Whether your child previously participated in a childcare center or Pre-K will be his first formal educational setting, it’s common to prioritize the curriculum and specific areas of study as you evaluate the best fit for your little learner. After all, everyone is talking about “kindergarten readiness,” and you want to be sure that your child is ahead of the curve.
In recent years, kindergarten has become increasingly rigorous thanks, in part, to the emphasis on standardized testing, and parents have started to consider quality Pre-K programs as a way to ensure their child meets common kindergarten requirements and expectations. But experts say that social-emotional learning (SEL) is just as important as academics when it comes to a quality Pre-K program, so it may behoove you to ask teachers how they incorporate it into their classrooms.
What is Social-Emotional Learning?
Social-emotional learning is defined by The Pennsylvania State University and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” In other words, it’s how your child thinks, feels, and acts.
And so, one of the most critical aspects of a good Pre-K program is a focus on things like how to control yourself and behave in the class, how to wait your turn, how to share, how to deal with frustration, and how to solve conflicts. You may or may not be surprised to learn that these skills are not innate, and they are just starting to emerge in 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds.
While it seems simple and we may not remember the specific ways through which we learned to navigate our own social-emotional learning, it is a critical aspect of early childhood education. In many cases it must be taught and reinforced. In fact, SEL is so important that it is outlined in Pre-K program standards in all 50 states.
Earlier is Not Better When it Comes to Academic Studies
According to Lilian G. Katz, PhD, Pre-K programs are most effective when they “focus on social, emotional and intellectual goals rather than narrow academic goals.” In her report “Lively Minds: Distinctions Between Academic Versus Intellectual Goals For Young Children,” she states that the assumption that “earlier is better” with regard to an emphasis on beginning a rigorous academic curriculum—especially related to reading—is not supported by neurological research. She posits that schools must provide “early experiences that provoke self-regulation, initiative and…sustained synchronous interaction in which the child is interactive with others in some continuous process, rather than a mere passive recipient of isolated bits of information for stimulation.”
Academics Should Be Present—But Not the Primary Focus
According to an NPR article, social-emotional learning can and should complement a strong academic curriculum rooted in research. “Instruction built on social and emotional skills, rich play, toys, games, art, music and movement complements explicit instruction focused on things like learning to count and matching letters to sounds and words. Both benefit kids' readiness for school.”
Social-Emotional Learning at Fessenden
At Fessenden, social-emotional learning is at the heart of what we teach. Passionate and experienced teachers focus on the individual child and help him develop the social, emotional, and academic tools he needs to navigate the world with enthusiasm and curiosity—and to be prepared for kindergarten and everything else that lies ahead. We place an emphasis on recognizing random acts of kindness, we teach boys to lend a hand to a friend in need, and we guide them to help mediate friends’ conflicts when they arise. In short, we’re careful to put the building blocks in place for a strong internal compass, all the while having fun and learning!
You tell us.
How do you see social-emotional learning playing out in your child’s classroom? Or, if your child isn’t yet enrolled in a Pre-K program, is SEL something you will prioritize when you begin your search?
The spirit of childhood plays a significant role in the character of a school. At Fessenden, we have many traditions that center around this philosophy. The Red and Gray tug-of-war on Field Day, for example, dates back to the School’s founding days, and our newer tradition of the Fessy Lip Dub adds excitement to the academic year. These activities that exist beyond the classroom walls make our community proud of, and excited about, the school.
One of the most anticipated Fessenden Lower School traditions is the annual fourth grade campout. The community camps out on the fields of our 41-acre campus, and everyone plays games requiring teamwork and strategy. During this time, students learn how to pitch tents and enjoy a cookout dinner followed by activities such as rocket launches with Science Bob, physical education challenges, a campfire and s’mores, and swimming in one of our two outdoor pools under the lights. The next morning, students eat breakfast together in the Sanderson Dining Hall and watch movies.
Former fourth grade student Carter B. recalled the campout during an end-of-year interview. “It’s really exciting because the whole fourth grade stays at school. We started the night with a scavenger hunt, and we pitched tents and then went in the pool. We get paired up and find out who's in each tent, and then you sleep outside,” he gushed, identifying it as one of the highlights of the year. “The campout helps you make friends and meet the other kids, because there are a lot of kids in fourth grade and it's hard to know all of them.”
At Fessenden, fourth grade classrooms expand from two classrooms to three. With more students joining the School in this grade, group dynamics change, and there is increased opportunity for growth and friendships. By holding this night in September, both new and returning students have an opportunity to meet friends, develop bonds, and make lasting memories while learning about teamwork, shared responsibility, and the spirit of Fessenden.
With the guidance of teachers, students embrace opportunities to strengthen old—and develop new—friendships that they will carry with them for years to come.
You tell us.
What are some traditions you remember from your time in school?
If you’re considering boarding school for your child, there is no better way to get an authentic feel for a program than to hear from the students themselves. Whether you want to learn about dorm life or the food in the dining hall, you can always count on students to share the real spirit of a school.
Here’s what actual former Fessenden boarding students are saying about their experiences.
Five-Day Boarding Options
Some junior boarding schools provide options that enable students to have the best of both worlds. For example, Fessenden has a five-day boarding program that allows students to live on campus Monday–Friday and spend the weekends at home. Former Fessenden student Nathaniel D. says he enjoyed having a mix of home and dorm life before heading off to secondary school to become a full-time boarder. “I get my work done a lot better at school because there are a lot more distractions at home. Being at school with set study hall time, you really excel in academics because you develop a work ethic, which will benefit me for the rest of my life.”
Living in an Academic Environment
Boarding school students are immersed in a learning environment at all times, which enables them to focus their attention and work with faculty within a structured and supportive setting. For one former Fessenden student, this environment made an impact on his study habits and academic drive and success. He shares, “My proudest accomplishment is probably making a 360 degree turnaround in my academic life. Prior to coming to Fessy I was not the greatest student, and I didn't want to work as much. For some reason, Fessy just makes you want to work. Maybe it's the faculty being such great role models and teachers; you really don't want to disappoint anyone, so you work extra hard to get the best grades you can—and on the sports field as well.”
A Lesson in Independence
Students at junior boarding school feel that the campus is a second home. They are surrounded by supportive adults and form strong bonds with their peers. An added benefit of boarding school life is the individual growth students undergo as they learn to take care of themselves and begin to practice agency and independence. Felix, a native of Bermuda, described this individual growth during his time at Fessy. “Having a home here was an opportunity to take care of yourself, a place where you don’t rely on other people or listen to other people to tell you what to do. Living here is like telling yourself what to do; to make the right choices, to make good decisions—not bad ones. Overall it is a great experience.”
In a junior boarding school, students look after each other. There is a sense that they are connected beyond friendship; they begin to feel like family. At Fessenden, it’s often called a “Band of Brothers.” Charlie S., a former Fessenden boarding student, shares, “If you talk to any boarder, you’ll learn that it’s not always easy to live in a dorm with 13 to sometimes even 17 other boys. When you have that experience for an entire year, that dorm becomes your family—they're your friends, they're your classmates, they're everything to you. I think that's a really special trait to be able to get along with people like that and talk to them and just share your experiences with them.”
In this environment, it is important that students are offered opportunities to lead their peers. At Fessenden, this comes in the form of proctorships. As part of the ninth grade experience, students apply for proctor roles which means they are given the opportunity to assist the dorm parent in keeping an orderly, clean, and positive dorm environment. Sal A. described the proctor role at Fessenden. “As a proctor, you're located in a specific dorm on campus and you help look after the younger students by setting a good example, and making sure that they're all doing well. If they ever need some advice, you're always there for them. Basically, you’re like an older brother who's also like a teacher, but more suitable for them to talk to about their everyday problems.”
Weekends at Fessy
Students considering boarding school often worry about what the weekends might be like in a structured environment away from home. Perhaps they envision having to stay on campus all weekend with limited activities and free time. At Fessenden, however, this is far from reality. Students look forward to the weekend, which are organized with fun-filled trips that take students all over the region. This can include day trips to Boston, which is a quick 15-minute drive away, and occasional overnight trips to Maine, Vermont, Martha’s Vineyard, or New Hampshire. “I love the weekends here,” remarks one Fessy boarder, “Actually, I'm looking at high schools right now and of all the high schools I've looked at, there isn't a place like Fessenden which offers the same weekend activities. Some of my favorites are going to the movies, mall, and go-karting. There’s an endless variety of trips, and we really have so many different options.”
Fessenden’s boarding program also makes ample use of the city of Boston, which is located only a few miles to the east. One local boarder described the experience of visiting Boston with his roommate who was from out of town. “We walked around with my roommate last year who was not from this area and had never been to Boston before. He saw the skyline and was amazed. He was wowed. I thought it was so cool, I like to share that feeling with him. This is so special. I kind of take it for granted that we have such a beautiful city so close to us.”
What will you miss?
For many students, what it usually comes down to is the people and the community. At the end of the school year we often hear things like, “I think I'll miss the faculty, the community, and the overall environment the most. I’ve made some of my closest friends here at Fessy, and some of my biggest role models in my life are my teachers and the administrators here.”
Thanksgiving seems like a holiday that's as American as apple pie (or pumpkin pie for some of us), but, actually, versions of this celebration take place in many of the countries around the world that are home to our Fessenden students. Customs and menus may vary, but giving thanks for the bounties of the harvest is at the center of them all. Whether or not there is a turkey involved, these observances all revolve around a community recognizing its good fortune.
For instance, our Canadian students follow traditions that arise from the same European harvest festivals that led to our own American version. Canadian Thanksgiving was first celebrated in 1578, and became a national holiday in 1879. Feasting on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn are common to our neighbors to the north, as well.
The boys who come to us from Japan celebrate Kinrō Kansha no Hi, a national public holiday of Japan that takes place every November 23. Derived from ancient harvest festival rituals, it is sometimes known as Labor Thanksgiving Day.
In China, the Moon Festival has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. It is a three-day mid-autumn harvest feast, a time when families gather to light lanterns, watch fiery dragon dances, admire the moon, and eat mooncakes. Our Chinese students enjoy American dishes like sweet potatoes and pumpkin along with their favorite dishes, such as dumplings and mooncakes, for a delicious celebration of the autumn harvest.
Whether our students come from Mexico, Korea, Great Britain, or any of the countries that make up our global Fessenden community, they all celebrate the fall season with an array of traditions and customs that give thanks for their blessings. Fessenden is a rich amalgam of these many cultural contributions, and we are a more vibrant group as a result. We are a whole that is, in fact, greater than the sum of its many parts.
At our school, the importance of community is never more evident than during the yearly gathering of our boarding students and residential faculty for a very special Thanksgiving feast in the Sanderson Dining Hall. This opportunity to express our gratitude together is an essential element of building the kinds of connections and shared experiences that make Fessenden the special place it is—a global village with much to be thankful for.
“All the world’s a stage,” proclaims Jaques, the melancholy nobleman in William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” For our fall Fessenden theatre production, all the school will become our stage as we await the completion of our new auditorium later this school year.
On Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17, our troupe of student actors will take over five areas of the School to perform “The Secret in the Wings,” Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman’s inventive retelling of some lesser known Grimm’s fairy tales. The play consists of four stories: "Three Blind Queens," "Allerleirah," "The Princess Who Wouldn't Laugh," and "Silent for Seven Years." This production also intertwines elements from the more familiar tale of “Beauty and the Beast,” which serves as the framework of the stories—with a clever twist.
Faced with the challenge of mounting a production without the availability of a theater, Middle and Upper School Theatre Instructor Paul Perez saw this limitation as an opportunity. He designed a show in the contemporary style of immersive theatre, in which the audience interacts with the performance and is challenged to piece the story together as they follow the action from location to location.
The ensemble cast of 17 actors will tell these darkly humorous stories to an audience that will move throughout the School, originating in the Schoolroom and moving to various locations that include the Ciongoli Center for Innovation, the Kelley Room, and Hart House. Each tale is finally brought to a conclusion in the Sanderson Dining Hall.
The boys are excited to be part of this unusual approach to theatre, although this is not the first time that a Fessy production has left the confines of the performing arts space. For many years, the Sixth Form Garden (the space currently known as Noah’s Garden) was the idyllic setting for spring performances of Shakespearean plays. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Tempest,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and even the aforementioned “As You Like It” were typically staged outdoors for audiences on folding chairs or picnic blankets. In our old performing space, portable staging was arranged in every imaginable configuration. A production of “Twelve Angry Men” even sat the audience on stage, while the play took place on the gym floor.
Creative approaches have always been used to bring exciting, new experiences to our boys engaged in the performing arts. Although we eagerly anticipate great new possibilities that will be realized in our new theater, “The Secret in the Wings” is sure to be a stimulating evening in the theater—even though there is no actual theater.
Don't miss this week's performances:
- Friday, Nov. 16, 2018: 7:00-9:00pm
- Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018: 7:00-9:00pm
Admission is free but tickets are required. Reserve now at fessenden.org/tickets.
Imagine that you are eleven years old, experiencing that potent mix of boundless exuberance and limitless joy that comes with the freedom of running—starting slowly, building speed, feeling the thrill that comes with the discovery and release of your power and self-determination.
Now, imagine 510 boys gathered together in an environment that provides the structure, guidance, direction, and circumstance to encourage and foster growth in each of them. As you walk through the halls and corridors of Fessenden, boys scurry everywhere, hustling from classes to sports; from the gym to study hall; to meals, activities, and rehearsals.
This is the experience of a day at Fessenden, and the whimsical, joyful image of the Running Boy captures that perfectly.
It would be easy to mistake this bustling atmosphere as chaotic, or to consider the Running Boy merely to be about running - but the truth is that our students are purposeful and deliberate as they move from challenge to challenge, eager to engage in the endless opportunities that await them at every turn. Whether seeking a part in a theatrical production or participating in a lunchtime discussion group, our “running boys” move with serious intent coupled with the joy of discovery.
Designed for the School in 1925 by well-known cartoonist Donald Carlisle, the Running Boy is a portrayal of what he conceived to be the typical Fessenden student, tie flying behind him as he strides confidently forward. He is four or he is 15; he is from every country around the world that has been home to Fessenden students. He is a problem solver, an innovator, a performer, an athlete. The Running Boy is every boy who has moved with determination, grace, and hope through the halls of our school. Indeed, he is much more than a statue at the top of the Hyde Hall Slope. He is the depiction of the spirited, productive lives of all of our students, and an enduring symbol of the high energy that fills their days.
We hope you enjoy some of the historic and whimsical Running Boy photos below.