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Let’s Try That Again: Achieving Mastery

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In today’s newsletter, I would like to talk briefly about a topic I call “Let’s Try That Again.” Learning is about mastery. Mastery takes time, patience, practice. The French word for rehearsal is repetition. And indeed, when one is learning something, one must repeat and repeat and repeat. If ever you have played an instrument, or played at a sport, or created a pot on a wheel, you know just how important it is to go over and over a piece of music, or a play in a sport, or the throwing of a clump of clay in order to get it right, in order for the synapses to fire in just the right way, and the brain and the rest of the body to connect to master a skill.
A perfect example of this was an observation we have all made of a particular student this past month. He spent weeks previous to this observing over and over many of the children on the monkey bars. Finally, he had the gumption to try a bit on his own. He needed help. He cried in frustration. Over and over he got up on those bars and the brain and the arms and the entire limbic system were being asked to do a task that wasn’t yet the right time. Still, over and over he tried, until finally, one day the system said, “OK, we’re ready.” And it worked. He got up on the rings, swung, and dropped to the ground on both feet, a perfect landing. The elation that ensued was as big as the Island we call Bainbridge. Over and over he rehearsed and created new challenges for himself. Learning is about mastery, patience, and practice.
Let’s try that again. Sometimes we are in a hurry to master a skill. Or we don’t think that it is important to master it. Or just plain laziness takes over. As we can see from the previous example, mastering a skill takes time and patience, and as I have described in previous newsletters, we have all found ways to avoid taking time and exercising patience. So, here’s another take on this same theme, but from a different angle.
A teacher rings the bell at lunchtime. The Blue Room  children are playing outside, busy and involved they all are. Yet, it is time to go in, and even if the stomach rumbles, the transition out of play into an organized activity can be a challenging one, as you all know. It is a task to be learned and mastered nonetheless. Over and over the children practice leaving their play, standing in a line, quieting their bodies and readying themselves to go in to wash hands and sit down for lunch. Some children resist this whole procedure, and choose to ignore what is happening, as they continue playing, letting their rich fantasy world take over. Gradually, they too accept the reality of the task to be learned, and practiced and each day worked on. What is this task? The ability to transition, to move fluidly from one state to another, to move from an active place to a quiet place, to trust that each state provides comfort and reassurance. If a child runs to the line, and pushes his/her friends or continues to yell and engage in play that does not allow him/her to focus on what is happening, the teacher  gently reminds the child to go back to the place of play and try it again, reminding the child that this is a task that is important to practice and master. There is no scolding or punishment occurring. The teacher’s voice is calm and encouraging, reminding the child that the reward is intrinsic, a maturity and  a sense of pride in getting to that place.
A toddler wants desperately to grow up. Everywhere she looks at Peacock, there are always children older than she is, mastering skills she wants to do. Today she wants to walk, or at least she, in her mind is thinking about this. Her body is not yet ready. Maybe in a month or two. But for now, she cries, and does not really know why, for she is just a bit over one years of age. I bring her over to the infant room, where she finds great solace in her attachment to her former caregivers. That is what she needed. After an hour of this, she returns to her toddler room, ready for lunch and a nap. “Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” Shakespeare wrote, for in sleep, all things come together. Mastery of tasks, simple and complex, happen when one is rested. Indeed, upon waking, this little toddler was refreshed, ready to tackle anything, even the precursors to walking.
A parent wrote to me recently, asking if Peacock regularly talks about and practices compassionate education. Of course, I responded. In every classroom, that is a central topic: caring about others, empathy, friendship building, kindness. These are life long topics to be mastered, practiced, over and over, with patience, with a “let’s try that again approach” when we forget. And when we do forget, we don’t punish ourselves. We just get back up on those monkey bars, and we try again. The next time, we nail it. We feel better inside. And so do those around us.
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So, how has the week been at Peacock?
In our Infant Room our babies continue to delight all. The other day I was giving one of our delightful infants a bottle, and I walked outside, plopped myself down with baby in arms, and the green room children were enchanted by what they saw: a baby sucking milk out of a bottle. You can only imagine the conversations that ensued, the questions, the comments. The said baby was thrilled with the attention. For her, her daily sustenance took on new meaning…
In our Toddler Room, bugs took over again. But this time, with even more pizazz.  The children made worms out of play dough.  Out of blocks they made a house for bugs. They went on bug hunts and dressed up like butterflies and flapped their wings. They made lady bugs with glitter. They looked for bugs in the sensory bin. They sang “Shoo fly don’t bother me,”  “The itsy bitsy spider,” and “The ants go marching.” They painted with shaving cream and they made their own version of toddler graffiti (art of course, and on paper…)
In the Green Room bugs continued downstairs, but this time, focusing on the “B” bugs: butterfly, bumble bee and beetle. It’s so interesting how children have both a fascination of and a disgust of bugs. Maybe we all do… The children played caterpillar hopscotch. They made bug bracelets and clip bugs. They searched far and wide for bugs. They sang a song called “What kind of bug are you?” and another called “Industrious Bugs.” They talked about the life cycle of a butterfly. They made macaroni on foam flowers, and they painted large clouds and a big sun for the classroom. They practiced the shapes of letters on sand paper. And for the end of the week, they painted with shaving cream.
In the Blue Room, yellow was the color of the week. They made yellow play dough. They made a fruit salad with six yellow fruits. See if you can, with your child, list all the yellow fruits you can think of!
The letter “R” was the letter the children studied this week, and their word list was extensive. The children learned about the names of baby animals, and then they grouped the names of the mother animal with the name of her baby. On the wall, there are horses and horses the children made which became the foals. Also on the wall, are stunning blow paint and sponge paint murals that are suitable for framing and sending off to the Pompidou museum in Paris! The children have also learned more sign language signs, this week was teacher and school. They have also enjoyed their indoor sensory bins with beans and soil and rice. The past few weeks, the teachers have been carefully writing up assessments for our conferences, and the children have enjoyed having one on one time with their teachers in which they got to “play games” and be asked questions that inspired them to really think about what they know.
 

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