What are Forms?
In English schools of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, a child might begin a formal school program around six years of age and enter a classroom called Form I. In a Form I classroom, children were aged about 6 to 8, equivalent to our contemporary Grades 1 to 3. They attended school six days a week for about an hour and a half.
Form II children would be the equivalent of our Grades 4 to 6 where their school day was a little longer, but still ended before lunchtime.
Why are multi-age classrooms beneficial to children? We have seen the results first-hand! The the first-year children enter the classroom tentatively; they do not know how to multiply numbers or narrate a passage of literature. The Presenter asks questions and the older children answer masterfully. The younger children see the proper example and understand right away the goal they are working toward. The older children understand that they possess a skill the younger children want to obtain; they realize the responsibility of behaving as good examples. Simultaneously, the older children realize just how far they themselves have come since they entered this classroom as the youngest. It is a natural and obvious realization that a level of competency has been earned.
Realizing that what once seemed so impossible has now become second nature will become invaluable as the older child grows and new situations present themselves where the child feels he is inadequate to the task at hand; but, wait! He is not discouraged! He has been here before! Patience and hard work will take him from inadequacy to competence. In Algebra, in research papers, in college, in life!
A remarkable thing happens when the “Grade 3” students read aloud from their Readers in class and the “Grade 1” students listen. The younger students rush home and plead with their parents to help them practice reading because they, too, want to be able to read the story that the “big kids were reading at school today.” Harness that natural motivation. It is gold.
At Seaside Cottage School, our “Grade 1” to “Grade 3” students are in a multi-age class called Form IA. In our experience, this arrangement produces students who are analytic thinkers and exceedingly empathetic. At this level, children grow from beginning readers to students who can read their own coursework books independently. Our focus in the Form IA is to spread before them a feast of ideas by letting the authors of great books speak directly to the students on a wide range of topics, from science to poetry. Students take the skill they learned in beginning reading — constructing and deconstructing letter-sounds with words — and apply it to numbers, constructing and deconstructing numbers to understand the four basic operations and master the skill of mental-math.
We also have a class named Form IB which contains children who would be in a contemporary Kindergarten class, K5, and their younger peers, K4 students. The focus of Form IB is to help these students construct letter-sounds into words and deconstruct them again. We have found that this skill is gained in fits-and-starts. Four-year-olds are very curious about letters, their sounds, and how to spell certain words. Sometime before six-years-old, this skill is commonly mastered in a basic way. As this two-year process from letter-sounds to beginning reading is a similar path for K4 and K5 students, we have combined them in the Kindergarten-level class called Form IB. Miss Mason would have had them outside most days and allow their natural curiosity to guide them into scientific observation skills. We have designed their class days for a short period of academic skills, some read-alouds of time-tested Literature, and a great deal of exploration.
Our Form II is the equivalent of a “Grade 4” to “Grade 6” classroom featuring an emphasis on composition and grammar as well as the mastery of Arithmetic operations. These students dive into History with a curiosity that is unusual for the Twenty-First Century. They soak up Biographies of famous Americans and great minds throughout History. They ask challenging questions. Geography and Recitations become second-nature to these students as they develop relationships with places, authors, and characters that is seamless and natural. In a moment, they can recall a previous composer’s early life or the unique features of obscure sea creatures because they have lived with these for an extended time, like old friends.
Our Form III will be re-introduced in 2018 and will feature topics like World History, Composition, Science, Economics, Logic, and Art. Our Arithmetic foundation will prepare these students for world-class Algebra and Geometry classes. In the past, our Form III students have posed unusually mature questions during classroom discussions. The Form III class takes the students from accepting the world as it is to asking “why is it like it is”? The Socratic method they have come to expect as normal will press them to provide a solid reasoning for their assertions.
Form 0 students are absolutely the cutest things on Earth. With lots of time to explore and play, these children are eager to expand their little worlds. Once the day is done and all the friends are tired, these children sleep well on the ride home. On At-Home Days, they sing the songs they learned and re-tell the stories they heard. At Recitation Nights, they talk about amphibians or flowers, recite their poems, and sing their Hymns. They love to be surrounded at home by older siblings and soak up all the conversations Mom and Dad have with Brother and Sister. It is totally adorable and a perfect training ground for playing kindly together and developing self-control. All of the adults in the audience cry when the Form 0s take the stage on Recitation Night. Cute, cute, cute.
We have a Form 0 (preschool) and a Form IB (kindergarten) even though Miss Mason would not have allowed these children to attend school at such a young age. In her day, before automobiles, playmates existed next door and cousins lived around the corner in towns and country homes featured a nanny as well as a governess and acres and acres of nature to explore. In our day, these little ones have a hard time finding playmates within walking distance and sometimes enjoy a short break away from home one or two mornings a week. A modern phenomenon, it is nonetheless a valuable learning tool for preschool children to have some exposure to other children near their age and learn valuable social skills — like not beating the friend over the head with the toy you just stole from him. A limited amount of classroom time, combined with a generous amount of time to be free and explore at home seems to be the modern antidote to a lack of backyard buddies.
If you have questions about how “Forms” work in lieu of “Graded” classes, please write to Amy Ryan at www. seasidecottageschool. com.