Should cursive still be taught? The debate is back. I have strong feelings about this topic. It may be my age, my experiences, my love of art, or my years in the traditional school setting.
I feel cursive writing helps to identify you. Each of us has our own style and I love to see the different ways in which people express themselves in their unique writing. It is a lost art form. I look at the historical documents signed with artistic strokes and beautiful signatures done with style and grace.
When The Innovation School decided to teach cursive writing, I was thrilled. I decided to do some research concerning the benefits of writing this way.
I learned that cursive writing provides a flow of thought as well as a flow of words. Humans think structurally, not phonetically, so writing in cursive reinforces that. I was pleasantly surprised.
Cursive writing helps you focus on content. When one becomes proficient in cursive, the barrier between thought and action helps the focus remain on the content.
Cursive gets the entire brain working. Reading cursive also activates different parts of the brain than printed text. Studies also show that writing notes in cursive instead of typing them is preferable. When we type we tend to write verbatim. When we write, we have to be more selective of what we write, so we think of the importance of the words. The writing process appears to help the information “stick” rather than pass through typing fingers.
Writing in cursive helps fine motor control as well as helping the person become a better speller. An individual is more likely to retain the proper spelling of a word when they write out the word as a single unit.
It improves brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. It also stimulates the brain between the left and right hemispheres.
The research tells me that learning how to write in cursive has many educational benefits.
My students were apprehensive at first, but soon gained a new perspective that intrigued them.
The students that reversed letters in printing quickly learned that they didn’t reverse them when writing cursive. This was exciting. Others were excited about the way their writing looked. They have even started using their own style. We have begun to work on writing our signatures.
I am hopeful that by reading and writing in cursive, my students will not only gain a new skill, but an appreciation of the art of writing. Who knows, calligraphy may be the next skill I teach.
When you enter any Reggio classroom, especially one with younger students, you will be surrounded by very natural and spontaneous peer learning. Most learning occurs peer-to-peer in a reciprocal manner, and research across the board has shown that young children retain more of their learning when that learning comes from their peer interactions.
Over the past several weeks, we have introduced a more structured form of peer learning and we have transitioned into true peer teaching through Workshop Wednesdays in our Pre-K/Kindergarten classroom. Student led workshops are not new to The Innovation School - our 1st-8th grade students have been engaging in these workshops regularly. When we saw how much our Kindergarten students enjoyed participating in Workshop Wednesdays with “the big kids”, we saw it as a leadership opportunity for them!
Initially, we decided to form workshops led by our Kindergarten students. Our preschoolers loved our first “test run” of workshops and our Kindergarten students thrived from the stretch in their leadership skills. Each student leading a workshop was able to choose an activity to create based off their strengths and interests. This process produced true buy-in and provided a palpable excitement and clear engagement in our classroom! It also gave a different perspective as a teacher, to be an observer witnessing meaningful growth within each workshop.
Each week, our preschoolers began showing more and more interest in leading workshops - “when will it be my turn?” they often asked. After some discussion with our Kindergarten students, we all agreed that the preschoolers in our classroom would begin teaching workshops as well. During our first preschool led workshop, it was wonderful to see how our Kindergarten students were so eager to learn from their younger peers - rarely overstepping boundaries or trying to take the lead. Our students have gained such a sense of respect for their peers through peer teaching workshops - they know how good it feels to be listened to when they are leading, so they check (and double check!) to make sure they listen to their peers and carefully follow instructions when they are in a workshop led by a peer.
We are excited to work through giving every child in our class an opportunity to lead a workshop. David Boud, at Stanford University stated: “Students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from their peers. They develop skills in organizing and planning learning activities, working collaboratively with others, giving and receiving feedback and evaluating their own learning.” These are all of the benefits we have witnessed (and more!) as we have explored more structured peer teaching in our classroom. Feedback may be one of the most important benefits, as we have seen workshops become more refined and more meaningful, as the depth of each activity has increased. It truly seems that each week, the class enjoys each new set of workshops more than the last as we build upon our past workshop experiences!
We are excited to continue our Wednesday Workshops and provide additional peer teaching opportunities within our classroom - it has been a very positive, inspiring and transformative experience so far!
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” – Margaret Fuller
I have two children of my own: Reagan is 3 and Nash is 7 months. Nash is getting mobile and is very active... exploring the world around him through touch, taste and movement. For the past three years, I’ve watched Reagan go through her own similar journey of exploring and understanding her world. One of my favorite things I’ve witnessed is her imaginative play.
I witness this same innocent imagination daily amongst the students at our school. However, the other day was one of those days that reaffirmed everything I believe and love about childhood. It was one of the first nice days in a while. The kids were so excited to be outside without a coat.
The warm weather meant everything was melting: a kid’s dream and an adult’s nightmare... mud everywhere! Each pocket of students had something different but equally imaginative going on. Two girls walked to the middle of a pond of ice. They were pretending they were in the Arctic and had to survive. There were sharks all around, but luckily they could speak polar bear, which helped immensely with their survival skills. Two other girls found a stream of melting ice going through the parking lot, and decided to build a miniature bridge for some miniature animals to cross. A group of boys found the muddiest mud they could, and they went to work building a dam. Everywhere I looked I saw imagination, innovation, cooperation, and joy.
So often we expect and accept imagination in our little ones, like my daughter. Then we think they grow out of it, and oftentimes we encourage them to grow out of it (whether intentionally or not). To see our students (ranging in age from 6-14) playing the same way I see my 3 year old play made me remember how important play is... mud and all!
In 2016, I woke up to our education system. It was happening slowly but all of a sudden, I saw the problems blaring me in the face. My own child started school and there was no more illusion that the school system was fine. My children are the reason I have questioned traditional school systems and have found The Innovation School (TIS). Now, I get to be their mom but also one of their teachers. (A blessing most days!)
Both my husband and I attended public schools and turned out just fine. We are productive members of society and both hold master degrees. We had amazing teachers and awful ones. We did what we needed to and graduated with honors (or at least one of us did. 😉) When we began discussing private school, it was absurd to me to pay for something that is free. But when I realized I wasn’t fine and they weren’t either, the discussion continued to come up. By 2019, we found ourselves at TIS.
The reality of school is that it looks the same as it has since we were there 20-30 years ago. The more I worked in this system, the more I could see I was not going to be able to change it for my kids or yours. If you think school is ‘just fine’ you are one of many. I understand I am the minority at this time but I would ask you to ponder these questions.…(These are assumptions based on what I know about the public and traditional system.)
If you are still thinking school is "just fine", let me show you what it’s like at TIS. The Innovation School offers these benefits to my boys:
I will leave you with these final thoughts. I did not write this to make you feel comfortable. I wrote it to make you think. Maybe you have never thought about school. That was me once upon a time. When I was working in the public school system, my wise boss used to say these statements to get teachers to change their thinking. Maybe it's time you heard them to help with yours.
I became super uncomfortable with the way education was going in 2016. It’s seven years later and I can finally say I did something to change. I removed myself and my family from the system.
So if you have been considering something different, now’s the time. TIS does shadow days for anyone who just wants to see it in action. I have had many students come and check out the school to see if it is a fit for their family. Make the decision for yourself. TIS offers something different to our community. It might be time you take advantage of it.
Throughout my many years of teaching, I’ve taught a range of grade levels, subjects, and students. But I have discovered that the most crucial part of teaching is building relationships with my students. Making connections with students; getting to know them as people and guiding and supporting them as they succeed and fail academically, socially, and emotionally is in my opinion, the best and most important part of being a teacher. It fills me with joy and gratitude. It’s also the key deciding factor to the extent of which they succeed.
The following is a list that I use to build positive relationships with my students.
1. Give a warm greeting and goodbyes
2. Laugh together
4. Validate feelings
5. Encourage effort
6. Let the child take the lead
7. Share personal stories
8. Give eye contact
9. Appreciate their uniqueness
10. Foster their multiple Intelligence strengths
11. Feed them
12. Model kindness and forgiveness
13. Model and accept respect
14. Play games together
15. Read to them
16. Be honest and authentic
17. Provide structure and boundaries
Being a teacher allows me to be an influencer of learning, a trusting confidant, a caring adult, and a person who believes in each child’s uniqueness. I am the lucky one.
Tinkering is a word we hear a lot these days. Companies have tinkering shops, kids tinker with objects. What does it mean? The definition is an act of attempting to repair something. A few years ago when having discussions about how to make our math classes more real world applicable, we decided to implement Math Fridays. In the afternoon during math time, we would rotate weekly between coding, math games, and tinkering. To start with tinkering, we collected broken electronics and items and allowed students to take them apart. We knew we wanted this to be a hands-on experience, but we didn’t know exactly how to make it work, so we just jumped in head first. It was awesome to see the students problem solve and collaborate when taking apart these items. I knew this experience was important and exciting for the students, but I wanted to make it something more meaningful.
I was inspired by my husband who is definitely a kinesthetic learner. I watch him around the house spending hours tinkering with lightbulbs, lamps, baby toys, the cable box... the list goes on and on. I watch him look up YouTube videos when he gets stuck or doesn’t know how to fix something. And I see the end result, which is almost always that he fixed what he set out to fix. I knew these skills were the real world skills I’ve been wanting our students to gain. And through watching him, I knew that tinkering was the way to go about it.
This year, I took a more structured approach towards our tinkering time at school. We started our first day by doing a warm up activity. I found this activity while searching online (https://makered.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Lighthouse-Project-Guide-Take-Apart.pdf). The students were tasked with taking apart a pen. They had to identify the parts and the purposes of the parts. They could also list any complexities (we reframed them as questions) that they had. After they documented their work, they had to put the pen back together.
Then I introduced the two lab options they’d have. The first lab is the Tinkering Lab. In this lab they work to take apart items that are broken and beyond repair. The second lab option is the Workshop Lab. In this lab, they work to repair items back to working order.
The students chose their lab and were assigned their objects. Some examples include speakers, stools, lamps, and a hair dryer. The students use collaboration, problem solving, research skills, patience, perseverance and so many more skills when working. I tasked one of the students in the Workshop Lab with fixing my lamp from our classroom. Upon taking it apart, he realized it needed a new bulb, but the bulb was hard to find. Then he remembered that we have a similar lamp that is broken beyond repair and in the Tinkering Lab. He decided to take the bulb out of that lamp and rewire it into the other lamp. And it worked! We have light!
There are so many success stories, aha moments, and more importantly, moments of failure and defeat. These are the moments I look for, because it’s incredible to see students work through their problems and come out the other side. My dream for our tinkering time would be to create an actual workshop in our school where the students have all the tools necessary to tinker, build, and fix. Not only would they be building with their hands, but they are also building confidence, connections, and lifelong skills.
“Take a deep breath.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” “Try to calm down”. “Let’s move on to something else.” These are all phrases, as an adult, I have said to children (especially my own!). They were also spoken to me as a child by adults. Dismissing, distracting or downplaying during an emotionally turbulent moment for a child often leads to embarrassment, frustration and low self-esteem for that child (as well-intended as we often are in our efforts!)
I began using mindfulness in my classroom (and at home with my children) in an effort to help manage difficult moments in my interactions with my students and children. What I didn’t realize was that soon, these young children would thrive from mindfulness practices and begin managing themselves and their big emotions. The best part is that they have fun with it and often implement it with each other after they have become familiar with various mindfulness strategies!
Mindfulness gives young children many tools that they can use during times that their emotions may challenge them, leading to dealing with emotional adversity in a productive and healthy way. When children can manage their emotions, they also develop stronger self-esteem as they begin to accept themselves as they are - tough emotions and all!
Singing Bowls, Chimes or Bells can be used in the beginning of a mindfulness session to open a pathway of inner-focus which is important for the work that you will do during mindfulness!
Breathwork has many benefits for children (and adults!) and often helps with physical and emotional balance, as well as fostering appropriate energy levels. Some of our favorite resources for breathwork include My Magic Breath by Nick Ortnor, Alison Taylor and Michelle Polizzi and Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey and Anni Betts.
Meditation builds emotional resilience, improves attention span, reduces stress and increases self-awareness. Meditation can be self-guided or guided by a teacher, parent or peer. As children build their mindfulness toolbox, they may choose to incorporate meditation into their day in a self-led manner - or they may continue to seek out an adult for guidance. Our most used meditation/mindfulness activity guides include Peaceful Like a Panda by Kira Willey and Anni Betts, Mindful Games for Kids by Kristina Marcelli-Sargent and Kelsey Buzzell, Mindful Kids: 50 Mindfulness Activities for Kindness, Focus and Calm by Whitney Stewart and Mina Braum.
Social and emotional learning and working to develop vocabulary to describe feelings in a variety of different situations is an important part of practicing mindfulness, especially for young children! We are using two “mini curriculums” centered around social/emotional learning in our classroom are The 7 Habits of Happy Kids created by Sean Covey and A Little Spot of Emotion created by Diane Alber.
We also practice yoga in our classroom - we love encouraging our students to come up with different yoga poses that we can all copy! There is no “right” or “wrong” way to practice yoga (other than being safe) - young children love getting onto a yoga mat and letting their imaginations fully engage along with their bodies. Yoga is a great mind-body connection activity!
I will leave you with one of our favorite mindfulness/meditation activities - the “Mind Castle”...
Find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down and take three deep, mindful breaths
Close your eyes
Imagine you are walking towards a castle. The castle can be big, small, stone, brick... it’s your own castle to build as you’d like!
Slowly approach the castle. Is there a drawbridge? A moat? Are there animals in the moat? Do you see knights? A princess? Flowers? Is it sunny outside or raining? Pay attention to all the details as they spring from your imagination.
Walk into the castle. Is it dark inside? Are the lights on? Are there big windows letting light in from outside? Look around. What do you see? Build the rooms of your mind castle however you want to.
What do you smell? Are there cookies baking? Can you feel anything? Reach out and touch something inside of your castle.
Spend as much time inside of your castle as you want to.
Take three deep, mindful breaths.
Open your eyes.
Tell a friend about your Mind Castle!
When I was a young child, somewhere between 2nd-4th grade I was considered a “Title I” student. For those who don’t know what that means, that is when the student needs a little extra help from a teacher with their school studies because they just aren’t where they “should be” in relation to the rest of the class. I was brilliant at math, also brilliant at computers. I could read just fine. But I didn’t have a memory like your “average” student. And because of this I was stuck with a label of needing some extra help all the way through high school. I struggled to memorize spelling words. When I would read on my own in either a book for English class or Science I wouldn’t retain much. I would struggle with the pop quizzes and tests. I would study and study and still would struggle just to pass the class. Now you give me some numbers to process or a task relating to a computer and I would excel. I’m not sure my educators ever picked up on this.
When I got to college I struggled in the same areas. I had to take a class they labeled “Bone Head English” because my ACT score wasn’t where it “needed” to be. On my own, I figured out how I was able to learn best. Most of my classes were in Computers and Math. So, most of them were hands-on. I actually didn’t read a single book throughout college and passed with A’s and B’s and have a Masters in IT Management along with 7 other college degrees all in the IT field. My college was different from sitting at a desk, reading on your own, and watching a teacher write something on the board. For 12 years of my childhood education, I was branded with “something is wrong with me.” I thought, “I must be dumb,” because I always struggled with the classes and homework. I was never taught the concept that we all learn at different paces and we all learn differently until I became a life coach and learned to QUESTION EVERYTHING and my son started pre-k.
Pre-K. That is where I thought my son would get an introduction to school while learning how to function on a full time school schedule. It was just that until I talked to my son's teacher about kindergarten. I remember bringing up the subject of kindergarten and she asked me “if I thought he was ready.” My first thought to this question was, “You are the teacher, you should tell me if you think he is ready.” But as nicely as I could, I asked, “Well, what do you think?” She proceeded to tell me she had no idea where he was at, and that she would start paying better attention and get back to me.
So, two things threw a red flag for me here. First, my son's teacher is not sure if he is ready. He is already going to be labeled as a child who is not up to par with the rest of his classmates and second, there are only 13 students in his class with 2 teachers in that room and he is already getting lost in the crowd of students.
This is where we insert The Innovation School.
I heard of the school and immediately loved the concept of “Hands on Learning.” Learning by doing. WOW, what an amazing philosophy in itself. Something I never got to experience because society's way of learning was reading a book and listening to someone teach. I was never DOING in school to learn. Not until I reached college anyway. I had to learn this on my own after having already completed 13 years of school as a child.
I also saw that school puts a big emphasis on Mindfulness. Taking time to pause, journal, meditation and yoga. Taking time to go outside and walk multiple times a day. Now as a life coach, this is all right up my alley. I know the importance of pausing from the craziness of the world and taking some time for self care, and the impact that it can make not only for ourselves but for the world... the impact that it also has on our learning.
I also learned that they take into account each child’s personality. They figure out each child’s strengths and challenges. They then work collectively as an entire school to accomplish a task. Whether it be the 1st graders learning to read and reading to the Kindergarten or Pre-K. Or the older students presenting a project to the younger students. Everyone is working together to learn. There is no such thing as someone is behind or someone is better than another. It’s the idea that every child is unique in their own way and we all are here to help one another to accomplish a bigger mission in this world.
I immediately scheduled a meeting with Maggie and knew I needed to be a part of the school. I remember sitting in the meeting begging Maggie to add us to the list, which was already a wait list. I made sure we made multiple appearances over that year before kindergarten started so she would remember that we were extremely interested in attending the following year. I just knew this is what we needed.
We were happy when we received the notification that we could enroll. Sebastian has been with the school for the last 2 years and he has never once complained to me that he wasn’t smart enough, or he needs extra help because he doesn’t understand. Every day he comes home eager to go to school the next day and learn more. He is receiving the education that I wish was available to me when I was in school and the education that I wish every other school and organization could understand. We don’t all learn from reading a book or watching a video. Thank you to Maggie and the entire staff at The Innovation School for opening the world to more opportunities and possibilities. We will be forever grateful!!
Recently, I have been working on my passion project at school. “Passion projects” are something we do here at The Innovation School, that give the students a chance to work independently. It is a personal project that each student can choose and explore themselves. I chose to study writing and journalism, and I am also writing the school play this year. I have been setting up interviews with local writers and journalists to learn more about the creative process, and I write as much of the play that I can each day.
I just had my first interview last week, and learned so much about the writer’s experience and discovered so many things that I can add to my own life in writing. The important thing to know as an aspiring writer is that the opportunities are endless. I am learning that if I feel like I should do something, and I am deeply passionate about it, then the best way to overcome the stress and anxiety of thinking that I can’t do it, or that I won’t have the capacity to really put my voice and personality into the project is to just jump into it and ignore the fear of not getting it right, or making a mistake.
Writing is a beautiful thing, because you take something that you believe in, or something that you think should be said and you express it through words. You can hide it in the paragraphs, and let people try to figure out what it is that you’re trying to say - as many talented authors do - or you can make it known to your readers, and be straightforward with it. Both of these options are applicable, and can be used together in a story to make it interesting.
One of the many things that I appreciate about The Innovation School are the teachers; I am inspired by them every day. My teacher has shown me that I can go after big potential opportunities. She is the type of person who impacts peoples’ lives, and gives them confidence. All of the teachers have wonderful stories to tell, and whether they know it or not, this in itself is inspirational to me. The woman who started this school made a brilliant decision, and being here is an amazing experience.
Every time we start a new block at school, our teachers give us new options to read for the book club. This block, I chose to read a book called “Hidden Figures,” which is about four African American women who work at NASA throughout the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The storyline seems very interesting, so I think that it will be a good read. I have enjoyed reading and writing for a long time now, and firmly believe that the reason I can write well is because I have a passion for reading too.
This is one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson. It is titled, “There Is No Frigate Like a Book,” and I think it really portrays the beauty of reading:
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
The first time I read that, I remember thinking “Wow, I can’t believe that this woman can put this feeling into words!” These are the kinds of things that really inspire me to get better at writing, so that I can be able to express my feelings with words like Emily Dickinson and so many others like her. Without the world of words, there would be no writers. And without those talented authors who write the books we read, how would aspiring writers find inspiration? Everyone can be inspired by the world around them, but the people that we meet, and the authors we read about are vastly important as well.
I love J.D. Salinger’s works, and I think that he did an astounding job at writing Franny and Zooey and The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger could put meaning into the smallest of sentences, and leave the reader staring at the page thinking for a while. I just recently read Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, and I think that he was also an amazing author who was capable of writing about things that we as humans often ignore and don’t acknowledge as much as we should. These are the kinds of writers that we need more of in this day and age. Steinbeck wrote beautifully and acknowledged the hard things. I finished Of Mice and Men and felt changed by the sadness of the heartbreaking ending. To Kill a Mockingbird was also one of those books that left a lingering feeling of satisfaction after I read the final sentence, which was dedicated to the wise Atticus’s love for his children. I have been inspired by reading, and listening to writers talk about their experiences. I think that for anyone who wants to be a writer and is passionate about the craft, reading books abundantly is the first step to pursuing it.
I have lived in a world of literature and writing for what feels like quite a long time now, and I have found that it is the best place to go when reality becomes too much to handle. And as we all know, life has been pretty crazy over the past couple of years filled with Covid-19, along with life’s usual ups and downs. Everyone misses what it was like before wearing face masks and applying great quantities of hand sanitizer. I will always find refuge in the world of literature and words. In fact, one could argue that it is wider and far more colossal than a simple world. From this point on, I will refer to it as a universe; a vast, beautiful, intricate universe compiled with words and sentences. From my point of view, the universe of words is a beautiful place to be.
Painting on the first day of school with 4-6 year olds. Been there. Given each student an entire can of shaving cream to play with? Done that. A sandbox inside the classroom? We’ll do it again!
With my first year as a PreK/K teacher at The Innovation School behind me, I can comfortably share my biggest hurdle in the beginning: messes are okay. I ran myself ragged at the start of the year picking up abandoned toys, sorting all the crayons by color, scrubbing every last paint splatter and peeling oranges for kids so nothing ended up on the floor. I was constantly worried about what someone would think if they walked into our space and it wasn’t tidy.
As time went on, I started to see the importance of kids being able to leave something and come back to it. Why spend valuable play time cleaning up before snack if we’re still playing after? And if toys keep magically putting themselves away, how will a child ever experience the monotony of picking up a tub of spilled Legos?
Our school places value on letting our students (even the youngest) explore their surroundings, experiment with materials, make art whenever they want and learning to do things independently. I now see all those little messes as concrete evidence of learning!