May 21, 2015

Time to Celebrate!

3rd grade teacher Tyler & 1st grade TC Sara at Field Day
Rituals and celebrations play a big role at Friends’ and are rooted in the beginnings of the school. Celebrations throughout the year build and strengthen a sense of community in the students, the staff, and the parents as well as acknowledging and honoring the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life.
This is no more important than at this time of year as students leave one grade and move up to the next – sometimes to a new school, or to a new classroom or teacher.  Big changes on each individual journey.
Preschool Silver and Gold yesterday
This time of year is naturally the peak time for many of our much-loved traditions: beading ceremonies; our 5th grade Passageworks hike; elementary Field Day; Spring Fling; Area of Expertise (AOE) presentations; and of course Silver and Gold.
Friends’ Silver and Gold ceremonies are markers of an important transition in every preschooler’s time at Friends – as well as for our graduating fifth graders and other elementary students next week.  It is a time to walk over the bridge, or ring the bell, from the year past into the adventures ahead, and for our teachers to acknowledge some of the unique characteristics of each of their students. The Silver and Gold ceremony has been part of Friends’ School tradition since our school’s founding in 1987.

Despite the seemingly endless gray skies and raindrops, and some of our traditions moving inside, our spirits are not dampened.

Preschool Silver and Gold
Field Day was indoors and resulted in exciting fishing contests in the first grade classroom and prairie dog races down the central hallway.  Preschool Silver and Gold was inside, so the teachers built bridges out of blocks. Next week, we will raise the big white tent for the elementary graduation ceremony and hope it doesn't sink in the mud!

Indoor Field Day
Our teachers, staff and students are very aware of the time commitment that our parents give to the school at this time of year. We are very grateful for all that our parents do to support, organize, and attend our many rituals and traditions. Thank you all.

Thank you for helping us to celebrate each individual.  Thank you for recognizing the significance of upcoming changes and transitions. Thank you for being here for the times when every child is honored by our amazing teachers who know them so well. Thank you for being present, and perhaps capturing on film, all the precious moments in your child’s growth.

It’s time to celebrate!

May 14, 2015

Playing the Bard

Our 4th grade class in Much Ado About Nothing at CU
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”

Friends’ School 4th grade class was on the University of Colorado campus last week, in the indoor theatre of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Our students learned and recited these famous lines from the prologue of William Shakespeare’s Henry V. It was their inspirational introduction to the Festival’s Education Branch and their successful and popular Will Power Festival for elementary students.

Our 4th graders, under the direction and tutelage of their teacher Liz Richards, performed three scenes from the bard’s Much Ado About Nothing, doing their part to put on the full production, in conjunction with other Boulder area schools.

I was lucky enough to attend one rehearsal and the performance that our kids put on at school.  Mandy and others were even luckier and saw the performance under the lights at CU.

Many of you know of my extensive background in children’s theater.  I have usually avoided Shakespeare with elementary age students because of the complexity of the language and themes. 

These 4th graders blew that theory right off the stage!

I have rarely seen such poise, confidence and talent from such a young group of thespians.  They really understood this material, and the excellent script that was further adapted specifically for them by Liz.

One of my favorite lines from Much Ado, which is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, is this, so fabulously delivered by Alex Osofsky who played the male lead and ‘love interest’ Benedick:
“Ha. "Against my will I am sent to bid you come into dinner." There's a double meaning in that.”

No there isn’t!  And it is this sort of searching for entendre that guys like me have been stumbling over for centuries.  And yet Alex and these 4th graders really delivered on the subtlety and humor, the comedy and the nuance, in this play.

I, and everyone in the audience, was seriously impressed.  I can’t wait to work with this same group of kids on our big 5th grade production in the fall.

Their teacher Liz told me what a fabulous experience this was for her and her students – they knew their lines (and each other’s lines) so well, they would recite them randomly in class.  Some went as far as pranking each other’s lockers with Shakespearean words!

A big part of our language arts curriculum at Friends’ is our goal that our students become adept at both speaking and listening.  Strong participation in theatre helps us meet those goals.

Theatre taps into the instinct with which children are born, the instinct to explore by pretending - the

instinct that is all too often attacked by a world that pushes them to focus more on how they measure up than on who they truly are and can be.

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.

At Friends’ we have also discovered that theater provides a wonderful opportunity to teach the importance of hard work, perseverance through failure and difficulty, a sense of accomplishment upon completion, and of course, provides opportunities to laugh, enjoy peers, and have fun learning.

Congratulations to Liz, to her TC Kristine, and to all of their students for a masterful performance.  Thank you to all the parents who spent hours sewing and creating costumes. Thank you to Christine Case who took these beautiful photographs. And thank you to our whole 4th grade class for shining their light, not only on our stage at school, but on a wider and brighter stage at the University.

Play on.

May 6, 2015

Hang Up and Hang Out

We have a guest blogger this week: Associate Head of School Mandy Stepanovsky, sharing her thoughts about  our “Hang Up and Hang Out” week.

What would it be like to turn off the phones, step away from computers and put away those tablets for one week, one day, one afternoon?  Many Friends’ School families found out this week.  Inspired by Kristen Race’s engaging community presentation this fall and her book Mindful Parenting, Parent Council chair Mindy Mullins and preschool parent Jenny McGuire took on the task of organizing Friends’ School’s own version of “Hang Up and Hang Out.”   

As part of this community wide initiative, families received letters from their children asking them to “hang up and hang out” for the week of May 4.  Students and families committed to screen-free time throughout the week and celebrated with two engaging screen-free events.

On Wednesday May 6th, teachers and staff organized an afternoon of play including puzzles, blocks, legos, lawn games, art, maker mania, slacklining and even “running” a restaurant in the Kindergarten classroom.  Friends’ School restaurant, as it was so appropriately named, had its own chefs, hosts and servers.  

When I entered the room I was immediately drawn into the hustle and bustle of restaurant life.  I was promptly seated by a third grade hostess, served by a second grade server and saw my food
being prepared by a team of third and fourth graders.  The planning, cooperation and creativity exhibited by all students was indicative of the many benefits of play- development of creativity, abstract thinking, imagination, problem-solving, social cognition, empathy and perspective-taking.  

Out on the playground students took their cooperation one step further, trusting in each other as they made their way down the slackline.  Students could be seen deep in concentration as they were flanked by the smiling faces of their peers spotting them on the line.  

On Thursday, May 7th the Parent Council organized a similar event that included a community pot luck.  The result:  smiles, laughter, community connection, cross grade level interaction and a whole lot of fun!

According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, “Most American children spend about 3 hours a day watching TV. Added together, all types of screen time can total 5 to 7 hours a day.”  Research shows that excessive screen time can lead to difficulty sleeping, increased anxiety, depression and difficulty attending, as well as decreased interest in healthy habits in diet and exercise.  While limited exposure to carefully planned, adult supported media can be beneficial, there is no evidence that introducing screen technologies at an early age leads to advantages with these tools in later grades.

The benefits of screen free time are bountiful.  Children with limited screen time tend to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, eat better and get more exercise.  Play away from screens lends itself to creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and the development of leadership skills.  Sustained play encourages executive functioning skills such as attention regulation, focus and grit; and students talking and working with each other develop stronger communication skills, learn to resolve conflict, increase their vocabulary and grow comfortable taking risks.

At Friends’ School we believe strongly in these benefits, not only during “Hang Up and Hang Out” week, but all year long.  Through classroom activities such as maker mania, integrated art, choice time and many open-ended projects, students experience the benefits of collaboration and screen free brain development.  On the playground they engage with children of all ages, and get to know one student of another age particularly well through our buddy program.  When technology is engaged, it is under the watchful eye of our experienced teachers and staff, used to enhance the curriculum.
We hope you enjoyed your week of hanging up and found no shortage of screen free fun for you and your family.  If you find yourself looking for more ideas, check out a book such as 150+ Screen Free Activities for Kids, or call a friend and hit the trails.