Lower School Grades K-4

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Private Lower School Program Fairfax, Va.

The BASIS Independent K-4 program has been developed to help prepare students for the high-achieving curriculum in the BASIS Independent Middle School (grades 5–7) and Upper School (grades 8–12). The K-4 program therefore focuses not only on academics, but also on critical thinking, organizational skills, time management, study skills, and behavioral expectations—each of which are vital to success in various future pursuits.

K-4 Curriculum

Our curriculum for grades K–4 was developed through collaborative work among veteran teachers with deep subject knowledge, and elementary education experts with diverse teaching experiences. Each major topic within a course is spiraled throughout the grade levels to ensure topic mastery. That is, the same major topics can appear in each grade level, but with each appearance, students study that topic in more depth and in more nuanced ways. Students' building blocks of understanding continually widen as they expand their knowledge base. We also constantly evaluate and refine our liberal arts, STEM-focused curriculum—top to bottom—in order to provide the best possible learning paths for our students. Indeed, given the "spiraling" effect, when a piece of the curriculum changes in one grade, it has a positive effect on the other grades, leading students throughout the grade levels to improve.

For a list of the courses required in Lower School, see our course list. Browse our Lower School curriculum detail below:

BASIS.ed Primary K-4 Program

At BASIS.ed, our nationally-ranked, internationally-acclaimed academic program was founded on the notion that any student can be taught to love learning. Every BASIS student is prepared for their next...

Teaching Model: Subject Expert Teachers and Learning Expert Teachers

To ensure superior instruction in each of these areas, we have two teachers in each classroom in kindergarten to grade 4: a Subject Expert Teacher and a Learning Expert Teacher.

Subject Expert Teachers (SETs)—many of whom have master's degrees or Ph.Ds.—are skilled and experienced teachers with special ability in their subject area. SETs only teach that one subject, to a significant number of students, while working with a different Learning Expert Teacher and class of students in each class period.

Learning Expert Teachers (LETs) are skilled and experienced in teaching methods for the primary grades, and they remain with their group of students all day, rotating with them from subject to subject. LETs are responsible for one classroom of students, all day, every day, while leading them to work with a new Subject Expert Teacher in each class period.

During any one class period, these two types of teaching professionals work together to find the best ways to deliver lessons, ensure student engagement, and create an environment where students will understand and retain what they learn in class. Our teachers have a significant amount of professional freedom in finding the optimal way to achieve these goals, which forms a compelling part of what makes BASIS Independent schools outstanding and truly unique.

An observer in our classrooms on any given day will see both LETs and SETs checking for understanding by using student whiteboards, providing one-on-one attention to students, using the Socratic method, applying team-oriented learning techniques, and reviewing the prior night's homework (and prior day's material) not just for accuracy, but for conceptual understanding. This unique level of student-teacher engagement allows teachers to quickly identify students who are struggling, assist them in getting the extra support they may need, and prevent them from falling behind. It also builds a truly fulfilling relationship — one of mutual respect, trust, and understanding.

Kindergarten Curriculum Detail

Our kindergarten academic curriculum builds a foundation for students in math, science and social studies. Those subject themes and building blocks are then spiraled into each subsequent grade level. Every kindergarten teacher works with an aide to ensure that all students are engaged properly, and are adjusting completely, to their first year of school.

Our Kindergarten curriculum consists of the following subjects:

Basic Knowledge Acquisition (BKA)
Basic Knowledge Acquisition includes phonics, reading, and writing with a thematic background of social studies and science. During this time, students read and write about social studies and science, perform experiments, and discuss diverse cultures, all while developing vocabulary and language skills. The goal behind our integrated course approach is to reinforce the logical connections that exist between different courses. We have found that integration of courses early on can increase topic retention and comprehension, improve critical thinking skills, and make abstract topics more relevant and concrete for students. Splitting courses too early in a child's education can cause confusion; we have found that students often have difficulty applying topics taught in one course to another course. Further, course integration can strengthen areas where students struggle by drawing on the areas in which students are strong.

Saxon I Math
Starting kindergarteners in Saxon I Math gives students a head start on day one, introducing basic math facts within the Saxon math framework that they will be seeing throughout their time at BASIS Independent McLean. Because most mathematics at this level involves basic math facts, the kindergarten math class is considered separate from science.

Physical Education (P.E.)
P.E. is scheduled every day and focuses on improving students' coordination and developing their abilities in running, catching, jumping, and other motor skills. Classroom lessons also regularly involve physical activity to ensure maximum student engagement.

Art is integrated throughout the kindergarten curriculum. Classroom projects introduce students to the physical arts, regularly involve cutting, coloring, and pasting, and also assist in the development of fine motor skills. This course is taught thematically, exploring how artists and learners respond to the concepts of communication, community, movement, technology, and self. Students paint, draw, sculpt, and create while making cross-cultural connections. Art is designed to inspire students to explore and develop creative and innovative ideas, preparing them for a variety of future interests as well as establishing an overall appreciation for the arts.

Performing Arts
Performing Arts students explore diverse themes of historical and contemporary significance. Students study elements of music, dance, and theatre. An emphasis is placed on active participation, improvisation, performance, and creativity. The Performing Arts course teaches students to develop critical thinking skills, diversity in expression, and to make meaningful cultural connections, preparing students for academic and lifelong success.

Foreign language acquisition has been shown to improve critical thinking, increase creativity, and stimulate learning in many different subject areas. Mandarin instruction integrates language development with the study of Chinese culture and history, allowing students to better appreciate other cultures in addition to their own.

Concepts taught throughout the course include the appropriate use of, and reason for using, engineering tools, as well as teamwork and communication. This exciting, hands-on subject focuses on the following themes:

Technical Core: an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
Experiments: an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data
Engineering Problems: an ability to develop problem statements and solve well-defined engineering problems
Contemporary Issues: an ability to explain the impact of historical and contemporary issues on the identification, formulation, and solution of engineering problems

Grades 1–4 Curriculum Detail

In grades 1–4, courses are taught in integrated blocks. Students in these grades take the following courses:


Humanities class is taught each day for 85 minutes and consists of English / language arts, geography, and social studies topics. At each grade level, humanities students will be exposed to a broad worldview. At the same time, students will continue to develop and improve their reading and writing skills. Teachers frame these critical skills as the vehicle through which students can learn and be exposed to the social sciences.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)

STEM courses are taught each day. The Science / Math course is taught daily as an integrated block that stresses the connections between math and science, and basic concepts in each. The Technology / Engineering course is taught 1-2 days per week, depending on the unit of study.

In these courses, students use mathematical manipulatives and other hands-on, object-oriented approaches, promoting a deeper understanding of topics while nurturing multiple learning styles, including kinesthetic and tactile learning. Students see that science and mathematics are used in everyday life and develop critical thinking skills as they design experiments and practice mathematical skills. Similar to the relationship between language arts and the social sciences, teachers introduce math as the vehicle used to learn and practice the sciences.


The Mandarin course is taught daily in grades 1–4. Foreign language acquisition has been shown to improve critical thinking, increase creativity, and stimulate learning in many different subject areas. For most students, studying Mandarin involves learning a new syntax, which helps them better understand the various parts of languages and how these parts relate to each other. Mandarin class integrates language development with the study of Chinese culture and history, allowing students to better appreciate other cultures in addition to their own. (Simplified characters are used for written expression in the BASIS Independent McLean Primary program).

Physical Education (PE)

PE is taught for 50 minutes each day in grades 1-4. PE class is a combination of traditional PE, martial arts, and health education. Grades 1 and 2 focus on body awareness and locomotor and non-locomotor skill development. These skills are taught through game play and various other activities. PE in grades 3 and 4 focuses on encouraging fair play and good sportsmanship as well as setting and working toward personal goals by engaging students in a variety of team and individual sports. Physical activities during the school day, including those performed during PE class, help BASIS Independent McLean students develop social skills, improve concentration, and stay healthy.

Fine Arts

The Fine Arts block consists of three separate subjects: visual arts, music, and drama. The Fine Arts course block teaches students to develop critical thinking skills, diversity in expression, and to make meaningful cultural connections while emphasizing active participation, improvisation, performance, and creativity. These experiences are primarily tactile and kinesthetic, allowing students to be actively engaged in the discovery process.

Connections Class

The Connections Class meets once per week for 85 minutes. In this class, students make connections between various core courses in ways that are relevant to what they are learning each week. This scenario-based problem-solving and critical thinking class teaches students to solve problems using their newly developed skills and knowledge, along with prior experience. Students also learn how to work collaboratively and how to voice their opinions in respectful and appropriate ways.

Aside from the integrated course blocks, students in grades 1–4 also have a quiet reading block called The Literacy Center (TLC). Students meet for READ five days per week for 20 minutes. During this time, students read books from home or from our classroom libraries and work with our Learning Expert Teachers to improve their comprehension skills. Students also work on projects based on their reading and share what they have read with their classmates.