A great school is one thing. But a great school that is also part of a world-class research university? Now that is something entirely different.
Because the Laboratory Schools are part of the world-renowned University of Chicago, the importance of intellectual life—of thought and exploration—infuses everything we do across all aspects of our curriculum. Lab students of every age benefit from the University’s outstanding academicians and access to unmatched resources:
- Special access to the Oriental Institute Museum, Smart Museum of Art, Court Theater, science labs, and sports and other UChicago facilities.
- University faculty—scientists, policy and legal experts, historians, and humanities specialists—regularly bring their expertise into Lab classrooms.
- High Schoolers have full access to and are taught how to use the University’s vast library resources and may take classes at the University of Chicago at no additional expense.
- Lab’s unique Summer Link program places qualified U-Highers in paid internships with UChicago scientists and professors and businesses across the University and around the city.
Walk into a Lab N/K classroom and you’ll notice how many different activities are going on at one time. This is the “negotiated curriculum” in action: teachers prepare an environment filled with possibilities and encourage choice, initiative, exploration, and collaboration. Behind it all is the teacher’s belief in the child’s capacity and motivation to figure out the world and the desire to represent his or her ideas. Children arrive at Lab’s doorstep eager to get involved. Teachers respond with programs that support this drive for understanding, autonomy, and competence.
Classrooms are designed so that a child can function as independently as possible, helping the child experience confidence and competence as she chooses what to do. Once the child has learned routines and how the room works, he is free to be in charge of time within those constructs. It is the child’s world in which to enjoy, explore, think, and play. In kindergarten the scope widens to include leaving the classroom for library, music, and physical education taught by specialists.
Whether acting out stories they’ve dictated, listening at story time, writing using invented spelling, or talking at “show and tell,” children are immersed in language and its many uses. Days are filled with mathematical thinking as children figure out how many days they’ve been in school or how to follow a recipe. Projects link language, science, and art media—paint, clay, music, movement—adding depth and breadth to a young mind’s understanding.
Primary School (grades 1–2)
As children move into Primary School there is a natural segue from an environment where the child is the curriculum to one in which the curriculum guides learning down specific paths. New skills and challenges are added in developmentally appropriate ways, and learning is structured to support the purposeful freedom we value and to provide each child with opportunities to move about, investigate, inquire, experiment, and exchange ideas.
A great deal of careful and thoughtful planning goes into creating differentiated classroom environments that capture children’s imagination and curiosity and help them experience joy in learning. Students are encouraged to write frequently, and as independently as they are able—both fiction and non-fiction. Relatedly, small group instruction, partner reading, and individual reading are part of everyday routines.Math concepts become more sophisticated: students may use graphing skills in a social studies project or measure time on clocks marked at five-minute intervals. These experiences help develop mathematical reasoning and scientific inquiry as children make conjectures, gather evidence, and build supporting arguments. Starting in first grade, children leave the classroom for formal art instruction, and computer classes are added in second.
Lower School (grades 3–5)
Lower School children hit an important “aha!” moment when learning garnered in younger years, coalesces into more sophisticated thinking and peer relationships. They make an important leap when they go from learning to read to reading to learn. With this skill comes the ability to acquire and master new intellectual challenges, including starting specialist-taught classes in third grade: science and a world language (French, German, Mandarin Chinese, or Spanish.) Art, computer science, library, music, and PE all continue.
Collaborative activities with common goals teach the importance of cooperation, responsibility, and a continuing and more sophisticated respect for each individual’s ideas. Careful thought and planning goes into creating classroom environments that foster—and sustain—the intellectual curiosity children bring to learning.
Lower School students are at just the right age to be both “big buddies” and “little buddies.” As big buddies, they experience the sense of mastery and pride that comes from interacting with younger children. As little buddies to our Middle and High Schoolers, they get to work with and learn from older students.
Middle School (grades 6–8)
Children entering the Middle School years begin an intense period of intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and moral growth. Lab’s Middle School teachers are actively interested in students at this developmental stage, and they create a program that balances independence and challenge with the support Middle Schoolers need.
Each week, a Middle School student will connect with almost a dozen teachers specializing in different areas, each with unique interests and styles. Strong teacher/student relationships give students the confidence to discuss, question, and debate. This confidence translates into creative, expressive, vocal intellects and serves as the foundation for high school. Because students are becoming more independent, in eighth grade, Lab introduces the opportunity for kids to select arts and other elective courses.
A Lab tradition of overnight trips (at no additional cost to families) begins with the sixth and seventh grade camping trips and the eighth grade travels to Washington, DC—a culmination of their humanities curriculum. Interscholastic sports (the Middle School fields teams in six sports) and many clubs are important parts of Middle School life. Importantly, Lab encourages participation with an “everyone plays” approach so kids can explore the world of competitive sports without risk of failure.
High School (grades 9–12)
In the High School (also known as University High School or U-High,) high expectations go hand in hand with real, personal freedom. Lab attracts passionate students who excel academically and are excited by teachers and a curriculum that will help them expand their intellectual comfort zone. They are ready to take advantage of all our school has to offer; Learning to balance it all takes effort, but our students will tell you it’s exciting, and our graduates that it was worth it.
The basic curriculum emphasizes analytical reading, writing, research, strong math and science skills, and broad access to the arts. Students regularly have free time, and the school works with students to help them learn to balance their workload and social needs. So, by the time students leave U-High, they are equipped with the independence and academic and personal skills they’ll use to navigate college and life with confidence and leadership. It almost goes without saying that virtually every U-Higher graduates from a four-year college, and they attend outstanding colleges around Chicago and the country.
Students often devote significant time outside of regular school hours to many different extracurricular activities (sports, 40+ clubs, theater, journalism, academic teams, and more.) U-High’s 28 sports teams compete at high levels of competition. They achieve this within a “no cut” policy system that encourages students to play (nearly 65 percent of U-Highers play on at least one team) and distinguishes U-High from most athletic programs in the country. The students who make the most of all we offer are the ones who seem most excited by what the Laboratory Schools—and life—are all about.