“Let Nature be your teacher”

In college, I was inspired by the poets of English Romanticism.  One of my favorites is William Wordsworth whose poetry made me think differently about the relationship between people and nature.  Recently, while reading some of Wordsworth’s works, I came across a poem that seemed fitting as we begin summer vacation.  Interestingly, the actual message in the poem is more relevant to children in a traditional learning environment; however, the overall meaning is Montessori in nature and a good reminder to our FWM families.

Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and enjoyable summer!

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
__________________________________________________________________

Celebrating Milestones

Since their earliest origins, human beings have recognized the importance of making time to celebrate important life milestones.  We gather to acknowledge a special moment has passed or will be passing soon.  These moments are connected, like a web, to other people and within that web, they are rooted to a significant experience that reminds us of the joys that life brings.

As we conclude the school year, there will be a string of significant experiences worth celebrating as a community.   Our children have come so far since September and their growth is the result of many whose love and care have helped them along the way.  As in all effective Montessori schools, it is the child who carved his or her own path forward – but all were aided by a community who believed in their ability to achieve success.

I hope you will join me for a special evening designed to celebrate the conclusion of the school year.  This Friday at 5pm is the End of the School Celebration.  The entire FWM community will meet on the playground for a concert, dinner, and some fun entertainment.  This is a family event and one of the more popular celebratory gatherings at the school.  I hope you and your family can join us.

__________________________________________________________________

 

 


Where is the Data?

Parents want to know if the academic program in their child’s school is preparing the child for the rigors of high school.   They want to know if the K-8 experience is building the foundation that will allow their child to be challenged, stretched, and tap into their fullest potential as a student.  Standardized test scores, published academic programs, and curriculum nights help give parents some understanding of how a school will prepare children, but even these are not absolutes in measuring a school’s true quality in terms of being able to prepare children for life.

To get a more accurate sense of a school’s ability to prepare its students, parents should look at the quality of culminating, student-centered projects like FWM’s 8th grade Expert Project.  This project ensures students are using a multitude of advanced academic and executive functioning skills like:

  • developing an idea
  • researching and differentiating between important and unimportant information
  • analyzing and synthesizing relevant points
  • organizing a timeline and following through on key deadlines
  • embracing and learning from constructive criticism
  • editing and revising
  • speaking with confidence and authority in front of a large group

Last week, eleven 8th graders presented their Expert Project to the community.  The process starts in the winter when students begin researching a topic they are passionate about.  Most topics are sophisticated and connected to a broader, more global issue – all chosen by the student.  After the research, the students begin to compile what they learned into a 10 minute presentation which they practice, edit, revise, and practice again.   Through it all, they are adhering to deadlines, refining the message, and seeking ways to improve the final product.  In the end, the presentations were outstanding and showcased the academic prowess of each student.  At the same time, the audience could witness the confidence and poise that one would typically see in college or a high level high school class.

For parents who are curious about the quality of FWM’s program, I would strongly encourage you to attend next year’s 8th Grade Expert Project.  You will have a front seat window into how a top tier, Montessori education is preparing children for future success.

__________________________________________________________________


A Lesson from the Bird Feeder

My family and I enjoy watching the variety of birds that venture into our yard to eat the seed on our feeders.  The woods in the back seem to generate a constant stream of sparrows, woodpeckers, thrushes, jays, and finches.  Sometimes, we will catch a glimpse of a Baltimore Oriole or Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

This past weekend, I was looking out the window when I noticed a brilliant blue bird on the feeder – a bird I have never seen before.  At first, I thought it was a Mountain Blue Bird which is one of the most striking birds to see outdoors.  However, this bird had a different shape and was a different size.  My son Josef was the one who identified it as an Indigo Bunting.

The Indigo Bunting breeds throughout North America but is not common on feeders.  It migrates at night using the stars as guidance and learns its “songs” from other males, not its father.  The feathers actually don’t contain blue pigment but microscopic structures that refract and reflect blue light.

After seeing this bird, I began to think about all the beautiful things in this world that don’t stand out as sharply as the magnificent Indigo Bunting.  As adults, we are so busy with the tempo of our day and trying to complete task after task that we don’t take time to notice how something ordinary can be extraordinary.   Unless we are struck with amazement, like when a brilliant blue bird enters our lives, precious moments can go unnoticed. 

__________________________________________________________________


Elementary Immersion Week

Immersion week is such a unique experience in a Montessori School.  It is a time when students are “immersed” in a real life experience and work towards a common goal.  The initiative is so purposeful and collaborative that students begin to work in a rhythm – like bees working in a hive.  When going smoothly, you can also sense a humming vibration in the room.

This week (and a small part of last week), our 1st through 5th grade students have been engulfed in an immersion experience preparing for the play, Seussical the Musical.   Their Immersion Week will conclude with the children performing for the community on Thursday, May 9 at 7pm.  Though the final product will be impressive, the process lends to the development of each child’s work ethic, resiliency, and social/emotional agility.  The skills these children are utilizing each day during Immersion Week will help them be more successful when they approach real life challenges.

I do hope you and your family are able to attend the play on Thursday evening.  If you do, I encourage you to take a moment during the show and consider how the process has shaped the performance.  When we appreciate the process, we can begin to see the inner beauty of the product.

__________________________________________________________________

 

 

__________________________________________________________________


Hygge in Connecticut

The three top happiest countries in the world, according to the Unites Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, are (in order): Finland, Denmark, and Norway. Income, freedom, trust, healthy lifestyles are some of the variables that helped identify which countries rank highest.  The United States ranked nineteen which is down two slots from last year.

There is a word in Denmark (though origins can be traced to 14th century Norway) that describes a feeling one has when experiencing great contentment because of being cozy and comfortable.  Examples may be likened to the feeling one has sitting close to a warm fireplace in soft pajamas while a storm rages outside.  Another example can be an intimate, candlelit romantic dinner in a quaint little restaurant.  Finally, one may have this feeling while curled up on a soft sofa reading a good book.  All of this the Danes would call “hygge” (pronounced “hoo -guh”) and it is not only about experiencing a comfort that warms the spirit, it is also the absence of stress and anxiety or another way of putting it may be a break away from the worries of life.

The idea that the Danes, one of the happiest populations on the planet, would find it important to connect a word to such a positive feeling is not surprising.  What is certainly reassuring is that the Danes don’t have a monopoly on hygge – this is a feeling that anyone can experience.

The tempo of life in the northeast can be intense and along with that intensity is a level of stress that trickles down to children.  Making hygge a part of your family experience can be a simple but powerful way to slow the pace and savor the comfort that comes from being around those you love.  Though the winter winds no longer chase us indoors to huddle around the hearth, there are still plenty of ways to experience hygge with your family this spring.  To learn more about bringing hygge to your home,  click here–  you’ll be glad you did.

__________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Assessing the Success of Montessori

Standardized tests are a strange phenomenon for children who are educated in a Montessori environment.  This does not mean our students can’t do well on these types of assessments, but the process of a standardized test is misaligned with the educational model they are familiar with here at FWM; a model that encourages deep thought, patience, collaboration, and self-correction.  Instead, standardized tests have children complete a variety of problems in a given amount of time.  Each problem has one solution and a child is not informed if their choice to a question is right or wrong.   In addition, the child is not allowed to collaborate solutions, discuss options, or communicate their thinking.  In fact, the child must remain seated and silent throughout the process.  Such assessment models are unable to measure the parts of the learning experience that are so pivotal in Montessori and are proving to be essential skills needed for success in the future work force.

Based on the above as well as my experience as an educator who has worked in some elite independent schools, I would argue that a child’s true capacity and ability can’t be fully measured by a standardized test.  In fact, higher education is also recognizing that a person’s ability is much more than a test score.  In a March 2019 article in the Washington Post,  Thomas LeBlanc, the President of George Washington University is quoted as saying, “We know what the best predictor of college performance is high-school performance — not the SAT.”  In addition, Wake Forest, one of the top 30 universities in the country, went test-optional for its admissions process.  On its website is the following:

“For the record, it’s not that we think standardized tests are evil. We just think that the measure of your intelligence and potential requires a deeper dive. It’s about life experience, aspiration, work ethic, engagement and all of what makes you who you are. That’s why we believe so strongly in the interview process. Numbers rarely tell the whole story.”

At FWM, we do administer standardized tests and recognize that having children take such assessment tools is a part of a “practical life” experience.  We also do believe the results help complete the overall picture of a child’s strengths and challenges.  However, the most important window into a child’s true ability happens through the multiple observations made by the teacher as a child navigates through his or her learning environment.  Maria Montessori understood this which is why she approached the learning experience as a scientist.  “It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method… I have studied the child; I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method.” – Maria Montessori.

__________________________________________________________________

 


Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

During the year, I often postulate to students (and even to teachers and staff) about the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone, trying something new, and being able to learn from failure.  This past Friday, I embraced my own advice by being the auctioneer at this year’s Spring Gala/Auction.  For those of you who attended, it was obvious I am an unseasoned novice – I found it hard to even keep track of the highest bid!  Thankfully, the auction went very well and the overall Spring Gala was a hit!

To help lighten the mood before I began the auction, I shared a quirky video of my “education” into the world of being an auctioneer.  You can click here to see the video!

In the meantime, for those of you who did not attend the auction, I encourage you to please consider donating to this special event since funds directly support the children’s education at FWM. Please look for an email with more information on post-auction donations or reach out to Alison Kistner.  Her email is akistner@fraserwoods.com.