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?

Achieving Balance in Education at TNCS

With 2013’s New Year’s resolutions newly minted (and some as yet unbroken, even), it’s a good time to turn our attention to physical fitness. And don’t worry—no guilt trips or discount gym membership pitches! This discussion is about balance balls (for kids).

At The New Century School, elementary students (currently including grades 1–3) have the option of sitting on balance balls instead of chairs as they work. Elementary teacher Adriana DuPrau says, “the children love the balls while working on certain activities. It seems that being in motion allows their brains to be engaged.” Initially, students used them at the computer station, but, says Mrs. DuPrau, “we are slowly beginning to incorporate them more in the class area as well. For example, they like to bounce when reading a book or working on math.”

strengthening core muscles while honing core academic skills

Students have the option of sitting on a chair or balancing on a stability ball at the computer station.

Chairs Are So “Old School” (Not in a Good Way)

Also known as stability balls, these large inflatables are more traditionally used for pilates-type exercise, but they are rolling into more and more classrooms as seating, particularly for elementary kids with all that energy to burn. They are considered effective for strengthening core muscles and improving spinal alignment. In the classroom, they additionally help students sit up straight, reduce their distractibility, and keep them aroused.

Classroom balance balls were originally used in an occupational therapy context. They improved focus in kids with attention deficit hyperactivity and sensory processing disorders, presumably by giving an outlet to their “wiggles.” Think of it as channeling all that excess energy for positive use. Then researchers noticed other incidental improvements, in obesity and classroom productivity, for instance. Regarding obesity, scientist have long known that even the smallest additional daily movement reaps disproportionately large physiologic rewards. So, the balance ball, by requiring continuous core muscle engagement to remain seated on it, is eliciting constant movement, thereby enhancing health and fitness.

stability balls are perfect for computer work

Note this student’s posture as he balances fitness with his Daily 5.

But better academic performance? Though sounding far-fetched to some, this makes sense given that the brain’s vestibular system, which regulates balance, also plays a key role in our alertness levels. Thus, movement, by stimulating the brain, sharpens focus. (See Exercising that Mind–Body Connection for more on the related science.) Better focus translates very readily to increased learning, and TNCS elementary students are really getting on the ball. (Oops—there goes Resolution #457, no more bad puns. . .)

You’re Invited!

By the way, you can learn more about the balance balls firsthand at the TNCS Elementary Information Night on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from 6:00–7:30 p.m. for current and prospective families. This will be the ideal opportunity to familiarize yourself with TNCS’s elementary programs (expanding to include through grade 4 in the Fall of 2013), to ask questions, and to hear other families’ experiences. Free childcare is also available. Click the above link to find out more and to RSVP. You don’t want to miss it!

Kindly let us know your thoughts about this post in the comments section—we love to hear from you!

Also, did you know? Any green text within the body of a post is a clickable link that takes you to related online content. There’s a lot of good information to be explored this way!

Exercising That Mind–Body Connection

New for the 2012–2013 school year, The New Century School provides a gymnasium for physical education! In keeping with TNCS’s progressive, forward-thinking style, though, this gym is no ordinary gym. The Lingo Leap (TLL), as it is now known officially, integrates physical exercise with cognitive development—moving and learning!

TLL’s philosophy is that brains work more efficiently when the body is also engaged, and there’s plenty of hard science to back up this notion. In fact, neuroimaging shows that during movement, more brain areas are lit up, meaning that more of the brain is active and in use. Why not take advantage of this “powered-up” state and give the brain something to do with its extra energy? Let’s face it—one of the most challenging tasks we can give our hungry brains is learning a new language.

The Lingo Leap is run by Amy Pothong

TLL Director Amy Pothong

So, TLL focuses on multiple language acquisition; currently, yoga, dance, and other movement classes are being offered for ages 2 and up (including for interested parents) in your choice of English, French, or Spanish with plans to add classes in Mandarin and Arabic soon. TNCS students, by the way, get regular phys ed at the gym in Spanish. TLL Director Amy Pothong says that “when [students] are totally immersed, they speak like natives.” Although this idea might sound revolutionary, it’s actually “getting back to the basics.” “As we get older,” says Pothong, we must get more socially standardized, which can hinder our natural ability to learn through movement.” Babies, she points out, largely communicate through gestures, which are a very basic form of movement and hearken back to the earliest human communication by our ancient ancestors.

The connection, then, between bodily movement and thought conveyance is well established in our being. Two main schools of thought have emerged to explore how we can optimize this connection to actually learn to communicate better (or at least in more than one language). First was Total Physical Response (TPR), developed in the mid-1960s by Dr. James Asher as a method of learning a second language. Asher noted that the conventional approach to learning second languages differed dramatically from how infants learn their first language. Infants learn to communicate by internalizing language, a process of protracted listening and absorbing. TPR is a technique that replicates that process for learning second languages and beyond by giving a command, modeling the action described in the command, and then having the student imitate that action. Students are not initially asked to speak, but to comprehend and obey the command. Understanding is at the root of language acquisition, according to Asher. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how babies learn to respond to increasingly complex utterances before ever verbalizing a thought.

Language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen has found this method very effective. Read his article on TPR here. He says, “A constraint on all activities that we might consider is that they be interesting for both the teacher and the students; it is difficult to fake enthusiasm.” Enter TLL with engaging movement classes for kids plus their parents!

The second school of thought is known as SPARK. SPARK was put forth by Dr. John J. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Exercise, contends Ratey, dramatically enhances circulation to the brain and encourages synaptic growth, thereby priming the brain for improved function—providing the “spark,” in other words. Improvements in function include both mental health as well as cognitive ability (think, learning languages at TLL!). A significant corollary to SPARK theory is that exercise also improves academic performance after exercise, whereas TPR focuses on learning during movement. Read more about Dr. Ratey’s findings and about his latest book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, on his website. (His wasn’t the first, incidentally: Plato argued for the ideal education to incorporate physical training in The Republic more than 2,000 years ago.)

Gerstung equipment can be moved and reconfigured in endless ways

Gerstung Movement Education equipment at TLL

About that physical training, TLL features state-of-the-art Gerstung gym equipment that “[encourages] children to use their own innate curiosity to stimulate movement. Created by Siegfried Gerstung, a world-renowned educator, Gerstung equipment is not only customizable and moveable to provide “movement education” in three dimensions, but the Gerstung company is locally owned, with that commitment to community shared by TNCS and TLL.

Director Pothong and her staff are themselves polylingual, and instructors are native speakers of the language they are teaching in. Pothong is Thai and may even hold Thai cooking classes at TLL next year. It’s a “multipurpose space,” she says, “that encourages social, mental, verbal, and physical development.” (And culinary!)

Registering for classes is a snap on TLL website–make the jump to polylingualism!

TMCS students stretch and move, following instructions given in Spanish

TMCS students participate in Spanish gym class