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?

Learning to Handle Conflicts


Conflict is inevitable. We all experience conflict at some point in our lives. Most of us experience conflict each week or maybe each day. The secret is to learn how to handle situations that result in conflict. Our young girls face conflict of course, and the way they work through these conflicts provide life lessons. As educators we are constantly torn between allowing the girls the space to work through conflict on their own and intervening with supportive lessons and solutions that “fix it”. We want the girls to learn to work through their struggles with peers and yet we need to protect them from potential physical and psychological harm. Parents weigh in on both sides. Many say that it is important for their daughter to learn how to resolve issues without adult help. They need to use their voice and listen with empathy. This is great, however when things go awry the story goes home and generates much confusion and emotion. Parents and teachers may sometimes be at odds, but ultimately we want the same thing- children to have a positive school experience from which they emerge well prepared for life. Teaching our children that they have the ability to handle conflict and can learn even from negative experiences is so important. I often quote from author Jessica Lahey, who writes about these topics for the New York Times and the Atlantic. In her book, The Gift of Failure, she states, “The social conflicts of childhood are all part of our education in human relationships and failure to negotiate also provides its own lessons. Squabbles are opportunities to be valued, not emergencies to be managed.” As a school we continue to strive to find the perfect balance. We want to teach our girls to use their voice, talk things through and bring a sense of empathy to the conversation. Each week, Ms. Best teaches the girls a new tool for their “toolbox”- including empathy, listening, and, most recently, the apology and forgiveness tool.  Practice with these tools will enable the girls to gain independence from both teachers and parents as they handle those inevitable conflicts with confidence.  For more on Toolbox by Dovetail learning see the link below.


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 sound does the letters “sh” make? What animal are you researching for your first “research report”? Are you enjoying hearing everyone’s stories during Writer’s Workshop time?
  • If you are in First Grade- Did you like the way your self-portrait came together in art class?
  • If you are in Second Grade- Which guest speaker had the most impact on you so far? What ideas did you gather as you start planning your micro-business?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Did you enjoy the games your classmates created to illustrate the plot of their Roald Dahl book?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What part of the On-Stage performance did you enjoy the most this week when you traveled to Goucher College?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What impact did visiting the Supreme Court and the US Capital have on you?

A Girls’ School

This is the week. This is the week those carefully considered and constructed acceptance letters go out to families who have applied to independent schools in the area. It is a joyful, and perhaps stressful, time. Whether you have chosen the school of your dreams for your child or are just contemplating a change for your young student who is slightly less than happy in her current school, the acceptance letter designates that a choice needs to be made. A commitment is just two weeks away, and it is more than just a financial decision; you must decide on whether an all-girls education is the best for your daughter.

Why all girls? This question comes up frequently during the admissions season. Teachers who work with girls every day have been able to answer this for decades and now their observations are being backed up by research. In addition, the world we currently inhabit reminds us daily that girls deserve a more promising future, even though much progress has been made. How can we insure that our daughters and granddaughters have a path forward that fulfills their passions and potential? At Roland Park Country School, we firmly believe this starts with enrolling girls in an all-girls’ school. Surround them with leaders who are women! Surround them with girls who defy stereotypes because they like “boy” things – and are really good at “boys” things! It can be as simple as that; however, most girls’ schools realize that it takes more than just exposure to have a lasting impact on their students’ future success. It takes active teaching and modeling. RPCS uses a purposeful curriculum that incorporates leadership opportunities and weaves voicing opinions and presentation into daily class activities. Examples are many, but consider the typical math class where problems don’t just need to be “solved”, they need to be “proved and justified”. Girls speak up with ideas, disagree, debate, all while learning mathematical concepts and theory. During reading classes, book characters are discussed, compared and analyzed through group book clubs, Venn diagrams, and presentations using personal connections and creatively constructed props. STEAM activities often take front and center. Girls learn that they can program robots, artistically create three-dimensional probability games, and engineer structures that support hundreds of books. The research is clear, girls who have these experiences in all-girls’ schools are 80% more likely to go on to positions of leadership, and graduates from all-girls’ schools are three times more likely to consider engineering careers than their female peers at co-ed schools.

Girls’ schools like RPCS are also taking seriously the need for teaching confidence to our young girls. The article below, written by Lisa Damour for the New York Times, addresses the very issue of confidence building for girls. She questions if traditional schools do a better job teaching confidence to boys and encouraging competence in girls. Boys feel they can take short cuts if the results satisfy the requirements and will eventually find expedient ways to get good outcomes. Later in life, boys will be more likely to “lean in” to work problems regardless of prior preparation. Confidence leads to more risk taking and gets attention in the workplace. Girls, by contrast, will often over-plan, over-study, over-everything to make sure their assignment is perfect. This will often result in immediate good feedback but over time leads to a feeling that nothing short of perfection will be good enough. As educators of girls, we need to be very purposeful in making sure risk-taking is part of the daily routine and that good time management and realistic expectations are learned and valued.  At RPCS, we bring in speakers and spend considerable time reading and discussing just how to make sure our young girls and women leave this all-girls’ environment confident as well as prepared.

Decisions about a child’s education are never easy. Making the decision to send a daughter to an all-girls’ school promises a lifetime of benefits and rewards. We state this loudly and proudly-  Roland Park Country School is a community that stands for something important: shaping girls into women who will elevate each other to purposely impact the world.


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 was your favorite activity from the 100thday celebration? What did you enjoy most about being a “Secret Agent”?


  • If you are in First Grade- What math activity did you complete for the 100thday celebration? Have you been enjoying the new playground equipment?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What did you learn from the business woman who came to speak this past week? What are some of the most important lessons about economics that you have learned? How did you finish decorating your rickshaw?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What did you learn from the Chinese visiting students that attended class with you last week? What was challenging about the puzzle riddles you completed in math on Valentine’s day?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you learn from the Chinese visiting students that attended your classes on Valentine’s Day? What is your favorite part of Sarah, Plain and Tall? Were you able to make it to the show “Art for Paws” to see your work be sold to benefit the SPCA?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What was the impact on you from the experience visiting your delegates in Annapolis this week? What did you think of Governor Hogan? What did you learn from your extensive tour of the state capital and sitting in on a session of the Senate?

The Power of Questions

If you Google search “quotes about the importance of asking questions”, you get a multitude of inspirational ideas. Einstein says, “The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Other quotes include: “Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answer”, and “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” I stumbled upon a great book several years ago titled, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. In the book, Rothstein and Santana make a case for the importance of questions to empower and engage students. Their work began in Lawrence, MA where they encountered parents who wanted to advocate for their children in the public school system but didn’t know what questions to ask. In order to build knowledge and confidence, the two authors joined forces and developed the “Question Formation Technique”. They taught parents how to form questions that got at the heart of their issues. Finding the system very successful, Rothstein and Santana expanded their work to educators and later to health professionals. I had the privilege to attend their summer workshop in 2013. I found the concept simple and yet so powerful. It became a teaching technique for my classroom at the time and inspired a conference presentation on “Teaching Students to Ask Questions” at a John’s Hopkins Center for Talented Youth gathering in San Francisco. I have included below the link to Dan Rothstein’s TED talk and a journal article in case you would like to know more about the process. In addition, these authors have recently released a book for parents. It addresses the need to ask critical questions about your child’s learning experience. I highly recommend the resources these talented individuals have created.






Our faculty realizes the value of student questions. And yet, we often find ourselves formulating “Essential Questions” to drive our instruction and meet the needs of curriculum standards. Often, we give the questions and teach students how to find the answers. Students, wanting to please the teacher and see success in the class, focus on teacher questions and feel less secure asking their own. As Dan Rothstein points out in his TED talk, students make progress with reading and writing as they age in school, however the number of questions children ask significantly diminishes. Graduates from our high schools and colleges will be better served if educators place “Question Formation” as an essential part of the curriculum. We need to continually create classrooms that encourage inquiry and make asking questions the norm. These “safe spaces” will encourage more student directed learning as the “need to know” comes from the learner. This week I will lead a professional development for our faculty that deals with this very topic. They will contrast current practices with best practices and learn the Question Formation Technique as developed by Santana and Rothstein in the book mentioned above. I will also encourage a faculty read of the wonderful work, A More Beautiful Question, by Warren Berger. This text, and his subsequent website, further explains the beauty and power of a question. He illustrates the direction companies, individuals, and the country take when theright question is posed. I think everyone would enjoy the insights. Enjoy the link below and encourage your daughters to ASK, ASK, ASK questions each and every day!


A More Beautiful Question Website


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 have you learned about the letter O this week? Who did you read books with during the MLK assembly?
  • If you are in First Grade- What books did you pick up at the Book Swap last week? Was it hard to choose? Why did Mrs. Teeling give out robot rings and Starbursts on Friday?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What books did you pick up at the Book Swap last week? What is a microbusiness? What are you learning about money- earnings and budgets?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Have you finished your unit on Roald Dahl? Which book would you recommend to a second grade student as a must read? Did you participate in the ribbon-cutting of the new Junior Innovation Lab?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Did you enjoy hearing about the work of Margaret Hamilton during Friday’s Morning Meeting? What are you looking forward to doing doing STEAM week?


  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What was your favorite part of our MLK reading assembly? What did the “Letter” song mean to you?

Reading Joy

Our girls need few reminders about the joys of reading. Many come to school with a book in their hand. Others walk from lunch to recess to class holding a coveted novel. Literature classes, a favorite for many of the girls, provide windows into unknown worlds, and few complain that nightly homework includes fifteen minutes of reading. Even with this said, we have tried to ramp up the enthusiasm for reading this month with several reading “events”. Bev Edwards in the library has started her lunchtime book clubs. One recent school day fourth grade girls gathered to discuss, Love that Dog by Sharon Creech. They talked about the characters and plot while enjoying theme-based treats! Other grades are soon to follow. What a treat to sit in the library on a cold winter afternoon talking about books with classmates.

This week our students in both Preschool and Lower School are invited to share the love of reading together in our first “Snuggle Up and Read Night”. Children and their parents will share stories by the “fireplace” and enjoy some lite fare for dinner. We chose the classic novel, Charlotte’s Web, for our first and second grade to discuss and the new, but soon to become a classic, Wish, for our third through fifth grade students. We will use the theme of “kindness” as a basis for talking points. It will provide a connection to our character education program for families. Being kind to each other is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can instill in our young students. What better way to reinforce this lesson than through the magic of books.

Books with themes of social justice are being collected this month in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. On February 1ststudents in all grades will gather in the gym with students of Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School to read, discuss, and create bookplates so that the 1000+ books can be donated to Baltimore’s Head Start program. Another reminder that books can create connections and provide bridges between members of the community. It promises to become a yearly event.

We take the teaching of reading seriously here in our lower school. Nowhere is this more evident than in our kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Girls are exposed to letter-sound correlations and, once mastered, they learn to blend these sounds into words. It is rewarding work and creates strong readers. I recently discovered an article that does an excellent job describing the process and have linked it below. The English language is complex and often defies logic; our young readers are to be commended for making such steady progress despite the obstacles!  One strategy teachers use is to pair younger and older readers together. This is made so easy since we are all under one roof! Upper school students charmed all of our classrooms by reading the story of Beauty and the Beast to the girls prior to the musical performance this fall. Our kindergarten girls have loved sharing activities that involve reading with our fifth grade girls, and our second grade enjoyed reading picture books to our toddlers one recent afternoon. The article linked below describes the benefits of this buddy reading. Enjoy.



Reading with a Buddy

In the Lower School, we strive to always balance our curriculum so that the girls are exposed to appropriate challenges, cover necessary content to build solid foundations, and gain skills that can be applied across disciplines. Reading is at the heart of much of what we do each day. Nurturing a love of literature, teaching language fundamentals in meaningful ways, and celebrating reading progress in all subject areas remain objectives for our students. Thank you for all you do at home to support your budding readers. They will reap the benefits throughout their lives.


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 have you learned about the letter R and the sound it represents? What does addition and subtraction mean?
  • If you are in First Grade- What type of background did you give to your self-portrait in art class? What did your letter from the “Roses” say?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What part do you have in your Egyptian play?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What has been your favorite part of the novel The Fantastic Mr. Fox? What did you love at the BMA? What types of paintings were in the Cone Collection?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you contribute to the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day morning meeting assembly?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What will the subject of your letter to a State Representative be? What do you hope to accomplish with your letter? What did you contribute to the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day morning meeting assembly?

Resolutions for the New Year

This week I was able to talk with the girls during Morning Meeting about how schools really have two “new years”. I asked what this meant, and immediately the girls’ hands went up. One young student expressed that entering a new grade was like entering a new year. 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.

From an early age, children understand that they can set a goal, even as simple as climbing to the highest part of a playground ladder. This feeling of accomplishment leads to more goal setting and risk taking which prepares them for life challenges. During our gathering the girls and I  talked about the similarity between the words resolution and goals. They were familiar with the tradition of making resolutions to start a “new year”, as many had already made academic goals for themselves in their classrooms. I asked them to consider making one more goal to start the year 2019- always be kind. We read a lovely story to illustrate the point, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. If every girl was able to prioritize kindness each and every day, imagine what a wonderful place this would be for all. Even adults often struggle to meet this goal- we’ll see if the younger members of our community can take this to heart and set an example for all.

In the end, 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. I f 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.”

In conclusion, I hope that whatever your hopes, goals, or resolutions for 2019 may be, you are able to find success and much happiness!

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 the letter “G” this week? What did Mrs. B do over her winter break that was exciting? What activity did you enjoy with fifth grade buddies over break?
  • If you are in First Grade- How do you feel about your performance coming up? How are the “Roses” to dance with? Is your costume colorful and fun to move around the stage in?


  • If you are in Second Grade- What are you looking forward to seeing at the Walters Art Museum this week related to Egyptian Art?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What are you looking forward to seeing at the Baltimore Museum of Art the week after next? Who is Matisse? What have you learned about the work of Roald Dahl? Do you have a favorite book? What did you learn from Ms. Greene’s mother about writing her book about Maryland?


  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What are some reasons that people moved Westward? Who were Lewis and Clark?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What will the subject of your letter to a State Representative be? What do you hope to accomplish with your letter?