PreK students explore Riverdale Park on a weekly guided nature walk.

In Lower School, Science begins with thought-provoking questions that spark further learning to deepen and build understanding. Students engage in hands-on investigations rooted in environmental science designed to foster an appreciation of the world around them. Throughout their time on the River Campus, students explore, wonder, discover, and act as citizen scientists, conducting experiments and solving real-world problems. Teachers work closely with the interdisciplinary integrator team to build in STEAM activities tailored to each curricular unit. Teachers and students take advantage of the campus and surrounding areas, such as Riverdale Park. “We value science that happens outside the classroom and see children as natural field scientists,” says Lower School Science Coordinator Traci Pearl, “Students go on nature walks, have free play in the pine forest, work in the gardens, make observations, ask questions and develop a deep appreciation of the natural world. Our environmental education program is emergent and closely linked to the classroom science curriculum. Student curiosity is nurtured and fueled by their engagement in science at the Lower School.”

“Riverdale students begin their scientific exploration in PreK when they start to consider those essential questions,” says Associate Head of Lower School for PreK-2nd grade Natasha Schmemann. PreK students begin by contemplating the question “What is science?” at their science table and on weekly nature walks, where they develop an appreciation for the environment.

In Kindergarten, students begin the year exploring the question, “What lives on our campus, in the woods and in our gardens?” They study the role birds play on our campus and participate in an interdisciplinary study of sound and communication. 

First graders look at cycles throughout the year, questioning, “what is matter and how does it change?” by focusing on the water cycle and how it’s linked to weather, life cycles and adaptations, and investigating the ways living and nonliving things interact and depend on each other within an ecosystem. 

In second grade, students evaluate how they interact with and impact systems on the River Campus and our city. Going behind the scenes to look at many of the systems that help our school and our city run, students will investigate and answer two questions over the year: “Where does my trash go when I throw it away? and “How do the lights in my classroom work?” 

“Upper learning students continue their engagement in the inquiry process, diving into a deeper understanding of how questions drive understanding and how the inquiry process is cyclical, fueled by observations and discoveries,” says Associate Head of the Lower School for grades 3-5 Ellen Greengrass. Third graders start the year by examining the many different ways to grow plants, from discovering how many seeds you can get from a single seed, to planting potatoes in a container garden and setting up alternate growing systems such as aeroponics and aquaponics. They wrap up the year with a deeper look at the Hudson River and how it’s changed over time with human impact. 

In fourth grade, students develop a deeper understanding of Earth’s place in the solar system and our planet’s structure, exploring Earth’s dynamic systems, human impact, and climate change. 

In their final Lower School year, fifth graders participate in a semester-long study of water in our world and on the Riverdale campus. They start by investigating water’s physical and chemical properties and then consider our relationship to water, water access, and the impact of pollution on living things. 

This approach of asking and answering scientific questions instills in students a sense of responsibility for their own environment as well as the Earth that helps them appreciate their role as curious learners and stewards of the natural world.