Curriculum by Grade

Many students can tell you what they did in school today. A Willow student can explain why.

Explore Willow’s comprehensive curriculum by grade to see how our students develop and excel as communicators, thinkers, and leaders.

Dummy to Close First Accordion
Preschoolers are...

Growing by leaps and bounds every single day! Preschoolers are in the process of acquiring the skills referred to as “developmental milestones,” which involve physical, emotional, social, and cognitive abilities. They are still feeling out the difference between themselves and others. They learn best through creative play and purposeful teaching and thrive when they are given the opportunity to move at their own pace. Developing the ability to work with others cooperatively is especially important, even as they take their first steps toward independence.

The Age 3 & 4 curriculum at The Willow School develops strong social and emotional skills in a joyful and nurturing environment.

  • In language arts, preschoolers are taught to verbalize their feelings and needs and to follow multi-step directions. Writing skills develop through dramatic play and labeling activities. Journal work and Handwriting Without Tears are typically introduced during the second preschool year.
  • Students are introduced to math in small groups with individualized instruction. Beyond recognizing numbers and counting, students learn sorting, pattern recognition, odd and even numbers, more than/less than/equal to, and symmetry.
  • The science program encourages a love for nature and a curious mind. Children learn about plants and animals by participating in hands-on activities, including gardening and exploring the woods. The outside world becomes a classroom where they use their five senses to see first-hand how things change over time.
  • In social studies, students develop a sense of community and a connection to others. Their world expands as they move from self-care to learning about the Earth.
  • Art and music not only make school fun, they also support competencies necessary in all other subjects, including development of fine motor skills and following directions.
  • Age 3 & 4 students are awakening their senses to new sounds. At Willow, they are introduced to world languages in the same way they would learn their own mother tongue. Preschoolers have one semester of French and one semester of Spanish each year.

By the end of preschool, young Willow School students demonstrate these and many other skills:

  • An increased ability to work with others and follow directions; the ability to verbalize their needs and wants in social groups.   
  • Age-appropriate writing skills, supported by increased focus and hand-eye coordination.
  • Basic numeracy, including counting one to 10 and beyond and the basics measuring, money, and time.
  • An interest in nature and being comfortable and curious in the out-of-doors.
Kindergarteners are...

Highly curious; they are eager to learn about the world and how it works. They are able to focus on tasks for longer periods of time than in preschool and are capable of more complex thinking. Kindergarteners are also able to follow routines and rules more easily, though they may be critical of peers who don’t. Seeing other’s perspectives and problem solving are an important part of helping kindergarteners grow.

Willow’s curriculum harnesses kindergarteners’ curiosity and eagerness to make sense of the world. Here are some examples:

  • In science, kindergarteners conduct hands-on investigations of interdependency (trees, birds, anatomy, ponds), turning Willow’s 34-acre campus into learning laboratory as they developing  the knowledge and skills that lead to scientific literacy.
  • In math, Singapore Math and Montessori math materials are used to introduce abstract mathematical concepts in concrete terms. Addition and subtraction, for instance, are made real to kindergarteners because they act out, model, and solve story problems.
  • In social studies, kindergarteners consider the essential question, “Who am I?” They examine themselves in the context of their classroom, school, family, and the world, learning to appreciate the importance of cooperation and support.
  • Engaged with art and music on a regular basis, kindergarteners develop an appreciation for the arts as they learn to listen, express themselves, and work together.

By the end of the year, these are just a few of the many skills and abilities Willow kindergarteners demonstrate:

  • An ability to organize their thoughts and ideas to tell stories verbally or pictorially, learned through daily workshop writing and by engaging with art and literature.
  • An ability to use their “toolkit” of letters, sounds, and decoding strategies to make sense of what their teachers are reading and become more independent readers.
  • An ability to examine patterns in math, make predictions about what comes next, and explain and interpret data representations.
  • An understanding of interdependency in the natural world and how we all depend on each other.
  • An understanding of themselves and what it means to be a productive member of a community.

Need guidance on transitioning your child to kindergarten? Request our Kindergarten Planner. We will email it to you immediately!

First Graders are...

Highly motivated to learn, but also in need of more structure and routine. They are eager to soak up information, and most first graders start looking for logical answers to their questions about the world. They are ready to explore in more detail what community means and how they fit in. First graders are also ready to understand what letters and numbers really mean.

Taking advantage of first graders’ readiness to participate as a group and thirst for new information, The Willow School curriculum leads students to:

  • Delve more deeply into the concept of community. In social studies, first graders learn about their classroom, school, town, and global communities. This focus on how groups interact is complemented in science with the study of nature and ecology, especially when first graders adopt and care for monarch butterflies and study their ecosystem.
  • Learn word patterns through engaging, multi-sensory explorations. These lessons support their reading and writing development.
  • Begin to participate in writers’ workshops, based on the work of Lucy Calkins, in language arts. Students also learn Willow School Editing Marks and continue to use Montessori Grammar Symbols and learn about nouns and verbs.
  • Learn how to solve math problems in both abstract and concrete ways through hands-on activities and discussions taught using Singapore math, Pearson’s Investigations, and Montessori math techniques. Students apply their knowledge in engaging games to help them understand mathematical concepts in depth. RocketMath, a worksheet-based program, introduces addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Participate in Willow’s Winter and Spring Arts Evenings through art, music, and handcrafts, placing their own creativity in the context of the school community.

By the end of first grade, young Willow students demonstrate these and many other skills:

  • An increased ability to work with others and follow directions; the ability to verbalize their needs and wants in social groups.
  • Age-appropriate writing skills, supported by increased focus and hand-eye coordination.
  • Basic number sense, including counting one to 10 and beyond, measuring, estimation, sorting and patterns.
  • An interest in nature and being comfortable and curious in the out-of-doors.
Second Graders are...

Starting to understand more complicated ideas, such as cause and effect. At The Willow School, a series of themes and experiences integrates Grade 2 students’ learning across all of the core subjects. Students apply their developing understanding of letters and numbers to more complex material and begin to develop their analytical abilities. They become adept at writing complete sentences and using basic punctuation. Second graders become more aware of what other people think about them. They begin to understand the importance of rules and their own role in helping people.

Grade 2 students are given the opportunity to use their increased understanding of more complicated ideas through experiential learning at Willow in the following ways:

  • In science, students study insect life cycles through a larvae experiment. They explore the campus, discovering the school’s unique water system and exploring how it mimics the natural water cycle. They also conduct a study of the Willow pond, analyzing population data and comparing results to previous years’ studies to identify patterns. There are field trips to the Great Swamp Environmental Center and Poricy Park fossil beds. Second graders work with kindergarteners and seventh graders to identify maple trees, tap and monitor them, and turn the sap into maple syrup.
  • In social studies, students learn about the past and why it’s important to them. They start off the year learning about their family’s past by conducting interviews, collecting a family artifact, and creating a family tree. They reconstruct the past of the land occupied by The Willow School by interpreting artifacts and piecing together primary documents. They also learn to reconstruct history through an on-site archaeological dig, a project that engages students in the work of an archaeologist: excavation, research, and interpreting their findings.
  • In language arts, children write poetry, autobiographies, and fictional diaries, integrating what they learn in the other disciplines. They learn to write for different purposes by mimicking the styles of famous authors, as well as specific genres.
  • Math is integrated into the hands-on projects second graders are engaged in, from creating a timeline to identify years in the past to collecting and graphing pond study data, recording temperatures in the maple sap project, and more.
  • Oral French and Spanish studies continue, and simple written exercises are added. Children play games, read books, work on group and individual projects, and participate in a play. Students choose their primary world language at this age.

By the end of the year, Willow second graders demonstrate proficiency in:

  • Solving math word problems.
  • Reading comprehension, as students are asked to recall incidents, characters, facts, and details of stories and discuss similarities and differences between stories.
  • Analyzing the past and how it relates to the present through primary and secondary sources, maps, and cultural studies, such as the history of African-American music.
  • Speaking in complete sentences in French and Spanish, while fully understanding what they read and say.
  • Making predictions and finding patterns in the natural world.
Third Graders are...

Becoming more independent learners. They learn best through active, concrete experiences, and are able to work independently. Third graders are beginning to see the written word as a source of information. Their energy seems boundless, but it can also be their greatest challenge, as their attention span may not match their enthusiasm for taking on new tasks. Friendships become extremely important at this age, as children long to be part of a group.

In Grade 3 at Willow, students’ energy and enthusiasm is challenged with such curriculum items as:

  • Hands-on science experiences include leading the school-wide Lunch Waste Challenge and building a model of our solar system after a trip to the planetarium.
  • Math instruction is based on the Singapore Math Curriculum, with supplemental material for differentiated learning.
  • Language arts integrates Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Program with lessons that help students develop powerful story lines, while developing vocabulary, grammar, and conventions. Independent reading and read alouds are integral to third grade language arts.
  • In their study of Colonial America and Westward Expansion, students build models, design games, learn period songs and dances, and participate in other student-led experiences that bring their social studies learning to life.

By the end of the year, these are just a few of the many skills and abilities Willow third graders demonstrate:

  • Ability to do research in the library or on the computer.
  • Familiarity with the writing process: drafting, editing, revising, publishing.
  • Ability to self-assess as they learn to polish and praise artwork.
  • Independent reading and book selection.
  • A growing awareness of “place,” the complexity of communities and systems of which the student is part.
  • An understanding of the responsibility of each person to care for these communities and systems.
Fourth Graders are...

Becoming increasingly self-aware. At this grade, students are more self-motivated and able to work independently. At the same time, they are better able to work in groups and understand the perspectives of others. They can’t sit still for long, but they tire easily. Recess and snacks are still important.

 In Grade 4 at Willow:

  • Math in Focus, a Singapore Mathbased curriculum, is supplemented with other materials to introduce math concepts and explore them with physical manipulatives.
  • Science teaches students how to research independently through the Invertebrate Project, Poricy Park field trip, and Vertebrate Evolution project.
  • Students enjoy working in group Book Clubs as part of language arts.
  • Genius Hour gives students dedicated time to explore a passion or interest and develop a project that demonstrates their understanding and mastery of the topic.
  • Regular engagement with art and music grows more complex; fourth graders learn to polish and praise artwork as part of self-assessment and continue to apply their knowledge to making music in a group setting.

By the end of the year, these are just a few of the many skills and abilities Willow fourth graders demonstrate:

  • Fluency in reading, thoughtful listening, articulate speaking, and clear writing.
  • Ability to re-evaluate, redesign, and engage with projects; self-assessment.
  • Mastery of division and multiplications concepts, fractions, and decimals in a variety of real-world applications, such as measuring length, capacity, weight, time, and temperature.
  • Understanding why it is important to know about cultures other than our own, and to formulate their own answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?”
  • Ability to develop their own problem-solving strategies.
Fifth Graders are...

Excited about learning and capable of deep discussion and thoughtful analysis, but the need to socialize may overshadow classwork. Increased independence and improved problem-solving skills are also hallmarks of Grade 5, the final year of Lower School at Willow. At this age, students push boundaries and can develop “middle school attitude,” especially by the end of the year. It is a time of contradiction and cooperation. It’s important for adults to play a crucial role: listening, reassuring, and supporting the new individual that is starting to emerge.

In Grade 5, the Willow curriculum is designed to foster critical thinking and channels their need for socialization into productive group work:

  • Students use the Math In Focus curriculum, which prepares them for Algebra. Fifth graders focus on number sense, basic facts, computation, fractions and proportional reasoning, and decimals, tackling challenging problem solving.
  • In science, fifth graders continue to explore the environment, especially the ecosystem of a stream and our local watershed, on and off campus.
  • Students write multiple pieces in language arts, including personal narratives, fiction pieces, essays, poetry, and persuasive essays.
  • The essential question asked in social studies is, “What is gained and lost when civilizations are formed?” Students approach the answer by studying prehistory and the first civilizations.
  • Architecture is introduced to encourage critical thinking and problem solving skills through the process of design. Students work independently and cooperatively towards a solution, observing their environment and considering the consequences of decisions made in an authentic way.

As they prepare to enter Middle School, Willow School fifth graders demonstrate:

  • The ability to solve problems with complex numbers, including dividing whole numbers, with and without remainders. The ability to make connections between decimals, fractions, and percentages.
  • Their own unique writing style.
  • The ability to complete projects, demonstrating their understanding of the topic and the skills required, as an individual and as a group.
  • An understanding of how hard work, determination, and endurance throughout human history have created the civilization we take for granted today.
Sixth Graders are...

Beginning Middle School! By sixth grade, differences among individuals in rates of development widen. For many, the adolescent growth spurt has begun. It is a time of extremes. Children may be very active, but also need more rest – sleep is very important. While their intellectual interests expand, students remain mostly interested in the present. They begin to question what they are told, but their outlook is mostly idealistic.

In Grade 6, Willow’s curriculum takes advantage of students’ heightened problem-solving skills and understanding of abstract thought. Here are some examples:

  • Algebraic reasoning, measurement and geometry, and probability are studied in math. Some students are ready for pre-Algebra in Accelerated Math. These students study rational numbers, graphs, equations, and exponents and roots.
  • Students discover the formation of the Earth and delve into its natural systems, including geology, hydrology, nutrient cycles, energy flow, weather, climate change, and human impact in science. The campus is their classroom as they design and implement experiments.
  • In language arts, students explore various types of writing, including analysis, reflection, and journaling. Young adult novels, as well as short stories and essays, serve as a springboard for class discussion and writing assignments. Independent reading helps students learn the art of deep reading. Students are introduced to MLA formatting and opportunities to shape their voices as writers through exercises in self and peer editing, revision, and grammar review.
  • In social studies, students study the Age of Empires. Focusing on China, India, Greece, and Rome, they investigate why empires rose to power and how they impacted the lives of ordinary people and the course of human history. At the end of the year, students create an interactive exhibit and invite visitors to take a tour of ancient Rome.
  • Latin becomes part of the curriculum for all students through the Cambridge Latin Course series, while French and Spanish instruction branch into study of the countries where those languages are spoken, as well as introduction of formal grammar through writing, speaking, and reading in the target language.
  • Students are encouraged to express themselves and try new ideas as they build on their lessons in other subjects in Willow’s integrated art program as they strengthen their ability to collaborate with each other in music.
  • Sixth grade students are given the opportunity to pursue their passions through a number of elective choices, from Guitar to The Science of Cooking, Form & Forage, and more.

After they have completed their first year in Middle School, Willow sixth graders show an ability to:

  • Design experiments and understand the scientific process.
  • Persevere when presented with solving challenging problems and learn from mistakes.
  • Draw conclusions based on primary and secondary sources and support them with evidence.
  • Use systems thinking tools to predict long-term, unintended consequences of decisions and events.
  • Understand the importance of cultivating the virtues of honesty and justice.
Seventh Graders are...

Immersed in a period of rapid intellectual, social, and emotional change. While there are even more social distractions to keep them from doing schoolwork, at the same time, individual skills and interests can lead to great opportunities to explore and develop lifelong passions.

In Grade 7, the curriculum is rigorous and varied. The Virtues Program and a strong sense of community help Willow students navigate social and emotional changes.

  • Students focus on life science, observing plant life cycles, exploring molecules (including DNA), and studying ecosystem dynamics and evolution. Students experience real biology field work, including a year-long, experiential study of plants on Willow’s campus and a citizen science study of bird migration patterns and population.
  • In math, Pre-algebra or Algebra 1 demand that students reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments to explain their reasoning, solve problems accurately, use appropriate tools strategically, and persevere when solving challenging problems.
  • In language arts, students deepen their critical thinking and analytical writing skills as they begin to study a more nuanced approach in their written expression: paying attention to how we say what we say. The emphasis on MLA formatting and grammar continues, as well as independent reading opportunities. Students are introduced to the concept of cultural literacy, highlighting the importance of reading and intelligently discussing well-known and influential works.
  • In Latin, seventh graders continue with the Cambridge Latin Course series, Unit 1 and participate in the National Latin Exam, Introduction to Latin.
  • In French and Spanish, emphasis is put on more advanced written and oral comprehension through a project-based curriculum.
  • Social studies explores the value of diversity and the attitudes that lead to positive or negative cultural encounters. Contacts between the Christian and Islamic worlds, imperial China, and cultures along the Silk Road during Medieval times are the focus of a year-long investigation into cultural exchanges, culminating in a final, student-led interactive exhibit.

By the end of the year, these are just a few of the many skills and abilities Willow seventh graders demonstrate:

  • A “growth mindset,” as students are able learn from their mistakes.
  • An understanding that many of the issues we struggle with today were present long ago in both western and eastern cultures.
  • An ability to compare and contrast based on similarities and differences.
  • The ability to craft multiple paragraph essays that support ideas and opinions through textual evidence and to cite that evidence using both in-text citations and work cited pages.
  • An understanding of the need for empathy, compassion, and forgiveness in solving conflicts.
Eighth Graders are...

Capable of making great leaps in problem solving, deductive reasoning, abstract thinking, strategic planning, and impulse control. They are beginning to understand that their behavior can have long-term consequences. With growing self-awareness, students are open to building lifelong skills, such as proactivity, perseverance, goal setting, using a support system, and developing emotional coping strategies.

The Grade 8 curriculum ties together all of the programs of the previous years at Willow to match studentsmore advanced cognitive skills:

  • Algebra 1 or geometry — both high school-level courses — present challenges and opportunities for future success in math.
  • Students take ownership for developing and performing experiments as they explore physical science and chemistry. They practice the engineering design process as they work on projects to model the laws that govern energy and matter.
  • American history is the basis of the social studies curriculum, leading students to investigate the questions, “What future do I want to create?” and “How much power do ordinary people have to change the world?”
  • In language arts, students continue to develop their skills to produce longer, more comprehensive writing on a variety of topics in a variety of modes. Students read seminal and influential novels, short stories, essays, and poetry. The emphasis on independent reading continues, with stronger focus on reflective writing to prepare for similar high school assignments. When they reach high school, Willow graduates are recognized as effective and confident communicators.
  • Skills for Tomorrow builds public speaking, communication, and leadership skills in preparation for high school.
  • In Latin, eighth graders continue with the Cambridge Latin Course series, Unit 2 and participate in the National Latin Exam, Latin I.
  • In art, students collaborate on a special class banner to be presented at graduation and hung in the Willow barn with previous graduating classes.

By the end of the year, Willow eighth graders are fully prepared to tackle the challenges of high school, demonstrating:

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Director of Enrollment Management Lisa VanderVeen is here to help! Contact her at (908) 470-9500, ext. 1100 or via email

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