An International Preschool-Grade 12 Academy 

Lower School

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  • Welcome

    Welcome to the Lower School at GEMS World Academy Chicago! We are excited to help you learn more about our strong and innovative academic program.

    Early Childhood (Preschool-Kindergarten)
    Our Early Childhood program unlocks the innate curiosity and imagination of our youngest learners. Starting with a preschool program for 3-year-olds, Early Childhood also encompasses our junior kindergarten and kindergarten classes. We use the rigorous International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP), which inspires students to explore, ask questions and take risks. That core program is supplemented by the purposeful (and age-appropriate) use of technology, as well as an emphasis on global studies, rooted in the exploration of world languages. Our Early Childhood teachers provide expert and nurturing instruction that guides each student toward discovery.
    Elementary Years (Grades 1-5)
    As students advance in the Lower School, their inquiries become deeper and richer. Core subject areas, along with the arts and personal skills, are tied together in a transdisciplinary approach that reveals connections between subjects and facilitates more robust learning. Students become more creative in their use of technology, and their ongoing Field Study work gives them a sharper sense of their relationship to society at large. In these years, the PYP helps students develop the high-level thinking skills they need to thrive in middle school, high school and beyond.


    The Lower School at GEMS World Academy Chicago differentiates itself in several key ways.


    Many schools provide rich technological resources. What sets GEMS apart is the way that we use them. Students in the Lower School will use devices like iPads, MacBooks, etc. not simply to explore, but also to create original material — writing, digital artwork, photographs, videos — that sparks new insight and spurs students to action.


    GEMS World Academy is part of a global network of GEMS Education schools. Our students have unmatched opportunities to communicate, and collaborate, with peers all over the world. These co-learning exercises deepen students’ understanding of the material at hand and develop insight into cultural differences.

    Field Studies

    Teachers in the Lower School view the city of Chicago as their “extended classroom.” Students spend several hours each week investigating city neighborhoods, delving into local museums and cultural centers, and interviewing artists, professionals and other people from all walks of life. These Field Studies help broaden students’ views about where and how learning can happen.

    None of these innovations happens in isolation. They are interconnected and fully embedded in the Lower School’s overall approach to education.

  • Explore the International Baccalaureate Program

    An International Approach

    The Lower School uses the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP), a proven, respected curriculum for preschool through Grade 5 that combines a thorough exploration of core academic subjects with a focus on developing a global perspective. Classroom lessons and activities are filtered through six overall themes:

    Who we are

    An inquiry into: The nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental and spiritual health; human relationships, including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; and what it means to be human.

    Where we are in place and time

    An inquiry into: Orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between people and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.

    How we express ourselves

    An inquiry into: The ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect, extend and enjoy creativity; and our appreciation of the aesthetic.
    How the world works

    An inquiry into: The natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; and the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

    How we organize ourselves

    An inquiry into: The interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; and economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment.

    Sharing the planet

    An inquiry into: Rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; and peace and conflict resolution.

    Throughout the program, teachers meet regularly to devise and reinforce connections between subject areas. This “transdisciplinary” approach makes the subject matter more relevant and engaging to students, resulting in more effective learning. Lessons repeatedly ask students to consider alternate cultural perspectives, leading to a growing appreciation of diversity. By the time students are ready to move into the Middle School, they’re well on their way to becoming intelligent and principled global citizens.


    The subject areas that make up the Lower School’s academic program can be viewed as the individual strands of a web. Each brings something unique to the program, but they work together throughout to support the PYP’s six overall themes.

    Use the "Lower School Curriculum Guide" link on the right side of this page to take an in-depth look at our program.

    Social Studies

    Social studies is, ultimately, about people. The Lower School program encourages curiosity and develops understanding of the role humanity plays in the world. Students study human communities, the family unit, and the concept of government. They explore different people, cultures and faiths, with a focus on empathy and understanding.

    Language Arts

    The unique power of language, and its use over time, are key focuses of the Lower School’s language arts program. Students will explore the mechanics of the English language, and they’ll develop an understanding of how language can be used in oral, written and visual communication. Teachers guide students as they learn to read with comprehension. The program also provides ample opportunity for students to refine their writing/composition skills.


    “How does this work?” Science in the Lower School gives students the skills they need to find an answer to that question. The program includes exploration of the makeup of living things, of Earth and space, materials and matter, force and energy. Along the way, teachers show students how to set up a scientific investigation and how to communicate its results.


    The Lower School uses the respected Singapore Math program, which is highly visual and teaches math in a relevant, realistic context. Students explore numbers, measurements, and geometric shapes. They start to identify patterns and the different ways that data can be collected. The program presents math as a way of thinking and reasoning, rather than just a mechanical exercise in memorization. Where appropriate, math concepts are integrated into other lessons to show students that math can be found everywhere in the real world.

    World Languages

    Learning a second language is a key component of our curriculum. Students develop core skills — reading, writing, speaking and listening — in their choice of Spanish, French or Mandarin. Our program approaches the student of world languages as a way to create and enhance intercultural connections. Students discover how their values, mores and behavior differ from those exhibited by people across the world. That awareness fuels deeper insight into global problems and greater cultural respect and understanding.

    Art & Music

    The Lower School provides students with intensive engagement in the visual arts, music and drama. Students are exposed to a wide variety of works from different eras and cultures. They explore the different ways that people have expressed themselves through art throughout history. They also start to create their own art, both individually and in groups, learning along the way to be risk-takers and respectful collaborators.

    Physical Education

    The physical education program develops physical skills like body control, movement to music and athletic activities. The program also helps young learners develop a sense of what it means to take care of one’s body and live a healthy lifestyle.

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350 East South Water Street | Chicago, IL 60601
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