September 27, 2012

All The World's A Stage

Fifth graders warming up their wands for rehearsal -
each unique wand was hand-crafted by classmate
Kaden and his grandfather Dave
Dabbling in theatre has always been an important part of a Friends’ School education.  In the second act of one of my favorite comedies, As You Like It, Shakespeare famously wrote:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

Dramatic play is an essential element in our preschool curriculum.  By pretending to be firefighters, princesses, superheroes, or restaurateurs, three and four year olds are developing many cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills: everything from spoken language, planning, conflict resolution, expressing emotion, seeing the world from different vantage points, to zipping and buttoning.

As our students progress through our elementary school, they have countless opportunities to act out skits, play make-believe, present their work in theatrical form, and participate in formal class plays. 

This fall, we are taking our theatre experience to a whole new level.  I am currently directing our extremely talented fifth grade class in a production of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  With a full raised stage, and utilizing the brand new and fabulous sound system that we have just installed in the Great Room, it promises to be an outstanding show. We will open the curtain (figuratively – alas no actual curtain!) on October 9th at 1:30 p.m. for our school community and again at 5:30 p.m. for the fifth grade families and their guests.

With several rehearsals a week, it’s a wonderful time for me to connect with our graduating class.  I am enjoying their creativity and sense of humour.  We are laughing a lot, and learning that sometimes the best moments in theatre come from gaffes.

Over the many years that I’ve been directing children’s theatre, covering forty or so productions, I have learned many things.  I have learned that involving kids in theatre improves their communication skills, gives them an opportunity to express themselves, helps develop the ability to think critically, prompts them to cooperate with others in achieving a huge joint goal, and fosters peer acceptance and self-worth.

First read-through of the Harry Potter script
The theatre provides a wonderful opportunity to teach the importance of hard work, perseverance through difficulty, a sense of accomplishment, and of course provides plenty of opportunities to laugh.

Through theatre, all children are equal and free to explore. There are no wrong answers to fear and no competition to fall short of - only the chance to try on being someone else and, by doing so, to discover a little more of themselves.

The great Oscar Wilde once said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

And that’s what we’re doing here at Friends’ – the important job of raising human beings. It’s a privilege and a joy to be working on Harry Potter with our fifth grade class.  As we have been preparing costumes, they too have been getting pretty proficient at zipping and buttoning!

We hope to see you at the show.

September 20, 2012

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words: Friends’ School Videos Now Available!

How many of us get our kicks poring over a detailed spreadsheet, its columns and rows plastered with indecipherable numbers?  How many of us have set our screensaver to a beautiful photograph, a tranquil pastoral scene?

At Friends’ School, our teachers know that the brain finds it easier to process information presented as an image rather than as words or numbers.

The right hemisphere of the brain recognizes shapes and colors, while the left side of the brain processes information in an analytical and sequential way and is more active when people read text or look at a spreadsheet. Looking through a numerical spreadsheet takes a lot of mental effort, while information presented visually can be grasped within seconds and is more pleasing to the eye. 

While we understand that there are many different kinds of learners, we know that most of our Friends’ School community are more visual learners.

As our way of honoring our left brains, we are thrilled and very proud to release three new Friends’ School videos on our website.  Each one features a different division of our school.  We would be honored if you took the time to watch them.  Each one is just a few minutes long.  

Elementary School video

If you like what you see, please pass on the news.  You can share all three by sharing this Among Friends’ column on Facebook or Twitter, or you can share a single video by emailing the URL or sharing the YouTube page where each is hosted on your favorite social media sites – all with the click of a button.

Enjoy seeing our school in a new light.  Check out your friends and classmates, our teachers and parents, starring in what might be the next viral YouTube sensation!

Preschool video

The preschool video was created by our very own preschool teachers, Christie Stanford and Jessie Vanden Hogen and edited by new preschool teacher, Caroline Long.  The music in the video is composed and performed by Friends' alumna Tayler Bledsoe, who graduated in 2003. The elementary school video was conceived, created and edited by former Friends’ parent, Lisa Albright.  The video for the Teacher Preparation Program was created by co-directors, Ed Walent and Shelby Pawlina and filmed and edited by Caroline Long.

Teacher Preparation Program video

We are extremely grateful to everyone who was involved in the creation of these films.  Thanks for watching.

September 13, 2012

Do You See What I See?

I moved into a new house over a year ago.  The other day one of my teenage daughters paused dramatically in the kitchen, in the middle of a crucial brownie-baking session.  She looked up, a confused expression on her face, nodded towards the clock hanging on the kitchen wall and demanded to know, “How long has that been there?”  I’m pretty certain I hung it there the same week we moved in. Have you ever had that kind of experience?

I had a similar moment early in this school year.  At Friends’ we have a little corner of the preschool where parents in our west classroom sign their kids in and out of school.  Above the sign-in binder, attached to the wall, the teachers have hung a poster with the title “How To Build Community.”  I pass that spot dozens of times a day on the way to and from my office.  Finally, in my sixteenth month of working at Friends’, I took a moment to read the poster and digest what it said.

It’s a great little poster.  Without being too dramatic or anything, at least not quite as dramatic as my teenage girls tend to be, this poster carries a hugely important message for the future of humankind.  It contains sage advice.  Advice we could all use and try to do better at every day.  And the preschool is the perfect example of how we are building community and making a difference each and every day. 

If you have spent any time in the Friends’ preschool, and I know many of you have, you will know how much time our teachers spend modeling and helping our preschoolers to learn to follow many of these suggestions. Here are a few gems I read on the poster:

Greet people – every child is greeted every day, several times a day, by name.

Sharing materials in preschool
Plant flowers – the preschool gardens and raised beds are filled with plants. Preschoolers give flowers to their families as part of Parent Appreciation Day each year.

Share what you have – all the classroom materials are for everyone and learning to share is one of our #1 goals.

Read stories aloud – every day, all the time, sometimes snuggled together on a couch, the perfect place for a story!

Start a tradition – Friends’ School is steeped in traditions, some handed down from the first teachers and students who were here 25 years ago.  We are open to new ideas and start new traditions or rituals every year.  We also end them if they no longer seem important.

Bake extra and share – every day in preschool a family brings in a healthy snack.  Sharing and saying thank you are big deals!

Sing together – Jessie, Katelynn, Caroline, Christie, Meg, and Katy sing with the kids every day.  There are songs for thank you, for cleaning up, for coming inside, and just for fun.  I love hearing them from my office.

Mediate a conflict – sharing, or watching what we say, can be tough for a three year old (sometimes for a forty year old too!)  Our teachers are amazingly skilled at helping kids to express their feelings, to grow in empathy, and to work it out.

Learn from new and uncomfortable angles – When you’re not even five yet, a lot of the world is new and sometimes uncomfortable.  Learning to take on new experiences is a big part of growing your brain.

Listen to the birds – our three and four year olds are outside for an hour every day and they are taught to notice and appreciate the natural world around them.  We are lucky that we have such an expansive and green playground.

It’s amazing what we are able to notice if we just stop and listen to the birds every once in a while, or stop and smell the roses, or stop and read what’s on the wall.  I’m glad I did.

September 6, 2012

Friends’ School launches

We are very excited to announce The Gratitude Project in celebration of our 25th Anniversary.

Gratitude is a core value of our school. By making gratitude our focus for the year, we feel confident that we will be enriching the lives of all of our students, families, staff, alumni, and trustees by paying attention to what we are thankful for.

The Gratitude Project will involve everyone in our school community, from our three-year old preschoolers to the founders of our school.  From the day this school opened its doors back in 1987, through to today, the people of Friends' School have shared a goal of helping to raise children to be kind and compassionate, to be connected to their community, and to see the world through joyful eyes.  Because of the original vision of our founders, and all of the many teachers and parents who have been part of this school for the past 25 years, hundreds of children have gone on to middle school, high school, college, and beyond, and made a positive difference in their world.

The Gratitude Project is a multi-faceted endeavor that spans the breadth of our community and curriculum.

In our classrooms, we will emphasize gratitude in myriad ways. In the preschool, closing circle and golden moments will be times when children can voice what they are grateful for. Teachers will be creating class books and gratitude streamers; they talk to the children about “filling someone’s bucket” with kindness, and always sing thank you to families who bring snack.  In the elementary school, students will create gratitude journals, thank you cards, books, poems, music, and artwork.  Teachers have already found so many meaningful ways to integrate gratitude into the school day.

Our Gratitude Project team reached out to Dr. Bob Emmons, who is a leader in the science of gratitude and the author of the book Thanks!  He put us in touch with researchers Dr. Jeff Froh of Hofstra University and Dr. Giacomo Bono of California State University.  Friends’ School is partnering with Jeff and Giacomo on a study of the impact that our Gratitude Project will have on school culture. We are also collaborating with them on a curriculum for elementary students which other schools will be able to use.

We are profoundly thankful to the Boulder community for supporting the growth and success of Friends’ School over the years.  As our way of saying thank you, we are bringing Dr. Christine Carter to Boulder for an informative and entertaining evening on October 18. This will be open to our own community of parents and the general public.  Dr. Carter is a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, an interdisciplinary research unit dedicated to the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being.  She is the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. She will be talking on the topic of Gratitude, Attitude and Resilience.   

Dr. Carter’s first book, The Other Side of Silence, is, we are told, one of the most frequently stolen books out of university libraries. Dr. Carter has been quoted in Working Mother, American Baby and Parenting magazines, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and dozens of other publications. Her blog is syndicated on Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and other websites. She has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Rachel Ray Morning Show, and NPR, and is a regular on ABC’s View from the Bay.  She is a talented and knowledgeable speaker and this will be a wonderful evening.  We will also host parent/teacher book club discussions on Raising Happiness before the event.
As part of The Gratitude Project, Friends’ School is also reaching out to all of our alumni and inviting them to be part of a formal Alumni Association which will begin to host regular events.  We are creating both a film and book project which will tell the story of our unique school.  We will create our own school Gratitude Wall and we continue to participate in time-honored Friends’ traditions such as our harvest celebration, delivering May Day baskets, and singing The Thank You Song, composed by our very own Diane Bramble.

I am grateful to be part of this special school and to be involved in such a dynamic and far-reaching undertaking as The Gratitude Project.  This feels like an important and meaningful way to celebrate Friends’ first 25 years.  We are looking forward to the next 25 with gratitude.