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, practice one-to-one correspondence, and explore patterns. In our social studies curriculum, students study themselves and their bodies and learn how to become part of a classroom community. The study of science in PreK is related to the children’s immediate environment (i.e. changing seasons). Art, music, and cooking support the four curricula areas.



How am I a part of community?


Kindergarteners begin to focus on themselves as individuals as well as members of their home cultures and classroom communities.

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, how people in the building share ideas and information and communicate with one another, and what it takes to make the school function. In the winter, students study the post office, which culminates in a working, school-wide post office, servicing the entire school. In the spring, classes build on learning from prior studies and focus on their own projects, based on the interests and individual needs of children in each room.

By beginning the day reading the morning message and daily schedule, children practice literacy skills while building upon the structure and routine of prekindergarten. Students also build letter/sound and word-recognition skills through activities such as listening to stories, singing, rhyming, word play and nonsensical rhyming, identifying and substituting initial and end sounds, segmenting words into sounds and syllables, and making classroom labels and signs.

Writing workshop encourages children to tell stories using pictures and words and to create pieces within genres such as fiction, nonfiction, lists, and letter writing.

Math activities engage and challenge students by exploring myriad patterns with mixed variables, gathering and representing and/or recording data, solving problems, learning about geometry, and developing number sense, often within multiple real world contexts and situations. By year’s end, through story problems, children are introduced to simple addition and subtraction equations.



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

First graders use developing research skills to explore Central Park as part of the natural world beyond their classroom doors. Students study park landmarks, the park’s history and the benefits of parks in urban areas, all through walking trips and research. The study is enhanced through the science curriculum, with classes held in the park that focus on wildlife and the environment.

The overall purpose of our literacy program is to create the joy of reading. Our instruction uses a balanced approach, incorporating a wide variety of strategies that emphasize phonics, fluency, comprehension skills, and vocabulary. Students read independently and in small groups, discussing reading strategies and various contextual elements. Emphasis is placed on reading behaviors, such as making connections and asking questions to deepen understanding.

To reveal the connection between reading and writing, first graders engage in composing and sharing their own work. Writing workshop expands the children’s knowledge of genres including memoir, nonfiction, and poetry. Students develop writing mechanics, handwriting, and organization skills as they move through the writing process by drafting, revising, editing, and publishing finished pieces. Students use their growing reading and writing skills to research topics, collect facts, and share their findings with others.

First-grade math focuses on developing a strong number sense and the ability to flexibly and efficiently solve problems. Contextual story problems and scenarios are used to highlight math in the real world. Students are encouraged to discuss strategies and patterns observed with our number system. They use a variety of mathematical models to explain their thinking and justify their solutions. Math games and activities are often used to deepen understanding, reinforce automaticity, and develop logical thinking skills.



How does a community support the needs of its members?

Our social studies curriculum is an inquiry-based study of New York City, stretching across all areas of curriculum, including reading, writing, math, science, and art. We begin the year with the exploration of personal communities, such as our families and our school, and then deepen the study to explore our neighborhood community, focusing on the essential question of basic needs. As part of our New York City study, the students will investigate its unique geography, transportation system, structures, and other elements through the lens of their interests. In addition, each year a service learning component is included in our program.

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Reading, Writing, and Math

Reading instruction is approached in a variety of ways, from guided reading groups to independent book selections and one-on-one teacher conferences, based on the needs of the individual learner. In our writing curriculum students explore a variety of genres and develop a deeper awareness of the author’s craft. Our math program emphasizes the importance of hands-on experiences and explorations that focus on the development of number sense, various computational strategies, and mental math. Students will also be exposed to introductory concepts in geometry, fractions, and data analysis.



How does environment affect the culture of a people? How do people affect their environment?

Third-grade students begin the year by studying the Hudson River environment and connect their understanding to an in-depth study of Lenape life along the River hundreds of years ago. Throughout their study, they examine the reciprocal relationship between the Hudson River and the people who have lived along it. The third grade service learning project further allows students to recognize the River not only as a resource, but also a responsibility.

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Third-grade students deepen their love of reading by advancing their strategies for comprehension to think critically about what they read. They actively apply these strategies during whole group lessons, small-group work, and independent practice. In writing workshop, students express themselves in a variety of forms, including story summaries, field trip reflection essays, and personal narratives. Students later explore non-fiction texts and conduct a research project connected to the social studies curriculum. In math, students continue to develop their number sense through investigations in which they acquire strategies for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Other explorations include fractions and geometry.



What is government and how does it affect us?
How does immigration contribute to the evolution of American culture?

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In fourth grade, students begin the year by discussing the purpose of a government . These discussions intertwine with the essential work of building a classroom community. Students understand the basic structure (Three Branches) of the United States government through analyzing some important historical documents that frame our country, such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We then move into a study of the fifty states in which students research the geography, government, economy, and other important information about a particular state. In the second semester, students investigate both voluntary immigration and forced migration over a 350-year period, including the causes for immigrants leaving their home countries and the reasons for coming to the United States.

The language arts curriculum is intertwined with the social studies curriculum. Fourth grade students read a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts to further develop their love of reading, expand their comprehension, vocabulary, and analytical and critical thinking skills by responding to text through writing and discussion. Fourth graders write in a variety of genres with particularly emphasis on expository writing: research-based, narrative journal entries and five-paragraph essays based on student research.

In math, we integrate from various math curricula to develop computational skills and conceptual understanding within real world contexts. Students continue to develop their number sense through investigations in which they study multiplicative patterns, mathematical properties, and a variety of strategies for multiplication and division. Other explorations include partial numbers (fractions, decimals, and percents), geometry, and data and graphing.



What is power? How does where I come from and who I am affect what I think is equal and fair? Does fair always mean equal; does equal always mean fair?

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, nonfiction 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, we integrate from various math curricula to develop computational skills and conceptual understanding within real world contexts. Students study the relationship among fractions, decimals, percentages, and other topics. Students further their problem-solving abilities by explaining their mathematical processes 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.

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.


Technology is used everywhere and in all grades. Computer science and design technology are the main areas of focus in the fourth- and fifth-grade specialized computer classes. Activities are designed to be project-based and integrated. Students learn the fundamentals of computer science using Scratch, a programming language designed for creative expressions, such as in interactive games, stories, art, music, and multimedia projects. Fourth and fifth graders connect their coding experience with physical computing technology. They use invention kits with lights and sensors, LEGO Mindstorms, and WeDo robotics systems to design and build robots to perform tasks. Online coding, robotics, and design technology tools facilitate and empower students to engage in multidisciplinary project-based learning, problem-solve real-world challenges, make connections, and get involved in meaningful change.

Learning Support

Ethical Culture is equipped with a Literacy Specialist Department dedicated to differentiating instruction for students who require a higher level of support to reach their potential. Literacy specialists value a team approach, maintaining open lines of communication among classroom teachers, parents, and outside service providers.

Early Intervention
In Kindergarten, assessments are conducted at the beginning, middle, and end of the year to examine students’ pre-reading skills in order to individualize instruction. Students requiring additional support meet with a literacy specialist in a small-group setting approximately two times per week as necessary throughout the school year.

Grades 1 and 2
Literacy specialists work with all students at the start of the school year to assess phonemic awareness skills, phonics knowledge, sight-word vocabulary, oral reading fluency, and comprehension skills. Based on these assessments, the literacy specialists and classroom teachers determine which students require more direct instruction in a small-group setting. All students in grades 1 and 2 engage in daily reading instruction. During this time, students who meet with a literacy specialist engage in a multi-sensory reading program tailored to their needs. Groups are fluid, based on skill. All students are continuously assessed throughout the year to ensure they are making gains in their reading development.

Grades 3, 4, and 5
In alignment with child development and increasing independence, literacy specialist support evolves in the upper elementary school. Specialists are present in the classroom four to five days per week. Support alternates between small pull-out groups and focused work within the classroom. Literacy specialists coordinate closely with the classroom teachers to identify students who require additional support in the areas of reading, writing, and executive functioning. To tailor instruction to meet the needs of those learners, assessments are conducted at the beginning, middle, and end of the year in the areas of reading comprehension, fluency, spelling, vocabulary, and writing. The groups are flexible, based on the project or skill at hand. In addition to addressing reading and writing concerns, specialists also support a small group of spellers two to three times per week using the "Words Their Way" program.

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