Moorestown Friends School’s twin pillars of academic rigor and ethical development come to life each day for our Preschool (age 3) through Grade 4 students. In small classes, students participate in an integrated program of reading, writing, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science organized around diverse themes and student-initiated investigations. Learning is hands-on; subjects come alive as students read, write, ask questions, interview experts, conduct experiments, take field trips and share their learning.
Students are taught to think critically: to gather complete information, be precise, develop a plan when solving a problem, and shift strategies when needed. Engagement in visual arts, music, physical education, computers, library use, and Coding complement the academic program.
The Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship are an integral part of every grade and every classroom. Teachers support students in the use of peaceful conflict resolution and peer mediation. Service learning projects take place throughout the year and are both student- and school-initiated.
Through our commitment to academic rigor and spiritual and ethical development, Moorestown Friends’ Lower School strives to help students develop tough minds and tender hearts.
To learn more about our curriculum, please download the At a Glance fact sheets for each grade level (below).
Moorestown Friends School is one of the only schools in the United States to offer a Coding program to all Lower School students – Preschool through Grade 4. The program also extends into Grade 5. This innovative program has three strands: coding, problem-solving, and teamwork. These skills will be in high demand as the 21st century progresses. So whether your child becomes a doctor, chemist, theatrical set designer, librarian, lawyer, or computer programmer, (s)he will be equipped with valuable computational thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills developed from an early age. An article in a recent edition of Harvard Magazine noted that as technological innovations drive virtually every industry and shape social spaces on line, students who have computational knowledge “have a jump-start in access to these careers, and they have insight into the nature of innovation that is changing how we communicate, learn, recreate, and conduct democracy.”
To view a video that explains Coding in more detail, please click here.
The Lower School Language Arts curriculum gives students the tools necessary to be actively literate students. Through a balanced, literature-based approach, which combines systematic teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness (primarily in grades K-1) with the use of authentic children’s literature, students learn not only the skills to read and understand a variety of texts, but also develop a lifelong love of reading and writing. Beginning in Kindergarten, students are taught through a workshop format which includes whole-class and small-group lessons as well as independent work time. This format motivates students by giving them choice and the ability to connect their reading and writing with their lives. Through emphasizing independence, students develop the confidence to succeed and continuously stretch themselves as readers and writers. Teachers are able to match the teaching of reading and writing skills to the developmental needs of the students which allows all students to be actively involved in the learning process. Children read, write, speak, and listen by immersing themselves in meaningful experiences and in this way they learn the diverse purposes and a love for developing and using these skills.
Research has revealed that the single most important activity in early childhood for building understandings and skills essential for reading success is reading aloud to children (Wells 1985; Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini 1995). Our Early Childhood teachers read to children daily and actively engage children in each story read by asking predictive and analytic questions to build children’s vocabulary and comprehension of stories. Children talk about the pictures, retell the story, discuss their favorite actions, and request multiple readings. It is the talk that surrounds the reading that gives it power, helping children to bridge what is in the story with their own lives and helping build their love of literature.
A central goal in our reading program during these early years is to develop children’s concepts about print. Teachers use a variety of high quality texts to help children distinguish many print features, including the fact that print (rather than pictures) carries the meaning of the story, that the strings of letters between spaces are words and in print correspond to an oral version, and that reading progresses from left to right and top to bottom.
Through a workshop approach to reading beginning in Kindergarten our teachers model real reading behaviors and provide instruction on how to read strategically. Children learn through shared reading experiences, teacher directed lessons, small group guided reading experiences, and partner and individual reading. Over time, students feel confident and excited to pick up a book, knowing they have plenty of tools to read and construct meaning from a text.
Books chosen by the teacher and shared with the class expose children to a variety of genre of children’s literature (such as folk tales, historical fiction, poems, plays, biographies). These whole class experiences offer an opportunity to teach comprehension skills through discussions centering on story elements, vocabulary, making inferences, using prior knowledge, summarizing, and asking questions. In addition to whole class instruction, small guided reading groups are used by the teacher to focus on specific reading strategies or fluency practice. Each group’s lesson is tailor-fit to meet the needs of those students.
After shared reading experiences and strategy instruction, students practice reading strategies independently with books of their own interest and on their level. For students to truly become proficient, sophisticated readers, they must be given time to read in books that are a perfect fit. This is a time of active reading, when students use the strategies taught during mini-lessons. Each student spends time deeply exploring texts and connecting them to their own lives and the world around them.
During independent reading time the teacher conferences with individuals and may pull small groups to practice a reading strategy and/or to assess student progress. During these conferences the teacher assesses each child. The teacher learns about students’ reading interests, observes strategies used while reading, listens for fluency, and assesses comprehension. Through these conferences the teacher determines teaching points for future mini-lessons.
The expectation is to have all of our students read on or above grade level. Children are routinely assessed by their classroom teacher with the help of the Reading Specialist. Using the results of these assessments, a child may be referred by the classroom teacher, with the approval of the Lower School Director, for a reading evaluation by the Reading Specialist. Results of the evaluation, which assesses reading level and gives guidance for instruction, may be used to place a child in a small group for reading instruction. The goal of small group instruction in reading is to provide highly structured, intense reading instruction to children in grade levels K-4. At the lower grade levels, instruction involves training in phonemic awareness and strengthening a child’s mastery of sound-symbol relationships. This is combined with the building of a basic sight vocabulary and the reading of many simple phonetically based and sight word oriented readers. In grades 3 and 4, comprehension strategies, vocabulary building and writing skills are added.
In the early grades, spelling goes through different stages, depending on a child’s developmental readiness. This spelling progression often goes from random letters, beginning consonant sounds, ending sounds, experimentation with vowels and blending, working toward the final goal of conventional spelling. Children discover the differences and similarities in words through use of big books, charts, word walls, daily news, labels, and other reading opportunities throughout the day.
In Kindergarten and the beginning of First Grade students use “invented spelling”. They phonetically sound out and write the letters they hear. Invented spelling is an auditory experience of spelling which becomes increasingly accurate as children’s reading skills are learned. Auditory, tactile and visual memory experiences help young children become aware of conventional spelling. It is taught progressively from beginning, ending and middle consonant letters to short and long vowels. These experiences help children make the transition from invented spelling to conventional spelling. Children also work in small groups with games to practice phonics skills and sight words.
In Kindergarten through Fourth Grade, children develop their knowledge of words through a program called Words Their Way: Word Study in Action. This hands-on program teaches students how to look closely at words to discover the regularities and conventions of spelling. The heart of Words Their Way is the process of sorting sounds and words into specific categories. Students learn to look closely at words to discover letters, vowel patterns, syllable structures and spelling-meaning connections in English Orthography. The sorting activities include teacher-directed instruction as well as paired and independent learning. Through these activities students develop essential elements of reading including phonological awareness, phonics and word recognition, and vocabulary.
Our writing curriculum teaches students to be proficient writers for a number of purposes. Whether students want to tell a story about something important that happened to them, write a letter, make a list, record an observation, or report facts learned from research, students learn to become fluent writers that convey meaning through writing.
Our Early Childhood Program helps children learn the functions of writing. It is important for children to understand that writing is a way of sharing one’s ideas and knowledge; it is a method of personal communication and conveys a message that can be read at a later time. Each early childhood classroom environment provides meaningful writing opportunities daily. These opportunities may include having children sign-in each day, providing an observation journal for each student in the science area, and having writing materials be part of the “props” in the dramatic play area. This can include pads for making shopping lists, index cards for writing recipes, or large paper for making posters advertising a class play. Early Childhood teachers ask children to dictate or write stories to go with their artwork. They provide alphabet letters (for example, charts, magnets, books) as reference tools and display them where children can easily see or reach them.
Through writing workshop beginning in Kindergarten students spend time daily writing about things that interest them. Students learn about and experiment with a variety of genres including opinion/argument writing, narrative writing, and information writing. Students learn the craft of writing through practice, conferring, and studying the craft of other authors. The ultimate goal of a writing workshop is to empower students with the skills and the understanding of purposes of writing that allows them to develop as life-long writers. The writing workshop includes a lesson, a work time with conferring and a sharing time.
Collaboration with peers and teacher is inherent in this model. Process writing focuses primarily on what children want to communicate. Writing Workshop differs from other forms of writing instruction because students are writing individual stories based on their own experiences. Students are also writing at their own ability level. Students are encouraged to use the strategies that we have learned to write at “their personal best”. That level is different for every student. As students work independently, the teacher is conferring with authors individually or in small groups to address the needs and strengths of the students.
Incorporated within these units of study, we constantly reinforce the Traits of Good Writing: ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions. Students study the works of published writers as well as examine student writing as they learn about the format of each genre as well as the conventions that make writing strong.
While the writing process looks slightly different at each grade level, students are learning to use the writing process which includes Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, Editing and Publishing (see Appendix 1). In the earliest grades the emphasis is put on Drafting and expressing ideas clearly, and as students become more fluent and sophisticated in their skills, they put more emphasis on the revising and editing part of the process. No matter what age the student is, there is an emphasis on publishing work because we believe that the purpose of writing is communicating with others. Students are motivated and excited by seeing their work in a final form, and they learn the importance of following standard conventions in the process.
Besides sharing their writing with their classmates, teachers and parents, Lower School students have the opportunity to share with students in other grade levels. Several times a year students in Kindergarten through Fourth Grade meet in small author sharing groups to read their writing. The groups are comprised of boys and girls from every grade level and the group members remain constant throughout the year.
Much like adult writing circles our author sharing groups provide children with the opportunity to share stories, reports and poems they have written with a small, supportive group. The students also share illustrations they have created and receive positive and constructive feedback from the group members. After a child has shared a piece of writing, group members frequently comment on particular strategies the author has used when crafting the story (Your use of dialogue really made me feel like the two characters were arguing; The detailed way you described the setting helped me to clearly picture it in my head).
In addition to sharing finished pieces of work, the children are encouraged to share story ideas and writing strategies and solicit help and feedback from the group. For example, a child might read a finished story and ask his/her group members for ideas for a good title. Another child might propose several stories ideas and ask the group which idea might make the most interesting story.
Beginning in Prekindergarten students learn the basics of proper pencil grip, body awareness, posture and proper letter formation through a formal handwriting program, Handwriting Without Tears. The goal of Handwriting Without Tears is to make legible and fluent handwriting an easy and automatic skill for all students.
The HWT curriculum uses multi-sensory techniques and consistent habits for letter formation to teach handwriting to all students—Preschool through Cursive. In our early childhood classrooms (PS-1) before the students write the letters using pencil/paper, they are building letters with wooden pieces, writing them on a small slate board with small sponges, small pieces of paper towels and small pieces of chalk. In the older grades students learn and practice correct letter formation through easy to use workbooks.
The program’s unique methods and materials alleviate problems with:
- Letter formation
- Sentence spacing
- Cursive connections
The mathematical curriculum at MFS motivates and challenges each Preschool through Fourth Grade student to think critically, accurately, and independently to become a successful and confident problem solver not only in their classroom environment but in the world around them. We strive to develop a joy of inquiry and satisfaction of knowing about math and its relationship to everyday living. Through whole group, small group, and individual discussions, explorations, and hands-on activities the children apply their rote and conventional knowledge, flexibly while using manipulatives and literature.
Much of the mathematics learning that takes place in our early childhood classrooms comes from children’s play. Children develop geometric concepts as they build with blocks or sort buttons according to their shape. As they work at the water table or sand tray, children develop ideas that lay the foundation for work with measurement. When they recognize and repeat a pattern of actions or sounds, they begin to develop concepts that are fundamental to algebraic thinking.
In Prekindergarten students begin more formally exploring mathematical concepts through Math in Focus, an American version of Singapore Math. Math in Focus provides rich and engaging resources based on 20 years of Singaporean success as a world leader in mathematics education. The framework presented in Math in Focus follows the same framework developed by the Singapore Ministry of Education. The instructional approaches emphasize real-world, hands-on experiences through a concrete-pictorial-abstract learning progression.
Math in Focus offers:
- A focused and coherent syllabus. The program introduces fewer topics in each grade but teaches them to a greater depth. Topics are taught to mastery, so they build from year to year across grade levels without repetition.
- Ample opportunities for enrichment and reteaching, better meeting the wide range of learners’ needs.
- A visual and balanced approach. The program is highly visual, following a concrete-to pictorial- to-abstract progression.
- A focus on number and operations. The program is sequenced in a way that ensures students develop and maintain strong number sense. Students spend the majority of the first half of the year studying number. This provides the foundation necessary to move on to more complex and abstract thinking.
- An emphasis on problem-solving using model-drawing. The program utilizes model drawing strategies that help students solve both routine and non-routine problems.
- A recognition of the importance of attitudes and metacognition. The program emphasizes the importance of attitude and the ability to self-monitor while problem-solving to achieve success in math.
Social Studies and Science in the Lower School are organized around chosen topics or themes. Students’ interests/questions are often the springboard into a particular area of study. These may arise through use of literature, current events, class trips or observations made in their indoor or outdoor environment.
In Social Studies in the early grades we focus on children’s immediate social environments (family, classroom, school, town). As students progress through Lower School they broaden their view by studying states, countries, and historical periods (for example, Medieval Times, Colonial Times, the Civil Rights Movement, immigration). We value understanding and respecting people in different settings and involve the children in many service projects that relate to both the school community and the local community. Also, students learn map skills and study geography.
In addition to having Science organized around themes in the classroom (for example, insects, water, the solar system, metamorphosis), students in grades Prekindergarten through fourth experience hands-on activities with a science teacher. During Science in both the classroom and in the lab, students are taught to hypothesize, observe, experiment, record data, and form conclusions. In the older grades students work with the science teacher to learn proper lab techniques and to perform experiments. Class discussions help focus what students have observed and relate it to information they have read in reference books.
For a few days each year (three days and two nights), school for Third and Fourth Grade students is held in an outdoor setting. The Third Grade visits Camp Bernie, a YMCA camp situated in the hills of Hunterdon County, at Port Murray, New Jersey. Fourth Grade visits Camp Ockanickon, also a YMCA camp, located in Medford, NJ. While in their “outdoor schools’, students learn first hand about life in the forest, animals and their habitats, orienteering and cooperative problem solving. Additionally, students develop their knowledge of early New Jersey history, natural resources, industries, government, and famous people.