A New Version of Normal

We are now many weeks into the most unusual school year any of us have ever experienced. I can imagine that our parents, or maybe grandparents and great-grandparents of those on the younger side, had unusual years marked by wars, or even a similar and traumatic pandemic. They suffered and made the best of the day to day as they could. I must admit, I heard the stories but found them impossible to imagine in our ordered, twenty first century world. Now, daily life is never normal, even though we all work very hard trying to make “normal” days for our children. We want them to laugh behind the mask and find solace with familiar routines. So easy some days. However, we still have some of our amazing students learning from home and each day finds us welcoming students back or packing students up to go home until we know all is safe for them and their classmates. Certainly, this is a new version of normal. 

As we are currently enjoying a much needed winter break, I find myself reflecting on where we are and what may lie ahead. Much was prioritized prior to opening for a new school year under Covid restrictions. These became driving forces as we made schedules, hired employees, and prepared classrooms both inside and out. Some themes emerge from these priorities: wellness, outdoor learning, small moments and human connection. 

Wellness is at the heart of all decision making this year. The effects of a global pandemic on all members of the school community can not be overlooked. We spend considerable time thinking about the emotional wellbeing of teachers, students, staff, and families at home. It drove decision making regarding daily school life from the time students arrived to the time they departed. The heart of school planning-  schedules, curriculum, assessment, communication, was impacted by wellness considerations. In any given year our students’ needs can be great, this year the needs are highly individual and range from minimal to tremendous with both academic and emotional considerations. Our schedules had to reflect emphasis on timing for high focus classes such as reading, writing and math. Morning is core academics followed by an active day filled with much outdoor activity. This is the year to really question what is most important. Cut to the learning essentials, individualize as much as possible, and let the student experience drive the curriculum. We may not get through every lesson with every child, but progress will come as a result of keeping our students wellness at the core of planning. 

What a gift to have had such a warm and relatively dry fall season. Emphasis on using the outdoors for health and safety reasons dictated more time outside, and it was lovely. Our school was already well set up for outdoor learning. We used our gardens and backwoods for instruction even in non-Covid years. Children learn from being in the natural world. It is calming, stimulating, and inspiring. A walk through the spacious grounds around school would demonstrate this on any given day. Students are enjoying meals on personal picnic blankets and playing the normal recess games, and in addition, some classes are building in the outdoor makerspace, clipping herbs from the garden or putting the garden to rest by reusing old plants in carefully created compost bins. Some students may be hiking to the backwoods with journals or sketchbooks, learning a new dance or rules to a new game on the school turf, while others are practicing on the recorder in a safely distanced music class. All happy, all experiencing the glory of outdoor classrooms in a time of much upheaval for so many. 

The benefits of time, space and outside play- Washington Post article

We knew from the first day the power of human connection as it related to opening for a new school year. Our normal conditions of Responsive Classroom morning and afternoon meetings would be kept in the schedule and great emphasis would be placed on making sure our virtual students participated in this very valuable part of the day. Each week we would engage in an all lower school Morning Meeting to make sure the connection expanded beyond the classroom. It is a hallmark of our school- genuine community experiences. Even if cross-division would be hard to achieve this year, our lower school division would seek out these community “memory makers”. Halloween was a pinnacle for us as we not only were able to bring some of our involved parents on to campus, but we were able to create an all-school parade, trunk-or-treat event and spooky woods walk, all with Covid restrictions and protocols intact. 

Perhaps most meaningful in our planning and construction of a school year that could succeed despite a raging pandemic was our consideration of the “small moments”. We opened most days with bubble machines at the entrance to remind the girls that school can be joyful and playful. These are children living in a complex world. Their smiles and giggles were reminders of the need to keep small moments coming. We ended each week all fall with popsicles. Because- popsicles! It was a promise I made on a ZOOM call last spring, and it has been a welcome reward. A recent diversion from the daily academic activity was a challenge for the girls to create a Marshmallow Dispenser that would be Covid-safe. Maybe popsicles would have to transition to hot chocolate in the colder weather. The challenge to allow for marshmallows to decorate the warm Friday treats was taken on by almost every student. Two winners later, the girls were distracted from the levity of the moment and now anticipate winter treats in community with each other. 

Just what we need to keep going into the unknown the remainder of this school year- small moments together that keep us connected, safe, comfortably outdoors, and well.


The Benefits of Boredom

We are living in a most unusual time. Social distancing, once a foreign concept, is now common language posted on signs, billboards, and t-shirts. Friends, classmates, and even family members are spending weeks at a time apart, whiling away the hours in completely new ways. The first few days after school was on distance learning were filled with frenzy for teachers and administrators attempting to quickly get a new and never-before-seen program up and running. Parents and students were scrambling to set up virtual classrooms, locate the many assignments and resources coming at them almost minute by minute, and establish some kind of schedule that would be sustainable for the unforeseeable future.

Now that we are in the fourth week of this new normal, there is a very slight shift happening. Routines are finally feeling established, families are finding ways to prioritize activities, students have had some time to connect with friends, and more importantly, have found ways to take charge of their learning through teacher videos and conference offerings. While, I am a positive, glass-half-full person by nature, I also realize that there is a level of anxiety and frustration built into these at home school days. Things are better, but still not right.

Ready for silver linings anyone? Well, one may be the many studies that support the idea that allowing for time to do nothing can produce some very impressive creative ideas. Adults, as well as children, do their best problem solving or creating when their brains are in a more restful state. Boredom has such a negative connotation, but you may change your mind if you allow yourself either some time to explore the links below or spend time daydreaming only to garner an idea that solves a perplexing problem. I learned of a study finding that individuals were able to generate more creative ideas right after they spent time doing a very menial task- writing names from the phone book, or even better, just reading the phone book. Some of you may be questioning not the idea, but the existence of a “phone book”! However, the evidence in many studies and personal experiences points to a correlation between creativity and the brain at rest.

IDEO Talks Boredom

TED Talk About Benefits of Boredom

You and your children may not write the next Hobbit series, as Tolkien did in between grading boring student essays, but who knows what ideas your children may discover in their new found time to be utterly bored. Toymaker Melissa, of Melissa and Doug, contributed to the article linked below. In it there are suggestions for ways to maximize the experience of time-on-your-hands. “‘When adults talk about their childhood memories, no one ever mentions anything material,’ says Melissa. ‘It’s always the simple things they remember: connections, laughter and nature.” Your children will remember the creative ideas they explored while being away from school year schedules: the fort in the backyard, the book they read all afternoon, or the garden they planted.

According to the article, boredom can build resilience or grit, give a sense of belonging, increase happiness, and improve mental health, among other things. As children struggle with finding ways to fill time, they learn essential skills for adapting to a changing world and come to a better understanding of what really brings them joy.

Melissa and Doug Article

The Lifehack article, linked below, includes some helpful suggestions for how to get your children started turning moments of boredom into moments of happy memories.  I hope it helps just a little during such a unusual and trying time.

Lifehack Article


Lessons on Justice

The calendar page has turned from January to February this week. For some of our young students this means the anticipation of snow or maybe boxes filled with candy, well-wishes and Valentine cards. Recent years have placed a much more important subject on the February calendar, Black History Month. Many would argue that Black History should be a topic throughout the year, as it should. However, it takes front and center for these winter weeks and acts as a reminder that we have to do a better job teaching the history of our citizens and addressing a general need for justice in the world.

Independent schools are beginning to make a concerted effort to look at curriculum and teach these important lessons throughout the school year. Not that long ago, lessons about human rights were reserved for MLK Day, a holiday here or there, or during the scheduled “character development class” we were required to have on our schedule each week. Teaching lessons on identity, differences, empathy, inclusion, fairness, and more, are now part of the new curriculum and often included in each day’s Morning Meeting. Linked below is a nice article that summarizes the need to address topics of justice, race, and identity at early ages. Children come to school, at even the youngest ages, with already preconceived notions around race and identity, and their natural curiosity creates an environment of  exploration as they constantly test these theories.  Our teachers inherently understand child development and know the ages that questions or comments may be part of play. We work to educate parents about the delicate and deliberate process of teaching our children to appreciate and acknowledge everyone’s differences and that it can often look “messy”. Children don’t by nature say “mean” things. They do say things to test out reactions and build on these experiences in either positive or negative ways.


Teachers in our lower school are getting training so that they can better facilitate play experiences to teach inclusion and empathy. One significant quote from the article below speaks to what we can do, as independent schools, to work for a better understanding. The author states, “Fortunately, the place where she did learn the terms “black” and “white” was a progressive school committed to empowering children to combat and undo racism. Such education aims to hold onto the child’s innate ability to see the world differently, while arming her with the historical and cultural knowledge to name injustice and fight it.”


Through our daily interaction with students, our many hours of professional development with diversity practitioners, and the introduction of our social justice curriculum, “Pollyanna”, we hope to begin combatting the misunderstanding around racism and injustice for this next generation. Black History Month may have a different context someday. For now, we celebrate the reminder that teaching history with a dedicated focus this month is a good thing for all.




New Year’s Goals

Educators have long known that we really have two New Years. We are lucky in this way- we get to start a new calendar year in January complete with reflections of the year gone by and predictions for the year to come, and we start a school year in September excited by the hopes and possibilities ahead.

Traditionally, New Year’s is a time for resolutions or lofty goals that will improve our lives in some way. From an early age, children understand that they can set a goal, even as simple as climbing to the highest part of a playground and finding a slide to carry them to safety again. They love the feeling they get by achieving it on their own. This sense of accomplishment leads to more goal setting and risk taking which prepares them for life challenges.

As teachers, we encourage our students to set realistic goals and help them to meet those goals. Teachers will often ask their students to set measurable goals in September and review the results in May. Some goals are big and ambitious, while others are simple and easily attainable. Our job is to provide just enough support and encouragement but also to allow for readjustments when necessary and reward efforts made towards the goals rather than their successful completion.  I know that sometimes, as a parent, it can be difficult to watch a child struggle with goals, especially when falling short can mean frustration, sadness, or embarrassment. I was often the parent that “gave a boost” to my child to get him to the highest rung of the playground ladder. Allowing our children to struggle and meet challenge with little interference is often life changing for them.

Another important consideration is the idea of the goals coming from the child rather than the adult. While we may guide our students or children to make new resolutions for better test outcomes, or consuming a healthier diet, the most successful goals originate with the child. According to Jessica Lahey, in her book The Gift of Failure, “Self-imposed goals are about the safest place for a kid to fail. If kids make up their own goals, on their own timeline, according to their criteria, then failure is not a crushing defeat. Goals can be amended, changed according to circumstances, and even postponed to maybe next week. For kids who are particularly afraid and anxious about failing, goals offer a private proving ground, as safe way to take risks, fail, and try again.” She says that, “for a goal to work, the child has to own it.”

Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of The Good News About Bad Behavior, talks about the importance of children being in control of their actions and this includes setting goals that tie to their daily life rather than the large, more narcissist goals, we often require of them. She mentions that we ask our children, “to be straight-A students and athletic superstars, gifted musicians and artists — which are all wonderful goals, but they are long-term and pretty narcissistic. They don’t have that sense of contribution and belonging in a family the way that a simple household chore does, like helping a parent prepare a meal. Anyone who loves to cook knows it’s so satisfying to feed someone you love and to see that gratitude and enjoyment on their faces. And kids today are robbed of that.” Maybe one idea is to focus on what brings more immediate rewards and satisfaction- preparing a meal one night a week, or doing an act of kindness each week and reflecting as a family on what it felt like to contribute to the greater good. January goal-setting gives our children the perfect excuse to move in small ways towards personal growth and happiness. Happy New Year 2020 to all!

Katherine Reynolds Lewis NPR Article


Assessing Learning

At last week’s Morning Meeting, I read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco to our young students gathered in the multipurpose room. This endearing book explores the discovery of a learning difference in a young girl long frustrated with school. A special teacher, Mr. Falker, comes along in her fifth-grade year and makes a life-changing difference for her. My purpose for reading this inspiring story was twofold. One was to further demonstrate the need to build empathy for different ways we each may learn in the classroom, the other was to remind the girls how influential a teacher can be in the lives of a student. I reminded them that the next week parents would receive a “report card” that outlines their learning and marks their progress at this point in the year. My message included a nod to the hard work teachers put into writing these detailed reports and how it reflects the way teachers know them so well. However, I also emphasized that, like the main character in the story, we all have different ways of learning and the most important comparison is not against the reports of other classmates but against the reports before and after this one as it demonstrates personal progress. It is important to remember that we are all on a continuum of learning and may be in different places with that learning. The important thing is to keep the joy in the process.

The process is always more important than the product, and it should remain exciting and engaging and challenging so we continue to push forward to greater learning. As schools evolve and respond to a changing world, this will only become more important. There will be less emphasis on an end product, the graded essay, the ribbon on the science project and more on a portfolio of ongoing explorations, each one leading to a new exploration. More questions, less answers.

Last year at this time, I wrote about the “love-hate” relationship educators have with numbers, letters and percentages, otherwise known as grades. Too often students and parents become  focused on these marks, which are actually just a snapshot in time and may be outdated even as the report card goes home. We try to emphasize the progress and room for growth as we sit down together with you at conferences. Each child is unique and so is their learning experience. Having an inquisitive mind and knowing the value of struggle and failure is the most important indicator of future success in the classroom and beyond. Discuss with your child how important it is to always try your best and that failure or setbacks are an important part of the learning process.

I have included again the article I shared before about how school systems and private institutions (Gilman included) are exploring new ways of documenting student learning. It will take some time and look “messy” along the way but promises to encourage what we want most for our children- less judgement by others about their abilities or strengths and more of a portfolio-type testament to what they choose to do based on their passions and interests.

An Interesting Read about New Ways of Assessment on the Horizon

Please join us this winter for a parent coffee based on these ideas and more about assessment and learning in a rapidly changing world.


The Better News about Good Behavior

Later this month author Katherine Reynolds Lewis will speak to our tri-schools about raising responsible children in today’s world. Based on her popular book, The Good News About Bad Behavior, she will shine a light on navigating potential pitfalls of parenting with a message that should resonate with many families. We learned of Lewis’ book last spring and asked our faculty to read it over the summer. Teachers often find themselves searching for advice about how to handle the inevitable conflicts that occur between children and how to motivate students to do the right thing when it comes to behavior. This book addresses many long-accepted strategies about discipline and motivation and offers new methods that promise better, and more long-lasting results. We are so fortunate that someone with such timely advice is able to come and speak to both faculty and families. Ms. Lewis will share her experiences, tell tales from her professional work life, and answer the many questions we have about raising the next generation to be good and self-reliant citizens.

Some of the many “take-aways” I found in the book reflect the teachings of Responsive Classroom. This structure, which we implement in our lower school classrooms, motivates students to do what the community has decided is fair and good by building an innate sense of belonging and empathy for others. Students in our classrooms are never threatened to behave “or else!” indicating some form of punishment or consequence. Neither are they rewarded for fulfilling their role in the classroom. Doing jobs, helping others, following the teacher’s direction are all expected parts of the school day. Children learn that doing the right thing feels good, and that is its own reward. I realize it sounds too simple, and of course there are sometimes break downs in this system. They usually come from misdirection from the adults rather than “that child” who is a problem. Katherine Reynolds Lewis points out that children, by nature, want to please, and they really value their role in the community. They act out when they are not feeling valued or when some other basic need is missing. Rather than “fix” a child who is misbehaving, it is essential to study the behavior and think about what might be below the surface.

Our students learn that they have a set of “tools” at their disposal to use for both self-regulation and to allow for better interpersonal experiences. This “Toolbox” is at the center of many of our conversations about discipline or conflict. Did you use your “Garbage Can” tool and throw the unimportant things bothering you away? Did you consider that your “Personal Space” tool might look different than a classmates’ version, and you were just too close to them? Let’s use our “Breathing Tool” to give ourselves a chance to calm down, or let’s use our “Listening Tool” and remember to listen with our heart, as well as our ears. These methods, like the use of Responsive Classroom, mean that students are being taught about behavior. We are not reacting to good or bad actions, we are enabling our students to control their own behavior so that it becomes the fabric of who they are.

There is great value in connecting to other families as you travel that path that is known as parenthood. Right now it might be getting advice on sleeping routines and teething biscuits, soon it will be how to prioritize after school activities, and then how to set limits on social media use. Parent partners can make sense of what you are experiencing and give you that valuable line, “Not all parents are letting their child do _______!” because you know that others share your values and expectations. I say this because on Sunday, October 20, we have arranged for a tri-school book talk, Whether you have had the opportunity to read, The Good News About Bad Behavior or not, it will be a time to meet other parents in our community and share ideas about raising good children. Look for more details on social media or in newsletters and make this a priority! Please remember that we are in partnership with you and desire the same great outcomes for your children. Lewis states, “Everyone has bad parenting habits.”  I will say every school has a few bad habits when dealing with children’s needs as well. I look forward  to working together to give our RPCS children the benefits of changing old habits into new, child-centered practices that work!


No Child Left Inside

A teacher recently shared an academic article with me (linked below), and it immediately make me think of an essential topic for my blog, the importance of play-based education, and more specifically here, the value of nature-based education. As we begin yet another academic year with its focus on standards and mastery, it begs the question- where does nature and play fit into the equation. No pun intended, but we, as educators, really struggle justifying time for exploration, time for interacting with nature, and time to “get lost” in play activities. More and more literature indicates that play is at the center of learning. Unfortunately, we still think of play as a young child’s activity, or maybe a much older child’s activity if they work for Google or Apple Corporation.  In between, we look at hard testing data and grouping results to give us a sense of whether our child is learning and on their way to the top echelon of higher education. Our current system demands such measurement sticks, many more actually, and it is difficult to justify a change in how we assess learning. More to come about assessment in future blog posts, but here I want to argue the indisputable fact that being outside is good for children. You will find several articles, TED talks, and organizations that do a much better job than I do at making the case for the environment as a key player in a child’s education. Our Reggio-inspired preschool sees the classroom, indoor and outdoor, as a “third teacher” after the parent and educator. Watching the daily problem solving and design-based thinking that goes on outside my office window every day is a testament to how our Little Reds are gaining life-long social and academic readiness skills. The question of readiness for a more structured Kindergarten environment comes up when parents explore our program. As the academic article states so well in the Abstract, students in good academic or good nature-based preschools do equally well, and the benefits of more time in the outdoors are providing psychological and physical benefits for the young child.

I spoke to the girls at Lower School Morning Meeting on Friday about the idea of “it takes a village” to make a difference in one’s community or for the broader world with a picture book titled, It Takes a Villageby Hillary Rodham Clinton. We quietly reflected after the story on a photograph of Greta Thunberg, youth activist and caretaker for the world. My message stated that, while she has learning differences like many in the world, she sees them as her “superpower” and revels in her ability to stay highly focused on her cause. I asked, what were their “superpowers”, and what would they change for the better in the world. I write this because linked below is an article that links play in outside spaces with a desire to work for the greater good and protect the earth that has given them so much pleasure. At RPCS we want our girls to lead for the greater good. I feel confident that those children who traveled the backwoods each week with Ms. Alice or Ms. Noemie will find a way to keep this beautiful earth enjoyable for generations to come.

I hope these articles, and the link to the organization childrenandnature.org., will inspire you to enjoy even more time outside in nature this fall. What a wonderful time to make new promises to yourself and your children that increase your outside “play” experiences. A quote from one of these sources poses the question, “What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?” Something to think about for parents but also educators.

I hope the fall (and winter, and spring, and summer…..) brings many outside learning experiences for us all.

Academic Article Linking Kindergarten Success and Nature-based Play

Nature Experiences and Leading for Greater Good

Nature Organization with Good Articles and Links


The Whiz Bangs and Woes of Technology

Roland Park Country School is fully entrenched in utilizing the best teaching concepts of the twentieth century and at the same time staying true to its more traditional and time-tested curriculum. In other words, we embrace new ways of delivering instruction, often with technology, but only as a better means to the same end. The internet provides educators with a wealth of new ideas. I know that I learn more each week from my Twitter following than from even the best workshop. Never has the world been more at our fingertips, and it is truly amazing. In this way, our girls now have all the resources to learn about everything that makes them wonder. They don’t have to wait until a certain grade level to learn about whales, or the Civil War, or what is the tallest mountain in the world and experience it in three dimensions. Our teachers can move out of the “worn path in the front of the room” and teach from all corners of the space, projecting notes, photos, or student work on the classroom screen. They can teach from afar, giving the girls teacher-created or student-created video to watch from home or teach through a guided program on the iPad that allows the girls to learn at their own pace.  Many of our educators have discovered that teaching about the world is now possible in a more meaningful way through Skype-like programs. Our girls have taken virtual field trips, talked with students around the country and even around the world. They now have a global understanding that generations before could never have experienced at such young ages.

These are obviously examples of the “whiz bang” and “wow” of technology. The world at their fingertips and a constant flow of information sounds great, however as parents and educators know, this comes with a huge responsibility. How do we teach our young children to navigate the world of technology safely and beneficially with so many temptations? Our children watch what we do and how we use technology every day. We are their best educators in how to harness this amazing, evolving resource. Together, we can help our girls become responsible users of technology. Last year RPCS invited speaker, Ana Homayoun, to campus. She told our girls to remember what they are passionate about and make sure they are spending enough time pursuing these activities. She challenged them to leave devices outside of bedrooms and take digital breaks often. Good advice for all of us. Keep her books handy as you navigate the world of devices and pre-teens!

Ana Homayoun on Children and Media Use

Technology extends beyond devices used for social media, information, and communication. We are looking at more opportunities to use technology to explore creation and innovation. How can we take an idea and make it useful for society. Can we make it “work” for others? Can it move, speak, generate sound, or entertain?

We believe our young students have the ability to have big ideas that could potentially be impactful and life-changing. Learning experiences in our STEAM hub area might empower our young idea generators to think in impactful ways.

To help promote this idea of the collaboration between curriculum, learning and technology, we brought in renowned educator, writer, and innovator, Gary Stager, to work with our faculty prior to opening day.  I highly recommend watching Gary’s TED talk linked below, as well as checking out his informative blogs, also linked below. Teachers had an opportunity to talk about the many ways computer technology impacts our lives and why learning to program opens up many possibilities for impactful projects. We will continue to explore ways that coding and programing can become another form of literacy for expressing ideas.

Gary Stager

Here at RPCS, we remain committed to bringing technology to the girls in ways that promote learning and wonder, while at the same time helping you continue this positive experience at home. Please consider joining us on September 19thfor an informational coffee about our new STEAM hub and project based learning using computer technology. Also, look for a notice about our Family Maker Night in November and come program along with your children!

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.


  • If you are in Little Reds- What are some ways you have been enjoying the outdoor playground? Have you told Ms. Meyers a story on her special story bench yet?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- What are you learning about numbers? Which of the several classroom “centers” is your favorite?

  • If you are in First Grade- Who is your “big sister” in fourth grade? Do you say hi at lunch or recess? How is the outdoor Makerspace?

  • If you are in Second Grade- What makes a good teacher? What did you add to your poster?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What are you looking forward to learning about Maryland this year? What were some of the projects like that students brought in based on the summer novel?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What fun facts did you learn about the USA? What did you learn about the Northeast Region? How did you enjoy reading Rulesthis summer- how does it tie into your first literacy unit?


  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What have you learned about your classmates during Morning Meeting?

Screen Time and Our Girls

A few weeks ago, RPCS hosted author Ana Homayoun for two days of workshops with our students, faculty, and parents. She was really amazing, and her words still resonate with me. Many of her specific talking points were around social media wellness, however, closely related to that are issues surrounding self-image, positive parent relationships, and sleep deprivation. Ana began her time on campus by talking to faculty and staff about non-judgmental ways of helping families navigate the tricky world of devices. She reminded us that each family has different needs, and the impact from regular screen time use is still being studied. We should not dictate or judge individual families’ decisions about screens and social media. That being said, few parents would disagree that use of technology is a constant worry and subject of conversation in their households.

As a caring institution, we try and address these concerns by bringing in speakers on a regular basis. Next year, as a tri-school, we have enlisted the help of parenting writer, Katherine Reynolds Lewis, who wrote The Good News About Bad Behavior, to speak to parents in the Lower School and Preschool parent community. She will address some of the things that Ana Homayoun pointed to in her talk: setting limits, giving children more responsibility, and establishing intrinsic motivation for heathy habits such as good eating and sleeping routines.

Screen time is a growing concern, and the statistics which Common Sense Media regularly publish are enough to send anyone hurrying to collect device chargers and remote controls. The news media regularly reports on many social ills attributed to increased screen time. Children are sleeping less, childhood obesity is on the rise, depression based on a lack of positive self-image is increasing in young children (and girls are especially vulnerable), and children of all ages seem more distracted- to the point of increased diagnosis of learning differences.

What to do? I have been stepping up my reading on these topics, as they come up frequently in parent conversations. Recently, I read an article published in the Washington Post that outlined some very common sense ideas about mitigating the effects of our “on-line society”.  It talked about avoiding the “ban” of devices, but rather use the opportunity to teach why there are many pleasant and rewarding alternatives to social media and screens. Encourage outdoor play and make opportunities readily available with friends and WITH YOU! Encourage play in general, again with family- things like games. Read books with your children and try and find time to read for extended periods of time, so “bingeing” on book chapters is as addictive as a Netflix series! Stop all media use as a family well before bedtime. Ana Homayoun suggests not allowing your children to bring phones, iPads, etc. into the bedroom when retiring for the night, as it is proven to interfere with sleep. Model good etiquette with cell phones for your children and establish “conversation zones” that remind them that there are times when human interaction is the most important social time one can spend together.

You might be surprised by how grateful your children, and even “tweens”, feel about these thoughtful and realistic guidelines. When Ana Homayoun wrapped up her talk with our fourth and fifth grade girls the other week, one girl raised her hand and offered her new self-imposed rule to leave her iPad in another room at bedtime. The girls applauded!

How to help children use SM for good


Ideas for Parents

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What is Derby Day and what is the importance of hats? What did Mrs. B’s hat look like?

  • If you are in First Grade- How did you code the Bee Bot to travel your classroom map? What questions do you have about maps and navigation?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What are some things you have learned about Baltimore in social studies class? What special treat did you do with the Kindergarten class involving Derby Day?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What can you describe about the economics of Maryland? What did you learn about forces and motion in science? How did you learn about static electricity in class this week?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What organization are you researching for the non-profit fund-raising project? What do they support. and why did you choose them?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What preparations did you make to prepare for the Maypole Dance? How is your dance for the spring concert coming? What is the most complicated part?



Much has been written in recent years about the value of PLAY. I emphasize the word because it has taken on so much more than the obvious meaning in the field of education. Until recently, “play” time in American schools was relegated to recess and very early childhood imagination centers. Play was seen as a release, a time to be wasted on running off steam or learning how to share toys. Studies in brain science suggests otherwise. Play is actually a valuable tool for educating the whole mind, body and spirit of humans, as well as many in our animal kingdom. Any trip to the zoo will provide hours of watching animals at play. We now know they are prepping for life in a community and will be better equipped for survival because of these frivolous engagements.

Stuart Brown wrote a wonderful book on the subject titled, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. I enjoyed reading it cover to cover several years ago and highly recommend it as a source of inspiration. He went on to create a National Institute for Play. Quoting from the home page, “Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.” The message Brown sends to everyone is that “play” is not for a certain age, grade level, gender, or social economic group. Rather, we all benefit from play and suffer from sufficient lack of play. He begins the book talking about his research on serial killers and mass shooting suspects. This led him to discover the horrific consequences that may be related to a childhood that was deprived of this very basic need. Not to scare the reader, however his institute does present some compelling research that supports encouraging play. I have included a link to his research below.


National Institute for Play

Edutopia Article on Play in Early Education


Famous psychologist Jean Piaget says, “play is the work of childhood.” To support the students during any developmental stage, the work they do is through the lens of play. As educators in a school that values progressive ideas and works to stay current with brain research, we place renewed value on experiences in the classroom that use play as a means of exploration and retention. The youngest students in our Reggio Emelia inspired classrooms explore an “investigation” through hours of play. They learn important lessons about the natural world and the community they inhabit by playing. Recent explorations of planes, vehicles, restaurants, and rocks (subjects carefully chosen by the children) used curiosity, imagination, and role-playing to build understanding. In our second grade this week the girls are learning about economics and entrepreneurship through a playful simulation. They signed “loans” from the business office and will attempt to pay them back and walk away with a profit when they host their mini-marketplace next week. Our fifth grade girls ran elections a few weeks ago and have organized themselves into the House and Senate of the lower school putting forth bills and lobbying for change. They presented two bills that passed both governing bodies and were excited to have the motion move forward- fifth grade girls will have an extra study hall to stay organized and will gain the privilege of wearing colored sneakers rather than the uniform white starting Monday!

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What did you learn about your animal during the research part of your latest project? What was your favorite part of the assignment?
  • If you are in First Grade- Why are you collecting items for Paul’s Place? What does it mean to do “community service”? Did you enjoy the activity on Friday that involved learning about honeybees? What did you and your big buddy add to your “Save the Bees” poster?

  • If you are in Second Grade- Did it make you nervous to sign a loan agreement with Mr. Booth from the business office? How is developing your product going?

  • If you are in Third Grade- How are you enjoying the novel, Matilda?Do you enjoy the book or the movie in most cases? What have you learned about the 13 colonies and the main causes that contributed to the start of the Revolutionary War?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Did you perform for the Multicultural Night? What non-profit organization will you be researching? What does non-profit mean? What did your “quilt” tell about you?


  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What part did you play in the government reenactment your class held? Did you agree with the debates on the floor of the House and Senate? Do you support the bills that were passed?