TNCS Parent Workshop: Making the Transition from Pre-Primary to Primary

This week’s Immersed post is a very special one, brought to you by TNCS Primary Teachers Maria Mosby (main author, photographer) and Lisa Reynolds (main photographer), with additional contributions from TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali and Pre-Primary Teacher Yu Lin.

Their topic? The New Century School‘s Pre-Primary Parent Workshop held January 21, 2016, which was in itself something a little different, focusing on how to make the transition from the pre-primary classroom to the primary classroom a smooth one for our 3-year-old friends. It’s quite a big step for such small children, and many parents experience considerable anxiety about how their child will handle it—a baby in diapers in spring, to a self-possessed student of a multilingual Montessori classroom come fall? Impossible! Yet this is exactly what occurs each year, to the amazement of parents, the delight of the kids themselves, and with knowing smiles by the teachers. And so without further ado, here’s how they do it, as written by Ms. Mosby as well as an excerpt from Lin Laoshi!

The purpose of the Parent Workshop was to give parents an overview of what their child’s experience would be like once they move up to the primary classroom, as well as answer any questions, and perhaps help alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling. It began with Lin Laoshi talking about the difference between the pre-primary and primary classrooms, with the focus being more on independence in primary:

The TNCS pre-primary program is a language immersion program, focusing on foreign language enrichment. Children are exposed to the language 100% of school time. They learn languages through singing fun songs, playing games, doing hands-on activities, and attending cultural presentations. The classroom setting relies mainly on group work with the guidance of the program teacher.

The TNCS primary program is a mixed-age Montessori program, which encourages students to be independent, explore freedom within limits, and learn to establish a sense of order. They are encouraged to choose any activity from within a prescribed range of options and do their work independently most of their school time.

In order to bridge the gap between the two programs, students in the pre-primary program are gradually encouraged to do more things by themselves to enhance their abilities of self-awareness and self-control.”

Mrs. Danyali then gave the parents insight into the placement process and an overview of the primary program, while I walked them through a typical day. From there, it became more of an open discussion and question-and-answer session.

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A quiet, cozy moment with a friend in the peace corner goes a long way to making children feel comfortable and at ease.

What particular challenges the children will face was a big part of the discussion. Separation tends to be the biggest issue in my experience. Even though these students have been to school before, they are entering a different environment with new teachers, new friends, and new routines. That’s a lot for a young child at once. We try to make the transition as gentle as possible, and make them feel at home.

Another difficult aspect for the new children can be understanding that not all of the Montessori materials are available for them to use just yet. Everything is so new and enticing—in fact, the Montessori materials are specifically designed to call to the children. However, a new 3-year-old, though very excited by the movable alphabet or bead cabinet, is most likely not quite ready to use these materials. That’s why it’s so important to go over preliminary lessons, or the “ground rules” of the classroom, several times in group and individual situations to kindly but firmly give reminders to all.

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This group Spanish lesson on rainforest animals shows that little kids really can focus . . . even it means keeping their hands otherwise occupied!

Another point to remember is that we make sure each individual child is ready for this transition. Our administrators are very skilled at making sure that children who move up are both physically and emotionally ready. In the rare cases in which a child has shown signs of not being comfortable in the new environment, we worked with the parents to help the child become more independent and develop the skills he or she needed to feel secure in the primary classroom. Consistency and partnership between home and school is, thus, vitally important, as is respect for the child and his or her individual needs.

The photos below (picturing kids who just moved up to primary this school year) erase any doubt that young children are eager to embark on journeys of independence and self-exploration. They learn by doing at this age, and allowing them this opportunity does wonders for their self-esteem, let alone their physical and cognitive development.

The take-away message is, parents should be reassured that this transition needn’t be a scary experience, and there isn’t much special preparation* necessary. We are set up to welcome all children as they are, and the primary classroom is the next step in the work that they’ve already been working so hard at in pre-primary—developing self-help skills, socialization, motor skills, and working within a community.

*Here are some practical tips for parents to familiarize themselves and their children with the exciting changes to come.

  1. It’s great for parents to prepare their children for the transition by talking about it in a positive way, perhaps choosing new items together for the new school year.
  2. Talk about it—but not too much too soon. Constantly discussing the transition, especially when it might be months away, may create anxiety for your child.
  3. Slowly begin introducing more opportunities for independence (allowing your child to dress himself with support, help to pack lunch, etc.). However, I don’t advise rushing toileting or to cause children think there is a “deadline” for them to be ready. This may have the opposite of the desired effect.
  4. Visit the primary classrooms and read up on Montessori theory. A great introduction is A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom, by Aline Wolf. It’s a quick read and gives an overview of philosophy and materials. Lin Laoshi also recommended the book, Mindful Discipline, by Shauna Shapiro, PhD. Additionally, Mrs. Danyali provided a Reading List that includes these and other very helpful titles.
  5. Come to the “Back-to-School Meet and Greet” with your child at the beginning of the school year. It’s a great opportunity for your child to meet his teachers, new friends (and likely some old friends!), and become acclimated to the new environment.
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This sweet smile kind of says it all.

 

 

Cutting Edge Skills at TNCS

A recent Food for Thought article that aired on NPR explored the seemingly counterintuitive notion of letting toddlers play with knives. Sujata Gupta, the author and mother of a 3-year-old, writes, “Both my mother and mother-in-law recoiled when I suggested letting my son try his hand at chopping. Yet research, and the experience of educators, suggest that parents such as me would be wise to hand a tot a knife.”

That “recoil” is understandable, given that maternal instincts are to protect, not arm our children with implements of self-destruction. But, as Gupta discovers, allowing small children to wield real tools is a means of attaining self-efficacy, something that kids these days urgently need.

It may come as no surprise to TNCS parents that The New Century School has always operated according to this principle. TNCS primary classrooms follow the classic Montessori curriculum, a huge part of which is fostering independence, even in the very young. The Montessori philosophy is based on the observation that children learn by doing. They crave hands-on experiences, which is also a form of “play.” (In this sense, there’s a profound difference between “playing with knives” and “playing” with knives. The former is an invitation to accidents; the latter is an absorptive lesson in proper use.)

Of course, TNCS students are not handed honorary steak knives on matriculation. Step by step and through practice with preliminary “works,” they earn the privilege of using knives in the classroom for helping with food preparation in the Practical Life mode of the curriculum. Says TNCS primary teacher Martellies Warren: “I trust students with real tools once they show that they can be responsible individuals in other areas of the curriculum—such as if they have mastered or are working toward mastery in the art of using materials with care, working with materials from start to finish, working independently, caring for the classroom environment, and just overall being gentle and empathetic toward others.”

Catherine Lawson, TNCS’s most senior Montessori teacher, agrees. “Children want to do activities that include using knives; however, they know that they have to show that they are focused and responsible.” Once students have shown this level of consistency, says Mr. Warren, “they are allowed to use such tools as knives, hammers, graters, and peelers to prepare real food as well as serve themselves and each other.”

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A TNCS primary student carefully spreads hummus on mini toast.

TNCS primary teacher Maria Mosby describes her process this way: “We use knives for spreading first (hummus, cream cheese, sunflower seed butter). The kids love to practice spreading butter on their bread at lunch time, and it’s a great opportunity to help out and practice at home with toast or sandwiches.”

Once the children demonstrate responsible spreading, they can move on to slicing, starting with softer foods and progressing to firmer fruits and vegetables. “We always stay nearby, but trust that the children are capable,” said Ms. Mosby.

And that, says Mr. Warren, encapsulates the “spirit and uniqueness of the Montessori philosophy!” He says that this type of “honor system” stems from Maria Montessori’s belief that the child should self-direct. “I often tell parents to ‘let go and trust’ their little individuals. In my experience this has been one of the most challenging task for parents to do.”

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A TNCS primary student cuts cucumbers, slices bread, and spreads cream cheese to make a cucumber sandwich.

Letting go and trusting might come more easily if parents knew just how successful this model is for cultivating that self-efficacy mentioned above. Ms. Mosby offers this explanation: “I have never been let down. I think it’s the fact that the students know they are using real tools that makes such a difference. They don’t use them as weapons. They are very careful and know that tools used improperly can be harmful.”

So, as Gupta says, “Go ahead and give your toddler a kitchen knife.” You might just get breakfast in bed from your aspiring cheflets.

Meet the Teacher: Montessori-Trained Maria Mosby Joins TNCS

It's clear from her beautiful smile that this is one caring educator!

It’s clear from her beautiful smile that this is one caring educator!

The Montessori environment has “felt like home” to Maria Mosby for quite some time, she says, so she was a natural fit for Lead Teacher in one of The New Century School‘s four Primary Montessori classrooms. In fact, she began her own education at age 2 1/2 years at Columbia Montessori School, in Columbia, MD. “I grew up in Montessori,” she says, “so it has always been in my heart.”

After several moves with her family throughout New England and the Washington, D.C. area, which entailed a stint in public school, she rediscovered Montessori while studying Early Childhood Education at Towson University, and it has been Montessori all the way ever since. She had considered studying psychology, but says, “I’ve always had an affinity for children and wanted to be around them in my career. As a teacher, you do end up being a psychologist of sorts.” She knew that the primary age group was her target age group all along. “I worked with older children, elementary-age children, toddlers . . . but the 3 to 6 age group is really where my heart is.”

Even though she just joined TNCS full time this academic year, Ms. Mosby was no stranger to the school. As a primary assistant for 3 years and a toddler assistant for 5 years at Greenspring Montessori School (formerly, The Montessori School), she decided to take Early Childhood training through the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. During her internship, she worked at TNCS’s summer camp and “loved the warm, peaceful community.” Even with a whole year-long absence, students remembered her and were excited to have her back.

Having been through the first semester and ironed out those wrinkles that inevitably come with introducing young children to new routines and new faces, she reports that “things are going very well. I love my students with their unique personalities, and I’m glad that there’s a 3-year cycle to look forward to with them. It has really been a growing experience for me.” She also attributes some of the successful transition-making to her Assistant Teacher Elizabeth Salas, who also joined TNCS this academic year. Señora Salas came to TNCS from Chile and besides being “wonderful,” in Ms. Mosby’s words, provides the Spanish immersion component to the classroom. Ms. Mosby herself is picking up some Spanish, although not as quickly as the students, she confessed.

Being such a staunch proponent of Montessori education, Ms. Mosby has a lot of insight from several perspectives into what makes it so effective. “The children are given the opportunity to reach their potential,” she said. “They’re not stifled. When I compare [Montessori education] to traditional education, I remember how I struggled with math, especially when my family was moving around. I needed help with fractions, but the class I entered had already studied them and were not going to backtrack just for me. And that’s not an issue here. Everyone is working at their own pace.”

Once a shy student, she also credits the independence that Montessori confers as part of its success. She sees daily in her classroom younger and older children working together, which often means a younger child absorbing a lesson he or she might be considered too young for in a conventional learning environment. “I don’t hinder them,” she says. “I let them see what they can do and also let them learn from their mistakes, which fosters that sense of independence that I love about Montessori.” It’s easy to see how this process builds confidence in children and primes them to learn.

Although she is incredibly well versed with all of them, her favorite Montessori materials are those associated with Practical Life. “They make a really nice school–home connection,” she said. Kids can play at cooking, flower arranging, tidying up, etc., and as they perfect these skills, they translate them to home and develop motor skills and a sense of responsibility to the immediate environment in the bargain.

“Another thing they have been working on is how to use the ‘peace table’ if upset and words to use when solving a conflict with others. They really enjoy the sensory items at the peace table, and it’s a good place to go when someone needs a place to chill out.” Just like the other Maria M., Ms. Mosby values treating others with kindness and receiving the same in return.

One very special project they have been working on as a group is writing to another Montessori class in Saskatoon, Canada. “The children have been very excited about it and have been drawing pictures to include. They have been learning about Canada’s cities and will also be learning a few French words,” she said.

In her free time, Maria enjoys running and does the Casey Cares Foundation 5K every year, which raises money for critically ill children in Baltimore and surrounding areas so that they can have things like birthday presents, vacations, and pajamas for long hospital stays. “I also work with Girls on the Run of Central Maryland as a “SoleMate.” “GOTR coaches pre-teen and middle school–aged girls to run their first 5K. It is a great organization that increases the girls’ self-esteem, overall health, and sense of sisterhood,” she says. She is also a certified children’s yoga instructor and will complete her 200-hour yoga training this year.

In closing, she said, “After I was away for a year, coming back [to TNCS] just felt like coming home. Everyone is so welcoming, and I feel very supported from the other teachers and from the administration. We all have something to offer. We collaborate and work together very well, even among the different divisions.” TNCS is thrilled to have the warm, compassionate Ms. Mosby in her very first Lead Montessori Teacher role!

Happy Birthday, Immersed!

Dear Readers, this is a proud day, marking the end of Year 1 of The New Century School‘s blog. That’s right, 52 posts later, here we are (this is #53). To celebrate, let’s take a look back at what your favorite posts have been—after all, we’re here for you.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts

  1. Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education  (224 views so far)
  2. Achieving Balance in Education at TNCS  (215 views so far)
  3. Sustainable School Lunch: Garden Tuck Shop Program Part I  (199 views so far)
  4. Elementary Science Fair!   (175 views so far)
  5. Top 10 Reasons to Attend Montessori Kindergarten  (171 views so far)
  6. Inside the Montessori Classroom  (156 views so far)
  7. Exercising That Mind–Body Connection  (146 views so far)
  8. Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School  (130 views so far)
  9. A TNCS Original  (128 views so far)
  10. Language, Math, and Science—Montessori Style!  (125 views so far)

Because a little analysis is just irresistible, let’s draw some conclusions. It’s pretty clear that Montessori and Elementary are the  commonest themes on this list, which is entirely appropriate. TNCS is achieving something entirely unique in education in meshing a progressive, rigorous curriculum with the gentleness and humanity of the Montessori approach. TNCS students learn the standard academics but also get a firm grounding in foreign language and an abundance of the arts, movement, and technology. Perhaps most important and often overlooked in conventional schools is the attention to social relationships and building mutually respectful interactions with peers and with the administration.

So thank you, readers, for your following and your support. What would you like to read more about in future?

Language Curriculum Specialist Joins TNCS

Lisa Warren, Language Curriculum Specialist

Lisa Warren, Language Curriculum Specialist

Piggybacking on a post (Multilingualism at TNCS: Optimizing Your Child’s Executive Function) from earlier this year, this discussion profiles Lisa Warren, on-staff language curriculum specialist at The New Century School. Ms. Warren came on board in October 2012 to organize and standardize the existing language education at the school. With a Master’s Degree in linguistics from Georgetown University that combined research into how kids acquire second language with curriculum design as well as previous experience teaching Spanish, French, and English, she is well qualified for this new role.

Her role, she says, is primarily to integrate language education throughout TNCS’s progressive, Montessori-inspired curriculum. The primary components of language education are already firmly in place—the teachers, the native speakers, the classes, and (in some cases) the immersion—but Ms. Warren has erected a framework on which these pieces can connect, be reproduced in successive classes annually as well as across the same level (i.e., all primary classes are focusing on the same lessons), and meet national standards. As she puts it, “There was a lot happening in language education around the school.”

She came to TNCS as the result of Head of School Alicia Cooper-Danyali’s active search for such a specialist. Mrs. Cooper-Danyali herself brings a wealth of language-immersion experience to her position and saw the need for the dedicated staff member who could connect all the language dots at TNCS in addition to crafting “plans that document the school’s long-term goals, which include a language curriculum both reproducible and adjustable.”

The Curriculum Map

Key to this exciting new TNCS initiative is a rubric called the curriculum map*. This level-specific document serves two purposes: 1) it provides a comprehensive overview of what is being taught in a given language (i.e., Spanish or Mandarin) and 2) it allows Ms. Warren to identify gaps and fill those in. Aspects of language education like culture and how well a particular class matches up with current themes guide her assessments. She is passionate about her work.

“Being able to talk about something in a lot of different ways is very important for cognitive development,” she says, drawing on her impressive research background. Indeed, the benefits of learning another language have been touched on in earlier blog posts, but Ms. Warren adds to the growing list. Wider cultural understanding, the ability to communicate with multiple populations, and keener analytic skills are among her special foci in what advantages speaking more than one language affords. Multilinguals have an “expanded view,” she says, “which makes them more creative and better problem-solvers.” She cites a study in which a cohort of bilingual kids and another of monolingual kids were asked to list alternative uses for a plastic water bottle. The monolinguals averaged only a couple; the bilinguals’ list stretched to 10 or more. This ingenuity translated to better Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores in a related study. It’s a known, but unfortunate fact that kids from lower socioeconomic groups tend to fare worse on standardized tests. Speaking more than one language abolishes this demographic disadvantage—bilinguals, no matter what their socioeconomic stratum, score higher in both math and verbal sections as well as overall. Click here for a comprehensive, annotated bibliography on this critical research.

Perhaps the best part of the curriculum map is that it allows teachers to target their teaching to students in the same class according to their individual levels. This means that students can enter TNCS at any age and have their learning needs met. This “differentiated instruction” is also rounded out by groupwork, such that, for example, elementary students are currently working on sustainable environment projects (sponsored by Clean Currents) for the Science Fair, part of which they are required to do in Spanish. Because they are working as a group, all levels support and help each other with the result that they learn the scientific method in two languages!

In the Classroom

Ms. Warren’s work is not all behind the scenes. She likes to spend time in the classroom, getting to know the kids and working with the teachers to have a very clear sense of the application of her work. She provides a library of resources for teachers to draw from, for example, that includes books, puppets, costumes, flashcards, music, and more. She also offers professional development. For the latter, she might model certain behaviors to show a teacher how to maintain a focus on language while redirecting a disruptive student. Or, she might serve as her own “lab rat” in language class: if she is able to follow an activity in Mandarin, which she doesn’t currently speak, she knows it’s an appropriate activity for the students. If she gets lost, she helps the teacher reshape the activity to the students’ level.

Part of this is ensuring that activities/lessons meet The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL)’s  “5 Cs”: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities, each of which is subdivided into series of standards. (Click here to read the standards.) It’s reassuring to know that TNCS students are organically acquiring other languages via their interactions with native speakers around the school, but that there is also a sound pedagogic infrastructure supporting that process. Again, though, this kind of balance is what TNCS is all about.

Spanish gym class

Senora Casado plays a game with primary students during gym class. “Encouraging the children to speak and communicate in Spanish is the goal in our weekly gym lessons,” she says.

To play, students must understand and respond to commands given solely in Spanish. They learn lots of action verbs this way!

Students play Rolling the Ball (“Rueda la bola”), in which they roll the ball to a friend while reciting a Spanish chant. To play, students must also understand and respond to commands given solely in Spanish. They learn lots of action verbs this way!

At Home

A final piece that Ms. Warren is locking into place is with parents. Regardless of whether parents are themselves multilingual or not, TNCS is exploring ways to encourage and support language acquisition at home. You can learn along with your kid(s), or you can print and post the Word of the Week around the house. Ms. Warren can usually be found in attendance at TNCS Info Nights, and she is even considering holding an Info Night dedicated to language strategies parents can use at home.

Welcome to TNCS, Lisa Warren!

Have an anecdote, question, or comment to share? Your participation in this important discussion is welcome!

*Note: Mrs. Cooper-Danyali plans to implement curriculum maps for all other disciplines as well.