It is nice to know that other people see the same things you are seeing. It helps you feel grounded. And it confirms that you aren’t living a fantasy, in denial or wearing blinders.
Last week, an Evergreen father stopped to tell me what he observed during an after school piñata party. Children showed an extraordinary amount of kindness, respect and thoughtfulness between vicious whacks on the cardboard candy bag, he said. The children’s ability to look out for one another, take turns, negotiate and compromise far exceeded the father’s expectations. And when at last, the candy dropped from the battered piñata, children actually organized the collecting of loot. There was no mosh pit. No flying elbows. No fight to the death over handfuls of dried out Tootsie Rolls and Dum Dums.
It is typical at Evergreen School for children to look out for one another. I believe it is the dynamics of our multi-age Montessori classrooms that teaches children to insist that everyone is treated kindly and fairly. Older children easily assume the role of teacher and protector of those younger and more vulnerable.
When you consider how well multi-age classrooms work—not only in promoting academic achievement—but in inculcating important social values, it is surprising that there aren’t more multi-age classrooms. Why don’t more educators see the same thing that that father and I do?
At a school like ours, we rely on the parent involvement and volunteerism to make us great. Study after study demonstrates that active, involved and engaged parents make the greatest difference for children.
The Evergreen School Parents Association (ESPA) held its final school-wide meeting of the year. Reflecting on ESPA’s accomplishments, it is clear that Evergreen would not be the place it is without ESPA’s leadership and all the significant volunteers efforts of our parents. We all owe significant thanks to the ESPA Executive Committee for a wonderful year.
Just as significant, we give great thanks to all our volunteers. below is a list of ESPA and volunteer accomplishments this year:
- Coffee on the Green coordinators
- Buddy family volunteers
- Room Parent volunteers
- Field Trip Coordinators
- Pizza Lunch helpers
- Picture Day helpers
- International Day presenters
- Classroom craft and auction project coordinators
- Winter Festival Committee
- Open House tour guides and refreshment providers
- Esteemed Elders’ Day Chair and volunteers
- Breach Movie Night Speaker and helpers
- MixedBag Sale Coordinator
- Auction Committee
- Teacher Appreication Week helpers
- Annual Fund Chair
- …and ESPA Executive Committee
…as we say at Evergreen, “You make the world a beautiful place!”
I weighed in (or is it waded in?) with my two cents: For me, the key aspect of Montessori is the belief that children naturally want to be engaged with interesting topics, materials and challenges. They want to have choice and control in their lives. They want to use their hands and senses to explore the world around them. They want to create art and music and towers and castles. They want to be able to work alone at times and with a partner at times. All in all, we see that the needs and desires of children are a lot like yours and mine.
At our school, habits of character, a sense of self and joy in learning are even more important than the academic foundation that develops in each child. It is so important that we provide a warm, safe environment with caring teachers where children can feel secure and grow in confidence.
You can weigh in, too. The DC Urban Mom forum is here.
What role did your grandparents play in your life? I received lavish amounts of love from mine. Unfortunately, they lived 200 miles away and never visited me at school– I am sure they would have loved it.
Eleven countries have official Grandparents’ Days (you can learn so much from Wikipedia!). So does Evergreen School. Ours is called Esteemed Elders’ Day because we know that not all students have living grandparents or grandparents able to attend our event next month. Esteemed Elders’ Day is a great way to bring joy to the roots and the branches of your family tree– at the same time.
We start the day with coffee and pastries. Then a special musical performance, classroom visits, and a craft project.
If the weather is nice, we’ll go outside to our Rain Garden and playground.
It’s a highlight of the year!
Perhaps, like me, you were stoked with optimism by President Obama’s address yesterday. Even 40 minutes of Diane Rehm’s post-speech analysis didn’t damper my enthusiasm. President Obama’s words made me think of our children at Evergreen when he said, “America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”
And as he reminded us of our obligations to our children and future generations, I thought of the great responsibilities upon us: to educate them, to nourish them and protect the natural environment. So to paraphrase (if not plagiarize) the President’s words– at Evergreen, with common effort and purpose, passion and dedication, we carry into an uncertain future that precious light of learning for each of our children.
We owe you, and all Evergreen parents, a debt of gratitude for all the support, help and volunteerism that enables us to provide the best experiences for our students and their limitless futures and endless capacity. Thank you.
If there is any meaning to be found in the Sandy Hook tragedy, it was best expressed in the words of President Obama on Sunday: “This is our first task – caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.” If you have not read the speech, please do here. As we mourn for lives lost in Sandy Hook, let us draw strength from our community, knowing that together we will continue doing right for our children– providing the love, hope, comfort, learning, freedom, guidance and security they need to grow straight and strong.
On Friday, our entire school family will come together for our Winter Festival. At the closing, we will sing Light A Candle For Peace by Shelley Murley. Please sing with us.
Light a candle for peace,
Light a candle for love,
Light a candle that shines all the way around the world.
Light a candle for me,
Light a candle for you,
That our wish for world peace
Will one day come true.
Sing peace around the world.
Sing peace around the world.
Sing peace around the world.
Sing peace around the world.
The best holidays give grown ups permission to feel young and see the world with child-like wonder. Lourdes Barden-Sims forwarded this poignant story about her daughter written by the writer and motivational speaker Robert Rabbin. We are a school community of many religious traditions. Rabbin’s message seems just right for our students.
Believing in Santa, by Robert Rabbin
I recently received a phone call from one of my friends, Nourah, who wanted my advice on a matter of some importance and urgency. Nourah lives in Maryland with her mom, stepdad, dog, and chickens. Nourah has a burgeoning eggs-for-sale business, and she is an avid bowler and chef, as well as being an incredibly gifted public speaker. Nourah is seven years old.
The issue she wanted to discuss was this: she believes in Santa Claus, but some of her friends at school do not. What to do?
Hmmmmm, this was a tough one, to be sure. I asked Nourah if she liked these other kids, and she said yes. I asked her if she wanted to keep them as her friends, so as to continue to enjoy playing together. She said yes.
I asked her if she thought she could change the minds of her friends; that is, did Nourah think she could get her friends to believe in Santa. She said no.
I asked Nourah if her friends could change her mind; that is, could her friends get her to stop believing in Santa. She said no.
So far, so good.
I then asked Nourah if their respective beliefs got in the way of their friendship. She said no. I then proposed that there was no issue to be resolved, as long as no one tried to change the mind of those who held different beliefs. That, it seems to me, is key. If none of the kids tried to change the beliefs of the other kids, or used their beliefs to discriminate against or hurt others who held different beliefs — then all is well. Everyone could believe in what they wanted, and they could all continue to be friends and play together.
I suggested to Nourah that believing in Santa and not believing in Santa were really the same thing, with the “belief” being the unifying factor. That is, we find common ground in the fact that we each “believe.” As long as we don’t use our beliefs to separate us from others, or to hurt or harm others, or to shame or embarrass others — then all is well. With this perspective, our beliefs become our own mental toys: we can play with them or discard them at will. They are for our own amusement. We can hold these beliefs lightly. We don’t need to be right, and make others wrong. We can just believe in what we believe in, and let others do the same. Then, without needing to be right and holding our beliefs lightly, we can stay connected with our friends.
I confided in her that not only do I believe in Santa, but I believe in his wife, Mrs. Santa Claus. I also believe in the Easter Bunny. I also believe in Paul Bunyon, a very huge and tall mountain man who rides on a bull as big as Kentucky. I told her that I believe redwood trees sing and dance when no one is watching, and that whales can walk on land. Finally, and this almost put us both over the edge, I told her I believe I am a world-famous ballroom dancing champion. I told her none of my friends believe in any of these things but we are still friends and I sometimes play with them.
Nourah seemed quite happy and content with our conversation. She even told her mom that I was funny. I can’t think of a better endorsement from a seven-year-old.
Stay at a Montessori school like Evergreen long enough and it will happen to you: the inevitable question about your child’s ‘move up date.’
At schools like ours, we firmly believe that children grow and develop on their own timeline—not according to arbitrary dates on a calendar. Students are able move from toddler to primary and from primary to elementary at almost any point during the school year– just as long as they are ready for the increased intellectual and social demands of the new setting.
This is in strong contrast to traditional schools where everyone in a class can automatically move up on the first day of school in September. Ready or not.
Mid-year move ups require careful planning, observing and communicating between teachers and parents. Are they worth it?
Absolutely. Consider Anahad O’Brien’s latest New York Times’ Well Blog that worries “students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child’s age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.”
O’Brien quotes research from Iceland that examined over 10,000 children and found those in the youngest third of their class “were 90 percent more likely to earn low test scores in math and 80 percent more likely to receive low test scores in language arts.”
And students in the youngest quarter of their class are significantly more likely to be proscribed ADD medication. Should we be medicating immature children? Why can’t we give them time to learn and grow at their own pace?
Author and researcher Malcolm Gladwell has found that the link between age and grade placement makes a difference into the college years. In a study of 4-year colleges, “students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time. It persists.”
Schools should not punish children because they have the wrong birthday.
As long as there is interesting, meaningful and challenging class work, there is no advantage to rushing a child through the grades. It is better to give him ample time to be the most mature; the leader. Savor the time when your child is at the top—and take comfort in knowing that a school like Evergreen, he can move up just when the time is right.
Many agree that great teachers are organized, articulate, passionate, patient, thoughtful and gentle. I am sure you saw these traits at your recent conference.
Deborah Meier, an oft-quoted educational writer, senior scholar at NYU’s Steinhardt School, and Board member of the Coalition of Essential Schools adds, “…the qualities that make for those ‘great’ teachers: broad and eclectic interests and passions of their own, the capacity to find almost anything interesting, an ability to keep many balls in the air at once, and to share their enthusiasms and generosity of spirit with others…. [and they can] imagine possibilities in virtually all.”
Meier’s notion of generosity of spirit resonates. And it makes me realize why I am so grateful to be here. In this Thanksgiving season, I appreciate the culture of Evergreen and its optimism about children. Thank you, parents and teachers, for all you do to perpetuate, sustain and nurture our school and the spirit of community here.