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The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland

“When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn.” I found this article interesting as it speaks to the natural development of children. When children play, they learn — and learn a lot! Cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills are all developed during play time, which in Early Learners we call “focused exploration.” They don’t practice cutting, they cut. They don’t practice writing, they write. They pretend, role play, sing, dance, crash, and get silly. We teachers do our absolute best in setting up learning experiences that are meaningful, but for the kids (and the casual observer), they are “just playing.” 
— Amanda Cowart, Summit Prep Pre-K Teacher


Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.


“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”

The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.

That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes  “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.

A working paper, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” confirms what many experts have suspected for years: The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play. The late psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, even raised the concern in an article for The Atlantic in 1987.

The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play.

Researchers at the University of Virginia, led by the education-policy researcher Daphna Bassok, analyzed survey responses from American kindergarten teachers between 1998 and 2010. “Almost every dimension that we examined,” noted Bassok, “had major shifts over this period towards a heightened focus on academics, and particularly a heightened focus on literacy, and within literacy, a focus on more advanced skills than what had been taught before.”

In the study, the percentage of kindergarten teachers who reported that they agreed (or strongly agreed) that children should learn to read in kindergarten greatly increased from 30 percent in 1998 to 80 percent in 2010.

Bassok and her colleagues found that while time spent on literacy in American kindergarten classrooms went up, time spent on arts, music, and child-selected activities (like station time) significantly dropped. Teacher-directed instruction also increased, revealing what Bassok described as “striking increases in the use of textbooks and worksheets… and very large increases in the use of assessments.”

But Finland—a Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, where I’ve lived and taught fifth and sixth graders over the last two years—appears to be on the other end of the kindergarten spectrum. Before moving to Helsinki, I had heard that most Finnish children start compulsory, government-paid kindergarten—or what Finns call “preschool”—at age 6. And not only that, but I learned through my Finnish mother-in-law—a preschool teacher—that Finland’s kindergartners spend a sizable chunk of each day playing, not filling out worksheets.

Finnish schools have received substantial media attention for years now—largely because of the consistently strong performance of its 15-year-olds on international tests like the PISA. But I haven’t seen much coverage on Finland’s youngest students.

So, a month ago, I scheduled a visit to a Finnish public kindergarten—where a typical school day is just four hours long.

* * *

Read the full article from The Atlantic by clicking on this link: Why Kindergarten in Finland is All About Playtime (And Why that Could be More Stimulating than the Common Core)

Sir Ken Robinson Opens Up about Learning and Personalized Education

This article was published by NAIS (National Association of Independent School) as part of their Independent School Magazine Blog series.

Read the full article, with audio, by clicking on this link.

 Pinkus, Ari  

​Editor’s note: I interviewed Sir Ken Robinson by phone shortly after the release of his new book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Movement That’s Transforming Education. In it, he highlights solutions to the most pressing, intractable challenges in education.  

In this edited transcript, Robinson addresses how children learn, the need for personalized education, and why it’s now possible to develop personalized education on a broader scale. Read and listen to some of Robinson’s thoughts here, and look for more of our interview in the Winter 2016 issue of Independent School magazine.

On How Children Learn

Ari Pinkus: “I want to talk about learning. How can we harness the way children learn in their early years to create a better learning environment for youth?”

Sir Ken Robinson: “One of the things I say in the book is, well, firstly there is a big difference between education and learning. The difference is that learning, as I see it, is a process of acquiring new skills and knowledge. And we do that naturally and voraciously from the moment we’re born. The example I give is children learning to speak, which is a remarkable achievement, when you consider what’s involved and … the very plasticity of the brain, which allows children to adapt to all sorts of different language environments from the moment they’re born…. There doesn’t come a point where you sit your child down at the age of 18 months and say, ‘Look, we need to talk.’ Or as I say in the book, or rather, ‘You do. And this is how it works.’

“You don’t formally instruct children to speak. You wouldn’t have the time and they wouldn’t have the patience. It’s far too complicated. They absorb it. There are all kinds of things that we learn to do that we couldn’t be formally taught to do because they are too complicated inherently.

“The thing about education is that it’s intended to be a planned program of learning. The assumption in education systems is that there are things that are too important for children to learn to leave to chance, that we want them all to learn them, so we organize things so they will. Or there are things that are also too complicated to learn that they need some help in formal instruction. Writing’s a bit like that. It’s actually quite a lot like that. Children don’t spontaneously learn to write left to their own devices. They need to be helped because these are complicated cultural systems that have accumulated over a very long period of time.

“So my argument is that in some respects the conditions that we create in schools for children to learn can hamper the way they learn. Children often learn best collaboratively. They often learn best when they’re doing practical projects not ones which are anti-theoretical, but which see links between theory and practice.

“They, particularly young children, need time to play; they need time to exercise physically. They need to be encouraged to follow their curiosity. They need to have their learning structured, of course, but it needs to be structured in ways that will help them apply their natural talents and interests to what they’re trying to engage with. And increasingly in this test-driven culture, we’re setting up systems of education, which are antipathetic to the natural processes of learning.

“Now I am by no means the first person to say this. Of course not. I say throughout the book that the ideas I’m presenting aren’t in many cases original to me. I’m not claiming that. I’m really trying to rehearse, revisit, review these ideas, given their relevance to today’s education. I mean, for example, there are lots of proprietary systems in kindergarten. Kindergarten itself originated as a natural process of learning. It uses this very metaphor of organic growth. It’s a child garden. Maria Montessori, over 100 years ago, was developing systems which were more contoured to children’s natural rhythms of learning. You see that in the work of Rudolf Steiner, Pestalozzi, all kinds of people. Now, I’m not recommending any particular system in the book. I’m simply saying that there’s long been a recognition that children learn best in school when the rhythms of school match their natural appetites for learning, and encourage them rather than confront them.”

On Why Personalized Education Is Necessary

Pinkus: “You spend quite a bit of time advocating for a deeply personalized approach to education. I’m wondering if you can explain in a little more detail what this approach looks like.”

Robinson: “Well, one of the ways I describe the aims of education is that education overall should help children understand the talents inside them as well as the world around them so they become active and compassionate citizens and fulfilled individuals. It’s seems to me axiomatic this that we all live not just in one world; we live in two worlds. We live in a world that was there before we came into it. It’s a world of other people, of objects, events, and circumstances, the material world, the social world. It was there before you got here, and it will be there when you’re gone all being well.

“But there’s a world that exists because you’re in it. It’s the world that came into being when you did. It’s a world of your own feelings and emotions, the world of your private consciousness that only exists because you exist. And education, in my view, has to address both these worlds equally and the relationships between them. Many of the problems that we face in schools, particularly in high schools these days, of disengagement, of nongraduation, of alienation, of hostility to education, originate because of our neglect of the child’s inner world, of the issues they bring with them to school every day, of their need to connect with their own talents and interests. That’s why I’m saying that education is not a mechanical process, it’s a human process….”

“…I don’t mean by personalized learning that students should only be left on their own to pursue their own interests, be left largely to their own devices without any intervention from teachers…. I’m saying that there are things we need to learn in common about the world around us, but we need to balance those with opportunities to explore our own perception of them, our own take on them, and our own inner world of our talents and feelings.

“It’s why we need a balanced curriculum — not just the STEM disciplines, important as they are, but also one that includes equally the arts, the humanities, and physical education because these are all ways in which we begin to understand the world within us as well as the world around us.”

On Why It’s Now Possible to Carry Out Personalized Education More Widely

Pinkus: “You write in the book, ‘the great irony in the current malaise in education is that we know what works. We just don’t do it on a wide enough scale.’ What is unique about this time? Why are we now well positioned to carry out personalized and engaged education more widely?”

Robinson: “Well, firstly, I think it’s absolutely vital that we do. I also say not just personalized but customized, by which I mean customized to the area. I was talking this morning with people who have been involved in the transformation of education in Cleveland, and what they’ve been trying to do over the past eight to 10 years is to reorganize their education system to take into account the actual circumstances they face in that city. That’s been true in Massachusetts. It’s been true with the A+ schools that you see across the Midwest. All schools that are trying genuinely to meet the needs of the students within them have to take into account not only the students themselves and the relationships to the teachers but the cultures they bring to school….

“…We do now have access to technological resources which are unprecedented. I don’t, by any means, see technology as the whole answer to education, but it does provide some fantastic opportunities to personalize education in several respects. One of them is that the tools we now have, properly understood, offer extraordinary opportunities for students and teachers alike to access ideas, materials, historical, cultural from all around the planet. We’re no longer confined to the resources of the classroom or the school library….

“Secondly, the tools themselves make available all kinds of practical opportunities for making things and for collaborating … there’s always been a relationship between technology and creativity, whether it’s a trumpet or a chisel or a microscope…. So the digital technology we now have makes possible all kinds of practical, creative inquiries….

“But we can also – and some schools are doing this already – help to personalize the schedule in ways we couldn’t before. If you have 1,000 kids in the school, and all you’ve got is a slide rule, and a pen, and a rubber, an eraser, it’s very hard to plan an individualized curriculum for everybody that takes into account everybody else at the same time. It’s an extraordinary complicated job of logistics. But with the technology we now have, it is perfectly feasible to give every child their own curriculum or at least their own schedule…

“We do have these opportunities now and … we couple them with the creative resources of teachers and schools and all school principals I know who do want to create the very best environment for their kids to learn properly, for their schools to become a vibrant part of the community. We have those tools. What we now need is the confidence and the policies and the determination to develop them and to put them into practice.”

z-pinkus-sm.jpgAri Pinkus is digital editor and producer at NAIS.

When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose

 An great read from NPR’s Mind/Shift. And an excellent Ted Talk from Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner.

Students and their teacher watch the progress of their paper rockets during a “tinkering day.” (Amanda Lucier/MindShift)

Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner has been advocating that we reinvent the education system to promote innovation for years. He’s clear that content should no longer be at the center of school. Instead, he says a teacher’s main job should be to help students develop key skills necessary for when they leave school. He contends there are seven essential things young people need to be successful lifelong learners:

  1. Formulate good questions
  2. Communicate in groups and lead by influence
  3. Be agile and adaptable
  4. Take initiative and be entrepreneurial
  5. Effective written and oral communication skills
  6. Know how to  access and analyze information
  7. Be creative and imaginative

Below is Tony Wagner’s Ted Talk.

When Will I Ever Need This in Real Life?

Contributed by Mr. Patrick Misterovich, Summit Prep Upper School Teacher

The infamous student question, “When will I ever need this in real life?” hints at a few assumptions. One, ‘school’ and ‘real life’ are two distinct things. Two, what we learn in school should be relevant to our lives. John Dewey himself would approve of the fundamental challenge to our schools inferred by the question. So how do we respond to this question? How do we make learning relevant and connected to our students lives?

Traditionally high schools tried to keep all learning experiences inside their walls. The school was a self-contained community that didn’t directly engage with the world at large. No wonder students had to ask an adult about the relevance of their learning. They couldn’t see the real world from where they were sitting.

Increasingly, schools across the country, including The Summit, are exploring ways to break down the barriers between school and community. The Summit high school program was founded with the goal of connecting students to the Springfield community through internships, service learning, and college campuses.

In the first five years of The Summit high school we have had students intern at veterinary clinics, law offices, small businesses, the Springfield Symphony, the Springfield Little Theatre, and Drury’s Athletic Department. We have had students volunteer at Ronald McDonald house, the American Red Cross, local churches, and local schools. We have had students design summer camps and after school programs, put on conferences, develop technology training programs, and create mentorship groups. We have had students attend classes alongside college students at Missouri State, OTC, and Drury.

One of the goals of The Summit high school program is to prepare students to transition from ‘school’ to the ‘real world’. That isn’t something that you can just tack on for their senior year. It must be part of the culture of the school. By connecting the classroom with the community and letting our students learn outside our classroom walls we hope the question “When will I ever need this?” answers itself.


For more information check out:


Late Start Times Good for Students

Image from http://www.theguardian.com

Image from http://www.theguardian.com

“Life as a teenager and school is hard enough under perfect circumstances, so why not give our students every advantage possible to be a happy person and efficient learner?  Starting school after 8:30 has proved to increase cognition as well as benefit our students’ social, emotional and physical growth,” explains Sandy Frye, Summit Preparatory School Upper School teacher.

See how a recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics supports The Summit Preparatory School’s later start time. The Summit begins class at 8:45 a.m. while the national norm is an 8:00 a.m. school start time.

Local Ozark media interviewed Summit Upper School teacher Patrick Misterovich for his thoughts on a later school start time. Watch Mr. Misterovich’s interview on KOLR 10 by clicking here.

Let Them Sleep: AAP Recommends Delaying Start Times of Middle and High Schools to Combat Teen Sleep Deprivation


For Release:  August 25, 2014

Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance. But getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. – and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day.

In a new policy statement published online Aug. 25, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Dr. Owens said. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

The policy statement is accompanied by a technical report, “Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on Causes and Consequences,” also published online Aug. 25. The technical report updates a prior report on excessive sleepiness among adolescents that was published in 2005.

The reasons for teens’ lack of sleep are complex, and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights. The AAP recommends pediatricians counsel teens and parents about healthy sleep habits, including enforcing a media curfew. The AAP also advises health care professionals to educate parents, educators, athletic coaches and other stakeholders about the biological and environmental factors that contribute to insufficient sleep.

But the evidence strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents. An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.

Napping, extending sleep on weekends, and caffeine consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep, according to the AAP.

The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors.

“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth,” Dr. Owens said. “By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 62,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.

– See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx#sthash.ktSiHasD.dpuf

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Material listed has been provided by the faculty and staff at The Summit Prep on topics related to current educational practices and principles from around the world.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not directly relate to the views and opinions of The Summit Preparatory School.

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