Lower School Curriculum

A Learning Environment that Inspires

The experiences your daughter has at Ellis and the relationships she develops will teach her that there are many different ways to be a girl in the world. At the end of her time in the Lower School, she will be on the path to discovering the girl she is meant to be and have the confidence to become her. Simply put, The Ellis School is a place where girls soar.


The primary goal of the Lower School mathematics program is for students to see that mathematics is a tool for better understanding and explaining the world around them. Ellis students achieve a level of conceptual understanding that allows them to solve complex problems and communicate their solutions clearly and convincingly to others. Key features of the Lower School mathematics program include:

List of 3 items.

  • Emphasis on problem solving

    We know girls learn best when concepts are grounded in real-world problem-solving. Engaging students in the problem-solving process is a primary focus of the math program at Ellis. By introducing students to challenges that are resolved using mathematical tools, without providing any obvious strategy, teachers build their capacity for analysis, logical reasoning, and creative thinking. Lower School girls have the opportunity to explore the application of their mathematical knowledge and skills within a meaningful context which encourages them to appreciate the relevance and usefulness of mathematics. Frequently, teachers present students with problems that require collaboration and discussion. Students have the opportunity to explain their ideas, listen to the ideas of others, and challenge each other’s thinking. As they share, explain, and justify their strategies—those that work as well and those that don’t—students develop robust mathematical understanding and confidence in their ability.
  • Recognizing and analyzing patterns

    The ability to recognize and analyze patterns, categorize and classify, and represent relationships are powerful mathematical tools for making sense of the world. From pre-kindergarten through grade 4, Ellis girls make mathematical discoveries by investigating the patterns they find in colors, shapes, sounds, numbers, and letters. Teachers provide ample opportunities for students to analyze, extend, and construct a variety of patterns and to use pattern-based thinking to analyze and solve problems. These explorations build mathematical understanding and confidence in girls. When solving a complex problem, teachers frequently suggest to students that they try to work on simpler versions of the problem, observe what happens in a few specific cases, and use that pattern to solve the original problem. Students who are proficient at looking for patterns and analyzing them to solve problems are better equipped to grapple with higher-level math concepts. Most of the major principles of algebra and geometry emerge as generalizations of patterns in number and shape.
  • Utilization of modeling and visualization techniques

    Because girls are firmly rooted in the physical world, mathematical learning must begin with concrete experiences. Learning proceeds from the known (concrete) to the unknown (abstract) as teachers connect and build upon our students’ existing knowledge base. Students engage with hands-on manipulatives to construct cognitive models for abstract mathematical concepts and processes. Pictorial representations are an additional mathematical tool teachers utilize to build conceptual understanding. For example, kindergarten students learn the number bond, which is a pictorial representation of the part-part-whole relationship between numbers, before introducing addition or subtraction symbols. In grades 3 and 4, girls tackle challenging word problems using Bar Modeling, which breaks down problems into visual representations, enabling students to conceptualize and strategize solutions to complex problems. Models and visual representations allow students to create and solidify their own understanding of why math works the way it does.

Language Arts

Our language arts program respects the fact that children become readers and writers at their own pace. We understand that our students are unique individuals who possess different abilities and learning styles. We utilize a variety of methods to meet the needs of our learners including:

List of 4 items.

  • Individual Conferencing

    Our teachers meet with students one-on-one to listen to them read aloud, discuss their reading and writing, re-teach or reinforce a lesson, and set goals. Conferences are essential to student progress because of their individualized nature. Because we invite students to work at their own pace and they are at many different places in their experiences as readers and writers, they need different kinds of teaching to support that individual work. Sitting side-by-side with a teacher who is taking time for a thoughtful conversation sends the student the message that she is taken seriously as a reader and a writer and that we value her effort.
  • Multi-sensory Instruction

    We incorporate multi-sensory techniques to create memorable learning experiences for our students. Our approach, which engages four learning pathways—auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic—leads to deeper more impactful learning because it activates multiple parts of the brain and creates more cognitive connections. Our students demonstrate focused attention and concentration when they engage the whole body in multi-sensory learning. Whether they are writing letters in sand to create a tactile memory or skywriting words to create muscle memory, our students are focused on their learning.
  • Peer Interaction

    Our students enjoy ample opportunities to read to each other, share their writing with one another, and present their ideas through informal discussion and formal projects. In addition to practicing and reinforcing speaking and listening skills, peer interaction increases student accountability for the learning experience. Rather than depending on the teacher to lead the way, students ask each other questions, provide constructive feedback, and make suggestions. Students appreciate their differences as they experience how each individual in the classroom contributes to the learning environment in her own way.
  • Small Group Instruction

    During the literacy block, we increase the number of teachers in the room and divide students into small instructional groups. Having a low student to teacher ratio allows us to closely monitor student progress. Through observation and assessment, the teacher gathers information about the learner and responds with targeted instruction that meets a student where she is while offering the appropriate amount of challenge.

Jamie Schiff

Head of Lower School

Keenly aware of the social-emotional needs of young learners as well as the need for providing a program that is developmentally appropriate, the Lower School faculty create classroom environments that allow each girl to thrive. Ellis girls love school, form lasting friendships, take risks, and become creative and independent thinkers. Because the Lower School program is inquiry-based, essential questions drive the learning for our students. Questions and exploration lead to innovative solutions. We see the Arts and STEM subjects as interconnected, making our approach equally engaging and rigorous in the arts and sciences and allowing our students to make connections across subject areas. We focus on experiential projects that create deep understanding and have real relevance to girls’ lives. Through this framework, even our youngest students make comparisons, see relationships, and develop complex thinking. Our girls learn to work in teams, respect other ways of knowing, and learn to effectively use a variety of technology tools which enhance their learning and allow them to share what they know with others.

Lower School Faculty Directory