TNCS Preprimary Workshop, Fall 2018

If you were unable to join the Fall Preprimary Workshop or if you are interested in learning more about the preprimary language immersion program at The New Century School, this blog post is for you!

Head of Lower School/Dean of Students Alicia Danyali describes the program in this overview:

Our youngest students at TNCS are immersed in Mandarin or Spanish all day by native-speaking educators who are passionate about sharing their language and culture. In the preprimary program, the child is the curriculum. The classroom offers an environment that includes a balance of structure, play, and social development.  Students are given daily opportunities to use their imaginations to create with age-appropriate materials as well as to strengthen their fine and gross motor skills.  Milestones, such as “toileting readiness” are supported throughout the school year.  Partnership with families is critical at this stage in development.

Preprimary Focus

The key point here is that language is the program focus and is hands down what sets the TNCS preprimary program apart from other preschools. But let’s back up a step—why is learning a second language important at an age when most children are still learning a first, in the first place? Language acquisition actually remodels the brain in ways that ultimately improve cognitive function. This article describes how language-learning supports brain function: Why Multilingual People Have Healthier, More Engaged Brains. You’ll see how this flows naturally in to the primary curriculum and how intentional is the interplay between the two divisions.

And now, on to the business at hand. “The workshop went really well,” said Ms. Danyali, ” and we had about 30 families in attendance.” She led the presentation and discussion with support from the three preprimary teachers: Donghui Song (“Song Laoshi”), Laura Noletto (“Sra. Lala”), and Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (“Sra. Salas”). Each teacher additionally has two or three assistants and one floating assistant. She first explained what TNCS does have in common with other preschools: “Your child will still get circle time, nap, playtime, snacks . . . but the format will be in the target language.” She also explained the importance of parents sharing enthusiasm for the program and for the child’s experience in it. “If you’re enthusiastic; they’ll be enthusiastic,” she said.

Another important message she wanted parents to come away with is to not expect your child to be speaking fluently on a timetable. They will develop at their own rate, as appropriate, and quantifying their language-learning is not the point at this stage—it’s brain development. “If they are responding appropriately to instructions, they are demonstrating comprehension, and, not only is the first step in learning, but this also transfers beautifully into the primary Montessori program, which focuses on ‘the absorbent mind’ and the taking of the next step—how you apply what you’ve learned.” (The focus of the primary program is on gaining independence: how teachers can encourage independence and what it looks like at school and at home.) Teachers know when a child is ready to transition to the primary program when he or she can demonstrate the ability to focus for brief periods. Back to that notion of interplay between the two curricula mentioned above, one of the ways that multilingualism reshapes the brain is to equip it resist distraction (read more on how in the article linked above).

Making the Transition to Primary

The Spring Preprimary Workshop will delve into this topic as well, but the moment your child enters the preprimary classroom, teachers begin the process of readying them for their next steps. They learn about structure and the rhythm of the day, for one thing. They learn how to participate in a community, even if they are still nonverbal. “Creating those boundaries throughout the day provides young children a sense of security and a sense of what comes next,” said Ms. Danyali. Once they feel secure, their confidence grows; from there, the desire to branch out and take (healthy) risks is possible, and that’s how true learning happens.

There are different milestones that students should have attained, such as toileting, but there are other aspects as well. Importantly, they will learn so much from making and subsequently correcting mistakes. (The “self-correcting” nature of the Montessori method will be covered in an upcoming post on the Fall Primary Workshop.) Thus, they have to demonstrate a willingness to take some risks, meaning to show the beginnings of what will blossom into independence.

The primary classroom is partial immersion in addition to following the Montessori method. Language-learning is still very much in evidence, but the goals for the primary program are on developing the ability to sustain focus. The ratio of teacher to student grows a bit wider, too, from 1:6 in preprimary to 1:10 in primary.

How Can You Support the Language Experience?

Whether you speak more than one language or not, you can readily incorporate language and model your support: Express your “likes” about the language environment they are experiencing, and avoid having expectations that student will speak immediately in the target language. “Know that the environment will support your child, and the learning will happen organically,” said Ms. Danyali. To facilitate your ability to engage in some of the activities below, use the resources (see bulleted list) to reinforce vocabulary your student is learning in class. Also, says Ms. Danyali, “The preprimary teachers make it really easy to extend learning at home by outlining what books they have been reading in class and what songs they have been singing as well as tips and suggestions in their weekly communications.” Here are some activities you can try:

  1. Play music in the language at home or in the car; combine with dancing.
  2. Experience the culture by exploring its holidays, food, and traditions.
  3. Watch short (2–3 minutes), age-appropriate videos in the language.
  4. Read story/picture books, especially about relevant topics for the age group (e.g., identifying feelings, understanding social settings).
  5. Play games and role-play with puppets in the language.

Books, Websites, and Resources for Your Family’s Language Journey

Finally, Ms. Danyali feels it extremely important to help dispel the pervasive myths about bi- and multilingualism. These “fast facts” are taken from The Bilingual Edge.

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Closing out the preprimary workshop, Ms. Danyali said, “On behalf of TNCS’s preprimary team, we look forward to continuing the immersion discussion and your continued partnership.” A preprimary Observation Day will be scheduled for spring 2019 to give you the chance to see all of this beautiful learning taking place in your 2- and 3-year-olds!

“Keeping the Conversation Going”—in Multiple Languages!

Immersed is once again pleased to bring you thoughtful commentary from another perspective. This piece comes to you from The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali (bio* at the end), who brings her vast experience to bear on the subject of multiple language learning. Read on!


Alicia Danyali on Bilingualism

Alicia DanyaliIn current-day Baltimore, Maryland, it is apparent that we live in a community where education choices are limitless, philosophies abound, and much of the focus is on the end product (student success). Whether your background is in Montessori or Waldorf or Traditional Public Education, one consistent theme that is agreed upon when registering your child at TNCS is the interest in bilingual language learning.

As language immersion practices become more commonplace, starting during the pre-school years (opposite to the trend of starting in middle or high school) students with these “advantages” are described as “cutting edge” or even “ahead of the game” as learners. Since I have spent the last 20 (or more, um hum) years within dual-language environments, I can agree with much of the research observing student bilingual success when starting at a younger age than middle school. The statistics are out. There is validity that bilingual students are most receptive to a second language from ages 0-7 years.  It has been noted that children exposed to more than one language at a young age are capable of more sophisticated problem solving or demonstrate problem solving in multiple ways.

One of the books that I have recommended over the years is The Bilingual Edge: Why, When and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language, by Kendall, K. & Mackey, A. (2007).  Many of the findings and advice within this book are true to supporting second language learning.  I thought I would share some feedback regarding the publisher’s summary of the book, and invite the educated and dedicated TNCS community to have a think about your own child’s language journey.

For example, as part of the summation of the book, the publisher’s state:

“In The Bilingual Edge, professors and parents King and Mackey wade through the hype and provide clear insights into what actually works. No matter what your language background is—whether you never passed Spanish in high school or you speak Mandarin fluently—King and Mackey will help you:

  • select the language that will give your child the most benefits
  • find materials and programs that will assist your child in achieving fluency
  • identify and use your family’s unique traits to maximize learning

Fancy private schools and expensive materials aren’t needed. Instead, The Bilingual Edge translates the latest research into interactive strategies and quick tips that even the busiest parents can use.”

These are some BIG claims that one book can do all this and support you and your family with second language instruction. Although it is a highly recommended read, please keep in mind, like all published material, one must make the claim that watching your own child absorb the environment offered at TNCS is within a natural setting, encourages curiosity and risk-taking (traits attributed to bilingualism) and includes individualized nurturing, human interaction, and a true understanding/respect of culture.

As the ideas from this book or any other claiming to ensure your child will become bilingual, the ingredients start with your child’s interest and enthusiasm, partnered with an authentic love of learning, parental support along the journey in a truly immersed setting. Please feel free to submit your feedback on other inspirational books read on the subject of bilingual education. “Let’s keep the conversation going.”

*Alicia Danyali: Throughout her professional career as an elementary educator, Mrs. Danyali has been committed to developing pedagogical strategies for a language immersion environment focused on critical thinking and cooperative learning both as a classroom teacher and an administrator. Immediately after graduating from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, she moved to The Netherlands to teach in the elementary school at the International School of Amsterdam and then at the Violenschool International School. After 8 years in The Netherlands, Mrs. Danyali moved to Washington, D.C., where she spent 5 years working at the Washington International School (WIS) as both the classroom teacher for 1st and 3rd grades as well as the head teacher and coordinator. She was later appointed School Wide Community Service Coordinator, developing curriculum focusing on service and giving back to the local and world community. In her final year at WIS, she was invited to attend a leadership and curriculum conference in New York City in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum. The conference featured connections in the classroom that were shared within the areas of art, history, science, technology, and mathematics. Mrs. Danyali has completed the 90-hour childcare certificate for ages 2–5 years, the 45-hour administrator certificate, and the 45-hour infant/toddler certificate. Mrs. Danyali recently completed graduate school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, specializing in Supervision and Administration.

Mrs. Danyali and her husband moved to Baltimore over 8 years ago, when their son was a toddler. During this stay-at-home-mom time with her son, she continued to keep her foot in education by working as a freelance writer for, teaching Mommy and Me classes as well as classes for home-schooled children at The Painting Workshop, leading 2-year-old classes at Beth Tfiloh, and conducting The Summer Yoga Camp for Kids at The Bryn Mawr School.

Mrs. Danyali is fluent in Dutch, and her personal interests include yoga, swimming, visiting museums, travel, cooking, and spending time with her family. She completed the 200- and 500-hour Advanced Registered Yoga Teacher Certification through Charm City Yoga.