Factors to Consider when Choosing a School

Developmentally appropriate practice is a phrase often used to describe Jean Piaget’s focus on children’s stages of development, which emphasizes the importance of matching instruction to children’s readiness to learn. The difficulty is the educator’s ability to understand when a child has reached a developmental stage that requires new strategies and materials to challenge the child.
This educator awareness is a critical factor in choosing an early childhood center. To accomplish goals that are developmentally appropriate, the following features should be in place:

• First, teachers are well prepared with academic and classroom management skills that nurture and support all children. (In addition to academic credentials, teachers should participate in on-going educational development.)
• Second, ratios allow for individual attention as well as one-on-one and small group instruction.
• Third, teachers are aware of each child’s development, serving the purpose of persistent, informal assessment. (This teacher awareness creates opportunities for teachers to present materials at individually challenging levels.)
• Fourth, curricular materials and activities provide opportunities for children to explore independently and socially with peers. (These materials should span the academic disciplines including core subjects as well as the arts.)
• Fifth, a school is an emotionally appealing place to learn. (Children deserve to discover in classrooms with ample space and natural lighting.)

Each of the above factors is important when evaluating appropriate learning opportunities. Without effective teachers, ratios that support personalized learning, and an inviting learning environment, children’s opportunities are compromised.
Developmentally appropriate practice is a phrase that carries profound meaning. Dancing Moose is committed to follow through with all of the basic tenets that allow children to maximize their learning potential.

Our Lives in Color

Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue—these are the first words in the Rainbow Song. Our Dancing Moose children sang the words to the song, dressed in rainbow colors, to usher in the first day of spring.  (YouTube Video of the Rainbow Song) 

I watched in awe as the children lined the Dancing Moose hallway and sang the rainbow song together. They were part of something bigger than themselves, and they inspired all of us who listened to their song. That inspiration might be articulated in different ways, but for me the rainbow song signified that our differences, like the colors of the rainbow, are necessary to make a beautiful whole. Children are learning about the unique gifts that each individual brings to school each day. I love to hear them see each other across the parking lot in the morning or afternoon and enthusiastically call each other by name as they say hello and goodbye. Being recognized by name is a welcome sound to all of us.

The garden outside is just beginning to sprout new growth with the green breaking through the brown soil, and soon the rainbow will be visible in the many beautiful spring flowers in the garden. It is a beautiful time of renewal for all of us.

We hope to encourage Dancing Moose children to pay attention to the changing seasons and the beauty of nature. They will soon be planting seeds and watching them sprout with grow lights. These seedlings will then move to the garden where children will nurture them to maturity, and then harvest and enjoy them. One of the goals of this curriculum is to help students see and enjoy the rich products of nature, and the wonders that each season holds for new hopes and dreams.

Learning the names of colors is a goal for young children, but seeing, feeling, tasting, and enjoying the colors of nature has restorative properties. I hope that we will all reserve a little time to breath in the colors of the rainbow.

The “E” Word is Enticement, Not Efficiency

Active learning begins with curricular ideas that entice and intrigue children. Maria Montessori understood that in the early 1900s, yet enticement is often missing in children’s educational experiences. One of the reasons for this is curriculum driven by mandates that have nothing to do with what intrigues children—not because anyone intends to turn children off to learning but because policy-makers’ goals are driven by efficiency (which is especially true in a strained economy). Large classrooms and quantifiable results are conducive to efficiency.

Efficient classrooms lack choice, exploration, and instruction that is based on children’s interests. These educational qualities are neither efficient nor easily quantified, but they are the qualities that capture and maintain children’s intrigue.

To accomplish these important educational goals, Dancing Moose limits class sizes, and two teachers always work together to provide one-on-one and small group lessons that allow children to have choice and flexibility, and to work at their own pace.

Dancing Moose faculty members attended the MEPI (Montessori Education Programs International) to share project-oriented curriculum that is differentiated to meet varied developmental levels of children at Dancing Moose. State core standards are incorporated into this curriculum; yet with a limited number of students in each class, teachers are able to adapt lessons with built-in choices and levels of learning. As a result, every child can be led by his or her interests and proceed at the pace that is best suited to the child. Dancing Moose prides itself in enticing curriculum and is eager to share ideas with MEPI schools that share their values.

School and Family Connections

Connecting school and family is a great way to help children feel invested in their education. Children thrive when they know that they are valued members of an educational community. This sense of belonging contributes to a solid foundation for current and future success in school.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently published a report entitled, School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth. This report emphasized the importance of family and community engagement in school as a measure to keep students invested in education. When families stay connected to their children’s school and regularly engage their children in conversations about school, children are more likely to feel connected and enthused about their role as a member of the school community. This engagement cannot begin too early as positive attitudes toward school begin as early as a child initiates his or her school experience.

Children are able to identify school as an important part of their life when their parents take interest in their school work and their teachers. Involving families in school events is an important part of that commitment, and Dancing Moose enjoys the opportunities to host school-wide events that can foster relationship-building.

Munch and Mingle is an early-morning event that Dancing Moose will launch next week to encourage families to get together for a warm drink and a sample of Chef Rene’s great muffins. We appreciate all of our families and hope that this event will provide an opportunity for parents to get to know one another a little better. We want to make sure that all of our children know that we are on the same team for making school a great place to be!

Love, Logic, and Positive Thinking

Dancing Moose embraces the Love and Logic principles for teaching children to make responsible choices.  Love and logic is not a discipline system that creates punishments when children make poor choices; rather, it is a system that helps children recognize that poor choices naturally lead to poor outcomes, and good choices lead to good outcomes.  That is the logic behind the discipline system.  It sounds simplistic, and we all know that behavior is anything but simplistic.  Nevertheless, helping children consistently expect to own their choices is a powerful way to help children become attuned to thinking about how they might make positive choices and enjoy positive outcomes.

This ownership of one’s actions establishes a positive approach to life.  Children begin to think about what kinds of actions will bring about satisfying results, and this thought process provides positive habits of thought that yield lasting benefits.  Young children need to recognize that they have control of many circumstances in their life, and they have the ability to experience positive outcomes when they concentrate on and expect them.  They can even reframe negative thought processes to concentrate on positive expectations, helping them avoid the stress of fearing negative results.

Teachers and other adults in children’s lives can engage children in verbalizing their thoughts as they face decisions or experience the results of poor decisions.  They can help children make the connection between negative thoughts and outcomes and positive thoughts and outcomes.  It is essential that adults patiently allow children to experience the results of their own actions without imposing their own emotional response, which is most likely frustration at the child’s poor choice.  Love and logic instead teaches adults to sympathize with the sad outcome that results from a child’s poor choice.  Through this supportive attitude, children have an opportunity to think about their choice and consider how to make a better choice in the future.

As children are allowed to experience the products of positive and negative choices and given an opportunity to think about those products, they feel the important sense of control over themselves.  This control can help guide them toward positive thinking and positive expectations.  These positive habits of mind create a powerful pathway for children’s productive futures.  It leads to the kind of hope and optimism that every individual deserves as he or she grows into adulthood.

Take Time for Small Things

With the new year unfolding, we at Dancing Moose look forward to exciting adventures—some planned and some that our children will discover as they are given opportunities to think and explore in their rich classroom and playground environments. One of the most valuable attributes of the Montessori classroom includes time for independent discovery. Children utilize independent and small group time to make choices and act on those choices without concern that someone will rush them to complete, critique, and move on. Each day holds the promise for a new adventure that is waiting to be discovered.
As adults, our lives are often filled with so many predetermined events with expected outcomes that we are caught in a whirlwind. It is captivating to see children working in an environment that is not rushed but is filled with intrigue. Watching a child choose a work on a shelf and turn it into his or her own discovery is magical. Work time activities reflect children putting forth concerted effort and exhibiting great pride in their accomplishments. It is really a privilege to observe the promise that children find in small accomplishments that are unrushed. Montessori early childhood classrooms provide an ideal model for the promise that life holds when we take time to step outside the whirlwind, look around, and see what we might learn from the small and simple things we encounter.

No “Good Job” Labels

Maria Montessori understood the importance of earned praise a century ago, yet handing out empty compliments in an effort to bolster self esteem persists in children’s lives.  Some children are at risk of becoming compliment junkies as they wait for someone to recognize their work and pin on the “good job” label.  This empty praise not only encourages children to seek approval outside themselves, expect immediate extrinsic reinforcement, and respond to unearned rewards, it may actually inhibit some children to take risks.  If children perceive that they need approval from others, they might think it more safe to rest on their laurels and not risk compromising their status.  Some children may perform at mediocre standards because outside praise is constant regardless of effort.

As Montessori advocated, the real motivation to reach high levels of performance comes from within.  Observers may take interest in the products children create; they may make observations or ask questions.  Children’s real incentive to try ever-challenging tasks, however, comes from the quiet sense of satisfaction that the goal was achieved and a new goal identified.  It comes from taking pride in one’s environment, and being part of a community of learners, dreamers, achievers.  Intrinsic rewards provide children with the wonderful sense of control over their lives and the desire to keep trying because they experience the personal joy identifying and reaching their goals.  Hence, Dancing Moose teachers do not quickly turn to the “good job” label, but the encouragement to “keep working and doing your best” is an ethic that we all stand by.

Every Child a Shining Star

One of the most important things we can support in our Dancing Moose children is a positive self esteem.  Teachers accomplish this important goal in a number of ways.  First, they create a safe environment where children do not fear that they will “get it wrong.”  Children have ample opportunity to try something and then try it again.  Many lessons are self correcting, and teachers understand the importance of allowing children to take risks without fear of failure.  Second, teachers listen to children.  They take interest in the things that interest children.  As a result, children know that teachers care about them.  Teachers also encourage children to express themselves in individual and group settings, supporting children’s recognition that their ideas are interesting and important.  Third, and perhaps most important, children can predict their environment.  They know that their teachers will be well prepared with interesting activities; they will maintain consistent, high expectations that meet the developmental needs of every child; and they will be calm and patient each and every day.  These are some of the wonderful outcomes derived from dedicated and capable teachers who work with small teacher-to-student ratios.  All of us at Dancing Moose recognize that each child should feel great about themselves every day, realizing that they are shining stars and valuable members of the Dancing Moose community.

Our Green Community

It is wonderful to see the wind turbine turning and producing energy for Dancing Moose. The open fields adjacent to the school provide the perfect setting to keep the breeze moving and producing energy that goes to the energy grid.

Inside the school, our large boiler produces radiant-heated floors throughout the school. This is an important feature to help us keep children comfortable and warm, and it is another one of our commitments to maintaining a green school.

We have recently partnered with a recycling company that recycles our paper goods into insulation. They send a check for our recycled products to the Utah Food Bank each month. The bin is located next to the Dancing Moose garbage bins. If you have paper, cardboard, or magazines to recycle, we would welcome contributions to our recycling bin.

As a community, we want to do our best to contribute to a clean and healthy environment. We also want to teach our children the importance of making efforts to be green, so we incorporate all of these efforts into our curriculum. Teaching children to be responsible community members is one way to ensure a healthy future for them.

Christmas Programs—Time, Effort, and a Lot of Extra Benefits for Children

Christmas is a time of year where many celebrations take place, and Dancing Moose is no exception. Children are busy learning new songs of celebration, memorizing lines for performing a play, drawing and painting backdrops, and learning all the relevant moves to make their performances come alive. All the planning and practice takes time and patience from everyone, including all the children, but the preparation for a performance profoundly demonstrates the learning potential of integrated curricular goals. It teaches children the importance of practicing for a real and foreseeable end point, where they can experience the sheer joy of performing for their family, friends, and teachers. The many details of memorizing songs, actions, and lines, creating artwork, and moving with practiced precision are details that come together to teach children that they are important members of a production.

The Christmas program for 2011 will take place on December 8th, and all of us at Dancing Moose look forward to seeing the beautiful work of our Dancing Moose children as they celebrate this festive time of year.