Monday, December 21, 2015

What's inside a middle school brain?

6th graders are designing a recreational center for the school
using Google Sketch Up. 

It is amazing how much the brain changes from baby to kindergartner - parents are constantly awed by it. In this article by Katarina Schwartz, Harnessing the Incredible Learning Potential of the Adolescent Brain, she says that the teen years are akin to the years from birth to 5 for the ability of the brain to grow and develop.

I believe it!  In my experience, middle school kids are some of the most passionate learners there are. They need novelty and stimulation, for sure, and when their learning environment also gives them some autonomy, the magic combination spurs them on to amazing feats.

Witness the intensity of learning that happens in 6-7 STEAM Week - the joy kids show when designing and building bridges or launching rockets.  Or the concentration and grit it takes for 8th graders to complete a 20 page thesis and prepare and give oral presentations.  From thesis topics like Sugar, America's Favorite Drug, or State of Dreams, Panama's Role in the Power of the United States, you can just hear the passion.

Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg says that without novelty and intellectual challenge in school, teens are bored and they underachieve.

This past Friday, three eighth grade girls asked me if they could organize the whole school in a drive to collect clothing for a local homeless shelter.  Because they know they are supported in taking initiative, they have the courage to challenge themselves and to do good for others.

The developing brain of an adolescent is a wondrous thing!  Giving it a place and a chance to grow is a no-brainer.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Social-emotional learning at home

I love this article, Set Your Kids Free, that lists ten things that they should know how to do before they get to middle school. We tend to do things for our kids - but that deprives them of relying on themselves and gaining the satisfaction of being competent self-managers.

Teachers know that kids can be quite independent with some training, coaching and practice. Students are their partners in keeping classrooms functioning smoothly (cleaning up materials; doing chores; getting from place to place).

Here are some of the things that Elizabeth Stitt suggests that kids should be able to do before middle school.

  • Get up, dressed and washed on their own
  • Make their own breakfast - and lunch!
  • Get all their stuff to school on their own
  • Do homework on their own
  • Do some cooking and cleaning
  • Choose their own extra-curriculars (within your limits of time and funds)
  • Ask the teacher for clarification or help when they need it

Making sure your children can do these by the time they are eleven is your assignment, parents!  I know you will feel a deep sense of satisfaction and competency when you are done.  :)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why is mindfulness important?

Weekly time with Buddies is one way we help children develop kindness, empathy, and caring. 
In a world where violence, discord, and disrespect are in the news on a daily basis, it is imperative that we give children (and ourselves) skills in becoming calm, kind, controlled and responsible.

To help our faculty become even more effective teachers in this area, Director of The Inner Resilience Program, Linda Lantieri, spent a day with us on Monday.  She urged the Parker faculty to continue to hold on to the courage to teach to the whole child - with compassion and collaboration front and center.

Linda gave us methods and practices that go beyond what we do with Responsive Classroom, daily calm breathing, self-reflection, and time outdoors.  To help children (and ourselves) be "in the moment," mindful and empathetic, she recommended daily activities such as building an increased vocabulary around emotions, writing gratitude journals, finding "pin-drop" moments and founding peace corners.

We know through research that children with well developed social-emotional skills do better at pretty much everything in their lives, so it behooves us to teach these skills explicitly.  Linda helped us learn a framework and techniques to build our own and our students' emotional intelligence.