How to Build a Better Brain

Beginning in the 1940s, numerous studies have linked intelligence quotient and childhood environment. More stimulating, engaging environments have been proven to increase the number of synapses and neurons in the brain; increase dendrite complexity; increase synapse activity and increase cortex volume. The effect is especially pronounced during childhood, when the brain is still developing, but it can continue into adulthood. For example, stimulating environments have been shown to assist in the recovery of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other symptoms of age-related cognitive decline.

Charles Darwin, in 1874, was one of the first to hypothesize on how environment shaped brain size. In 1947, a psychologist named Donald Hebb found that rats raised as pets performed better on problem solving tests than rats raised in cages. A follow-up study by Mark Rosenzweig in 1960 found that rats in an “enriched environment”, a cage with all sorts of ladders, wheels, tunnels, and other toys, developed increased cerebral cortex volume. You can read more about the studies here and here.

Maria Montessori, who was four years old at the time Darwin was speculating about the effect of environment on the brain size of wild rabbits, ultimately came to similar conclusions. “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences … To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely … Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur … The child should live in an environment of beauty.”

Montessori classrooms are designed to be inviting, welcoming, and above all, stimulating. The materials are created to incite curiosity and fascination. Everything is colorful, tactile, and at the child’s eye level. The mood is safe, serene and home-like. The child is able to engage in self-directed learning, encouraging independence, a love of learning, and self-confidence.

But school is only one facet of a child’s life. Parents can create an environment that is conducive to creativity and critical thinking in the home, as well. Arts and crafts, weekend trips, outdoor activities, interactive games, books, and  imaginative play all help the young child’s brain to grow and make new connections.

For more ideas, check out this Pinterest board, “DIY Montessori Activities.” There are also tons of books on Montessori activities to do at home, which you can check out on Amazon. We hope you find some new ideas and enjoy exercising your brain!






Benefits of Spanish Immersion

Let’s take a look into the window of P1, one of our Spanish Immersion classrooms.

“Hola, como estas?” (Hi, how are you?) “Por favor” (Please), “Gracias” (Thank you) are a few of the common Spanish phrases heard in our classroom as we begin our day together. “Uno, dos, tres” (one, two, three) can be heard as the children count in Spanish. “Por favor, venga al circulo, no mas trabajo,” (please come to circle, no more work) is an example of the daily instructions our students hear as they experience the Spanish language in a natural and routine manner.

We have found that singing in Spanish is also an easy and enjoyable way for the children to hear the rhythm of the language. The children work with exclusive Spanish language materials in learning how to identify objects and pictures in Spanish. They do this by learning how to pronounce, spell and associate the concepts in the Spanish language. The Montessori math materials are also taught in Spanish, once the concepts are learned in English. — From the P1 Blog

Spanish Immersion is an optional program for ages 3 through third grade that is designed to provide students with a solid foundation for bilingualism. Half of all lessons are given in Spanish and one classroom support teacher speaks only in Spanish, creating a native-like environment. Conversing, singing and doing works in Spanish is a fun and natural way to acquire bilingual fluency and cultural understanding. Research suggests that learning languages at earlier ages and over longer periods of time supports second-language acquisition (Tochon, 2009). Benefits include:

  • Increased ability to control attention and keep information in memory, better awareness of language structure and vocabulary, and improved skills in creative thinking and problem solving (Adesope, Lavin, Thompson, and Ungerleider, 2010).
  • Bilingual students attain higher levels of achievement on standardized tests in reading, writing, social studies, and math, and report higher levels of self-confidence (Tochon, 2009).
  • Students in “50-50” language-immersion schools, in which students spend half of their day learning in a nonnative language, perform as well as, or better than, students in monolingual schools on standardized tests, and these benefits extend to English-language learners as well as native English speakers (Gómez, Freeman, and Freeman, 2005; Palmer, 2009; Thomas and Collier, 2002).
  • Learning a second language not only has cognitive and academic benefits, it also supports a greater sense of openness to — and appreciation for — other cultures and improves opportunities for cross-cultural friendships and employment (Tochon, 2009).



Turning Tragedy Into Musical Comedy

Last week parents were treated to a comedic version of Shakespeare’s classic play about ghosts, guilt and magic spells. Teachers Ms. Erica and Ms. Arlene recount:
“E1 presented their rendition of a comedic spoof based upon Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. The students had such fun transforming the quite violent tale into a lively — and sometimes silly — frolicking romp using many songs and dances. For example, one of  Lady Macbeth’s major concerns  was that blood might have stained her carpets and that it costs a fortune to steam clean carpets  now-a-days. It is safe to say that the students will never forget the great play Macbeth.”
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Benefits of Multi-Age Grouping

Recently, an FMS parent was kind enough to share a video with us on our Facebook page. You may have seen the viral hit — an older, bigger dog teaches his puppy friend to go down the stairs. That got us thinking about the benefits of multi-age grouping in the classroom. A few teachers share their thoughts:

“Multi-aged classrooms speak to a fundamental tenet of the Montessori philosophy where modeling behavior and ‘showing’ a child how to do a work is desired over ‘telling’ the child the necessary steps. With older and younger children mixed together, the natural teaching moments emerge easily and effectively.  Many times during the course of a week, we witness older students teaching younger students not only the content of the work, but also giving the younger child a pattern of behavior that they can aspire to. Children are eager to relate to each other and find gratification in submitting their attention to another child in a natural and effective way. Multi-aged classrooms support a culture of sharing and encourage children at a young age to respond to older children around them. This interaction strengthens the children’s abilities to relate and communicate their feelings with others and begins the vital process of dealing with their own will power, ego and self perceptions.  It is a safe space to experiment with developing social awareness. Older children are also reminded of the virtue of responsibility and the important role of being an example of positive behavior for younger children. It shows them the strength they have developed personally and the impact they can have on others simply by being a positive role model.” — Ms. Nancy, P1

“When the third levels are asked to teach a concept to the others, they love it! Recently a third grader was absent one day and a first level asked if they could teach them the lesson they missed. They like helping each other and with teacher guidance it can be a wonderful experience for both parties. Children like it when their friends want to help them.” — Ms. April, E4

“Children vary in their academic, social and emotional development. In a multi-age classroom students can have their needs met whether they are above or below the average level of children their age. Students have the opportunity to  develop their leadership skills and confidence through mentoring peers.” — Ms. Nina, E3

“Having children ages three through six together permits the younger children to have role models for imitation, and the older ones  an opportunity to reinforce their knowledge by helping the younger ones.They say you really know a subject when you can teach it.” — Ms. Maryam, P3
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Creating Art With Ms. Angela

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” — Pablo Picasso

Ms. Angela, our art specialist, has been busy keeping the artist’s spirit alive and burning within all of our students.

January subjects included the solar system, flower works inspired by Georgia O’Keefe and colorful three-dimensional abstract art in primary; Native Americans, sculpture and molded clay in lower elementary; and contemporary and historical pop culture in upper elementary and middle school.

February topics will include the oceans, perspective and scale; artistry inspired by the Cochiti, Lakota and Cherokee peoples; and projects relating to social concerns and creating opinion through art and design.

Thank you Ms. Angela for helping us to express our inner artist! We look forward to seeing more beautiful works next month.

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Chinese Acrobats Visit Primary

Last week, the primary students witnessed some amazing acrobatics during their Primary Assembly.

Says P4: “We began our week with a fantastic assembly with the Chinese Dancers. The children and teachers were amazed by their unique talents and acrobatic abilities. The men were able to flip and create human pyramids, and the women juggled and did a Chinese yoyo routine. It was endearing to watch the students emulate the performance during recess time.”

You can see tons of amazing pictures from the assembly (and other classroom activities) by visiting the primary classroom blogs under Classroom News. Check it out!

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Parents Get to Play

Last week, parents of upper elementary students were welcomed into the classrooms for our annual Upper Elementary Parent/Child Night.

From the E6 Blog: “The students and teachers of E6 welcomed their parents back to school for an evening of lessons, puzzles and games that utilized the problem-solving skills acquired in upper elementary. Parents and students worked together to solve math challenges and word puzzles. They enjoyed creative practice in direction following and using their imagination to write sentences and short stories. Students tested parents’ knowledge of states and capitals and sorted animal crackers into biomes. It was fun to see so many of our families working, learning and laughing together.”


Plus, it snowed!! Check out more pics on the E6 Classroom Blog.

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