K-4 Curriculum - Lower School - McDonogh School

K-4 Curriculum

K-4 Curriculum

Students come to McDonogh with a variety of experiences and backgrounds. They are naturally curious and have a desire to learn. Under the loving care of our dedicated faculty, students grow intellectually, artistically, physically, socially, and emotionally. Guided by the tenants of our school-wide LifeReady Strategic Plan, our creative and coordinated academic program provides the stimulation and direction necessary to challenge eager young minds. Children are encouraged to be their authentic selves, take intellectual risks, and even make mistakes in our safe and supportive environment.

Typically, students are grouped into four homeroom sections of approximately 16 students where they learn reading, writing, phonics, language arts, math, and social studies. Special subject teachers instruct students in global connections, library/media, performing arts, physical education, science, Spanish, visual arts, and technology.



Our comprehensive approach to literacy incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Teachers are specially trained to provide differentiated instruction using systematic and explicit phonics instruction, individualized vocabulary tools, grammar training, and the newly updated Units of Study from Columbia University’s Advancing Literacy at Teachers College. Each classroom has a library stocked with high-interest fiction and nonfiction books of every genre filled with diverse characters that appeal to children of all reading levels and support student choice. Utilizing the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, students gain skills and confidence as they develop a passion for literacy in all its forms.


In Lower School math, students learn the "why" behind the "how," which results in deeper mathematical thinking far beyond rote procedural fluency. This learning model asks students to first develop their mathematical reasoning before connecting their understanding to concepts and skills. Teachers use direct instruction, differentiated small groups, independent practice, and a hands-on, collaborative approach to develop and build mathematical understanding. Guided by the Into Math program from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, students see the importance of math in everyday life and learn growth mindset strategies that encourage resilience, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

Social Studies

The Social Studies program uses the LifeReady framework and national standards to help students develop the understanding and knowledge needed to be active participants in their ever-changing world. Each year, students build on their prior knowledge and expand their understanding of overarching concepts and ideas. What is the relationship between people, place, and environment? How can perspective impact someone’s understanding of history? What are my rights and the rights of others? 

Children are asked to reflect on these big ideas while exploring areas of community, climate, geography, government systems, history, and change, among many others. Through this inquiry-based approach, students learn to think critically, consider issues from various perspectives, question, and see connections across all subject areas.

Science and Engineering

Science and engineering in the Lower School build upon students’ most-asked question: “Why?” The experiential, hands-on program stimulates their innate curiosity and introduces them to the fundamentals of life science, physical science, earth science, robotics, coding, and engineering. Children learn to problem-solve by observing, predicting, processing, and analyzing data about the world around them.

Spanish Language

With a focus on comprehension and communication, Lower School students begin their Spanish language journey in prekindergarten and continue through fourth grade. Through predictable routines and rituals including daily conversation, storytelling, songs and authentic cultural experiences, students become active and engaged participants in their learning. Along the way, they begin to use key concepts of the language for communication with increased frequency and confidence. Teachers engage students in the rich diversity and heritage of the Spanish-speaking world and strive to connect them with native speakers of the language in a variety of ways.

Global Connections: Learning in and with the world

The primary goal of the Lower School Global Connections program is to help McDonogh’s youngest learners understand that they are an integral part of a vast, interconnected global community. Students begin to explore the similarities and differences they share with communities around the world. This awareness is crucial in the development of kind, resilient learners and thoughtful, aware citizens. Additionally, the Global Connections program creates an intentional space for students, faculty, and staff to share their own cultural heritage and traditions. This strengthens and celebrates the diverse and inclusive community we strive for in our Mission.

Instructional Technology

McDonogh's Lower School Instructional Technology program is designed to help students become confident and capable navigators of the ever-changing digital universe. They learn to safely and responsibly explore school-curated resources and applications, communicate and collaborate effectively with peers and teachers, and confidently create and share their work. Lessons and usage are age-appropriate and align with curriculum in the classroom to enhance  students’ learning.

Students in prekindergarten through prefirst can access iPads in their classrooms, while first through fourth graders work on Chromebooks that include tablet capabilities. Internet safety and digital citizenship are a primary focus in the Lower School’s technology curriculum. 

Performing Arts

Students discover the joy of the performing arts and gain a solid foundation for lifelong musical learning and understanding through rhythm, accompaniment, singing, creating, moving, listening, and improvisation. Artists develop innate talents while also discovering previously unknown abilities in an environment that encourages risk-taking and exploration. The Performing Arts program also offers opportunities to collaborate and create with their peers through drama and movement-based activities and explorations. Students who have a desire to grow and hone their musical skills also have the option to enroll in individual music lessons during the school day.

In third and fourth grade, students have the opportunity to select additional performing arts elective classes.  Each session varies, but offerings such as choir, drama, drum corps, strings, and laptop orchestra provide a multitude of experiences that pique students' interests and fuel their passions.

Visual Arts

Curiosity, intuitive thinking, discovery, and exploration are the habits of mind nurtured by the Lower School Visual Arts curriculum. Our youngest artists work to build foundational skills and techniques as they are exposed to a variety of materials, including printmaking, collage, painting, ceramics, sculpture, drawing, and fiber art. Students learn to create strong compositions and practice the use of early art concepts. Artists build familiarity with the elements of art and principles of design as they learn about diverse artists, artistic styles, and artistic processes.

Later in their artistic journey, student-artists are encouraged to pursue their own creative ideas through an artistic process that values self-expression and authenticity. The classroom operates as their art studio, encouraging each artist to make individual choices about materials, style, and subject matter. Studio time is balanced with lessons about artists, discovery of new materials, and exploration of a variety of skills, techniques, and reflection. Artists consistently develop their ability to problem-solve, take creative risks, and communicate. Together, they build their artistic community and take care of their shared space and materials.

In third and fourth grade, students have the opportunity to select additional visual arts elective classes. Each session varies, but examples of previous offerings include woodworking, finger knitting, drawing and painting, and ceramics.

Physical Education

The goal of physical education is to engage students in physical activity while encouraging collaboration, perseverance, sportsmanship, and team building. The Lower School program also helps students develop and refine gross and fine motor skills. Swimming and horseback riding lessons are included for students in prefirst and grades first through fourth as well. Games and activities encourage active listening, sharing, working together, and having fun!


In a bright and inviting library space, students develop a deep appreciation for reading through storytime, book talks, and engaging research projects. All grade levels have regularly scheduled class times, but students may check out books anytime. Students are also introduced to the traditional and technological resources that put them in touch with the vast world of information surrounding them.