TNCS STEM Fair 2015 Makes a Huge Splash!

engineering-design-process

Engineering design process.

The past week at The New Century School was devoted to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Fair, and what an exciting, inquiry-filled week it was! This year’s was the biggest ever, with three classrooms participating—Dan McGonigal’s upper elementary students, Adriana Duprau’s lower elementary students, and even Teresa Jacoby’s K/1st students—each class taking a slightly different approach to their projects, but all loosely unified by the common theme of water.

Mr. McGonigal took the lead on this endeavor, as appropriate, given his specialization in this area. You may recall from a Meet the Teacher post last fall that he is part of the very first cohort in a pilot program at Towson University for STEM certification to earn the new Maryland State Department of Education endorsement, “Instructional Leader—STEM (Pre K‑6)” this spring.

He is passionate about the value of STEM teaching and with good reason. “STEM is an integrated instructional strategy—there are no borders or boundaries,” he said by way of introduction. STEM pursuits will ensure that students develop “21st-century skills”—those skills they need to navigate this exciting new era of globalization, connectivity, and continuous technological advancement. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these skills include “critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration,” which intersect with social and media literacy, among other critical disciplines. You will see how these features were implemented throughout the TNCS Stem Fair projects as well as how they employed their engineering mantra: Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, and Ask.

The week started with the upper elementary presentations on a chosen problem facing the Chesapeake Bay and how to act as “better stewards of the environment” by addressing the problem, such as litter or erosion. Taking a very sophisticated approach, these students presented their projects to attending parents electronically. During project execution, in fact, they used technology in various ways to document their process, such as videotaping and recording details regularly via Glogster. Their “glogs” are akin to electronic journals. Mr. McGonigal said, “This was very much a project-based learning experience for the students, who were in charge of their own direction. I was there to help, prompt, and encourage along the way as much as they needed.”

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Mrs. Duprau’s first- and second-graders presented their Life Cycle of a Plant projects on the following day inside the TNCS gymnasium. Their presentations took the more traditional approach with the trifold poster boards used by science fair presenters for decades. Note that these persistent, hard-working students took the “improve” part of the engineering design mantra very much to heart—be prepared to discreetly cover your inevitable chuckles if the kids are nearby. Scientists have feelings, too ;)!

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Finally, on STEM Fair Day 3, Mrs. Jacoby’s kindergarteners and first-graders took over the stage. Not yet being the consummate presenters that their older colleagues are, they used a video directed and produced by Mrs. Jacoby and Señora Tyson to debut their work (there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience; the video is wonderful). Parents were then asked to direct specific questions to the students about their projects. Although this was the first year that kindergarteners participated in the STEM Fair, you will see that they held their own amazingly well!

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Please see Elementary Science Fair and TNCS Elementary Science Fair 2014 for prior years’ STEM/Science Fair projects. and, if you’d like to view Mrs. Jacoby’s masterpiece video, you can do so here: 

Thank you to Mr. McGonigal and the other TNCS teachers who made this STEM Fair such an unqualified success! We are already excited for STEM Fair 2016!

TNCS’s Second Annual Town Hall

town-hall

TNCS will host a Town Hall annually to provide a forum for communication of ideas and news to the TNCS community.

On Tuesday, March 10th, The New Century School held its 2015 Town Hall meeting for an auditorium full of eager participants. Admissions Director and Town Hall Moderator Robin Munro said, “We are a young and very ambitious school, so yearly meetings like this are critical. We will provide an annual state of the school update, specifically the K–8th program, and a forum for families to ask questions.” Childcare with dinner and wine and hors’ d’oeuvres were offered, and questions were solicited ahead of time to allow the event speakers to shape the discussion accordingly.

There was an evident unifying thread to this event: collaboration. Mrs. Munro remarked by way of introduction that “the map hasn’t been written to exactly where the school’s destination is and what the steps are along the way.” The implication is clearly that TNCS community input is not only valued and taken seriously but is also helping navigate to the destination. We are writing this map together.

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TNCS parents chat amongst themselves while having a little nosh prior to the start of the event.

Some notable differences from last year’s Town Hall bear pointing out. The biggest is the growth and maturation that the past year has afforded TNCS. Now in its 5th year, TNCS has emerged from the growing-pains phase faced by any new school as a secure, comfortable-in-its-own skin swan. It is owning its unique identity, and that feels good. Another key difference was in the nature of the interaction between the audience of parents and the event speakers (school administrators and executive directors). Parents were encouraged to share any concerns, but criticism was given in an overwhelmingly constructive way. Parents explained their problems but helpfully offered potential solutions to these problems in the same breath. The result was a very positive and productive evening. It felt like we were all in this together, collaborating to help keep the school flourishing and moving forward. Oh, right—that is the essence of the TNCS community!

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Hors d’oeuvres gave attendees time to arrive at a leisurely pace, mingle, and recharge before getting down to business.

Speaker Presentations

In Public Health, the concept of “patient activation” measures an individual’s capacity to manage his or her own health and health care. Does she eat right and get plenty of sleep to maintain health? If he falls ill, does he have the skills to communicate effectively with a physician and to follow doctor’s orders? A correlation can be drawn in the education domain: “parent activation.” The Town Hall audience of parents was highly activated. They participate competently in the education their children are receiving at TNCS, they are knowledgeable about every aspect of their child’s school day, they purposefully sought out the school that best aligned with their own values. Their kids are so much the better off for it. This is not a way to say that TNCS students are simply academically superior. Although that is often the case, academic performance is not the key measure of “success” at TNCS; it’s so much more.

Co-Founder and Executive Director Roberta Faux calls the TNCS community “like-minded,” and she expressed our shared vision beautifully in a couple of personal vignettes. She retold the story of the school’s origins (much of the audience had not heard it last year) and how quickly the 1-room Patterson Park Montessori grew into TNCS today. Then she described a lovely interaction she recently had with one of her daughters, in which her daughter asked her what gifts would she (mom) prefer had been bestowed on her daughter as a baby by a fairy godmother, a là Princess Aurora in the story of Sleeping Beauty. First of all, what an insightful and touching question from such a young child. Both this question and the answer Mrs. Faux ultimately gave exemplify what TNCS is, how it works, and why it is such a phenomenal school. “I took a step back,” she said, “and I asked myself, “as parents and educators, what do we want for our kids?” In the meantime, of course, she had answered her daughter by telling her that she likes the gifts that her daughter already exhibits, such as her kind spirit and enumerating her many other attributes.

“It’s not just about achievement,” she continued. “It’s about being able to find our own happiness, overcome stress, engage in healthy give-and-take human relationships. These are the real-life training skills that we hope our children grow up learning and take with them.” She explained that in the United States, “giftedness” and high IQ are perhaps overvalued. “All children are capable of great things,” she said. But what’s wrong with working hard to achieve goals rather than being able to effortlessly master something? “Grit” is what will allow a person to attain mastery of something otherwise outside of his or her given wheelhouse. At TNCS, students are encouraged to try new things, to explore and to inquire their way into making self-guided discoveries. This takes perseverance, and this stick-to-itiveness will be a resource they can draw on in any circumstance for life. (Please see below for links to the TED talk she mentioned as well as Immersed‘s own handling of this topic.) “Education should not be just about achievement,” concluded Mrs. Faux. “It’s about cultivating the strength to work hard enough to find what you love. For my kids and for the kids here, if they can find that, then we’ve given them so much.”

Co-Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Lawner spoke next to express appreciation of and gratitude for TNCS staff and families, second the ideas expressed by Mrs. Faux, and to share a charming anecdote of her own: “Thinking back to 2007, I remembered how Roberta and I would sit on the sofa in her sunroom and discuss the crazy idea of opening a preschool. Finally, I knew I had to make a decision, so I said, ‘I’ll only do it if we can do language immersion,” and without any hesitation whatsoever she said, ‘well, okay’.”

Based on the topics submitted by attendees, Ms. Munro organized the overall discussion into nine umbrella categories: Space, Curriculum, Staffing, Standardized Testing, Accreditations, Parent–Administration Organization, Scholarship Fund, Short-Term and Long-Term Plans, and Open Q&A. Although not every topic got exhaustive coverage and not necessarily in this order, the following synopsis provides a comprehensive overview of the school and its future direction.

Space: Indoor and Outdoor

The Middle School opens in fall of 2016 and will most likely be housed in the existing Union Box space of Building North. The Co-Founders are in talks with architects and engineers to develop it as a multi-classroom space, which, if all goes planned, will be secured by August. Fall 2015 will see a mixed-age grade 4/5 classroom, mixed-age grade 2/3 classroom, and either two mixed-age K/1st classrooms or a straight K class plus one mixed-age K/1st class.

Last year’s playground redesign experienced some environmental setbacks but is still going to happen in order to create a space that can work for preschool, elementary, and future middle school students. A new geo dome will be erected, and the greenhouse will be moved. Other aspects are less certain, but ideas for improvement flew about the room. Also, Head of School Alicia Danyali just announced that Friday that TNCS mom Tracey Browning has organized another High Five fundraiser at Camden Yards. Funds will go to the playground overhaul.

Staffing and Curriculum

Mrs. Danyali fielded these topics and was visibly thrilled to announce that she will be joined by an Assistant Head of School in August. This will free up much of her time to focus on exploring new approaches to inspire kids to learn and be excited about that learning. The International Baccalaureate is one such program on the horizon. “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” through challenging and rigorous education programs.

Regarding the curriculum, questions here were very specific. Being fans already of the school day scholastic content, parents wanted to know if there will be additional after-school enrichment, sports, and musical instrument instruction. The administration heard them loud and clear—this was perhaps the primary issue of the evening. Proposed solutions will probably involve community partnerships, and this is a good thing on many levels. TNCS is committed to being a responsible and active member of the external community; partaking of community offerings is one way to honor this commitment. Discussions were already underway to expand the relationship with Coppermine Fieldhouse at DuBurns Arena, so giving more opportunities for team sports instruction and participation is a likely outgrowth. The Patterson Park pool could be used for swimming lessons, and the ice skating rink could also be used in an athletic program. Musical instrument instruction will have to be given some more thought, but some creative workarounds thrown out included inquiring about the services of Laura Norris, Director of the Baltimore Chapter of Mando for Kids, a free program that teaches Baltimore City kids ages 6 and up to play the mandolin. Mrs. Norris just happens to live down the block from TNCS and is a frequent guest performer. This video clip features all age groups she currently teaches. Developing a special offshoot for TNCS students is a distinct possibility.

Standardized Testing

“Will TNCS be implementing standardized testing?” was another popular question. “To be in line with the other private schools, it makes sense,” said Ms. Danyali. “We are leaning toward the ERB, but it’s not set in stone yet. We want something that would match this independent, dual-language learning environment.” According to the ERB–Lighting the Pathways to Learning website (ERB stands for Education Resources Bureau), “ERB is the only not-for-profit member educational services organization offering assessments for both admission and achievement for independent and public schools PreK–grade 12. . . With the diverse needs and requirements in today’s academic landscape, ERB takes a customized approach to our services.” Ms. Danyali says she is grateful that TNCS isn’t forced to implement standardized testing, “but students also need to know how to take a test—it’s important to have that exposure.”

Such testing, albeit less pressurized than it would be in a public school setting, will also prepare students for matriculation into secondary school and beyond. Regardless, teachers are never asked to simply “teach to the test.” They have freedom to accomplish their goals how they deem suitable, based on and tailored specifically to the individuals they teach.

Parent–Administration Organization 

Parents were very vocal about their willingness to help tackle existing obstacles to progress. A  suggestion was made was to formalize a PTA-esque parent committee, and another to create an oversight committee to help tie individual committee threads together to more effectively communicate school changes and news. “We are open,” said Mrs. Munro. “If what you want is a formal quarterly meeting, we’ll make that happen.” Thus, again the collaborative nature of this group was felt.

Short- and Long-Term Plans and Q&A

Though we didn’t get the chance to address this one head on, a theme throughout the discussion emerged that could serve to answer questions about how well students will be prepared for the next steps (whatever those might be) in their academic careers and lives. With the attention to whole-child development, the carefully differentiated instruction, the administration policies that ensure that TNCS doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of the city and state educational corps, etc. all combine to guarantee not just preparedness but that the TNCS-educated student will thrive in his or her future environs.

The Q&A gave TNCS administrators a clear idea of what parents feel could be done better. These issues were addressed with seriousness and respect and are of immense value to the moving the school forward. Many parents took this opportunity to praise the school and administrators for the zillion things they get right on a daily basis.

Finally . . .

For more information on Professor Angela Duckworth and grit, please visit the following links:

See you next year, TNCS community! In the meantime, keep that valuable and much-appreciated feedback coming!

News for Startalk at TNCS!

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TNCS’s wonderful Chinese staff work hard to make learning Mandarin Chinese fun!

Last month, The New Century School hosted its closing event for the Summer 2014 Startalk Program. That program, “Let the World Be Filled with Love,” ran for 3 weeks in the summer, but to keep participants engaged throughout the year, receptions were held at regular intervals, and a periodic newsletter kept them abreast of Startalk happenings.

The final reception was extremely celebratory in mood, for several very good reasons. First, Startalkers enjoy getting together and chatting in Chinese! Second, the Chinese New Year was fast approaching, and that’s always exciting. Third, this reception took the form of a potluck, and the beautiful variety of dishes was delicious. Fourth, the entire group was eagerly anticipating the results of TNCS’s 2015 grant submission, which they were days away from learning. But we’ll spare you the suspense—will TNCS be hosting Startalk this summer?

strtalk-final-reception-potluck

The final Startalk reception was held in TNCS’s multipurpose room, and everyone contributed a lovely dish!

Yes! It is true! Shì zhēn de (是真的)! TNCS was once again awarded funding for a Startalk Summer Program! This year’s 3-week session will run from July 6–24, 2015.

But back to the reception, it started off with a Chinese Immersion refresher class that focused on celebrating and welcoming the Year of the Sheep. (or Goat. Or Ram. You decide.) As students watched in complete absorption, the Chinese teachers gave a mini-lesson to get them back in the swing. Parents lining the side wall got to see first-hand how Startalk works and even picked up some Mandarin Chinese themselves! Startalk operates on the principle of doing, that is, active participation—in this case, doing is talking. Start talking.

startalk-2014-participants

Startalk 2014 participants avidly follow Xie Laoshi and Lu Laoshi as they deliver a mini-lesson on the Chinese New Year fast approaching.

Watching a lesson unfold makes it easy to see why the program is so effective. Teachers pronounce a word or phrase while demonstrating what it represents, repeat their verbalizations continuously, gesture, point, and keep talking the while. Understanding dawns quickly, and the students are expected to put it to immediate use.

 

 

Another Startalk tenet is that content should be meaningful to the students. Why make them learn something they aren’t interested in applying or are unlikely to have a context in which to apply it? Thus, the day’s lesson would involve something that people everywhere would be discussing: Chinese New Year, a celebration full of color, music, firework displays, and plain fun for kids.

The Chinese dragon even made an appearance, a very good omen for TNCS’s 2015 Startalk Program, “China in Baltimore”!

Very special thank-yous go to Startalk Director and Head of Mandarin Chinese Language at TNCS Xie Laoshi, her devoted assistant Lu Laoshi, and to the other caring and committed Startalk staff members. They worked tirelessly to make Startalk 2014 a monumental success and to land the 2015 grant ensuring that TNCS remains at the forefront of Mandarin Chinese instruction in Baltimore. We look forward to an amazing Startalk 2015!

Would you like to learn more about Startalk at TNCS? Here is a link to download the most recent continuing education newsletter in pdf format: Start Talking v1n3. It provides recommendations for practice apps and websites to supplement the Chinese stories and idioms that are also included.
Earlier newsletters can be downloaded below:

TNCS Primary Classes Jazz It Up!

Mr. Warren and a sax-playing TNCS granddad!

Mr. Warren and a sax-playing TNCS granddad!

Of the myriad things that The New Century School does very well, two of them are undoubtedly emphasizing the Arts and providing abundant opportunities for family involvement in the child’s schoolday. These two features dovetailed beautifully this week when a TNCS granddad joined the primary classes for a musical event. Each month, primary teacher and music teacher Martellies Warren holds a singalong for the combined four primary classrooms; this time, they were accompanied by a professional saxophone player all the way from California!

Mr. Warren introduced their guest and explained that he would be telling them all about himself and his instrument, after which they would all have a chance to make some music together, and finally the primary students would have a chance to ask all the questions they were bubbling over with. Having played the sax since he was 10 years old, this TNCS granddad had lots to share, including his stint with a swing band, during which he realized that jazz was his thing. He described why the sax looks the way it does and how it makes sound.

He also explained how jazz differs from other music: “We write beautiful music, and we put chords to the music. Then we play a melody. The jazz musician has the privilege of composing  while he’s playing. He makes up his own melodies based on the songwriter’s intentions. That’s what jazz is all about.” He  demonstrated with a tune he knew the kids would recognize—“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

This prompted another round of questions and observations from the kids. “Why is the instrument sometimes loud?” asked one little girl. “In music we call that dynamics. Sometimes you play soft and sometimes you play loud.” Mr. Warren and guest obligingly demonstrated forte (loud) and piano (soft) playing for the audience. Another student asked to hear the musical scale, and Mr. Warren seized the opportunity to have the kids practice their solfège.

The special event closed with two songs from Frozen. Playing “Let It Go” and “Do You Want To Build a Snowman” for the very first time, TNCS’s sax-playing granddad has inspired a new generation to appreciate jazz!

Their entertainer left them with some important advice: “Anybody in this room who wants to become a musician should learn the piano first, no matter what instrument you want to play. Everything is based off piano chords, so you have a big advantage over other musicians if you know piano.”

Mr. Warren might just have a roomful of aspiring musicians during next month’s singalong!

TNCS Rings in the Year of the Sheep!

chinese-zodiac

Each of the 12 zodiac signs are represented by an animal. This year, 4713, is the Year of the Sheep (or Goat).

As always at The New Century School, the Chinese Lunar New Year is a big deal. It brings numerous opportunities to practice spoken and written Mandarin as well as the chance to participate in Chinese cultural celebrations. This year, Year of the Sheep (Yáng de yī nián, 羊的一年), New Year celebrations started on February 19th and will continue through March 5th. An ancient legend credits Buddha with creating the Chinese zodiac, when he asked all animals to meet him one Chinese New Year and named a year after each of the 12 who arrived. He also proclaimed that a person’s attributes would correspond with the traits of the animal whose year he or she is born in. Those born in sheep (some say goat) years tend to be artistic, charming, sensitive, and sweet, and it is considered the most creative sign in the Chinese zodiac. Not surprisingly, then, Michelangelo, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain were “sheep.”

At TNCS, where language-learning is the hallmark of the school’s scholastic identity, culture and customs intersect with communication to enhance language acquisition. Cultural understanding is essential to language learning. Experiencing another culture develops understanding of its relationship to its corresponding language as well as deepens the student’s appreciation of his or her native culture. Students begin to see other people’s points of view, ways of life, and contributions to the world (see TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs).

The benefits are, therefore, obvious, but the plain fact is, Chinese New Year is fun! School-wide, classes are honoring the New Year with a variety of activities. In addition to their regular Mandarin studies, elementary students have made dumplings (包了饺子) as well as wove traditional silk bracelets (布纹手镯).

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And, for the third year running, TNCS students performed at Port Discovery before a proud audience of parents. Xie Laoshi once again outdid herself in organizing and emceeing this eagerly anticipated annual tradition. (See Year of the Horse Festivities Giddy-Up at TNCS and Charmed by TNCS’s Year of the Snake Performance for highlights from the previous 2 years.)

And now for the moments you’ve all been waiting for—here are the performances! TNCS kindergarteners/1st-graders sang first about a dog with a bone and then performed a chant.

TNCS lower elementary students next took the stage for their song.

The older elementary students performed next with songs and some exciting Chinese drumming.

The whole gang convened at the end for the grand finale about achieving international peace!

Readers, we wish you peace and good health in the Year of the Sheep!

TNCS Students Discover Math-e-Magic!

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Master Magician Bradley Fields captivates the audience with his famous magic illusions then teaches the secrets behind some startling math tricks.

On Thursday, February 12th, The New Century School kindergarten and elementary students took a field trip to Goucher College, where they were delighted and amazed . . . by numbers!

The show was put on by Arts on Stage, who provide “Live, Professional Theatre Field Trips for Students and Families.” Inside Goucher’s Kraushaar Auditorium, Master Magician Bradley Fields got a packed audience of elementary-age kids from a dozen or so area schools practicing their math skills from their seats while he “prestidigitated” on stage. The word prestidigitation comes from the Latin for “nimble finger” and denotes performing magic tricks, but Mr. Fields extracts another fortuitous meaning out of the word. His digitation also includes agility with numbers—you know, digits!

Mr. Fields has been called “one of the top magicians in the country” and has appeared on Broadway and on television. His popularity with teachers and students alike should be no surprise—his show integrates math, history, vocabulary, geography, everyday problem-solving, and science, but the audience is captivated by the power and beauty of his illusion-making. He weaves quite a spell with stories of ancient Egyptian pharoahs, soothsayers who accurately predict the future, and a dreaming/sleepwalking banker who turns anything he touches into coins, among others. The audience was so caught up in the enchantment that they didn’t even realize they were practicing addition, subtraction, and more advanced math skills the whole time!

 

Because his love of numbers and how they interact is so vast, Mr. Fields provides his “tricks” as a downloadable Study Guide so everyone can enjoy math. He also revealed some of the machinery of his act during the performance as if to show the audience that they can also harness the power of illusion.

Please download the Study Guide at the above link, but here is a taste of some math trickery to get you started!

Easy Mind-Reading

Magical effect: You guess any number your audience is thinking.

How to perform: 

  1.  Ask your audience to think of any number but keep it secret: e.g., 10
  2. Now ask him or her to double the secret number: e.g., 20 (10 x 2 = 20)
  3. Now ask him or her to multiply by 5: e.g., 100 (20 x 5 = 100)
  4. Ask him or her to give you the final answer (i.e., 100).
  5. Reveal their secret number! Secret: once you know the final answer, mentally slice off and discard the rightmost digit (i.e., the last 0).

Too easy for you? Try this one!

Miracle Number Prediction

Magical effect: You will read your audience’s mind.

How to perform: 

  1. Announce that you will read your audience’s mind.
  2. Ask him or her to hold an envelope in which you have sealed your prediction of his or her mathematical thoughts.
  3. Ask him or her to write down a number made of 3 different digits (the first and last digits must differ by more than 1): e.g., 937
  4. Tell him or her to reverse the number and subtract the smaller number from the larger: e.g., 937 – 739 = 198
  5. Have him or her reverse the difference and add: e.g., 198 + 891 = 1,089
  6. Now ask the envelope-keeper to open your prediction and read it aloud. Bet you didn’t know that the answer will always be 1,089!

Amazing telepathy! Amazing, magical math!

Transitioning from Preprimary to Primary at TNCS

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These preprimary students are very excited to be working with Montessori materials at age 2!

Accommodating children from ages 2 years through 10 years (and soon to be 12 years) and ultimately comprising four programs, including preprimary, primary, elementary, and middle school, The New Century School has always focused on how to make the transition from program to program as smooth as possible for students. Continuity is built into the school’s approach, arising as a very natural consequence from its philosophy and mission. No matter what point a TNCS student starts from, he or she is headed toward the same basic goals of self-motivated inquiry and discovery as well as how to be a nice person along the way.

tiny-TNCS-tot-explores-multiple-dimensions-with-Graduated-Cylinder-Blocks

This tiny TNCS tot is exploring multiple dimensions with the Graduated Cylinder Blocks.

Perhaps the most challenging transition that TNCS students (and their parents) face is moving from the preprimary program up to the primary program when the child turns at least 3 years old. At age 2, they might well still be in diapers—still babies, practically—then, a year later, they enter a completely new milieu, with new teachers, new classmates (most of whom are older), and a whole new set of expectations. They become, in short, tiny students.

Historically, this shift has always been more difficult for the parents. The toddlers, meanwhile, accept these changes more or less in stride, even eagerly. It’s safe to say that the children’s ability to adapt so quickly and so well has a lot to do with TNCS’s very well-considered transitional process. On Thursday, February 5th, Head of School Alicia Danyali and the three preprimary teachers, Mrs. Reynolds, Lin Laoshi, and Señora Ramos held a Preprimary Workshop to walk parents through what this process entails. It was a full house; preprimary parents are clearly curious, if not anxious, about what lies ahead for their kids. Rest assured, Mrs. Danyali’s and the teachers’ presentations allayed all concerns!

The talk focused on three key aspects of the move to the primary program: 1) the differences between the two programs, 2) the necessary milestones each child must have met in order to move up, and 3) how each child is placed in one of the four primary classrooms. All of these themes are interrelated, as will become clear.

Differences Between TNCS Preprimary and Primary Programs

The two biggest differences between the programs is that the primary classroom is not a language immersion environment, and it is a classic Montessori environment. These differences start to become less striking, however, when you consider that the children are introduced to the Montessori materials as well as the Montessori teaching style of nurturing guidance the moment they step foot into the TNCS preprimary classroom. Thus, 3-year-olds will enter the primary classroom with a good deal of familiarity with their surroundings and with the manipulative materials they will be working with. And, as with the preprimary classroom, the primary classroom is specially engineered and furnished to accommodate their size. For more on how the Montessori classroom functions at TNCS, please read previous Immersed posts “Language, Math, and Science—Montessori Style!,” “Inside the Montessori Classroom,” and “Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education.” The main point here is that Maria Montessori knew that kids need, above all else, to feel secure for optimal development; therefore, in the TNCS Montessori primary classroom, new skills are introduced when the child is ready for them, not when the calendar arbitrarily dictates.

Regarding the shift away from language immersion, that, too, is really only a partial shift. Although the class is “led” by a Montessori-trained teacher, a second teacher who speaks exclusively to the children in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese is also always on hand. Even better, these teachers switch back and forth among the classrooms on alternating days to ensure that the primary students are now receiving exposure to and instruction in both languages.

Milestones Demonstrating that a Child is Ready for the Primary Classroom

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This TNCS preprimary student practices her fastening skills on the Montessori Button Frame. She is well on her way to independent dressing!

Some of the current preprimary students have only just turned 2. Their parents might be wondering how conceivable it really is that their child might be sharing a classroom with kids who are starting to read and write in under a year from now. In diapers in May but using the bathroom by late August? Able to don outdoor clothing independently? Able to articulate daily needs? Those are some of so many hurdles jumped for lots of kids, towering obstacles for others. These are, however, prerequisites for moving up to primary. No matter where your child falls along that continuum, the overriding message that emerged from Mrs. Danyali’s presentation was that the child will be supported and nurtured along the way to readiness. These benchmarks are not in place for ranking or comparing student achievement, by any means. They are simply necessary from an operational standpoint. The primary teacher cannot sacrifice time away from giving the very specific Montessori lessons or helping a student master a task to change diapers, for example. The primary student is able to use the bathroom and get dressed to go outdoors more or less independently (assistance and guidance are always readily forthcoming, of course, and supervision is a constant).

This might sound rather stark at first. In fact, however, the first steps toward such independence have already been taken in the preprimary classroom, where independence and competence are very tenderly fostered. The TNCS student has become a fairly autonomous classroom resident even at age 2, as Mrs. Reynold’s gorgeous photos attest (also see slideshow below). Their ability to pursue their own interests will serve them very well, academically. They are internalizing/honing the four pillars of Montessori: Concentration, Coordination, Independence, and Order. Order? Indeed. Primary students are not only expected to select an activity that they want to work with, but they are also expected to complete that work as well as put it away correctly upon completion—it’s the Montessori “Work Cycle,” and it teaches accountability and a sense of accomplishment in addition to the importance of maintaining order. All “works” are designed to absorb the child (concentration) and also to develop both large and fine motor movements (coordination).

Parents are encouraged to reinforce the expectation of independence at home as well. Children can be allowed to pour their own drinks and zip up their own outerwear, for instance. Pants with elastic waists and shoes that fasten with velcro straps can facilitate their ability to get dressed by themselves and develop their confidence with such processes. Another way parents can aid such transitioning is by considering a TNCS summer camp for primary-age students rather than a preprimary camp to give them a taste of the fun in store.

Placement in a Primary Classroom

Although not an exact science, this aspect of the transition out of preprimary is very thoughtfully undertaken. Many factors are weighed in the decision-making: your child’s proclivities, the prospective teachers’ proclivities, and the ages and genders of the current students in the class. Each Montessori classroom should have a well-rounded mix of ages 3, 4, and 5 in order to function optimally. (Please see above links for the rationale behind the mixed ages of Montessori classrooms. In short, they promote incredibly fruitful mentor–mentee relationships that continuously evolve.) The child will remain in the primary classroom for 3 years, so a “good fit” is critical. TNCS may not be able to honor specific requests in all circumstances, but your child will always be placed in a classroom environment fully devoted to addressing each student’s needs.

And Finally . . . 

Even though the advance to the primary program is made as smooth as possible, TNCS students do face transitions and changes, as all students do. The important difference at TNCS is in the thoughtful, child-appropriate way these transitions are managed. As always, parents, you are encouraged to see how it all comes together for yourself—you’ll be amazed, gratified, and reassured. Here are four great ways you can do so:

  1. Attend an Admissions Fridays event held most Fridays through the end of the school year (register here).
  2. Attend the Primary Workshop, “Four Areas of the Montessori Classroom that Unleash Your Child’s Potential” being held February 12th, 2015 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. (Childcare is available; sign up here by February 9th.)
  3. Read any of the related Immersed posts linked above, or simply search with keyword “Montessori” in the Immersed archives.
  4. Read Mrs. Danyali’s recommended books Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (Angeline Lillard) and A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom (Aline Wolf).

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