Designed to Inspire All Children to Reach Their Maximum Potential
The Lower School program at Valley School of Ligonier is designed to inspire all children to reach their maximum potential. Our small class sizes enable students to learn in flexible, intimate groups that support every child at his or her level. Students enjoy bright and spacious classrooms that promote a dynamic and hands-on approach to learning and engage both body and mind. Our program offerings provide all students with opportunities to explore and discover their passions. Students in grades K-4 have each “Special” class—Spanish, Science, Art, Music, Technology, Library, and Physical Education (“Sports”)—multiple times per week.
Character Education is a highlight of the Lower School experience. Our emphasis on effort and commitment to learning foster resilience in children as they learn to embrace mistakes as opportunities for growth.
The Lower School reading curriculum focuses on building a strong foundation of literacy skills—phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, and reading comprehension—that leads to overall academic success and a love of reading. In kindergarten and 1st grade, students learn phonemic awareness and letter and sound recognition through the Heggerty curriculum. All students practice close reading—a means of approaching literature that builds children’s confidence and critical thinking skills as they engage deeply with complex, quality texts. Most importantly, Valley School cultivates a love of reading as students enjoy opportunities to immerse themselves in books.
The Lower School writing curriculum fosters written communication skills through The Kid Write program in kindergarten, and Lucy Calkin’s model in other elementary grades. Students participate in Writer’s Workshops, which employ mentor texts as models for various literary genres.
Lower School teachers utilize the Singapore Math approach, which emphasizes being a “math thinker,” encouraging students to apply existing knowledge of math concepts in new ways and in new contexts. Students develop a positive attitude toward math through small-group activities that intentionally sequence math concepts, allowing for conceptual depth and mastery. The Singapore Math approach utilizes concrete, pictorial, and abstract approaches, number bonds, bar modeling, and mental math to help students to develop number sense.
Social studies in Lower School focuses on exposure to five key subjects: civics, cultural studies, economics, history, and geography. In Lower School, students learn about the elements of community, beginning with local, and expanding to state, national, and global studies. They learn that the past has shaped our current world and to have an appreciation for cultural differences.
Exploration and discovery are the central themes in Lower School science. Students are exposed to physical, life, and environmental sciences in kindergarten and 1st grades. Lab skills and safety are also introduced as students work to earn their “Super Scientist Badges.” As the curriculum builds, students learn about the scientific method and explore the kingdoms of life. They also study biomes and habitats, astronomy, electricity, the human body, and elementary physics. Favorite Lower School science projects include squid dissection and raising trout.
Technology education in Lower School introduces students to a wide range of tools and applications that lay the foundation and build the confidence for more complex learning in Upper School. Students study coding, robotics, and typing. With a focus on 21st-century problem-solving abilities, students utilize various online collaboration tools. Respectful use of technology, responsibility, and internet safety are woven into each lesson, reminding students that technology is not a toy but, rather, a powerful tool for learning.
All students in Lower School have an iPad that is kept in their classroom. iPad usage is strictly monitored and is thoughtfully integrated into classroom curricula.
Students in kindergarten through 4th grade have library class twice per 6-day rotation. The Lower School curriculum teaches children how to navigate the library and understand ways of reading fiction and non-fiction. When exposed to poetry, memoir, and author or genre studies, students begin to recognize patterns of writing. Of course, students also have many opportunities to relax and listen. Reading aloud to children helps them visualize texts, develop vocabulary, expand background knowledge, understand the importance of fluency, explore new worlds, and think deeply. Experiences in the library also help our teachers learn about the students’ interests, which gives them insight into the uniqueness of each child, informs conversation, and strengthens relationships.
Valley School students begin taking Spanish in kindergarten. World Language teachers employ the Comprehensible Input concept to immerse students in compelling lessons. Rather than learning isolated words, students receive the tools they need for comprehensive language acquisition, making content studied in the classroom immediately relevant and accessible for use in everyday life. Following the Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling model, teachers use props and classroom references to build context and repetition into lessons. Speaking, listening, writing, and reading experiences based on the Communicative Approach to Language-Teaching Principles also foster acquisition and proficiency. Teachers provide visual and contextual frameworks that facilitate comprehension in a game-like environment.
The Valley Core Values — Cultivate Wellness, Seek Wisdom, Embrace Integrity, and Build Community—are the foundation of our school community. Beginning in kindergarten, children are introduced to these concepts in meaningful, age-appropriate ways. Lower School students gather weekly for “Parliament,” a program through which they explore the meaning of the Valley Core Values and practice the character traits defined within them. Stories, role-play, games, and team-building activities teach the meaning and application of character traits such as empathy, perseverance, humility, and growth mindset. Outside of Parliament, teachers often take advantage of teachable moments to highlight how these traits can be applied in various situations.
In addition to Character Education, our School Counselor teaches weekly guidance lessons using the Second Step Curriculum. These lessons cover social-emotional development, executive functioning skills, conflict resolution, friendship management, and overall well-being. Through kid-friendly formats, students learn strategies and tools to identify and cope with their feelings and the world around them. Students may also visit the School Counselor one-on-one or in small groups to work on issues as they arise.
In keeping with our founders’ vision of a well-rounded education that includes physical wellness, physical education (“Sports Class”) is offered five of every six days. Foundational skills such as sportsmanship, physical fitness, locomotion, fine motor skills, and sport-specific skills are central to the Lower School curriculum. The joy of movement, play, and games encourages students to build healthy and active lifestyles that last through adulthood.
In an environment that is safe, challenging, nurturing, and disciplined, Valley School provides a balanced and strong program of study for a diverse group of children. Our goal is to stimulate in each young person lifelong habits of moral behavior, seeking wisdom, and doing good works for others.