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Together 12.2.22

December 1, 2022 | Nancy Van Epps

by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi

Last month, our Extended Day program held a special event at the library for their multi-age students. As a transition for Preschool 4 to Grade 5 students between school and home, the Extended Day program maintains the standards and values of Mustard Seed while providing a safe space for decompression or enrichment or traditionally familial experiences as needed by the child.

One of these experiences is applying for a first library card. The nearby Hoboken Public Library generously opened their secret garden so that Extended Day could host a reception to facilitate the distribution of the cards. The library’s Youth Services Manager, Vanessa Soto, was in attendance to deliver the card to each child individually, parents were invited, and light refreshments were served in the courtyard.

As each child stepped forward to receive their card at the reception, their classmates broke out in applause. Unprompted and self-directed, the children’s genuine expression of support was thunderous and increasingly animated as the informal ceremony progressed. I, like many of the adults present, chuckled in surprise. One parent jokingly said that she witnessed the bestowal of the Congressional Medal of Honor during that ceremony. Although she works with many youth organizations, Ms. Soto was similarly impressed by the students’ poise and behavior. “And they’re so nice!” 

Joy and comfort along with the agency to act in a multi-age setting are just some of the benefits of placing children in scenarios where they will interact and collaborate with students in other grades. Peer learning fosters leadership skills and a sense of responsibility for older children, and confidence for the younger children. 

Our young alums often fondly reminisce about their learning partnerships with older and younger students when they visit the school. They remember their mentor’s names and the comments that they made about their work. Current eighth grade student, Matilda, whose class recently partnered with fourth grade students on a writing project. said:

“I remember that the older students seemed so cool and inspiring. I had Jasmine one year and Abigail the next. It was encouraging that they believed in me and thought that I could become a better reader. The idea that I can now be that person for another fourth grader is so exciting!”

Fourth grade student Liam has had opportunities to play the role of both the older student and the younger in partnerships with other grades. As a capstone to their study of memoirs and personal narratives, the fourth grade class composed their own narratives. They explored topics like moving to New Jersey, attending Comic Con, a family trip to the Netherlands, and a special birthday. The eighth grade class worked in pairs with Liam and his classmates to respond to the written work. They provided feedback on grammar, punctuation and content

Alternatively, for a unit in math, Liam and his classmates were tasked with developing a problem that measuring would solve. Here are some examples that they devised and tested:

How far can you blow a measurement cube?
How many push ups can you do?
How tall are you?

After studying measurement in their math class, Liam’s class visited the first grade class to help them with their math. They assisted the measurement and recording of the first grade students’ height, and answered any questions that their younger cohorts had about measuring. 

Incorporating peer instruction into the learning process cultivates active learning for both the older and the younger students. Older students must organize their understanding of the concept in order to explain it. Younger students hear the material in a fresh voice and receive personalized instruction and encouragement.

Multi-age instruction has long been a hallmark of the Mustard Seed learning community as one component that makes the curriculum here both joyous and rigorous.

Nancy Van Epps

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