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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

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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.

 

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/make-it-matter-teach-justice-joshua-block

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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

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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.

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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!

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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

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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?

IMG_0241

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