Lower School Begins a Journey Along the Path of "Big Ideas"

From Director Phil Kassen:
And off they go! Four of our youngest students and their teacher are heading into the world in search of answers to questions they don’t yet know they have. Heading off equipped with a child’s birthright - the love and joy foundin learning about the world, brought to fruition with their developing academic skills, with their teacher as a guide, and their colleagues to provide four-year-old collegiality and to help carry the load. 
The Fours’ home visits are the earliest incarnation of LREI’s commitment to merging learning and life, the schoolhouse and the world, and to using these moments of synchrony as opportunities to develop and hone essential academic and intellectual skills. These moments of being part of a larger world are an essential component of LREI’s legacy and of our current program. Connecting learning to the world, whether done in or out of the school house, has been at the core of what we do for nearly 100 years. The field trip was invented at the turn of the last century at the Little Red School House and schools like it. Trips help to answer the questions, “How can we get as close as possible to the experiences of others; how can we truly understand and empathize? What are the most authentic and effective ways in which to practice and test our learning?”
During their time at LREI students will take dozens of day-long field trips and at least nine overnight trips. Many of these experiences relate to specific classroom foci while others are more general in nature, relating to the year’s curriculum writ large, offering an overarching view of how work in school connects to work in the world. These finely tuned experiences, planned with the utmost skill and care, create opportunities to put students’ skills and content area knowledge to the test. We see this when students count leaves gathered in Washington Square Park, when first graders survey safety signs and traffic, when fourth graders paint moments from their farm trip, through the 7th grade museum research, the eighth grade social justice field work, and, of course, the last overnight trip, our eleventh grade long-trip experience, researching national issues around the country. 
Connecting the classroom to the world happens within the walls of the school house, as well.  The very essence of our classroom-based program in the lower school and our departmentalized curriculum in the middle and high school challenges students to gain the skills and understanding to navigate their increasingly complex world. They are asked to hear, learn from, listen to, and challenge ideas and voices and experiences that are different from their own, to begin to develop a level of cultural competency. Through the books they read, the activities in which they participate, through arts and math and science, through their participation in extracurricular activities in the older grades, and led by example by our skilled faculty who inspire this school/world connection each day, our students minimize the distance between learning and living; practicing, growing, and developing a better sense of their place in the larger society and the power that their education provides.  
As lawyer, author, and advocate for justice Bryan Stevenson said, "I believe our power, our instruments, our wisdom, our capacity to change the world is waiting for us if we get proximate to the poor and excluded.” Our students develop this power over the course of their 14-year LREI experience. Progressive education relies on students getting proximate to life, theirs and that of others, and at LREI they do, every day.


Last Friday was the 100th day of the school year. For many, this was not a huge deal. It was a Friday much like any other, with roughly 70 days left to go. Middle and high school students felt too busy completing their work before the trimester ends in a couple of weeks to think about day 100. To our youngest students though, to the fours, kindergartners, and first graders, the one hundredth day of school was a BIG deal. 

To our youngest LREIers, one hundred of anything is a big deal. The number 100 all by itself, as a concept, truly looms large. For some lower school students, it is unimaginably so, less for others as they are beginning to understand quantity and size and volume. On the hundredth day of school students are challenged by many important ideas. There are activities focused on counting and adding and subtracting, on parts and wholes, and on finding strategies and working together.  It is a rich, thought-provoking day. But this day holds another lesson that is hugely important, that will be long-lasting. Our littlest students spend much of the 100th day thinking BIG thoughts. They grapple with ideas larger than themselves, ideas that seem to them to be insurmountable yet inevitably fall under the might of the children’s work. They strive to appreciate these huge concepts, to make sense of them, to examine them, to mold these ideas into partners in understanding their world. What an experience and one that will be built upon as these students grow. 

If a wee four-year-old can learn to think about 100 stories this will help a third-grader begin to imagine the world that came before them - history, now there’s a big idea! That third grader becomes a sixth-grader who creates a robot to compete against other schools before becoming an eighth-grader who ventures out into the world to engage in social justice action.  This eighth-grader is on her way to becoming an 11th grader who plans a trip that will take them across the country to study climate change or gun control or the changing economy, who studies computational modeling, Calculus, Constitutional law, and the great works of literature. Like any skill, tackling big ideas, ideas that seem too large to get your intellectual arms around, starts with thinking big thoughts when you are very small and continuing to meet these challenges over the course of your schooling.  Practice makes perfect, and over the course of their time at LREI our students develop strong and coordinated “big idea muscles.” Well done to the four-year-old who built a building with 100 blocks. Watch out big ideas, here we come!
All best, 

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