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.

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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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Back-to-School Night: Meet New TNCS Teachers and More!

Thursday, September 11th was The New Century School‘s Back-to-School Night for the 2014–2015 academic year. Back-to-School Night is TNCS parents’ chance to learn how their child’s classroom operates. Whereas Orientation is a more general introduction to school, at Back-to-School Night, families get details on everything from what the daily schedule looks like to when it’s their turn to provide class snack. Teachers introduce themselves and their teaching styles or philosophies and explain the curriculum (K:1st syllabus), demonstrate how their educational materials are used, and answer parent questions.

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TNCS’s new Kindergarten/1st-Grade teacher Teresa Jacoby.

This year, several new instructors have joined TNCS, and Back-to-School Night was a great way to get to know them. One of the new lead teachers is Mrs. Teresa Jacoby. She brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to TNCS’s new mixed-age Kindergarten/1st-Grade classroom, which parents recognized immediately. (See biographical details below.)

A former 3rd- and 4th-grade science teacher and Reading Specialist in the Baltimore City school system, Mrs. Jacoby integrates reading and writing into all other disciplines and declared her expectation that all of her students will be strong readers by year’s end. Her personal philosophy meshes beautifully with TNCS’s educational values:

I believe that each student is an exceptional individual who requires a safe, caring, and encouraging learning environment in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. There are three elements that I believe are beneficial to establishing such an environment: 1) the teacher acting as a guide, 2)  the child’s natural curiosity directing his/her learning, and 3) encouraging respect for one’s self, others, and things found in our world.

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New for the 2014–2015 academic year, Kindergarten/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby introduces her students to the classroom and its special routines.

She also believes strongly that education is optimized when a mixture of self-guided exploration, small-group learning, and one-on-one instruction is utilized, very much a TNCS-held value. Just as TNCS focuses school-wide on inquiry-based learning, in her class, such inquiry “gives students ownership of their learning and more lasting knowledge of the skills needed to achieve real understanding,” she says. Additionally, Mrs. Jacoby believes that critical thinking/solving problems is key to developing leadership skills, the ability to collaborate in teamwork, and self-sufficiency as individual learners.

As appropriate for a General Studies teacher, Mrs. Jacoby can pretty much do it all (art, math, special ed, etc., in addition to what has already been mentioned), but she says she has more and more discovered her special fondness for science. She incorporates scientific thinking into every nook and cranny of her curriculum in fun ways that ignite her students’ curiosity. “The kids are so naturally curious; it’s nice to discuss [science] with them, and they like to talk about it,” she said. She also has students keep journals, which gives her another way to guide them in further exploration of topics that they have broached.

“Just like a well-oiled machine works efficiently,” she says, “so does a well-thought-out and planned classroom environment.” Thus, the classroom she shares with her (also new) Assistant Teacher Mrs. Kimberly Tyson, with her own impressive résumé, encompasses several discrete learning environments—there’s a technology corner equipped with computers, an area with worktables for  groupwork such as with manipulative materials, a large carpet for whole-class circle time, and even a settee for students to sit back and enjoy a book on individually. She also generously brought along her own personal class library, which students are encouraged to use as much as possible.

One aspect of teaching that Mrs. Jacoby holds very dear is knowing and understanding her students. She has quickly learned a lot about her kindergarten/1st-graders and has an amazing ability to adapt to their needs on her feet so as to keep learning happening. So, when she found that after Spanish lessons, for instance, students struggled to be able to focus, she decided to let them “get the wiggles out” for a few minutes before resettling. Even the movement she incorporates in class has an express cognitive function. She uses a version of Simon Says that gets them using their whole brains—that is, integrating both left and right hemispheres—by performing a series of continuous movements and asking them to repeat the last movement she made. She demonstrated the activity for parents attending Back-to-School Night, many of whom were surprised by just how challenging it was! As if she had intuited it, TNCS will begin implementing movement regularly within classrooms to promote blood flow to the brain. (More on this topic is to come in the near future!)

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This artwork was created by TNCS elementary students to exemplify the school-wide theme of Community Building.

Finally, mutual respect is the capstone of Mrs. Jacoby’s pedagogical approach and is yet another way she shows just how right for TNCS she is. “A healthy learning environment must also include respect for all, a sense of safety as well as trust,” she says. “I work extremely hard to build a learning community based on mutual respect for one’s self, others, and our surroundings. Creating a strong sense of community in my classroom instills security, which builds trust and in turn builds comfort levels conducive to learning. I nurture that sense through personal modeling, class meetings, role play, and reflective journals.” It just so happens that TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali’s first theme of this school year is Community Building, and school-wide, students have engaged in activities that help them grow stronger both as individuals and as a team.

We welcome you to TNCS, Mrs. Jacoby, and anticipate an incredible first year together! Stay tuned for more posts in this series to meet TNCS’s other new lead teachers and learn the inner workings of their classrooms!

Mrs. Jacoby’s Bio

Teresa Jacoby holds a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist from Loyola University in Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education with an Art Education Minor from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She also has an Advanced Professional Certificate Special Education 1–12 and an Advanced Professional Certificate Reading Specialist Certification, both from the state of Maryland. She has taught a wide variety of students ranging from Kindergarten through 8th grade Special Education in all content areas in both self-contained and inclusion environments. She also has run many extracurricular activities from chairing the Science Fair to Chess Club to Lego Robotics Club. She lives in Baltimore and enjoys using her artistic skills in and out of the classroom, gardening, riding bikes and spending time with her family.