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Curriculum Spotlight

2018 SingAlong Showcases Growth of Our Youngest Students

Date Posted: 
Friday, May 11, 2018

 

2018 Lower School SingAlong

The 4-5s through 7-8s shared songs and dances with their families at the annual SingAlong on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. The program theme, "Everything Grows," featured songs of the natural world, and illustrated how science touches our lives.

Drummers accompanied selections from Nigeria, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Appalachia. The main event, of course, was the children, who threw themselves into singing and dancing, taking ownership of the music and bringing us joy.

 

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MCS Families Learn Something New at Community Math Night

Date Posted: 
Friday, April 20, 2018

2018 Community Math Night

The eighth annual Manhattan Country School Community Math Night, an event where MCS families can experience the wonders and challenges of mathematics together, was themed around our school building, with all its interesting and sometimes puzzling features. Visitors could go on a scavenger hunt, searching our shared spaces for all kinds of unique shapes, including an irregular dodecahedron (that is, a 12-sided polygon where all the sides are not equal), tessellating diamonds and odd combinations of circles, rectangles and triangles that form light switches, radiator covers and towel dispensers. 

2018 Community Math Night

2018 Community Math Night

Families also learned about one of the overlooked features of the building, which is that every room is numbered in Braille, the system of raised dots used by the visually impaired to read or “feel” language. By wandering from door to door, visitors were able to compile a list of all the digits from 0 through 9 that make up the Braille numbering system, and then use that to decode a set of room numbers. Those who successfully completed the task discovered that the rooms they decoded don't exist and the room numbers on each floor are not sequential. On the third floor, for example, room 300 is located next to room 302, and room 306 is next to room 310, omitting rooms 307, 308 and 309.

2018 Community Math Night

2018 Community Math Night

Finally, families could choose to take an orange "explore" card, where they could learn about many other features of the MCS campus, including the fact that the number of steps from the first to second floor varies depending on which staircase you use, or that our water fountains are keeping an eye on how much water we save by using them to fill our water bottles.

2018 Community Math Night

Many thanks to our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade docents who helped families navigate all the different challenges, and the families for coming out to challenge their brains!

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Mentoring Day Gives Eighth-Graders a Taste of Professional Life

Date Posted: 
Friday, March 16, 2018

8th Grade Mentoring Day

Each year, Manhattan Country School eighth-graders have the opportunity to learn about a career of interest as part of Eighth-Grade Mentoring Day. On March 9, the year’s eighth-graders visited members of the MCS community to observe them at work.

The following mentors, representing MCS alumni, current parents, board members and friends of the community, participated in this year’s event:

  • Marika Hughes ’85, professional cellist
  • Marcin Sawicki (current parent and MCS trustee), programmer and developer at Jane Street Capital
  • Vanessa Potkin (current parent), senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project
  • Maida Galvez (current parent), pediatrician and associate professor of environmental medicine and public health and pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Cappy Collins (MCS friend), doctor, Mount Sinai Center for Advanced Medicine
  • Brian Abell (current parent and former MCS trustee), architect at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
  • David Hein (current parent), playwright, songwriter and actor
  • Gabe Miller ’71, copy chief at Sports Illustrated (Students will visit Gabe on April 4.)

When the eighth-graders returned from their Mentoring Day outings, they were asked to share their thoughts about their experience. Here’s a sampling of what they had offer:

William A., Morgan C., Jonas B. and Violet K. spent the morning at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre with David Hein, co-writer of the Broadway musical “Come From Away.” “I learned about acting, behind the scenes, how hard it is and how much precision it takes,” shared Violet.

Sydney J., Roxy S., Brianna H., Ruby S. and Ariana W. spent time with doctors Maida Galvez and Cappy Collins, who specialize in environmental health. “I learned that everyone can ‘be a doctor’,” said Ruby. “Everyone contributes to society’s health, whether it’s a doctor or an MTA bus driver.”

Stella A. met with architect Brian Abell. Stella hoped to learn about the field of architecture, particularly the design aspect of it. While with Brian, she learned about the steps of modelling and making buildings. Her advice to future Eighth-Grade Mentoring Day participants?: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

We are grateful to everyone who played a part in making this year’s Eighth-Grade Mentoring Day a success. Those in the MCS community who are interested in hosting students for the 2019 Eighth-Grade Mentoring Day should contact Akemi Kochiyama at akochiyama@manhattancountryschool.org.

2018 Activism Project Update: Shatter the Silence. Stop Domestic Violence

Date Posted: 
Friday, March 16, 2018

We are writing to update you on our activism work and to ask for your help and support in our campaign to end domestic violence.

WE CHOSE THIS TOPIC BECAUSE

2018 Activism Project People are being hurt and killed, one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. There are even some families in our community that this may affect and we don’t want this to affect us or anyone else. Our government is not doing enough to end this problem. When we look more deeply at this issue, we realize that it connects to other uprising movements such as #metoo and the movement to end gun violence.

SO FAR WE HAVE LEARNED

So far we have learned about how women turned the tide on domestic violence, the relationship between mass shootings and domestic violence and the loopholes in our laws that allow abusers to have guns such as the boyfriend loophole. In our healthy relationships workshop we learned about teen dating and communication. We also learned about the impact of domestic violence on children. By creating our own problem trees we learned about the role of gender norms, sexism or male supremacy, and entitlement as root causes of domestic violence. In other words we learn to behave like this and we can learn to behave differently. We also learned why this is a men’s issue and the important role men and boys have in solving it.

BASED ON WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR, OUR DEMANDS ARE

  • More funding and awareness for domestic violence shelters and services
  • Keep guns out of the hands of abusers
  • Teach young people about healthy relationships

WHAT ELSE HAVE WE BEEN UP TO?

We have been lucky to have some exciting guest speakers.

  • Ana Raquel and her colleague from Sanctuary for Families came to present on Domestic Violence 101 and on healthy relationships. They had us watch a documentary that everyone loved called The Mask You Live In (available on Netflix).
  • The boundary-breaking photographer Donna Ferrato, who took some of the first major photos about domestic violence and has been working on the issue for decades, visited us. Her book Living With the Enemy covers this topic and she launched the “I am Unbeatable” campaign that features and supports people who have left their abusers.  
  • Christina Swarns, former litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, spoke to us about how she argued in front of the Supreme Court about a domestic violence case in which the man, who was guilty, was given the death penalty because the prosecutor argued that he was more likely to re-offend because he was black.

SOME FACTS AND IDEAS THAT STAND OUT TO US ARE:

  • Someone is five times more likely to be murdered by their abusive spouse if there is a gun in the house
  • One in 10 teenagers in New York City schools reports experiencing physical or sexual violence in a dating relationship within the past year.
  • One in three teens report experiencing some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse.
  • Every three months there are as many people killed in domestic violence as died in 9/11
  • It’s not about blaming men but understanding and changing toxic gender roles
  • As of 2014, males were four times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts, representing 79 percent of all U.S. suicides. Firearms are the most common suicide method amongst men, while females commonly use poisoning. (Outdated gender roles harm men as well as women.)
  • Hurt people hurt people—people who have been abused are more likely to
  • One-tenth of men admitted to raping a woman or girl in one UNDP study
  • One-third of women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime

As young people take the lead in changing our gun laws to end school shootings, let’s also remember that most of the people who committed mass shootings have also committed domestic violence. Keeping guns out of the hands of abusers will keep everyone safer and preventing domestic abuse will help prevent other forms of violence. That’s why we are so excited to change our gun laws in New York State. However, most of these forms of violence are committed by men, and so much violence happens in relationships. We have to think about how boys are raised, what ideas we pass on about masculinity and help young people develop healthy relationships. That’s why we’re excited to teach our peers and make sure other schools do so too.

Thank you in advance for your help as we work to change our laws, our culture, and our society. Let’s Shatter the Silence and Stop Domestic Violence.

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5-6s Mark the 100th Day of School

Date Posted: 
Friday, March 2, 2018

100th Day of School

On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, Manhattan Country School’s two 5-6s classes celebrated the 100th Day of School. This annual observance showcases the students’ creativity and developing math skills.

5-6s Norte

100th Day of School

In preparation for the big day, students in 5-6s Norte worked on family projects that involved creating something using 100 items. Some examples included a poster with 100 images of black women, a flag made out of 100 condiment packets, a hanging display of 100 paperclips, a collection of 100 drawings of superheros and a photo album with 100 baby pictures.

100th Day of School

Families were invited to visit the classroom Tuesday morning to join the students in the 100th Day of School celebration. The room was decorated with chains made of 100 paper links. Guests were treated to a special trail mix made with 100 pieces of each ingredient. Students and guests engaged in math activities, including skip counting to 100. Visitors were challenged to guess which jar contained 100 items. Later in the day, 5-6s Norte hosted fellow schoolmates and many MCS faculty and staff members.

5-6s Sur

100th Day of School

5-6s Sur also welcomed guests to their classroom to witness the many ways they celebrated 100. They counted to 100 by ones, twos and fives, and hosted a Hundreds Museum. Exhibits included structures made with 100 Legos and artwork made with 100 pegs. The students also built objects using smaller groups of materials (e.g. 25 Mobilos, snap cubes or magnetic pattern blocks). These creations were displayed together to make collective groups of 100.

100th Day of School

5-6s Sur participated in 100 minutes of reading, with 10 guests from the MCS community reading to the class for 10 minutes each. The children were so excited to meet new grownups and to recognize familiar faces. Maiya, MCS' Upper School director, read her favorite book from her childhood (which is also Laleña’s!), Who’s A Pest? by Crosby Newall Bonsall. Next, Shani, the fifth-grade teacher, read The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood, complete with sound effects and help from the 5-6s. Then Mary, the Lower School director, read two chapters from the classic, Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel.

100th Day of School

After snack, Bonnie, who is a learning specialist for older children in the Lower School, read Max’s Words by Kate Banks, a charming story of siblings and the power of story. Then Flannery, MCS' seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher read Yo Soy el Durazno by Luis de Noriega en español.  Before lunch, Amanda, MCS' food program coordinator, read Potluck by Anne Shelby. Angela, MCS' communications director, who has a six-year-old at home, shared a book that she bought for her child when he was five. Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker was a huge hit with our five- and six-year olds. MCS Director Michéle read Fiesta by Ginger Foglesong Guy, a book that counts in both English and Spanish, After rest, Donovan, the Upper School choral director, sang as he read his book, The Spiffiest Giant in Town, by Julia Donaldson. Nancy Hsu, the MCS Fund and special events manager, finished with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by the ever-popular Mo Willems.

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Class of 2026 5-6s Celebrate 100th Day of School

Date Posted: 
Friday, March 2, 2018

100th Day of School

On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, Manhattan Country School’s two 5-6s classes celebrated the 100th Day of School. This annual observance showcases the students’ creativity and developing math skills.

5-6s Norte

100th Day of School

In preparation for the big day, students in 5-6s Norte worked on family projects that involved creating something using 100 items. Some examples included a poster with 100 images of black women, a flag made out of 100 condiment packets, a hanging display of 100 paperclips, a collection of 100 drawings of superheros and a photo album with 100 baby pictures.

100th Day of School

Families were invited to visit the classroom Tuesday morning to join the students in the 100th Day of School celebration. The room was decorated with chains made of 100 paper links. Guests were treated to a special trail mix made with 100 pieces of each ingredient. Students and guests engaged in math activities, including skip counting to 100. Visitors were challenged to guess which jar contained 100 items. Later in the day, 5-6s Norte hosted fellow schoolmates and many MCS faculty and staff members.

5-6s Sur

100th Day of School

5-6s Sur also welcomed guests to their classroom to witness the many ways they celebrated 100. They counted to 100 by ones, twos and fives, and hosted a Hundreds Museum. Exhibits included structures made with 100 Legos and artwork made with 100 pegs. The students also built objects using smaller groups of materials (e.g. 25 Mobilos, snap cubes or magnetic pattern blocks). These creations were displayed together to make collective groups of 100.

100th Day of School

5-6s Sur participated in 100 minutes of reading, with 10 guests from the MCS community reading to the class for 10 minutes each. The children were so excited to meet new grownups and to recognize familiar faces. Maiya, MCS' Upper School director, read her favorite book from her childhood (which is also Laleña’s!), Who’s A Pest? by Crosby Newall Bonsall. Next, Shani, the fifth-grade teacher, read The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood, complete with sound effects and help from the 5-6s. Then Mary, the Lower School director, read two chapters from the classic, Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel.

100th Day of School

After snack, Bonnie, who is a learning specialist for older children in the Lower School, read Max’s Words by Kate Banks, a charming story of siblings and the power of story. Then Flannery, MCS' seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher read Yo Soy el Durazno by Luis de Noriega en español.  Before lunch, Amanda, MCS' food program coordinator read Potluck by Anne Shelby. Angela, MCS' communications director, who has a six-year-old at home, shared a book that she bought for her child when he was five. Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker was a huge hit with our five- and six-year olds. MCS Director Michéle read Fiesta by Ginger Foglesong Guy, a book that counts in both English and Spanish, After rest, Donovan, the Upper School choral director, sang as he read his book, The Spiffiest Giant in Town, by Julia Donaldson. Nancy Hsu, the MCS Fund and special events manager, finished with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by the ever-popular Mo Willems.

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6-7s' Neighborhood Study Builds Understanding of Community

Date Posted: 
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bicycle Renaissance

The 6-7s have been doing a neighborhood study, learning about the Upper West Side and more broadly, the different aspects of a neighborhood and what allows it to function. This is an extension of our earlier investigation into the school, specifically the different workers within it and how they help it operate on a day-to-day basis. In looking at our neighborhood, we are asking ‘What does a community need in order to function, and how do the people in that community help to support it?’

To begin our neighborhood study we went on impressionistic walks in the area around Manhattan Country School. In small research groups, we noticed different stores, workers and services. When we saw something interesting (like a Citi Bike hub or a veterinarian office), we would stop and talk about it. This allowed us to share what we already know, but also to ask questions aloud about what we wondered and wanted to learn.

Following this, each of the four research groups picked an aspect of the neighborhood to study further. We decided to learn more about food, transportation, health/safety, and clothing. Each group then visited a place in the neighborhood that specialized in each of those arenas.

Young Clothing Cleaners

In our respective groups we visited Bicycle Renaissance, Animal General, Young Clothing Cleaners, and our very own MCS Kitchen. Upon returning from these trips, each group shared their findings with the rest of the students and made books to document what we learned.

In addition to our visits, we had people familiar with these fields come to our classrooms and talk about what they do. MariaTere came and talked about how she makes clothing, Madison’s dad, Arian, visited wearing his MTA conductor’s outfit and answered all our questions about the subway, Thomas’ mom, Maida, came to talk about being a pediatrician, and Alyssa from Zone 7, which provides the school’s produce, spoke about food and farming.

MTA Worker Visits the 6-7s

All these visits were scaffolded with carefully chosen books that were read during storytime. Sally Goes to the Vet, for example, illustrated what happens when we take our pets to the doctor. Subway, relayed in rhymes, addressed the major mode of transportation that we use. And A Bus Called Heaven made us all think about the similarities between a community and a neighborhood.

6-7s Neighborhood Art Project

Meanwhile, in art, Janice introduced a way to make small building facades with doors and windows that open. And in our own classroom worktimes, we began doing puppet shows, constructing small characters out of paper and popsicle sticks. We realized that it would be a wonderful culminating activity to build our own neighborhood in miniature. After brainstorming about what our neighborhood would need, children set to work constructing buildings and vehicles that related to their particular research group. As our neighborhood came together, the students’ contributions extended beyond just buildings to include other things we needed, like workers, roads, parks and trees.

6-7s Neighborhood Map

As our neighborhood continues to evolve, it resembles the growth of any small town. What started out as a few ramshackle buildings has grown beyond the scope of the wall in the third floor flex space as the students continue to come up with new ideas, new necessities. And this very growth mimics the thinking and development of a child, whose sphere of understanding is continuing to grow from thinking about themselves and their family, to thinking about their classroom and the school, and then the neighborhood, and their city, their country, and eventually the whole world.

Spanish at MCS: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning

Date Posted: 
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Lower School Tertulia

In the real world, learning is a naturally interdisciplinary process. In the Spanish program at Manhattan Country School, students engage in activities and communication that are relevant. In the Lower School, in order to plan for an upcoming celebration, students need math to understand how calendars work, music to sing, art to decorate, language arts and science to follow a recipe and games to play. In this child-centered context, with attention to emotions as well as intellect, our students are not preparing for a distant future. Age-appropriate curriculum, guided by students’ interests, encourages students to share and gain a deeper sense of self, their peers and the greater world, all while communicating in Spanish.

For example, the 4-5s are naturally curious about the animals and plants that live in our local environment, and that we grow for food at the MCS Farm. Later, science is embedded as they notice the parts of the plant used in our cooking. Young students are ready to take surveys, then create and interpret graphs. In the 7-8s, students engage in an interdisciplinary study of self and family. This follows their social studies strand and provides a framework for students to talk about their lives in Spanish. In the 8-9s, farm-city connections expand. Students draw and label maps, describing themselves weaving, cooking, milking a cow, collecting eggs, hiking in nature, harvesting potatoes and even cleaning stalls. And always, playing with friends. While in preparation for their study of Chilean arpilleras, the 9-10s create lists of familiar adjectives and pronouns such as amigable, creativo, activista y granjero to describe the people that continue to inspire activism within our school community.

In the Upper School students use the vocabulary from previous years as the Spanish curriculum continues to focus on learning by doing. For example, in fifth grade, before grammar and sentence structures are introduced formally, students begin the year learning, memorizing and performing a short Spanish play titled “Rafael, Elisa y El Tigre” about three students from Washington D.C. who run away to New York City. After they learn weather vocabulary, they create their own Spanish weather channel report, and as prepositions are incorporated they work on making a scavenger hunt around the school. Technology is introduced so that students can film and record themselves doing Spanish assignments in class. The central focus is to make Spanish useful and project-based, while also incorporating a curriculum that aligns with other middle school language programs taught in New York City independent schools.

In sixth grade students cover present tense forms and continue to create plays and skits. They also begin linking Spanish to activism by exploring their Spanish-speaking country of choice, doing research and identifying human rights issues in Latin America. In seventh and eighth grade, the program includes quizzes and tests, but students continue with project-based learning. For example, they recently studied, wrote and produced their own Spanish telenovelas, wrote poetry based on the book La Casa de Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, did a voice-dubbing project over the silent film “Oktapodi,” created their own Spanish scavenger hunt at the MCS Farm, read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Spanish, talked about Cuba’s future after the death of Fidel Castro and responded to readings about immigrant women and children in detention facilities.

We are grateful that MCS gives us the space and resources to move away from traditional teaching and allows us to engage students by teaching through art, music, activism and project-based learning. Through the achievements we have witnessed of currents students and alumni, we are confident that this interdisciplinary curriculum is successful in helping students love and retain a new language.

The article originally appeared in the 2017 MCS Courtyard magazine.

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Subitizing: What It Is and Why Our 5-6s Are Learning It

Date Posted: 
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

5-6s Subitizing

An important feature of an early childhood math curriculum that parents may not know about is something called subitizing, which is a large word for a very simple phenomena: the ability to recognize the number of objects simply by looking at their arrangement. If you have every rolled a pair of dice and recognized 12 pips by seeing two sets of boxcars, then you know what it feels like to subitize.

Subitizing Cards

Subitizing helps us count objects quickly using familiar patterns: the first set of dots directly above is completely disorganized, so the brain cannot discern a pattern. The second card shows the dots organized, but not in a way that the brain can count easily. The third card enables us to actually carry out subitizing by seeing two distinct groups of five.

While subitizing is something that occurs in newborns, as well as primates, dolphins, birds and even amphibians, it is a fertile area to explore numerical reasoning with young children. In the Manhattan Country School Lower School math program, we do a series of three tasks that develops and explores this important concept.

The first exercise is to look at small groups of dots arranged in different patterns and instruct students to photograph and develop pictures of dots. A dot pattern is shown for a very brief amount of time, students shut their eyes to record what they’ve just seen, and then reproduce the remembered pattern using magnetic dots on a board.

This exercise stimulates provocative discussions about how we recognize quantities. Some children visualize numbers as shapes, while others see them as patterns, and these patterns take on different interpretations. A set of four dots can be seen as a square of four dots, or two sets of two vertical or horizontal dots. A group of 10 dots arranged in a triangle can be remembered as an ascending pattern of one, two, three and four dots.

In the second exercise, students are shown a number and asked to arrange the dots in patterns or shapes that can be remembered easily. Students will arrange dots as two rows of three, three rows of two, or as two sets of three dots arranged in a triangle. By putting dots into groups like this, they are exploring concepts like multiplication (in that the dots can be skip counted by two), or addition (3 + 3 = 6 dots.)

In the final exercise, students use their understanding of subitizing to play the game Compare, where they take a set of dot cards, split them into two piles and then flip them over

one at a time and call “mine” if the set of dots on their card is larger than their opponent’s. The idea here is to further refine their estimation and numerical reasoning skills by comparing two sets of dots and deciding which has more. Students are discouraged from counting the dots one by one, because the activity emphasizes numerical perception, which is an important component of developing number sense.

 If you’d like to know more about subitizing and it’s importance in early childhood mathematics, you could do no better than perusing Douglas Clement’s article, “Subitizing: What Is It? Why Teach It?” If you want to practice subitizing with your child at home, you need look no further than a set of dominoes or playing a board game that uses dice.

5-6s Workout Builds Stronger Handwriting Skills

Date Posted: 
Saturday, December 16, 2017

5-6s Fine Motor Workout

If there is one thing I wish I didn’t have to teach, it is handwriting. 

While we can make handwriting instruction as multi-sensory and progressive as possible, and utilize the excellent program “Handwriting Without Tears,” handwriting success requires a lot of rote repetition, writing letters over and over to lock the formation into muscle memory.

However, I would never choose to not teach handwriting. For many children, it is far easier to identify a letter than to produce one. We cultivate a classroom environment in which children identify as writers and authors, and it is difficult to get your ideas on to paper when you are distracted by trying to remember how to form a certain letter. A key piece in reading and writing development is the ability to read your own writing back to yourself, and a child with illegible handwriting won’t experience that crucial feedback. Children begin to dislike and avoid writing when it is challenging. So handwriting instruction it is.

Many years ago at Manhattan Country School, when I had been the 5-6s teacher for a few years, I was dismayed to hear that children in the 6-7s were still struggling with their handwriting and pencil grips (how they held their writing tools). We had successfully implemented the Handwriting Without Tears program in both the 4-5s and 5-6s, yet 6-7s Teacher Laura Swindler reported that she was having to re-teach how to hold a pencil and form letters. Why wasn’t our hard work having more permanent benefits? Giving up handwriting instruction didn’t seem to be the answer, and we all agreed Handwriting Without Tears was the best program out there, so what could be done? But then I took some time away from teaching to be with my newborn daughter, and these questions receded into the background.

Three years later I returned to MCS in a part-time administrative position, anticipating returning to teaching 5-6s when the school began doubling the following year. Laleña Garcia was the 5-6s teacher, and I had the opportunity to be in her classroom for short snippets throughout the year.  I walked in one day during handwriting time to find her coaching children on how to do “plank position” (on one’s hands and feet, parallel to the ground, as if about to do a push-up). A student articulately explained that by doing planks, “we make our core muscles strong so we can be steady to do our handwriting.” Genius!

Laleña had touched upon something key, that in order for children to be really ready to write, their bodies had to be primed as well. Perhaps students weren’t as successful with handwriting because they needed more opportunities to strengthen the fine motor muscles necessary to support healthy pencil grip and letter formation. While we offer children many opportunities to utilize their finger muscles in many activities throughout the day, we weren’t explicitly targeting specific fine motor development. What if, in addition to handwriting, we had times specifically dedicated to strengthening fine motor muscles?

We began planning for the following school year, and decided to create a consistent time in the weekly schedule during which children would do a variety of fine motor activities. One of Laleña’s gifts is her ability to effectively explain to children why they are doing what they are doing. Rather than calling this time something like “Finger Activities,” we chose to name it “Fine Motor Workout.” In this way we could talk to children about the muscles in their hands, and that we need to exercise them (just like grown-ups might do a workout) to help us do our best writing.

5-6s Fine Motor Workout

Thus Fine Motor Workout was born, and it is one of the most anticipated times of our week. The activities span the gamut. During FMW time, you might see children attaching paper with clothespins, using tweezers to extract rubber spiders from string webs, balancing marbles on golf tees, stretching rubber bands around cans, figuring out which keys fit into which padlocks and making designs with tacks on corkboard, to name a few. It is a wonderful balance of fun and purpose, and children frequently remark, “This is easier for me than it was last time, my muscles are getting stronger!” We also supplement these activities with exercises to strengthen the children’s large (gross motor) muscles, as Laleña modeled years ago with teaching children to do planks, since without a strong foundation children’s fine motor muscles lack support. 5-6s work on wheelbarrows, crab walks and more, enhancing the shoulder girdle and core muscles crucial to fine motor success.

We’ve noticed that children strengthen their pencil grips more quickly and retain the improvements as they age. Even more importantly, children who otherwise would become discouraged at their own lack of fine motor control have the language and self-awareness about how these are muscles to be strengthened and worked on. They know children shouldn’t just be good at handwriting or immediately dextrous, but that we practice (and have fun doing it) because these things are tricky! Instead of saying, “I’m not good at handwriting,” they can say, “My fine motor muscles aren’t super strong...yet.”

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