For today's blog, I thought I would talk about how the OG works.
Children in the Older Group are reaching toward independence. They are holding on to childhood, while pushing toward teen-hood, vacillating between wanting to be a young child and wanting the maturity and responsibility of an adolescent. Their thinking is shifting from more concrete to more abstract understanding of their world, and their minds and bodies are beginning to be affected by hormonal changes. It is an exciting, and sometimes challenging, period of transition in their lives.
The Older Group is a mixed age group ranging from 9 - 12 or 13 years old, covering what would be 4th - 6th grade (or in some cases offering an extra year as needed) in a traditional school setting. The mixed age groups promote a more natural and family-like setting for learning, everyone bringing their particular strengths, ideas, concepts, and learning styles to enrich the learning of all. The children are not grouped according to grade or age, but according to what skills they are working on at the time. The groupings are, therefore, fairly fluid and allow for easy movement from group to group.
What does this look like in the Older Group? We begin the day with a morning meeting. This allows children the opportunity to check in with each other and talk about what is on their minds. This can range from telling about what they did yesterday, to what they dreamed, to an illness in the family. It sets the tone for the day, and lets all of us know ‘where we are’ as the day begins.
At the core of our philosophy, is a respect for children as learners. They love to learn; their brains are growing at a rapid pace and they have a thirst for knowledge. Children learn at different paces and different time tables, and with different interests driving them. The size and structure of our groups permits this to happen. Children are not taught all of the same skills at the same time. Children work independently on class work and projects, while Sally Dennis, Bill Mullins and I work with small groups to teach math, or I work with small groups on other subjects, such as reading, spelling, grammar, etc. At scheduled times, small groups go to Brian for art and science.
Curriculum is in large part built on the interests of the children. Those are taken into consideration first, and from there, I also incorporate those skills that I know they need to make a successful transition beyond Antioch School. The room is set up so children can explore many different ideas, topics, and skills as they work independently.
It is not a ‘you can hear a pin drop’ environment. There is much going on, with children pursuing different activities throughout the day. Discovery and learning often entails moving around, working together, and making use of areas beyond the classroom. The children share ideas and knowledge with each other, and are teachers as well as learners. In fact, what better way to strengthen what you learn by sharing that knowledge with someone else? Children in the Older Group also partner with the Kindergarten children as swim partners, reading partners, and often are partners on walks and other activities. The relations they build with the kindergarten children are very valued and carry well beyond their Older Group or Kindergarten years. Frequently an Antioch School graduate, in college or beyond, will fondly mention their kindergarten partner by name.
Looking into any room at Antioch School, the observer will see multiple activities going on at the same time. Children will be curled up someplace comfortable reading, working in little groups on a project, drawing, working with a teacher, checking in before going outside to practice riding a unicycle, sitting in quiet contemplation, writing a story, working intensely on a difficult math problem, or any one of an endless possibility of choices. While it may not appear so to the eye of someone used to a more ‘traditional’ structure, this is a truly structured environment. Children are learning how to structure their time, their learning, their social interactions, and developing total confidence in their ability to do so. They are learning in the way the human brain works best, motivated by their interests with time to process, and plenty of room to explore, and play.
Play is a respected element of learning throughout the school. Playful moments are learning opportunities. Play promotes development in a number of domains, problem solving, creativity, social development, longer attention spans. Children need breaks (as do we all) to assimilate things they have already learned, process new information, to work through difficult emotional issues, and just to have fun.
Children need time to build things, draw, think up jokes, make up magic tricks, invent and play new games, and just relax and day dream. A child who has time to absorb, assimilate, pursue his or her own interests, to play with ideas and other children can learn more deeply, trust in his or her intuitions, ideas, and judgments.
Structure at Antioch School is the spinal chord, the central nervous system, less visible to the naked eye perhaps, but at the very core of everything we do. It is vibrant and energetic. Learning is propelled by the very nature of children’s minds. They want to learn because growing is learning. They do not learn in isolation. They share ideas, pass on traditions, support each other, delve into exploration with each other.
“Do you think we can dig connecting tunnels in the sand pile?”
“Let’s do a report on penguins!”
“How do you figure out square roots and what are they?”
The children have self-direction because no one has told them that they are not
competent to learn without being told to. On the contrary, this self-determination is valued and nurtured. It is this trust in children and respect for their innate desire to explore the world around them, to take in information, to create and explore ideas, that forms the backbone of Antioch School structure. These qualities are what the children take with them into their next schooling experiences and on into adulthood. They have internalized structure, know how to tackle difficult problems, and have confidence in their ability to do so.
My mission: To have children graduate from Antioch School generating motivation, knowledge, courage, self-confidence, ideas, resourcefulness, love of their own individuality, and respect for the individuality of others.
Years of teaching have taught me to trust in the in the Antioch School process, what are traditionally called academics absolutely flower and flourish, dramatically so, so as to lead them to be award winning writers and scholars the minute they enter the middle school ; they capture more than their share of achievements and honors as they go on in school. I have the honor and pleasure to see this year after year after year.