Following the quiet summer break, the teachers and I were eager to have the students return this week. It brings a big smile to my face to once again be in classrooms alive with the voices and activities of children exploring, discovering, thinking, and creating.
In many of the classes I visited, students were taking the time to think more about their own interests and talents, and to learn more about what makes each member of the classroom unique. One class of upper elementary students conducted interviews with their peers. The other class designed their own name labels to put on their desks, using drawings and colors to help illustrate something unique about themselves. In middle school, students were given the assignment of creating an object out of clay to best express their own unique identity. These quick-sculptures, conceived and molded in less than an hour, conveyed amazing insight into each student’s unique interests and passions. Examples included gymnastics, music, dance, plants, and animals. Later in the day, each student stood in front of the group to present and explain their design, and finally created a printed label explaining their sculpture in writing, both in English and Spanish.
On the surface, these classroom activities may look simply like a technique for children to get to know each other better. But at Oak Meadow School, the intent goes much deeper. It represents an ongoing commitment to root a child’s learning experience in a growing self-understanding of the child’s own identity–each child’s unique talents, values, and qualities of character. When education is built on a foundation of honoring the child’s unique identity, the child develops a growing understanding that learning (and school) can be an empowering process of self-discovery and self-expression. This enables a child to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn, including challenging oneself to master complex academic subjects. And that matters enormously. Research shows that students who possess greater self-awareness and self-motivation are more likely to develop into being people who are caring, healthy, intellectually curious, creative, and productive. We owe it to our children to ensure they have an educational experience that brings out the best in who they are.