January 29, 2015

Parenting Advice From ‘America’s Worst Mom’

There’s something about this headline that grabbed my attention.  It’s not my headline – it is from an article that appeared in the New York Times last week. I had to read on…

The article focuses on Lenore Skenazy (pictured here), a New York City mother of two, who earned the nickname “America’s Worst Mom” after reporting in a newspaper column that she had allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone.

The story launched a nationwide debate about how much parents should supervise and do for their kids, and how much kids should be allowed to play freely and have to figure things out on their own.

Ms. Skenazy was heavily criticized at first, but the experience lead her to intensify her “desire to encourage anxious parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop the self-confidence and resilience to cope effectively with life’s many challenges.”

“One result was the publication in 2009 of her book Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry). A second result is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part series, starting Thursday on Discovery Life Channel, called “World’s Worst Mom.” I am in no way a fan of reality television (and have never bought cable or satellite TV and so could not watch it anyway!), but I think this is an interesting concept.

I am not going to summarize the whole article – you can read it by clicking here - but I do heartily recommend taking five minutes of your time to digest it, and even talk about it with your spouse, partner or co-parent, about your own parenting styles.

One thing that did stand out for me, though, was this quote by Dr. Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College and the author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life:

When children make up their own games, “children make the rules, negotiate, and figure out what’s fair to keep everyone happy. They develop creativity, empathy and the ability to read the minds of other players, instead of having adults make the rules and solve all the problems.”

Those are among our goals for our students here at Friends’.  These are among the skills that we believe will help children grow into successful functioning adults. While Friends’ doesn’t subscribe to putting 9 year olds on the subway alone, we do prepare our students to be self-reliant by presenting them with problems to figure out and challenges to overcome – in teams and on their own.

Friends’ is an accredited member of the Association of Colorado Independent Schools.  One of our partner schools, Graland Country Day School in Denver, is hosting an evening with Lenore Skenazy on Monday March 9th.  Several of our Friends’ faculty will be in attendance.  (Sadly, I will not be as we have a school Board meeting the same evening.)  My friends at Graland are promising that it will not only be an informative evening, but it will be hilarious as well – they tell me Ms. Skenazy is a funny, entertaining speaker.

If you are interested in attending, you can register here.

What do you think? 

January 21, 2015

“NOW I know what my parents do all day!” - Young Ameritowne 2015

This week, I welcome a guest author. Thank you to Friends' 4th grade teacher Liz Richards for this excellent account of a 'real-world' example of integrated learning at its finest.

Making money at Young Ameritowne
Two Mondays ago the 4th and 5th grade classes had the unique experience of testing how it feels to exercise adult responsibility. Playing the role of citizens in Young AmeriTowne (YAT) (an educational setting that teaches students about business, economics and free enterprise) students were accountable for arriving on time, keeping track of expenses, and making decisions about how to optimize profits for their businesses.  This real life simulation about the circular flow of money provided a memorable experience for our budding young citizens.
It all started the week after Thanksgiving when our students were introduced to the economic process and how it is a system that flows like a living organism.  Students learned about banking and the basic concepts associated with macro economics.  With those concepts in mind, they became acquainted with the types of jobs YAT offered, taking a survey to help determine how their particular strengths and interests might fit into different career options. Each business had an accountant and business manager, or students could choose to be utility technicians, photographers, journalists, doctors, cashiers or radio disc jockeys.  They filled out a job application, wrote a cover letter and interviewed for the position they most desired.  
This week's guest author
4th grade teacher Liz Richards
The students also had the opportunity to work as a democracy and elected their student mayor and magistrate.  They created ideas for laws to be followed during their day in Towne, and elected 2 that were enacted and enforced by the student police along with the common rules for student conduct.  

The last assignment before students were ready for their day in Towne was learning how to write checks, deposit slips, and recording these transactions in a register.  A giant emphasis was placed on keeping track of deposits and withdrawals so to avoid becoming overdrawn.  “Can you go to jail for that?” was the among many “What if…?” type questions that made for many juicy discussions of what happens in the real world when people don’t meet their financial responsibilities.  It was a great opportunity to ask the kids, “What kind of citizen do you want to be?” As they looked ahead, they expressed excitement for the prospect of taking on such adult responsibility.

After much preparation, we were all more than eager to see what Towne would be like. Upon arrival, students were trained in the nuts and bolts of their positions by YAT staff. To get the economic ball rolling, they applied for their business loans and submitted their order forms for radio, TV and newspaper advertising.  They made their non-profit donations and investment decisions known, and submitted forms for logos and slogans for signage and website design. After swearing in the mayor, judge and police officers, the Towne ribbon was cut and the economic cycle commenced.

Students scurried to their businesses and dove into meeting the demands of their customers.  With a break schedule in place, students took turns playing the role of consumer. They immediately deposited their paychecks at the bank and went about to spend their money at the snack shop, market or to submit song requests and shout outs at the radio station.  They could also withdraw their cash with an actual debit card at the ATM machine, electronically vote for the favorite business and fill out other surveys tabulated by the community service officer at the Towne Hall.
While the market and the snack shop sold real drinks and snacks, other businesses sold toys and trinkets to attract customers and maximize profits.  For a fee, the fitness center offered the chance to play an exercise-based video game that kept track of high scores to entice students to keep playing.  When the newspaper was ready for publication, newspaper sales people went about to sell papers.  There, students could read short articles about what the mayor was up to, which businesses were among the favorites and to see who was offering deals through posted advertising.

To stand back and watch the kids deal with the problems all too familiar in the real world was quite amazing as this is where the learning was most powerful.  They had to deal with swiping their debit cards correctly, forgotten passwords, not balancing with the bank, being overdrawn or running out of deposit slips. The snack shop ran out of ice cream and eventually all their merchandise.  Snack shop employees were reprimanded by the judge for price gouging as they took advantage of high demand when they saw the last of their merchandise dwindle. The accountants for each business had to keep track of income and expenses to help shop-keepers make decisions about prices, product placement and advertising, as they all wanted to come out ahead.
It was busy and intense to watch, and sometimes stressful for the kids in the throes of all the decision making, job demands and the potential of running out of money.  Overall, there was an overwhelmingly positive response about the real-life experience and lots of energy in wanting to have another chance knowing what they know now.  

The students had fun playing grown-up for a day, and in the end were pretty sure they could wait for the real thing.   

January 15, 2015

Scooter Board City, Lindsey-style!

P.E. teacher Lindsey Hilliard, with her children
Our Great Room this month has been turned into an elaborate urban landscape. The room has been laid out in the form of streets and, in each class, all students have been deeply involved in a complex exercise, constantly moving their bodies and invested in the activity.

Welcome to Scooter Board City, Lindsey-style!

P.E. teacher Lindsey Hilliard is new to her position at Friends’ this year, but this is her third tour of duty at our school. In 2006-07, the year she was married, she participated in our Teacher Training Program as a TC in 4th and 5th grade.  After teaching for two years in inner city schools in Denver, Lindsey returned to Friends’ as a preschool teacher, forming a great team with Jessie Vanden Hogen in the east room. 

A year later, her husband’s Zach’s job took them to Houston. While raising her young family in Texas, Lindsey taught parent-child classes for children aged birth to three and their parents. Seizing an opportunity to return to Colorado to be closer to family, the Hilliards are back at Friends’, Lindsey as the P.E. teacher for both the elementary school and the preschool. Here with her this time are her daughter Riley in Kindergarten and her son River in preschool. Lindsey will also be teaching the 5th grade Passageworks program this semester.

Lindsey was introduced to Scooter Board City by her mentor, Kathy Sherwood.

Scooter Board City
As Kathy describes it, “Scooter Board City is one element of our core strength unit in P.E., but over the years it has turned into so much more. It is one of the most anticipated P.E. activities of the year.

It involves physical fitness, math, economics, cooperation, rules of the road, and lots of serious fun.

First, potential drivers get a driver’s permit, which allows them to drive with a fellow student and learn the rules of the road. If successful, they can eventually get a license to drive by themselves. Citizens of Scooter Board City earn money by doing calisthenics at various work stations, which they then use to buy gas, get their car washed, purchase toll way passes, pay taxes, and sometimes even buy a car for a friend.  Unfortunately, sometimes things don't go smoothly and they will also need to pay parking tickets, traffic fines, or replace a lost license.

Scooter Board City also employs shopkeepers, bankers, and police officers. These jobs require good math skills and strong understanding of the traffic rules. With a line of customers, shopkeepers need to be good at adding and subtracting quickly, making change, and crowd control. Officers need to know all the traffic laws and the appropriate fines. Police have the right to issue tickets and impound cars. Drivers have the right to appeal the officer’s decisions but they also know that if they lose the argument, they will need to pay court fees as well.

Over the years, the kids’ creative suggestions have been incorporated making this appear very complicated. The number of strategies and rules and how strictly they are enforced increases as the kids get older. Watching a young child who is not able to figure out right from left suddenly get it when there is the possibility of a ticket involved is amazing. Or listening in as a clever investor tries to buy up limited supplies in the hopes that when the store runs out they can resell them at a profit. The younger classes often spend most of their cash on car washes, and filling up the cars with gas, and the older classes amass savings.

No matter, what type of learner they are or how they choose to participate, all the kids exercise for about 40 minutes non-stop.”

That’s a lot of work! The best part is the children don’t even realize how hard they are working or how much they are learning.

For Lindsey, Scooter Board City typifies in a magical way the amazing integrated learning for which Friends’ is so well known. Integrated learning is when many school subjects and forms of learning are blended together in one activity.  She brings in math, literacy, using money, learning to take turns, and having kids practice being in different roles.  She loves watching what drives different children.  She even weaves in a lesson about taxation – it turns out the assets that each child builds in the game are reduced by a visit from the tax collector between classes.  Real life lessons indeed!

Lindsey is thrilled to be back at Friends’ School. When looking in the Houston and Denver areas for schools for her children, she says that nothing quite compared to Friends’. She says that having her kids in this school, where she also teaches, is “like a dream”. We think it’s pretty dreamy that she is back with us.

January 8, 2015

A Growing Voice

Shelby Pawlina & Ed Walent, co-directors of Friends'
Teacher Preparation Program
Happy New Year everyone and welcome back to school!  Our Friends’ teachers and staff have returned from winter break rested and excited to have all their beloved students back at school this week.

Back in September I wrote a column in this space about how our teachers are “Growing Their Brains All Around the World” which highlighted the reach that our Friends’ School faculty is having on the wider world of education.

It called attention to the influence of an article co-authored by preschool teacher Christie Stanford and Shelby Pawlina, co-director of our Teacher Training Program, on teacher education in Indonesia.

Since that time, our Friends’ School educators are continuing to be a strong voice in education circles locally, regionally and across the nation.

Preschool teacher
Jessie Vanden Hogen
Christie, along with fellow preschool teacher Jessie Vanden Hogen, presented to the statewide Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children on Storytelling & Mindfulness in the Preschool Classroom in October.

This month, Christie and Jessie are presenting a workshop to the Boulder Chapter of the statewide Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children on Executive Function Skills and Mindfulness through a Storytelling Lens.

Next month, I will be in Boston presenting to school leaders from across the country, at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools. I will be talking about Friends’ Gratitude Project and How to Integrate a Schoolwide  Theme on  Character (such as this year’s mindfulness theme) to Enhance School Culture.

Preschool teacher and Boulder
CAEYC Teacher of the Year
Christie Stanford
In March the co-directors of our nationally known Teacher Training Program, Ed Walent and Shelby Pawlina, will be in Chicago.  They have been accepted to present at the annual conference of the National Association for Alternative Certification.  They will be wowing their colleagues from across the country on Reflective Practices that Inspire Improved Teaching and Strengthen Student Learning.

And then in April, Jessie and Christie will be back at it again, teaching their Mindfulness Through Storytelling workshop at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference, held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. This two-day regional conference aims to support and solidify the growing understanding of the importance of investing in our youngest children. The confluence of science, research and common sense shows that early childhood education has a positive impact on our economy, workforce, schools and communities.

Friends’ has always had a big goal of establishing the school as an educational leader.

In our strategic plan we wrote: "By creating and nurturing a position as a local and national leader in providing an exceptional, holistic education, Friends’ School will continue to bring its mission to fruition, increase its relevancy to the community, create a competitive advantage for students in rapidly changing times, and nurture our long-term sustainability."

We appear to be rocking it on a national, statewide and local level this year.  Our students and colleagues are lucky to have such educational thought leaders among us. Congratulations to all! 

p.s. We are currently accepting applications for the Teacher Preparation Program for the 2015-16 school year.  Those interested can find more information here.