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Being Involved the Right Way

Fascinating article for parents that inadvertently shows why a Montessori education is right for children and parents.  Enjoy!

If you’re like many parents, sometime in the last month or so you gave up the better part of a weekday evening to attend back-to-school night. Perhaps you stuffed your body awkwardly into a tiny chair made for second-graders while obediently writing down field trip dates. Maybe you leaned forward eagerly as you learned about the new grading system your sixth-grader faces, seeking reassurance your child won’t be overwhelmed in this unfamiliar system.

Or maybe, like me, you sat in a 10th-grade classroom zoning out as the teacher shared details about an online “parent portal” you know you’ll never check, half-listening to the same questions that whizzed by when your older two children were in this grade — queries about retest policies and weighted GPAs and extra credit. And perhaps, like me, you thought to yourself: “Why are we still doing this? My son is almost 16. Shouldn’t knowing — and caring — about all this stuff be his job by now?”

Anyone? Bueller?

Listen, I know that the biggest indicator of success in school-aged kids is parental involvement. How could I forget? The media is constantly banging that gong via books, articles and nightly news programs. And it seems most of us have gotten the message; the percentage of students whose parents report attending meetings, conferences and school events reached an all-time high in 2016.

But is that such a great development? We’ve also been told that kids who aren’t allowed to figure things out for themselves — even if it means occasionally falling or failing — can develop anxiety and a kind of learned helplessness instead of the resilience they need to become successful adults. And less discussed, but also problematic, is the effect on parents.

The vague mandate to “be involved” can lead to stress and guilt for time- and resource-strapped parents — and resentment in those of us who’d rather our relationship with our kids revolve around something besides worksheets and study guides. But even if we’d prefer to opt out, we don’t want to look bad to other parents or, worse, to our kids’ teachers. Add to that generalized anxiety about competitive college admissions processes, debt and our children’s future success, and you’ve got a recipe for a pressure-cooker environment that is as bad for parents as everyone else.

As a result, we have gotten used to setting aside our own opinions about what’s best for our kids and looking anxiously to authority figures to tell us what’s right. But ultimately, parents, the responsibility lies with us: It’s time to reclaim our roles, and confidence, as the arbiters on what’s important to us when it comes to our kids’ educations, and what we’re willing to sacrifice to make it happen.

Ask Jess Lahey, a mom, high school teacher and author of “The Gift Of Failure: How The Best Parents Learn To Let Go So Their Child Can Succeed.” Lahey often gets asked to speak at schools, and she tells the kids she addresses that they can give her a question or comment she’ll share with parents at a separate session. “It’s always things like, ‘I have nothing of my own, my parents surveil the portal constantly and read all my texts.’” Or, “I’m not allowed to do anything for myself.”

Lahey also asks students to close their eyes and raise their hands “if you really and truly believe your parents love you more when you bring home high grades, and less when you bring home low grades.” In middle school, the number of kids who raise their hands is around 80 percent. In high school, it’s closer to 90 percent. She recalls that a student got an “all caps, yelly text” from his mother during one assembly because she saw via the portal that he’d gotten a poor grade. The mark was actually a mistake, but she’d lathered herself into a fit before her child had a chance to see the grade for himself or correct the error. Who wants these kind of relationships with their kids?

Yet for all the ill effects we read about “helicopter parenting,” anxious hovering to prevent a child from being hurt or feeling bad, and now even “bulldozer parenting” — a more active style in which parents badger teachers, professors and even employers, or simply do the work of succeeding for their child — we live in a culture that pressures us to take on these behaviors even as we criticize them.

Part of the reason behind this mental tug-of-war between the kind of parents we’d like to be and the kind we feel we should be is that nobody seems to agree on what the appropriate level of parental involvement is. I have shepherded five children through public schools in Michigan and parochial school in Chicago and I’ve received all levels of demands. Between my eighth- and 10th-grade sons alone, my boys have 12 teachers this year. One tells me that if my child has a problem, he should go directly to the teacher (hooray!); another asks me to check his planner daily to keep up on assignments (mehhh).

Logically, I should be able to do what I believe is best for my kids in each circumstance rather than changing my parenting style to suit each individual teacher’s preference. Practically, that’s easier said than done. Many others who also don’t know exactly how to strike that balance seem to go strongly in the cover-your-ass direction of the more involvement, the better.

Lahey experiences the cognitive dissonance of these mixed messages regularly. “Schools invite me to come talk about how to support kids by backing off. Those same schools don’t realize that when they tell parents to check kids’ grades via a portal or keep in regular touch with teachers, they’re inadvertently sending the exact opposite message.”

But while portals persist, it’s not because teachers just love giving parents real-time access to grades. Most of the teachers I know dislike them, and Lahey says that’s backed up by her conversations with thousands of them. They get nagged by parents if they don’t get the grades in fast enough, and some — armed with technology that allows to contact teachers day and night — will send them a text about the B- their child got without their kid having any idea of what’s going on. “It just produces a lot of unnecessary anxiety” for everyone, Lahey notes.

Can we parents set limits on how often we take advantage of our newfound 24/7 access to teachers, like we do with our childrens’ screen time?

So how to cure it? The first thing Lahey tells schools to do is to inform parents they can’t drop off stuff, like forgotten homework, after the first bell. It might sound harsh, but that rule can help parents understand that the school isn’t only interested in good grades but in instilling individual responsibility. Lahey points out that this policy also creates a more equitable system, since the parents dropping off forgotten homework at 10 a.m. are typically not shift workers or those using public transportation.

Putting limits around how often those portals can be checked, or updated, could also help. And can we parents set limits on how often we take advantage of our newfound 24/7 access to teachers, like we do with our childrens’ screen time?

Ultimately, the cure lies with us. It’s only too easy to abdicate our responsibility and accept whatever cultural ideal is being thrown at us. Instead, we have to have the courage to decide what’s important to us, communicate it to our kids’ schools and then stay the course regardless of how much peer pressure we face.


Recipe for a Successful Parent & Teacher Conference

On Thursday, October 24th, teachers will meet with parents to discuss the progress of the children.  Though parents are welcome to meet with their child’s teacher at any point throughout the year, this six week check-in is an effective way to see how a child is doing in school.  The focus of these conferences are not only academic, they are also opportunities for parents to learn how their child is developing socially and emotionally. However, a component of each conference should also include the teacher hearing from the parent. Information from the home is important because there are layers of a child’s self that the parents see and understand that are different than what the teachers will see in the classroom.

In preparing for the Parent & Teacher Conference, there are several key items to keep in mind:

Be open to the teacher’s observations and feedback, even if what she shares seems surprising.  Remember that your child will most likely behave differently at school where he or she has to interact with a group of their peers for a large part of the day.

Understand what your child is ready for developmentally.  For example, some parents become frustrated their child isn’t reading by a certain age but don’t realize that before 2nd grade, some children are not developmentally ready to read.  The book Yardsticks by Chip Wood is an excellent resource for parents who want to learn the developmental milestones of children.  Click here to order the book online.

Come prepared with a few specific questions.  If possible, email the questions ahead of time to the teacher so your child’s teacher is prepared with an answer.

Share feedback.  If all is going well, let the teacher know what is working.  If there have been some bumps or if there is something not going well, share details about what you have noticed.

If there is something unclear, ask for clarification.  Teachers seek to be clear in the information they deliver to parents.  Asking clarifying questions benefits you and the teacher whose goal is to present a clear portrait of your child’s growth and development.

In the end, Parent & Teacher Conferences are ways teachers can strengthen the partnership between the school and home by providing important feedback on the progress of students.  By being open to that information, parents can gain a deeper and broader understanding of how their child learns as well as how he or she is developing as a person and thinker.

 

 


Mrs. Doyle’s Class: An Intention To Work

The love of one’s environment is the secret of social evolution.—-Maria Montessori

Retrieving a mat, picking it up carefully, finding the ideal space to work, and rolling it out provides an opportunity to practice gross motor skills and body consciousness. Everything that gets placed on the mat thereafter becomes the responsibility (and privilege) of the child working on that mat.

Montessori work mats delineate a work space as the child’s own and sets an intention to “work”.  Not only does the child know that their lesson is exclusive to them (unless they invite someone to join them on their mat), they also have the responsibility to put their materials away when they are finished before they roll up their mat, and signal the end of their work session.

Our floors have been a sea of rugs! Your children are skillfully maneuvering themselves throughout the environment, careful not to disturb a friend’s work. I continue to be amazed at their growing control and respect for both friends and the environment.

On Wednesday, the Kindergarten children took a field trip to Castle Hill Farm in Newtown. They enjoyed a hayride where they were able to feed some cows right from the tractor. We spent some time learning about the life cycle of a pumpkin and then each child had a chance to pick their own pumpkin. We finished the day by walking through the corn maze. Best of all, we beat the rain!

Wishing you a peaceful week!

Michelle & Jeannine


Mrs. Lopes Class: An Intention to Work

The love of one’s environment is the secret of social evolution.—-Maria Montessori

Retrieving a mat, picking it up carefully, finding the ideal space to work, and rolling it out provides an opportunity to practice gross motor skills and body consciousness. Everything that gets placed on the mat thereafter becomes the responsibility (and privilege) of the child working on that mat.

Montessori work mats delineate a work space as the child’s own and sets an intention to “work”.  Not only does the child know that their lesson is exclusive to them (unless they invite someone to join them on their mat), they also have the responsibility to put their materials away when they are finished before they roll up their mat, and signal the end of their work session.

Our floors have been a sea of rugs! Your children are skillfully maneuvering themselves throughout the environment, careful not to disturb a friend’s work. I continue to be amazed at their growing control and respect for both friends and the environment.

On Wednesday, the Kindergarten children took a field trip to Castle Hill Farm in Newtown. They enjoyed a hayride where they were able to feed some cows right from the tractor. We spent some time learning about the life cycle of a pumpkin and then each child had a chance to pick their own pumpkin. We finished the day by walking through the corn maze. Best of all, we beat the rain!

Have a great weekend,

Mrs. Lopes and Ms. Vigue


Important Information & Events

NEW After-School Program: Art Explorers with FWM Art Teacher, Ms. Reid! Tuesdays, 3:15-4:15pm  from October 22nd to December 10th and open to Primary 4 year olds to 2nd graders.  Registration closes on Oct. 18th.  Please click here to go to the registration page and the  click “Show Registration Details” in the After School Programs box.

Picture Day on Tuesday, October 15th.  Parents and caregivers are encouraged to have children dress as if attending a special occasion for their class picture.

Flu Clinic on Wednesday, October 16th from 2:30-4:30pm.  This clinic is open to all FWM students and families.  Please bring your medical insurance card.  Vaccines will be administered outside the nurse’s office.

New FWM Upper Elementary Coffeehouse called Happe’ Cafe’ opens Friday, October 18th in the morning before school.  Baked goods and hot drinks will be on sale for adults in this small pop-up cafe’ at FWM. Experience a high quality coffee experience and some delicious treats to start your day off right on the 18th!  A percentage of the money earned will be donated to charity.

Parent & Teacher Conferences are on Thursday, October 24.  Classroom teachers sent an email to parents with a sign-up schedule for Parent & Teacher Conferences – please sign-up for a conference.   Conferences are 20 minutes in length and will start as early as 7:30am and go through the afternoon and the evening (the last one scheduled at 7:30pm).  There will be an extended break for teachers in between the morning and evening conferences.  Please know that even though there will be one full day for conferences on Thursday, the teachers will have limited time throughout the week from Monday, October 21 to Friday, October 25 to conference with those parents who are unable to schedule an Oct. 24th conference.


Mrs. Wilson’s Class: Exploring Fall!

As the season changed so did the environment. The fall theme decorations and fall theme materials in practical life really tied the room together. The children excitedly explored the fall materials in our practical life area. They were busy spooning beans and pouring sunflower seeds from one container to the next. We added tiny pumpkins and gourds into the sensory bin for them to explore with a magnifying glass. As the children explored the gourds we talked about how they felt using language like bumpy and smooth.

On Thursday the children tasted a green apple. We repeated the same language as last week: stem, skin, flesh, and seeds. We also exposed them to new language as we described the way it tasted: crisp, sour, and juicy.

Enjoy the photos!
Mrs. Wilson, Ms. Sara, and Ms. Heather


Soccer: The Most Popular Sport in the World!

 

This past month, students in Kindergarten through 8th grade have been practicing and participating in the team sport of soccer. Did you know that soccer is the most popular sport in the world?  Soccer is fun, inexpensive, and easy to play. All you need are some friends, a ball, and a large space.

During our soccer unit in Kindergarten and Lower Elementary, most of our focus was on developing foot-eye coordination and spatial awareness. Skills taught were: dribbling a ball under control using both left and right, passing with the inside of the foot, trapping the ball, and shooting a ball at a target. At the Upper Elementary level the skills taught were dribbling, trapping, passing, shooting, understanding offense and defense, and using simple game rules to play. At this level, students can join the FWM sports team. Practices are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after school until 4:15. The team plays five games against other independent schools.

Our Middle School sports program takes place during the school day three days out of the six day rotation. Soccer practices are held from 1:55 to 2:50. Games are scheduled after school on either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. The focus at the MS level is to develop player performance. The four components are: technique, tactics, fitness, and sportsmanship. Various drills are planned based on what the team needs to focus on to improve in the game. You can check our game schedule online for UE and MS by visiting MyFWM.org.


Middle School: Highlight on Advisory

This week we are highlighting Advisory. Each morning, Advisory groups meet from 8:10-8:30 and are an important start to the day. As you will read, each group has different structures and objectives that unify each class and help them build a network of trust and support among their peers and advisors.

6th Year Advisory: Forming the Middle School Group

The 6th year advisory period consists of building a strong community and trust among one another. In order to achieve this vision of community and trust for the year, students have shared questions and concerns they face throughout their transition into middle school. Discussions consisting of how to balance homework, prioritize time efficiently, and respect for all have been covered in Advisory. Mr. Brown makes the students’ transitions into middle school as comforting as possible while promoting their accountability as students, peers, and members of the community. 

In addition to using activities in the Responsive Advisory Curriculum, Mr. Brown forms the 6th grade group in creative ways. One example is Student Scrabble. 6th years used a Scrabble board to connect the students’ names. Then, almost like a crossword puzzle, the group developed a unique clue representing each of their personalities. Each student provided something different about one another to help develop their clues. Once everyone finished their boards, we attempted to solve them as a class. It was nice to see how some students were surprised to find some characteristics of themselves others saw in them.

It is clear that 6th Year Advisory is a crucial component to this important transition that students go through from elementary to middle school.

 

7th Year Advisory: Community Development

Each day, 7th years have a new topic to help them expand their thinking and build our FWM community. Students are assigned a role and rotate through responsibilities each week. The following are the topic titles for each day of the school week and an example of what they have already accomplished:

Monday (Weekend Update) – Students share news stories and current events about what is happening in the world. They have talked about the top box office films, sports games, the UN climate change summit, and the local fair in Durham, Connecticut.  

Tuesday (Talk it Out Tuesday) – Students bring forward an open question that will spark conversation about who they are as community members. They have discussed how stress affects them in middle school, their greatest accomplishments, and the pets that bring them joy. 

Wednesday (Work it Wednesday) – Students initiate a physical activity to start the morning advisory group. This is a chance to be creative together and play a fun game in hopes of building friendships among peers. They have played four corners, practiced morning yoga, answered a question ball, and followed along in Simon Says. 

Thursday (Life on the Outside) – Students have an opportunity to share a skill or talent they practice outside of school. So far, 7th years have had guitar and violin performances, learned different ballet positions, learned how to bake chocolate brownies, and the important components of competitive horseback riding. 

Friday (Fun Fridays) – Students can decompress from the busy school week and play a group cooperative board game together. They listen to each other’s favorite songs and share funny math jokes. 

Students have expressed that this year’s advisory group is, “…fun and exciting to get to know my peers better.” Students have shared they, “…enjoy learning something new about my friends I might not have known before.” Some have said, “Advisory rotations are a calm and joyful way to start my day.” 

The ultimate goal for 7th year advisory group this year is to build our community and be comfortable and confident working together. 

 

8th Year Leadership

As 8th years, these are the oldest students at FWM. 8th Year Leadership is unique because it gives space for the eldest students to develop and run items like fundraisers, charitable events, Friday Morning Gathering, and the annual sweatshirt design, as well as discuss what is important in the school community. 

This year, mornings are spent in many ways. First of all, they started the year discussing the students’ goals. What do they wish to achieve as 8th years? How do they want others to view them? What will this year’s projects look like? It was clear from the start that some of our advisory time would be spent reaching one, specific goal that holds importance for them.

This year’s group has a vested interest in raising funds to purchase a water bottle refilling station for the school. Their goal is to raise $5,000 over the course of the year. In only the second month of school, they have successfully raised just over $1,000 from their Name the Bunny fundraiser and their pumpkin painting station at this fall’s Oktoberfest. 

Each week, 8th years also plan, write, and film for the Friday Morning Gathering that is attended by students in Lower El, Upper El, and the rest of Middle School. 8th years have a vision for how they want the meeting to go this year, so they work hard to execute their plan along with their other Leadership projects. 

With continual fundraising and charitable events, 8th year advisory time is busy. Students have also begun reading Putting Peace First: 7 Commitments to Change the World by Eric David Dawson as a guide to being leaders and change-makers in their school community.

Without a doubt, 8th Year Leadership is important to the whole FWM community.