Friday, August 23, 2013

Personal Vision: The School of my Dreams

Originally posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Came across this link in my Facebook news feed this morning:

Go ahead, take a moment and click on it. Nothing but good. And deep. :-)

Wow. When I read it, I had.... nothing. Some vague grandiose ideas, but that was it.

At our UU church today, the 6th-graders had their coming-of-age ceremony and the graduating high school seniors had their "bridging ceremony" where they're formally welcomed to the adults in our church, and it began to hit me. In a couple of waves.

Listening to some of these kids talk about their school experiences vs their church experiences, I began letting my mind wander to a lot of the things that bother me about public schools...... so my mind alit on the idea of going back to homeschooling my kids, at least the Introvert but ideally both of them. And then, the second wave hit:

Why not school MORE kids who would benefit from a less rigid school structure, one that didn't limit them or force them where they weren't ready to go but taught them where they were and guided them along as they were ready? One that included the arts - Every. Single. Day! One with lots of time for physical activity, and trips, and parent involvement. One where kids get the help they need, where they have lots of relatively unstructured time to do what kids need to do, to work on fine-motor and social skills informally well before being asked to decode letters and count to 100, where they can spend time BEING CHILDREN, particularly in the early years. A place where children and families contributed to the school in whatever ways they could, from helping grow food in the garden to helping make and maintain classroom materials to simpler cleaning and maintenance, and even to the larger community. A place that was limitless and nurturing, where kids could excel beyond anyone's wildest dreams, that would take the damn standardized tests ONLY because they had to by State law (assuming it would be a public school and so available to everyone regardless of ability to fork out hefty tuition - privately-funded would be better!) - and then get back to the work of growth. A place where I could include kids from toddlerhood onward, younger if I could manage it, and go as far through the school years as possible, so that even at the earliest ages, when children are so impressionable, we could make perhaps the biggest difference - but then have the chance to MAINTAIN it! A place where kids weren't constrained by their chronological ages but could mingle with kids of different ages as their educational needs suggested. A place that could be a cornerstone of a community, that could fill a need not just for children but for everyone. A place with a spiritual - but DEFINITELY nondenominational - bent as well.

And then I remembered that just before I went out on maternity leave a little over 10 [now 11-1/2] years ago, I asked my county for a form to apply for a charter school for my dream school, which would be arts-based. They didn't send me the form till after my baby came, and I was a new mother and overwhelmed with the depression and the reflux and the sensory and special-needs issues, and by the time those went away, the dream had been all but buried..... but when it came to the surface this Sunday morning during the ceremony at our UU church, I had to keep from drawing a breath so sharp it would have been audible across the sanctuary.

I wonder if I even kept that form? I know more or less where it would be: in the music studio where my dream's newest incarnation is taking shape already, teaching private music lessons and making plans to go hunting for grants to teach music in early childhood settings.

So looking at my vision up there, it's both wildly specific and very vague all at the same time. Lots of stuff I want to accomplish, but short on details. I wanted to dig deeper, work out what I knew and could already quantify and identify the stuff I'm still clueless about. And I wanted to get it down in writing, on e-paper, if you will, as a public starting place instead of just a pipe dream. Remember, the whole point of the exercise isn't "I want to do this but...." and list reasons why I can't; it's what I'd do if I knew I COULD NOT fail, so I figure I may as well throw it ALL in there. *grin*

Toddlers: Toddlers will PLAY. They will EXPLORE. They will have tons of materials available to them for primarily unstructured play. Large-motor, small-motor, sit-still and run-around. Sensory input galore. Music to listen to and musical things to make sounds on, and songs sung and dances danced whenever appropriate. Art and craft materials for self-directed and teacher-guided projects. Opportunities to get dirty on a regular basis. (mental note: include laundry room along with sand and water tables. LOL)

Preschoolers/Primary (up to Age 6, really): strongly Montessori-based. Kids this age are ready, in varying stages and ages, for more structured sit-still work, refinement of fine-motor skills throughout this time period. Working on getting children to become more and more self-directed as developing maturity allows. Still plenty of music and art and maybe some more formal physical education, but still plenty of time during the day for unstructured physical activity. I'd love to include foreign language in some way, but not sure how practical it would be to include it as immersion is really the way to go at this age; setting that aside for now for further investigation. :-) This is also a wonderful age to practice basic etiquette; one thing I saw my first day as a Montessori parent was the teachers greeting students with handshakes, and while it almost seems funny and stilted and overly formal to us as adults, I started doing it myself and I love how even the smallest children now come to me at school and thrust out their hands to get their "handshake hello." There is practice in the social pleasantries that then become second nature after a surprisingly short time; I've been encouraged by the changes I've seen in my Head Start long-term substitute assignment even though I'm only in my third week there. :-)

GOOD FOOD to eat, and children becoming involved in the preparation and even growing of some food in the GARDEN. (Some Montessori schools grow plenty of vegetables as part of their curriculum, some even have animals like chickens or goats.)  During this time, not much formal work on learning to read or do sums, not in the whole-class way we're accustomed to thinking of reading and math instruction, anyway. Montessori materials provide a HUGE window of access to reading and phonetics and computation; I've seen a number of 6-year-olds working their way through the math materials and doing multiplication and division, partly because the materials lend themselves to ways of working with and manipulating numbers that is very concrete. If kids want to work for days on end primarily on math until they "get" something, they have that opportunity, and their classmates can be working on the things that inspire them at those moments. Ditto the verbal and science and social studies and fine-motor activities. And helping the kids become self-directed is a HUGE skill they'll be able to draw on their entire lives, but hard to do in a traditional classroom where a teacher needs, for his or her own planning sanity (and often because administrators demand it), to maintain some degree of consistency in the curriculum.

I would also like to add some daily time for meditation, even 5-10 minutes. I strongly believe that taking that time to connect with our inner selves regularly is important, and I wish I'd learned that as a child because it's really hard to remember to do it as an adult. :-\

[An aside here: in the school where I'm currently teaching, and in many public schools, there are a number of teachers who've had Montessori-taught students come into their school completely unwilling or unable to handle more structured classroom instruction, and as a result there's a perception that Montessori = free-for-all. In a GOOD Montessori program, this is NOT the case. Adults do provide guidance, try to keep students from avoiding harder work entirely, and also work on behaviors which would be an asset to any traditional classroom as well.]

Elementary grades: Finally some more formal instruction in math and reading, but still the opportunities for a lot of self-selection. Plenty of writing as developmentally appropriate - but not so much as to overwork still-developing hands. Instruction on a musical instrument like piano or recorder or violin as young as second or third grade depending on interest and hand size, starting more Suzuki-style and progressing to reading musical notation. Art instruction, perhaps something along the lines of Monart, which I like because of its way of training students of all ages to see things more deeply and to translate what they see into pictures. Oversimplified, maybe, but that's how I perceive it in my brain-centered way. I'd love to learn more about it - got to see a bit of it in practice but only from the periphery. Dance for sure - and physical education 2-3 times a week. Continuation of foreign language begun in the Primary years. Toward the middle and end of elementary ages, some more involved higher-level projects: community service, making a film or other dramatic production, write a book or script, paint a mural, teaching of the younger kids by the older, creation of a portfolio - something big and cooperative to go along with lots of small-group and independent work.

More work in the garden and in the kitchen for all students, and the beginnings of some work in the community at large, perhaps: stream or park cleanup, making food for a shelter or soup kitchen, that sort of thing, and still time for quiet and reflection and meditation, spiritual but non-denominational, perhaps investigate some of the UU (Unitarian Universalist) curriculum.

Middle school onward I'm still thinking about, mostly because that's not a stage my kids have yet gone through so I haven't been immersed in it for about 15 years, way back when I taught middle school band for half a day for two years. I love the age and stage, for the most part, and I'd want to do right by kids whose brains are going through growth similar to that experienced by toddlers - only in going-on-adult bodies and with more complex language skills and abstract thinking ability, and with the lack of impulse control that also comes with toddlerhood. What a task, coming up with a curriculum that works WITH those factors instead of in spite of them, which I'm not sure many middle school curricula actually do - but again, that's an area I still have to learn more about, especially since I wasn't yet a parent last time I worked in middle school. LOL [addendum: My oldest is now about to embark on her own middle school adventure; looking forward to seeing what's changed, including my own perspective, as the school year progresses.]

I am definitely finding that having my own kids at an age and stage, and seeing their friends and classmates in a way that most parents don't - as a teacher in their school, sometimes in their classes! - has been very enlightening for me, and I'm curious to see how we'll all weather the middle and high school years if I continue to be involved in my kids' schools throughout, or how my perceptions will change if we go back to homeschooling.

Meanwhile, though, I have this vision to hold in my mind and heart, and to collect experiences for. :-) Anyone else want to work here?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)