As a parent and teacher of middle school aged children, I am constantly reminded that one of the best gifts we can give our kids is a safe learning environment that sets them up for success. By helping our children to navigate the learning process successfully, we help them to ensure that they become resilient, life-long learners. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we protect them from disappointment or failure. Rather, it means that we create the conditions where they can experiment with new knowledge and understanding without fear of failure, and that when they do fail, they are able to learn from their experiences!
This approach to nurturing today’s young learners can, and should, apply not only to the academic environment, but to day-to-day situations as well. This is why I was so thrilled to be involved in Rowntree Montessori Schools’ sleep-over for grades five and six.
One of the key objectives of this event was to allow students who may not have had the opportunity yet to sleep away from their parents and/or extended family, to experience what it is like to be away from home. These students participated in a limited one night sleep-over which was close to home, in a familiar environment, and with their classmates and teachers. In doing this, these students were bridging their experiences with what was expected of them while on a three-day leadership camp outside of the city later in the spring.
On the evening of the sleep-over, after the post-school supervision had finished, the students came together and completed a number of chores. First, they set up their sleeping quarters. The boys took one of the large classrooms, and the girls had the library. Next, they were called down for a pot-luck dinner where not only did they eat together, but they also set up and helped clean up their dining area. This pitching-in part of a collective group to complete a set of chores is extremely important in setting a child up for success as an adult. In an on-line article for Business Insider’s Career page, Drake Baer and Rachel Gillett wrote about elements that science indicates can be used to predict kids’ success as adults. The top item on this list was kids doing chores. In the article they talk about how Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult” stated in a TED Talks Live event that ‘kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with their coworkers, are more empathetic because they know firsthand what struggling looks like, and are able to take on tasks independently.’
In the same article, the number two thing that helps children succeed as adults is to learn social skills. In a large study tracking over 700 students, published in the American Journal of Public Health in November of 2015, there was a connection made between learning social skills at a young age and success as an adult. Kristin Schubert, director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who funded the study, stated that “This study shows that helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future.” During the sleep-over, a key focus was on building community and strengthening the students’ social skills. Not only did this occur between the students and their fellow class-mates, but also between the students and the grade seven and eight student leaders who directed most of the activities. What better way to get used to interacting with other people than to spend a night in the same room as a large group of your peers with all of the different personalities, bedtime routines, and sleeping habits? Social skills were also worked on through a number of games and fun activities in which the students participated. The most interesting and exciting of these games for the students was “Hunger Games”. In this, the student leaders of the school converted both levels of the school into a maze where they directed the younger students in a type of freeze-tag using cotton snowballs. They also enjoyed challenging the teachers in King Cone.
Finally, I feel that this is a great event as, not only does it benefit students in the ways already mentioned, but it also helps us as teachers see the kids in a different light. By engaging with the students outside of the regular classroom, the teaching staff is able to build a stronger connection with the students, and to discover more about them. This allows us to be more effective in the classroom. And in the end, it will not only set up our students for success on outings away from home, but it will also be another experience to support them on their journey towards adulthood.
 Baer, Drake and Gillett, Rachel. Science says parents of successful kids have these 11 things in common. Business Insider. November, 2015. Web. March 10, 2016.