Curiosity vs. Knowledge

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We all know the saying: “Curiosity killed the cat.” This article sheds a different light on that age-old adage, highlighting the premise that curiosity might be a better attribute than knowledge. It is commonly stated that we are living in the information age. Information, also known as knowledge, is there for the taking. We can search on Google, ask Siri or look up something on Wikipedia, and we will get an answer within minutes if not seconds.

If we simply want an answer to a question, those tools will provide the answer and the quest is finished. However, if we want to make connections, think further or wonder “what if,” that is only the beginning. In other words, if we are curious, we need more than the initial response to our questions and our thoughts. We need to think. We need to connect ideas and ask more questions. We need to wonder, to dream and to be curious. Knowing the multiplication tables is an attainable goal and one that schools hold important for children in elementary school. Connecting that knowledge to wonder about why yet another ice cream shop is going out of business if so many of the people walking on the boardwalk on a hot summer’s day are eating ice cream requires curiosity. It’s not simply looking at what exists and looking for a simple answer. Curiosity is going beyond that thinking to consider the “why,” the “how” and the ways in which one can make a difference by connecting those ideas.

Schools need to continue to help students gain knowledge; it is necessary to maintain an educated populace. However, it is imperative that they also instill a culture of curiosity. Children who are encouraged to think harder, try various ideas and adapt the results using a variety of tools are building skills needed for their future. They need to be given the time to think freely, wonder and guide their learning. Curiosity may be a problem for cats – not so for students. Allow it to thrive.

What do children need to succeed in school?

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What do children need to succeed in school? Google that question, and you will find more answers than you have time to read. However, take the time to think about it, reflecting perhaps on your own school experiences, and you will come close to an answer that will serve children well.

Children, like their adult counterparts, come in all shapes, sizes, appearances and abilities. They live in houses, apartments, in the country, suburbs and the city. They are as varied as can be and so is their learning. Some children can “do school.” They enter school at a young age, and it works for them. They know how to navigate through the information, demonstrate their understanding and successfully work within the established parameters. Others struggle with all or some of this. They can’t figure out what is expected, or don’t have the ability or skills to navigate the many demands of school. These children need ongoing support to get through their school years.

At their best, educators are continually asking how they can help children succeed. If a lesson isn’t working and a child isn’t learning, they ask themselves what else they might try. They strive to find the best approach to assist each and every learner. What helps one may indeed help another. These teachers don’t give up. They teach resilience to children by being resilient themselves. They lead by example, showing each and every day that even though school might be hard at times, they push through the difficulty, trying again and accepting the support that is offered.

To succeed in school, children need advocates. They need people who know them and try to understand them and their needs as learners. They need people around them who care, support them and bolster their confidence as they work hard to gain the skills and knowledge needed. What do children need? Caring adults, a warm and friendly environment of confidence, resilience and dedication. They need to know that we will never give up and will find ways around and through any difficulties that exist. They need to know we are on their side.

The Key to Success

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You’ve seen them and perhaps entered one; escape rooms are a current fad. They have popped up everywhere. I’ve had fun in two different rooms in two different states. In the first room, there were six of us, and we worked for the entire hour to locate and use the clues and find a hidden time machine. The clock ticked. We ran around the room, giving orders, taking orders, sitting down to think, wiping our foreheads in frustration. It was hard – a lot harder than we anticipated. We worked hard for the full 60 minutes… At 59:59, we unlocked yet another door and were sure we were there, on the verge of discovering the answer to the problem. When they opened the room, that idea was quickly shattered; we had only made it through about two thirds of the maze. Really? The second room was a similar experience. Six of us worked together to find a key needed to solve the mystery. The clock ticked, clues were provided and, again, time ran out. Continue reading

The Traditions that Unite Us

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Last week, I was reminded of my family’s many traditions as we gathered to dye Easter eggs, hunt for hidden ones, and wish each other a “Happy Easter” while breaking cascarones on each others’ heads. We enjoyed brunch with extended family and friends. Some of these traditions have religious significance, arising from traditions in European countries long ago. Others are relatively new to our family, having learned of them when we visited San Antonio several years ago. Regardless, it is what we have come to expect each year when Easter weekend rolls around.

Children love traditions. Once we do something one way, it becomes an anticipated event. At Wilmington Montessori School, we have a birthday assembly each year to celebrate the school’s founding. We share a moment of silence and sing a song of peace each year on the U.N. International Day of Peace. Children stop at the front desk on the morning of their birthday to receive a ribbon and have “Happy Birthday” sung to them. They look forward to the bubbles on the first day of school and the graduation ceremony on the last day. These all have become traditions at our school. They are anticipated and adored. We keep them alive because they are an integral part of the life of the school.

In your family, you can name traditions that have been handed down to you from past generations. You have most likely begun many of your own. They unite us. They help us to appreciate each other and learn about our similarities and differences. Think about the traditions known to you and your family and those you might want to explore as your children grow. Cultural influences and traditions are an abundant source of learning, sharing and creating acceptance in our world.

Play

 

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Play. Seems like a simple concept. We’ve all done it, and if we’re lucky, even as adults, our lives still include some play. I was reminded of its importance when a local school board passed a resolution about play, stating:

X School District believes that ample time for student-driven, unstructured play must be included among the essential learning experiences in the education of our students. Beyond physical activity, these experiences include imaginative play, creative/constructive play, and games with rules. Student engagement in undirected, freely chosen activities is an essential component of healthy human development as well as a necessity for social/emotional, physical, and cognitive growth of children.

Kudos to this school district for recognizing what we all know: Play, downtime and relaxed/unstructured time are essential for humans. Play allows children to figure out things on their own terms, without a lot of adult intervention and rules. Play frees a child’s spirit. It allows children to practice what they are learning, to try out new ideas; it encourages creativity, curiosity and problem-solving. As Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Now is a great time to get outside, conduct some of that research, and play to your heart’s content.

Expectations Matter

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Sonia Manzano speak. You may know her as Maria from Sesame Street; she was on the show for more than 40 years. Ms. Manzano spoke about the importance of a strong early childhood education, sharing the inequities that persist today. She said of her childhood, “I was smart in the Bronx and stupid in Manhattan.”

She was speaking to Montessorians and spoke with her audience in mind. Ms. Manzano understands that children learn through play and that it takes experienced educators to guide them in their choices and explore mistakes with them along the way. As she warmed to her topic, I was profoundly moved by her statement that, “I was good in school because so little was expected of me.”

Expectations matter. It is one thing to guide children through a curriculum. It is another to learn what is needed for each child to stretch themselves, to learn all that is possible at a given moment and to communicate that we know they can reach their goals, offering support as needed. Educators must know their students. They must offer opportunities to learn and expect the best from them. Communicating expectations for success allows children to rise to those expectations and beyond. When educators set goals that require children to stretch and yearn for more, they are proud of their accomplishments. Children count on us to share the world with them and to stand firmly beside them while they explore, question and learn to expect the best of themselves and their educational experiences.

What do we need to know?

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What do students need to succeed in school and in life? That is a question that educators have struggled with since societies began offering education to its citizens. Most of us wouldn’t argue with the idea that we all need to read, write and know basic math skills. After that it gets a bit muddier. What content must be “covered” to ensure an educated populace?

If you take a moment to consider your own education, what you loved about it, what you absorbed at the time, and what you quickly forgot and relearned later in life, you will begin to understand the limitations of a singular attempt at becoming an educated person. We have all learned a body of facts about history, geography, varying sciences and more. How many of those facts do you recall? Of those you remember, why do you suppose they are easily recalled? If you happen to have loved learning about Greek mythology as a child, chances are you held onto that information and have added to it throughout your life. If you were not interested in it, the opposite may have occurred; you remembered what was needed for a report or a test, forgot most of it and can perhaps pull up one or two facts years later.

There are national standards for education in all disciplines. Schools and educators throughout our country use those standards to determine what to teach and at what age or grade they should be included in the curriculum. What standards don’t address is how to ignite the interest, curiosity and passion of the children who are the intended learners. Education is much more than sharing facts. Attending school means so much more than being presented information. It is the place where we are inspired by ideas, current and past, by questions that ignite a curiosity and passion to seek answers, and by educators who are learners themselves. It’s imperative that those who call themselves teachers continue to be learners. None of us will ever learn all that is to be learned. Each of us has the capacity to continue to seek knowledge, to ask questions and to ignite curiosity in ourselves and others. Learning for life is preparation for the future and is the best standard we can set for students in our schools.

Independence

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If you are reading this blog, my guess is that you have gone to school. No matter where that school was located, or who your favorite and least favorite teachers were, my guess is also that the school you attended looked very much like the schools most children attend in 2017. Your classroom was most likely filled with desks, chalkboards or dry erase boards, books, pencils, notebooks and perhaps some art materials. There was probably one teacher who talked more than he or she listened, and even your enrichment classes were probably similar to the ones most schools offer today: physical education, music, art and foreign language. Why, you might ask, is this so? Do the cars we drove 20 or 30 years ago look and act in the same ways? Do our banks, stores and other businesses function as they did when you were a child? Chances are the answer is no.

Why is it so hard to create change in schools? Reading blog after blog and book after book, attending conferences, and learning from other educators leads me to understand it is the way of education. Change happens slowly – and it happens even more slowly in schools. You might be fortunate enough to have experienced a teacher or classroom that is at the cutting edge of what it means to create a vital teaching and learning environment. Typically, it takes decades for those changes to become what one might consider “best practice” in education and part of every child’s school experience. .

The advantage of an independent school (like Wilmington Montessori School) is that the changes we know need to happen in education are happening in classrooms on a daily basis. Independent schools are able to make changes more quickly. We are able to be more experimental, trying things, seeing if they work and incorporating change from one classroom to the next in a more responsive way than can occur in the public school system. Independent schools have thrived and continue to contribute to the education of children by doing just that.

We know the children in our schools. We understand them and work each day to build the experience those children will benefit from the most. The result is students and graduates who are themselves more independent. These young people are not only capable of upholding and exceeding the standards that are critical to ensure an educated populace; they are also able to think independently, synthesize information and effect change in our world.

An Untapped Resource

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The greatest untapped resource in the world is human potential. It’s not oil or gas. This untapped resource exists because our children aren’t getting an education from an early age.
– Nicholas Kristof

While attending the American Montessori Society’s annual conference last week, I had the pleasure of hearing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof speak to more than 3,500 Montessori educators. With lots to share and a responsive audience, he spoke of the many injustices that he has revealed over the years through his writing and the humanitarian efforts on behalf of those world problems. Speaking to educators provides a welcoming audience, an audience who has the potential to make an impact through their work with children.

One of Maria Montessori’s most important messages is that the future of the world is in the hands of our children; we must develop their human potential. They must be presented the world in order to work to make sense of it and create the change that is needed to ensure the future of our planet and its people. This is the central purpose of a Montessori education. Children are our future. They need the opportunity to learn, to develop an understanding of the world and to begin to create solutions to the world’s problems. The way we care for our world is to care for the children who inhabit our planet and ensure the future of both through education. I can think of no better way to do this than through Montessori education.

Shhh… Quiet

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The last place you might expect to find a person who identifies strongly as an introvert is on a stage in front of more than 5,000 people. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, often finds herself in this position as she shares her message about life as an introvert. Listening to her speak to a large group, 80% of whom raised their hands when asked if they think they are introverts, was fascinating. Cain blends personal stories with research and strategies for introverts and extroverts alike.

One of the things that is of particular interest is her connection between the need for solitude and creativity. Schools and workplaces have worked to provide spaces for collaboration and teamwork; they also need to provide space for us to work quietly, to think and to let our minds wander. We keep hearing that the world of the future will require us to be able to get along well with others, work on a team and manage well in groups. It is also believed that we need to innovate and look for solutions to problems other than those that are obvious. How does this happen? Where will those ideas come from? How will we add meaning to a group or a creative process? How many of your good ideas have come to you while in the shower or driving? Perhaps it is the quiet that allows these ideas to percolate to the surface.