November 19, 2014

Making Caring Common and Giving Thanks

Good morning.  It’s the Friday before Thanksgiving.  A time for our elementary students to share their school and celebrate with their guests at our annual Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day. It’s also a time for us to take a week away from school and to spend time together with family, to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with friends and relatives, and to give thanks. 

Thanksgiving, as we all know, tends to be the kick off to the big holiday season. The holidays, and the accompanying big family occasions, have the potential to be precarious for younger children.

The holidays are a time of traveling, cooking, cleaning, planning, cooking more, making lists and counting chairs and napkins. But it is also the time of year when parents are considering how their 2-year-old will hold up during a Thanksgiving meal that starts at 7 p.m. Or how their 10-year-old daughter will react when she opens a present from Great Aunt Edna to find a puppy sweater that she would have liked when she was 3. Or whether their 7-year-old son will understand the importance of togetherness, love and thankfulness when the family gathers around a table. It’s a stressful time for many people. And even though we love our kids and they are lots of fun, they often magnify that stress.”

This quote is from a great new article in the Washington Post by Amy Joyce, titled Tips to get your kids through the holidays graciously and gratefully. I’m sure we could all use a few pointers on this topic – I know I could!

One of the experts interviewed for this article is psychologist and noted author Dr. Richard Weissbourd who is the co-director of the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

In the past year I have been fortunate enough to play a part in developing some of the work of the Making Caring Common Project.  It is an initiative in moral and social development for children. The Making Caring Common Project seeks to help educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, respectful, responsible to others, and committed to justice.

In the article, Dr. Weissbourd gives us several suggestions, as parents, for helping kids to find gratitude over Thanksgiving, helping them to understand that there’s a reason it’s called Thanksgiving.  He suggests:

• asking our children to think about someone outside of the family who has helped them

• finding an organization we can get behind, and make a promise to do something monthly for that group or that cause.

And later, in December, he suggests that we

do not inundate kids with gifts. When we give too many gifts, the appreciation goes out the window.

This is good advice and it follows many earlier tips in the article about how to get our kids through the holidays. I won’t repeat them all here, but the article is a solid and quick read. Click here to read the whole article.

One excellent link from the Post is to the website for The Family Dinner Project, a “grass-roots movement of food, fun, and conversation about things that matter”.  The Family Dinner Project helps
Former Friends' Head Polly Donald helping out
with our annual bulb planting tradition this week
families to have conversations about how we are going to give at the holidays “– not just money, but time and simple acts of kindness.”

There are excellent pointers for conversation starters, games and other resources (developed with the help of the Making Caring Common Project team) to help us explore how we want to give back this holiday season and throughout the year.

As a school, Friends’ students and teachers are working with the good people at Bridge House, an organization that serves Boulder’s homeless and working poor, to provide much-needed toiletries and food items. Service learning projects, such as these, help us meet our school’s mission of developing social responsibility and respect for diversity and the individual.

We hope to teach our children that the holidays are about much more than ourselves. We hope to remind ourselves, as parents and educators, that we at Friends’, just like the folks at Harvard, also want to raise children who are caring, respectful, responsible to others, and committed to justice.

Happy Thanksgiving from our Friends’ School family to yours. 

November 13, 2014

The ukuleles are coming, the ukuleles are coming!

Friends' music teacher Monica Benko with a few of
her Kindergarten students

A wonderful package was delivered to Friends’ School this week. 

We are excited to announce that we have bought an entire class set of ukuleles for our elementary school music program.  Our elementary music teacher Monica Benko is thrilled to begin a strings instrument program with some of her classes.

This purchase was made possible by a very generous donation from a former Friends’ teacher whose gift is supporting not only the music program, but also the Polly T. Donald Enrichment Fund, which supports the rejuvenation of our teachers and staff. The gift will also support the purchase of additional grades of the "Gameplan Series" music curriculum for our lower grades. It is a combination series of Orff, Kodaly, and Delcroze music methodologies.

Monica believes that music is the expression of the human experience through sound. She is excited

Friends' 3rd graders unpacking the ukuleles
on Thursday this week
to add a strings element to an already rich music program at Friends’.

Music is ever present in our culture – in movies, in our cars, at sporting events, and for many of our families, in our homes where our children play instruments. Monica’s goals are for her students to love and appreciate music, and to enrich their lives through music. She loves to make music fun, to help her students learn music through playing games, and she enjoys teaching kids to compose their own musical creations.

The children of Friends’ School are jazzed to begin playing the ukuleles.  Here are two extracts from a couple of letters from our fifth grade students to the donor:


“Thank you so much for all that you have done to help bring music to life at our school! Music means the world to me and I love to meet people who love it as much as I do.  Thank you for donating the rest of the music curriculum so the younger grades get to experience music the same way we do. Ukuleles are wonderful! I have always wanted to play a string instrument for I play piano and I am so excited to learn ukulele. I want to learn ukulele because then I will have even more music and more challenges. In music at school, we have written our own songs and we are going to compose them! We are also doing songs for our play and are learning the songs for it! I love singing and acting!”
- Anna

“I am so excited to learn how to play ukulele with the rest of my class.  I have been wanting to learn how to play a string instrument for a while. Everyone in my class was so excited when we heard that we were going to learn how to play ukulele.”
 – Julia

Friends' music teacher Monica Benko
Monica is a gifted music teacher who brings so much of herself to Friends’. The daughter of an elementary band teacher and a high school teacher, she has played piano since 1st grade, and oboe since 4th grade. In elementary school, her school had no instruments so instead she just sang to old music textbooks. However, through listening to music on CDs, Monica fell in love with singing and was inspired to become a music teacher herself.  Consequently, she loves the richness of instruments and materials she has to work with at Friends’. In high school, Monica was in band, played oboe and was the drum major of the marching band, and sang in choir, and show choir. She sang in an a cappella group in college, and still sings at weddings and church services locally.

Two summers ago, Monica worked for the National Park Service as a Ranger in Grand Teton National Park.  In this position she wrote curriculum for the National Park Service, and created an interdisciplinary unit that incorporated National Park concepts and music concepts.  She loves science as well as music, and looks forward to developing more curricula that integrates outdoor education with music education.

This past summer, she married her fiancĂ© Craig Benko. We are lucky to have Monica here and we are looking forward to hearing her students add their brand new ukuleles to their music experience at Friends’. 

November 6, 2014

Snapshots from Wonka's Chocolate Factory

Fifth grader Helen as Willy Wonka
Last week, I had the very great honor of directing our talented fifth grade class in their production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In recent years, we have established a new tradition at Friends' of our graduating class treading the boards in a full-scale theatrical production. This year's class did a marvelous job of bringing their own joy and creative spirit into the process.

Given that a picture is worth a thousand words, I will end here and allow you to enjoy these wonderful photos, taken by parents Christine Case and Ginna Halverson.

Well done, fifth graders, you were "terrific"!

For more photos, please visit this public link to our Facebook page.