Lower School (K-5)
Between lively class participation and an expectation that students can move from homerooms to specialists on their own, the Lower School feels like a living children's museum—active, engaging, and collaborative. Rich student-teacher relationships develop a love of learning and inspire creativity. Thematic units at each grade level allow Lower School students to explore a single topic in multiple, connected ways through project-based learning. We research and review educational best practices, tailoring them to the needs of our students.
Our character education program is more than goals on a poster, but instead infuses the Core Values into all areas of the school, both in set-aside discussion times, more casual conversations, and within the curriculum. Students learn choices and consequences, not rules and compliance, as they embrace the uncomfortable, adapt to failure, and grow into success.
Welcome from Debby McLean
Children start curious. As Lower School Director, it is my responsibility to cultivate and enrich that
natural curiosity through my work with faculty, parents, and children. It is also my job to ensure that everyone is welcomed and valued in our community.
- 1st Grade
- 2nd Grade
- 3rd Grade
- 4th Grade
- 5th Grade
- Educational Technology
- Physical Education
- After School Programs
The Kindergarten language arts program is designed to balance the needs of the students as they learn to "unlock" the code of the written word with their innate excitement for learning. Working in small groups, the children visit various centers during the course of a week; reading, writing, and art activities are all integrated into a single theme. Phonics instruction and small guided-reading groups provide the foundation. Students practice their newly acquired skills reading literature books that are selected because they tie into the thematic unit. Students learn to use context and pictorial clues to enhance their comprehension because reading is much more than just decoding. Our goal throughout the Lower School is to teach children not only to learn to read, but to read to learn.
Through Writer's Workshops and a variety of creative writing activities, the children have many opportunities to practice using written language. Children begin by using inventive spelling to tell their tales, and as the year progresses they begin to apply the conventional spelling skills they have learned. Handwriting skills are reinforced along with proper spacing and punctuation.
In math, students use a variety of concrete materials and Kindergarten-life situations as they learn to "think" mathematically. Students develop and solve addition, subtraction, and real-life problems, learn to recognize and use money, construct geometric shapes, classify, make patterns, and estimate. They learn proper number formation and skip counting using different patterns. Children are frequently paired to play various math games, and math is seen as something we "do."
Social Studies and Science
Because we use a thematic approach in designing our learning program, social studies and science are integrated into each unit. Students in Kindergarten study three main units during the year, which include the Garden, Animals, and the Ocean. Two mini-units, Holidays Around the World and an Author Study, are also woven into the year. During each, there are visits to the science lab for specially designed lessons with the science teachers along with art and music experiences specifically developed to enhance the study of each theme.
Building upon the strong foundation of the Kindergarten program, in 1st Grade the goal is for each child to become an independent reader: one who reads joyfully whether for pleasure or specific information. Themes continue to be the foundation upon which most of the day's lessons and activities are built. As the children grow in their decoding abilities, the focus broadens to include an emphasis on fluency, expression, comprehension, and analysis. The "center" approach to teaching and learning continues to provide the students opportunities to work in small, adult-guided groups whether it be to read a book, work on phonics skills, write, or create a project that ties into the theme.
Through the use of Morning Messages and a multitude of writing activities, the students begin to learn about the structure of our language: basic parts of speech, sentence composition, punctuation, and capitalization. They also grow in their ability to incorporate more conventional spelling into their work. Students are expected to learn weekly spelling lists in addition to mastering the spelling of the first hundred high frequency words. Handwriting also becomes more conventional. During the course of the year, the children move from writing a few simple sentences to writing paragraphs. They learn to edit their own work and, as the year draws to a close, they write and present an original fairy tale to their parents and classmates at a special "Literary Tea."
The students work in small group settings where they learn to think mathematically and to apply math concepts to everyday situations. Through the use of oral and written activities the students learn about a variety of mathematical concepts including the meaning and use of numbers, visual and numerical patterning, thermometers, linear measurement, time, number stories, fractions, money, geometry, and place value. While a strong emphasis is placed on critical thinking and problem solving, the children also learn and apply basic addition and subtraction facts through the number twenty. Games and manipulatives continue to provide the children opportunities for hands-on practice and reinforcement of all skills.
Social Studies and Science
The social studies program in 1st Grade was also developed based on our thematic approach to learning. The desert and Los Angeles units are studied with an emphasis placed on the environment, community, and the relationship between humans, land, and climate. As the students "journey" through the regions, they learn to compare and contrast the various features that make each area unique. Science lessons are developed that tie into their studies, and the students venture to the science lab for these special classes.
Language Arts and Reading
In 2nd Grade, the students continue their journey toward the goal of becoming autonomous learners. They read an assortment of works independently for information and pleasure and begin to record their reflections on nightly pleasure reading in a journal. The students demonstrate further growth in the development of their vocabulary and comprehension skills along with improved fluency, oral expression, and listening skills. In addition, students participate in activities that further develop their thinking skills and creative expression. The children work in small groups, reading theme-related books selected for their instructional level. They begin the transition from learning to read into reading to learn, as they all share in the reading of a chapter book. Phonics instruction broadens as students learn to decode larger, unfamiliar words using the previously taught rules and strategies. The study of weekly spelling lists continues, and the students are accountable for the first two hundred high frequency words. During the year the students grow in their ability to proofread and edit their own work and the work of others. Paragraph development, grammar, and punctuation lessons are incorporated into a variety of writing activities that teach students to communicate using different styles and genres. Transitional spelling becomes limited in use, and students are expected to demonstrate penmanship proficiency by printing legibly. Midway through the year students are introduced to cursive writing.
Small group instruction, hands-on activities and games, mathematical thinking, problem solving, and basic skill development all continue throughout 2nd Grade as the students learn to discover and comprehend new math concepts and skills. The math program at this level includes the study of numeration, computation (with regrouping), operations and relations, math vocabulary, geometry, fractions, time, money, graphing, patterning, measuring, and problem solving, including challenging problems that may call for more than one operation. Students work to increase their speed and accuracy in computation and are introduced to the concepts of multiplication and division.
Social Studies and Science
Our past, present, and future set the stage for the 2nd Grade program as the students immerse themselves in the study of three exciting units: Wild, Wild West; Patriotism and Our Heroes; and Space. Exploring the challenges faced by the early pioneers; learning about our nation's traditions, laws, and customs; and discovering the new frontier of space provide the children with an exciting program. There is also a brief foray into the world of the Gingerbread Boy as the children read various gingerbread stories and then write their own original version based on this classic story. Science instruction remains integrated with the core program whenever possible, with Second Grade students participating in weekly science classes.
Language Arts and Social Studies
The 3rd Grade program is based upon an imaginary trip around the world. Students pack their bags, grab their passports, and head to the "Brentwood Airport" for a simulated flight each time they journey to a new continent. In addition to continuing an interdisciplinary approach to learning, 3rd Grade is a year of transition. Building upon the foundation of skills learned in earlier grades, the children are provided opportunities to master previously introduced skills while utilizing them to learn new material. Students are then able to communicate what they have learned with purpose and clarity.
The 3rd Grade experience is exciting and meaningful because students learn about our world's different customs, cultures, languages, religions, and foods. Students read works that integrate our world theme across a variety of genres that include historical fiction, narratives, fiction, and biographies. The student's exposure to these varied works allow them to become active writers that use similes, metaphors, symbolism, causes and effects, and dynamic paragraph structures in their own writing. Third Grade students have opportunities to read orally and present original work to their classmates which fosters confidence and independence. Weekly spelling assessments on word families and high frequency words reinforce student writing throughout the year. Writing assignments include journals, persuasive letters, creative stories, and research reports. Brentwood's touch-typing program is taught at the beginning of the year, allowing students to use the computer as a tool in their learning. Building upon the introduction of cursive writing in the 2nd Grade, students are expected master this form of penmanship by year's end.
Through the use of literature, videos, field trips, and guest speakers, our students learn to appreciate the similarities and differences between themselves and others in the world.
In the mathematics program, concrete skills continue to be reinforced through the use of hands-on activities while the students move on to more abstract thinking, reasoning, and application. Exercises and drills are used to promote accuracy and speed while problem-solving assignments encourage students to think mathematically. Multiplication and basic division, measurement, geometry, fractions, Hands-on Equations (an introduction to algebraic thinking), and estimation are some of the concepts covered in 3rd Grade math.
Language Arts and Reading
The primary goal of the 4th Grade reading program is to enable students to become better skilled and more independent readers through the use of a wide assortment of literature. These books provide the foundation for discussions relating to various parts of the program as their themes center on issues relating to social justice and/or California history. In addition, students use a variety of different materials as they learn to read for three different levels of comprehension: literal, inferential, and evaluative. Listening, speaking, and silent reading skills are also emphasized to enable students to further expand their reading capabilities.
Fourth Grade students learn the "power of language," be it written or spoken, as an important communication tool. The students are guided through three major research reports during the year and, as they develop their understanding of the process and their skills improve, their level of independence grows. Students are also provided various opportunities to give oral presentations that allow them to practice their public speaking skills and tap into their creative nature. Keyboarding skills are practiced and refined as students type their reports.
Vocabulary development, grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, outlining, parts of speech, and sentence structure continue to be emphasized throughout the year. In addition, the students receive the Brentwood School Study Guide, Writing Guide, and Assignment Book to aid them in the development of their study and organizational skills.
With an emphasis on social justice, 4th Grade students learn about people who have "made a difference" and how their own actions can do the same. Their study of people of distinction begins with the Nobel Peace Prize creator, Alfred Nobel, and his contributions. Students then write a report and create a "prize" for one of their classmates, honoring them for a special talent or action. Finally, the students learn about the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and study his "I Have a Dream" speech. In addition to a report on a person of significance, the students develop and present their own dream speeches to their classmates.
Throughout the year the students learn to give of themselves, as they study others who have done the same. Whether it be through organizing the school's holiday toy drive or providing the elderly with a celebration on Valentine's Day, the students learn that they, too, can "make a difference."
California history is also a focus of the 4th Grade social studies program. Students learn how the landscape of California has provided varying resources to people throughout history. They also learn to develop an appreciation for the various cultural influences that shaped California's past and present. The students learn about the Spanish explorers, missions, and gold rush days. The 4th Grade students culminate their study of the state with an overnight trip where they re-enact assorted historical activities including the making of adobe bricks and panning for gold.
The year begins with a review of the four basic mathematical functions - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division - with an emphasis on speed and accuracy. Weekly math problem solvers, along with the use of individual, large, and small group activities and assignments, provide students with additional practice in problem solving, probability, estimation, and logical thinking. In addition, the students cover place value, number sentences and operations, long division, complex multiplication, fractions, percents, geometry, spatial relations, measurements, decimals, graphing, and estimation. Algebra is taught using the "Hand-on Equations" program, which enables students to manipulate items on a balance as they learn to work through simple algebraic equations. The students also learn to create a budget and manage their finances through a checkbook math program.
Language Arts and Literature
Students continue to develop their understanding and appreciation of literature as they read for information and pleasure. Literary works are selected not only to enhance other aspects of the curriculum and assist students in the acquisition of knowledge but also to encourage students to develop an enthusiasm for reading. At the end of the year the students may select from a variety of books and a "literary circle" will be formed. This enables students to structure their own reading, discuss the material in a small group setting, and then develop their own assessment at the end of the process.
Language arts skills are developed and evaluated through class work, oral discussions, homework assignments, and research reports. Projects, such as the creation of an original children's story, allow students to use their imagination and skills to write and illustrate their very own book. Essays, quizzes, and tests enable students to learn to support their opinions with details (evaluation), determine the significance and relationships between parts of a book (analysis), apply the skills learned in one discipline to another (application), and foretell events based on reasoning (prediction).
The study of our country's history comes to life in the 5th Grade. Immigrant stories are not just pages in a social studies textbook; they add great meaning when students research their own family's history, read stories that tell of the struggles people faced in the past, and meet new immigrants to the country to hear of present day challenges. Simulation games enable teams of students to "live" the lives of the first settlers, and a field trip to a presidential library enhances their studies. Regular discussions of current events and a stock market simulation game provide students the opportunity to learn about current realities. It is an exciting year in which students gain understanding of the democratic values of our American heritage.
The goal of the 5th Grade math program is to have students become effective problem solvers who willingly take risks and analyze new situations. Work continues on topics such as whole numbers, graphing, number theory, fractions, percents, decimals, geometry, and integers. The basic skills have been mastered and the emphasis is now on application. For this reason, students are often given math assessments that include an essay component, which requires them to explain reasoning underlying their solution to a given problem. In addition, work with the "Hands-on Equations" program continues to enhance their study of algebraic concepts.
Kindergarten - Third Grade
The Kindergarten through 3rd Grade science program is integrated into various thematic units throughout the year. Students visit the science room once a week, and classes are planned to provide students opportunities to enrich their other studies through special science lessons, such as planting and tending to their very own garden, investigating desert flora and fauna, exploring plate tectonics and the creation of landforms, researching ocean life, and exploring flight.
Fourth - Fifth Grade
Students in 4th and 5th Grade attend science classes twice a week to participate in a program that provides a hands-on, discovery approach to learning science. The main objective of the program is to provide students with the opportunity to investigate and experience each of the three branches of science: earth, physical, and life sciences.
Students are taught the scientific process and perform labs individually and with partners. Topics of study are integrated with other elements of the curriculum, demonstrating to students that science is a part of their everyday living and learning experiences. Independent thinking, questioning, and innovative problem solving are encouraged. Creative expression and design are incorporated into the curriculum and students are encouraged to participate in the school’s annual “Invention Convention.”
Technology is also an integral part of the K-5 science curriculum.
The Lower School art program strengthens our students' visual perception while nurturing the development of creative self-expression. Students learn how to control the elements of design, such as line, shape, form, texture, color, and space, as they express themselves visually. Students take pride in their work and develop self-confidence in their ability to express themselves. Art projects build thematically with the grade level curriculum allowing students to deepen their learning in new ways.
In the Lower School, we empower our students to explore the various areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) through hands-on activities. The STEAM curriculum fosters creative, outside-of-the box thinking and encourages students to ask questions, problem solve, think creatively, design courageously, and reflect thoughtfully.
From their very first year, students become inventors, creators, designers, programmers, and engineers. Kindergarteners program a robot, design and build a maze, and invent a new toy. As they go up through the grade levels, students work with 3D printing, circuitry, Scratch programming, and more. By Grades 3-5, students also focus on software applications such as Google Drive, Docs, Slides, and Spreadsheets, as well as other online production software.
EdTech classes meet once a week for each grade level, either in the computer lab (K-3) or the students' homeroom class (4-5).
For all of their projects, students follow the Engineering & Design process to provide structure for their thinking. They learn to:
- Ask questions
- Imagine and brainstorm the possibilities
- Plan an idea, sketch a design, select materials
- Create their prototype
- Test their prototype
- Improve, modify, or upgrade their prototype
- Share with others
- Reflect on the process
Our PE program offers each child the opportunity to grow to their fullest potential. Because physical development is varied, our the program is designed to focus on motor development, especially as it relates to spatial awareness and locomotor movements. At the same time, elements of the program inspire life-long fitness and team building.
Students in grades Kindergarten through five take part in physical education classes four times each week, taught by a team of three teachers.
After-School Athletics begin in Grade 4, and all teams at the Lower School operate on a no-cut philosophy. The goal of our program is to provide every child with the chance to play. Playing times are rotated equally to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop his or her talents, regardless of their initial level of skill development. In addition to regularly scheduled games with teams from the Coastal Canyon League and other schools, the league hosts an annual Track and Field meet for all 4th and 5th Grade students who wish to participate.
Our Lower School music program invites enthusiastic participation from our students. By connecting the notes to words and movement through rhythm, music lessons are a whole body experience, inspiring creativity and innovation. Throughout their six years in the Lower School, students will study various composers, bringing their work to life through song and dance. Each year, students grow in their experience with unpitched percussion instruments, xylophones, and the recorder and begin to accompany their own performances as early as Kindergarten.
These experiences teach concepts such as rhythm, melody, harmony, style, and expression and integrate with the thematic learning at each grade level. As 3rd Grade students journey the world, they learn music from various operas. Kindergarten and 5th Grade students perform a culminating musical that connects to their core curriculum.
After School Programs
A unique aspect of our West Campus is that we offer before and after school care free of charge. From 7:30 to 8:10 a.m. each morning all Lower School students can enjoy supervised play. After school each day, supervision is available until 6:00 p.m. Students often take advantage of the extended care to arrange playdates with friends or enjoy one of our extra-curricular options in athletics, performing arts, and more.
Our after-school musical theater program is open to students in Grades 3-4. Students with a passion for music and performance deepen their interest and talent through this fun program.
Activities like 3D Design and Printing, Kids Cooking Academy, Number Ninjas, and Songwriting meet regularly after school. These activities are sponsored by full-time faculty or specialty instructors during fall and spring sessions. While some programs require a fee, others are free of charge.