To get where you want to go, the very first step must be in the right direction.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Science and Social Studies (Theme)

Our theme in second grade is “Where Do I Live?” Second graders begin the year investigating the natural environment, learning, for example, how local plants and animals attain their basic needs. Focusing on the temperate forest, students learn about the New England climate and how human and animal life adapts to survive in this environment. They move on to explore their own neighborhoods and houses and consider how buildings provide shelter. They discuss the features of and differences among houses around the world and how climate influences the way a house is built. As part of their cartography study, in our “Wabi-Sabi” makerspace, second graders program Bee-Bots to navigate 3-D town models.

Second graders learn about the colonists, who inhabited the North Shore before them, how they struggled to survive in their new environment and interacted with the Native Americans they met. They learn about the migration of their own ancestors to North America. Finally, the students travel back to the formation of the earth and consider how the earth’s gradual changes have supported new life forms. They learn how scientists have used a variety of discoveries to piece together the puzzle of prehistoric life. The students use books, videos, discussions, museum visits, visiting experts, projects, and scientific techniques to learn about their surroundings. They demonstrate their new knowledge through writing, drawing, model building, and a wide variety of other activities.

Language Arts

Second graders participate in a balanced language arts program of reading and writing workshops throughout the year. We introduce and practice skills that help students develop into thoughtful and engaged readers and writers. In addition to comprehension strategies, students engage in phonetics exercises, fluency practice, and vocabulary development. Students learn in small groups, one-on-one with teachers, and from each other when they partner for reading practice. Students practice writing skills in narrative, informational, and opinion forms. They learn to communicate ideas in their writing, revise their work, edit for publishing, and present their work with confidence.


Second graders build their foundational understanding of such key math concepts as number families, equations, and place value. They work to attain fluent knowledge of basic addition and subtraction facts so they can compute larger numbers with greater ease. Second grade marks the children’s first formal introduction to multiplication as well as to adding and subtracting two- and three-digit numbers with regrouping. The children use Cuisenaire rods, number lines, hundreds charts, and other tools to build their mathematical understanding. They also practice clearly communicating their thinking.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

Twice a week we engage the second graders in a lesson from our Open Circle social/emotional curriculum. We gather in an open circle—open because we include one extra space to underscore that there is always room for another voice and no one is ever left out—for a short lesson and conversation and a story or an activity. As an example, in the Managing Ourselves unit students learn about what happens in their body and their brain when they get upset, and they practice calm-breathing techniques. They consider strategies for listening well to others and read The Blabber Report, by True Kelley. They talk about times when it might be helpful to talk to someone who can help.


Second graders continue to learn Spanish using techniques that help them develop their listening and speaking skills.  Students review old and amass new vocabulary, including words linked to their theme, “Where Do I Live?”: feelings, classroom commands, colors, the calendar, rainforest animals, family, and the parts of a house.  They read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Oso Pardo, Oso Pardo, Qué Ves Ahi?) and A Walk in the Jungle (Un Paseo en la Selva) and act out the stories in Spanish.  They learn about how Mexico has influenced the language, places, people, and architecture of southwestern United States. They also learn about Puerto Rico, El Yunque Rainforest, and the traditions of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), La Navidad (Christmas), Three Kings Day, El Carnaval, and Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May).  

Visual Arts

Second grade art emphasizes the elements of art and the principles of design. The children are introduced to the work of famous artists of the past and present. Art projects that are tied to the theme of “Where Do I Live?” include a class mural that is a map of houses around the world, created with watercolors and markers; oil pastel and watercolor paintings of trees on school grounds that students first sketch while outside; and oil pastel and watercolor paintings of houses of the world done from photographs. Place-based projects include making Native American corn husk dolls and sculpting and painting birds of New England from paper maché and tempera.


In second grade music, the children continue to learn about rhythm and tone and keeping a steady beat with barred and percussion instruments. They also practice performing in small group ensembles. They learn about duple rhythms and to echo, decode, read, write, and create rhythms. The children listen to the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Prokofiev and learn to identify symphonic selections and the instruments of the orchestra. They consider the anthem, vote for their favorite American anthem, and prepare a repertoire of school, state, and national anthems for a recital. They also prepare for other school performances throughout the year.


In dance class, students create, express, communicate, and secure confidence through the study of movement. They participate in exercises that foster creativity, challenge them physically and expressively, require teamwork, develop identity, promote problem solving, and require that they describe their creative process. Children gain body awareness, coordination, locomotor skills, musicality, and choreography techniques through formal and improvisational modern dance lessons. The K–5 dance curriculum spirals from year to year, increasing in complexity. As an example, second graders learn about balance, off-balance, and counter-balance, finding examples of these conditions in the world around them. Then, working with a partner, they incorporate balance and counter-balance into a choreography project.

In addition to the modern dance curriculum, students are introduced to a variety of cultural dance styles. To broaden our global education and dance advocacy, the entire GUS school participates in Dance Anywhere, an annual worldwide simultaneous celebration of dance!

Physical Education

Second graders continue to engage in games that emphasize movement (running, skipping, hopping, leaping, and so on) and cooperation.  Occasionally, students are given free time to choose their own group activities, so they can practice problem solving and conflict resolution. The goal remains to encourage healthy habits of physical activity and strong motor skills. Everyone participates in all games and activities. While many children at this age have already begun playing competitive town sports, we create a noncompetitive environment in the lower school community to cultivate good sportsmanship as the children mature.

Community Service

For their community service activity, twice a year second graders collect food for the Beverly Bootstraps food pantry. They create posters, announce their food drives at all-school meetings, and organize the donations for delivery.

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