Lower School Curriculum Overview

Lower School Curriculum Summaries: Nest Preschool-Gr. 5

Early Childhood

Early Childhood at Wheeler covers the Nest Preschool for ages 2.9-5 years and Kindergarten.  In our classrooms, children are valued, respected, and nurtured as individuals and teachers guide children to think creatively, express their ideas and work together to solve problems. Our program balances purposeful hands-on play experiences with teacher-led meetings and projects so that children learn through the process of their efforts, building a solid foundation for success in school and life. Curriculum experiences in literacy, math, science, social studies, creative arts, and physical development,  are fun, engaging, and intentionally planned to inspire imaginative ideas, challenge, and interest inquisitive minds while building essential academic and social and emotional skills that allow children to learn together successfully.

Each homeroom in Early Childhood works to develop a complex set of skills that children need to become independent learners. These skills are scaffolded from one level to the next, meeting the developmental needs of each individual child as they progress through the program. Literacy, mathematics, science, self-awareness, and collaboration with others are key aspects of the program.

Elementary Grades 1-5

The Lower School curriculum expands young minds while supporting their sense of wonder through
• Language Arts
• Mathematics
• Science
• Social Studies
• Physical Education
• Fine and Performing Arts

While a rich, exciting, and intentional day-to-day program is our foundation, the Wheeler Lower School also believes in culminating moments in each grade – “ta-da!” or “wow” events – that draw the threads of the curriculum together in a way that a child will remember forever. These events are often open to parents as a visiting opportunity and are enriched through our Aerie Approach to teaching.

Elementary grade students have the entire campus at their disposal, using the maker space known as the Hirsch/Alperin DIB Lab and Gilder Center for the Arts, the Digital Production Studio, and dedicated classroom spaces for music and theater, science and the Prescott Library, to name a few. Technology is at their fingertips through iPads and Chromebooks and with the digital citizenship curriculum of our Lower School Technology Facilitator.

As the “big kids” in Lower School, elementary grade students help lead the weekly Community Meeting and many of the community service opportunities available to the division. They become role models for the Early Childhood students and seek their own role models from the Middle and Upper School divisions, who come often to the classroom for “buddy” projects.

Music/Performing Arts

Music is a joyful experience at Wheeler. Meeting weekly in small groups, our youngest musicians will learn music using the Kodaly Method, an approach that uses play to teach singing, dancing, and much more. We study musicians from around the world and use music as a connector of cultures and people. We also reinforce classroom concepts and work closely with the teachers to highlight units of study throughout the year with songs. We perform for audiences big and small, and we all learn the power of our voice and our presence.

Lower School Art Philosophy

The Lower School Art Program offers an engaging, dynamic curriculum where students thrive. Exciting and imaginative projects familiarize students with art concepts to form a strong foundation in the visual arts while encouraging individual expression, resilience, and a growth mindset. Students work from imagination, observation, and memory as they explore a wide variety of tools and materials and develop their skills in painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, and clay. Students find connections with artists and work both individually and in groups. The Lower School art teachers collaborate regularly with classroom teachers to design projects that tie-in with their curricula. Working in the sanctuary of the art rooms, students share ideas and observations freely.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Unity & Diversity classes in the Lower School for Grades 4 & 5 are designed to provide students vocabulary,  concept historical knowledge, and skills they need to understand the ways socially significant identities, affect all of us; develop critical thinking and emotional skills to discuss specific socially significant identities and develop the ability and resiliency to engage in conversations about difference while simultaneously developing an understanding of their own identities and assumptions/beliefs of other identities. The course helps students make the connection between social capital/personal privilege and systemic privilege and empowers them to practice inclusion, activism, and allyship.

Health Education

In Grade 5, the Health Education faculty work to introduce students to the concept of health and wellness, including decision-making for health concerns and related situations, that they will encounter, directly or indirectly, in early adolescent years.  Students and teachers will discuss the topics, review factual health information, participate in group activities such as developing their own health “infomercials” for kids; writing a healthy menu for school lunch, and visiting the athletic trainer in the weight room.


In addition to specific goals for each grade level, our two other goals are to support various school initiatives and programs and a life-long love of reading.  Lower School has two librarians, one for Early Childhood and one for Elementary. Each collaborates within the Aerie Approach to encourage children’s curiosity and provide enrichment to the social studies units they study in school. Aerie rotations expose kids to primary sources and small research projects.  Along with our dedicated Lower School Tech Facilitator, each grade level in the elementary division has classes on what it means to be a responsible Digital Citizen. Classes include internet safety, plagiarism, and how to cite sources in research.

Modern Languages

The Lower School Spanish Program prepares students to understand and communicate in spoken Spanish at a novice level. The primary goal is to achieve familiarity and confidence with oral communication in Spanish. An emphasis is placed on learning specific word patterns so that expressions become automatic and natural for students.

By the time students leave the 5th grade, we hope that they have a willingness and ability to comprehend spoken Spanish and show their understanding through language and physical response. Among the outcomes, is the ability to ask and reply in a variety of situations such as greetings, expressing one’s name and personal preferences, and describing family, friends, and daily surroundings.

Cross-curricular units enhance the curriculum of each grade exploring topics such as animals in Africa, sea mammals, and the rain forest in Spanish. Other units introduce the students to Latino history and influence in the United States through which students acquire an understanding of different cultures and traditions. The skills these students learn during the study of Spanish will help them be successful in whatever language they choose to study in Middle and Upper School.

Physical Education

The Physical Education faculty emphasize cooperation and teamwork while teaching the students new skills and fundamentals of exercise.  Scaffolding grade by grade, we advance to basic athletic skills, learning new ones each week, including jumping, throwing, kicking, and dribbling.  Students enjoy the class as they implement these skills in games such as Frogs and Flies, Multi-Ulti, Soccer Pin Knock Down, and Dribbling Relays designed to increase their abilities and fitness levels,  challenged the students physically, and highlight listening and cooperation. We start every class with some basic exercises in an effort to get the students’ heart rates up and build core strength.