Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tracing Our Roots to Germany

Friedrich Fröbel
As I was working on the school’s Facebook Timeline, I quickly came to realize that the creation of The Boyd School began long before the actual founding of The Boyd School in 1994. As a fully accredited Montessori school, one would think perhaps the natural start of our timeline would begin in 1907 with the opening of Dr. Maria Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) in Rome, Italy or maybe with her birth in 1870. But rather, I trace our roots back to Friedrich Fröbel in 1837. This was the year that Fröbel created a play and activity institute as a social experience for children for their transition from home to school. His goal was that children should be taken care of and nourished in "children's gardens" like plants in a garden. Fröbel’s Kindergarten was the birth of early childhood education.

Kindergarten long was considered a child’s introduction to formal learning and consisted of periods of play and social development. However, a dramatic increased emphasis on early academics has risen in the past few decades and 5 year old children do indeed have learning expectations far exceeding those of yesteryear. Research indicates that children learn more in the earliest stages of their life than at any other time and the movement to better capture a child’s massive brain growth does have warrant. But careful consideration needs to be given to how children learn and what is developmentally appropriate. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an early childhood expert or a Kindergarten teacher that would advocate for a classroom of 5 year olds sitting at desks working on worksheet after worksheet. In fact Dr. John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University has said, "If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom."

There are a great many benefits of a Montessori learning environment for young children and the beginning of their formal education. The individualized curriculum of a Montessori environment where children truly learn and discover at their own pace allows for children across the entire developmental spectrum to maximize their personal achievement. It is fundamentally understood and research affirmed, ‘learning-by-doing’ lays the foundation for higher learning. Dr. Adele Diamond, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia found and published, “motor development and cognitive development may be much more interrelated than has been previously appreciated. Indeed, they may be fundamentally intertwined.” The learning materials in a Montessori classroom allow for children to touch, explore, and discover. This tactile learning allows for children to experience their environment which is the essence of the natural process of education. The multi-age classroom environment enhances a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem -- two qualities paramount to attempting new things later in life. Our students are encouraged to work at an individual pace and work with others who are at a similar level of academic development regardless of age. Additionally, older children are encouraged to share their knowledge with their classmates and serve as mentors or role models for the younger members of their class. Our Kindergarten students also have an extended work period in a small group environment often with a student to teacher ratio around 6:1.  This intimate learning environment allows students to experience learning and encourages thinking. Our Kindergarten work period teems with creative and collaborative learning, fostering problem-solving techniques and building a foundation to achieve.

While working on this entry, I came across a great line by Dr. Amanda Moreno in the Huffington Post - "Somehow I don't think Robert Fulghum's list of essential lessons learned in kindergarten would have the same ring to it if among "share everything" and "play fair" appeared "100 sight words," "command of capitalization and punctuation," and "compose and decompose numbers 11-19." The idea that children 5 years of age are required to meet certain academic benchmarks is a bit misguided, however children this age (and younger) when properly guided can accomplish amazing results. Montessori education is a preparation for life, not a search for intellectual skills. The children have one intuitive aim in their self-development; they want to develop their inner resources and ability to cope with a strange and complex world. The child who accomplishes this, moves into harmony with this world and becomes a whole person. Montessori as an educational approach is not designed simply to teach children basic skills and information. Children need to learn to trust their own ability to think and solve problems independently. Montessori encourages students to do their own research, analyze what they found, and come to their own conclusions. The goal is to lead students to think for themselves and become actively engaged in the learning process.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Inspiration Courtesy of NASA

Space Shuttle Discovery on final approach
I just returned from watching Space Shuttle Discovery fly overhead on her final flight from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport. I had the privilege of viewing the historic flyover with students from our Westfields Campus. I’m sure that I could have captured better photos from other places in the area, but then I would not have been witness to what this event truly encapsulated. Words fail to do justice to the shear excitement and joy that spread across each student’s face as Discovery and the Space Carrier made their first fly by. I watched as children and teachers alike started cheering. They ran to our playground’s fence hoping to get a final glimpse of the behemoth jet and her precious cargo. Simply put, there was an energy in the air. Every person, parent, child, and teacher had a smile on their face. Parents hugged their children, teachers hugged each other. I watched children giddy with happiness sharing their photos with each other and their teachers. Pure magic.
Children running for a final glimpse

Moved by the moment.
Discovery made two more majestic flyovers before landing at Dulles, each leaving me with goosebumps and filled with awe. Now several hours after the event I am still moved by the inspiration that the flyover provided to us all. The test of time will provide us the truth, but my best guess is that today’s historic experience has inspired more than one of our students to aspire to become an astronaut.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beyond the Walls

Students at National Gallery of Art
With school locations in Northern Virginia and in such close proximity to our nation’s Capital, our students have the opportunity for some amazing experiences. Our Kindergarten students as well as our Elementary and Middle School frequently take trips to see world class performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Our students have toured the White House, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Phillips Collection, and National Building Museum to name but a few recent trips. Our students don’t only travel into D.C. but also take advantage of the beautiful parks and nature centers right down the road from our campuses.

At the end of the month, as a school community, Boyd families and staff will meet for lunch at the USA Science & Engineering Festival. The event will be a great opportunity for families to spend the day together learning, discovering and getting to know other Boyd families. The experiences gained beyond the walls of our classrooms and with teachers, parents, and friends allow for children to more readily understand our vast and interesting world. These experiences provide a hands-on, practical, and unique learning opportunity.

Next week students will have the opportunity to observe one such experience as the Space Shuttle Discovery will fly overhead one last time before landing in our backyard at Dulles International Airport en route to its final destination at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. With all of our campuses located so close to Dulles International Airport, we should have ideal vantage points during the flyover (scheduled for Tuesday, April 17) so students can spot Discovery and the Shuttle Carrier.

As the Shuttle passes, we’ll be taking plenty of photos which will be incorporated into an art installation piece. The centerpiece of the art installation will be a painting done by Broadlands’ After School art students inspired by the artwork of former astronaut and fourth man to walk on the moon, Alan Bean. Commander Bean's painting, "Hopes and Dreams" (see below) was created to commemorate the historic return to space flight of Space Shuttle Discovery following the Challenger accident.  For more information on the fascinating life and for examples of Alan Bean’s artwork: http://www.alanbean.com/

"Hopes & Dreams" - Alan Bean c. 1987
The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is planning a festival of activities -- Welcome Discovery -- to celebrate the acquisition of the Space Shuttle Discovery.  The festival will begin when the orbiter arrives in the D.C. area on April 17 and will feature four days of space-related activities, performances, appearances by space pioneers, films, and displays at the shuttle's new home, in Chantilly, Va. Activities at the Center will kick off on April 19 when Discovery will be officially transferred by NASA into the Smithsonian's collection in an outdoor ceremony open to the public. For full list of activities - http://www.nasm.si.edu/collections/discovery/schedule.cfm