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.

A Community of Learners

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What is school? According to Sir Ken Robinson, “School is a community of learners. That’s it.” Simple isn’t it? School does not depend on the building, the curriculum or the materials housed within. It is the community that makes it a school and that prompts learning to occur. School is about relationships.

Perhaps you recall a favorite teacher, one who inspired you to learn try harder or learn things you thought impossible. Or maybe you recall an accomplishment in school or outside of it that surprised even you. Who inspired you? Who helped you along the way? Did you learn it from a mandated text or did you find another way to learn what was needed to succeed?

By mandating what school is we are depriving children of what is possible. Yes, we need outcomes. We want a literate and educated populace. What we don’t need is the same path for each child. Children are capable of so much. They can guide us as they learn and we join together to create a community of learners.

How will you grow?

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how will you grow.pngThis time of year brings with it a lot of professional development opportunities for educators. Last week, several teachers were able to attend a conference on technology integration. It is a conference held each year to share ideas and experiences with technology in the classroom. This conference is what all professional development should be…inspiring.

Taking the time out of one’s schedule to learn new things and to be inspired by the work of others is one of the things that energizes us each to enthusiastically work to do the best we can to support children’s growth. Each person has varying needs to improve his or her practice. Each year presents different challenges. Just when you think you have it all figured out things shift and new skills and knowledge are required.

Working in a school reminds us that we are all learners. We have things to learn from each other no matter how young or old. As another year’s opportunities for learning take place, where will you focus? What tools will you add to your already overfilled toolbox? It is in yearning for more and refining our practice that we continue to contribute to the lives of the children in our care.

Joy like a Fountain

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joyfountain.pngNothing is more gratifying than quietly working and hearing the soft voice of a teacher strolling down the hallway singing with toddlers, “I’ve got joy like a fountain in my heart.” Moments such as these literally fill our hearts. Working with young children can be delightful, frustrating, enjoyable, difficult and rewarding. After all, they are children, which means they are all of these things and more. People often ask how one can work with children every day or say they could never be a teacher. Isn’t it hard work? You bet it is, but there is no work that is more important or satisfying than working with children and watching them grow. When was the last time you had the pleasure of hearing sweet voices singing the next verse of a well loved song or asking the teacher to sing it one more time? If your job doesn’t provide this opportunity, ask a teacher what delighted her today, sit back and enjoy listening to the response. You’ll be glad you asked.

A Time of Growth

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growth-blogSince Wilmington Montessori School serves children as young as 12 months old, we have an opportunity to watch them grow in every way before they graduate from sixth grade and move on to middle school. The youngest children in the school are very attached to their teachers. They depend on the same faces greeting them each day, helping them with their work, and sending them off into the arms of their parents at the end of the day. However, once these children move on to the next level at age 3, they often are shy and quiet in greeting their former teachers. They may smile or say hello if prompted. They have moved on and are creating new relationships. By the time they graduate from sixth grade, they may only recall their toddler teacher because a photo or parent reminds them of that time spent in the classroom.

Teaching, like so many things in our lives, plants seeds. Teachers plant ideas, build relationships and work to further the growth of those in their care. Most often, they do not have the pleasure of seeing the results of that work. As the oldest students in our school exhibit that growth during a performance or ultimately, at graduation, the teachers who worked with them when they were younger look on proudly, amazed at their growth and the people they have become. They are happy to have had a part in that development.

As you think back on your time in school, what seeds were planted that grew over time? How did others influence you in ways that they never may have known? How will you make sure those qualities exist in your child’s school?