What Schools Should Be…

I have a dream, which is to open my own school (or head one that I can make really radical changes in.. haha)

There are classes/activities/courses that I think should be part of the school day that aren’t in our current systems, and also the way the day is structured needs some re-thinking. I’m going to talk about the early years first – but I do think this way for elementary grades, middle/high school too. My ideas change a bit as you move up through the school, but I’ll keep this post just for how I’d change the early years first (then, as the kids grow through the school, that will impact how the whole school changes slowly).

First, let’s talk about specific classes that I think should be apart of everyday in the early years (nursery – grade 2).
To name a few: art, music, dance, cooking/baking, outdoor play and gardening, dramatic play, sports.
(please take notice that math/writing/reading is not on my list…. ;))
I do think these things are very important too.. I mean, we all need to be able to use math, read, and write in life – BUT… it’s not necessarily something that younger kids need to do now. Can anyone tell me why a 5 year olds needs to know properties of 2D and 3D shapes? sides? and corners? is this useful or interesting for a 5 year old? No. but talk about poop and pee – and you’ve got them all listening. There’s a reason for that – it’s relevant.

I’m going to insert a side-note here… just because they can do something, doesn’t mean they should – developmentally speaking… just because a four year old can add or subtract, doesn’t mean they should be spending their time on that – especially since there might be factors you skip over if you jump right too that just because they can do it. Just because a kid can read level J reading books, doesn’t mean they understand anything that happened in the book… they might just be reading the words – and same goes for math, they might just have memorized some addition facts, or something else.
Just because a kid can swim, doesn’t mean he should be dropped in the middle of the ocean. There’s a lot we need to know, and get to know, before we can throw them into something that developmentally isn’t really appropriate (even though they ‘can’ do it). I can talk about this point a lot, but before I get too deep – let’s go back to my dream school.

Alright, so..
Art, music, dance, cooking/baking, outdoor play, gardening, dramatic play, sports.
Yes, yes, yes, we do have these things occasionally.. maybe a few times a week, maybe a few times a month, maybe every other month — that’s. not. enough.
I think these things need to be apart of every day.
I have noticed over the last 5 years, that no matter what – if you give children time, they’ll do all of these things on their own (make-believe or for real). I can always find at least one child every day pretend cooking, making/creating things, playings games/sports, dancing, singing, etc. and I find it really hard to pull a child away from creating something, or drawing, to go to art class. What they’re doing is art. The fact that I have to ask them to stop creating or making art, and go to art class, blows my mind. I’m pulling them away from art to go to art… it doesn’t make sense.
I am not saying we need to get rid of these specialty classes – BUT, they need to be more flexible. The standard Art, Music, and PE. Art should be a space within the room that is always available, music should be apart of everyday naturally, and PE… the entire life of a child is PE. There was a study  I read about how much a 5 year old child runs in one day, and holy cow – it’s a lot.

Math and writing should be taught through these kinds of classes. What better way to learn numbers or measurement then by cooking, or baking, or gardening. What better way to learn how to write or read then through dramatic play, or through art as a way to communicate with others – express yourself – share your feelings. How much do you love to listen to music and dance? It should be apart of everyday. Outdoor play and sports should be a flexible/free flowing option for children who love to be outside and move their bodies.
The children should eat when they’re hungry, rest when they’re tired, and laugh the whole day.
How else can we really teach self-regulation, and how else can someone figure out what they’re interested in, then to have the days set up where you can decide what you want to spend your time on, where you want to spend your time, and to really listen to and respond to how you’re feeling. The children would be learning how to be independent, accountable, respectful, and responsible – by giving them the chance to choose, and have real choices (not one of those fake choices like, you can choose to write in your journal or write on this blank paper – that’s not a choice, those are options for writing). A real choice – play outside all day? bake something? cook? do an art project? do a little bit of everything? eat when you’re hungry? Cool. do that.

There is a misconception here that this kind of set up allows for a free for all, that is wild and chaotic. The children will never learn anything, they’ll just play all day. My arch nemesis is the phrase “oh they’re just playing”, more specifically the two words – ‘just’ and ‘playing’ put together. It just screams ignorance to me, especially when it comes from teachers. Ya – they’re JUST playing. GO and actually watch them, listen to them, observe them, in their play and if you’re not amazed by it – get another job.
I’d still like there to be meeting times where the whole class will come together, where we can share, learn, and reflect – but the need for everyone to be doing the same thing would be gone. Here is where we can teach them how to think like mathematicians, and scientists, like writers, and readers, and artists. Instead of teaching them what to think, or what we think they need to know.
This is where you’ll see the real artists come out, the real doctors, lawyers, bosses, cooks and bakers, athletes, and more. If we just give them enough time to explore those options as though they were just as important as math, reading, and writing. Engagement will be super high, and behaviour issues super low – why? because everyone will be busy doing something they want to do, and when they don’t want to do it anymore – they can move on.

The best days we have in our class are the days we’re in the room for the whole day (or most of the whole day). It’s the quietest, it’s the calmest, it’s the most productive for almost every child, and it’s when we have the happiest days.
The days when we move around all day, from one class to the next, are the worst days. There’s no slowing down on those days, no time to choose anything – regardless of how tired or hungry you are.

After school activities should be during-school activities. Magic shows, woodworking, knitting and sewing… there’s so many. The fun stuff, the hobby stuff, the stuff we’re really passionate about can and should be apart of our school day. The stuff we do after work, the jobs we wish we had, the hidden talents, the hobby that we could make a living off of. That stuff.

I attended a PD recently in Belgium, and one of the speakers, Gary Stager, made an impact on me. He has very progressive views towards education and schools, and believes that there needs to be a huge revamp at how we are approaching education. He told a story that I think I’ll always remember, it went something like this:
There was a woman who attended a workshop with other teachers. The idea of the workshop was that it was a place for you to go and be creative with a project. You decided what to do, and how to do it. The woman decided to work with some other teachers and they thought of an idea for a project. They worked together, and eventually came to a stop. There was a problem and everyone had their own ideas how to solve it, and the team kind of came to a stand still. Nobody was getting along at this point, everyone was frustrated with eachother. The woman was fed up with her team and decided she had had enough, and wanted to leave the workshop. She packed her bags, headed out the door. She stopped for a coffee before getting into her car and leaving the workshop. Two sips of her coffee and a brilliant idea hit her, she ran back to her team and shared the idea she had – and it solved the problem. The woman realized all she needed, and all her team needed, was a break. A coffee break. Time and space away, on your own terms, to clear your head.
She also had a revelation, when do our students get to go for that coffee? (a break, decided by them).

And, I’ll leave you with that.
Time.
and Space.

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