Welcome to the Lower School
Blue Oak School’s Lower School hums with student curiosity and creativity. In our Lower School the process of learning, problem finding and problem solving, and inquiry are stressed.
This approach not only promotes deeper understanding of material, it increases student motivation and interest so that our students love to learn. Engaged learners who love what they are doing, taught by bright, caring and committed teachers is a combination that leads to high levels of student achievement.
Follow the links to the right for a more detailed overview of each grade’s homeroom curriculum. Explore the other areas of our website to explore our rich Lower School programs in studio and culinary arts, music, physical education, and Spanish – all key ingredients in a Blue Oak education. Parents receive more detailed information about the curriculum at Back to School Night -- we look forward to seeing you there!
The Blue Oak School’s kindergarten is a close and supportive class community where the imagination and curiosity of our youngest students are nurtured. Our Kindergarten program serves entering children who turn five by September 1 of the year they will begin at Blue Oak. The kindergarten day balances whole-group, individualized, structured, and self-directed activities that allow children to practice collaboration, independence, negotiation skills, and choice-making.
Because of the greater range in children’s ages and developmental abilities, our Kindergarten program looks at each child as an individual and teaches to his or her strengths and needs. Children in the two year program have the benefit of continuing their learning with the same teacher. This allows the teacher to develop a deeper understanding of a child’s strengths and needs. The older children have the opportunity to serve as mentors and to take leadership roles in the class community.
Much of the kindergarten morning is reserved for work time when children busily use open-ended materials including blocks, clay, and paint. During this time children also make art, sew, and cook. Work time activities are often connected to the class’s unit of study, but it is also a time for the children to work freely, to creatively demonstrate their understandings, and to follow their own interests.
Kindergarten children everywhere begin school with a range of skills and varied developmental readiness in the areas of reading and writing—and this is as it should be! For those children who are just entering into the world of the alphabet, they study a letter a week, introduce correct handwriting letter formation, sort objects by sound, and play sound and letter games. Children who have already developed sound-to-letter correspondence play word games, practice reading sight words, and enjoy our little reading books. Those kindergartners who are already reading have plenty of time to read at just the right level.
As emerging scientists, the kindergarten children begin the multi-year work of the Blue Oak student to become stewards of our environment. The kindergarten children are immersed in the natural world as they plant a garden, learn how plants grow, and conduct their own animal study. Through this work students also learn to observe, and to take notes and measurements.
The kindergarten math curriculum uses individual and partner games to support our students as they gain numeracy skills. Children learn to recognize numbers and coins, become skilled counters and graph-makers, practice estimating, and learn to combine and compare numbers. Science and social studies units, often linked to our ongoing work in math, provide a meaningful context for students’ skill development.
Blue Oak students’ first “social study” is the kindergarten’s developmentally appropriate and engaging family study. As part of their investigations, the children invite members of their immediate or extended families to school to share stories with the class that have ranged from the adoption of the family dog to an inside look at the work of a firefighter. From there, the kindergarten students extend their explorations into our community and enlarge the study to understanding what families need: the study of homes, food, transportation and jobs.
Blue Oak first graders continue to develop initiative, self-reliance and independence. What psychologists call “strategic situations” are created to encourage the children to explore new ideas and concepts in an atmosphere of structured freedom.
First grade students’ literacy skills are strengthened and their joy of reading is nourished as they read and write, discuss stories, and practice their emerging critical thinking skills. They learn strategies to decode words and derive meaning from “just right” books and Junior Great Books. “Shared inquiry” lessons develop students’ analytic skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Students also practice the art and craft of writing, relating moments in their lives, animal reports, and how-to books that often delight the community with topics like “How to Spy on Your Brother.”
As mathematicians, Blue Oak first graders use manipulatives to build and see numbers as they continue to sort, count, and find patterns. They also learn the formal procedures for addition and subtraction, and learn about place value and currency, asking their own mathematical questions and solving their own equations through pictures, words and numbers. A hallmark of progressive education, Blue Oak makes math meaningful as first grade students buy and sell stamps from the school post office, and extend their learning into the community by, for example, marketing, selling, accounting for the sales of, and donating the proceeds from a class business.
The first grade “social study” begins with their school job, the Blue Oak Postal Service, using their knowledge of the school building and the people in it to develop their own school-wide mail system. This study connects students to the nation’s postal service, and reveals other aspects of a city, such as the public library, food bank, public transportation system, and an animal shelter.
First graders continue to mature as stewards of our environment as they sharpen their skills of observation and record-keeping. They explore the life cycles of butterflies and beetles, and the anatomy of crabs, lobsters, and sea stars. Their work extends beyond our immediate community to the wider world. Finally, first graders bring all their skills to bear on the farm study as they learn about what farms need, and then imaginatively build and stock their own farms.
As in every grade at Blue Oak School, social-emotional growth is closely attended to. Independence is encouraged through a sleepover at school, where students pack their own overnight bag and help to pitch tents in our multi-purpose room. This end-of-year experience highlights cooperation and community.
Second grade at Blue Oak School is an exciting year of growth and discovery. Students build upon their established foundations with new skills, new discoveries, and a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of themselves, Napa, and the world we encounter through our daily lives, books, and current events.
Second graders interact with literature in an increasingly mature way as they learn to make self-to-text and text-to-text connections, create story maps, and explore the elements of a story, increasing their reading comprehension skills and developing a deeper appreciation for literature. Through engaging activities tailored to meet students at their current levels of ability, they strengthen their writing skills, delve deeper into the mechanics of grammar, and explore a multitude of literary genres.
As mathematicians, second graders are engaged in myriad hands-on activities that solidify their understanding of addition and subtraction. They explore patterns, fractions, time and money through real life situations. Group work is encouraged and students begin to take responsibility for their own learning as they navigate the challenges of working with others and realize the importance of seeing their part of the project through to completion.
The second grade “social study” takes students on an exploration of Napa County and its history to learn about the historian’s concept of change over time. Second graders begin by mapping their immediate environment, incorporating the study of distance and scale, and then broaden their scope to include their county and eventually its placement in the state of California. Students create various personal maps as well, including monthly calendars that become tools for a explorations of time and history.
As our students explore Napa Valley they are immersed in an ongoing investigation of the local riparian habitat. Our second grade scientists become careful observers of life cycles and the effects humans have on our environment, as we take their learning outside with numerous field trips to locations around Napa and the Bay Area. They investigate the states of matter and the scientific method as they explore how matter changes states and is affected by temperature and pressure, further expanding their observation skills.
This year of growth and discovery culminates with a camping trip -- our students’ first out-of-school overnight, where students are challenged to apply their skills and where we celebrate our second grade adventure.
Blue Oak’s third grade is a class community where the children are encouraged to take social and academic risks. Children work in teams for many of our projects, coming to appreciate each other’s strengths and challenges.
The third grade curriculum is organized into major units of integrated study: the wetlands, Native American communities, and patterns of our Earth. These studies provide the children with strategic opportunities to reflect on their own experience and their place in the community, and to connect to the environment and a diversity of cultures.
In language arts, Blue Oak third graders read biographies, legends, and chapter books, and they peruse numerous non-fiction resources. During small group discussions, the children practice making predictions and connections, and learn to ask thoughtful questions about the readings. In the Junior Great Books program, the children continue to develop their analytic skills as they defend their opinions about characters and plot. In Writers’ Workshop, our young authors experiment with a wide range of writing styles, from personal narratives and expository writing to poetry and book reviews. They also keep a writer’s journal to collect their own thoughts, ideas, dreams and memories.
Our third grade mathematicians review addition and subtraction in preparation for multiplication and division. As they learn multiplication, student begin with the concrete experience of building arrays and grouping objects before moving on to multiplication facts. They put their mathematical knowledge to work, solving word problems that involve adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Our third graders also tackle real-world problems in geometry, measurement, and fractions that are integrated elements of our social study and our science units.
Third grade students learn how native cultures used Napa Valley’s resources over time, beginning with local landforms and the Bay Area estuary. From one essential question -- what makes a community? -- the children investigate what local native communities needed to survive, and how tribes met these needs, depending on the natural resources in their area. Each student becomes an expert at one skill, such as basket weaving, whittling, storytelling, or drumming, and they share their expertise with the rest of the school community during our Native American Museum tour.
Third grade’s overnight trip is integrated into our curriculum and expands our student’s independence and curiosity. In recent years the third grade has ventured to the Robert Ferguson Observatory. There, children walk through a scale model of our solar system, the PlanetWalk. Once nighttime arrives, these young scientists stay up late to explore the skies using various telescopes to see beyond the edges of their galaxy.
Inquiry is at the center of the work of a Blue Oak fourth grader.
Blue Oak fourth graders continue to strengthen their literacy skills as they discuss and critically analyze texts. Students gain meaning through print and digital sources, and they learn to gather information from members of the community for the Lower School newspaper, The Blue Oak Times. Through the newspaper, fourth graders tell real stories, relay important information, persuade their schoolmates, and organize their thoughts for all to see. Students are motivated to produce a newspaper they are proud of at the same time as they hone important skills in the processes of drafting, editing, critiquing, and publishing.
As scientists at Blue Oak School, fourth graders practice applying the scientific method to questions of their own design. They hypothesize, experiment, observe, and ultimately draw sound conclusions. In addition to the linear model of the scientific method, students are encouraged to approach problem solving in a non-linear way, through the testing of ideas.
Regular excursions to a local farm and the use of sophisticated laboratory equipment enliven our study of botany, cycles, environmental stewardship, and our dynamic Earth. Students learn how to weigh and measure accurately with a triple beam balance and graduated cylinders, and discover the pros and cons of standard and metric measurement by measuring everything in sight!
Our fourth grade mathematicians develop their numeracy and logic skills through games, manipulatives, technology, and writing. In an environment where multiple approaches to the same problem are valued, students approach arithmetic in ways that sharpen and deepen their understanding of quantitative information.
The Blue Oak fourth grade social study focuses on the rich and unique history of California through the lens of “daily life.” By studying topics like the Gold Rush and immigration, students construct ideas about how California’s land and resources have shaped the lives of its people.
As in other grades at Blue Oak, students venture into the world for an overnight experience. In this case, our trip is part of our study of California’s history. Past trips to places including Fort Ross, Angel Island, and Sutter’s Fort have enriched students’ understanding of the historic movements of people in and out of California.
In the fifth grade, Blue Oak students develop awareness of their place in the school and the larger world. The fifth grade job as community stewards gives our most senior Lower School students the opportunity to practice leadership by establishing a student government, operating community meetings and school spirit activities, and assisting younger students with conflict resolution.
By fifth grade Blue Oak students are avid readers who seek out books for pleasure and personal interest. Our fifth graders further deepen their critical thinking skills through the Junior Great Books program and “shared inquiry” discussions as they continue to write fiction and nonfiction in our writer’s workshops.
In mathematics, Blue Oak fifth graders design math games to reinforce automaticity of math facts and to build reasoning skills. Fifth graders solidify and expand their knowledge of multi-digit multiplication and division by creating and solving authentic word problems. Combining their conceptual and procedural understanding, students are challenged with fractions, decimals, and pre-algebraic concepts. Fifth graders integrate their growing knowledge of geometry, measurement, spatial awareness, and data analysis in a culminating design-a-space project.
Blue Oak fifth graders demonstrate their understanding of the scientific method by generating research questions and conducting experiments involving soil analysis, chemical and physical changes, and nutrition. When on our farm excursions, students examine the soil, crops, and compost to evaluate and interpret the natural world. They also perform garbage audits to determine what our community needs to do in order to reduce waste and increase recycling, repurposing, and composting.
Fifth grade students wrestle with the complex notion of the nation, applying their knowledge and research skills as they consider the multiplicity of voices and cultures in our country. Students become more adept at making observations, analyzing primary sources, applying “thinking routines,” synthesizing information, constructing conceptual understanding, and sharing ideas with the school community.
The fifth grade trip is a five-day, four-night adventure at an outdoor school operated by the Mosaic Project. The trip occurs at the beginning of the school year, and finds our students grouped with diverse students from other Bay Area schools. At Mosaic students learn and apply conflict resolution strategies and develop an understanding of empathy -- lessons that they share with the lower grades at community meetings and classroom morning meetings.
Visual art is a core component of a Blue Oak School education. At Blue Oak students develop a visual literacy and a love for the visual arts through an enjoyable, broad-based curriculum. Our teachers design activities that challenge students to problem solve and take risks while exploring a wide variety of techniques and media.
Blue Oak’s Lower School art program offers students an open forum for discovery and creativity through a process-based approach. As nascent artists, our young students learn to “slow down” to better observe the world around them. Our Lower School immerses students in a culture of experimentation, craftsmanship, critique, and reflection. Students are gently guided outside of their artistic comfort zone to help them become capable and confident, ready for Middle School.
Our Middle School students more deeply explore the elements of art and design which are often integrated with other subjects. Projects are designed to promote creativity -- there is never one right answer or one right way. Students are also encouraged to tinker and build as they explore the connections between visual creativity and introductory robotics. In addition to traditional media and materials, the middle school studio’s hand tools and power tools introduce students to industrial arts. Students also use iPad apps and computer programs to create sophisticated digital artwork, graphic designs and animations.
Music is a key component of the Blue Oak experience. In the Lower School, activities build on what children naturally love to do: sing, move, dance, play instruments, clap, and keep a beat.
Frequent music-making in the early years provides the solid foundation needed for deep, musical understanding. Instruction is eclectic, combining the best practices of Orff Schulwerk, Education Through Music, and Kodaly. By the time our students arrive at our Middle School, music is a natural part of who they are.
Blue Oak Middle School students study the basic elements of blues, rock, soul and funk through an applied approach of playing and listening. Students learn about basic instrumentation, song structure, composition, musical expression, and music theory as they try their hand at bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, and of course, vocals. Musical study in the Middle School is often integrated with the humanities through investigations into the history of music. Students work in groups to learn complete pieces that are performed for the community. Interested students are encouraged to enroll in specialized electives.
Blue Oak students are also introduced to formal dramatic study in the Middle School. Our Middle School students explore character through improvisation and creative dramatics, and they learn to deliver monologues and to work as members of an ensemble. Students also explore the connections between theater and literature, culture and history as they learn to appreciate the important role of the arts in society. Seventh and eighth grade students are encouraged to audition for the Middle School production, which marries music and drama.
As a progressive school Blue Oak School was founded on the belief that children thrive when they are given what our forebearer Caroline Pratt called “honest-to-goodness work.” Each Lower School class at Blue Oak School has a job – not a chore – that helps our school function, and that instills in our students a sense of responsibility to our community.
As Caroline Pratt so rightly wrote, “The job must be of actual service or the essence of it is lost.” From our attendance takers, to our sign-making shop and our newsroom, Blue Oak students eagerly embrace the challenge of making a meaningful contribution to our school. Along the way, they also develop leadership, planning, and problem-solving skills and they apply their skills in math, reading and writing, and communication in real-world situations.
Consider for example the rich culture of literacy our first grade post office has created. On an average day, Blue Oak students write, address, buy a Blue Oak stamp for, sort, deliver, and read 25 letters. Reluctant writers are emboldened to send playdate invitations, siblings send each other affectionate greetings, and friends issue apologies. Students send petitions to our Head of School, menu requests to our cooking teacher, and book recommendations to our library. Recently our students even decided to inaugurate a delivery route to the Middle School, connecting our two campuses through their work.
The Garden Cafe is one of Blue Oak School’s distinctive programs. In our kitchen lab, Kindergarten through fifth-grade students learn introductory cooking techniques at the same time as they are given meaningful opportunities to practice their math, science and literacy skills. Students apply their math skills as they learn the importance of accuracy and balance with measurement, fractions and multiplication, and they practice their literacy skills as they break down different parts of a recipe.
Every other week, each Lower School class works in small groups make a fresh, well-balanced, café-style lunch for their class. Collaboration is essential, as students need to communicate clearly and delegate the jobs entailed in their recipes. They share responsibilities such as reading and following recipes, putting together proper table settings, clearing, washing and putting dishes away, and cleaning the kitchen.
Café lunches also encourage a structured social atmosphere where students can practice table manners and social skills, and the kitchen itself provides students a well-equipped and planned space in which to utilize their critical thinking and problem solving skills. The layout encourages students to read signs in order to recall where items are found or belong. Over time, students come to feel independent and capable in the kitchen. The Cafe Lunch program emphasizes the process of learning and supports the integrated curriculum that is a hallmark of Blue Oak School.
Blue Oak’s developmentally appropriate method of scaffolding technology use provides our students with the strong foundation they will need to succeed as savvy citizens of an increasingly digital society.
Kindergarteners are introduced to iPads, and by 3rd grade students use laptops to word process and conduct research. Technology use expands in 4th and 5th grade to include more complex iPad apps and Chromebooks, which support Google Apps for Education.
In Middle School, Blue Oak School students use various types of technology to gather information, communicate, illustrate and solve problems. Students in our upper grades also practice the thoughtful and responsible consumption of information by learning to access, evaluate and appropriately use information from online sources.
All Blue Oak students and parents are asked to sign an Acceptable Use of Technology Agreement. While not required, we encourage parents to purchase their Middle School student a Chromebook for use at school. The Chromebook is lightweight, has a long battery life, offers quick and easy access to the Internet, Blue Oak Mail, and Google Apps, and gives students an essential keyboard to improve their skills and speed at typing. For students who do not bring their own device, a variety of tools are available for use at school.
Blue Oak School strives for excellence in all aspects of school life, and athletics is no exception. The athletic program focuses on the journey of students as both individual athletes and as team members.
Emphasis is given to the process of meeting and overcoming challenges as players compete in the Catholic Schools League (CSL). These challenges take many forms. Everyone participates in each game. Teams are not limited and there are no "cuts." Sports-skill development goes hand-in-hand with character development. Good sportsmanship is a Blue Oak School tradition.
Depending on the level of student interest, Blue Oak School is able to participate in the following Catholic Sports League teams:
- Girls: 5th - 8th Grade Volleyball
- Boys: 5th - 8th Grade Volleyball
- Girls: 7th & 8th Grade Basketball (Oct. - Dec.)
- Boys: 7th & 8th Grade Basketball (Oct. - Dec.)
- Girls: 5th & 6th Grade Basketball (Jan. - Mar.)
- Boys: 5th & 6th Grade Basketball (Jan. - Mar.)
- K-8 Boys’ and Girls’ Track and Field
Games are generally played on Saturdays in the morning or early afternoon, followed by an end-of-the season tournament. The CSL is a comprised of 10 private schools in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.