Elements of Acton: Socratic Discussions

Socratic Discussions: What They Are

Socratic dialogue stimulates critical thinking by facilitating inquiry and debate. In a Socratic discussion, a guide sets up scenarios and asks questions. The guide may launch and moderate a Socratic discussion, but the students lead it by asking most of the questions and answering each other.

How We Use Socratic Discussions at Acton

We believe that asking the right questions is as important as knowing the answers. Each day is launched with a Socratic discussion to highlight the focus of the day and build energy, bring up a community need, or just inspire and encourage students. Launches often begin with a story or video that sets the framework for the discussion. Or a guide might simply read a quote, such as this one by Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The students might then grapple with whether they believe what you do, what you say, or how you make someone feel has a more lasting impact.

In addition to the daily launches, core skills and project times begin with Socratic discussions to reflect on the purpose of the activity. Outside of discussions, guides employ the Socratic method with students throughout the day by not answering questions. The purpose of this is to build and reinforce independent learners who are able to answer their own questions by consulting the four “B”s: their Brain, a Board (information posted on a white board or bulletin board), Blinks (books or links), or a Buddy (another student).

More on Socratic Discussions

Here are some helpful resources on Socratic discussions:

Brewing Up a Socratic Summer
Acton Academy cofounder Laura Sandefer provides a “cheat sheet” for parents interested in having Socratic discussions at home. Sandefer writes, “The true purpose of a Socratic discussion is to come to new or deeper understandings of oneself, others and the world through an authentic wrestling with thoughts, information and ideas. And the real adventure is that you have no idea where you will end up.”

A Socratic Launch
In this video, Acton Academy cofounder Jeff Sandefer leads a Socratic discussion about entrepreneurship with the elementary students in Austin. Sandefer and the students begin with a review of the Socratic rules of engagement.

Thank you for the lovely parent recommendation!

We are deeply touched that Katie, a founding Acton parent, posted this lovely letter and recommendation to the Cleveland Park, Dupont Circle, and other neighborhood listservs. Read her letter below!

Parent Recommendation - Acton Academy (ages 2.5 & up)

Neighbors,

I am writing to share my experience with what feels like DC’s most under the radar (for now) gem of a school - Acton Academy. In sum, Acton, which serves kids ages 2.5 and up, has blown me and my husband away.

When we considered preschool options for our three year old daughter this year, we initially hoped she would end up in one of the lovely schools nearby Woodley/Cleveland Park. Then we toured Acton and, frankly, fell in love.

In sum, Acton offers:

- Extraordinary educators, including our daughter’s (who was a beloved Montessori teacher at a nearby school before coming to Acton)

- Longer day coverage than its peers (8am - 6pm), all of which is Montessori

- Longer year coverage than its peers (with its summer option, just August off)

- Costs 1/3 less than its peers (about the same cost as our former day care)

- A gorgeous, unique building -- a retrofitted row house on K Street you have to see! -- with dedicated outdoor space

- A super convenient location in Foggy Bottom - just three minutes off of Rock Creek

On top of all that, the school was started by a husband and wife team, David and Nicole, who live right here in Cleveland Park. They were so committed to providing the kind of educational experience they wanted for their daughter - while meeting busy parents’ needs - that they literally founded their own school.

My husband's and my initial impression of Acton has somehow been surpassed by our day to day experience - to the point where I am writing this review unprompted, simply because I want more parents to be aware of this tremendous option.

I cannot imagine a more peaceful, nurturing, and wonderful learning environment for our daughter.

If you are searching for a school for your child, I highly recommend you apply to Acton sooner than later (they have limited spaces available for midyear enrollment). My guess is in a year, getting in is going to be almost impossible.

—Katie at Cortland Place

Ten Fabulous Fall Picture Books

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Between falling leaves and ripening pumpkins, what’s not to love about autumn? Visit your local library or click the links below to find these fabulous fall picture books.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert

This simple book by Ehlert has gorgeous illustrations and informational text. Perfect for younger children, Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf details the life of a tree.

The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons

Gibbons is known for creating books that draw children in with beautiful illustrations and clear, factual information. The Pumpkin Book does not disappoint! It covers such information as types of pumpkins; the process of planting, growing, and harvesting pumpkins; the parts of a pumpkin seed; the history of this amazing squash; and so much more.

The Reasons for Seasons by Gail Gibbons

Once again Gibbons delivers a perfect book. She uses clear, bright diagrams and short but accurate paragraphs to explain why certain regions of the earth experience four seasons.

Yellow Time by Lauren Stringer

“Yellow time comes before white time. Every time.” Stringer uses words and images alike to paint a picture of the final days of fall. The variety of color among the leaves has gone, along with many of the animals. The ones that are left are so busy preparing for winter that they don’t notice the beautiful yellow that remains. That is, except for the crows.

Apple Cider Making Days by Ann Purmell, illustrated by Joanne Friar

This tale follows two children as they pick apples for making cider on the family farm. Readers learn about the cider-making process in this charming and realistic story.

Autumn is Here! by Heidi Pross Gray

Young children will enjoy chiming in with “Autumn is here!” as each page is turned. Between exclamations, Gray inserts classic hallmarks of the season, such as fallen acorns and the busy work of squirrels. The whimsical watercolor paintings that accompany the text are a perfect fit.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

In this charming book a young girl takes a walk through her town and nearby woods on a crisp fall day. She greets the plants and creatures she passes; they return her greeting and explain the changes they are undergoing now that it's autumn.

Autumnblings by Douglas Florian

Florian’s poetry is silly, surprising, and educational. In Autumnblings, which is all about fall, he covers a wide range of topics from apple picking to trick-or-treating to baseball.

Fall Walk by Virginia Brimhall Snow

This book is a unique two-in-one—story and botany study. The story takes readers on a walk through the woods with a grandmother and her grandchildren. And, complementing the Montessori botany work beautifully, on each page a different tree is introduced along with a detailed picture displaying the shape of the tree’s leaves.

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Few things delight children in quite the same way as squirrels. They always seem to be having fun scampering around or energetically preparing for winter. This book lets children in on all the action as it describes the many tasks of this familiar neighborhood mammal.

We hope you enjoy our fall book suggestions. Let us know if you have any other fall favorites, and happy reading!

The 6 Reasons Montessori Will Work for Your Child

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Perhaps you have a friend with a child in a Montessori program. Maybe you have heard about Montessori at a local playgroup. Or maybe you just stumbled across it online.

It all sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? An environment that fosters a deep love for learning; teachers trained to meet the needs of each individual child; a classroom community that provides an opportunity for all children to develop independence.

But, in the back of your head, a nagging question remains: “Will Montessori really work for my child?”

You Are Not Alone

It’s a common question that most parents ask when researching Montessori education. The reality is that most of us never had an opportunity to attend an authentic Montessori program when we were young. Many of the experiences in a Montessori classroom are the complete opposite our own experiences in school. So, it’s completely understandable to question the efficacy of something so new for your own child!

Enrolling my daughter in a Montessori program was one of the best decisions I have made as a parent. In addition to my daughter, Montessori education has shaped the lives of thousands of children. And there are an infinite number of reasons why Montessori will work for your child. Let’s talk about 6 significant reasons why your child will thrive in a quality Montessori program:

1. Your Child Will Learn by Doing: Your child will be exposed to hundreds of specially designed materials that invite hands-on exploration. She will choose what she wants to explore, creating robust neural pathways that contribute to the construction of a strong brain.

2. Your Child Will Learn from and Teach Others: Have you ever heard the expression “The best way to learn something is to teach it?” This happens every day in Montessori classrooms. Children are grouped in multi-year age spans, so that children ages 2.5 to 6 are all in the same class.

Younger children observe older children working with, for example, “Bead Bar Multiplication.” They look up to and admire these older children who are doing all these incredible things: they want to emulate them and are motivated to learn to be just like them.

3. The Curriculum Adapts to Your Child: Most conventional early childhood programs assume that all children, born within a year of each other, are capable of learning and doing the same thing at the same time. As we all know, that simply isn’t true! Many bright children are bored, and others, who need more time to learn, are left behind when we teach to the whole class.

We recognize that your child has his own unique timetable for development and will learn different parts of the curriculum when he is ready. We teach to the individual needs of your child, not to the entire class or to a group of children.

4. Beautiful Classrooms Inspire Your Child to Learn: Our Acton Montessori classroom is beautiful and inviting. Materials are laid out on low, open shelves and they call out to your child: “Come touch me! Come explore!” From the shelves to the tables and chairs to the beginning materials to the advanced materials. . . all are miniaturized and made to fit perfectly into the hands of your young child. Everything supports your child’s developing independence and helps him gain confidence in himself and his abilities.

5. The Teacher Really Knows Your Child: “Follow the child” is the mantra of all well-trained Montessori teachers. They are trained to observe and to support each individual child. They take the time to get to know your child’s strengths, challenges, and interests. They plan lessons for your child based on their observations of him.

Your child will be a member of the same classroom community for several years, which affords the teacher the opportunity to know him deeply, intimately, and well. He will feel seen, heard, and appreciated for who he is.

6. Your Child Will Be in Good Company: Many of the most successful and creative people in our modern society are former Montessori students:

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin (cofounders of Google)

  • Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon)

  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

  • Sean “P. Diddy” Combs

  • Prince William and Prince Harry

  • Berry Brazelton (pediatrician and author)

  • Julia Child

  • William Wright (creator of “The Sims”)

  • Anne Hathaway

  • Katherine Graham (first female publisher of a major American newspaper)

  • Beyoncé Knowles

  • Peter Drucker (business guru and lecturer)

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize-winning novelist)

How Research Is Proving that Montessori Works

Still need proof? How about some hard data.

Recent research provides irrefutable evidence that the Montessori method of education is powerfully effective in educating young children.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin and published in the prestigious journal, Science, in September 2006 found that Montessori students outperform peers attending traditional public schools. This and other studies show that Montessori children form clear concepts from using the hands-on manipulative materials they find in their classrooms.

When children are developmentally ready and when they get to choose materials that match their individual timetable of development, their learning takes off! They become enthusiastic, confident, joyful learners!

You Have to See It to Believe It

Your child deserves the very best! Enrolling your child in a Montessori preschool gives her the opportunity to be seen as a unique individual; she will receive a tailor-made education designed especially for her.

Want to know more? We'd love to give you a tour of Acton Montessori. Schedule a tour today.