Welcome to the Lower School at GEMS World Academy Chicago, the city's premier private elementary school. Our elementary-years program, which covers preschool through Grade 5, unlocks the innate curiosity and imagination of our learners, placing them firmly on the path toward becoming principled and knowledgeable global citizens.
The foundation of our elementary-years curriculum is the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, which inspires students to explore, ask questions and take risks. We are a certified IB World School for our PYP, the only private school in Illinois to be so accredited.
The PYP involves students in units of inquiry that spark thought and discussion about the world and their places in it. The concepts explored include biodiversity, water, fair trade, storytelling, the human body, government systems, energy, public art and more. Each unit is transdisciplinary, meaning that the different academic disciplines are tied together throughout.
At GEMS, we combine the PYP with additional academic programs that set us apart from other private and elementary schools:
World languages: Each student at GEMS receives daily instruction in Spanish, French or Mandarin.
Technology and innovation: We thread a robust science, math and technology program through the curriculum, giving students access to state-of-the-art tools, coding and robotics.
Field Studies: Our students regularly venture outside the school building on focused explorations of the people, institutions and neighborhoods of Chicago, transforming the city into a mobile-learning laboratory.
Our Lower School provides students the high-level thinking skills they need to thrive in middle school, high school and beyond.
The Primary Years Program 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 and global citizenship.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.