PRIMARIES – Kindergarten and First Grade

Year 1: Seasons & Cycles

Humanities, Sciences, Design

The Primary-age child is a natural observer and investigator of the world around her. Her curiosity inspires her to open a pea pod and count the seeds or hunt for a caterpillar and imagine its life as a butterfly. She is beginning to notice the patterns and cycles that order her environment, that can be anticipated and counted on: autumn comes after summer, crocus bulbs bloom in the spring, chickens hatch from eggs. The curriculum provides ample hands-on opportunities to question, plant, harvest, hatch, build, explore, depict, and observe the natural world.

  • Plant Cycles: seeds, roots, & shoots; flowers & fruits; decomposition; seasonal change; Earth & Sun
  • Water Cycle & States of Water 
  • Critter Cycles: animals preparing for winter;
    frogs, butterflies, & chickens; variation by taxonomy
  • Human Cycles: houses around the world, human body systems, Winter Solstice
  • Independent Projects

Students express their learning and investigate ideas through productive experimentation with a variety of media and practice techniques for portraiture, scientific drawing, clay, printmaking, sewing, and more. Pulling up a sprouting bean to draw its earliest roots and leaves or building a working model of the circulatory system induces careful observation and thought about the way things grow and work. Building a beaver lodge invites both imaginative play and learning about animals' ingenious adaptations to their environments. Constructing a tiny replica of a traditional house from a distant part of the world helps children think about how natural resources shape human cultures.

Year 2:  Journeys

Humanities, Sciences, Design

The study of Journeys allows the Primaries to explore a place and time other than here and now and to acquire tools for navigating and describing new experiences. We learn about amazing journeys of both humans and animals, and a sense of wonder is instilled as we investigate the scale of nature's designs. Our studies include voyages of the imagination as well as migratory and historical journeys. Compelling narratives drive the curriculum as we take on the identities of Mayflower passengers and learn about the adventures of Odysseus and the Greek gods. 

  • Sink & Float: boats and the physics of sailing, imaginary journeys, the Mayflower
  • Physical Geography: maps & navigation
  • Migrating Animals: whales, salmon, caribou, Arctic terns
  • Greek Mythology: the journey of Odysseus, The Golden Apple
  • History of Arbor School
  • Independent Projects

Map-making is a hallmark of Arbor education. Drawing to understand the shape of the world around us will later help children form ideas of the relationships among human cultures or world biomes. Constructing scale—and full size—models of whales lets them appreciate how vast some of those creatures are. Plotting ship dimensions inside our classroom lets us imagine the cramped quarters of the Pilgrims' journey. Theater comes to the fore in this year as well, through role-playing of historical characters and in our class performance of a favorite Greek myth from a student-authored script.


The Primary math program helps students develop new tools and perspectives for investigating their world. They discover that objects can be quantified, organized, and compared, and that there are relationships and predictable patterns in their surroundings. Math teaching aims to harness the natural energy and curiosity of five-, six-, and seven-year-olds. The work to build a foundation of numeracy is active, playful, and collaborative, leading young mathematicians to discover big ideas. Using concrete manipulatives, pictorial representations, and, increasingly, the abstractions of numerals and mathematical signs, students learn to communicate their math thinking and build a repertoire of problem-solving strategies. We aim to help each child develop a strong and flexible number sense, facility for recognizing and creating patterns, the concept of place value, and methods for computation.

  • Number & Operations: reading and writing numbers to 100 and beyond, composing & decomposing into tens & ones, comparing magnitude of numbers, skip counting, adding & subtracting, understanding associative & commutative properties
  • Geometry: names, shapes, 3-D models, symmetry, combining & dividing shapes
  • Measurement & Data: attributes & comparisons; ordering & comparing objects by their attributes; using rulers, thermometers, & clocks; tallying; organizing sets; creating & interpreting graphs & charts; probability; Venn diagrams


No two students learn to read and write in precisely the same way or time. We help each individual along her particular trajectory, knowing that success will come from patient guidance along that path. Arbor children learn to read as they write, and from the beginning they write as best they can to communicate their thoughts, wonderings, histories, and fancies. Their teachers deftly introduce conventions that will make their writing more legible, but always support and celebrate students' desire to tell stories beyond their current means. As this process unfolds, children are noticing the look of words and phrases in phonetically limited and highly predictable books they can read themselves, even as they revel in the song of mature language listening to beloved stories read aloud. There are constant opportunities to read and write across the curriculum, whether labeling the parts of a salmon on a scientific diagram, collecting amazing facts about whales, or journaling about the Pilgrims' first sight of Cape Cod. Questions of the Day, Weekend News reports, dedicated daily reading periods, and reading conferences are among the many tools of our trade as we help children grow toward fluency and delight in literacy.