Take Your Parent to School!
Tuesday, February 5, 2019 and Thursday, February 7, 2019
Let your child give YOU a lesson! We hope you will enjoy this unique opportunity to spend time with your child in the classroom.
Please RSVP for the event you wish to attend:
Tuesday, 2/5/19 at 3:00pm: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20F044BA8AB2BABF85-take1
Thursday, 2/7/19 at 3:00pm: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20F044BA8AB2BABF85-take2
Tuesday, 2/5/19 at 3:00pm: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20F044BA8AB2BABF85-take3
Thursday, 2/7/19 at 3:00pm: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f044ba8ab2babf85-take4
The ability to concentrate and focus is at the core of satisfying and successful experiences in many aspects of life. As adults we need to attend to what we’re doing, whether it be the details of a graph we’re explaining at a meeting, the particulars of a recipe, or the art of active listening to the people we engage with every day. This ability has many new challenges in times we live in. Children must be equipped with the ability to concentrate and Montessori education does so much to address this need.
While concentration at the Children’s House level often looks like a student sitting alone with her work, engrossed in the task at hand, successful concentration looks a little different for the Elementary and Adolescent Community student. The Elementary child must learn to work collaboratively with others. This partner and group work means the child will be engrossed in their work, stop to talk to a friend for a few minutes, and then continue working. The ability to be interrupted and return to focused work is an incredible asset as an adult and the Montessori student practices this skill throughout the work cycle as he or she interacts with classmates during work and participates in lessons.
Similar to the Elementary student, the Adolescent Community student often works on projects in groups. Concentration for Elementary and Adolescent Community students means fully engaging in the projects and work. This is done when enough choice is given so that students can take ownership and invest in their work. In contrast, when everyone is given the same thing to do, some students will inevitably be more invested than others. However, students who are invited to choose within a particular assignment or project, tend to focus more because they are more engaged. Students are also focused when the work is challenging, but not so challenging that they give up.
The ability to focus on the present moment and attend to one’s work is challenging given the busy lives children lead, as well as the distraction of so many pinging and buzzing devices. At Greenspring, we support the students’ ability to concentrate with frequent opportunities for self-reflection that are built into the day. In Lower and Upper Elementary as well as Adolescent Community, students reflect on best practices after each work period, and often write in their work log about the work cycle. The process of reflection offers many insights into the child’s experience. Studies show that regular mindfulness-focused activities support concentration.
Challenge yourself to stand back and observe your child the next time he or she is focused on a project. This could be as simple as tying a shoe or as complex as building a Lego invention. See how long they are able to work independently to overcome the challenge and resist the overwhelming urge to swoop in and help. Be mindful of how often you are drawn to ask questions, fix the perceived problem, or otherwise distract from this process. A child’s ability to concentrate is a beautiful thing to observe!
I always loved school (and still do, working in one!) although my enthusiasm dipped in late middle school. It wasn’t just the tricky social navigation that everyone goes through during adolescence: I was usually either bored because the work felt meaningless, or stressed about studying for finals and standardized tests. I cared excessively about my grades and was trained to study to the test and complete assignments the way my teachers wanted them. In my free time, I wrote song lyrics, poems, stories—it was after school, after homework, when I was finally able to work on what I wanted.
Needless to say, I did not attend a Montessori school. I know I would have thrived in the kind of environment that Greenspring offers. All of the extra time I devoted to keep my learning interesting and purposeful could have been my day-to-day at school! I didn’t receive the freedom and responsibility of choice—something that Montessori children are introduced to as toddlers—until I was in graduate school.
So I was thrilled to participate in Adolescent for a Morning this fall, led by Greenspring’s Adolescent guides Ms. Christina and Mr. Elliot. When the morning began, the participating parents and staff were invited to sit in a circle and become adolescents again. Our guides told us that occasionally we would “time-out” from the experience so they could explain the purpose of a certain exercise, but for the most part we’d remain adolescents.
Mr. Elliot asked us to free-write in our journals about our goals for the day, and I thought about what my life was like when I was twelve. All that stress and sadness associated with the competitive race in school. I wanted to give myself a gift, what I never allowed myself when I was actually an adolescent: to be present in the moment, focused on learning for me and not for any external validation. I put everything else aside and dove into this Adolescent Community.
All of us did. There is no hiding in the Adolescent Community. The morning’s community—just like Greenspring’s actual Adolescent program—was small and inclusive. Everyone’s contribution mattered.
We sat in a semi-circle for Math Seminar, and everyone took out the word problems we’d had for homework. Ms. Christina and Mr. Elliot sat in the back, listening. After one parent chose a problem and wrote their process out on the board, the rest of us had some questions for him. Another parent wanted to share and drew a diagram of her method. A third procedure was put up on the board. More questions were asked. I began to visualize different possibilities.
Later that night I asked my boyfriend, who was a math major in college, whether he had ever experienced something like our Adolescent Community’s math seminar. “A little bit, in a couple of my advanced classes,” he told me. “Except the professor would give us the answer at the end of our discussions.”
Ms. Christina didn’t. When a couple of our solutions differed by a few decimal values, one parent asked if we could “time-out,” be parents again, and get the answer. Ms. Christina said, “I wouldn’t impede your learning in that way.”
That sentiment describes how our guides worked with us throughout the morning. They presented us with materials, then got out of the way. We experienced everything for ourselves. We went outside and set our chairs out together, passed around a bowl of tangerines, and used all of our senses to slowly peel them open and taste them, exposing us to mindfulness. We discussed a short story during a literary seminar, building analyses together in the open and focused way I studied literature in college and grad school. Everything we did was connected to something else, part of a larger context. After breaking into two groups and collaborating on an engineering activity, we not only reflected on the scientific significance of our projects but on the interpersonal one, even delving into the link between competitiveness and what it means to be human.
During our math lesson, when we gathered around Ms. Christina on the rug while she presented the Binomial and Trinomial cubes, someone posed that inevitable question asked in middle school math classes everywhere: “When am I ever going to use this?” So, we talked about it: why should we care?
Many ideas went around: learning to work collaboratively, solve difficult problems, and build confidence are all outcomes of math lessons. Ms. Christina said she wasn’t just teaching math; she was teaching life. By overcoming challenges in math class, students learn to transfer those same steps to challenges in their everyday lives.
All of this is true, of course, but I thought there had to be more. It couldn’t be that we learned math only because it taught us we could do hard things. Mathematics, in its purest form, is a way of understanding and expressing what’s around us, like music and art. What is the point of reading and discussing literature? It shows us one way humans articulate and connect with the world through language. When I held the pieces of the binomial and trinomial cubes, I thought of math like I think of poetry. Its purpose is making order out of chaos, making sense of the intangible. If we can begin to understand how the world works in a quantitative sense, we can come closer to those unanswerable questions about our place in the world.
During that math lesson, we began by seeing and feeling the representations of the Binomial Cube. This exploration led us to develop the binomial equation—the mathematical abstraction of the Montessori material. I recognized the equation: (a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2. I remember memorizing it for a state exam in eighth grade. I had never understood what it meant, where it came from, what it was trying to explain. In this math lesson, we built the equation ourselves using the materials, as if we were the mathematicians discovering it for the first time.
These are important concepts in Montessori education: learning hand to brain, concrete to abstract. In a meta-moment sense, Adolescent for a Morning applies these concepts to our education about Greenspring’s Adolescent Community. Participating in the curriculum is more meaningful than hearing about pedagogy. As we know from Dr. Montessori, we learn hands-on. Simply talking about Montessori education seems inadequate. You have to experience it for yourself to truly understand what it can offer.
I left Adolescent for a Morning invigorated, wishing I could be a student again. And I felt grateful to get some of my adolescence back—at least a tiny slice of it—and see how it could have been different. The adolescents at Greenspring are lucky to have theirs still ahead, full and complete, waiting to be tasted piece by piece like the tangerine sections we held on our tongues.
Every year, our Adolescent students go on two week-long trips accompanied by Adolescent Guides, Christina Heffner and Elliot Dickson. In the fall, they participate in a team-building retreat and in the spring they go on an end-of-year odyssey.
Students recently spent a week camping, climbing, fishing, sailing, cooking, and more at Echo Hill Outdoor School near the Chesapeake Bay. This trip offered new and returning students an opportunity to connect with one another in a deeper way than they might in a classroom. Everyone learned to depend on one another and live in close quarters without devices (can you imagine!).
The Adolescents learned to sail on a skipjack, raising the mainsail, learning the lingo, and enjoying the breeze on the Chester River. They learned the local history of bay communities, the environmental challenges fishermen are now facing, along with so much more.
Outdoor learning is an important element of Montessori education and a major focus at Greenspring Montessori School. The Adolescents’ retreat is a key part of the upcoming year-long study of the natural environment. In alignment with this, our students will be focusing a portion of their time at school to agriculture and ecology. They go for regular hikes in the local forests, conduct field experiments, and learn from naturalists in the area. On campus, they are working to build vegetable gardens and start a community agriculture program.
If you are interested in a Montessori education for your child, learn more about our Adolescent Community today.