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“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.” — Dr. Maria Montessori

In the 21st century, it is more important than ever before to be able to communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas to other individuals and groups in a variety of effective ways. This article addresses the role drama plays in building these skills; how it dovetails and enhances education; how it impacts childhood development in a holistic way.

A child is in the process of creating himself. With drama, the self is used as the creative medium. One’s self activity and self-expression are all that is needed to communicate and create with others. This is different than other mediums which would require tools develop such as paints, technology or musical instruments.

Drama is thought of as a form of human expression found throughout history and all over the world. It is, therefore, a fundamental need of humans. It is spontaneous in children’s play when they “rehearse” at being a parent, imitate a movie star or imagine stretching abilities like a superhero. In Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” Jaques says, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Essentially, children are trying on life. After a time, this develops into abstract thinking, problem solving, self esteem, flexibility, thinking outside the box, creating new knowledge and even common sense.

Howard Gardner’s list of eight intelligences is inherent to all humans. These are: 1. Spatial, 2. Bodily and Kinesthetic, 3. Logical-Mathematical, 4. Linguistic, 5. Musical, 6. Social Interpersonal, 7. Self-awareness Intrapersonal and 8. Naturalistic. A well–rounded, developmentally appropriate education should include opportunities to develop all eight intelligences ro prepare students for life in the 21st century.

Drama helps to accomplish the aforementioned by providing a fertile ground for developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Also, there is an emphasis on developing bodily, spatial, and linguistic intelligence. These intelligences have long been eclipsed in traditional curriculum planning by reading, writing and arithmetic. Research now shows that even the three R’s are positively impacted by drama because it develops listening and speaking skills and improves memory and comprehension.

Drama, speech, debate and a well rounded performing arts program can be implemented easily within a curriculum. If viewed as a part of every subject area and not as an elective, education becomes authentic and meaningful, as well as loads of fun.

In science, students can enact the working of a cell. In grammar, they can learn pronouns by memorizing the famous “Who’s on First.” In history and humanities, the opportunities are endless such as personifying historic people or doing a simulation of the Underground Railroad. Also, there has always been a strong relationship between storytelling and theater. The National Curriculum for English recommends that all English teachers include drama when teaching reading and writing. Even the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has added the history of mathematics as a standard for the 21st century.

A performing arts program would not be complete without a theater production component. Experiencing the stage and memorizing and reciting lines offer children the opportunity to express themselves with self-confidence. When a child is able to speak competently to adults or not be nervous in front of his class, he will not develop a fear of public speaking. There are many authentic components of a theater experience. Within the structure lie opportunities for creating sets, memorizing lines, singing and dancing, auditioning, and learning about the technology of lighting and sound.

Drama in education builds skills that are needed in the 21st century. An authentic curriculum that is cutting edge and dynamic must be taught in an environment that includes drama in many subject areas because of how it impacts child development in a holistic way. Children are naturally drawn to drama because it helps them create the adults they are becoming, develop their self-esteems and provides opportunities to shine.

Set the stage and let the curtain rise!

” A child is a discoverer. He is an amorphous, splendid being in search of his own proper form” — Dr. Maria Montessori

A sensitive period for learning language begins at birth and extends throughout the early years of childhood. In their early years of life, children have a capacity to hear, absorb, and reproduce the sounds of their language. Around age five or six they become very interested in written words and the relationship of words to each other. At the age of eight, a child will learn more words in one week than an adult learns in one year.

Dr. Lise Eliot, a neurobiologist, says, “the reason language is instinctive is because it is, to a large extent, hard-wired in the brain. Just as we evolve neural circuits for eating and seeing, so has our brain, together with a sophisticated vocal apparatus, evolved a complex neural circuit for rapidly perceiving, analyzing, composing, and producing language.”

Parents of young children play the most important role in their children’s acquisition of language. Because language is the way we typically interact with each other, the process is necessary and natural. The first people to interact with a child are his parents through verbal interaction. A newborn’s brain responds best to a type of speech called parentese. Parentese is a way of speaking by using vocal inflection with a higher pitch along with an accentuated stress on vowel sounds. Parents of infants naturally speak to them this way.

Although parentese enables babies to associate words to objects, it is important to not talk-down to toddlers and young children and remember to speak and read to them with the appreciation of their sensitive period for language. During this sensitive period it is important to speak to children with a variety of rich vocabulary. Susan Hall and Louisa Moats of Straight Talk About Reading recommends that parents “Rephrase and extend their children’s words, ask clarifying questions (tell me more about the man you saw), model more complex vocabulary or sentence structure (yes, I see the tall skyscraper you built with lots of windows), and ask  open-ended questions,” Also, the “How I Feel” books are a wonderful series to help children ages two to six learn to recognize and identify emotions.

Another way young children learn language is by naming things. Children constantly ask “What is this?” In the Montessori curriculum there is an emphasis on building vocabulary by means of nomenclature cards, cards with pictures and labels. These nomenclature cards  are advantageous for building vocabulary in every subject area. Through a format alled the three-period-lesson; advanced vocabulary is easily presented by the teacher and assimilated by the child.

Before presenting cards with pictures and labels, the three-period-lesson is used to introduce new things. The three-periodlesson begins by naming an object or picture by saying, “This is” (This is a petunia (This is a daisy) (This is a periwinkle) Then ask the child to repeat it. The second period is association and recognition; “Show me” (Show me the petunia) (Hand me the periwinkle) (Point to the daisy). The third period is recall,” What is this?”

These same three steps are used in lessons throughout the curriculum and satisfy a child’s hunger for words. Alphabet books are also an excellent way to satisfy that hunger. Some good alphabet books include: Matthew ABC by Peter Catalanotto, Cowboy ABC by  Chris L. Demarest, Kipper’s A to Z: An  Alphabet Adventure by Mick Inkpen, and ABC T-Rex by Bernard Most.

Jane Healy, the author of Endangered Minds, has documented the effects in children’s declining language skills. She expounds on the rise of the use of filler words such as “like,” “you know,” or “um” about every seventh word. Even in the classroom, she says that teachers can only do so much if students do not have the inner language to sort out what they are thinking. Inner language is required to mediate one’s own behavior, plan ahead, and evaluate if/then situations. A child’s inability to convey thoughts into words handicaps him. It is frustrating and can result in poor behavior and a low self esteem.

Benjamin Bloom, who developed Blooms taxonomy in 1956, identified six levels of cognition: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These are useful in developing critical thinking skills which rely on logic and reasoning. All the aforementioned are necessary for inner language ability and to be successful in the twenty-first  century. These skills develop as the  child gets older and are highly utilized in  the standards for high school.

National benchmarks are requiring skills that will be needed in the twenty-first century. It is unfortunate and counterproductive that many of the opportunities to hear or read stimulating conversations and subject matter are becoming scarcer. The average TV sitcom is geared toward the vocabulary level of a fourth grader. It is therefore becoming more important for parents to encourage their children to read and to read to them from literature containing a higher vocabulary level than their children’s independent level would dictate.

Contemporary National benchmarks in science now call for instruction to be inquiry-based, according to C.E. Snow, who wrote, Reading for Understanding toward a Research and Development Program in Reading Comprehension. Snow also states, “In History, students need to learn the practices of historical analysis. Contemporary Language arts standards call for students, at all ages, to read authentic literature across genres (e.g., novels, memoirs, interviews) and to write in various genres. Today’s students need to learn to interpret text and how to learn from text.”

It is very important to sew the seeds of a good vocabulary for obvious reasons such as the impression that is made on others. Research has shown that people are more likely to be judged as competent and smart when they speak with a good vocabulary. Research scientist Johnson O’Connor says, “An extensive knowledge of the exact meanings of English words accompanies outstanding success in this country more often than any other single characteristic we have been able to isolate and measure.”

Having a vast vocabulary is also imperative to cognition because our cognitive thoughts are interwoven with our understanding of the language we use. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “A mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension.” Problem solving depends on cognition as well as higher level thinking skills. Twenty first century learning requires skills in communication. Information is growing exponentially.

Some great recommendations for children’s literature can be found at the following websites:
www.best-childrensbooks. com

There is in the soul of a child an impenetrable secret that is gradually revealed as it develops.

As featured in Gainesville Today Magazine, March 2010 (Column:  Education Matters)

It is developmentally appropriate for children to learn hands on and through their five senses. One of the most joyful ways is to plant seeds and watch them grow. Children are constantly drawn to smell, touch, and gather collections of leaves, seeds, flowers, and even insects. They are fascinated by the tiniest of things and watching a tiny seed gradually reveal itself as it grows provides a magical experience and can bring about a peace of mind.

daffodils pop up
sunfl owers sway in the sun
dandelions blow
by Chloe (age 5)

Children as young as two years can and should have the opportunity to garden before they develop an aversion to nature. More often than not children are told not to touch something or put something in their mouths. All the attitudes that accompany the sanitizing trend have contributed to children being tactilely defensive. Many children today cannot tolerate putting their hands in paper mache or scooping seeds out of a pumpkin.

A class garden provides a perfect opportunity for the children to cooperate with each other for a common goal. Each child has a turn watering, weeding, harvesting and solving problems. Sometimes insects or squirrels, for example, may destroy some of the plants. Sometimes plants may be selected to attract butterflies. Ladybugs may be purchased and released to solve the pest problem naturally. All these decisions make wonderful class discussions.

The academic extensions are endless. A garden is an ever changing laboratory for fine tuning observation skills needed in every subject area. It is a ripe environment for graphing, measuring, journaling, researching, identifying, and vocabulary building such as whether a particular leaf’s shape is reniform, elliptical, or maybe spatulate.

white, pink, red, yellow
rain, sunshine, fl owers to grow
happy, pretty earth
by Kayla (age 5)

A class garden is appropriate for all ages. This year, 4th grade students planted a variety of seeds and plants which tied in directly to core subjects. For example, when they studied Florida’s native Timucua people who used agricultural techniques to grow gourds for use as drinking vessels, students planted the same type of gourds in the class garden. This was one of the most exciting experiments, as the vines grew at an amazing pace and the giant fruit was something most students had never seen before. To connect with Spanish class they grew marigolds, which are the traditional flower of Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday to honor departed friends and family members. They used the marigolds to decorate the authentic altar they created in celebration of this holiday. Their gardening endeavors not only connected students with their core classes in a more meaningful way, but inspired them to learn more about plants and start gardens of their own.

Several students chose an experiment for their science project which involved growing plants. One student designed a garden and presented her design to the parent organization. It included a space for contemplation, a topiary of their mascot, as well as native flowering plants. As a school, we will work to manifest her gardening time also gave the children a chance to observe the changing seasons, the birds which frequent the schoolyard, and the types of trees and wildflowers that grow there. In a time when many children are focused on indoor activities, such as computer and video games, these students had a chance to experience the natural world in a more meaningful way. Rather than looking to nature and seeing woods, children can identify pine trees, oak trees, and native flowers. Rather than just seeing birds, children see more specifically robins, bluebirds, and others. In this way the gardening and exploration of the outdoors has served to enrich the students’ world view.

grass covered soil
digging, chopping, feeling good
planting seeds, growing
by Ahmik (age 5)

Some years back one of my elementary first through third grade classes’ garden experienced a very cold winter such as the one from which we are emerging. The children took their clipboards out to the garden to make their observations. They were all horrified to observe the results of the hard freeze. One child wrote: The beans are dead. The carrots are dead. The endive is alive. The ground is colder than the air.  And, yes, that pretty much summed it up.


Nature As Nurturer

As featured in Gainesville Today Magazine, February 2010 (Column:  Education Matters)
By Christina Miller

Harvard Professor and childhood development expert, Howard Gardner identified seven intelligences in children.

Aside from what we have long understood about the seven intelligences which are logical-mathematical, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical and both interpersonal and intrapersonal, Gardner and others have since identified an eighth intelligence—the naturalist intelligence.

University of Wisconsin’s Leslie Wilson’s theories of learning describe these observable naturalistic traits in children as an ability to notice things that others do not, a high interest caring for plants and animals, liking and preferring to be outside observing natural things, analyzing how things are different or similar at a young age, easily classifying things in the natural world by characteristics, and showing a greater than normal concern for the environment.

Personally, I recall a five-year-old student, named Kato, who attended my school in 1977. Her home windowsills were filled with small natural ecosystems and creatures she liked to tend and observe. Fortunately her parents were very supportive of her collections and nurtured her naturalist intelligence.

One day, she brought her aquarium, containing her treasured garter snakes, to school. Over time, she was distraught when they wouldn’t eat in the environment she had prepared. She tried worms, and then offered her “pet” crickets (which she knew was a yummy treat through her creatively advanced five-year-old research.) After the snakes spurned the crickets and knotted themselves together, she assessed that they were “in distress” and needed to be released.

With the somber silence and serious ceremony of a five year old, she carried the snakes into the woods behind the school. Tenderly, she pulled the snakes apart from their entanglement, and we released them. A tear rolled down her cheek. I was expecting that she would say how much she was going to miss her “pets.” Instead she said, “I just love nature’s animals.”

We know now that children have a capacity for Gardner’s intelligences or several in differing degrees. It is important for us as educators and parents to appreciate the importance of providing natural experiences for children as well as understanding how it impacts a child’s development.

It is the job of the adults in children’s lives to provide them as many opportunities for sensorial experiences (through the five senses) as possible, especially outdoors. Children need to analyze, collect, observe, handle, and not be afraid of the natural world. This is foremost in developing skills in natural science.

The importance of a child’s opportunity to learn does not have to always be in the middle of the woods. It can take place in a yard or while observing cloud shapes, it can happen while listening to the sounds of birds or studying flower petals, or perhaps, listening to a train heading off in the distance.

The author of Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, said, “Perhaps the eighth intelligence is the intelligence within nature, the lessons waiting to be delivered if anyone shows up.”

This sounds like a good quote to pull out:

“A child’s learning can take place in a yard or while observing cloud shapes. It can happen while listening to bird sounds or studying flowers petals, or perhaps, listening to a train heading off in the distance”.

Girl embroidering blankets for homeless

Featured in the Gainesville Sun

Scissors in hand, Sarah Lentz delicately maneuvers her slender fingers to snip away knotted thread jammed in her embroidery machine.

The device, as big as her 9-year-old torso, embroiders whatever she programs it to.

And since last Saturday, the needle has repeatedly been sewing the same three words: “Hope,” “Love” and “Caring.”

The third-grade student and her mother, Laura Lentz, said they decided to help homeless people in Gainesville by donating embroidered blankets during the recent chilly temperatures.

“I’m donating (the blankets) because I don’t want (homeless people) outside in the cold,” said the Millhopper Montessori student. “They’d rather have one (blanket) than nothing.”

Laura Lentz said she came up with the idea after checking The Gainesville Sun Web site last Saturday night on her iPhone. She read a story about the increasing demand for warm clothing and blankets for homeless people given the severely cold weather.

“I always read stories about community service opportunities to the kids,” she said.

Susie Long runs the sewing studio at Millhopper Montessori and said she had been wanting to create a project like this to serve the community.

Sarah attends both sewing classes that Long offers weekly.

“It’s her favorite part of the week,” Laura Lentz said.

“I told Sarah she can come to both days because she’s my assistant,” Long said.

Laura Lentz holds up a customized bag Sarah made as a casserole holder – an example of the unique projects the children work on.

“Our neighbor wants one, too,” she said.

Wanting to distribute the blankets as quickly as possible, Sarah began work on collecting and embroidering blankets on Sunday. Family and friends gave her blankets, and her mother changed her Facebook status to seek more donations.

With 16 blankets, Sarah and the nine other elementary school girls worked hastily Wednesday afternoon to have them ready for delivery that evening.

Sarah explained that the word “hope” represents faith that the blankets’ recipients will soon get jobs, “love” is for them to know that she loves them and “caring” symbolizes Sarah’s concern for their unfortunate situation.

Officially taking up sewing in the first grade, Sarah has been “sitting on laps sewing since she was 2 years old,” Laura Lentz said.

Although Lentz said she “can’t sew a lick,” the skill is a part of her daughter, like an innate ability.

The pastime also helps Sarah practice math skills by using rulers and rotary cutting tools.

The young seamstress sews her own Halloween costumes (last year she was Betsy Ross), stitches quilts for family and friends and even hems her dad’s pants.

And for her birthday last month, her parents bought her the used embroidery machine she is using for this project, a $1,200 present from Santa that costs $6,000 brand new.

Sarah already has her eye on a fabric cutting machine but her mother said she’ll have to pay for that one herself.

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