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.
The kids asked some really great questions, and we found out that many of them played instruments!
Showing the sax up close
The four primary classes pose with Granddad Sax!
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!
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).
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!
All smiles in anticipation of a really fun magic show!
These elementary students wear their school logo shirts to show their TNCS pride!
Parent chaperones came along for the show, too!
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!
Master Magician Bradley Fields and His Lovely Assistant Stacy!
TNCS elementary students pose with Mr. Fields!
TNCS students were spellbound by the performance!
Mr. Fields gives autographs to his adoring new TNCS fans!
Mr. Fields poses with TNCS elementary students after the show!
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!
Magical effect: You guess any number your audience is thinking.
How to perform:
Ask your audience to think of any number but keep it secret: e.g., 10
Now ask him or her to double the secret number: e.g., 20 (10 x 2 = 20)
Now ask him or her to multiply by 5: e.g., 100 (20 x 5 = 100)
Ask him or her to give you the final answer (i.e., 100).
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:
Announce that you will read your audience’s mind.
Ask him or her to hold an envelope in which you have sealed your prediction of his or her mathematical thoughts.
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
Tell him or her to reverse the number and subtract the smaller number from the larger: e.g., 937 – 739 = 198
Have him or her reverse the difference and add: e.g., 198 + 891 = 1,089
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!
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.
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
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:
Attend an Admissions Fridays event held most Fridays through the end of the school year (register here).
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.)
Read any of the related Immersed posts linked above, or simply search with keyword “Montessori” in the Immersed archives.