Performing with Joy

by Sheila Malcolm, Music Teacher

When it comes to my youngest students, musical performances are much more about showcasing their joyful exuberance than achieving a “perfect” show. And that joy is what parents saw last week during our Primary School spiral unit performance, “Let’s Go to the Zoo.” It was a true reflection of what the children learned in class, rather than a staged show. My aim was to create a safe and fun environment in which even the shyest of children felt comfortable.

Our performance reflected the culmination of a month-long study of age-appropriate, zoo-themed activities undertaken by each Primary School grade across subjects, including P.E., Spanish, technology, library, and of course, music. It represented a genuine team effort, not only from the faculty, but also from the children as they learned how important it was to work together, be considerate of others, and always strive to do their best in order to make their performance successful.

The songs and movement activities were chosen with great care to ensure they were age-appropriate and enjoyable for the children. There were lions roaring, kangaroos hopping, penguins waddling, elephants trumpeting, and monkeys playing, just to name a few. The songs were also linked to their classroom studies. For example, the junior kindergarten classes learned about how the welfare and well-being of the animals was important, so one of their songs was about the training requirements and work responsibilities of a zoo veterinarian. The kindergarten classes learned about how zoos help endangered species, so one of their songs was about the gorilla. They also learned how to differentiate between a monkey and an ape.

Musically, much of what was seen on stage was a direct reflection of skills the children had learned in music class. They played their instruments to a steady beat, used dynamics in the songs, learned about verse and refrain, focused on keeping together by listening to others, learned to recognize and listen for phrases in music, and learned how to count beats and listen to musical cues for their choreography and dances.

Performing in front of an audience, no matter how scary for some, helps build the confidence our students will need to flourish in the wider world. We’ll see this growing confidence on display on stage in the coming weeks as our first-graders take us Down Under to Australia, our second-graders give their “Coming to America” performance, and our Middle Schoolers present the musical, “Willy Wonka.”

A Balanced Summer: Combining Fun & Learning Into One

By Ayesha Flaherty, Director of Enrollment Management

You’ve likely read about the “summer slide” – the research that says academic skills can decline significantly during the summer months when children are out of school. And, at the same time, we’ve all read about the importance of play and fun in creating curious, happy, and connected children.

If you’re like me, fully aware of the importance of both sides of this coin, how exactly do you strike the right balance? And, if our reality includes kids with full schedules, is there a way to give our children the gift of more free time without sacrificing advancement, progression, and learning?

As an administrator of The Langley School, I’m lucky to witness how our teachers find this balance every day. Langley teachers successfully and intentionally intertwine learning and structure with fun and independence. Students are joyful, challenging their thinking and expressing their choice all at the same time. For example, students are dancing, while also learning about musical composers. They are designing jewelry on a 3-D printer to raise funds for students in Kenya. They are enjoying an outdoor scavenger hunt adventure while solving math problems.

How can we recreate this at home? Join The Langley School for a 30-minute webinar on Thursday, May 19 from 12:00-12:30 p.m. titled “A Balanced Summer: Combining Fun & Learning Into One.” Participants will learn how to strike a healthy balance between continued educational enrichment and well-deserved summer fun.

Langley Webinar May 19

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The Colors of Me and My Friendships

by Paige Dunn, Art Teacher at The Langley School

As anyone with a Langley Primary Schooler knows, our youngest students take part in a month-long spiral unit each winter which features a theme that’s integrated into every subject area, including art. This year’s theme – the literature of Leo Lionni – provided a great opportunity for me to help our kindergarten art students discover themselves and their friendships through color.

After reading Mr. Lionni’s book, “Little Blue and Little Yellow” – which illustrates the relationship between blue and yellow and how their friendship creates a new color, green – we explored color theory and how the colors of the color wheel are organized. Students were asked essential questions such as: Why do artists use the color wheel? Why is color important?

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Each student was given one color, which represented him or her. The class explored and experimented with various brushstrokes as they filled their papers, creating their own identity. Next, students paired with a friend and mixed their two colors to create their own unique friendship color.

Through this process, students learned how color has a deeper meaning than just what it looks like on paper – how it can represent your character and your relationship with others. As we discussed how colors create certain moods and feelings when we see them in art, the students identified their own moods and feelings when creating their identity colors.

Our kindergarten artists also learned how to work respectfully with one another as they explored blending their colors to create their friendship colors. Students beautifully worked through challenges that arose during the process as well. For example, when two students created a brown tone when mixing their identity colors, they were surprised because it was not a color on the color wheel. Their surprise quickly transformed into pure joy, however, as they created what they soon realized was an original color symbolizing their original friendship!

Students truly enjoyed illuminating their friendships with their classmates by exploring color. At the end of each class, the group had the opportunity to reflect. Students shared their colors by identifying them on the color wheel. Some colors that were made were not on the color wheel which provided the opportunity to discuss the process of color mixing on a deeper level.

The colors of our kindergarten artists and their friendships will be on display as a fish mosaic, one of Mr. Lionni’s characters, during their Spiral Unit Celebration performance on Friday, February 19.

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Where Vital Academics Meet a Deep Respect for Childhood

by Ayesha Flaherty, Parent and Administrator at The Langley School

Focusing our children’s attention on academic success is critically important to us as parents. And while we seek, encourage, and reward academic activities and accomplishments, we also want our children to retain the joy of being children.

We know that no single model or methodology can universally achieve this perfect balance. However, at The Langley School, the essence of who we are and what drives our curricular decisions is guided by our mission to seek this important, and necessary, balance.

What “vital academics” means at Langley

The word “vital” is defined as “absolutely necessary or important; essential.” When it comes to educating our children, making the trade-offs on how they spend their time and what skills and values are prioritized makes all the difference. That’s why The Langley School stays agile enough to respond to the most vital 21st-century skills. We invest heavily in professional development for our teachers and regularly review our teaching instruction and curriculum, building our students’ schedule and experiences with their futures in mind.

For example, we practice collaboration starting at a young age through our Big Buddy program. We teach empathy through our formal service learning program. We enforce digital citizenship to embed safe habits. We approach lessons with essential questions to spur innovation.

The secondary definition of vital is “full of energy; lively.” If you’ve ever set foot on Langley’s campus, you have witnessed the palpable sense of joy on every corner of campus. As one 2015 Langley graduate stated, “Langley was a place I could come and be assured that I would be safe, comfortable, and most importantly, happy. I feel blessed to have grown up at such a school.”

Guided by a deep respect for childhood

At The Langley School, we believe that childhood isn’t just a stage to pass through – but it is a period of crucial, foundational learning. From age 3 to early adolescence, there is steep cognitive and interpersonal growth. Our teachers are experts in this critical period of development and celebrate childhood while giving their students a solid foundation on which to build.

Where vital academics meet a deep respect for childhood.

This phrase captures our identity as a school. At Langley, you don’t have to choose; you can have both. Another 2015 Langley graduate summed it up best: “Of course I learned a lot academically at Langley, but I’ve also learned life lessons like how to work with other people, how to make lasting friendships, and how to be kind and tolerant.”

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Purposeful Play in Primary School

CBy Amy Thomas, Junior Kindergarten Teacher

“Play isn’t the enemy of learning; it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.” -Stuart Brown in his book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

This September, New York City implemented universal pre-kindergarten, making it the latest of many cities and states to do so. In recent years, pre-k education has gained national press as research has consistently and repeatedly demonstrated the positive impact that high-quality early childhood programs have on student success in schooling and beyond.

Langley SchoolA recent New York Times article, titled “The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K,” challenges the notion that high-quality programming is marked by a singular commitment to an academic curriculum. In fact, it argues quite the opposite – that some of students’ deepest learning occurs during play. The authors write, “As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math, and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways.”

This phenomenon is not new to us at The Langley School. A few summers ago, the faculty read Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (2012). In it, Wagner writes about the changing role of the workforce and the necessity for students to develop a sense of play, passion, and purpose. He describes preschools in which teachers are acting as guides while the students take control of their own learning through authentic play experiences that encourage innovation and collaboration. I am proud to say that play is one of the cornerstones of Langley’s Primary School curriculum.

Students in our Primary School begin each day with “choice time,” a largely unstructured play time in which students are able to make play choices based on their own interests. Students in my junior kindergarten classroom enter each morning ready to take on a day of fun and learning. Some skip over to the play kitchen and begin working on their restaurant menu. Here they practice their phonetic spelling skills as they attempt to write words like “hot dog” while also practicing number formation as they list prices.

Others head to the block bin and begin working on their latest architectural project. This past week, their work focused on designing a new parking garage for Langley. Through careful thought, they were able to create a two-level parking garage with an entrance and a floor plan that enabled them to fit all of the cars from the car bin inside. Other students may find a comfy spot in the book corner to flip through one of their favorite books with a friend. I can hear them pointing out letters or see them dragging their fingers underneath the text as they pretend to read. This is purposeful play and it is one of the most valuable learning experiences that I can give my students.

In addition to its academic benefits, play helps students develop the social and emotional skills essential to success in school and in society. Students must work together to problem-solve when conflicts arise. What will they do when two students want to be the dog in the puppet theatre production? How will they react when someone else is reading the book they want to read? These experiences help students develop the communication skills necessary to articulate their desires, while simultaneously giving them the knowledge that they may not always get what they want when they want it, and that is okay.

In an ever-changing society, students need to develop more than the traditional content-based knowledge. They must develop an understanding of how to communicate, collaborate, and think critically. These are skills that we develop each day in The Langley School’s Primary School classrooms. As children play, we provide them with rich educational experiences in which they can take risks and expand their capacity for future learning.