Lower School Curriculum

Through the Lower School curriculum, students begin to explore the world around them. They acquire excellent reading and writing skills, encounter the basic concepts of science and math, begin to study Spanish, and express themselves creatively through art, dance, drama and music. Every student is encouraged to become a life-long learner and leaves the Lower School well-prepared for the increasing challenges of Chapin’s Middle School.

Fine and Performing Arts

Recognizing that the arts help us to appreciate and express both the individuality and shared threads of the human experience, we believe that cultivating artistic expression is a central tenet in our quest for our students to construct and demonstrate understanding. As we work with each student to build her capacity for innovation and creativity, we seek to deepen each student's experience in the visual and performing arts.

Our strategic initiatives demand that we examine how the arts can more powerfully interact with other subjects of study. To support this important work, each division has a dedicated Arts Specialist who, in collaboration with grade-level teachers, creates an arts curriculum that focuses on literacy in the visual arts, dance, drama and music, as well as cultivates a synergy between the arts and other subject fields, all to serve the important purpose of "education in the arts and education through the arts."


The Lower School dance curriculum is based on creative movement that taps into each student’s individuality, inventiveness, and imagination. The developing and strengthening of both body and spatial awareness are fostered, and girls are encouraged to take risks and explore their imaginations.

Collaborative projects are an essential component of the dance curriculum, providing students with opportunities to develop the language of dance, express ideas, problem solve and create original choreography. The dance curriculum integrates with both homeroom and other disciplines to deepen a student’s overall academic experience.


Lower School Music is a sequential and experiential program inspired by the Kodály and Orff approaches, which aims to cultivate musical curiosity and a love of making music. Students learn through aural and physical activities, which lead to visual representations and musical notation, and they have the opportunity to sing a diverse repertoire of authentic multicultural folk music in solo and ensemble settings.

Throughout their time in the Lower School, girls will develop musical skills through playing cooperative games, singing, listening, moving, improvising, reading and writing music. Percussion instruments including glockenspiels and xylophones are used across all grade levels to reinforce rhythmic and melodic understanding. Each year, students have opportunities to perform in concerts as well as in interdisciplinary presentations.


Drama in the Lower School provides students the opportunity to cultivate creativity, express their learning through performance, and develop skills such as empathy and confidence while deepening their connection to each other and the world around them.

In Kindergarten, through puppetry and role-playing, girls develop social-emotional skills such as conflict resolution and communication. In Class 1, they use stories as a jumping off point for their exploration, which allows each student to consider, examine, and embrace attitudes that differ from their own. Community, communication and choices and consequences are at the core of the Drama work in Kindergarten and Class 1.

In Classes 2 and 3, girls write and perform original plays, learn the fundamentals of theater making and develop the tools to facilitate their creative endeavors. We begin by focusing on the core elements of story building: character, action, and setting. Each play-building process spans several months, allowing the students to watch as their ideas blossom into a fully realized story.

As their time in the Lower School concludes, students expand their understanding of theater making beyond acting. They study theatrical design, gaining a basic understanding of how design is part of storytelling in the theater. Lighting, set and costume design is also introduced.

Visual Arts


The Lower School art studio is filled with excitement, collaboration and experimentation. The art program introduces each girl to a wide range of artistic methods and materials. Throughout Lower School, students are introduced to artistic concepts expanding on their understanding of methods and materials, and challenging their ability to think and create visually. They learn about sculpture, construction, basic printmaking and painting among a wide variety of media and visual concepts. Classes are intentionally designed to integrate with several subjects such as library, math, science, social studies and technology. As students progress through lower school, they strengthen their artistic skills while exploring new mediums. Units address Priority Learning Outcomes which identify art skills and knowledge that a student will have as she moves on to the Middle School.

Language Arts

Our Language Arts program aims to develop joyful, passionate and critical readers, creative writers and skilled communicators. The program balances each of the four strands: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Developing these essential skills helps our students make insights out of observations, meaning of their lives and to think about the ideas of others

Our balanced approach includes three major components: Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, and Word Study. In Reading Workshop, students select from a wide variety of books according to their interests and “just-right” levels. During interactive read-alouds and when reading independently, our young students learn the habits of good readers – stopping to interact with a story, asking questions, making connections with prior knowledge and responding to multiple viewpoints.

In every classroom in the Lower School, our students, even the youngest, are competent writers with interesting ideas and stories to tell. We focus on developing both the skills and the process of writing, allowing the girls to take ownership of the techniques modeled during mini lessons and begin to apply them independently. With intentional instruction and support, they learn to write meaningful and exciting pieces just like “real” writers.

Learning Resources

In a learning environment that is adaptive and collaborative, the Lower School learning team supports students’ development and potential across the curriculum. They work with girls both in and out of their homeroom classrooms and collaborate with classroom teachers to fine-tune their teaching practices to best suit each student’s needs. They are an integral part of each grade level team and meet weekly to provide resources that help teachers reinforce or extend concepts with their students. In addition to their work in the classroom, the Learning Resource teachers partner with families in support of students.


The Lower School Library and information program aims to grow and stretch our students intellectually, creatively, and emotionally and foster a love of reading and learning that will last a lifetime. Ensuring access to an inclusive, diverse, and age-appropriate collection of high-interest resources on a multitude of topics, we expose our students to a wide variety of reading experiences, ideas, activities, and concepts. At 28,000 books, the Lower School Library collection is curated to meet the needs of the larger Chapin community: both fiction and non-fiction books are used to support school-wide initiatives, enrich curricular goals in the classrooms and provide academic and pleasure reading for the students and their families.


The Lower School Mathematics Program allows students to construct understanding from their own experiences. As such, students are actively engaged in acquiring knowledge as opposed to passively receiving it. 

Through a mix of inquiry-based explorations, real-world problems, games, and direct instruction, students develop deep conceptual understanding and problem solving skills that they gradually generalize to procedural computations. During daily discussions, students learn to communicate in the language of math, make connections between concepts and apply their understanding to novel situations.

Throughout their time in Lower School,  students engage in 4 ”Cs” – Constructing Understanding, Connecting Ideas, Communicating Thinking and Computing with Numbers.

Physical Education

The core content of our Lower School physical education program is designed specifically to foster the enjoyment of movement, to develop physical and cognitive abilities, to guide social and emotional growth, and to cultivate character through decision-making and mediation activities. In Kindergarten and Class 1, locomotor and manipulative skills are emphasized on a regular basis. These critical skills are the foundation for more specialized learning and greater skill acquisition in Classes 2 and 3.

Teachers create an environment where students feel safe and supported. Group activities and game play are included throughout the curriculum to build skills related to communication, cooperation, and compromise, all of which are essential elements to developing a sense of community here at Chapin. Fun fitness is a key component of class along with discussions related to making healthy choices. Classes 1 through 3 meet three times per cycle for 45 minutes and Kindergarten meets four times per cycle. The student-teacher ratio is kept small in order to maximize learning through individual attention. By the time students leave Lower School, they have a basic skill foundation (jumping, throwing, striking, catching, kicking, balancing, etc.), an age-appropriate understanding of rules and strategies, a respect for and an appreciation of others, and a healthy spirit toward all aspects of movement and play.


The Lower School science curriculum is inquiry based and hands-on. Capitalizing on children’s natural curiosity and wonder, the science lab is buzzing with excitement, where the unexpected can happen and questions abound. In our program, students are introduced to the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, and experimentation. In each grade, they are exposed to earth science, life science, physical science, and engineering (S.T.E.M.). Through active exploration and developmentally appropriate activities, young scientists build an understanding of the world around them while designing models, planting seeds, programming robots, and building bridges. Most importantly, the Lower Science science program emphasizes the process of learning and the joy of discovery.

Social Studies

The foundation for the Lower School Social Studies curriculum is built on the concept of community, which informs our understanding of the past as well as our ideas for the future. Within this study of community, children become caring learners who feel valued for their unique experiences and cultural background.
They learn to respect differences and embrace individuality, develop relationships, resolve conflicts, cultivate empathy and collaborate with their peers. The Lower School teachers help our students to appreciate the value of living in diverse and sustainable environment and to understand their responsibility as citizens of our school, our neighborhood, our city, our country, and the global community.

Using an inquiry-based approach and integrating with other subjects, students develop a series of questions to help guide their research and problem solve. Our youngest learners explore and share their family histories before learning about the people and cultures of the Chapin community. Exercising creativity and imagination, students in Class 1 consider the question "How can we build an equitable, creative and sustainable community?" Stories and storytelling serve as the cornerstone of the Class 2 study of New York City. Throughout the year, the students develop an understanding of how storytelling serves as a valuable and necessary agent in building bridges among diverse groups of people. They explore the stories of their lives and skillfully investigate the stories of Lenape natives, Dutch settlers, immigrants, Humans of New York, New York landmarks, and refugees. Through a variety of activities designed to foster critical thinking, self-advocacy, and creativity, they also learn about the city from its founding to the present day.

In the final year of the Lower School, the Class 3 curriculum provides an experience for global connections and a realization of the importance of interdependence. Eager to discover more about people, places, and environments, girls research aspects of India, China, and Kenya. They learn to identify similarities and differences and think critically about what communities have in common. Students initiate and investigate topics for study then work both independently and collaboratively on research projects, emphasizing choice-making and creativity. During Chapin’s annual Class 3 Play, the students take their teachers, parents and Lower School peers on a “journey” around the world. They also investigate and advocate for global equity while learning about gender and socio-economic equality through a variety of Service Learning projects.


The Lower School Spanish program is learner-centered and provides a culturally rich language experience that develops communication skills and a keen ear for the sound of Spanish. Students acquire the language by engaging in and interacting with storytelling, learning folk songs, playing games and exploring Spanish artists. Supporting an integrated curriculum, we collaborate with other disciplines and create units that infuse content studied in STEAM and the Social Studies program. All classes are taught entirely in Spanish.

Beginning in Kindergarten, we introduce Spanish through whole group instruction three times a cycle, in addition to leading morning meetings and incorporating the language in playful ways during Learning Centers. In Classes 1, 2, and 3 the contact time increases to include both whole group and small group instruction.

Tech Integration

In the Lower School, technology integration is seamlessly woven into the learning process, enhancing curriculum across disciplines and grade levels. Using both low and high tech tools, technology is used in a purposeful and meaningful way, to enhance the classroom experiences and promote higher-order thinking through problem solving. Through integration, students are empowered to think more critically, communicate more effectively, solve problems more creatively, and be actively engaged in their learning.

Students in the Lower School use an array of technology and benefit from the 1:1 iPad program. In addition to learning how to use iPads and Laptops, students are introduced to computer programming and the Design Process.

In Kindergarten and Class 1, students learn to program different robots such as Blue-Bots and Ozobots. They practice sequencing, directionality, and problem-solving skills. In Class 2, students embark in a trimester Robotics Unit, where they use Lego WeDo Kits and build different mechanical devices -- a robotic arm, a recycling truck, and a rover. Programming and documenting their robotic devices with their iPads provides the opportunity to document their progress. In Class 3, students learn to program a robot using Lego Mindstorms, which culminates in a Robotics Boot Camp. 

Tinker Time, introduced in Kindergarten and Class 1, encourages students to ask questions, make mistakes and explore firsthand how everyday objects work. It also introduces the Design Thinking Process. Students learn to empathize (with their intended audience in mind), define the problem, ideate creative possibilities, build a prototype, test and reflect.