Prior to the opening of school each year, teachers work hard to prepare the classrooms for the children. Careful consideration is given to each detail while at the same time the classrooms purposely await the children’s arrival to fill the walls and spaces with their work, their interests, and their connections to the curriculum and to one another.
6-7s’ bulletin boards hold summer stories for all to share. A scaled map of the 9-10s’ classroom has begun to take shape. As walls and other spaces begin to reflect more of the students’ work, children may be invited to contemplate a variety of photographs, pieces of artwork or quotes around the school.
In an 8-9s’ classroom, certain notable statements hang on the wall by the meeting area. Jessica, the teacher, has asked the 8-9s to consider what these quotes make them think about:
“ It always seems impossible until it is done.” - Nelson Mandela
“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller
“The important thing is to not stop questioning.” - Albert Einstein
On a 6-7s’ wall, the next quote serves as a reminder of the school’s founding:
“The time is always right to do what is right.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Inspired by the book Amazing Grace, 6-7s’ children reflect on the devotion of Grace to pursue her passion for acting despite obstacles she faces. One child expressed that “anyone should follow their dreams, no matter what their skin color is.” The teacher, Reese, asked the children to think about what they like to do and how they, too, might be following their dream.
He relayed how much he loves to play guitar. A child then added, “AND, you like teaching kids!”
It is always a treat to visit the 6-7s on their first day of shop class. The children relayed the following news from their first week together:
“We are all excited to go to shop. We found a dead mouse at the stage in Central Park. And then we buried the dead mouse. Outside, most people played the Bat Game. There were bats and there were evil and good humans. The good humans helped the bats. The evil humans were on their own side. Some people played the Floor is Lava Challenge game outside. We celebrated two birthdays and we said compliments about the birthday people. We said things like, ‘She’s a good partner,’ ‘I like building structures with her,’ and ‘She helps take care of our community.’”
After playing the math game Pig, the 7-8s talked about the rules of the game and teachers asked them why we have rules in games. That led to a discussion about why we have rules in school:
“We have a rule that you can’t be a mean person.”
“And, don’t throw a fit. Don’t throw a stapler, either, or you could …”
“And don’t interrupt,” interrupted another 7-8.
And so, the 7-8s worked on composing community guidelines for the class:
Be nice and flexible
Be a good sport
Use a calm voice
Take care of materials
One voice at a time
Be safe with your body
One day as the 7-8s walked back from the park, Rosalinda, the teacher, was telling a child about the upcoming family study:
“Another study?” the child blurted. “Last year we did the bird study AND the neighborhood study. And NOW we’re doing a family study? It’s like you want us to learn EVERYTHING!”
“Yup, pretty much,” was Rosalinda’s response.
The morning messages in the 4-5s last week prompted the children to get ready for the new specialist classes that were starting up, such as movement and music.
Today we will have movement with Jermaine. What do you know about exercise?
“My mom does exercise in the morning.”
“It helps your body to feel better.”
“Sometimes you get a boo-boo from exercise and then the doctor needs to give you x-rays of your skeleton.”
“It’s a kind of stretch.”
“I know how to do downward-facing dog.”
Sarah, the teacher, asked this child if they would like to demonstrate that yoga pose. Other children then showed various poses.
“I know how to do a karate kick,” chimed in another 4-5.
“Ohh, good,” replied Sarah, “that is another kind of exercise. Could you show us outdoors later today so that we have more space than on this rug?”
Today we will meet our new music teacher. Her name is Susan. What do you know about music?
Susan asked the children which songs they would like to sing. Well, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was a hit, and so was "The Eensy Weensy Spider." Though, by far, the song requested most was "Jingle Bells." And so, they sang the refrain multiple times. They even danced to the song, pretending to be stars around the room.
Earlier this month, I was intrigued by an article in The New York Times about the importance of play in children’s lives. There have been many articles in recent years promoting the benefits of play – a concept we have honored all along at MCS. The article defended play’s role in relation to democracy right from the start in its choice of title: How to Play Our Way to a Better Democracy. The authors make the point that as children engage in free play, they “practice their social skills. For a pickup soccer game, the children themselves must obtain voluntary participation from everyone, enforce the rules and resolve disputes, and then vary the rules or norms when special situations arise, such as the need to include a much younger sibling in the game.”
The article ends by affirming, “Democracy is hard. It demands teamwork, compromise, respect for rules and a willingness to engage with other opinionated, vociferous individuals. It also demands practice. The best place to get that practice may be out on the playground.”
I was curious what children would say about the importance of play.
So, over lunch last week with the 8-9s, I asked them why they thought engaging in play might be important for children.
“Because playing gets your energy out.”
“Yeah, you get your wiggles out.”
“It helps you learn things, like how to play with everybody and share.”
“It gives you more energy and makes you smarter. A grown-up told me that and I believe it.”
“You can find new stuff outdoors, like a pine cone or insects or leaves.
You can learn a lot about nature if you play outdoors.”
“Playing makes kids more behaved. I heard that somewhere.”
“Yes, after you run around, you’re a bit more obedient when you come back.”
As luck would have it, I switched my lunch coverage to Fridays, so last week I got to spend time with the 9-10s at the playground. I marveled at how happy children can be as they play together. It helps that this particular playground is covered in sand, and they like nothing more than to be there -- barefoot would be best for them, if only we allowed that. In my time with them that day, I caught a glimpse of the formation of a new rule for the game, requiring the negotiation of certain details as the play developed and the inclusion of newcomers who joined in later.
While walking back to school with them, we chatted about how things were going and what they liked about the 9-10s so far, in just these few days.
“Outside times are my favorite because you get to run and play.”
“I like that we get to study about immigration because it is my best topic.”
“I can’t wait to have art because art is another way to express yourself.”
“Independence – that is my favorite thing about this year. We get to be a lot more independent, like we get to choose our own spots for snack. We are going to have more privileges this year.”
“I am excited about the farm because I really miss the feeling of being so free and independent.”
“It is neat that we are reading buddies now. I remember my buddy when I was in the 6-7s and I have been waiting for this.”
On the first day children were to ride the school bus to MCS, two of the 9-10s’ reading buddies came bounding up to the fourth floor.
“We’re angry, Mary! We waited and waited for the bus and it didn’t come!” I tried to explain to these 6-7s that, as the bus drivers learn the new routes each year, there are always problems, but that things should get better soon. Well, it was clear that wasn’t much comfort to them. “Hey, Mary, we want to know if we can have a parade and hold up signs and walk around school. Do you think that’s ok, or should we start with our classroom first?”
I smiled, and before I could respond, they ran off to their classroom, calling back to me that they would ask their teachers, also.
I was thinking about what the 8-9s’ child said about how you can learn a lot about nature from playing outdoors. MCS has always valued this time, whether out in Central Park, in the community garden, or at the farm.
Last week, I joined the 5-6s for their science time with Ian. In their classroom, Ian asked the children what they thought we might find as we explore outside.
“Maybe we will find animal eggs.”
“Maybe we will see footprints of animals. I have searched the jungle and seen them.”
“Maybe we will find butterflies.”
Ian then asked them what they thought exploring meant:
“You’re looking at things you’ve never seen before, like investigating.”
Ian then asked, “What is investigating?”
“It’s like spying on someone.”
“It’s like finding things – like dinosaur bones.”
Once out at the park, the children made a circle. Ian posed this question: “What do you notice out in this nature space?”
“Some leaves are turning yellow because it is almost fall.”
“Some plants have grown more since last year.”
“I see yellow and brown and red leaves in the fall.”
“I saw a chipmunk over there by the tree.”
Ian asked them to explore the area nearby and find one thing that is very interesting to them and to then find a good hiding spot for it. “Next time we come out for science class we will see if we can find it.”
I look forward to spending much more time with your children this year, indoors and out. And I look forward to the many conversations we all will have in the years to come. And for new families to MCS, I am delighted to get to know your children and for you to join this community – one where we help to take care of each other while practicing the hard work of democracy and one where we are reminded time and again in this world that “together we can do so much” and “the time is always right to do what is right.”
Delivered at the September 20, 2018 Opening Parents' Association Meeting.