Throughout the series I've written about The Innovation School, I have talked about the school from my perspective and what I love about the school. For the last blog of the series, I am going to talk about the school from the perspective of Paige (4) & Sebastian (8).
To get some ideas I sat down and had a conversation with them and asked them what they LOVE about school.
Paige said she loves to paint and make jewelry. Almost every day when I receive the daily report I see pictures of Paige doing what she loves - painting and making jewelry. She comes home every day so proud of her creations. I try to keep some of her bracelets because they are so cute, but she almost always steals them back from me and reminds me that they are hers. They are valuable to her because she made them. Paige also mentioned that she loves recess. She enjoys interacting with all of the students at the school and for some reason, it must be the love and culture at the school, because she also loves to have time with her brother (it’s definitely not like that at home!) Paige also loves to see the class pets Mango and Reece, two guinea pigs that add some additional joy to the class. She had so much fun the day the school took the afternoon to go sledding. She would really like to do that again!
Sebastian also loves to create. He enjoys participating in art and making things at school. I remember when I was in school we had one day of art (on Fridays), otherwise we didn’t do much art because most of our days were focused on the main subjects. I love that the school allows the students to be creative, because Sebastian LOVES it! When he brings his art home, and he always insists that we keep it and hang it up for a while. He also enjoys Science and Math. Getting to play a game on a subject he loves is always something he is interested in doing. One of his absolute favorite things about school is recess and time in the gym. Sebastian loves sports and he is very athletic. So anytime the school or another student makes up a game that involves some sort of physical activity, Sebastian is all in. Sebastian also enjoys Drama Club. Once a year The Innovation School puts on a play in the Spring and Sebastian has participated the last two years in the play. His part has been small but he always enjoys going to the practices and performing the night of the play. He also enjoys the Learning Adventures the school has throughout the year. This year he did some physical activity lessons and learned about the game Risk. He really looks forward to field trips. He enjoys going to the library, Walmart (to shop for project supplies), and visiting places around Bismarck/Mandan area. He also had a great time when we went sledding as a school and is looking forward to the skiing and skating activities that are coming up this Winter that The Innovation School has planned!
Both Sebastian and Paige thrive at The Innovation School. When I asked them about attending a traditional school, neither one of them were interested in making that change. The idea of having to follow a more traditional means of learning is not something either one wants to experience right now. The Innovation School is Sebastian & Paige approved! So, if you have considered The Innovation School, I highly recommend attending their Open House on Thursday, January 26, 2023 from 5pm-6pm to see in person what the school is really like!
There is something special about being a part of a community. When I went to school and reflecting on Sebastian's early years in daycare, we never felt like we were a part of a community. I never realized how impactful being a part of a community would be until we joined The Innovation school. TIS provides a true sense of community that is reminiscent of a second family.
One of the benefits of being a part of a close-knit school community is that bullying is not a part of TIS, and when there is a conflict, it is handled by the students through their student-led "Judiciary Committee.". It is harder to be mean to someone that you know really well. When you know someone well, you look out for and take care of that person. When they need help you help them. It is not a chore and it isn’t difficult. You do it because you care. Being a part of a community, you care about one another. And that is what The Innovation School creates.
I enjoy being able to go to the school and have lunch with my kids and watch them help each other. They help each other get settled for lunch, including helping the youngest students with the microwave and they help with cleaning up and taking care of the lunch space. That's the power of community.
I love to watch the students all play together during recess and be kind to one another throughout the day. I love to watch the older students reading to the younger ones and the younger ones showing off their art projects to the older students.
Last year, the school went skiing at Huff Hills and the parents were welcome to come. I was thrilled to join, since it would be my first time skiing. After learning the process to ski with the help from other students and parents from the school, I attempted the larger hill. I remember falling and being so scared to finish the hill. Other people that were there and not affiliated with the school just skied on by. When all of a sudden another student from the school approached me and asked if I needed help. With them just asking if I needed help, I worked up the courage to finish the hill. That is the amazing part of being a part of this community.
This year for the school's Holiday program they held a Holiday Party. All the families gathered and participated in a potluck and watched our children perform holiday songs. It was nice to gather as a community and get to know one another during this special time of year.
I love our school community and I hope to be a part of it for many years to come!
For the second part of my blog series, I want to talk about kids just being kids. With all of the hustle and bustle of life and the pressure we put on our kids to learn, our children miss out on the simplest yet most important thing in their younger years, being a kid.
I think the idea most of us have about school is you sit at a desk and learn from the teacher and/or through a book. I think we forget that so much can be learned from making cookies, playing in the mud for an hour, having endless conversation, and just being a kid.
The Innovation School allows kids to learn in an environment where kids get to be kids. They get to be creative, play, have fun, and learn in a loving, calm, and safe environment.
When I first walked into The Innovation School, I was surprised not to see any desks or tables and chairs but bean bags, couches, and pillows. I was curious and intrigued with the idea. I remember having my concerns about recess, because at the time the school didn’t really have an area for playground equipment. Sebastian is a busy kid with LOTS of energy. I knew he needed recess time to expel that energy, and I was concerned that without items to climb all over and a big area to run that he was not going to get out the energy needed and his learning would suffer.
When they explained to me that when kids are not required to sit in a seat or desk all day, they have less built up energy to burn off. As well as, when children don’t have all the playground equipment it allows their minds to be creative.
I was mind blown by this, because I grew up in public school and always had to sit at a desk, not on a pillow or beanbag, and always had an area with playground equipment to play on. I also remember the dread I felt almost everyday having to attend school.
I will never forget the first day we picked Sebastian up from school and he fell asleep on the way home. This was a child that would fight to go to sleep. He did that for quite a few months before he adjusted. He was worn out every day. Mentally and physically. He was able to expel the energy he needed just by being a kid.
I think we forget that there are more ways than one to learn something. You don’t need a worksheet and a book to learn math. I remember someone at the school once told me, “A relaxed and calm mind easily learns.” So creating an environment where kids just get to be a kids, it takes the pressure off of learning and allows them to learn in a healthier more natural way. In a way that they enjoy (my kids love going to school), and in a way that the information actually sticks!
I wish that everyone could see what I see in The Innovation School. I wrote a blog post last year telling our story and journey to The Innovation School and this year I want to try to really convey the value this school has to offer in a few blog posts over a series.
I get asked many times throughout the school year, “What is The Innovation School?” And it’s been somewhat of a struggle to explain the difference between a public or more traditional school vs this amazing school, The Innovation School. And, the best way I know how to explain it is to show them all the amazing things this school offers that you will not find in the more traditional school setting.
For the first part of my series I want to talk about the school size and structure and how it makes a difference. The size is one of the biggest things I value about the school and it isn’t necessarily because of the number of students.
The Innovation School is smaller than your average school. Sebastian is 8 and he is in 2nd grade and his class consists of 9 students. They are known as the “Teal Band.” The Teal Band consists of students of many different ages and learning styles/talents. I love this for many reasons but mainly being he gets to work with students that have wide-ranging strengths and interests that aren't defined by grade or age.
Sebastian gets to learn how to help and teach those who need it like working with the younger students and he gets to experience what it is like to be taught and helped by someone a little older than him. He isn’t just with his same-age peers, he is with a community of students. He isn’t in a school where he is considered “smarter” than or “behind” his peers. He is getting to learn his strengths and his weaknesses and he gets to learn to apply them in a healthy environment.
Because of the small class he is able to get more one-on-one attention with the skills he is working on developing. He also gets to thrive with the skills he is more advanced with. There is no getting behind or having to wait until the rest of the class is caught up before getting to move forward. Best of all, he gets to work in a community setting instead of working by himself like in most traditional school settings. In the “real world” we work with others and we figure things out and learn with each other and from one another and very rarely do we figure things out by ourselves. I love the community aspect, the helping one another, and the small size of the class so Sebastian can get the support he needs as a learner and individual.
I am privileged to facilitate restorative circles at our school. Sometimes these are between a few students and other times a circle is held for a whole class. It is a privilege because there is something uniquely human about connecting through language and communication and it is deeply touching to witness and take part in this type of human connection.
I began our journey with restorative circles during the 2020-2021 school year. The start to the school year was a rocky one -… children coming back to school after 7 months away from it, many of whom spent a lot of time staring at screens. We had also moved to a larger location for our older students, which had its own set of stressors. We had new staff members, new students, a new location, and the trauma of an ongoing worldwide pandemic to navigate.
When my oldest was little, well before he was even 2 years old, he could sense the emotions of others and yet struggled with his own emotions. I remember vividly locking eyes with my sister when her weeklong visit from Phoenix was coming to an end as he would “act up”… perhaps yelling or crying or just acting out of character. I was amazed to intuit that he could sense my sadness at her leaving, as well as the hole that would be in our routine from having had her around for the past wonderful week. I also found it interesting to see how he struggled with voicing his own sadness or frustration that she would be gone. I unconsciously filed these things away. After having my other son and working with other children for the past 6 years, I continue to file these experiences away as I now help them name their emotion and work to respond to it, instead of react. This is not a natural behavior for me but has come with practice as well as confidence in my own intuition to guide me.
All that to say that our children have suffered, as we all have, at the hands of the stress of the current world. (I have some thoughts about the sensitivity of children and how I believe it has the potential to guide us into a new age of connectedness, but I am still pondering how to put that thesis into words and exploring it further.) With a sense of determination, I began to dig into the practice of restorative circles as I was convinced that our students were feeling a lot more than they were able to express and I wanted to help.
This is a precious practice. It is a safe way for humans to share thoughts, talk through disagreements, provide feedback, challenge each other while also supporting one another, and learn self-regulation, respect and communication.
As the host, I prepare the space, creating a center to our circle in which to place a symbol of our intention. (We use a book that our very own, Nancy Walker, made for us.) I invite the students and we circle up and start by reading through our circle guidelines. I help create an intention for the circle. Perhaps we are focusing on how we can show up as leaders. Or maybe there’s been an issue between a few students and we focus on how to rebuild and heal relationships. Then we pass our talking stone (a large heart shaped rock my youngest found in our yard years ago) and begin with a check in. Students are encouraged to share an emotion they are coming into the circle with. This allows them practice in identifying their emotions. And then we begin. Students can pass if they choose not to share, but most participate freely and energetically. This practice is special because it gives us a chance to truly connect, to see each other clearly, to hear one another, and live in community together. We learn to support each other, even when we are being challenged. We learn to listen and truly hear each other. I guide the circle without a set direction and allow the conversation to flow organically, relying on my intuition to guide it to fruition.
I have been able to use this practice with my own family and have even been able to lead some circles with other families.
When my oldest was feeling my sadness at my sister leaving and struggling to handle his own feelings of sadness about it, I wasn’t sure how to help him. But when I filed those observations away, I am able to bring them back out as I navigate our students’ place in our school and how they are holding space for their emotions, themselves, and each other. I feel lucky that I am able to help children identify their emotions, communicate them with others, and learn how to process them. Feelings don’t go away, but we have a choice… do we react or respond to them? Reaction leaves us feeling out of control and acting out in a way that doesn’t feel true to who we really are. Responding allows us to use our emotions to grow, learn more about ourselves and our environment, and become responsible and loving members of our community.
(Because we have been practicing these for almost 2 years now, I’m not sure where to give credit to our guidelines, but there are more resources here and here.)
TIS Founder, mother, Educational Architect and advocate of children through education reform
From the moment you become a parent, you are surrounded by a seemingly endless stream of choices. Everything from feeding choices to decisions about sleep and screen time and more - what seemed so easy in parenting books, blogs and websites is suddenly jumbled into a mosaic of a reality that brings new questions, new challenges and new choices every day. Eventually, you find yourself in a rhythm that for the most part, carries you through it all. You embrace the challenges, successes and changes as they come. Your child starts school and you're certain that everything will be routine and that you'll work through any challenges as you had in the past. After all, school is predictable and you've been through it so you know what to expect, right?
When I had children, I was absolutely certain that they would have the same K-12 experience that I had. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia and stayed local to my hometown after getting married and having children. We were fortunate to be zoned for an excellent public school system, and as my daughter quickly approached Kindergarten age, we prepared for the transition. Both of my children were already in preschool where I held the role of Assistant Principal and where they had been exposed to all of what I believed would prepare them for success during their K-12 experience. Everything changed in June of 2019 (the Summer prior to my daughter's Kindergarten year) when the refinery where my husband had worked for 17 years was closed after a devastating explosion and we found ourselves on a new journey that would lead us to Bismarck.
After my husband moved to Bismarck, I stayed in Pennsylvania with my children for several months to sell our home and to prepare for our move. I had never been to North Dakota prior to our move (that was definitely a "trust the process" approach!) so I didn't know what to expect. I had my Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in Early Childhood Education and had worked for private preschools for 15+ years, so I carried assumptions with me that I'd end up in a similar setting for work after our move. Once we moved and I realized that Early Childhood Education looks very different in ND than it does in PA (mostly in-home daycares/preschools here in ND vs private, corporately owned/franchised preschools in PA), I put my career on hold and shifted my focus to helping my children adjust to our move.
After a short period of adjustment, I enrolled my daughter at a local public elementary school to finish her Kindergarten year. She was overwhelmed by the amount of students, the fast pace of the day (she never ate lunch because by the time she found her way to a table, lunch was over) and the amount of independence she was expected to have mastered at the age of 5 (getting herself ready, organized, transitioned and on-task for 7 hours a day). Anxieties were cropping up that I hadn't seen previously in her, and before I could address it, COVID hit and schools closed.
I found myself at home, in a new environment, unable to really familiarize myself with our new hometown while trying to manage the care and education of my children. I worked with my daughter on Zoom, trying to get her to pay attention, to stop talking and to follow the instructions. I sat with her as she cried from frustration trying to complete reading and writing assignments that she had no interest in but that I had to submit as "complete." My own frustrations grew as her questions and curiosities fell to the wayside, replaced by "assignment submitted" checklists on Google Classroom. We were all doing the best we could, but could we do better?
It was around this time, through a local Facebook group, that I heard about The Innovation School. I was extremely excited by the prospect of working for a private school at the preschool level, something that I truly missed from my life back on the East Coast. I met (virtually) with Maggie and her team, which was the beginning of another journey for myself and my family. Now I was faced with another choice - to keep my daughter in public school for first grade, or to trust that something different would be worth trying. I pulled her from public school and in the Fall of 2020, we both became a part of the TIS community. My son, who was too young to join TIS in the Fall of 2020, joined in the Fall of 2021.
Our experience at TIS has been incredible. My daughter has built such confidence, her curiosity is strong and she truly loves going to school. I have been able to stretch as an educator in ways I would not have had the opportunity to do if I had been bound to a specific curriculum. My son (who I am teaching in my class for the 2nd year) now willingly works on tasks that used to cause meltdowns for him and he shows pride in his efforts and in the new skills that he's gaining. We have all been met where we are while being challenged in ways that require courage and trust. It can be hard to trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and to settle into a journey that might not be as predictable as you had imagined while avoiding the "what if" questions that tend to intrude on our confidence in our choices.
I am so grateful that life has led my family to TIS and that being a part of the TIS community will forever be written into our journey. I trust that my children are getting exactly what they need through their school experience, even if it looks different than the experience that I had. I have the courage to advocate this school experience not only for my family, but also for other local families who may be trying to overcome the fear of change and of something different. No matter where your journey leads, have courage and embrace your choices with confidence while listening to your intuition - a reminder that I give to myself and my children every day.
Yellow Band (Primary Level Program) Educator & Parent of Two TIS Students
One of the most difficult things for parents to hear is their child putting him/herself down or saying things like, “I am so stupid.”, “I am such an idiot., “No one likes me.”
Even if we aren’t hearing these thoughts out loud, some children berate themselves silently.
When we share our daily intentions, or have group lessons in mindfulness, we encourage one another to be kind to ourselves. What we tell ourselves impacts how we behave. How we behave impacts how we are treated. How we are treated impacts what we tell ourselves. This can become a vicious cycle of negativity.
Compliments are helpful in building self esteem. The compliments need to be specific and genuine. Kids know when compliments are sincere.
I recently read the book, Giraffes Can’t Dance to my students. The book features Gerald the giraffe, who can’t dance- YET. As new readers, we discussed how we can’t read- YET! But with hard work, determination, and a positive thought process, we can do anything.
Kids don’t realize the way they talk to themselves has power. What we tell ourselves, creates our world.
If we could treat ourselves kindly and highlight the awesome things we do, we build self-confidence. We also need to be aware of our weaknesses; finding ways to grow and improve without putting ourselves down.
Negative self-talk is a part of the human experience. Most people have an ongoing dialogue with themselves- whether internal or vocalized. We need to challenge negative thinking and beliefs about ourselves and replace them with more positive ones. That means we can learn to consciously choose to replace our negative thoughts with positive ones that will make students feel good about themselves.
This year marks our 6th year as a school. It’s also my 6th year teaching here. Every year, we reflect on our teaching practice and make changes,… constantly striving to grow and better fit the needs of our students. This year, we had the idea to offer elective type classes which we call Learning Adventures. The purpose of these Adventures are to allow students to dive even deeper into their interests, or to try something new. The Learning Adventures last one month. The students are given a menu with their different choices. For our first sessions, the students signed up for hiking, virtual travel, golf, and making pine needle baskets. We just finished our first Learning Adventures, and it was so much fun!
I led the hiking Learning Adventure. Our group discussed hiking etiquette, gear, and we researched different hikes. Then we hit the trails. We hiked Sleepy Hollow, the Arboretum, Ft. Lincoln, Chief Looking's Village, and the Missouri River Natural Area.
We spent a day in the classroom learning about compasses. We documented all our adventures in our hiking journals. Some of the students that signed up love being outside and hiking. Others weren’t too sure, but wanted to push themselves to try something new. It’s been such a great experience watching these young people gain a love and appreciation for the outdoors & adventure, work hard & persevere, and have fun!
As a parent of young children, there is so much excitement in your child's firsts: first words, first steps, first bike ride. As your child enters preschool age the push for learning early academic skills seems to add pressure to those firsts. Hitting developmental milestones becomes competitive somehow and your child's development can feel overshadowed when compared to other children, what the norm is, or what a preschooler should know. The expectation to be "ready" for Kindergarten or even for preschool is felt in knowing skills earlier on, such as the alphabet or counting to 100. As I navigated this with my first child entering Kindergarten, I realized I wanted a place that would foster something different. I wanted Kindergarten how it used to be, where playtime and social development came before academic skill. I wanted a place that would foster the life skills, exploration, and social emotional skills in a safe, loving way- similar to what I had tried to instill in her days of "at home preschool". Having known a little about The Innovation School, I made a plan to meet Maggie, learn more, and see the school. Now entering our 3rd year at The Innovation School, I am so glad we have this option in our community. Here is my why.
As my daughter began her Kindergarten year, Sophie spent her days in play and exploration with focus on open center time and inquiry based group learning among other 4, 5, and 6 year olds. She was allowed free play and free choice throughout much of her school day. She often came home sharing the new ideas and concepts she had learned and of the friendships she grew each day. She loved to act as a "third teacher" alongside Ms. Andrea and Ms. Amber by teaching peers during math and reading tasks. The wonderful staff recognized her social strengths in Kindergarten and around Christmas we began having conversations about moving up with the next band(1st and 2nd grade) of students on a more regular basis. This transition was so natural and easy because the staff met her where she was at and continued to challenge her learning to help her grow at a pace that made sense for Sophie.
Last year and now, at each roundtable(parent-teacher conference with the student also included) I get to hear about Sophie's own reflections of her learning, where she feels she has grown alongside her teachers input. I never once heard "this is where a Kindergartener or first grader should be by this date" or any comparison to peers, but rather I hear about Sophie's strengths, areas of growth, and areas of challenge. At the end of her first year, Sophie led her roundtable by sharing about her learning styles, her interests, projects she has worked on, and her reflections. I left feeling proud of how well my daughter knew herself as a learner and how confident she had become in being herself. At each roundtable since, I continue to beam with pride and excitement as Sophie reflects on her learning and her teachers share about where she has been and where she is headed in her learning path.
As I reflect on the last few years at TIS, a few words that could describe Sophie's typical school week or even each day are recess, reflection, and real-life experience.
Recess: Within each school day, peer time and playtime is the focus during morning meeting upon arrival from 8:15 to 8:45 to play games and settle into their classroom, then morning walk from 8:45 to 9, morning recess from 10:00-10:30, lunch recess from 12-12:20, lunchtime with all students Pre-K - 8th from 12:20-1, and afternoon recess from 2:00-2:15. Play is valued each and every day as the staff recognizes how students blossom from peer interaction and the opportunity to explore their passions. The soft skills of flexibility, teamwork, problem solving, and communication are at the core of TIS learning, all of which are valued within the school walls as well as on the playground. Recess is valued as a time to learn, not just a "free" time.
Reflection: At the end of each school day students and staff come together in a group to answer a reflection question from the day such as "How did you create a caring environment today?". Students and staff then go around and share to the whole group their reflection. On Fridays, students and staff are given a name of a peer or teacher to share compliments. The students practice reflecting on the relationships they have built and also learn gratitude and grace in the ability to receive a compliment. I couldn't ask for a better way for my child to end their school week than giving and receiving a compliment. Self and peer reflection are also carried out during feedback sessions. This can be seen during projects as students share peer feedback by asking questions like, "What was hard?", "What was easy?", " What would you do differently next time?", and "How can I help?". Real reflection leads to true learning as students learn to take ownership in their growth.
Real-life learning: At TIS, there is no rush for Sophie to know so many math facts or sight words by the end of year, but rather grow from where she started, develop relationships, and find out about herself and her learning style as she goes. Don't get me wrong, she is still learning all the academic skills and meeting standards, but the teachers target standards within a variety of projects, settings, tasks that are applicable to her life and interests. With this style of teaching her input is valued. She is learning from and teaching to her peers and staff. This can be seen beautifully during student led workshops where students get to lead the group in learning a new skill or game. Learning within mixed age groups has fostered mentorship, friendship, and leadership. Her creativity is celebrated every step of the way in her learning and this carries over into her everyday life at home. Any given evening or weekend I may find Sophie generating ideas for a business plan to sell a newly created product to friends and family, creating a new science experiment, trying a made-up recipe, rehearsing a play with her brother or stuffed animals, writing new songs with her friends and performing to family, or dictating and collaborating with me on a story about the neighborhood squirrels that make the backyard lively during Saturday morning pancakes. Day-to-day learning is embedded within play, collaboration, experimentation, and exploration which then spills over to how she explores her world outside of school. I believe this has set a foundation for how she will approach learning throughout her life.
At TIS there is a sense of celebration of students being, rather than becoming. They are celebrated for being a tinkerer and a master at fixing anything that is broken, rather than becoming the highest class rank. They are celebrated for being an artist and creating marketing material for school projects and plays, rather than becoming the top of their class in GPA for being able to regurgitate facts. They are celebrated for who they are as they explore their gifts, passions, and challenges while not being told how or what they should become. The possibilities are endless for students when they graduate from TIS because they will leave here understanding how they can apply their unique skills, gifts, and passions along their path, wherever it may lead.
Watching Sophie grow and interact within her world with the skills and perspective she has developed as a student of TIS has filled me with pride and gratitude. I am excited to see how my son, James will learn and grow as he starts in the yellow band this year. Thank you to The Innovation School for taking the rush out of childhood by embracing the play in learning. I'll end with one of my favorite quotes that sums it up quite well. "There is no prize for finishing childhood first" and I couldn't agree more!
Green Band (1st & 2nd Grade) Educator, Speech & Language Pathologist and Parent of two TIS Students, Sophie and James
I have started helping in the 6-8 year old classroom during reading time. So far, I have listened to them read, (the ones that are ready to read), and helped them find books to continue practicing their reading. We have played games of matching letters and letter sounds. We have listened to read-alouds and talked about books. We have talked about what words mean and discovered new definitions. We have went on sound scavenger hunts and read their favorite books together. I have observed them and encouraged them. Every time they stumble, I tell them they are doing great. When they attempt to sound out a word, I tell them that is a great strategy. When they find letters and words they know, I tell them how awesome they are doing. We have laughed and learned together.
Reading and teaching reading is a controversial subject. There are a lot of opinions and I am about to add mine to the mix. I will say right now, I am not an expert. A few professors tried to teach me how to teach reading back in college. BUT I have never been an elementary teacher of 20+ kids with the weight of others telling me I must get all kids to read at a proficient level. If that’s the kind of advice you are looking for, you won’t find it from me.
I am teaching 11 kids, mixed ages from 6-8. I would guess the average teacher sees the same variety of reading levels I see in my own group. I have pre-readers, beginning readers, and readers. I have readers that are incredibly fluent but have no idea what they just read. I have not-so-fluent readers that can have a whole conversation after just reading two pages!
My son is six and included in my group of pre-readers. I think he is exactly where he should be because it’s where he is at. He is excited to practice letters and sounds. He is competitive so likes to get it right. He wants to read; he is anxious to do it. I keep reminding him he is doing great and it will come. He accepts this. I am not worried like I was when my oldest was learning to read and “behind” his peers. I am wiser now.
I am not telling anyone what to do in regards to reading. I am only going to share my personal experiences at this school as a teacher and parent of three boys at TIS.
Our plan in the reading classroom is to read. We start our time with a classroom read-aloud. The kids can color during the time. They are eager to answer and ask questions, interrupting at times with their excitement. We transition to small groups. Sometimes it is games with letters and sounds, sometimes it is read to self, sometimes it is word and sight recognition. We try to figure it out each day. We always try to make it fun and exciting. Each day though, they always get to read what they want at some point.
I can’t say if what we are doing will work. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t though. How do you get better at something? You do it. I do know my end goal is to create people who love to read.
My current middle schoolers love to read. So whatever experiences they had, it worked. Four of them were home-schooled at some point, two of them have been at TIS for five years, and two have transferred to TIS from traditional education (but both have been here for two years.) Every single one of them look forward to their hour of reading and covet this time. They race to their favorite spots in our quiet area to begin reading. If a younger child reads in the read-to-self area and begins talking, I never have to say anything as a middle schooler will be quick to remind them it is a quiet space and they cannot talk in there. I hope my own children and all the kids at TIS will have this same feeling when it comes to reading.
As I work with the younger kids, I can see each one's unique abilities and how they are all learning to read. Not one thinks they are bad at it or can’t do it. None of them have developed self-doubt. They are not judging themselves; they are just doing.
Their self-love is evident. As I watch them learn to read, I think that is the real gift TIS is giving them: a way to maintain their love and innocence. They can learn at their own pace, in their own time without the judgement and opinions of others. It is so inherent that everyone has different strengths. We talk about it all the time.
So whether a child is reading or learning to read, it is accepted. If we have a nine year old still learning to read, it is seen as normal. Because we value everyone’s differences and honor where they are, everyone is considered “normal”. At TIS, it is normal to be different than your peers and it is even valued to be unique.
So while I am not an expert at teaching reading, I am an expert at seeing the value in each person. I am talented at knowing when to push a child and when to hold back. I am a great communicator and encourager. I have discovered my own self worth and am determined to help others see the same in themselves, especially children. TIS is creating this environment for children. Reading is just a part of the whole. TIS is a school that values each child and staff member. Learning is valued and not judged. It is the optimal environment to learn reading and anything else children want to discover.