, and healthy risk-taking are emphasized and are considered essential components of a student’s growth as an athlete and community member.

All lower school students receive formal visual art instruction. Three art teachers lead the program at the lower school, teaching the core visual arts curriculum in an interdisciplinary fashion. The visual arts program is designed to be a vehicle for creative and personal discovery, in which students learn about themselves, their environment, world cultures, and the history of the visual arts. The program provides an ongoing exploration of concepts, techniques, and materials designed to develop each student’s ability to create innovative visual solutions. Students are encouraged to express themselves with joy, imagination, clarity, responsibility, and skill, and at all grade levels are encouraged to explore personal solutions to assignments. 

The Library Media Center (LMC) is an integral part of the lower school education program, fostering lifelong enthusiasm for the process of learning and for reading, developing an appreciation for different cultures through literature and non-fiction research, teaching specific learning skills, and developing students’ sense of responsibility in using a shared resource. We recognize that students retain skills best when our lessons are taught in the context of the classroom curriculum, so information-seeking strategies and other library-related skills are taught in various subject areas. Our program is based on the National Standards set by the American Association of School Librarians entitled Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

Teaching units are planned closely with classroom teachers and integrate lessons based on a unique combination of the Big Six Information Problem Solving Model as well as the I-Search model of inquiry. We have meshed the idea of the Big Six, which is a more linear approach to research, with I-Search to emphasize our interest in having students follow their interests. The Big Six addresses essential steps of research including task definition, locating and evaluating information, and presenting information. I-Search, originally developed by Macrorie for the collegiate level, has been successfully adapted to the elementary level and is an excellent construct for multi-disciplinary learning. I-Search is designed recognizing inquiry as a non-linear process. It spirals as learners adapt new perceptions and new queries. Students become immersed in the topic by constructing good questions. Students develop ownership of the topic because they choose it. They feel empowered and motivated to discover the answers. Journal writing is built into this model; students become more reflective and deepen their awareness of their topic and the process.

WFS offers a distinctive model in which information literacy is interwoven with technology so that students are practicing their skills in the most meaningful possible way. Students are introduced to many ways of organizing and presenting their ideas, from programs like Inspiration and Microsoft Office to Web 2.0 tools like Voicethread, Glogster, and Google Docs. At age-appropriate levels, students are introduced to Internet safety and their role in becoming good digital citizens. We embrace opportunities to collaborate with other students as well as other communities and cultures with a firm belief that sharing increases opportunities for global learning.

Additionally, the Library hosts author/illustrator visits to further appreciation of literature. We have hosted Newbery authors Grace Lin and Rita Garcia-Williams, as well as Nick Bruel, Nancy Carol Willis, Kevin O’Malley, Peter Catalanotto, and Kate Klise; we have Skyped with other classrooms as well as with poet/author Debbie Levy. The library contracts for speakers from the Delaware Humanities Council to enhance the classroom curriculum. The Library also coordinates interactive webcasts to connect students with authors and global experts.

Human Dynamics and Development is a cross-divisional (lower, middle, and upper school) program at Wilmington Friends, encompassing social and emotional awareness, interpersonal relationships, and healthy living habits, including strategies and processes for making informed decisions. Themes in lower school Human Dynamics and Development include treating others with respect, building community, peaceful resolution of conflict, appropriate expression of emotions, taking healthy risks, increasing independence and self-reliance, and making informed and healthy choices.