Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

Lower School

The Lower School curriculum in General and Judaic Studies is designed to promote independent thinking, healthy questioning, and solid skills. At each grade level, teachers address the range of students' skills so that every child remains engaged and challenged. Students work in various modes--one-on-one with a teacher, in small groups, and in larger groups—to help them develop a deep understanding of the material presented. Our goal is for children to learn how to learn and to take joy in the process, enhancing their confidence and motivation to tackle new material and ask complex questions.

We see learning as experiential and integrate content and skills across the disciplines. Teachers combine social studies with reading, or writing with Humash (Bible), enabling students to see the same material through multiple lenses. Field trips and hands-on activities bring the curriculum to life and become the foundation for reflective writing pieces, art activities, and research projects.

Drawing on our tradition, we create ceremonies and presentations to mark significant learning milestones at the beginning or the culmination of major units and events in each grade:


  • After a year-long study of books, the students in Grade 1 celebrate their learning with a Publishing Party.
  • Second graders commemorate receiving their first siddur with a ceremony that incorporates their questions and thoughts about prayer. The students will use the siddur for tefillah (prayer) throughout their years at Heschel. To culminate their study of New York City, the second grade celebrates their learning with a multimedia presentation highlighting their research about a famous landmark.
  • Grade 3 begins the year with a Humash Ceremony, initiating their journey into Torah study. The year concludes with the World Communities Celebration, highlighting the students’ experiences learning about cultures around the world.
  • Fourth grade’s Heritage Fair focuses on the American immigrant experience and showcases each child’s individual heritage.
  • In fifth grade, students weave their understanding of American history into a creative multi-media presentation. Fifth graders end their Heschel Lower School experience with a moving up ceremony.


Language Arts

Our language arts program helps students become fluent and passionate readers, clear and eloquent writers, and graceful and precise speakers. Students use these skills across the curriculum, in general and Judaic studies. Children’s literature, nonfiction, and phonics help us teach the structure and music of the English language.

Children come to Grade 1 with a range of skills. Each child receives instruction at his or her level, and all learn to choose “just right” books, to improve their decoding and comprehension skills, and to make connections between the text, themselves, and the world around them. Exposure to fine writing, combined with practice writing for varied purposes, helps children develop their writing and reading skills and appreciation for text.

In Grade 2 children further develop their skills by reading and writing fiction and nonfiction about New York City and other themes connected to the curriculum. They deepen their comprehension by comparing genres and engaging in author studies. The students write complete thoughts as sentences and practice using appropriate punctuation.

Students in Grade 3 learn to examine text with a critical eye and continue to hone their reading and writing skills. They read on their own, in pairs and in small groups, discussing books in depth and furthering their understanding of plot, setting, and character. Third graders practice important strategies such as visualizing, making connections, asking questions and making inferences in order to interact with the text and enhance meaning. Students also learn to structure and develop quick outlines and then paragraphs which often connect to various areas of the curriculum.

In Grade 4 students continue to sharpen their reading and writing skills and strategies. They examine fiction and nonfiction texts related to content areas, such as immigration, to gain varied perspectives. Students learn to write cohesive paragraphs, which include both topic and concluding sentences.

Grade 5 students refine their skills, reading advanced-level texts, both fiction and nonfiction. They learn to make more sophisticated connections between what they read and the wider world and to support their opinions with evidence from the text. Students write poetry, plays, research, memoir and fantasy. Their reading and writing often connect to other content areas, such as American history.

Judaic Studies

From morning tefillah (prayer), to Hebrew language study, to the exploration of holidays and sacred texts, students in the Lower School are steeped in Jewish learning and tradition. All parts of the Jewish studies curriculum are interconnected and are enriched by music, art, dance, and drama. All Judaic studies subjects are taught in Hebrew, enabling the students to develop their language skills throughout the day.

Hebrew - Hebrew is taught by immersing children in the language from the time they enter the school. "Ivrit b'ivrit"(Hebrew in Hebrew) is the standard from grades 1-5, and teachers look for opportunities to connect Hebrew vocabulary to the students' everyday life. Reading is taught phonetically and through the acquisition of sight words; we emphasize reading for understanding. Building on the foundation laid down in Grade 1, students learn more and more words, spoken and written, incorporate new grammatical concepts, and deepen their understanding of text. By the end of Grade 5, students acquire the skills to express themselves both orally and in writing, as well as the ability to analyze modern and Biblical texts.

Humash (Bible) -- In second grade, students are introduced to the Torah through the Creation stories and the beginning of humanity. Through song, art, storytelling and interactive activities, students learn about the creation of the world, Shabbat and the world’s beginning. Students begin formal Humash study in third grade. They develop skills for understanding Biblical Hebrew. At the same time, they focus on essential questions like "How do people change?" "If God has a plan for humanity, what is the role of human beings in their destiny?" By the time they complete lower school they finish the book of Genesis. A highlight of our Humash program is the 3rd Grade Humash Ceremony. Just as Avram is blessed as he begins a journey to an unknown land, we celebrate the beginning of students' initiation into the journey of studying Torah. Students present their learning in a performance that focuses on their questions, thoughts and reflections upon first encountering their first verses of Torah in Parashat Lekh Lekha.

Toda’ah (Jewish Heritage) - The Toda’ah program introduces and explores the themes, stories, observances and ritual objects related to each holiday. From Grade 1 to Grade 5, students learn about Jewish traditions in a structure of increasing nuance and depth. Students completing the Lower School program are well-versed in the practices as well as the mitzvot (laws) of our holidays. Holiday learning culminates with a series of festive assemblies, giving the children a chance to come together and feel the spirit of the holiday as a community. We sing holiday songs, enjoy a holiday-related program and participate in the mitzvot related to the holiday, from sitting in the Sukkah to lighting Hanukkah candles to creating a model seder.

Parashat haShavua (Selections from the weekly Torah portion) -The goal of Parashat haShavua is to enrich the students' engagement with the text of the Torah on a weekly basis. As they move through the grades, students study verses, commentary, or Midrash related to the content of the weekly Torah reading.

Tefillah (Prayer) - In the Lower School, children learn the words and melodies for the shaharit (morning) service and Hallel (the psalms sung on holidays and at the beginning of each month). There is ongoing engagement in iyyun tefillah (discussion of prayer) to deepen the students' personal connections to the prayers and to the act of prayer itself. In all grades there is a lively tefillah b'yahad every week in which the grade or grades come together with parents for a spirited experience of song, prayer and iyyun tefillah

Social Studies

Social studies is the discipline that allows students to make connections across the curriculum and think deeply about their world and their heritage. They begin with the people and places closet to "home," then in ever-increasing concentric circles "move out" into the larger world.

Grade 1 students begin with the study of themselves, then their families, and finally their neighborhoods. Discussions about what it means to be a positive and productive member of a community are an integral part of this study.

In Grade 2, students engage in a year-long study of New York City. They begin by discussing the differences between urban, suburban, and rural environments and then focus on how the needs and wants of New Yorkers are met. Field trips to museums and landmarks as well as guest speakers from various New York City departments are integral to this curriculum. Once the students gain an understanding of the modern city in which they live, they engage in a study of the Native Americans who lived here before the arrival of the European settlers.

Third graders focus on world communities. They analyze the factors affecting culture and the differences and similarities between cultural groups. Students reflect on their own customs and traditions and then compare them to other world cultures. China and Israel are studied through fiction and nonfiction text as well as interdisciplinary studies in science, computer, art and Judaic studies. In the spring, the students each explore a country in depth.

Fourth graders engage in an interdisciplinary study of immigration. Through historical fiction and nonfiction text, primary sources, research, simulations and field trips, students learn about the immigrant experience, past and present.

Fifth graders explore American history from a variety of perspectives. They study colonial America and the reasons for the rift with England. Students learn about the branches of government, the interaction among them and the separation of powers. An important unit is the study of slavery and the underground railroad. Learning to see issues from different sides is an important part of this study.


Our mathematics curriculum emphasizes conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and the ability to solve mathematical problems. We aim to develop a strong number sense, flexible thinking, and the desire and ability to persevere when work is challenging.

In September 2013, beginning with the first and second grades, we started a multi-year transition to the Singapore Math curriculum. We were drawn by the program’s rigor and clarity and by its child-friendly emphasis on language and pictorial representations. The transition will be complete in the 2016-2017 school year.

First Graders begin the year telling number stories as they break apart the numbers through ten and put them together in number bonds. They then begin to work with place value and numbers to 100. They learn to see numbers as wholes and parts, and in this way they learn to use addition and subtraction to solve word problems. They explore beginning multiplication and division concepts. With hands-on activities, they learn basic ideas about length and weight and time. They interpret picture graphs, are introduced to the idea of fractions, and study geometry.

Second graders learn to compute with numbers to 1,000. Their number sense and command of place value grows as they break apart numbers as needed to add and subtract horizontally; they also become fluent in vertical computation. Model drawings bring clarity, especially when the language of a word problem is new. They continue the study of multiplication and division through fives and learn to measure length, weight, and capacity in both metric and standard units. They continue to study money and shapes in geometry. At all steps along the way, their facility with mental math grows.

Third graders begin to solve multi-step problems, using the model-drawing approach as a reliable tool. They understand place-value and add and subtract within 10,000. They multiply and divide multi-digit numbers by single digit numbers; as always, these concepts are taught visually and mentally, breaking apart numbers into understandable units, before they are taught algorithmically. Third graders refine their understanding of the measurement of length, weight and capacity. They begin to understand equivalent fractions; they study angles and area and they read and make bar graphs and line graphs.

Fourth graders deepen their understanding of place value when they study rounding, numbers to a million, and decimals. They begin explorations into algebraic thinking as they write and evaluate expressions and find rules for tables. They study more complex graphs and interpret data and study fraction concepts in depth. and develop a solid understanding of equivalency, which enables them to learn to add and subtract fractions. Geometry concepts, such as congruency and classifying shapes, are studied. Throughout, they solve problems, always looking for a logical approach.

Fifth graders read, write, and compute with numbers to billions and with decimals to thousandths. They round and estimate. They write algebraic expressions and solve them; they explore representing a growth pattern with an equation, a table, and a graph. They study graphs and each student researches data in a field of his or her choice to make a double bar graph. They become fluent in addition and subtraction of fractions. New geometry skills are applied to circles and triangles, including degrees of angles in a triangle, circumference of a circle and area of plain shapes. They are comfortable using standard and metric measurement and they are be able to figure elapsed time.


The art program at Heschel is designed to encourage children to visually express their ideas and feelings. As children develop they learn to explore a variety of materials and to use line, color, and shape to organize and create original work. They also learn to appreciate different artistic styles as they explore the work of established artists. These early art experiences become the foundation for increasingly complex subject matter as the children use paint, clay, collage, drawing, and construction techniques.Teachers guide children to develop their skills, to recognize their individual strengths, and to take risks to overcome difficulties as they arise. Museum trips provide another means of stimulating discussion and opening children's eyes to new ways of seeing the world and expressing themselves.


Music plays a significant role in the culture of The Heschel School. The joy of music is heard during assembly programs, in the elevators, the hallways, and the classrooms. The music program at The Heschel School provides opportunities for students to learn both Hebrew and English music, and to develop music literacy skills, aural discrimination and a love of music. Interactive, age appropriate, response-centered, fun-filled learning nurtures musical strengths and develops musical potential, enabling students to develop and think as musicians. Direct experiences in making music, including singing, moving, hearing, playing, improvising and writing music, are offered in a sequence based on the work of twentieth century music educators/composers Zoltán Kodály, Carl Orff and Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. As this is a singing-based curriculum, vocal development is at the core of all musical activities. All types of songs, including Israeli, religious, Hebrew and multicultural songs, are integral to this curriculum. The repertoire represents many periods and styles and includes singing games and authentic folk songs. Xylophones and rhythm instruments are used to reinforce skills.

Each grade prepares for a performance in conjunction with one or more major class events: Grade 1 publishing party; Grade 2 Siddur Ceremony; and the Grade 3 Humash Ceremony. Fourth graders participate in a Zimriyah (song festival), and the Grade 5 has a moving up ceremony at the end of the year to mark the passage from Lower School to Middle School. Songs are practiced for these performances during music class as well as during additional rehearsal times.


The technology program at Heschel is integrated with the work that goes on in the individual classrooms.

Technology is one of the tools used in the Lower School to engage students in their learning and further develop their understanding of content and skills. Classes meet in the computer lab or in the classroom where students use desktop computers, Chromebooks or iPads. Technology classes stress creativity, technical knowledge, comfort and safety with the technology, and the honing of problem-solving skills.


The Lower School library supports the academic and recreational reading needs of the students, staff, and the broader school community. Students come to the library for regularly scheduled periods to listen to stories, and to read, study, and do research. Two librarians promote library and information literacy skills and work to foster the children's love of reading. The program strives to create in students a love of learning and the ability to become critical readers who pursue their interests in the Jewish world and in the general culture in which we live. Students are encouraged to borrow books to read at home.


The Lower School science program opens up the world of science through investigation and experimentation.

In Grade 1 each class is divided in half so students begin science in a supportive child-centered classroom environment. Students study New York City park birds, nature's colors, magnets, and the water cycle, as well as nutrition and healthy eating.

Half groups continue in Grade 2, where students study the sky and electricity. They collaborate on The Three Little Pigs Construction Company (a STEM unit combining Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). "Manhattan is an Island" and TAP!, a unit about the New York water system, integrating science and social studies.

Grade 3 science units include: Isaac Newton, the Universe and Me (a unit about matter), Mission to Mars (a exciting opportunity for students to simulate living in space), and Motion and Energy (a unit about simple machines and forces).

In Grade 4 students engage in a study of rocks and minerals and a unit on plants and gardening. They participate in "The Fourth Grade Bridge Building Challenge" and supplement their social studies curriculum by studying the health problems faced by immigrants at the turn of the century.

Grade 5 studies become paleontologists when they study fossils and the development of life on earth. "Flight Challenge" employs the STEM model. An additional unit on sound allows the students to learn the physics of sound production in a creative, enjoyable manner.

Physical Education

The physical education program is a comprehensive program of health-related physical fitness, founded on principles advocated by the National Association of Health and Physical Fitness. It imparts basic skills at age-appropriate levels. Play and games rather than formal repetition are the context for learning skills. Formal fitness assessments, conducted twice a year from Grade 3 on, are based on the Physical Best Assessment Program advocated by both NAPSE and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and its complimentary assessment tool, Fitnessgram, developed by the American Fitness Alliance. The program teaches and inspires students to take an active interest in their own health and well-being and to understand the meaning and benefits of good health habits and a physically active life.