Dear 6th grade families,
Yesterday I got to taste a slice of an apple from an apple tree in the Early Childhood play yard. Though small, it was tangy and sweet, and it brought to mind the hours of work the Class of 2022 did last year in that play yard. They delivered many loads of wood chips and also helped to plant trees along the fence. That those once fledgling trees are now bearing fruit is such a poignant symbol of the work we do at Urban Prairie, and the fact that our time and work are important investments in the future of these amazing children. I’ll take these meditations into this year of teaching and learning.
We had a busy and fruitful week back at school. The sixth graders are adjusting to their new roles as middle schoolers! It has been interesting to see them work and socialize with the 7th and 8th graders. We do our Morning Movement together every day in Cricket Hall, where we stretch, sing together, and then play a game. This is a lot more fun with 36 people! The 6th graders have also been eating their meals with the 7th and 8th graders in our lunch room, “Rudolf’s Diner.” Many were shy at first, but now they seem more comfortable. I am witnessing many conversations across the grades! It was our hope that the 6th graders would feel initiated into the Middle School group this week, and I think that is in the process of happening.
Who is the 6th Grader?
I attended my 6th grade training in late June, and now that Week 1 of the school year is over, I find myself revisiting my notes about the developmental stage of the 6th grader, and doing a lot of nodding! I will share a picture with you here–keeping in mind that these are generalizations, and not always applicable to every 6th grader at this time– and will aim to share more at our first Parent/Guarding Evening.
The 6th graders have grown a lot this summer! The lovely grace and balance from their 5th grade year is now but a memory. Their limbs are stretching, while their muscles haven’t caught up. They may have aches and pains from growing. Their walking is heavier, and they are a bit clumsy. They are cutting their molars, and many of them have braces, which can be uncomfortable. Think of what all of this means for them! All of these physical changes and discomforts can lead to a lack of ease and sense of loneliness.
It is best to approach this stage with loving authority, and to expect your authority to be constantly questioned! 6th graders need their teachers, parents, and guardians to have strong resolve and confidence. Their job is to rail against authority–this is completely healthy and normal for them right now! Our job is to be in the driver’s seat, to be in charge, to steer the ship. They will perfect the art of complaining this year, but our job is to remain steadfast and provide them with models of fairness, equanimity, and consistency, as well as to follow through when we say we are going to do something.
Your 6th grader may present as bold, rash, and argumentative (any of this sounding familiar?). You may observe a heightened interest in their clothing and hairstyles. You may start to see “No Trespassing” and “Do Not Enter” signs on the doors to their rooms. You can expect them to come home at some point in the year saying things like “Nobody likes me…”, “Everybody’s being mean to me…”, “I can’t…”, or “I’m no good at this”. Be a sympathetic listener, but be careful not to go to that level with them. This is their struggle, and these struggles are good for them.
I even have in my notes from my June training: “Read and know the dress code well–they will argue against it! Hold to it and call them on it.” I kid you not!
As I try and relate to what the 6th graders are going through, It is helpful for me to think back on my own Middle School years. I remember how important my social relationships were to me, how I suddenly started caring a whole lot about what I wore, and how alone I often felt (“I must be the only one going through this”). This can be a difficult time for these pre-teens, but together we can surround them with warmth, kindness, and the loving authority they need.
We begin the year with our Geometry block. This block is all about following directions and making precise, accurate geometric constructions. We are reviewing basic terms, such as parallel, perpendicular, right, acute, and obtuse angles, as well as the names of polygons and parts of a circle (radius, diameter, etc.). We are leaving behind the Freehand Geometry of 5th grade and getting to know and use geometer’s tools such as the compass and straightedge.
There is a sign hanging outside the 6th grade room that reads “Let no one ignorant of Geometry enter here,” which is rumored to have been written on the entrance to Plato’s Academy. The first day of class, I told them a story–paraphrased from the excellent book String, Straightedge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry— about how we all have an innate sense of geometry. From the time we are babies discovering rhythm with our rattles or noticing how a ball rolls, to the age the 6th graders are now, when they can notice when a picture frame is crooked, can straighten a bedspread, have an inherent sense of direction, and notice patterns and contours in nature. So, I reasoned with them, you can all enter here, for none of you are ignorant of geometry! We talked about how a string can help you make a circle, and attempted to draw perfect circles with a string tied to our pencils. It turned out to be more difficult than they expected, and their circles were imperfect, to say the least. Then–with great ceremony–I passed out their compasses! They then created perfect circles using these amazing tools. I could sense their satisfaction in being able to do that. We talked about the most responsible way to care for and use the compasses. I find myself repeating the phrase “these are tools, not toys” often, but they are responding to that and being very reverent and responsible with the compasses.
We will continue the Geometry block for two more weeks, during which the 6th graders will make ever more complicated and beautiful constructions with their geometer’s tools.
In Language Arts skills class, we have been reading from Wonder and doing some spelling work by sorting words into word families. In Math skills, we reviewed the four processes with fractions. The 6th graders also measured each other (so that we can measure ourselves at the end of the year and compare!) and completed daily Speed Sheets to practice their mental math skills.
Next week, your 6th grader should be bringing home their Assignment Book. They have been working all week on setting these up with calendars, block schedules, class schedules, and a daily assignment tracker. Next week, they will begin to use them to write down their assignments and keep track of what they have done. I told them all to bring them home this weekend to show you, so please ask to see them! We are doing them in the style of a bullet journal, if you are familiar with those, though we are choosing to call it an Assignment Book for clarity.
Saturday, Sept. 7- Sunday, Sept. 8: Renegade Craft Fair, 11-7pm
Wednesday, Sept. 18: Picture Day
Thursday, Sept. 19: Middle School Parent/Guardian Evening, 7-9 pm
Saturday, Sept. 28: Festival of Courage, 3-6 pm