Babies and different strokes for different folks

I recently watched the documentary, “Babies,” and it has haunted me since.  It’s a simple 70+ minute glimpse at the first year of four babies in San Francisco, Tokyo, Namibia, and Mongolia.  The majority of the footage is of the babies alone, or maybe with an older sibling.  There is no narration, dialog is not translated or subtitled, and the director creates no plot,  But it was fascinating and the cinematography is stunning.  The babies have so much in common–confirming what we know about human nature and child development–but the differences in their lives, the parenting that does or doesn’t take place, and the variety of opportunities and interactions they all have, are shocking.  Curl up with your children some afternoon over break and see what conversations spring up about parenting, childhood, different cultures, and your own family stories.  NB: there is cultural nudity.

21st Century School

I recently went to a lecture by the President of the National Association of Independent Schools, Pat Bassett, on the 21st Century School. He is calling for major changes in education, citing the changes in culture which render the last hundred years of education irrelevant. He argued that the traditional concept of the teacher as “expert”, a core “canon” of memorized information, and the ability to perform on multiple-choice tests are becoming laughable in a globally connected culture, where we can look up the Treaty of Trenton in 30 seconds on our smartphone and where we might collaborate with colleagues in multiple countries. He challenges schools to refocus their curriculum on Collaboration, Creativity, Character, Communication, and Critical Thinking. Click here to read Pat Bassett’s blog–he’s a brilliant and inspiring educator. Of course, thanks to Maria Montessori, Barb Fulton, and a host of wonderful teachers, this is what we are already doing at TFS! Next year we will be systematically highlighting these strengths for you at all age levels and throughout all the subject areas.

Your Values and Your Kids

The majority of our students just finished taking their ERB’s. While the nation as a whole has been pretty anxious about standardized tests for a couple decades, the trend of late has been moving away from such worries. Colleges are looking for more interesting, sincere, and mature kids, parents and many private schools (public schools don’t yet have the choice) are growing tired of of the contant stress. At TFS, we give standardized tests to increase familiarity and therefore reduce anxiety, and it provides some objective feedback for teachers regarding student retention. When you receive the scores (or any scores) this spring, it begs the question, what is important to us as parents? I know I don’t really want our kids to be merely successful (it’s so relative) or happy (it’s impossible anyway). I really want them to make the world a better place. I want them to be kind and just and resilient and courageous. I want them to know themselves well–both their strengths and their weaknesses, and love learning and growing. What do you want for your children? This is worth taking the time to articulate to yourself, and to them, because you are supporting it every day with your actions, whether you know it or not. Most likely, it’s nothing a test can ever measure…

Montessori in the news…

The Wallstreet Journal recently coined the term, “Montessori Mafia“, referring to the significantly high number of Montessori graduates in top entrepreneurial positions.  With the number of Montessori schools steadily increasing in the last 40 years in the US, it is no wonder (to those of us who have seen great Montessori in action) that we are starting to see our alumni popping up in creative leadership positions.

Social conflicts

We had an interesting morning, listening to Dr. Tim Jordan discuss the social lives of children.  The biggest take-away for most of us, was probably the simple reminder that growing up and learning about relationships is hard; it was for us when we were kids and it’s hard for our kids now.  There is no way around it.  If we don’t go through it, we don’t get good at relationships. 
As I reflect on the talk, it strikes me that relationships are still hard. Whether I’m struggling through an issue with my husband, muddling through a misunderstanding with my extended family, or nursing feelings hurt by a friend or coworker, my conflicts look very similar to our children’s.  The primary differences are a little bit of tact and a lot more perspective.  When avoided, conflicts breed annoyance at best, and bitterness at worst.  When resolved, the conflict brings deeper understanding, intimacy, and trust with the resolution.  
I put all of my notes on our website for those of you who couldn’t make it.

Discovering vs Instruction

Do you learn better when you discover something on your own, or when someone “teaches” you? Do you prefer a lecture or exploration? Certainly, there are times when a quick explanation is efficient and convenient, however for decades, studies have shown that in general, we learn best when we discover new information ourselves. Here is one such study where a new toy is introduced to 3 and 4 year olds in two different ways. As parents and teachers, we should all be keeping in mind how we inspire interest, as well as how we can extinguish interest. Sometimes it’s a bit counter-intuitive.  I might add that a Montessori teacher does exactly what this article suggests: s/he “discovers” a material in front of the child and demonstrates curiosity about how the material works.  Then it’s the child’s turn…

The Necessity of Alone Time

Here is a really interesting article on the importance of alone time for kids. The Power of Lonely by Leon Neyfakh pulls together research indicating that we are kinder, more confident, develop a stronger sense of identity, and better memory skills, in addition to the long-established creative, intellectual, and spiritual advantages. Abridged version: you and your children need alone time to process, regroup, and grow. Check out the article though, the research and explanations are fascinating.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Barb

Dr. Barb Fulton, the beloved founder of the Fulton School at St. Albans, and incidentally, my mom, would be celebrating her 66th birthday today.   Dr. Barb, as she was affectionately nicknamed, was a champion for kids, believing that school should be a fun and joyful place, responsible to children’s overall well-being, and character growth, rather than purely academic.  She required classrooms to be student-centered and hands-on before it was fashionable, she educated parents and teachers tirelessly about child development, and she was a beautiful model of courage and grace and honesty as she battled cancer, while working full-time, for the last six years of her life.  Happy Birthday, Dr. Barb, and thanks for all you gave us!

Essential Capacities for the 21st Century School

I was recently reading a list of Essential Capacities for the 21st Century School written by a National Association of Independent Schools Commission.  I find the list inspiring and exciting, reminding me of the privilege it is to have an influence on the world through educating the next generations.  It provides a very general guide for the teachers and me, reminding us of our priorities, as well as the challenges our students will face.  I also find this list particularly encouraging for us as a school, because it resonates with our mission and philosophy.  Course content is important for students, but the below capacities will change course of their lives. The list headlines are 1. Analytical and Creative Thinking, 2. Complex Communication, 3. Leadership and Teamwork, 4. Digital and Quantitative Literacy,  5. Global Perspective, 6. Adaptability, Initiative, and Risk Taking, and 7. Integrity and Ethical Decision-Making.   How have you developed these capacities in your own lives?  How can you encourage these capacities in the home?

Preparing children for college

The Washington Post published an article on preparing middle schoolers for college last week, “8 Subtle Ways to Ready Middle Schoolers for College” and I thought it was actually a solid piece for parenting students of any age (other than the Algebra I bit).  The article is actually very practical and very brief and provides some good general principles for college, as well as for life.  It makes complete sense that our children will do better on their own if they have been doing household chores for years, if they are people of strong character, if they fill their transcripts with hobbies they love, rather than empty tasks to please admissions offices.   Read it and let it guide you where it will.