For children in preschool and Kindergarten, Princeton Friends School offers a full-day program called the Beginning School. Built on friendship and exploration, the PFS Beginning School is a gentle way for our youngest students to appreciate the joys of community and inquiry.
Following the informal motto “Kindness is our daily gift,” a day in the PFS Beginning School is centered on activities that use both mind and heart. Children are engaged in hands-on, play-based activities to foster social, emotional, and intellectual growth. Beginning School academics and “specials” -- offered in age-appropriate doses and with multi-sensory curricula -- include reading, writing, mathematics, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, music, art, yoga, library, Central Study, science, and physical education. Children are with two full-time teachers for the entire school day.
Central to the day of a PFS B Schooler is plenty of time for unstructured exploration in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. The preschool and Kindergarteners take full advantage of the PFS playgrounds and fields, as well as the surrounding woods. As is the case throughout the course of a PFS education, we believe in giving children both the room and the time to grow.
In the Beginning School, mathematics is woven into the daily life of the classroom. Whether counting the number of students absent, or building with unit blocks of different geometrical shapes, or measuring ingredients for a cooking project, Beginning School children are immersed in the language of mathematics throughout the day and week. Beginning School teachers take every opportunity to extend students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and to introduce number skills conversationally as much as possible within the context of daily classroom activities. Math instruction in the Beginning School focuses on developing children’s curiosity and interest in using numbers. Lessons are supplemented by the use of materials from the Bridges in Mathematics program, a nationally-used, hands-on math curriculum developed through funding by the National Science Foundation.
From the moment they enter the Beginning School, PFS students are immersed in a print-rich environment. Words are everywhere, from the children’s names on their cubbies and the chart-paper message that greets them each morning to the maps and calendars posted on classroom walls and the shelves and bins of classroom library books. Throughout the day, teachers guide Beginning School children in the process of engaging with print – whether conducting a choral reading of the morning message, reading aloud to introduce early comprehension skills, or sitting down one-on-one with individuals to read together a beginning reader’s text.
A sense of authorship is developed among our students starting in the Beginning School, where children are encouraged to write stories about illustrations they have drawn or to simply label their building-block creations. As the year progresses, the written word is more significantly developed through the writing of individual stories around themes of personal interest. Children dictate and copy text, create accompanying illustrations, and then the pages are bound together into an attractive book. In the Beginning School children are invited to attach messages to art work and other projects they create. Personal sentiments – from expressions of gratitude at Thanksgiving time to messages for parents on Mother’s and Father’s Days – are also woven regularly into Beginning School activities.
Central Study is the changing interdisciplinary theme that unites the PFS curriculum each year. The theme lies at the heart of our academic program, and is introduced in age-appropriate ways to every student in Beginning School through 8th grade. Each year’s Central Study curriculum aims to present the world to students through a particular lens, so that geography, history, science, literature, art, math, music classes and more become an integrated picture of human experience. Central Study instruction at Princeton Friends is rich, varied, and highly experiential. Beginning School teachers organize units and activities that weave the concrete aspects of the theme into their curriculum wherever possible. Periodically throughout each year events are planned that bring the entire school together around the launching or culmination of a particular unit of study, providing opportunities for students of all grades to connect with one another around the common theme. Among many others, past themes include: Journeys, Earth Matters, Food for Thought, Cultural Chemistry, Work & Play, and Invention.
Science in the Beginning School starts with classes that explore our own backyard, learning to appreciate and understand the web of life that surrounds us. The weekly Science class, taught by a dedicated lower school Science teacher, is organized around selected topics and themes that connect with the rest of the curriculum and provide for open-ended exploration. Scientific content is presented through drama, art, poetry, music, reading, and whole-group science demonstrations. Thematic units include the study of butterflies and ladybugs, the five senses, nutrition and systems of the human body, sound, chemical changes, and “bubble-ology.” A variety of materials are used as resources including Great Explorations in Math and Science published by Lawrence Hall of Science; University of California at Berkeley, and Science and Technology for Children published by the National Academy of Sciences & Smithsonian Institute.
PFS offers both Spanish and Chinese (Mandarin) language study beginning in pre-kindergarten. All students in pre-K through 2nd grade are exposed to Spanish and Chinese once a week, and 3rd grade students meet twice a week for either one or both languages. At the primary level, instruction is above all oral and visual with an emphasis on exposure, comfort, and familiarity. As children mature and their abilities to read and write gradually develop, the use of correct grammar and pronunciation become expectations. In 4th grade, students are asked to choose between Chinese and Spanish for further study, at which point classes begin meeting three times a week. In 6th through 8th grades, classes meet four times a week.
World language study is integral to our commitment to educate our students for global citizenship. Studying the language and culture of other countries gives PFS students a broad understanding, appreciation, and acceptance of the world and of the differences that exist among peoples and nations. Early exposure to foreign languages, combined with ongoing and explicit opportunities for students to experience the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of our immediate school community, encourages them to engage with the world in powerful ways. Throughout the grades, language instruction is enriched by activities that facilitate cultural awareness – whether observing specific holidays (the Day of the Dead or the Chinese Autumn Festival, for example), cooking or feasting on traditional foods, hearing folktales, or observing or practicing traditional dance or crafts.
Vocal music is woven deeply into the fabric of life at Princeton Friends School. On Friday mornings and at all major school events, we use music to bring the community together, drawing our many individual voices into one voice. The songs that provide a sense of continuity and connectedness within our community tell stories, integrate with our Central Study or history units, engage our sense of humor, and carry enduring messages that connect with the school’s Quaker underpinnings.
Deep engagement with the visual arts is a critically important aspect of the Princeton Friends School experience. Including studio art for all grades, graphic design for 7th and 8th grade students, and a variety of arts elective classes offered for 3rd-8th grades, the PFS art program engages students’ natural curiosity and imagination, offering time, space, and resources for individual exploration.
At Princeton Friends School, we believe in play of all kinds. In the Beginning School through 2nd grade, children spend a great deal of time outdoors at the playground, on the swing set, and in the woods. Through unstructured playtime, supervised and guided by their teachers, they develop skills in running, climbing, swinging, and ball play.
At Princeton Friends School, we love to read! From Beginning School through 4th grade, this love for reading is nourished by once a week Library classes. In Library classes students connect with books on many levels and learn to navigate the library, both to explore personal interests and to locate resources needed for academic pursuits. As students move up through the grades, they learn about the components of a book (title, author, illustrator, table of contents, index, publication date, biography, spine labels) and the Dewey Decimal System.