Ethical Culture


At Ethical Culture, we help students understand multiple perspectives, see the world beyond the self, develop creativity and imagination, and foster habits of the heart such as justice, fairness, and empathy. We combine high-quality academics with respect for all people and points of view, and emphasize critical thinking in all areas.

School is a continuous journey for our students and teachers, and we plan each grade’s work around an essential question that is the core of what we want children to have learned by the end of each school year. Grounded in respect for the whole child, our approach allows teachers to honor each child’s learning style as well as who each child is individually, socially, emotionally, and culturally.

Students arrive in our classrooms with their own skills and abilities, and we are charged with extending, enriching, and enhancing what they bring. We meet the developmental level of each child and are devoted to inspiring them to become lifelong learners. Academic excellence is evidenced in the daily expectation that children do their best and take responsibility for their own work. We help our students develop goals that acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses, and give them encouragement to compensate for the latter while building on the former.



How do I work, play, and learn in school?

Play is the essence of our developmentally appropriate PreK program and the foundation upon which we build our students’ ability to meet academic challenges in the years to come. Play is how a child learns to communicate, solve problems, and develop social skills. Open-ended classroom materials encourage the exploration and experimentation that is crucial to the development of young minds. Pre-literacy skills are developed through opportunities to dictate stories, listen to and discuss books, make use of environmental print, read recipes, and participate in whole-group discussions. Young children learn best through concrete and sensory experiences, so numeracy skills are developed through natural opportunities to sort, classify, count, and practice one-to-one correspondence. In our social studies curriculum, students study themselves and their changing bodies and learn how to become part of a classroom community.



How am I a part of community?

ECpostOffice9.jpeg Kindergarteners begin to focus on themselves as individuals as well as members of their home cultures and a classroom community. In the fall, the children participate in a school study in which they learn who is important in the school, the geography of the building, and what it takes to make the school function. Following this study is a study of the post office, which culminates in a grade-wide post office, servicing the entire school. Beginning the day with reading the morning message and daily schedule, children practice literacy while building upon the structure and routine of prekindergarten. Students also build letter/sound and word-recognition skills through activities such as reading stories, poetry, and nursery rhymes; singing, rhyming, and nonsensical word play; Name of the Day discussions; writing tasks; and making use of classroom labels and signs, etc. Writing workshop encourages children to write or dictate stories based on their own experiences and interests. Math activities are designed for students to explore patterns, gather and represent data, learn about geometry in the world, and develop number sense.



What is the history and importance of Central Park to life in New York?

First graders use budding research skills to explore Central Park as part of the natural world beyond their classroom doors. The study is enhanced through the science curriculum, with classes held in the park that focus on wildlife and the environment. Reading instruction uses a balanced approach, incorporating a wide variety of strategies that emphasize phonics, reading to make meaning, and developing a bank of sight words, while writing workshop expands the children’s knowledge of genres including memoir, poetry, and non-fiction. In math, using the curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, students learn to collect and record data. They also learn to develop efficient strategies to solve word problems. Manipulatives allow for hands-on mathematical discoveries.



How does a community support the needs of the people who live there?

Our second graders focus on the concept of community by exploring the Upper West Side and other neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Students research personal and classroom communities, consider local geography and landforms, develop mapping skills, and ultimately create and run their own city, based on their understanding of how a neighborhood provides for its members.

Fieldston May 29 1 _0187.jpg Reading is approached in a variety of ways, from guided reading groups to individualized book selection and conferences, based on the needs of the individual learner. Students explore a variety of genres in our writing curriculum and develop a deeper awareness of the author’s craft. The Investigations in Number, Data, and Space math curriculum focuses on the development of number sense and various computation strategies. Students also will be exposed to introductory concepts in geometry, fractions, and data analysis.



How does environment affect the culture of a people?

Third-grade students study the Northeast Woodland Indians within the context of the Hudson River Valley. They examine the Native Americans’ relationship with the natural environment, and compare and contrast this with contemporary life and the lives of colonial settlers. The science and Social Studies Workshop curriculum parallels both the Hudson River and Native American studies.

Fieldston May 29 1 _0363.jpg Deepening a love of reading and advancing strategies for comprehension are the goals of small-group reading instruction, as students begin seeking personal connections to the written word and distinguishing important ideas from secondary details. In writing workshop, students express themselves in a variety of forms, including personal narratives, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and are exposed to the research process and various research. The Investigations in Number, Data, and Space curriculum increases students’ understanding of the number system and computation strategies, in addition to subtraction, multiplication, and division. Fractions are introduced.



How does studying immigration help us to understand modern America?

Fieldston May 29 2_0111.jpg In fourth grade, students look at the push and pull factors affecting both forced and unforced immigration over the past 500 years and how it has changed and enriched society over time. In reading, students develop their understanding of story structure and critical-thinking skills, such as making inferences, while learning how to discuss literature with their peers. Students cultivate their craft within various genres by working through the writing process and continue to develop their problem-solving skills and explore mathematical strategies. The Investigations in Number, Data, and Space curriculum includes units on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, place value, 2-D geometry, and fractions.



What are the roots of American democracy and the evolution of human rights?

Fifth-grade students study the roots and development of democracy in the United States with an emphasis on the Colonial and Revolutionary periods and the Civil Rights Movement. Students read a variety of primary sources, non-fiction texts, and historical fiction. They also read short stories and contemporary novels in book groups, as a whole class, and independently. The children work on expository, descriptive, and persuasive writing with an emphasis on content and structure. In math, students work with the Investigations in Number, Data, and Space curriculum as well as solidify computational skills. Students study the relationship among fractions, decimals, percentages, and geometry, among other topics. Students further their problem-solving abilities by explaining their mathematical process in writing with the challenging problems of the week.


The art program at Ethical Culture includes drawing, painting, collage, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking and photography. We focus on exploration and experimentation with materials and tools, and stress process over product. Students develop their problem-solving skills and learn to trust their artistic vision and abilities.

Students are exposed to a wide range of artists from many cultures, times and traditions. By sharing and discussing these works of art students learn to respect differences in expression, and each other’s opinions. They also learn that they too are a community of artists, each possessing an individual point of view and unique ability to express themselves.


Music at Ethical Culture is woven into the curriculum, and advances in appropriate complexity from year to year. Pre-Kindergartners and kindergartners learn that their first instrument is their voice and begin the first stages of healthy vocal development. In the early elementary years studies expand their musical vocabulary and more pitches and rhythms are introduced. By third grade, the emphasis is on understanding notations and students are able to sustain their own parts in rhythm bands. Recorders are the instrument of choice for fourth graders who learn to read music from the written score. They are able to translate the written page to both their instrument and their singing voice. A full-scale musical production is a highlight of the fourth grade year. In fifth grade students learn to sing in two and three parts, adding the musical element of harmony to those already mastered: melody and rhythm. An optional instrumental program is available for fourth and fifth graders.


The science curriculum at Ethical Culture exposes students to botany, biology, physics, chemistry, and earth science through developmentally appropriate hands-on activities. Children build upon their experience of the natural world through the early elementary years, using lab work where appropriate to support their learning in all the grades. A plant sale in first grade marries our school’s ethical framework with that year’s study of Central Park, as the proceeds are donated to the Park.

Social Studies Workshop

The Social Studies Workshop has been a part of the Ethical Culture School since its founding. Designed to provide children with an opportunity to develop confidence with tools and solving construction problems, the Workshop is an embodiment of the progressive educational tenet of learning by doing. The hands-on curriculum includes specific projects related to classroom social studies, math, and science, as well as traditional woodworking. Through four years of diverse projects--that encourage both cooperative work and individual expression--students develop creative problem-solving skills and begin to understand the design process.


In the Spanish language program at Ethical Culture, students speak, see, touch, write, taste, and feel in the language. Whether running into the classroom to ask for a Band‐Aid (in Spanish, of course), making the most of the city by touring a local market in a Hispanic neighborhood, or creating books for children in Guatemala as part of a service project, our students embrace Spanish language and culture with full hearts and much laughter. Spanish instruction begins in pre-kindergarten and continues through elementary school.

Physical Education/Movement

The physical education/movement programming for PreK through second grade at Ethical Culture is founded on movement education and exploration. Students are taught about spatial awareness and interacting with peers with an emphasis on games, rhythms, and locomotor/movement concepts. In third through fifth grade, the curriculum explores personal fitness, sports, and games. In each unit, game rules are introduced with a focus on sportsmanship, teamwork, skill development, and strategy. Non-traditional physical education units such as yoga, juggling, cup-stacking, and circus art keep young minds and bodies active and engaged and demonstrate to students that they can experience movement and stay fit in a variety of ways.

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