LOWER SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Dr. Kristen Sheehan, Head of Lower School Kendall Didsbury, Assistant Head of School for Academics LeeAnne Sampson, Lower School Dean of Academics
Since 1960, The Benjamin School has educated and celebrated the whole child. As visionary educators, Nancy and Marshall Benjamin strove to develop a school whose mission was to educate young children to be the best they could be in terms of character, scholarship, athletics and the arts. The Lower School has remained true to the founders’ goals and places great emphasis on helping each student become, as one alum expressed, “the best version of himself.” High standards of achievement in academics, the arts and athletics are underscored by high expectations of student behavior. The learning environment stresses active exploration through play-based activities, independent learning centers, small group work and one-on-one instruction.
As a School, we value and recognize each child as a unique individual, with diverse abilities, gifts and talents. This variety aids the teachers in understanding and responding to individual learning styles, and in continuously focusing on the development of character, integrity, and selfesteem, all of which results in a positive attitude toward learning and a respect for others. The emphasis on character development is coupled with curricula that reflect brain-based research and fosters communication, collaboration and creative problem-solving skills.
Our Early Childhood program begins with Worlds of Wonder, a three-year-old program, and continues with Pre-Kindergarten for four-year-olds. The faculty of both programs work together to create a positive learning environment to develop the whole child while recognizing each child as a unique individual. The transition from WOW to PK4 is seamless and provides a solid foundation of readiness skills and social-emotional development to prepare each child for future learning at The Benjamin School.
In our WOW and PK4 programs, children explore new concepts through hands-on discovery, teacher-guided investigations, and project-based learning. Students are nurtured and supported in their attempts to learn new concepts and try out new skills. Curiosity is sparked through imaginative play, creative movement, scientific wondering and mathematical speculation. Students and teachers explore the world together through song, movement, art, dramatic play, storytelling, world languages and technology. Particular focus is given to building character, self-esteem, and a sense of values while developing an awareness of one's place in family, school, community and the world.
The Benjamin Language Arts program prepares students to be powerful, independent readers and writers through a balanced literacy program. Our program includes individualized instruction in reading, vocabulary development, grammar and mechanics, composition, spelling and literature. The Benjamin Language Arts program awakens the desire to learn in each child and equips them with a solid foundation of learning skills and basic knowledge to enable them to reach logical conclusions and proceed with confidence through a lifetime of learning.
Students are taught the strategies and habits of proficient readers and writers through explicit instruction and the exploration of high-quality literature. Students learn to read and write in an increasingly complex and precise manner that employs the most effective methods available to ensure mastery of the skills that lay the foundation for further academic achievement.
Students also develop higher order thinking skills through oral discussions and written responses paving the way for them to lead vibrant, literate lives. Writing conventions and usage instruction, which includes grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraphing, are integrated throughout the entire language arts program.
At Benjamin, we expect our students to apply their language arts skills in all subject areas and to develop self-confidence in expressing themselves both orally and in writing.
By showing them that math is a critical â€œreal-lifeâ€? skill, the Benjamin Lower School Mathematics Program teaches students to become independent mathematical thinkers. Teachers weave carefully chosen strategies and techniques into a smooth and cohesive curriculum for our diverse community of learners.
At the core of our curriculum is Big Ideas Math by National Geographic. Big Ideas is a researchbased program that incorporates literacy strategies, encouraging students to read, write, and talk about math. The Lower School curriculum seamlessly flows into our Middle School where students also take Big Ideas courses.
Our students acquire strong number sense and basic fact mastery through hands-on activities, games and digital work. Basic facts are the building blocks of greater mathematical understanding.
Model Drawing, derived from Singapore Math, is utilized as a method of teaching students to solve word problems pictorially beginning with a simple rectangular shape. Model drawing enables students to understand number relationships and helps them tackle problems involving basic addition and subtraction while also enabling them to solve even more abstract problems involving algebra.
In grades two through five, Benjamin students also eagerly participate in our Challenge Program. Challenge activities encourage our learners to develop critical thinking skills. Such thinking requires students to identify a problem or goal, diagnose the problem, explore possible solutions, take action to solve the problem and reflect on their work to determine if the solution was successful or how it can be fixed.
Upon leaving the Lower School, Benjamin students have a solid foundation on which they can build.
SCIENCE The Lower School Science program is designed to immerse students in the nature of science and inquiry, to unlock the big ideas in science and to build scientific and content literacy for all learners. We encourage studentsâ€™ scientific literacy through a variety of techniques including a close reading of well-crafted science texts. These books are based on the National Science Standards with an emphasis on hands-on experimentation.
Each grade level teaches three in-depth units, including earth science, biological science and one physical science which align with the Next Generation Science Standards. Grades WOW and Pre-Kindergarten incorporate lessons from AIMS, Carolina Biological and FOSS. Grades Kindergarten through five utilize the National Geographic Science curriculum. All lessons are primarily hands-on and student driven, and students are encouraged to work cooperatively using a variety of sources to gather information.
In addition, students in WOW through grade five visit the state-of-the-art Maglio Family STEM Center weekly and are taught how to use an array of scientific tools to support their investigations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through this interdisciplinary approach to learning, rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise.
Our Social Studies curriculum focuses on all aspects of social studies from history and geography to economics and civics. Each grade level also touches on the concept of diversity and citizenship. Students begin by studying elements of their own community, and through their exploration of geography and multicultural studies, gradually expand their horizons to understand their place in the world. At various benchmarks in the program, students learn about the geography and culture of Florida, the regions of the United States and, ultimately, other countries.
Students also have the opportunity to contrast life in ancient cultures with life today as well as to study historical figures, especially famous Americans and simple economic concepts such as the idea of needs and wants and the process of buying and selling goods. One distinctive feature of social studies at The Benjamin School is the annual Lower School Olympics. Â Since 1990, first through fifth grade homerooms each adopt a country and explore its customs and culture in detail. Each classroom hosts a luncheon featuring foods from its country on the eve of Olympic day. The culmination of this month-long multicultural study is a spirited day of athletic competition among the nations. This experience exemplifies the friendship, solidarity, and community spirit experienced in the international Olympics.
Our World Language program at the Lower School begins in WOW with the introduction of three world languages. Our youngest students enjoy the benefits of experiencing Chinese, French and Spanish once a week as our world language teachers come into the classrooms and share their passion for their individual subjects. The teachers instill an awareness and appreciation of different languages and cultures, laying the foundation for world language study throughout the studentsâ€™ education at Benjamin. At this early age, students are exposed to different languages, cultures and a basic vocabulary. Students continue to enjoy all three languages throughout PK4 and Kindergarten, studying each language one time per week. Upon entering first grade, students are given the opportunity to choose one language for further study through the fifth grade.
The goal of our world language program is to provide each child with the skills needed to enable meaningful communication.Â With the use of props, visual aids and technology to build vocabulary, enhance comprehension and promote conversational skills; students are encouraged to speak as active participants in the classroom.Â They communicate in the target language by engaging in conversations, role playing, asking and answering questions, and singing songs. Students also enjoy taking part in a variety of cultural activities including holiday celebrations, games and traditions. In later grades, grammatical concepts in context and age-appropriate reading and writing activities are introduced and incorporated. By using multi-sensory instruction, the careful sequencing and structuring of skills and consistent review of previously introduced vocabulary and concepts, we empower our students to begin to communicate in their adopted language.
The Lower School Computer Science curriculum provides students with a broad range of hands-on experiences. Classes familiarize students with keyboarding, coding, various applications and information gathering techniques. Cooperative learning is promoted through group activities, and students are provided with guidelines for telecommunication safety and etiquette. Students in grades three through five participate in a one-to-one iPad program that offers unique and engaging instructional experiences. Students utilize their personal iPads throughout the curriculum to become adept at using technology to promote critical thinking, problem-solving skills, collaboration and responsible digital citizenship.
The Lower School Character Education program is based upon The Benjamin School Honor Code and the vital importance of community service. Our twelve character traits constitute the core values to which we subscribe both on- and off-campus: Respect, Courage, Morality, Kindness, Fairness, Integrity, Compassion, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Perseverance, and Responsibility.
In-class guidance in the Lower School is presented on a weekly basis from PK4 though grade five and a bi-monthly basis for the WOW students. Our program engages students, families and the School in creating a learning environment that is based on caring relationships, high expectations, and meaningful involvement. We provide opportunities for children to learn the emotional and social skills needed to lead healthy and productive lives and for them to practice good citizenship through cooperation and service to others. In addition, we strive to promote a safe, healthy approach to life, free from the harm of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use. We also emphasize celebrating diversity and respect for others.
The overall philosophy of the Physical Education Department is to help students develop healthrelated fitness, physical competence, cognitive understanding, and positive attitudes about physical activity. Ultimately we seek to ensure that they will adopt healthy and physically active lifestyles. Students learn what the body can do and how to manage their body effectively. Skills development progresses from basic movements to fundamental, more specialized skills, and advances to higher level skills required to participate in sports, clubs and intramurals. These skills are taught both independently and in whole groups and are incorporated in fitness activities that promote elements of development such as self-expression, self-confidence, cooperation, leadership, and respect. The physical education program is progressive, instructional and developmental in nature and provides positive learning experiences to meet each child’s developmental needs and improve self-esteem, mental alertness, academic performance, readiness, and enthusiasm to learn.
A wide variety of units ensures total development and meets individual needs and interests. Additionally, Lower School students participate yearly in The President’s Challenge as well as the Lower School Olympics which highlights both team and individual sports, emphasizes positive personal and social behavior, and integrates several other areas of the school curriculum. We believe in the full inclusion of all students and have built our program on integrity by modeling and requiring positive character traits.
The Visual Arts curriculum begins with an exploratory approach, focusing on the process of creating, writing and thinking about art. Â We introduce our youngest artists to a rich variety of media that appeal to the five senses and allow for discovery and critical thinking as students decide how to apply and manipulate new media. In the upper Lower School grades, our visual arts curriculum continues with a strong focus on the process of creating. Â We delve into the elements of art as the foundation for our artistic experiences. We expose our students to a multitude of media, both two and three dimensional. Students master the basic applications of these media. By learning creative means to problem-solving and applying new techniques and skills to each unique art project, students develop creativity, imagination, pride, and selfconfidence.
We encourage students to work both independently and cooperatively. Â Interdisciplinary projects tap the creative mind and foster connections to the real world. Projects the students produce are celebrated and exhibited through our school and community and thus they foster pride, character, and self-expression in our young artists.
MUSIC We believe music education plays an important part in childhood development. We approach the early music experience with age-appropriate traditional childrenâ€™s songs, dances and basic body movements. Activities are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, and appeal to all learning styles. We introduce our children to the five elements of music using developmentally appropriate practice, materials, and simplified vocabulary.
Students also learn about the instruments of the orchestra and experience the classics of music literature. Learning an abundance of new and traditional songs with corresponding listening activities, the students engage in accentuating melodic, rhythmic, instrumental and modal points of interest. Introduction to the formal aspect of reading and writing the notes of the treble clef staff as well as note values are incorporated.
Students learn many new songs as well as related music appreciation selections that transport them to a myriad of different times and cultures. Â Students reinforce their skills with the study of solfege tones, part singing, and singing in other languages. The students perform in a variety of programs that highlight their talents throughout the year.
Students have the opportunity to participate in either a strings program or an instrumental program at The Benjamin School. Participation in our strings or instrumental program not only prepares a student for performing in an elementary and secondary ensemble, but also develops skills in self-discipline, flexible ways of thinking, concentration, decision making, physical coordination and aural perception. Additionally, participants in the program have found the experience builds self-esteem and self-confidence as well as nurtures a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
At the beginning level, students learn how to produce a quality tone and sound, read notes, practice good habits, and play together. As the students progress through their program, key signatures, time signatures other than 4/4, articulations, dynamics, and different arrangements are weekly topics. Each grade level experience is showcased in various musical performances throughout the year.
We challenge our students to do their very best while we provide the structure and support they need to succeed. The curriculum is cohesive, robust, and thorough. Our teachers differentiate the instruction so that all students are fully engaged in their learning. As a community, we teach students to value their voice and learn how to make informed choices as we give them the tools to become self-directed learners. Our program at The Benjamin School is based on a curricula designed for advanced learners. Those who need support to meet the challenges of our program may receive academic assistance through the Gold Star Learning Lab.
The Gold Star Learning Lab offers students support beyond the classroom to encourage their academic success. Utilizing various strategies and methodologies, experienced faculty assist students with their learning needs either individually or in small group sessions. Computer-assisted instruction, project-based learning, manipulatives and other developmentally appropriate activities are designed to meet each childâ€™s needs. Academic enrichment, remediation, and maintenance are available through the Gold Star Learning Lab both before and after school as well as during the school day as needed.
A fee-based After-Care Enrichment (ACE) program is available for all students enrolled in WOW through grade five. Students registered in ACE participate in planned activities that include arts and crafts, board games, puzzles, computers, movies, outdoor play, snack time, reading, and supervised homework and study time. ACE operates from dismissal to 5:45 p.m. on full class days.
Various after-school enrichment classes are also offered each quarter where students have the opportunity to explore and develop a variety of new interests. Some of the enrichment classes offered include chess, drama, Art Club, Lego Robotics, and an array of intramural sports.
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