As recounted in last week’s Immersed, The New Century School takes advantage of the 2-week holiday many Chinese have in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year by hosting special programs and inviting various groups to TNCS. For the Year of the Dog, first came a group of 15 university students, eager to take home innovative education ideas, followed by three 3rd-grade students and their parents.
The purpose behind this second visit was some cultural exchange—immersion in an English-speaking classroom for the Chinese students for 2 weeks, and a chance for TNCS students to practice conversation skills in Mandarin with their visiting friends Myra, Tony, and Michael.
The outgoing and adaptable trio meshed immediately with their new schoolmates and were welcomed into Mrs. Sharma’s 3rd-/4th-grade homeroom with open arms. It must be said that having the visitors in class for 2 weeks meant that TNCS students got a bit of a holiday as well, getting to go on four field trips during that time!
In China, the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, culminating on February 16th this year, are generally a time off for many Chinese. For the past few years, The New Century School has hosted many visitors from China coinciding with this break, with 2018 seeing the largest overall numbers of visitors yet.
The first group comprised 15 university students, who clearly wanted to have a good time in addition to learning about TNCS’s unique educational approach. They had fun and made sure everyone around them did as well. They all came from various cities in Hunan Province—Chongqing (Holly), Wugang (Phoebe), Zhuzou (Dragon), Changde (Bella), Zhangjiaie (Jamie), Beijing (Elaine), Hengyang (Tiffany), Wenzhou (Bunny), Urumqi (Michelle), and the capital Changsha (Fire, Miki, Ishine, Shirley, Jane, and Smart).
Their stay at TNCS was brief, as they had lots of sightseeing around the country on their trip itinerary. So, to make sure they got the most of their time here, their 2 days at TNCS were very full. They visited classrooms and interacted with students among other activities, divided into two alternating groups. They were eager to learn firsthand how education is handled in an independent school, and they were very receptive to the innovative ideas presented to them.
They even got the chance to participate in some group exercises designed to get them thinking and problem-solving creatively. While one group played “Lost at Sea” in the Ozone Snack Bar with half of the upper elementary students, the second group joined the remaining upper elementary students in a bucket band with Mr. Yoshi. The late January day was surprisingly warm, so the bucket band played outside.
Not only was it a special treat to be outside in the middle of winter, but there were some subtle messages here as well. The Chinese university students saw that TNCS is an urban school, asphalt and all, and they also saw that with so much going on around the school campus, adaptability and flexibility are necessary (not to mention often make for fun surprises). Mr. Yoshi first gave a short talk, describing his background and explaining that he is a proponent of El Sistema—using music to promote social change. From there, he demonstrated some simple techniques until the group was able to play “Rufus My Dog.”
Then, it was time for the group to go off script and add their own flourishes, working in pairs of one university student and one TNCS student.
They all enjoyed that a lot. As one put it, “This kind of activity makes kids very creative and is very interesting. In China we just repeat, repeat, repeat.”
Back in the Ozone, TNCS Co-Founder and Executive Director Roberta Faux led the group in playing “Lost at Sea,” working in teams of four or five. “Imagine you chartered a yacht and are sailing from Baltimore to New York,” she instructed. “In 100 miles, your boat blows up. You’re on a little raft, wearing a life vest waiting to be rescued. There are 15 items listed. Number your paper from 1 to 15 and rank the items you would want from most to least. There are no right or wrong answers, and you have 5 minutes.”
The results varied widely, but no teams would have survived and only one individual scored high enough to just barely make it! Despite the high number of casualties, this exercise got everyone thinking as well as collaborating. Oh, and laughing.
Download the rules and how to play here. It’s loads of fun and would be perfect for Family Game Night!
The day ended with a cooking lesson and dinner from Chef Danielle.
The group left Baltimore a day later but were unanimous in saying that they would not forget TNCS and the fun they had while there!
Part 2 continues next week when Immersed checks in with the second group who came to visit TNCS during the Lunar New Year holiday. Stay tuned!
Accommodating children from ages 2 years through 7th grade (and soon to be 8th grade) and 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—the TNCS “invisible curriculum.”
Perhaps the most challenging transition that TNCS students (and their parents) face is moving from the pre-primary 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 Wednesday, January 31st, Head of School Alicia Danyali; the three Lead Pre-Primary teachers, Song Laoshi, Señora Noletto, and Señora Valas; and Lead Primary teacher Ms. Mosby, held a Pre-Primary Workshop to walk parents through what this process entails. It was a full house; pre-primary parents are clearly curious, if not anxious, about what lies ahead for their kids. “We’re here to discuss the expectations and process for students to move up from pre-primary to primary,” explained Mrs. Danyali. Rest assured, her’s and the teachers’ presentations—as well as some very helpful perspectives shared by pre-primary parents who also have other children in upper divisions—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.
TNCS Pre-Primary and Primary Programs: Key Differences
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 pre-primary 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 pre-primary 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; see the end of this post.) 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.
“We also presented the format of language (you get both) in the Montessori class and what the class looks like with that support verses immersion,” explained Mrs. Danyali. She continued:
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.
Preprimary teachers all emphasized that they focus on language enhancement to get pre-primary students ready for the primary classroom. “We give them time; they will get there” is a mantra they ascribe to. In other words, if they aren’t ready just yet, they can spend more time in the pre-primary classroom until they are.
So, Is Your Child Ready for the Primary Classroom?
Some of the current pre-primary 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 milestones are, however, prerequisites for moving up to primary. No matter where your child falls along that continuum, the overriding message that emerged from the collective presentations was that the child will be supported and nurtured along the way to readiness. “We give toddlers the tools to help them master skills for independence,” said Sra. Salas. “We emphasize routines. We work in groups, and we work independently on using words, practicing in the bathroom, and on time management. Your child will get there,” she continued. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Workshop participants took a tour of Building South’s second floor to see the primary classes and get “the lay of the land.” Lead Primary teacher Maria Mosby presented as the “expert resident” of Montessori and answered questions regarding the Montessori philosophy as well as what a typical daily schedule looks like.
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 pre-primary classroom, where independence and competence are very tenderly fostered. The TNCS student has become a fairly autonomous classroom resident even at age 2, as these photos attest. 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).
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 girls and boys 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.) Some parents expressed concern about their children being treated well by kids up to 2 years older, but other parents quickly spoke up to describe how beautifully the ages mix and advised visiting a classroom to see it the magic in action.
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.
What You Can Do in the Meantime
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:
Read about 2017–2018 Primary Workshops, linked below.
Talk over the upcoming year during the parent–teacher conferences scheduled for next month—your child’s teacher and you are partners in this endeavor.
Sign up for TNCS’s much-loved summer camps—registration for summer 2018 is now open! Mrs. Danyali suggests enrolling your toddler in at least one primary camp to help ease the transition into the primary classroom (and taste some of the fun in store), preferably during the latter part of the summer.
Read any of the related Immersed posts linked below, or simply search with keyword “Montessori” in the Immersed archives.
Read Mrs. Danyali’s recommended books that can be downloaded from this link: Book List 2017-2018.
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.
Finally, Mrs. Danyali asked parents to always remember that TNCS meets your children where they are—“should be” is nothing more than an arbitrary construct in this context!
*Previous Montessori-related Immersed posts include (but are not limited to):
At The New Century School, Montessori instruction not only defines the primary classroom for students ages 3- to 5-years old, but Montessori principles are the bedrock on which TNCS was founded. Although only the primary classrooms are classically Montessori, its importance at TNCS cannot be overstated. Students who start at TNCS in their primary years and progress through the upper divisions find that their elementary and middle school classrooms retain much of the Montessori character in terms of mixed-age classes; an inquiry-driven, student-led approach, and an emphasis on courage, compassion, respect, and service to and for schoolmates and staff.
Because there’s a lot to the Montessori method, TNCS hosts two workshops annually to allow parents to get the full picture of how it works. Last fall, primary teachers Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yanyang Li hosted the first of these annual workshops, covering many areas of the Montessori classroom, including the Work Cycle, Practical Life, the Montessori Skillset, and other broader concepts.
This current workshop focused on the tools and lessons that Montessori students use to learn Geography and Science, Math, and Language as well as their primary vehicle for learning—their five senses: “The senses, being explorers of our world, open the way to knowledge,” wrote Maria Montessori.
Accordingly, the Sensorial component of the Montessori method is purposeful and orderly. It “refines the senses,” “orders the mind,” and facilitates “appreciation of the world.” There are visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory (and sometimes even gustatory!) materials for children to work with, all designed to establish fundamental precepts for learning. Each material is beautifully designed and appropriate for children during their sensitive periods of learning. They provide the necessary stimulation for children to learn science and geography, math, and language concepts more readily.
In a Science and Geography activity (known as a “work”), for example, a student might put together a globe puzzle, calling on his or her sensorial training to understand sequence, order, and beauty to successfully complete it (with complete absorption, no less), or match Ancient Egyptian names with figures. Cultural awareness also begins to develop here; in Montessori, concepts begin very concretely to enable to child to fully grasp them before being naturally drawn to extrapolate them to more abstract ideas.
This is nowhere more true than in Math: “Process is taught first, and facts come later. Order, coordination, concentration, and independence are experienced by the child using [Montessori math] materials.” The materials are organized into five groups:
Group 1 introduces sets of 1 through 10, which prepares the child for counting and teaches the value of quantity. Children begin to associate numeral and quantity with number rods and number cards and will gain a growing understanding of sequence. To reinforce the 1 through 10 concept, a teacher may add spindle boxes, cards and counters, the short bead stair, and other 1-to-10 counting activities.
Group 2 involves the decimal system using the golden bead material. Children become familiar with the names of the decimal categories: units of 10s, 100s, 1,000s, and so on. A concrete experience with each category is represented by beads, and quantity will be followed by symbol and association.
Group 3 deals with the operations using the golden bead material. The concept and process of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are presented. Children work with each other and benefit from these exercises using the bank game. Progression then continues using operations with the stamp game.
Group 4 consists of linear counting. Quantity is presented using the teen and 10 boards, followed by symbol and association. The 100 board and bead chains develop number concepts and recognition of numbers 1 through 100. The bead chains also introduce the child to skip-counting—5, 10, 15, 20, etc., for example.
Group 5 contains activities such as strip boards, the snake game, and memorization of facts. Fractions are also a part of this group. Fraction skittles and insets serve this purpose.
The activities in the math area are not to be implemented at a set pace. Providing students with the materials at precisely the right challenge level will enable them to demonstrate their development to the teacher through their progress. A child who is able to grasp such math concepts as addition and subtraction demonstrates a successful use of the math materials.
“The only language men ever speak perfectly,” Maria Montessori wrote, “is the one they learned in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!” Thus, language is possibly the area of the Montessori classroom accorded the most space, focusing first on oral language and vocabulary, then writing, and finally reading. From birth to age 6, children are in an exquisitely sensitive period for language development. They absorb multiple languages effortlessly and without direct instruction. The latter half of this plane of development is when they exhibit a strong interest in words.
The oral language curriculum focuses on activities that enrich the child’s vocabulary and ability to isolate phonetic sounds, such as having conversations, telling and reading stories, playing sound games, and working with vocabulary cards.
Children are typically interested in the practice of writing and often learn to write before they can read. The writing curriculum focuses on preparing the mind and the hand for writing activities through sensorial exercises and manipulatives.
A child prepared to begin reading will demonstrate this by first blending phonetic sounds. After much work in this area, the child will begin to work with phonograms, digraphs, and finally puzzle words (sight words). All of this work is done using sensorial objects that the child can manipulate and relate to words.
The primary teachers did a beautiful job explaining and demonstrating the brilliance of the Montessori classroom during the workshop, and they also shared their presentation in digital form for anyone unable to attend. To learn more, go to: TNCS 2017–2018 Parents Workshop.