Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stand by Me Around the World

Take five minutes to click on this beautiful video that is the best rendition of the song "Stand by Me."  Playing For Change: Song Around the World "Stand By Me"   

In case you want to listen to the original version by Ben E. King, click on this YouTube link.  You will also catch a few scenes from the popular 1986 movie.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Almost 7th Grader

If you are not in the classroom with them on a daily basis and really want to get to know what makes eleven- and twelve-year olds tick, then spend three days and two nights with them on a field trip. That’s what I did last week. Two teachers and I took our spring 6th graders to Cape May, New Jersey for their annual year-end trip. I first noticed their unique characteristics as we traveled on the bus — oh so loud, but interspersed with dead silence once iPods kicked in. I love to see two students sharing one headset — one ear bud each — plugged into one iPod, rocking their bodies from side to side in sync with whatever tune they are listening to.

Upon arrival, they all squeal from the bus in a burst of energy; they can’t wait to find out room assignments (you don’t share these with them until the very last minute) and get to their rooms. I love watching the boys unpack. It’s pretty simple. They unzip their bags and the contents explode onto the floor . . . where it stays for the remainder of the trip.

This is the age where boys and girls are figuring out how to break away from their parents and who they are going to be when they grow up; also, they kind of tolerate each other, sometimes talking with one another but usually roaming in packs of the same sex. There are usually one or two girls and one or two boys who cross boundaries and socialize with one another, but for the most part, they abide by a code that says you stick to your gender, we’ll stick to ours. Yet, yet, when it comes to gift shops, boys and girls love to shop and kibitz, looking for gifts to bring home to sibs and parents.

Often I found that the boys run and play while the girls talk, talk, and talk. There are those girls who do run with the boys and those boys who will sit and talk with the girls. It’s all plutonic with each gender trying to figure out the other because their gender-alike peers are asking questions prompted by “American Idol,” “Twilight,” and gobs of media.

How they love to eat. Girl or boy, vast amounts of food are consumed at one sitting . . . if they like the food. Make-your-own tacos, then watch out. Chicken chow mien, then lots of leftovers. Before the evening DVD, “Wall-E,” and donned in jammies, we treated ourselves to homemade sundaes. The dining hall had a conspicuously large tub of peanut butter on the counter, and I mentioned that I love a dollop of peanut butter on my ice cream. Well, you would have thought it was the neatest, coolest idea, eating “raw” peanut butter. I know I’ll have to deny charges of this instigation to parents when we return to school.

We spent hours on the beach exploring shells, dead seaweed, Cape May diamonds, birds that aren’t pigeons, and marine vegetation. There is a common characteristic with the almost 7th grader — girl or boy — an unquenchable interest in nature and what is going on in the world around them. Soon, this will turn around and our fully consumed adolescent will be engulfed in themselves and the idea that the world is only viewing them. So, enjoying their minimal mood swings is a big plus.

Heading home, inevitably, a majority of girls and boys start singing in unison a popular song. Turning my head (I always sit in the front of the bus. They need their bus-riding privacy . . . and I guess I need mine.), I love to see their smiling faces as they sing, sharing a common appreciation that makes them more like sisters and brothers than like classmates.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Famous Graduation Speech

With graduations upon us, I am remembering "Wear Sunscreen."  If you have not been introduced to it, read below.

Written by Mary Schmich and published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997, "Wear Sunscreen" is urban legend for graduation speeches, and Baz Luhrmann produced a song "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)."  Listen to the Takeaway's  "Pomp In These Circumstances: 'Wear Sunscreen' and Other Advice for Grads,"  John Hockenberry's interview with Mary Schmich on her graduation advice is excellent. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Life Cycles

The other day I was talking with a school parent and his mother in the school lobby at drop-off, and our conversation included the joy of grandparenting, what it means to raise your own children, and watch their children grow up.  

The parent said, "Raising Children reminds me of the book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein" to which I replied, "I certainly know Silverstein's writing but I haven't heard of that book." 

 The next day, the parent dropped off a copy of the book and I immediately read it.  Whew!  Beautiful.  Instantly I knew what the grandmother was saying the day before.  As I read the Giving Tree, I thought of another book, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  

Listen to The Giving Tree and Love You Forever, and if you haven't read either story, I think you will get a vivid understanding of  life cycles.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Outta Context

It was Saturday and I had to pick up tea and frozen breaded eggplant at the local Trader Joe’s store. I was by myself when I entered the store, looking to see if there was a long line at the register. I immediately noticed a five-year old child with a shopping cart between him and me. His hands were curled over the push bar that just covered his eyes. Almost bumping into his carriage, I pretended I was surprised and said, “Hi, Charlie.”

His startled response was “Dane, what are you doing here?”

I said, “I have some shopping to do.”

With a quizzical look, he stated, “But you’re not supposed to be here.”

Charlie’s mother and I looked at each other, smiled, and immediately knew that I was out of context for Charlie’s world.

At a minimum, Charlie and I see each other when he enters the school door each day and as head of school, I welcome him and his classmates. They say "Hi." and that works perfectly for them . . . when I am in school.

Do you have any anecdotes about children seeing events out of context?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket

At a recent first through eighth grade morning assembly, the theme was Poem in Your Pocket. Students brought a poem in their pocket to share with teachers and students. 

To begin the assembly, students were asked "Why do you like poetry?"

Here are some of their responses:
• They express feelings.
• Some poems speak to you; they move you.
• Poems are like little stories.
• They are calming.
• They make you feel different.
• They help you focus.
• They make you laugh, or they make you sad.
• Students said they like poems about animals, nature, and peace.
• Poems that rhyme and ones that are fun and silly are best.

Then students were asked if they had a favorite poem they would like to share with the group. Some students walked to the front of the assembly and recited from memory, some chose to read sitting down in place, while others stood at the front of the room and read with feeling. One student stood in place, reached into her pocket, carefully unfolded a piece of paper, and read her poem. It was one of my favorites. See what you think.

The Key of the Kingdom
This is the key of the Kingdom:
In that Kingdom is a city;
In that city is a town;
In that town is a street;
In that street there winds a lane;
In that lane there is a yard;
In that yard there is a house;
In that house there waits a room;
In that room an empty bed,
And on that bed a basket -
A basket of sweet flowers
Of flowers, of flowers;
A basket of sweet flowers.

Flowers in a basket;
Basket on the bed;
Bed in the room;
Room in the house;
House in the yard;
Yard in the winding lane;
Lane in the street;
Street in the town;
Town in the city;
City in the Kingdom -
This is the key of the Kingdom.
Of the Kingdom this is the key.


The Oxford Treasury of Children's Poems (Oxford University Press, 1988)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Child Creativity

When I was in the 2-year olds' classroom the other day, I noticed the easel at which the children paint beautiful paintings. Instantly, a memorable tune slid into my mind. Flowers are Red by Harry Chapin is a prophetic song that gives careful advice to teachers and parents on how to nurture - not stifle - creativity in children.

Sir Ken Robinson's TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" is also an excellent lesson on how careful we have to be when it comes to providing a supportive environment for right-brained thinkers to express their creativity. This clip is entertaining as well as enlightening.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Play v. Work . . . both can be enjoyable

When I read Peggy Orenstein's article "Kindergrten Cram" about homework for five-year olds and looked at the amount of time schools are devoting to academic work and free play, I was taken aback.  Note the diagram to the right, which was presented as part of her article.

In my own life and in the life of children in a Montessori setting, I see work and play as one in the same.  Children are forever learning through discovery.  If you have ever witnessed a Montessori preschool class which is made up of 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds, you would see children engaged in their work . . . as if they were at play, creating, chatting, and moving about busily constructing words and sentences, or manipulating numbers, or learning practical life skills, or . . .  Often I walk into a classroom and I think, isn't this wonderful, children busily engaged in their work that they are enjoying.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Confident Children With a Realistic Sense of Self

Participating in the many admission interviews throughout the month of January, I am not surprised by the number of prospective families that comment on how invested, calm, and reassured our teachers are with the children. My response is often quick and passionate: "It is due to our Montessori heritage and philosophy, our school’s mission, and our families’ commitment to their children and to this kind of education."  These all feed on each other and make for an environment that fosters and nurtures confident, self-assured children.

Our parents who truly believe in a Montessori education tend to be confident in knowing what they want for their children’s education. At the same time, I want our parents to have the comfort and ability to examine their choice, so I find myself letting parents know how important it is for them to feel welcomed at school. The activity and chatter that go on in the lobby during drop-off and pick-up offer a forum for parents and teachers to compare notes and establish long-lasting friendships for their children and themselves. I often see parents who demonstrate their trust and confidence in BHMS by letting go of their children when it is time for them to transition to the next plane of development. The importance of this letting-go cannot be overstated. In an article in Psychology Today, “A Nation of Wimps” author Hara Estroff Marano states that Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences.

Along the way, children have to be allowed to stand on their own, taking small steps to meet and understand their immediate world and, sometimes, failure. I believe that these are the steps that help them to achieve a realistic sense of self. In a nurturing home and in a supportive school, children can take chances — sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing, unconsciously measuring what they can accomplish and what they cannot. A constant barrage from parents, teachers, and coaches of “you’re the best,” or “that wasn’t your fault,” or “they weren’t fair” only confuse and give the child false hope. The Montessori environment is designed to provide enough structure within which the child can explore and discover on her/his own, reflecting when things get challenging or confusing, moving forward when they are easy, and asking the teacher for help when uncertain which path to take.

It is always about the child developing at her/his pace — sometimes slower and sometimes faster than the next child. Children thrive in an environment that allows them to measure their progress against themselves rather than against other children. Our teachers are sensitive to this aspect of a child’s development and growth.

Years of this kind of education in a positive environment produce children who move on to the next level — and eventually on to secondary school and college — confident with a realistic sense of self.