Discover St. Mary's

A Day In The Life
The Academic Details

Lower School

The Lower School curriculum focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside. We teach our students to ask "what" and "why" in a way that demonstrates that they are an essential part of the answer to "how."

The Primary Years Programme:
  • Encourages international-mindedness in students.
  • Encourages a positive attitude to learning by engaging students in inquiries and developing their awareness of the process of learning so that they become lifelong learners.
  • Reflects real life by encouraging learning beyond traditional subjects with meaningful, in-depth inquiries into real issues.
In Kindergarten through Grade 5, students explore six units of inquiry each year. These six to eight-week transdisciplinary units are investigations into important ideas and require a high level of involvement on the part of the students. In each grade level, the themes revolve around the following topics:
Who we are
Where we are in place and time
How we express ourselves
How the world works
How we organize ourselves
Sharing the planet

In addition to the critical thinking skills developed through these units, students also learn all the skills necessary to effectively communicate their understandings. Reading, writing, mathematics and information skills are embedded into the entire program. The school also offers exploratory classes in music, Spanish, physical education, art, technology and Christian Enrichment. By blending IB learning and traditional skills learning in the classroom, Lower School students are well prepared to transition into Middle School.


One of the greatest gifts children can give themselves is a love of reading. Starting in the early years, we introduce students to a variety of authors and genres to help them understand what makes a “just right” book for them. As they explore their identities as readers, they begin to understand that reading extends their world, both real and imagined.

To be a strong reader, students must be able to decode words, read fluently, and comprehend narrative and information texts. Explicit reading instruction occurs daily, and students have opportunities to reflect on strategies modeled through teacher read alouds, to practice skills in guided reading groups, and to think deeply about their independent reading books. Starting in grade 1, students keep a reading notebook where they write about their reading, communicating their ideas with their teachers each week.

As much as possible, reading and writing instruction is linked to support understanding, and the same genre is taught within each subject. For example, when learning about the rainforest, grade 1 students participate in research clubs as they read and write informational books.


At St. Mary’s we teach the writer, not writing. Writing Workshop begins in Kindergarten, and students in Lower School write often, for extended periods of time, on topics of their own choosing, and for real world purposes. Building on the shoulders of the work completed the year before, the students learn and practice the techniques authors use in information, narrative and persuasive pieces.

Each Writing Workshop session begins with a mini-lesson, in which teachers use explicit instruction to model a strategy that can be used in the students’ writing now and in the future. Group and individual conferences follow, and teachers meet with our young authors to offer specific tips meant to lift the level of each child’s writing. During Workshop, students build their writing stamina with a goal of forty-five minutes of sustained writing by the end of grade 5.

Each unit of writing ends with a celebration in which parents are invited to read the published pieces crafted by the students.


Mathematics education looks different today. Decades of research on the teaching and learning of math has shown that both a strong conceptual understanding and a knowledge of procedures are essential in developing mathematical thinkers.

Building a strong number sense is central to our program. Students are not taught to memorize facts; instead they learn to think and reason flexibly with numbers, to see connections among operations, and to figure mentally. Manipulatives and visual models are used to deepen their understanding, and students learn to explain and justify their mathematical thinking, identify problem-solving strategies, and reflect on the most efficient strategies. Recognizing a variety of paths to solving a problem is as valuable as finding the answer itself.

Concepts and skills are integrated within units of inquiry whenever possible to show the real world application of mathematics. For example, students dive into data analysis and probability when learning about board games throughout the world, and they practice computing decimal numbers as they learn to balance a budget.