Thursday, November 19, 2020

Bring back the Art of Improv, yo!

Years ago, when I started teaching middle school, I witnessed my first kindergarten dance presentation. I must confess I was impressed. The presentation was clearly rehearsed—arguably to an obsessive degree. 

Years later during my first years of mentorship training with Originateve, I started to learn more about the art of improvisation and the dire need to regenerate, back into our educational models, this forgotten approach to the arts. This is the primary reason for which our preschool OPEN MIC curriculum exists. Our goal is for all of our kids to always be ready to perform, not simply after tiresome and stressful rehearsal. 

As you will see in the videos below, this morning we created a little space for IMPROV. Here are a few contextualizing details that will help delineate the powerful experience we shared together. 

  • Nobody knew about our improvised dance session this morning—not even me! Our Diguan teachers (kids ages 4-6) knew that we would have a DO SI DO dance time, but none of us had planned for it to be a public performance.  
  • If you look carefully at the first video, you can see what I hoped for most clearly in Momo’s face (the first girl in the line-up) as she entered the room, hand-in-hand, with her partner. There was a blush but also a solid determination. This is an essential life quality we hope to foster in all of our children. Momo for her first 2 years at MT, was the queen of saying No! Always too shy! Well, sorry, not anymore. Our kindergarten team has chiseled away at all silly sheeping away nonsense. 
  • Due to the success of our first round of DO SI DO, I then decided to take the improvisational risk a bit further. Time for the little brothers and sisters to dance. I had no idea how they would respond. Let me say that again: I HAD NO IDEA HOW THEY WOULD RESPOND. This aspect is key to any serious educational model. Overly paid curriculum developers in far away sky scrapers are way too hung up on eliminating any unpredictabilities. Like mad lab scientists that want full control of outcome. Theories cease to be theories when they’ve already been test-proofed to death. Nothing new can ever come, if we are always trying the same approach. Today we ventured and took a risk and our kids surprised us with their brilliance and natural inclination towards improvisation and live performance. 
  • And what about all of the peer to peer learning that is taking place. Kids are helping kids know what the hell is going on. Now, that is what the experts call child-centered learning! 
  • One final point I want to make is regarding the importance of learning to be a good audience. Too often we focus on the performers rather than on the audience. Great performers are all great audiences first. They understand the respect that performance merits. 
In closing, our kids did today what adult parents and teachers often shy away from. As always, we would do well to learn from the littlest in our midst.


MT Teaching Director

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A Scary Way to Help our kids Overcome Fears and Anxieties


MasterTree Kindergarten approaches safety by easing children into a relationship with elements of danger. Research demonstrates that sheltering children from danger does not in actuality create lasting protection for children but instead increases the likelihood of being hurt. Children safely introduced to danger are better able to recognize potential hazards and avoid the possibility of peril.  A child who has spent little time in the woods is more prone to getting hurt than a child who has developed a relationship with the different elements of nature in a forest. Each environment is not the same for any two individuals. Children shielded from exploring and taking risks are more naive.  The unknown poses a far greater threat and requires heavier assistance to navigate potential threats. 

This educational philosophy is best understood through our world class curriculum, but is, likewise, speckled all through our daily activities: Zao Jun Cooking, Old Mac Donald's workshop, our rooftop garden and animal area etc…

Similar to this model is our approach to building up strong emotional intelligence within our children by allowing moments of encounters with fears. Our 4 annual gatherings around the fire, our 2 annual sleepover parties, and especially our Halloween curriculum are essential aspects of our holistic curriculum that seek to allow create real opportunities for our children to encounter their fears in close proximity to caretakers that can guide them into a healthy relationship with that which frightens us. 

As children grow, many parents notice that their once-fearless preschooler is suddenly scared of the dark, frightened by thunderstorms, or convinced there are monsters hiding under the bed. Each child has a different time-clock for when fear becomes a recognizable and addressable response to a given situation. These emergences are signs of growth of awareness and abstract thinking. For this reason, we may be surprised to often see some of our youngest children at play with the scariest monsters of our Halloween curriculum. It's natural for children to develop childhood fears-it's part of their normal growth and development. As kids try to comprehend the world around them, they are not entirely sure of what's fantasy and what's reality, so their imagination can create incredible things, like monsters. Some of the most common fears experienced by young children are the dark, thunderstorms, monsters, animals and loud noises. Embracing those fears intentionally within a safe community can provide the necessary environment to generate life long skills in autonomous emotional management.



AT SCHOOL     - Children often encounter these scary experiences on their own. Bringing Halloween close to our children, allows for children to feel our support and comfort in the moment of fear. Their fears are not dismissed rather embraced. We observe their individual responses and guide them towards their next step of inner strength.

AT HOME     - You can also help your children at home by bringing them closer to possible fears. Some children may not yet sleep in their own bedroom, some may not yet sleep with the light off. Don't be afraid to allow them to grow into deeper stages of relationships with being alone or in the dark. 


AT SCHOOL - An essential component of our Halloween curriculum is the time allotted during special circle for kids to share their fears and acknowledge that fear as something that is valid.   Find your calm and reassuring voice and then watch them learn to find their own, internal, calm and reassuring voice. 

AT HOME - Finding moments of dialogue at home is also essential to a proper processing and emotional maturation within our children. Encourage your child to talk about his or her fears so he or she can learn to gain control over the fear. Show your child ways to cope with fears, such as taking deep breaths or keeping a flashlight by the bed.


AT SCHOOL - Children often pick up on fear from the adults they are around. By interacting with Halloween at school, our children are able to see the fearlessness in the adults and even some of their peers. This helps them know how to respond to feelings of fear. 

AT HOME - Parents can also help with this process by encountering the various halloween characters upon arrival at school. It is important for parents to model a calm approach to confronting fears in achievable steps, rather than allowing children to avoid all of life's moments that contain anxiety.