When parents of preschool-age children tour our school, they invariably explain that they are looking for the best possible start for their child’s academic journey. They share with us what they have read, what they have explored and look to us for validation that we are ‘it’, the best possible start for their child. Their palpable tension over this choice speaks to its immensity: will the ‘wrong preschool’ doom their little person to a life of mediocrity?
In reality there are many good choices for any one child. Our preschool program is Montessori-based because it puts the child at the center of the learning process. We believe the Montessori method, where children are free to choose lessons, explore, and repeat with guidance from a teacher, provides the best foundation for lifelong learning. And this is the key to a successful choice: figuring out where your child fits in a given preschool’s philosophy of learning is where you should focus your attention as you evaluate your options.
There is much evidence that a trend toward more teacher-directed instruction is not in the best interest of our youngest learners. The Atlantic offers a thorough assessment of the impact of teacher-led as opposed to student-led learning: The New Preschool is Crushing Kids noting “The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to—while at the same time obscuring—the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.”
So as you go about choosing the best preschool program for your child, observe how learning occurs. Do the children talk with one another, share ideas, use the teacher as a resource? Is there lots of movement as well as children focused on particular projects? If your answers are yes, then relax a bit. You are on the right track.
Our fourth graders returned from Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center and spent two days immersed in learning about a watershed, biodiversity, and energy cycles. They hiked, milked cows and experienced first-hand the concepts they are learning about in fourth grade science.
This trip is the first of the overnight trips in our curriculum, with additional overnight trips in Grade 5, and Middle School. However, we incorporate experiential learning in every grade at Green Hedges. All of our students, beginning with the Montessori students, take field trips through the year to see plays and visit museums.
Other experiential learning happens right on our beautiful campus. Art classes provide students the opportunity to photograph, sketch, or collect natural materials for inclusion in a project. Our Montessorians maintain three gardens, and grow flowers and herbs. Grade 1 observes the development of caterpillars into butterflies and celebrates with a springtime release ceremony. We are soon to begin installation of our science garden which will provide hands-on lessons in soil chemistry, biology, lifecycle of plants, and much more.
Experiential lessons are an invaluable learning tool for the following reasons:
Enhances our curriculum—Through “learning by doing” our students are better able to grasp and retain concepts. By visiting Hard Bargain Farm last week, Grade 4 could see for themselves the local watershed ecosystem and were identifying producers, consumers and decomposers in food chains and food webs first-hand. They returned to their classroom this week ready to reflect on their observations and build upon them.
Increases engagement levels amongst students—Our Middle School students experience an overnight camping excursion every fall, building confidence and teamwork on ropes courses, climbing walls and zip lines at Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center. The majority of the students come back from this trip saying that they were able to connect with their fellow middle schoolers differently than when they are at school. These connections continue for the rest of the school year and often beyond.
Shows that it’s okay to make mistakes—When students perform hands-on tasks, they aren’t always going to get it right the first time. Experiential learning allows students to think differently and try new things and to regroup and try again if it doesn’t go their way the first time.
Prepares students for real life—Life doesn’t happen in a controlled environment. Adapting to a changing atmosphere, working in groups and learning to work with others in sometimes less than ideal circumstances are all factors our students experience during our trips.
Aligns with one of our core values of “Explore Opportunities”—Green Hedges believes that a child’s growth is fostered through a broad range of academic, fine art, athletic and other endeavors and we require all students to engage in these pursuits. Only by trying something, whether it be an instrument you haven’t played before or ziplining for the first time, will you begin to realize your potential. At Green Hedges, we provide those opportunities in a safe space.
Visitors to Green Hedges often are a bit surprised, and curious, to know why we teach French starting with our youngest students in Montessori. Our founders, the Kilmers, wanted to ensure that foreign languages started at an early age, along with the arts including music instruction and poetry. The choice of French was because they had very meaningful ties to France—Frances Kilmer was the daughter of prominent Impressionist painter Frederick Frieseke and spent her childhood in France, immersed in the study of music, literature, art and language. The Kilmers met in France for the first time in 1934.
This early introduction of French is the foundation for our world language curriculum. French instruction begins with our Montessori students at age 3 and continues through Grade 8. Why start early? Younger children are still honing their first language by mimicking what they hear and making sense of speech patterns. Therefore, they are well positioned to exercise those same skills to acquire a second language. And, unlike adults, they aren’t embarrassed when they make a mistake.
In Grade 5, our students have the opportunity to continue their instruction in French or switch to Spanish. Regardless of their choice, we add Latin instruction in Grade 6 for all students to provide additional depth. On average, our students move on to high school having attained the equivalent of two years of high school foreign language credit.
Just as we introduce world languages at an early age, we do the same with music for much the same reason. “Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas,” according to an article on pbs.org.
Music also helps in language development and is similar to learning another language. Music has its own vocabulary (the notes), syntax (the staff and measures), and grammar rules (time signatures, key notations, etc.). At Green Hedges, our students begin music class at age 3 and our French teachers often enhance the learning of the language in Montessori through the use of songs and music.
In Grade 3, each student learns to read music and play in a group setting through our recorder program. At the end of their Grade 3 year, with guidance from the Band Director, each student chooses an instrument for concert band instruction in subsequent years. All students participate in concert band through Grade 8, and many of our Middle School students also join the GHS Jazz Band whose performances are a staple at numerous Vienna community events.
Seventy five years ago, the Kilmers made a conscious effort to make the languages, music and the arts an important part of their curriculum. They intuitively realized what has been proven by recent research: there is strong overlap between these areas that benefits learning in each of them. There are long-term benefits of unifying the arts and academics to create well-rounded students and we continue to carry out these principles today.
Our graduating Grade 8 class has just received notifications from the secondary schools to which they applied months ago. Their hard work in and out of the classroom has led to the excitement of contemplating which of their acceptances constitutes the best fit for their high school years.
Given the rich array of secondary school options in our area, finding the right next school can seem an overwhelming task. However, when our students (and their parents) start looking into secondary schools they aren’t going it alone. They collaborate closely with Mr. Gregg, our Head of School, throughout the journey, so that when it comes time to apply to schools in their final year at Green Hedges, they know what type of school will be the right fit for them.
At GHS, the secondary school process begins with a breakfast in February for our Grade 7 students and parents. They are given an overview of both the application process and the support they will receive over the next year and a half. Mr. Gregg always invites a representative from one of the independent schools in the area. This year, we were fortunate to welcome the Director of Admission at the Potomac School, Carson Roy, who provided our students with valuable tips such as how to approach and interact with secondary school representatives and how to conduct yourself on a tour.
There is regular communication between Green Hedges, the parents and students during the application process. Family interviews help translate the broad experiences our students have at GHS into what they want in a secondary school. Mr. Gregg’s deep knowledge of the secondary school world helps them create a list of schools to visit.
By the time our students start visiting secondary schools, they are already well versed in speaking confidently with teachers and other adults. Mock interviews conducted by Mr. Gregg prepare our Grade 8 for their visits to prospective schools. On-site preparation for the SSAT helps ensure they are ready for the standardized testing required by the secondary schools.
Faculty members write personal letters of recommendation which are included in the student’s application packet for each school. Finally, Mr. Gregg personally visits most of the schools to which the students apply and is in personal contact with the respective admission offices, constantly advocating for our students and supporting their candidacies.
The Green Hedges secondary school process is one of collaboration and preparation amongst our Head of School, faculty, parents and students. We are fortunate to have a community that understands that choosing a high school should not be done in a vacuum, but through a process that ensures that our graduating students go on to a school where they will thrive.
Right now, our Middle School students are hard at work in rehearsals for their performing arts production of “Macbeth: The Musical” which they will debut on Thursday, March 16th. Although the performing arts season at GHS culminates each year in May with the highly-anticipated Grade 1 play, the Middle School musical is a pinnacle of another sort.
These students, our most experienced thespians, put together a demanding musical each year which demonstrates their comfort with singing, dialogue, character, emotion, costumes, lighting, and makeup – all under the glare of stage lights and the gaze of parents and friends! How do they do it? Although not quite adhering to Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule”, the fact is these students have benefitted from the Green Hedges curriculum designed to provide practice, practice, and more practice at being in front of an audience.
It starts with our Montessori Kindergarten classes, who prepare and present a short play entirely in French to their parents and siblings. After that, each year of instruction at Green Hedges includes a speaking role onstage in a performing arts production, beginning with the fairy tale-based plays of Grade 1 and continuing to the musicals of the Middle School. All of our students also sing in our Winter Concert. Even the most reticent of speakers is encouraged to find their voice before the footlights.
Echoing our comprehensive curriculum in other areas, we teach poise throughout the grades by repeated exposures in increasingly challenging ways. Grade 3 students perform as a historical figure each year in a virtual Wax Museum, and Grade 4 students put on the GHS State Fair celebrating many of the American states. In both, the integrated research across geography, history, and art is presented by the student “expert” to attendees. The students are encouraged to make eye contact, discuss the topic in an organized manner, and incorporate technology while sharing their knowledge with the questioner. By Grade 8, our students are moderating Opening and Closing assemblies in front of the entire student body and responding with ease to unexpected questions or occurrences.
These and many other intentional opportunities build the sense of poise that we begin to instill at an early age here at Green Hedges. By building self-confidence, character and balance, we are preparing our students with skills which will be important in high school classrooms, college seminars, and business meetings.
The PTO’s March meeting will also focus on poise and performance. Join fellow parents for the meeting on March 14 at 8:15 AM.
There is always a hot, new app which pops up and starts trending. What if your tween’s device suddenly has that app? Or an unfamiliar app? What are the important steps to be a responsible parent in these cases?
Last week, our StratEdgies blog post focused on what parents can do to help raise wise digital kids. Earlier this week, Green Hedges welcomed Iris Beckwith, President of connectED4safety LLC, to campus to share tips for parents on navigating the ever-changing cyber world in which we, and our children, live. She also presented to our tweens in Grades 4 and 5 and our Middle School teens.
While each presentation was geared towards very different audiences, the one common theme was the importance of being proactive, when it comes to cyber safety.
Here are 5 takeaways from Iris’ presentation to parents:
Be the owner of your family’s electronic devices and set parameters. Set limits early on and emphasize that access to apps, messaging, video games and social media are privileges and not rights. Regular check-ins, especially with teenagers, allows for a conversation about what is working and what isn’t.
Periodically check the browser history on all your family devices. It sounds intuitive, but periodically checking the browsing history of computers, laptops and iPads can help you see where your child has been online and allow you to remind them about appropriate sites based on your family rules. Seeing a cleared browsing history? Well, that may signal the need for a conversation as well. Also, you should not only know all of your kid’s passwords, but check them regularly to see if any of them have changed.
Sharenting. The “term used to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children. It is related to the concept of ‘too much information’.” While no one wants to tell you not to post photos of your adorable kids online, it may be helpful to stop and think about the digital footprint of your child it is leaving behind. Always make sure your privacy settings are what you want them to be before posting on social media. Here’s a helpful link on navigating privacy settings on Facebook.
Always ask yourself and ask your kids “who has access to this?” Again, be aware of what your privacy and location settings are and how to turn them off. There can often be hidden data available when you post online, so just be aware of who is seeing what and how much information they can ascertain from one post of yours. Learn about privacy settings on social media here.
Conversations around cyber safety should start early and continue on a regular basis. While supervision of online activity is certainly an important factor in keeping our kids safe, we also want them to be equipped with the right information and tools to know what is safe and unsafe at an early age. It only takes a few minutes to share something you shouldn’t online, but could takes months to years to recover from it.
As with many topics in parenting, open lines of communication are critical. Talk with your kids and listen to their worries, concerns and questions so you know where they need your support and guidance.
“Well, as you know, I’m not on SnapFace and all that …”
—Bill Belichick, New England Patriots Head Coach commenting on social media.
It’s hard to keep up with social media in today’s cyber world, as the above quote illustrates.
We begin teaching our children behavioral expectations at a very young age, teaching them to say “please”, “thank you”, and look people in the eye. Raising wise digital citizens requires you provide the same sort of instruction, guidance, oversight, and support (in age-appropriate ways) as they learn how to interact appropriately in digital settings. This is important because there are considerations related to safety, digital footprints, and etiquette where missteps by young users can be difficult to deal with after the fact.
Here are some useful suggestions for children no matter their age:
Think before you type – it can seem easy to post things that may be hurtful to others or simply too blunt when you are looking at a screen and not a person. Some websites suggest a “WWGS” (What Would Grandma Say?) rule to illustrate this to tweens. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandma, don’t type it to another person.
Don’t talk to strangers – Children need to be taught that everyone online is a stranger. Profiles are not always lined up with who that person is in reality, which may be a surprise to tweens. Messaging during online gaming, chat rooms and social media apps can create a feeling of shared experiences leading a child to “speak” with strangers in a way they would never do in real life. It should be emphasized that it is never okay to share information about their address, family, school, friends, etc. with someone online.
Privacy is not guaranteed – Children need to understand that nothing online is ever as private as it may seem, and posts and photos can live on forever. Even on apps which tout that their messages or photos are only available for a short time, a screenshot of the live post can easily defeat that expectation.
On Tuesday, February 28, Iris Beckwith, President of connectED4safety LLC, will be at Green Hedges. All parents are invited to her presentation at 8:30 a.m. designed to help you find concrete options for understanding, managing and talking to your children about their online lives, as well as helpful hints and guidelines useful for monitoring your tween/teens digital activities. Presentations to students in Grades 4-8 will follow.
Keeping up with what is new and trendy while setting appropriate limits and instilling good behavior and habits can seem like a daunting job, but resources like Iris Beckwith’s presentation can help. More information on this topic can also be found at:
As we celebrate Black History Month at Green Hedges, we are recognizing the achievements of African-Americans in many areas including science, mathematics, engineering, medicine, sports, the arts and literature.
Our Librarian, Mrs. Nancy Provenzano, has curated a list of books that celebrate African-American authors and prominent African-Americans past and present, and an array of authors who represent the diversity of America, both in their own heritage and through the characters in their books. Included in this list are books written by Newbery Award winning author, Kwame Alexander. This week we were fortunate to welcome Kwame to Green Hedges to share his books and inspire our students. He is just one of many authors we welcome to the school year round who encourage our students to explore the world around them through reading.
All of the books listed below can be found at the Green Hedges Library. When asked about her approach to choosing books for the School’s collection, Mrs. Provenzano states “I’d like every child to see themselves represented in all aspects of literature and to ultimately realize the range of possibilities available to them.”
Preschool- Grade 3
Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band – Kwame Alexander
And Tango Makes Three – Pete Parnell
Baseball Saved Us – Ken Mochizuki
Be Who You Are – Todd Parr
Bee-Bim-Bop – Linda Sue Park
Firebird – Misty Copeland
Grandfather’s Journey – Allen Say
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher – Molly Bang
King & King – Linda de Haan
Mango, Abuela & Me – Meg Medina
More More More Said the Baby – Vera B. Williams
My Princess Boy – Cheryl Kilodavis
Nino Wrestles the World – Yuyi Morales
The Other Side – Jacqueline Woodson
Tar Beach – Faith Ringgold
Thunder Boy Jr. – Sherman Alexie
Twenty Yawns – Jane Smiley
Whistle for Willie – Ezra Jack Keats
Bruh Rabbit and the Tar Baby Girl – Virginia Hamilton
The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty & the Beast Tale – Laurence Yep
Gluskabe and the Four Wishes – Joseph Bruchac
Little Roja Riding Hood – Susan Middleton Elya
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China – Ed Young
Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood – Mike Artell
The Twelve Dancing Princesses – Rachel Isadora
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin — Jen Bryant
Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina — Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop – Laban Carrick Hill
Young Jim Thorpe: Bright Path — Don Brown
Grades 4 – 6
As Brave as You – Jason Reynolds
Birchbark House (series) – Louise Erdrich
Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond — Brenda Woods
Crossover and Booked – Kwame Alexander
Esperanza Rising – Pam Munoz Ryan
Flying Lessons & other Stories – Edited by Ellen Oh
George — Alex Gino
Inside Out & Back Again – Thanhha Lai
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy – Gary D. Schmidt
Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion – Jacqueline Woodson
Millicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time (series) — Lisa Yee
One Crazy Summer (trilogy)– Rita Williams Garcia
President of the Whole Fifth Grade — Sherri Winston
The Thing About Luck – Cynthia Kadohata
Watsons Go to Birmingham – Christopher Paul Curtis
El Deafo – Cece Bell (graphic novel biography)
March, Book One – John Lewis (graphic novel biography)
We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball – Kadir Nelson
Grades 7 – 8
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel)
Chains (trilogy) – Laurie Halse Anderson
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child – Francisco Jimenez
The Code Talker – Joseph Bruchac
Crossing the Wire – Will Hobbs
Dragonwings (series) – Laurence Yep
Elijah of Buxton and Madman of Piney Woods – Christopher Paul Curtis
Fallen Angels – Walter Dean Myers
The Glory Field – Walter Dean Myers
Fiction in Verse
Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg (also Serafina’s Promise and Unbound)
Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent – Thomas B. Allen
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans – Kadir Nelson
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound – Andrea Davis Pinkney
Autobiographies in Verse
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle
It’s STEM Week at Green Hedges! Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) represents a significant part of our balanced curriculum. In this week, we focus attention on these four disciplines and how our talented Green Hedges faculty guides our students to draw connections between and among them.
A highlight of the week is the annual Science Fair. Students in Grades 4 through 8 have been working for weeks developing hypotheses, performing experiments, and documenting their conclusions. Parents, teachers and all students tour the display of completed projects while these scientists explain their procedures and what they learned. The robotics class exhibits the cars they designed and programmed, and 3-D printing demonstrations occur. Throughout the week, our Middle Schoolers will lead our Montessorians and Lower School students through more science activities, and the week will culminate at Closing with the Grade 8 Science Show.
If this week ignites interest in STEM in your child, there are plenty of ways to keep the discussion going long after the week has ended. Here are some ideas:
Encourage curiosity – Embrace the many questions of “why” and “how” all children ask as they interact with their world. Explain the things you know and help your child research questions that stump both of you.
Work math concepts into your everyday life – there are plenty of opportunities to support learning in math. Have your child help measure out ingredients while you bake to get exposure to fractions. When you are at the grocery store, have your child estimate the weight of a large bunch of grapes after weighing a smaller one.
Seek out non-fiction information – There are plenty of non-fiction topics that children find fascinating – just try to walk a second-grader past a book about sharks or dolphins! Encourage your child to choose a non-fiction book on a topic they find interesting when you visit the library. There are also many viewing options of science programs or documentaries available on PBS Kids, Discovery Channel, History Channel, and within the Netflix catalog. Choose one appropriate to your child’s age and watch together.
Visit a science museum – Our area is rich with opportunities given the complex of Smithsonian Museums just a short drive away. Whether your child is interested in natural history, aeronautics, or zoology, there are many choices for a family outing that would encourage their interest.
Visit the Maker Faire in Reston on March 19 – Maker Faire NoVa is a showcase of invention, creativity, resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. It’s a place where people show what they are making, and share what they are learning covering all aspects of the STEM education movement. Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers of all ages and backgrounds. This year the faire will feature a lot of hands-on exhibits where attendees get to learn and make things that they can take home like learning to solder and forming clay on a pottery wheel.
One of Green Hedges School’s greatest assets is its highly-experienced faculty. In order to ensure that each student is able to receive the maximum amount of instruction and inspiration, we maintain a low student-teacher ratio of approximately 8:1. The low ratio also allows our teachers to support each child’s learning style as she/he emerges into a capable, confident, conscientious young adult.
Some additional benefits noted by other educational blogs include:
EACH STUDENT GETS NOTICED
In a smaller class, it’s more difficult for students to hide and get left behind. Fewer students means that each one gets attention from the teacher, and they are encouraged and pushed to take part and express their opinions.
LEARNING IS ENHANCED
Not only do students learn more in small classes, they also learn faster. And this means the class progresses through the course material more quickly. Their learning is enhanced by the confidence students develop to share their opinions and ask and answer questions, which also benefits their peers.
TEACHERS CAN TEACH
Teachers at the front of a small class have more opportunities to observe and assess the class as a whole and the students as individuals. Learning is further enhanced when teachers and students can interact spontaneously in the classroom.
CLASSES BECOME A COMMUNITY
With fewer students per class, individuals can connect more closely with their peers and become more confident and comfortable when it comes to sharing their ideas and perspectives. These connections lead to lasting friendships.
OPPORTUNITIES TO PARTICIPATE
Small groups mean fewer voices and that means the students those voices belong to have more chances to speak up in class. They can apply the knowledge they’ve acquired as they participate in discussions and express their opinions.
FOCUS ON LEARNING
In learning environments with a limited number of students, teachers can spend more time teaching the material and less time getting the attention of those who get distracted. Teachers can also cater to students’ different learning styles and ensure that they stay engaged and understand what is being taught.
Teachers have more time to individualize their feedback, ensuring that each student understands the material, gets the help he or she needs, and is reaching his or her potential.
STUDENTS AND TEACHERS CAN WORK ONE-ON-ONE
Students and teachers often work together one-on-one, which gives teachers the opportunity to customize instruction and guidance, and students receive their instructors’ undivided attention.
IDEAS ARE SHARED
With fewer students in a class, there is more time for them to share their own ideas, express their opinions and describe their perspectives and where these come from, all of which enrich their international education abroad.
“We talk a lot about being a small school that provides a big experience and we have small classes so the most I’ve ever had in my class is 16 students. I know every student who comes to my class well before they get there—I know how they learn, I know how they function and even the most introverted or shy students are able to, in a safe, supportive environment, find their voice,” says Grade 5 teacher Stacey Vagoun.
The bottom line is small class sizes here allow us to know every student well, and as we often say “there’s no back row at Green Hedges.” We provide a big experience with big, lasting benefits.