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To Learn Fully

June 21, 2020 | Shanna Pargellis

This year, as the Grades 2 & 3 team worked to further develop the educational program, certain efforts continued to draw excitement: Spanish language learning and the work of IDEAS (in the Shared Space).

As always, the arts provide an enriched experience for all students at Mustard Seed School. Geography, language, mathematics, engineering, and scientific investigations are all understood as domains of the arts, as well as the sciences. To understand the world as critical & creative problem-solvers, media-skilled communicators, and knowledgeable collaborators, children must learn artfully, in view of the many critical lessons that the arts have to teach us. This commitment will continue to be evident in the year to come.

New Language Learning and Cognitive Strength

Now starting in grade 1, Tania Oro-Hahn brings an exciting new emphasis on world language learning. We have known for some time that children who learn a foreign language develop unique cognitive strengths. Second language learning, even more than first language learning, is both a problem-solving activity and a linguistic activity. It is, by nature, a task that strengthens cognitive processes, as it also widens knowledge, and deepens one’s understanding of the world. Studies have repeatedly shown that foreign language learning increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind in young children, as well as the depth of their relationships with others. The results are not only seen in a child’s more fully developed language acuity, but also in increased mathematical skill and social well being. Because second language instruction provides young children with better cognitive flexibility and creative thinking skills, it can offer all students unique intellectual and academic challenge. At the same time, such learning also enlarges children’s relationships with one another.

For more on the significance of second language learning, check out:

The Shared Space,
Art, Science, & a Place of IDEAS

The Shared Space at Mustard Seed School has been repeatedly and publicly recognized. In 2001, a former faculty member, Dee Mingey, received a Christa McAuliffe Fellowship from the State of New Jersey in order to document the Mustard Seed Lower School Shared Space program and make its benefits accessible to other schools. At the same time, Lynn Hamill developed the leadership of parents in order to shape a team of teachers. It has been a beloved program that we are now stretching in new ways under the leadership of Zach Nordling.

Each year, all of the multi-age teachers, with the additional support of Aiko Mauldin and Tania Oro-Hahn, collaborate to lead the Meadows, Mountains, Forests, and Fountains, in the pursuit of IDEAS (Integrated Design, Engineering, Art, and Social Studies/Science). As essential questions inspire creative and innovative work, students pursue a cultural and historical study of Hoboken, investigate states of matter, and more.

The Ten Lessons that the Arts Teach
Eliot Eisner, Yale University Press

  • The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.
  • The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
  • The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.
  • The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and willingness to find and respond to unanticipated possibilities.
  • The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.
  • The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.
  • The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.
  • The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.
  • The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling and doing.
  • The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications. NAEA grants reprint permission for this excerpt from Ten Lessons with proper acknowledgment of its source and NAEA.

Shanna Pargellis

Lower School Director

A life-long learner, Shanna Pargellis is always full of questions and curious about possibilities. As a founder of the school she has been delighted to shape and experience this dynamic and growing learning environment. A continuing goal over the 40 years is to know and care for each child so that each one grows not just academically but in the arts, faith, and service. She believes that listening to the child and learning holistically prepares one to lead a life of meaning and purpose and joy.

Currently she is the Lower School Director for grades one to three, but she has had many roles at the school: teacher, board member, parent, acting head, early childhood director, guitar player, song leader, space designer, furniture mover, and celebration planner.

While she has appreciated all the places one can explore in the city, she enjoys gardening in her own small backyard and spending time in green spaces. She also loves to ask the beautiful question.

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