What are some of your most memorable learning experiences growing up? A field trip to the zoo? Dissecting a frog? Getting messy during a big art project? My guess is most of the things that made an impact on you as a child, or teenager, did not involve sitting at your desk or in front of a computer.
As the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Montgomery School, I spend much of my day educating families about the benefits, not only of a Montgomery School education, but of independent schools in general. The area in which we are located boasts some very strong public schools, and most families I meet with are just beginning to learn how independent schools differentiate themselves not only from from public schools, but from parochial, charter, and for-profit private schools as well.
Dear Inquisitive Parent,
I am writing this letter to assure you that your child does learn "something" in school each day; they may even learn more than one thing! "Why is she writing this," you ask? Well, as a parent and an educator, I know I, and likely many of you, have made the mistake of asking a child what he did in school on a given day. Yes, I called it a mistake. While teachers often employ the use of open-ended questions in the classroom in order to elicit varied and creative responses, asking a student what they learned in school leads some parents to receive the habitual, vague, substance-lacking response, "Nothing." After all, a routine question likely receives a routine response, just as a thoughtful question likely receives a thoughtful response. You are interested in your child's education and school day, but how are you supposed to have a conversation when you're not even sure she can remember anything they studied? You trick her into telling you, that's how!
On the first day of school, I tell my students that the hardest thing I am going to ask them to do during the year is to THINK. I don’t want them to repeat my words or recite from a textbook, but rather to give me mindful answers that they have thought about. I often start the day with a “Question of the Day.” Some examples are: Why are most barns painted red? Why do dalmatians have spots? What is your favorite day of the week? I am never disappointed with their answers. Actually, my students often think of things I didn’t, and I find great joy in sharing their responses with parents and my colleagues.
The benefits of being outdoors have been proven, both for children and adults. In September 2010 the National Wildlife Federation published an article by Kevin Coyle entitled Create High Performing Students. The research he cites reveals that outdoor education, greener school grounds and more outdoor play time in natural settings contributes to some of the following benefits:
- Usefully employ all of a child’s native intelligences, ranging from math and science smarts to interpersonal communications
- Quantitatively increase student motivation and enthusiasm to learn
- Help students concentrate for longer periods and help mitigate attention deficit problems
- Help students to learn across disciplines and make them better real-world problem solvers
- Measurably improve classroom performance in math, science, reading and social studies.
In my fifth grade math class, students learned about fractions as they created works of art. When I first introduced the unit on fractions, I noticed my students were struggling with the concept. In an effort to combat the initial nerves of learning something new and complex, I asked students to use a ruler. I discovered that the students first had to learn to properly use the ruler itself, to understand about increments of an inch. Then, they began drawing straight lines on an x/y axis. The final result was a beautiful piece of art made one straight line at a time! Here’s how it worked:
Curiosity vs. Intelligence
Research has shown that a person’s Curiosity Quotient (CQ) is as important as their Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Most classroom teachers would agree that qualities like curiosity and work ethic tend to outweigh intelligence in student performance. But how can parents help their children to develop curiosity? It turns out there are several ways. One is through play. By allowing children the space and time to interact with one another, they will develop both curiosity and imagination. Another is through reading. Books can take students on a journey to foreign places, throw them into the middle of a mystery, or surround them with a dystopian world. Books can help students discover people who are like them, or who are very, very different. Reading can lead to a deeper interest in the world as it is, and help students imagine how it could be.