Lower School (Preschool-First Grade)

Pre-Kindergarten (4/5s)

At Bank Street, our teachers rely on their deep knowledge of child development to build hands-on learning experiences for children ages 4 and 5 and a strong classroom community grounded in positive, trusting relationships.

Where are 4- and 5-year-olds developmentally?

Below are a few examples of documented behaviors and capacities of 4- and 5-year-olds that inspire the foundation for our pre-K program, which is designed to help children develop essential early learning skills, including building autonomy and taking on increased responsibility for caring for themselves and their classroom. Our teachers recognize that each child develops in their own way and at their own pace, and understand how to individualize learning to leverage the strengths and experiences of each student.

  • Behaviors and Capacities of 4- and 5-Year-Olds


    4- and 5-year-olds often…

    • Learn through the use of expressive imagination (e.g., dress-up), including opportunities to experiment with language and explore materials hands-on like manipulatives, clay, and sand
    • Thrive in environments with consistent schedules and clear routines
    • Respond to encouragement and build confidence to step out of their comfort zones and try new things
    • Are developing their understanding of others’ viewpoints and abstract concepts like “fairness”
    • Enjoy being read to and also conducting their own exploration of picture books


    4- and 5-year-olds often… 

    • Release energy through indoor and outdoor physical activity
    • Learn by moving large muscles and through constructive play, like the stacking of large blocks
    • Learn through uncoordinated spatial awareness and may experience falls, collisions, and spills


    4- and 5-year-olds often…

    • Look to adults for approval and suggestions, while also occasionally questioning them
    • Interpret words literally as they build their understanding of abstract concepts
    • Express themselves verbally and artistically and have an active imagination
    • Enjoy helping and having jobs and roles in the classroom

    Note: The patterns above are research-based and draw on the experience of Bank Street teachers and those that were documented for each age by Chip Wood in Yardsticks (Wood, Chip. Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4 – 14. Center for Responsive Schools, Inc.; 4th edition, January 2, 2018)

How does our pre-K (4/5s) program support your child’s development?

  • Program Overview

    Two children in jackets playing outsideProgram Overview:

    Children in the 4/5s (pre-K) hone their skills as participants in a group in our private, full-day program on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the classroom, they discuss kindness and care as the basis of all social interactions. They explore friendship while developing their own sense of identity. Social studies is the foundation of a curriculum that explores topics significant to early childhood development, including a focus on family structures.

    Our year begins with a focus on trust as teachers help children transition from home to school. Students explore the classroom materials and get to know their teachers and classmates. A phase-in schedule allows children to be introduced gradually to the routines and transitions of the school day. Within their classroom community, children in the 4/5s gain their own sense of autonomy and ownership of their environment and take on responsibility for caring for themselves and their classroom.

    Children in the 4/5s are active and love to move. Every day offers them the chance to challenge themselves physically on our play deck. Movement and music classes are a regular part of the weekly schedule.

    Hands-on science activities allow students to predict, observe, and draw conclusions as they study plants, snails, and cooking. Literacy is experienced through listening, storytelling, library visits, and learning how to print words. Classroom jobs contribute to their development as learners. Students develop an understanding that the classroom is a community where everyone helps. They also learn how to solve problems that are based on mathematical concepts—for example, “How many crackers do we need for snack today?” Ultimately, the 4/5s end the year fully prepared for the kindergarten classroom.

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  • Literacy, Library & Language


    Child reading with teacherChildren at this age often express interest and skill in recognizing letters, reading, and writing. Teachers support each child in their development and guide children as they take their next steps. Children are encouraged to express their ideas and feelings verbally in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class interactions. Our classrooms immerse children in a language-rich environment. Reference resources include alphabet charts, name cards, labels, classroom charts, and visuals.

    Every day, teachers read stories aloud and children respond with observations, questions, and predictions. Children use the classroom schedule cards, lists of classmates’ names, and alphabet charts as resources for their activities and work. Teachers regularly write down the children’s words to accompany their artwork, solidifying the connection between oral language and printing. 4/5s children also build on their growing knowledge of letter shapes, names, and sounds. They write books and make signs for the classroom.


    The Lower School Library curriculum focuses on nurturing a love of reading and on exposing children to the basics of browsing and checking out books. Trips to the library support a keen interest in books in the 4/5s. During read-alouds with the librarian, 4/5s practice making meaning of a story by understanding the interplay of words and images. They also practice responding to the story by making predictions and evaluating characters’ feelings. They build on similar skills learned in the 3/4s with slightly more complex words, sentences, and story structures.

    4/5s also learn how to sift through many options provided by the librarian to choose a book to check out. They learn to ask for help finding a specific book, author, or subject; about library etiquette (inside voices and walking feet); and how to take care of library books. By the time they leave the 4/5s, children are familiar and comfortable with library routines and associate the library with time devoted to sharing a love of reading and story with their classmates.


    Spanish language study in the 4/5s continues the immersion approach begun in the 3/4s. The Spanish teacher starts the year by joining students in different areas of the classroom and interacts using vocabulary related to their activities. In the second half of the school year, students work in groups to complete projects related to the core curriculum, which offers plenty of opportunities to hear and use the language. Vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are tailored to the language needs of each child. When working with heritage speakers, we modify our lessons around the use of correct articles and verb tense. Students in the 4/5s leave the school year with the notion that Spanish is an accessible language that is fun and an important communication tool.

  • Math, Science & Technology


    Teacher helping a student with puzzleEvery day, 4/5s students bring their share of curiosity to the classroom. They also bring a tremendous amount of energy. Children soak up our math curriculum by taking attendance, using one-to-one correspondence to count out the right number of spaces at the table for snack, applying their counting skills to keep track of the number of children working in a classroom area, and playing math games.

    Through the use of materials such as blocks, children learn about shape, size, categorization of objects by attribute, symmetry, sequence, and pattern. They explore measurement at the woodworking table as they handle water and sand and they develop their visual/spatial skills as they solve puzzles and work with building materials. They pursue mathematical questions that arise from their own curiosity. Teachers support a spirit of inquiry by asking children to share their experience and process with other children in their groups. They document children’s work with photographs, which are then displayed in the classroom. Children begin to make connections to numerals as a way to represent their thinking.


    There are endless opportunities for science in the 4/5s curriculum, which focuses on learning about the processes of growth and change. Year-round, children grow a variety of plants inside the classroom and outside on the deck. They make observations and document what they have observed in drawings.

    Snails are a continued highlight of the 4/5s curriculum. Children follow their curiosity by observing, touching, and reading about snails. They co-create guidelines for safely handling snails—washing their hands, using a gentle touch, and letting the snails lead the way. Hands-on exploration of these fascinating gastropods leads to rich conversations and questions like, “Why do snails have slime?” or “How do you know if a snail has taken bites of food?” Students also make scientific discoveries through experiments with different types of food. For example, they learn developmentally appropriate chemistry by cooking up batches of playdough and food in our teaching kitchen.


    Lower School learners use audio technology to share stories and songs. Images and videos are available to address students’ needs, such as showing information about a destination for a student’s family trip. Teachers and students work together to create printed materials for student and class projects.

  • Art


    Teacher and student stretching slimeArt at Bank Street is rooted in rich explorations of materials. Painting, clay, and collage are the core materials of the 4/5s art program because they offer so many expressive possibilities for children as they grow and develop. Children in any given classroom may be in different stages of development with each material. Some children may be exploring for the whole year, while others may be designing or creating representational works. There is no timeline for artistic development and there is no need to hurry it along. In fact, the longer the child can actively explore with materials, the richer the visual vocabulary they will have to draw upon when they are ready to represent.

    The art teacher visits the 4/5s classroom weekly and presents a question that sparks children’s thinking about a particular material. For example, she might ask, “What is one kind of line you can make with your brush?” Children are invited to share their ideas and to learn from one another.

    • Painting: In the 4/5s, children learn set-up and clean-up for painting. As they work, children learn that colors can be mixed on the paper and on the tray as they explore a variety of marks, lines, and shapes on paper. Each child explores the paint in their own way and at their own pace.
    • Clay: Children explore the clay by poking, pounding, pinching, and rolling, and learn that they can make all kinds of marks, and shapes, forms with this soft, strong, and malleable material. Children work on small boards individually as well as on large boards in pairs. Later in the year, coils and slabs are introduced to encourage new ideas about building, sculpting, and arranging with clay. Because children are interested in process more than product, we do not fire clay work in the 4/5s. Children are perfectly happy to return their work to the clay bin at the end of the work period.
    • Collage: Through the medium of collage, children explore the tactile and visual properties of materials. As they distinguish the properties of materials by size, color, shape, and texture, children begin making careful decisions about placement and arrangement of parts to the whole. In the beginning of the year, children explored the flat and three-dimensional properties of paper. Later in the year, children create paper bag puppets, as well as people and animal stick puppets.
    • Construction: In construction work, children explore spatial arrangements of three-dimensional materials. Children create wire sculptures in which they make thoughtful choices about materials, attachment, and arrangement. In the spring, children engage in a special wood sculpture project that challenges them to think about balance and weight, strong attachment, and gluing.
  • Music & Movement


    Young child playing drumsThe music program in the Lower School weaves together four “pillars” of music: singing, dancing, playing, and inquiry. The 4/5s experience music in their classroom and in the music room once a week. They participate in the bi-monthly Lower School Family Singing Assembly.

    In the 4/5s, children’s singing range increases and their rhythmic ability on instruments becomes more controlled. The instruments that the 4/5s play include different-sized frame drums and assorted percussion instruments from Afro-Caribbean cultures. Playing pitched instruments such as the xylophone, glockenspiel, and metallophone starts in the late fall. When playing in groups, children are encouraged to celebrate their growing song repertoire by choosing songs for the group to play. By spring, children are learning singing games and playing instruments as a band. They have developed their own “sound” as individuals and as a group and they can anticipate the initial signal to start playing as well as the final cadence that brings on the end.


    The 4/5s have movement for 30 minutes once a week in half groups. The creative movement class allows children to integrate their mind and body. It facilitates children’s creativity, imagination, and confidence; develops their fine and gross motor skills; builds impulse control; and fosters self-concept and self-esteem.

    Movement classes allow children to experience themselves as individual dancers and as members of a group. In all formats, dancers use their imagination to express themselves and their understanding of the world.

Young child and teacher play with yarn

Social Justice and Advocacy

Students in the 4/5s think and learn about our similarities and our differences. We work hard together to solve community challenges and learn about social activists and activism within our classroom, our school, and our broader world. Supporting children in their ability to identify themselves with language describing their race, gender, ability, religion, and socioeconomic status is a focus during the year.
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