Learning at Brandeis

Lower School Academics

During the lower school years, we focus on helping our students obtain a strong foundation in core academic subjects, while making meaningful connections to each other, their teachers, and their community as a whole.

We are deeply committed to the social, spiritual, and physical growth of our students. As a community that embraces the concept of radical kindness, we teach our students to develop compassion, tolerance, and mutual respect for others.

Additionally, The Brandeis School of San Francisco Teacher Residency Program allows new and experienced teachers to develop their teaching skills under the guidance of lead teachers. Residents grow their practices through hands-on experience in the classroom guided by goal-oriented mentorship from their lead teachers. The resident-mentor relationship fosters a community of intellectual curiosity and expansion in which all teachers can learn from one another through collaboration, discussion, and reflection.

List of 8 items.

  • Language Arts

    The Brandeis School of San Francisco is committed to a balanced literacy program in our lower school to mentor, challenge, and inspire our students while learning to read and write. At the foundational level, our kindergarten through fifth grade instruction incorporates both Wilson Fundations™—a systematic multi-sensory program for teaching phonics, word study, fluency, spelling, and handwriting—and a Reading and Writing Workshop based on Lucy Calkins' program at Columbia University. This foundation gives our students consistency in language and approach and clearly aligned goals appropriate to each student’s instructional level. These models provide multiple access points for various types of learners who thrive in whole-class instruction, small-group collaboration, partner work, and one-on-one guidance from a teacher. In addition, students integrate the skills they learn from these programs into creative projects, experiential learning, and themes they are studying across all subjects. In this way, reading and writing are not taught merely in isolation, but are integrated throughout the curricula and school day.
    Our students recognize that literature broadens their thinking, connects them to others, and enables them to explore worlds, people, and ideas far beyond their everyday experiences.
    At the Brandeis School of San Francisco, we create passionate, independent, lifelong readers and writers and provide students unlimited opportunities to experience a love of literature and language.
  • Mathematics

    Our program encourages students to explore mathematics by integrating math calculations, problem-solving, and logical thinking skills with hands-on, interactive learning experiences. In addition to basic calculation and number skills, all students learn about geometry, logic, probability and statistics, measurement, and algebra. Working both individually and in small groups, students have the opportunity to try different ways to solve problems and learn from each other.

    In mathematics, manipulatives are objects designed to help students better understand mathematical concepts in a hands-on, experiential way. We use manipulatives extensively–including geoboards (a board with nails half driven in, around which are wrapped rubber bands), tangrams (a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes), visual perceptual puzzles, and unifix cubes (colorful, interlocking cubes that help teach math concepts)–to help students understand mathematical concepts and build their math skills.

    Singapore Math

    Singapore Math—our dynamic, rigorous math program for grades K–5—explores core mathematical skills and concepts in depth. Students reach computational mastery by truly understanding the concepts behind the skills: they learn not only what to do, but also why the algorithms work. Singapore Math also emphasizes mental math (at all grade levels) and focuses extensively on multiple-step word problems. We find it has an excellent balance of fostering high computational accuracy and helping students see the underlying structure of mathematics.
  • Science

    In our science curriculum, students learn to observe, compare, order, categorize, infer, and apply acquired knowledge in each scientific area. The scientific method—focusing on questioning, making observations, recording results, and drawing conclusions—is emphasized in all activities and hands-on experiments.

    Students reflect on their observations both orally and in their science journals by making observations, sketches, measurements, and graphs to record their results.

    The scientific principles studied throughout the lower school are applied to real-life situations through observations in nature, guest lectures, and field trips. Our many exciting field trips include the Chabot Space & Science Center, California Academy of Sciences, Lawrence Hall of Science, and visits to local farms.

    For example, first graders study the life cycle of a chicken, learning about the day-to-day development inside chicken eggs and the anatomy of the bird, and then incubate their own eggs until they hatch. Fourth graders learn about the history of bridge design, and then design and build bridges in class and test the strength and endurance of their models.
  • Social Studies

    Through our social studies curriculum, our students explore the world around them and gain an understanding of their relationship with it. Students learn how people and groups work together to resolve problems in a spirit of cooperation. As they study the collective ideas of their community, family, school, city, state, and country, our students develop a deep appreciation for the cultural diversity that surrounds them.

    Social studies is not a passive affair at Brandeis–children learn about history, anthropology, geography, current events, and others’ values, customs, and ways of life through lively debate, historical reenactments, and other creative projects.

    For example, first graders read, discuss, and learn about the vast impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the rights and freedoms of all Americans as part of their "Change-makers" unit—focused on people who changed the world in a good way. Second graders explore India and Japan, comparing and contrasting the two ancient cultures, and participate in hands-on projects including Japanese tie-dye and Indian palm-leaf bookmaking. Third graders engage in a study of our own city’s history, looking at San Francisco from the gold rush to the present. Students learn about the various motivations that drove early settlers; about the diverse immigrant populations and their contributions to local tradition and culture; and about the history of the city's numerous landmarks.
  • Judaic Studies

    Kindergarten through Second Grade
    Students experience the joy of the Jewish holidays and discover the foundational stories from the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and the many ways to connect them to their lives. Students learn about Israel, both the ancient land and modern state, its geography and environment, main cities, and symbols. 

    Third through Fifth Grade

    Students delve more deeply into the selected texts from the Chumash (the five books of Moses), studying in chevruta (study parthers) to deepen their knowledge of and connection to the text. In fifth grade, students take a leadership role in teaching the week’s Torah portion to their classmates. Students learn about Jewish communities throughout the world and Jewish American history, with additional focus on the Jewish community of San Francisco and its origins. Israel studies include history, and Israel current events.
  • Hebrew

    First and Second Grades
    Students focus on acquiring the basic skills for reading Hebrew, in addition to acquiring basic vocabulary and writing skills. The Eyal curriculum, which includes an interactive App based tool in addition to printed materials, is used to achieve these goals. Hebrew teachers in these grades complement the Eyal curriculum with music, games, and visual aids to bring the Hebrew language to life for our students.

    Third through Fifth Grades
    In three leveled groups per grade, students build upon basic skills and vocabulary to increase their proficiency in the four language acquisition skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Teachers speak Hebrew in the classrooms and base their teaching on the Chaverim B’ivrit curriculum. Students in these grades regularly utilize a wide variety of online Hebrew resources, as well as art, music, and drama, creating a dynamic and immersive language learning experience. The Chaverim B’Ivrit curriculum focuses on everyday experiences that are related to our students’ lives, increasing the relevance of the learning, and providing the motivation for increased proficiency.  
  • Art, Music, & Drama

    Visual Arts
    Our students explore the visual arts in every grade, helping to foster their self-confidence, creative spirit, and self-expression. The weekly art classes stimulate divergent thinking, awaken an aesthetic sense, and appeal to the individuality of each child. Students create through painting, ceramics, woodworking, paper, weaving, and sculpture. Well-known artists are introduced to provide a foundation in art history and for an understanding of art and its techniques. In addition, our students visit Bay Area museums and art shows to enhance their appreciation of the creative world.


    From the earliest grades, our students explore drama in various contexts by writing original plays and reading or acting them out and by performing plays written by their teachers or by professional playwrights. Our families look forward to seeing their children in classroom and school performances.


    At Brandeis, our goal is to prepare confident collaborators, creative problem solvers, and lifelong appreciators of music, and our program is about the process as much as the product. Through the Orff-Schulwerk approach, which embraces a child-centered way of learning, our students engage in music as a language integrating movement, speech, and drama. Collaboration and group work also help students discover how to work together and perform as an ensemble.

    The K–1 music curriculum provides opportunities for our students to learn fundamental necessities such as sitting and working in a group, developing control of their bodies and their actions, sharing the space, responding to cues, and listening carefully to others. Most importantly, our youngest students gain insight into the power of music and feel safe and playful in the music classroom environment.

    In grades 2–5, our students begin to focus on the specific elements and patterns that make music. Students have the opportunity to create and collaborate on their own musical and movement creations through singing, saying, dancing, and playing. This approach allows students to take ownership over their learning and understanding. Students learn a variety of rhymes, songs, games, and folk dances, which help them learn and understand the elements of music.

    Additional music and performance opportunities include choral ensembles in lower and middle school, as well as our band (lower school) and jazz band (middle school) programs.

    Read here about all the work the specialists are doing this year. 
  • Physical Education

    At Brandeis, we aim to provide an outstanding and dynamic physical education program that enables each student to develop a lifelong commitment to fair play, staying active, and learning new skills. Our aim is for students to grow as individuals, developing cooperation, leadership, and decision-making skills, self-confidence, self-awareness, responsibility, and a strong sense of personal achievement.

    All students have P.E. twice a week, along with ample time during daily lunch and recess to play outdoors. By the time they reach middle school, our students are skilled at various types of movement through dance, games, and body management, are knowledgable about the principles of movement and able to apply tactical actions in sports and games, and they have a true appreciation for the benefits of a physically active lifestyle.