A Program of Schools for Children

Curriculum Guide

Art & Music

The visual and performing arts are integral parts of every Lesley Ellis Day. As artists, performers, and audience members, we relish the discovery of new means of expression and appreciation.

Music and Movement

Music is more than class instruction at Lesley Ellis and it is definitely more than an “extra.” Music gives color and context to our learning and is often integrated with other course content. As an evocative and physical means of expression, music calls on all our senses and adds dimension and context to students’ education. It develops both concrete and conceptual aptitudes—skills that are intrinsically fulfilling, but also support learning in other areas.

Activities can range from layering rhythms, to setting music to a poem or storybook, to recording a CD of a small group performance. Music is part of our regular assemblies and we also stage two musicals each year. The three choral groups are open to all elementary and middle school students, giving ample opportunities to make, perform, and appreciate vocal music together. Instrumental music lessons are available for students after school.

Creativity and Self-Expression

The Lesley Ellis visual art program is designed to introduce students to the wide range of art forms available for visual self-expression, build self-confidence in their own creative potential, and foster a lifelong appreciation of the arts.

  • As with all disciplines, our early childhood art program reflects a developmental approach that encourages individual creativity, as children work with an art teacher in their own classrooms.
  • At the elementary and middle school levels, students work in the art studio, where they have a full complement of resources to explore drawing, painting, sculpture and other media.

Certainly, the study of the visual arts is animated through the creative process, but students also are exposed to the full spectrum of artistic possibility through inquiry and observation. Both in the classroom and through field trips to some of Boston’s world-class museums, students appreciate and are inspired by historically significant works of art.

Arts Block and Arts Electives

Tuesday afternoons are full of fun and lots of creative energy, as students in grades 3–8 put their artistic talents to work with some of the finest artist-educators in the Greater Boston area.

Arts Block inspires students with real world artistic experiences, as professional practicing artists share their own disciplines and immerse students in meaningful visual and performing arts projects.

Typically, the Arts Block program for grades 3–6 features six-week residencies, giving each student a chance to join in-depth sessions with multiple artists. Past sessions have included songwriting, African drumming, puppetry, ceramics, animation, painting, and dance.

The culmination of the residencies is an all-school celebration of the arts, during which students share their work through a wide range of performances, films, and artistic displays.

Seventh and eighth graders participate in the Arts Elective program, which gives our oldest students more choice and a wide range of media options to explore. From drawing and painting to film and digital design, arts electives expand seventh and eighth graders’ palettes for self-expression as they develop their artistic interests and discover new talents.


The Lesley Ellis library is home to approximately 7,000 volumes of children’s literature and reference materials. The library aims to foster a love of reading as well as provide important tools for learning important research skills. All classes, beginning in prekindergarten, have formal library time, during which students are exposed to a wide range of literature, authors, illustrators and genres.


At Lesley Ellis School, we understand the role of mathematics as a valuable tool for making sense of the world. As such, coursework at every level encourages students to construct meaning and apply concepts to all kinds of real-life problems. Our goal is for students to value mathematics, not only for the intrinsic joy of problem-solving, but also for the practical applications it has in their everyday world.

Early Childhood: Learning the Basics

Young children develop an understanding of basic mathematical concepts by actively engaging with objects and materials. When working with blocks, puzzles and other toys, children make observations about size, quantity, sequence, patterns, space, speed, and categorization. Through these intentionally designed activities, children build on their existing knowledge and start to develop essential problem-solving skills.

Elementary: Applying Concepts

When children learn by doing, the learning is more meaningful; students understand the content at a deeper level and retain the information as a building block for future applications. So, it is by design that much of our math curriculum is experiential. Lessons engage children in the practice of counting, multiplying, dividing, and measuring as part of hands-on activities.

Activities can take many forms and reflect the interests of the students. They can range from creating a “virtual” restaurant that requires students to calculate and pay a bill to using computers and spreadsheets to create a family budget based on income and expenses.

Students are challenged to use mathematical tools, manipulatives, conversations with peers, and their own understanding of concepts, to actively solve a variety of problems. They think deeply in order to model, draw, write, and talk about their ideas, and they explore a variety of materials and resources both in the classroom and at home to hone their problem-solving skills. For students who want to dig a little deeper, the Math Club for grades 1–4 provides additional opportunities for discovering how numbers work. Students in grades 3 and 4 can choose to participate in the weekly Continental Math League—persisting as they work through complex challenges, with the top scores being entered in the national competition. Ultimately, our goal is for students to apply their new math skills to real-life situations and view math as an exciting and integral part of their daily lives.

Middle School: Creative Problem-Solving

Middle School math begins in fifth grade with a course focused on building skills for algebra while challenging students to think creatively as they solve problems. Students explore operations with integers, decimals, and fractions—always using their new skills to solve word problems and proving why the algorithms work. New skills and concepts are introduced, including:

  • Using currency to improve facility with decimals
  • Comparing decimals and fractions on a number line
  • Exponents
  • Order of operations
  • Properties of numbers

The sixth-grade curriculum deepens the concepts from fifth grade by adding:

  • Number theory
  • Plane geometry
  • Special units such as Greek mathematics that align with the interdisciplinary ancient civilizations curriculum in Grade 5/6

Seventh graders complete a traditional pre-algebra curriculum including:

  • Solving equations and inequalities
  • Graphing linear equations and inequalities
  • Data analysis
  • Working with plane and solid geometric figures

Eighth graders review the algebraic skills from the previous year before tackling the final concepts in their full algebra curriculum:

  • Quadratic equations and factoring
  • Polynomials
  • Rational equations
  • Using TI-84 graphing calculators and learning to write simple programs.

Small classes support individualized work that focuses on problem-solving and practicing new skills. Instruction is optimized with technology for viewing lessons, practicing skills, and creating presentations to demonstrate student mastery. The expectation is that at the end of eighth grade, students are well-prepared for ninth-grade geometry.

Physical Education

Despite the name, physical education is as much about social and emotional learning as it is about developing a healthy active lifestyle. At Lesley Ellis School, there are many opportunities to engage in indoor and outdoor activities and, regardless of aptitude, skill acquisition goes hand-in-hand with developing a positive attitude. Our physical education program serves children who might already be skaters, gymnasts, dancers, hockey players or little league stars, as well as those still learning the power and magic of their own bodies.

We challenge our students with activities they may never have tried before—scooter hockey, ballroom dancing, or yoga, for example—giving children the chance to test their coordination, balance, strength and flexibility. As emerging athletes garner new skills like shooting a free throw or hitting a tennis ball, they develop more than just physical aptitudes. They also learn to translate abstractions into action, to play hard and fair, to lead and support each other, and to take turns. Our goal is to help children develop positive attitudes about themselves, their abilities, and physical activity, as well as to lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy lifestyle choices.

Reading & Writing

Building strong written and verbal communicators who embrace a lifelong love of reading is the primary goal of the Lesley Ellis language and literacy programs. Intentionally small groups allow teachers to tailor learning activities and pace to assure engagement and steady progress toward class goals.

The early childhood language and literacy curriculum builds upon entry level skills to create a community of active and engaged communicators. Teachers model language use through talking and listening, repeating, rephrasing, pointing to pictures while reading, and using props as visual or kinesthetic aids to help build children’s vocabularies and listening comprehension skills. Reading rhyming poems and stories with predictable patterns out loud helps children distinguish between letter sounds as they lay the groundwork for reading fluency.

Pre-writing opportunities for self-expression are abundant as children paint, draw and sculpt to illustrate their ideas. When a teacher records children’s words about their artwork and their responses to a question, or reads a menu in the kitchen area, children start to understand the complex role of written words. Early learners often transition enthusiastically to making their own “words”—with a scribble, a stream of random letters or even inventive spelling. Exposing young children to all aspects of language helps build the foundation for their future reading and writing readiness.

In the elementary grades, Lesley Ellis teachers build on the groundwork laid in the early childhood years to help children grow into powerful communicators—confident readers, agile writers, and self-assured speakers.

Students participate in a range of reading and writing activities throughout the day—some of which connect to ongoing classroom themes while others help develop proficiency in specific skill areas. Writing workshops, journaling, and small reading groups allow students to approach their literacy practice from many perspectives—both independently and with their peers. Additionally, by using their language skills in art, science, math, and social studies classes, students experience the broad power of their communication tools.

Middle school students work to become observant and responsive readers, thoughtful and expressive writers, and effective speakers. Students find their emerging voices and learn to articulate their ideas creatively, personally, and analytically across the academic disciplines. By examining texts that span a variety of genres, students explore how plot, characters, and themes develop. They practice writing with clarity, precision and cohesion in workshop settings—receiving feedback from both teachers and peers, and they are encouraged to embrace the process of revision.

Writing opportunities invite students to reflect and make personal connections with the text while using specific structures to organize and clarify their ideas in descriptive, expository, and narrative pieces. In addition, middle schoolers continue to learn and review grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary at each grade level, and learn to be more confident and expressive speakers through class discussions and public speaking opportunities.

All Lesley Ellis students are encouraged to take part in a variety of public speaking activities—from poetry reading and plays to all-school assemblies. These experiences culminate with the annual eighth grade speeches—arguably the most persuasive and moving evidence of the effectiveness of the Lesley Ellis language and literacy curriculum.


The Lesley Ellis science program is a cornerstone of the school’s academic focus and is a progressive process of exploration, discovery, experimentation, manipulation, questioning, and connecting the dots. Hands-on projects make learning meaningful as students peel back layers of information to discern and understand how their physical world works.

The teaching of science at Lesley Ellis is about much more than knowledge acquisition. Learning science allows students to explore, experiment, manipulate, question and discover—in order to deepen their conceptual understanding of the world around them. Classroom activities stimulate students’ curiosity, encourage the use of all five senses, and increase vocabulary and patience. When students learn about the concept of action and consequence through experimentation—when they express their ideas and listen to those of others—they increase their capacity to:

  • Question the world around them
  • Think critically
  • Defend their ideas and conclusions

By learning and understanding the dependency of living things on each other and on the physical environment, science fosters respect for nature and prepares us to improve the world for all living things.

Each year, middle schoolers participate in the school science fair, with the opportunity to advance on to the state and regional competitions.

Early Childhood: Exploration and Discovery

Science for children, like mathematics, is an active process of inquiry. Meaningful science learning in the early childhood years happens when teachers plan activities around “big ideas” or concepts that children are developmentally primed to embrace. Activities and physical environments support children’s inquiries and investigations, and there is always ample time to explore materials, make predictions, and revise theories. In this way, students develop a true understanding of concepts, with the help of teachers who encourage reflection, documentation and the sharing of experiences.

Elementary: Building and Experimenting

Science in grades 1–4 is an exciting two-year “looping curriculum,” that accommodates our multi-grade classrooms. Topics such as human bodyworks and electricity focus on experiential learning and give children opportunities to work together in small groups.

Teachers prepare focused, guided investigations as well as provide time for open-ended exploration. Thoughtfully designed activities require students to work collaboratively, think independently, experiment, and problem-solve—applying previously introduced concepts or plunging fearlessly into new territory. On any given day a class might be tasked with:

  • Collaboratively identifying a “mystery substance” based on observation, measurement and research
  • Putting the finishing touches on a blueprint for launching a tennis ball from one side of the classroom to the other (while avoiding obstacles)
  • Wiring a model house
  • Constructing a flashlight

Middle School: Applying Concepts

Middle schoolers are developing as critical thinkers and problem solvers, and their science curriculum is designed accordingly. The emphasis is inquiry-based, giving students the opportunity to apply scientific concepts in relevant, real-world contexts. Middle school students’ scientific study continues lab activities begun in earlier grades, but with additional responsibility for both process and results. Fifth through eighth graders take ownership of their scientific inquiry as they:

  • Design and implement experiments
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Form and test conclusions
  • Write and refine lab reports

As students progress through middle school, their lab work is increasingly balanced with the study of science theory and skills development, helping to put into context and to systematize their laboratory experiences. Students participate in discussions and demonstrations to show depth of understanding and reflection—all with the goal of developing fluency in the science disciplines and in the scientific method of inquiry. Areas of study each year balance the physical, life and earth sciences.

Social Studies and History

The goal of the Lesley Ellis social studies and history curriculum is for students to understand the path of human society as a contextual framework and foundation for understanding their own world. Our hope is that this understanding will foster informed and ethical participation in society, and a belief in the individual’s power to affect positive change.

Elementary students engage in a multi-disciplinary course of study that helps students learn about the past and present from a variety of perspectives, including:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

The elementary social studies curriculum builds upon itself year by year, in a spiraling manner, designed to reinforce core skills, while also increasing foundational knowledge, as it repeatedly looks deeper into history and culture. Blocks of content allow students to study important themes through different lenses and understand the complexity of societies around the world and throughout history.

In Kindergarten, students study families, community, and strong people. First and second grade students explore the idea of citizenship, the United States, goods and services, indigenous cultures, a study of Boston, and a unit on mapping. During the third and fourth grade years, students study slavery and the Civil War period, the early United States, and Colonial America and the Revolutionary period. Mapping skills and geographical knowledge are connected to all themes and play an important role in furthering the students’ understanding of the world. Because the content of social history is always evolving, current events are used to help students connect the past to the present, recognize change, and hypothesize about the future. Whenever possible, field trips enliven classroom coursework and help make concepts more meaningful.

During the middle school years, the study of English, history, and anti-bias are increasingly merged into a cohesive humanities experience. This connection offers our oldest students the opportunity to experience a truly integrated curriculum that explores social studies and historical concepts through reading and writing, as an even greater emphasis is placed on conceptual learning. The resulting depth of content offers students a rich context in which they can grasp the connections among these disciplines.

History content and activities are designed to encourage a broad view of the world by integrating the students’ experience and increasing knowledge about human endeavors and relationships. We aim to cultivate an awareness of the pluralistic, interdependent, and changing nature of the global community, through the examination of political systems, the relationship among chronological events, and the effect of geography and economics on historical incidents. Through class discussion, response questions, and careful study, students learn to construct and articulate strong and informed arguments with solid evidence. They learn to identify key and supporting ideas, and then summarize, critique, and elaborate on those ideas in class. Mini-research projects and presentations allow students the opportunity to gather, organize, and synthesize information. Along with frequent reading, students also respond to questions and formulate their own questions for discussion. Through practice essays, students learn to write clearly and concisely, utilizing historical evidence to support their arguments and convey meaning. By examining primary documents and participating in debates and focused presentations, students practice adopting different points of view in order to increase their understanding of history and open a window into past thoughts and opinions.


Research, as well as our own teaching experience, have shown that early exposure to a second language reinforces understanding and learning of all kinds. At Lesley Ellis we are committed to second language instruction and diverse cultural exploration beginning in the earliest grades. Students develop concrete academic skills as well as critical sensitivities that will help them navigate their global community.

The Lesley Ellis Spanish curriculum is based on the total physical response method. Just as a primary language is learned by first listening, seeing, and touching, a second language also is learned most effectively through kinetic activities.

Starting in our preschool classrooms, students engage in weekly Spanish instruction through total physical response, games, books, and songs. As they progress from grade to grade, instruction evolves with age appropriate activities, texts, and lessons to ensure increasing challenge and competency. From acting out Spanish verbs by jumping, dancing, and singing in Grades 1/2, to having Spanish conversations in Grades 7/8 honors classes, language proficiency and cultural literacy are an essential part of every LES student’s experience.

The exploration of Hispanic cultures—those abroad as well as in our local neighborhoods—is a critical piece of the LES Spanish curriculum and helps students understand and respect a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. When fifth and sixth graders visit a Mexican restaurant where they can speak only Spanish with the food servers, they suddenly have a visceral understanding of what it means to be a “visitor” to a country where they can’t speak the native language fluently.

The goal for middle schoolers is for students to be able to understand and interact in basic conversational Spanish. We don’t expect fluency; we know they will make mistakes and that’s ok. We want to help students become fearless speakers and be understood. Communication is how you engage with the world.

Learn more about Lesley Ellis Spanish Specialist, Sandra Torello.


At Lesley Ellis School, technology is an essential tool that supports our curricular goals in dynamic, interactive, and creative ways. We encourage students to take advantage of the full range of ever-increasing resources and we integrate technology throughout the curriculum beginning in prekindergarten. The skill-based instruction focuses on the ways in which technology can enhance learning and communication through research, writing and design.

We also take the responsible and safe use of technology very seriously and teach best practices throughout our curriculum.

LES students have access to a dedicated computer lab, interactive whiteboards, and classroom computers. And all students in grades 3–8 are issued Chromebooks (which they keep through middle school) as part of our 1:1 technology program. Whether conducting research, writing reports, creating multimedia presentations, recording interviews, designing digital art, or producing an iMovie, students build their tech tool box to bring their work to life.


Lesley Ellis assessments are designed to assure individual growth by recognizing accomplishments, identifying areas for improvement (both student and program), and sharing each child’s work with parents.

  • Early childhood students demonstrate their capabilities through portfolios of completed work, which they proudly share.
  • Elementary students receive written progress reports which are based on teacher observations and student work.
  • Middle School students receive written progress reports, and students in grades 7–8 receive letter grades in preparation for their transition to high school.