When School Gets it Right

“I hate School,” is not the first thing out of my kids mouths when I pick them up anymore. “Guess what I did in Specials today,” is what comes tumbling out in an excited jumble and fight to see who gets to talk first. Specials is the ingenious program started this school year that brings art and creative play and physical education back into our school.

Three days a week, for the last hour of the day, every kid in the school dons a lanyard that tells him where to go and they break into groups all over the school and in every part of the playground. They have an Active Play for 20 minutes, and then the bell rings, and they rush to their second Special, Quiet Play (or visa versa of course). And they stay in their Special selection for several weeks in a row, getting a chance to learn the game or skill and put it into action.

Here are some of the Active Play choices:

  • Tag Games
  • Kick Ball
  • Obstacle Course
  • Dodge Ball
  • Long Walks
  • Jump Rope Games
  • Circuit Training
  • Basketball
  • Tinikling – the Bamboo Dance of the Philippines
  • Line Dancing

Here are some of the Quiet Play choices:

  • Photography
  • Chess
  • Board-games
  • Vintage Games
  • Jewelry Making
  • Paper Airplanes
  • Lego Mania
  • Magic Tricks
  • Sculpting
  • Junk Art
  • Drawing
  • Garage Band
  • Cooking
  • Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Yes, that last one, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is my little Bean’s final Quiet Play Special of the year. For the next month, for twenty minutes three times a week, he will be learning how to set a table, how to pass food properly, and how to have good table manners. The kids get to watch the Mad Hatter Tea Party scene from the cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland, and they “Actually get to have a Real Tea Party!” I cannot wait to help in that class.

Earlier in the year, when I wasn’t in Tax Season, I helped with the Paper Airplane group. It was so much more challenging than I expected. My kids have been crafting with paper since Ben was three years old. He makes all sorts of things with paper, and he has always been self-directed with his art. I am not teaching him anything. I just provide him with the art supplies he requests, and he’s off and running.

Working with kids who needed detailed instructions, hands-on supervision and help in order to fold paper was a whole new world for me. But honestly, some of these kids didn’t seem to have ever played with paper in their lives until this Special. We had little ones dissolving into buckets of tears when their airplanes wouldn’t fly because they were crumpled and garbled and wobbly and weak from improper folds. We got to work with them to improve their techniques until finally they were making paper airplanes that could travel and could fly through hoops and do tricks. The look of satisfaction and accomplishment when they had learned the skills to do this sort of play on their own was incredible.

What I love is that the kids are learning these awesome, fun things that will carry into their home lives. I mean, when we tell our kids to go outside and play, we expect them to know how to do that. No one had to teach me to use my imagination and come up with a game to play. But the world has changed. Kids still have incredible gifts, and many use their giant imaginations every day. Many little imaginations need a boost to really kick into high gear. All year long, they have been getting plenty of ideas of how to use their free time either inside quietly or outside running wild.

They also are having interaction with kids from all different grade levels. When I worked with the Paper Airplanes group, there were older kids who helped the younger kids with their folds. They are getting leadership training in a fun environment. They are working in teams, they are designing and building together. They have something other than class work to look forward to. They don’t want to miss school. Incredible! I just want to say that one more time. They do not want to miss school! They want to be there. This is the part that matters the most. In many schools, all the fun stuff has been stripped away to focus on test scores. Our school gets it that without all these fun activities, without plenty of play and running around school becomes work, and it becomes dull, and it becomes something to avoid.

When I was in school, I don’t think I could have survived without Choir. Getting good grades was required to stay in choir, and so I did well, but not because I was a good student and had it in my makeup to do well. I did well so I could have choir. End of story.

These kids are doing well in school because the school has this end of day play time that means the world to the them. Scratch that. I don’t actually know if test scores have improved at my school. And you know what? I Do. Not. Care. I really don’t. My own kids are enjoying school again – for the first time really since the art, beauty and magical playtime of Preschool. And Bean is excited to help with setting the table. It’s a Win-Win.


This Just IN!

I was just over at the school, and I ran into the Principal. I told her how much I love Specials and how much my kids love Specials. She asked me to talk to her about it. We sat in her office and I told her basically what I’ve already written, and also that I’d just seen something online yesterday about how stressful tests are for kids, and how I think this is helping. She said, “We don’t care about tests! I tell my teachers that if we teach our kids to think, they’ll do fine on the tests.” She went on to explain how where she came from in Australia, teachers do it all – they do the math and the art and the gym – all in their classroom, and no one stands in line.

At the idea of a line, I was reminded of the most heart-breaking part of Bean starting school. He has a birthday in October, so he was already practically six before he ever got to start Kindergarten, and he was so ready, he so wanted to learn. He could not WAIT to start school. After beginning, I asked him how he liked it, and, looking defeated, he replied that he’d learned how to walk in a straight line and look ahead and not look around at all. I was so devastated. They took a kid who couldn’t wait to learn, and tried to turn him into an uncaring robot.

Well, our Principal says that we have been brainwashing kids for too long. She’s gotten rid of standing kids in lines to go anywhere throughout the school. She said they won’t line up to come in, they won’t line up to go out, we will open the doors and let them come in and go to their classrooms. Our school is teaching kids to self-manage.

I could sing!

photo from here

8 thoughts on “When School Gets it Right

  1. Great post! It worries me about my son entering grade school. Right now he is in a Montessori preschool and I love it so much! I would rather he attended Montessori his whole school life rather then go to a conventional school. Because he is learning independence, because kids play independently naturally. I’m hoping when we leave here that we can find an amazing school that is Montessori or like Montessori cause I’ll be so sad to leave that format.

    But I’m glad to see conventional schools finally taking a step in the right direction and bringing back such important programs such as music, art and recess/gym!!! That is so great and look how much your kid lit up with that. So, great!

    1. That was one of our problems as well – my ten-year old went to a Waldorf style preschool. I swear, when I walked into that place, I wanted to turn in my adult key, and go back to preschool myself. It was absolutely magical. And perhaps because it was so incredible? The rest of school was super hard for him until this year. Luckily, there are lots of choices these days for parents. If the public school in your area is doing a cookie cutter approach, you can start now to look for a good charter school, or the free public online school – that usually gas fond classroom component. We have tried everything, including homeschool. As he is moving to Junior High next year, those options are once again circling through my head as I attempt to find the best spot for him. Thank you for being here and for the conversation!

      1. So true. I think once we leave Hawaii and we find out where we are going I’ll be looking more into Montessori still or a Waldrof just depends on where we go after this.

  2. I think there is an undercurrent in our country of deep dissatisfaction with the Status Quo around schools. Things are shifting. People are wanting more of the curiosity put back in schools instead of the hammering away at little minds trying to stuff them with things they will forget as soon as the test is over. (I love your blog – thank you for being here!)

    1. Thank you! Back at you, I look forward to reading more of your posts! 🙂

      1. I am feeling especially philosophical today after a big realization this morning, and feeling that I have more ability to love now that I’m not tied up over some issues that have been resolved in my heart. This is due to the Conscious Parenting book study I’m a part of – you should check it out – Conscious Parent Book Study!

  3. This is so amazing!! I do hope that when my daughter starts school she’ll have a principal who is this enlightened! I’ve been doing some volunteering with STEM events locally (3-5th graders) and seeing them lined up was a bit of a bummer for me! I’m glad to see some schools are thinking more broadly about what’s possible for kids to learn in school!

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