Lower School Curriculum

From a young age, Speyer students are nurtured to become citizens of the world through the lens of historical inquiry. It is only from knowing where we’ve been that we can dream about the possibilities ahead as a global community.

The Lower School academic program is steeped in the humanities while focusing on the foundations of balanced literacy and rigorous instruction in mathematics. Additionally, all Lower School students engage in Debate and Chess as core areas of study. Learning at Speyer is interdisciplinary in the truest sense, holistically integrating art, culture, history, and everyday life. Students explore relationships across subject and develop an understanding of the contextual influences on each of the disciplines.

Each Lower School grade consists of two classes, each having 13-22 students, led by two experienced and dynamic co-head teachers. Through collaboration and project work, the students at Speyer showcase their learning through presentations to the greater Speyer community. Often, these events take the artistic form of plays, films, science demonstrations, art displays, singing, and dancing. As often as possible, Speyer students "live" the curriculum by immersing themselves in it through as many cross-curricular pathways as possible.



Lower School Humanities weaves together themes and examples from a variety of content areas, including but not limited to science, math, visual arts, and performance arts. We nurture Speyer students to see the world through the lens of historical knowledge and interdisciplinary inquiry. This approach provides opportunities for students to think critically across disciplines, then express their individual and group creativity, and to make personal connections through their classroom experiences.


In Kindergarten, students study themselves, their families, and their communities. In the Agents of Change unit, they learn about individuals who have made a difference, locally or globally, in the world. A study of Ancient Greece leads to an inquiry about the characteristics of gods and goddesses in Greek myths and the nature of Greek society.


First grade students study innovation invention and technology in relation to the natural environment. They study the various ways in which the Lenape natives interacted with their natural world and in which European settlers sought to transform that environment. A study of electricity forms the basis of historical inquiry from Benjamin Franklin’s kite to the New York City subway system.


Second grade students explore the impact of European settlement on the land that will become New York, ranging from Dutch settlement, the America Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution that contributed to the built environment that we know as the modern city.


The third grade Humanities inquiry focuses on the expansion of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase and the explorations of Lewis and Clark. An important element of this study is a focus on the impact of expansion on Native tribes in the Great Plains.


Fourth grade students interrogate the concepts of discovery and conquest in the context of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and those of sixteenth century Spanish conquistadors. After an initial study of the indigenous societies of the Taino and the Maya, students conduct research on important historical participants in the interactions between European and Native societies in the Americas.


We emphasize historical content at Speyer, and we are equally committed to equipping students with strong literacy skills through a leveled reading program.  We strive to instill and nurture a lifelong love of literature in our students, one in which they fully comprehend the logistics and nuances of the wide range of literature they encounter.

A rigorous writing curriculum promotes creative expression and effective communication through structured units in narrative nonfiction, opinion writing, and historical fiction. Students learn and practice proper use of punctuation, organization of ideas in sentences and paragraphs, transitions from one idea to the next, and selection of the most effective words and phrases to communicate the message of the piece.


Problem solving and perseverance are at the heart of our mathematics instruction. We use Singapore Math as the basis for instruction, and we supplement each unit with programs to add a hands-on component to daily work. In addition to strengthening students’ facility in making calculations, we emphasize decoding and solving complex word problems. Students develop the essential skill of reading a problem and determining what calculations are required to determine a solution.


Science at Speyer is all about exploring specific phenomena through a hands-on, project-based lens that includes lab-based experimentation. Speyer science does not take place only in the lab--it uses the world as a source of inquiry. Students attend field-based excursions in Manhattan and outside of the city in addition to visiting museums and cultural institutions in the area. Lower School students attend science class two to three a week, practicing innovative techniques that allow them to experience scientific concepts firsthand.


From kindergarten through eighth grade, Speyer students study the Spanish language and culture through active engagement through movement, dramatic play, and the use of an interactive computer program for individual practice. Students communicate through songs, poetry, plays, videos, and conversation while experiencing the role of Spanish in New York City life.