The students rushed to class to greet their teacher, eager to show off the glittery, goofy, colorful creations bobbing atop their heads for the school’s annual “Crazy Hair Day.” However, when they entered and saw their teacher, they met her with gasps and laughs; their teacher was every bit as passionate about the activity as they were and had ensured that every strand of her hair stood on end like a troll doll.
“Crazy Hair Day” is just one of the many fun and offbeat activities that CBD-based AnRic Little Montessori Room holds for its students every year. During a recent interview, co-founder Yinan An (who is also a lifetime member of the American Montessori Society), along with lead teacher and assistant principal Jennifer Sau, discussed how such outside-the-box activities foster creativity and a sense of community at the school.
“We don’t celebrate holidays in a conventional way at this school,” explains An. “A lot of holidays, even Children’s Day, have become very commercial, and have too great a focus on buying gifts. We want to have people rethink those notions and focus on education, community, and deeper values.”
AnRic acknowledges and values that different cultures celebrate different holidays, but tries to celebrate those holidays in a more creative way, all the while eschewing commercialism and gift-giving, and aspects that can label a culture. The AnRic staff encourages alternatives like introducing certain foods and traditions or stories regarding the holidays. Case in point: introducing children to the many versions of Santa Claus around the world.
The school’s staff encourage that approach not only with “Crazy Hair Day” — an event that encourages risk-taking and showcases students’ imagination and sense of fun — but also with community-driven events like “Special Visitors Day,” potluck breakfasts and dinners, a New Year party, and a summer fair.
In recent years, AnRic’s summer fairs have happened in conjunction with neighboring Central Park, where bazaars and markets are sometimes put on. While there, students sell homemade snacks or other wares, the proceeds of which are entered into the school’s financial aid fund for children who require financial support for tuition fees, fund facilities for special needs students, and other initiatives. Similarly, on “Special Visitors Day” students are allowed to bring in a guest such as a friend or relative i.e. people who aren’t normally involved in school activities.
At the school itself, AnRic Little Montessori Room’s staff endeavor to build a sense of community for the student body and their families. Close ties are fostered during annual potluck dinners and breakfasts, for which the highly multicultural student body and their parents stack their classrooms with “everything from baozi to sushi to Swedish meatballs” according to Sau, who adds that this seemingly simple activity offers students a crucial opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures.
AnRic also holds home visits for all children at the beginning of the school year, which can be a valuable opportunity for the students to play host to their teachers, show what their home life is really like and also help with separation anxiety. Then there is, of course, the New Year party, one of AnRic’s biggest annual events. The New Year party serves as a chance for the students, parents, and staff to gather, dress up a bit, and enjoy a delicious feast together. More importantly, it also helps children develop a sense of art appreciation. Children’s individual artworks are put up for silent auction so children, families, and friends may bid for them. Each class also has an auction for their own annual art project, a collaborative masterpiece of art that every child and teacher in the class helps to create. All the proceeds go to the school’s financial aid fund.
An and Sau say they are heartened by how these activities help the students bond with one another. Another benefit: the enthusiastic reaction of the parents. An says, “We are excited to see the parents join us and get involved. We are lucky to have very supportive parents.”
This post is paid for by AnRic Little Montessori Room.
Photos: AnRic Little Montessori Room