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Yesterday I reconnected with an old college friend with whom I hadn’t spoken in 12 years. I had a different topic planned for today, but something he said really resonated with me. We talked about how at MIT we were all computer science and math focused, but there was also a creative side to us also and how now as parents, we want our kids to be well rounded. That immediately brought to mind my own schooling. I remember taking all of the required courses in high school and college, which were science and math focused, but all of my electives were foreign languages, specifically French and German. Learning foreign languages was my idea of educational fun (so was math). Achieving this balance is defined by the educational philosophy, but implemented through a schedule.
In an educational perfect world, the day would be 48 hours long. That way all school-age children could get the recommended 9-10 hours of sleep, read at night before bed, exercise for one hour (PE), have time outside to appreciate nature, study math, science, history, language arts, music, arts, a foreign language, practice mindfulness and if inclined towards the STEM fields, do engineering and computer science, in addition to having a healthy dinner with the family (and breakfast and lunch and snacks), playing outside with friends, giving back to the community and having time to be bored so that they can become naturally creative. That’s a lot. But it’s so hard to compromise.
So, how do you fit in all of these things without driving yourself and your children crazy? How do you do this without rushing through education like a freight train? The school day is generally about seven-hours long, and when you account for transitions, lunch, recess and breaks, those seven hours end up being five to five and one-half hours.
When thinking about the ideal schedule, we wanted to provide children the opportunity to explore and participate in those topics that they are naturally drawn to, and in this case, it’s the STEM fields, while still providing a well-rounded education. We also knew that we wanted kids to be able to take their time to learn without feeling the stress and pressure that would prevent them from truly learning and enjoying the learning process.
We started with what we considered absolutely core to our curriculum: Math, Humanities, Science and Nature Walk, which will meet daily or at least three times per week. We then added the next level of required classes: Physical Education, Computer Science, Engineering, which will meet twice per week. Lastly, we included those topics that are important and are therefore required classes, but that we could achieve by meeting once per week: Community Service, Art and Music. The other subjects like Foreign Languages, Creative Writing, or other in-depth classes in the Humanities or Sciences, are offered as part of our electives.
We chose to hold classes in 90-minute blocks so that kids would have enough time to work on projects and labs without being rushed. When working with hands-on projects, kids need time to first figure out what they are doing, then they need time to do it. The times where we have seen the most frustration is when kids feel like they are being rushed through a project. This also gives teachers the flexibility to seize educational moments when they present themselves in the classroom.
Lastly, we viewed the beginning and end of the day as anchors to each day. In a prior post, we deep-dived beginning each day with the nature walk. We also decided to end the day with the optional Activity Period. The Activity Period will get its own post, but in short, it’s a time of day where kids can enjoy social interactions with their friends in a loosely-structured setting. We want kids to start the day off right and end the day at school on a good note. We want kids to look forward to coming to school to continue working on their awesome project as well as to see their friends.
At the end of the day, we want kids to remember their school experience fondly, be exposed to a variety of subjects and skills, learn how to learn and to enjoy learning.