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The Story Behind the Class Name Changes

Words matter. Names matter. To young children who are absorbing an enormous number of new vocabulary words each day, words are really important. Calling someone a name can hurt him, in point of fact. And employing a "bad word" can get immediate attention from adults.

Many parents struggle with the task of naming their children. What does the name mean and how will that affect the child? Companies test market product names because they know that what something is called affects sales figures. Lawsuits challenge names that are offensive to some and protect names from being used by others.

For many years the MCNS staff has been thinking about the names of our four classroom groups. Many years ago, our groups had a different age makeup from what they do now. There was a group of 3's, another of 4's, a Kindergarten, and a mixed-age group that met in the afternoons.

When the school started to get younger. Our Kindergarten class became a mixed group of 4's and 5's and eventually all 4's. The name Kindergarten no longer was accurate. We had a "Young Group." Should the former Kindergarten be renamed the "Old Group?" But that didn't seem quite right because, after all, they were only four, not eighty-four years old. So "Older Group" was chosen. That left the "Middle Group," middle as in the middle child in a family and the "Afternoon Group," afternoon describing the time of day it met rather than the group itself.

Time marched on and the age range in the school narrowed. The ages of the children in the groups overlapped. It was clear that the name "Older Group" had an unintended meaning to both children and parents. Older was somehow very desirable. Young children always want to be older. Older seems to signify more advanced, more academic activity to some parents, which is not an accurate description of our child-centered, hands-on curriculum. "Young" meant the "babies" to some children, and no one wants to be called a baby. Changing the names became a concern again.

Both Liege Motta, our Educational Consultant, and Howard did some research: What do other nursery schools call their groups? Some use colors, others numbers, animals or other miscellaneous flora and fauna. Liege, during her internet search, found some perfectly dreadful, inexplicable names. Can you imagine the behavior of a group called "Little Monsters?"

In one of the workshops during the NAEYC accreditation process, Howard, Liege, Linda and the teaching staff decided to work on this challenge and try to come up with better names for the groups. One idea that came out of this exercise was to connect the names with the spectacular location of our school on the Hudson River. This was left to percolate.

Finally last summer, Howard, Liege and Linda went back and reconsidered some of the names other schools use. They looked at all of the names that the teachers had considered which were tied to the location of the school: bridge; river; Hudson; park. None seemed right. But, why?
It occurred to them that maybe the problem was that they were focusing on the rooms, not the children themselves. So they decided to focus on the children. The more they thought about them, the more they wanted to try to connote the learning process and activities of the children, and how they progress and learn. Looking out at the river, they thought about Henry Hudson and the other explorers who came to our area. They had been exploring territory that was previously unknown to them. Well, isn't that what nursery school is all about?

Our 2's are making discoveries about a new world, things that they have never seen before, experiences they have never known. What if they were called "The Explorers?" The oldest children in the school are blazing the trail for the younger ones as they prepare to move out into the world. How about renaming the "Older Group" "The Trailblazers?" These names were feeling right. They described the children in the groups. Now on a roll, Howard, Linda and Liege turned to the remaining groups. "Pathfinders" seemed perfect for the "Middle Group." They are discovering ways to get from here to there, looking for patterns, finding connections. And, finally, the "Afternoon Group" who are acquiring the skills and working together to create and solve problems moving together cooperatively in their mixed age group, could become "The Navigators." It all fit together. They were descriptive, great words for the children to learn, and inspirational at that!

Finding the right names for our groups has been a long process, involving deep consideration of the nature of young children and the best words that could be found to describe them. As we begin a new academic year at MCNS, we are excited to find out where our Explorers, Pathfinders, Trailblazers and Navigators will take us all as they start out, discover, learn, and begin to find their way through our world.