A moment. The Kindergarten students stood unevenly around the room, wearing one shoe. The other shoe had been sorted into one of three groups on the table. “How many sandals do we have?”, asked the teacher. “One” they cried out. “How many crocs do we have?” she asked. “Three,” they replied. “And how many sneakers do we have?” she asked. After hearing many guesses, she said “Let’s count them together!”
Another moment. The Fourth Grade students stood in a circle on the playground. One stood in place pretending to swim, while another asked “What are you doing?” “Jumping jacks” the first replied, and the second began to do jumping jacks. “What are you doing?” the third student asked the second. “Skiing” came the reply, and the third student began to act like they were skiing down a slope.
Students make intellectual connections in many different ways. They find them within their academic work every day, such as learning multiple strategies for multiplication; and also between disciplines, such as when they use their writing skills to draft effective lab reports for science class. In the two moments I described above (which I witnessed on campus in the past week), students were connecting their personal lives to the respective concepts of mathematical groupings and active verbs, in Gateway’s classic “serious fun” approach.
In our reading program, children learn to make connections from texts to other texts, to themselves, and to the world at large — an approach called The Mosaic of Thought. Whether through guided all-class read alouds in Lower Elementary, literature circles in Upper Elementary, or class novels in Middle School, children learn reading skills from decoding to comprehension to critical thinking, enabling them to engage with the world of ideas, and connect their own ideas with each others’.
Students also make social connections every day they are at school. These may be with individual peers and teachers, or with larger groups, such as the sense of the class or school as a whole, and the broader community in which we live.
What does it mean to make a personal connection to another person? For younger children, it may be as simple as acknowledging what their neighbor has for lunch, or an invitation to play during recess. As one gets older, connection may come from appreciating someone’s sense of humor, or their insights into current events. And as we become full adults, we learn that deep connection means learning to listen closely, ask questions, seek feedback, and acknowledge the lives and experiences of other people. What comes from connection is trust and security; autonomy and interdependence; and ultimately, a sense of intimacy and fulfillment.
New and strange situations can be challenging to tolerate, but if we let them evolve into something known and comfortable, we can make meaningful connections. Our children are asked to do this every day, as they develop empathy and compassion for others.
Here are a few ideas for how you can help create an environment of connection at home for your child:
Model intellectual curiosity: talk about how you are making connections between the things you read and the world around you.
Set inclusive goals: these might be having your child spend a recess playing with each classmate every month, or learning something new about a different classmate daily.
Broaden your family’s circle: invite families you don’t yet know over for a game night, or invite a family from another grade to connect at the park.
Forge community connections: host your neighbors, stop by to chat at local (and Gateway family-owned) businesses, and pause to say hello to all the dog walkers and gardeners you pass.
If we all put our attention towards connecting, we’ll do wonders to cultivate our children’s sense of empathy and purpose towards the world around them.
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School