It’s the last Friday of the month. Bridget Collins, Director of Character and Service at McDonogh, walks into a crowd of smiling, excited children in the school’s chapel, and begins to hear a roar of giggles.
She’s dressed as a kangaroo. Didgeridoo the Kangaroo, to be precise.
Many adults might be intimidated at the sight of a room full of children, laughing in their direction, but not Ms. Collins. Her goal? To excite and inspire Lower School students while celebrating their monthly “Learning for Living” theme.
Learning for Living is an initiative that began six years ago when a group of Lower School teachers wanted to take McDonogh’s “Character Compass” core values of respect, responsibility, honesty, kindness, and service to a whole new level. They knew that their students were able to identify each of the core values, but they wanted to give them “tools in their toolbox” to use these values in everyday life.
Teams of teachers met and decided that they wanted to create developmentally appropriate activities that highlighted seven monthly themes: Practicing Mindfulness, Embracing Diversity, Developing Empathy, Advocating for Self and Others, Resolving Conflict, Expressing Gratitude, and Understanding Global Citizenship. Every month, one theme is introduced during Morning Meeting in each homeroom, and a corresponding children’s book is shared. Students participate in activities, discussions, and projects through the month that help connect the theme to their lives, both in and out of school. The last Friday of each month, members of the Lower School community come together in the school’s chapel for a culminating program that reinforces the theme.
The “kangaroo” snapshot shared above happened in September. During that gathering – – which highlighted the value of mindfulness – – Ms. Collins (AKA Didgeridoo the Kangaroo) explained her dilemma to students. She had committed to do so many things and overstuffed her pouch so much that she could no longer jump as high as she needed to. Ms. Collins then went on to tell the lower schoolers about the wise Kookaburra that helped her realize that all of the things that she was carrying in her pouch were weighing her down. She just needed to lighten her load and pay attention to the things that really matter. Didgeridoo took the wise advice and was able to jump high again.
Sure, children giggled when Didgeridoo made her first appearance. But that grand entrance captivated them. The giggly children suddenly became quiet and contemplative, identifying how her story connected with the theme that they learned about throughout the previous month: practicing mindfulness.
It was a powerful moment for students and educators.
Fourth graders, with a little help from the school’s videographer, then shared a video documenting the learning that took place on the campus around the theme of mindfulness. Smiles of students recognizing their friends spread across the room like the “Shhh…. pass it on!” game we all remember from elementary school.
This isn’t just a once in a while program. This kind of learning takes place throughout the year, and monthly themes are intended to connect. Teachers in all areas keep the monthly themes in mind while planning, and integrate them as much as possible into their daily lessons. Students across all grade levels work together to build better understanding, and the Parents Association helps to provide supporting resources. It’s truly a community endeavor.
“It’s incredible what the smallest of our students can take in,” explained Ms. Collins. “Our school strongly believes that true joy comes from being who you are. When our students learn to be more mindful, to advocate for themselves and others, and to know when to pause in our fast-paced world, it’s exciting to see where these skills will take them in the future, and to see the world of good that they will build.”
To learn more about McDonogh’s Learning for Living program, visit their website.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. Each week, we will spotlight one of our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about McDonogh School, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Want to become a school partner? Email us.