Sunday, April 2, 2017

Hello Spring!

Dear Families,

April showers bring May flowers!  I love the thought of that idea as I look forward to the days when the tulips are blooming, blades of grass are greening, and the air smells fresh and clean.  Springtime means new beginnings . . . and time to be outside!

The other day, I was searching on Amazon, reading reviews of books that I’d like to get for my daughter.  I’m always on the lookout for good books that will enlighten her as a new parent.  I happened to stumble on a book called Balanced and Barefoot:  How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela Hanscom.  The book is written by a pediatric occupational therapist who believes that today’s children are pre-occupied by video games and computer screens, and they are spending less time in play that develops their sensory, motor, and executive functions.  Further, she makes a connection between this lack of play with cognitive difficulties and challenges with emotional regulation.  Sure, many children are engaged in structured activities every day, but the author presents a case for spending time outside on a regular basis in unstructured play . . . rolling down hills, swinging, playing games, and exploring nature.   As my daughter lives in the heart of New York City, I’m going to get this book for her.   

I am increasingly worried about the pressures our children have in their lives and the scarcity of free time they have to imagine, create, play . . . and even experience boredom.  It seems that if children don’t have a ‘resume’ of activities by the time they reach the prime age of four years, the alarm begins to sound for many parents.  How have we gotten to this state for our children?   I find myself questioning my own core beliefs . . . is it that I remember the ‘old days’ and am not ready to move into the 21st century of parenting, or is it that I’m truly concerned about our children’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being?  I honestly think it’s the latter.

A few weeks ago, when I was outside on recess duty with third grade, I watched our children at play.  Eight boys threw the ball and tumbled on the ground during the football game.  They didn’t care that the ground was soggy – they just wanted to score a touchdown.  Then there was the group digging in the sandbox, and the group playing on the equipment . . . I’m not exactly sure what they were doing, but it looked like fun!  It was a beautiful winter day for outdoor play.  We had to blow the whistle, though we knew they could have stayed much longer.  Today, we understand much more about the brain than ever, and we know that play enhances memory, improves language skills, promotes reasoning skills, and increases motivation. While some schools are decreasing the amount of time for recess, we remain committed to giving children this time for unrestricted play.

With nine weeks remaining in the school year, I encourage you to sit down with the Breck calendar and make note of all of the exciting things to come . . . “Moving Up” grade level parent meetings, Field Day, portfolio sharing, grade level celebrations, and Lower School Closing.  Sign-up is underway for the Breck Summer Program . . . has your child registered yet?

Enjoy the season,


Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy New Year!

Dear Parents and friends,

We’ve entered the New Year with great energy and enthusiasm!  Just this morning, several students exclaimed, “I just love school!”  Of course, that was music to my ears!  Among my many good fortunes, being around children who have an unbridled passion for learning, is one of my greatest pleasures! 

Last week, in preparation for our admissions open house, Mrs. Wright and I met with a group of ten fourth graders who are serving as Lower School tour ambassadors.  In our conversation, we learned about everything they love about Breck . . . and about their suggestions for change in our program. Leave it to students to share ideas that are so insightful!  Among their offerings were a desire to have more physical education and less recess.  They love learning new skills and having an opportunity to practice them within the context of a game or activity.  Another thoughtful idea was to have art more than once a cycle.  “We’d have more time to come back to projects, and probably be able to do more projects.”  And, since fourth graders have already been through a round of STEAM and coding . . . there was agreement all around the table for having STEAM throughout the year.  Given our students’ interests in creativity, problem-solving, and working collaboratively this came as no surprise!  We left the session fully illuminated by our fourth graders!

Our C.A.R.E. theme this month is tolerance!  Tolerance means understanding and respecting each other’s differences.  In classrooms, we are talking about how we can use our differences to build our strengths as a community.  Each of us has something valuable to contribute to a conversation or a task . . . can we find opportunities to recognize what we bring individually that adds richness to our collective work?  We’re also talking about how we respond to differences . . . do we listen and ask questions to understand, or are we quick to judge?  Given that we are days away from the Presidential inauguration, it might be an opportunity to have a conversation in your homes about citizenship and our responsibilities to one another.  One aspect of being a good citizen is to ‘seek to understand others’, and another is to ‘uphold the common good’.  Beginning with tolerance is a first step.

Coming up, we will be hosting six students from Seoul National University in Korea, who are studying to be teachers.  This is a partnership program we have with the University of Minnesota.  Our teaching guests will be in a few second, third, and fourth grades classrooms.  They will learn about the education system in the US, while also sharing their culture with our students.  We’re looking forward to their time with us. 

Gazing outside my window, the flurry of new fallen snow adds an element of wonder to a joy-filled Monday!  I hope this coming year brings you many moments of marvel and delight!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 2016


 Dear Lower School families,

We have turned our clocks back an hour which is usually a signal that reminds us of winter coming soon.  This afternoon, I found myself walking outside on a sunny 60 degree November day . . . unbelievable!  While I do love a crisp winter day with new fallen snow, I’ll have to admit that I welcome another week or two of this balmy weather.

During our professional development workshop in October, we spent two days with our math consultant.  She planned with grade level teachers, demonstrated math strategies in the classroom as we observed, and introduced parents to Singapore Math In Focus.  I hope those of you who attended math night found it to deepen your understanding of the program.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe math lessons and talk with teachers about their experiences, and the overwhelming response has been positive.  Teachers are seeing students dig deeper into understanding concepts, demonstrate their thinking using concrete and abstract examples, and express enjoyment for math.  The other day, a third grade teacher noted that her students have a stronger ‘math mindset’ than she’s seen in years past.  As I reflected on her comments, I thought I’d share my ideas about how you, as parents, might cultivate a ‘math mindset’ in your children. 

First, the messages we share with children have an impact on how they view learning and the importance of an area of study.  Remind children that math is important and all around us.  Talk about ways in which math is a communication tool . . . for example, we use numbers to order something, pay for groceries, share a recipe with a friend, and give directions.  Make a connection through metaphors - Math is like riding a bike – in order to get better at it, you have to practice and stumble along the way. 

Second, model math at home!  Use the language of math in everyday conversation . . . read the sports trivia from the paper, ask your child to help with measuring while baking, give allowance and add the money your child saves, estimate the number of steps it takes to walk across the lawn, point out the number of pages you read together, and read the time on a clock when he/she is going to bed.

Third, read math books/literature together.  If you need ideas about good children’s books that have a math theme, come to our library and talk with Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Kulick.

Fourth, play math games at home.  Fun board games that have a math theme include Mancala, Rummy, BrainQuest, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Cards, and Concentration.  Board games are super fun for family time!  Computer apps are plentiful for practicing math facts and problem-solving activities.

Fifth, support your child with his/her math homework.  Remember that your child’s homework is based on a concept or skill that he/she learned at school.  The homework is for independent practice and is used by teachers to inform their knowledge of your child as well as guide their teaching.  Show an interest in math homework, ask quetions and encourage your child to ‘think aloud’ when challenges are encountered. 

Research is teaching us about the importance of having a ‘growth mindset’ and the how critical this is to developing confidence.  Let’s work together to empower our children to develop a ‘math mindset’.

Enjoy the remainder of fall and the upcoming holiday season, 


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dear Families,

Many of you know that I recently had the thrill of my life . . . I witnessed my first grandchild being born!  There’s no way to describe what that experience is like . . . but it is like witnessing the greatest of miracles and joys!  His name is Cornelius (Neilly) John.  For my daughter, her world is now forever changed.  She has someone to love unconditionally and to teach life’s important lessons.  On his fifth day in the world, she said, “I wish I knew what he’s thinking and what he’s wondering about.”  She got me thinking about the incredible role we have as parents, and the responsibilities we have for our children.

Recently, I read an article highlighting a handful of factors that psychology research says parents of successful children have in common.  And, while there is no ‘secret sauce or special recipe’, here are nine things worth thinking about. 
1.They make their kids do chores . . . teaching responsibility.
“If kids aren't doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them,” Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult”.  “And so they're absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for the betterment of the whole," she said.  Lythcott-Haims believes kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with their coworkers, are more empathetic because they know firsthand what struggling looks like, and are able to take on tasks independently.  She bases this on the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study ever conducted.  By making them do chores — taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry — they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life,” she says. 

2. They teach their children social skills . . . enhancing competence.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University tracked more than 700 children from across the US between kindergarten and age 25 and found a significant correlation between their social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults two decades later. The 20-year study showed that socially competent children who could cooperate with their peers without prompting, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own, were far more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by age 25 than those with limited social skills.  This study shows that helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future,” said Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson foundation.
3. They have high expectations . . . instilling confidence.
Using data from a national survey of 6,600 children born in 2001, UCLA professor Neal Halfon and his colleagues discovered that the expectations parents hold for their kids have a huge effect on attainmentParents who saw college in their child's future seemed to manage their child toward that goal irrespective of their income and other assets,” he said.  The finding came out in standardized tests: 96% of the kids who did the best were expected to go to college. This falls in line with another psychological finding: the Pygmalion effect, “what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  In the case of children, they live up to their parents' expectations.

4. They teach their children math early on . . . preparing academically.
2007 meta-analysis of 35,000 preschoolers across the US, Canada, and England found that developing math skills early can turn into a huge advantage.  The paramount importance of early math skills — of beginning school with a knowledge of numbers, number order, and other rudimentary math concepts — is one of the puzzles coming out of the study,” coauthor and Northwestern University researcher Greg Duncan said.  “Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement."
5. They develop a relationship with their children . . . loving unconditionally.
2014 study of 243 people born into poverty found that children who received "sensitive caregiving" in their first three years not only did better in academic tests in childhood, but had healthier relationships and greater academic attainment in their 30s.  As reported on PsyBlog, parents who are sensitive caregivers “respond to their child's signals promptly and appropriately” and “provide a secure base” for children to explore the world.  This suggests that investments in early parent-child relationships may result in long-term returns that accumulate across individuals' lives,” coauthor and University of Minnesota psychologist Lee Raby said.

6. They're less stressed . . . contributing to emotional well-being.
According to recent research cited by Brigid Schulte at The Washington Post, the number of hours that moms spend with children between ages 3 and 11 does little to predict the child's behavior, well-being, or achievement.  What's more, the "intensive mothering" or "helicopter parenting" approach can backfire.  Emotional contagion — or the psychological phenomenon where people "catch" feelings from one another like they would a cold — helps explain why. Research shows that if your friend is happy, that brightness will infect you; if she's sad, that gloominess will transfer as well.  So if a parent is exhausted or frustrated, that emotional state could transfer to the children. 
7.  They value effort over avoiding failure . . . developing a growth mindset.
Where kids think success comes from also predicts their attainment.  Over decades, Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, has discovered that children (and adults) think about success in one of two ways. Over at the always-fantastic Brain Pickings, Maria Popova says, they go a little something like this: 
A "fixed mindset" assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens that we can't change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
A "growth mindset," on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. 
At the core is a distinction in the way you assume your will affects your ability, and it has a powerful effect on kids.  If kids are told that they aced a test because of their innate intelligence, that creates a "fixed" mindset.  If they succeeded because of effort, that teaches a "growth" mindset.

8. They teach GRIT . . . reinforcing motivation and perseverance.

In 2013, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur “genius” grant for her uncovering of a powerful, success-driving personality trait called grit.  Defined as a “tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” her research has correlated grit with educational attainment, grade point average in Ivy League undergrads, retention in West Point cadets, and rank in the US National Spelling Bee.  It's about teaching kids to imagine — and commit — to a future they want to create. 

9. They are ‘authoritative’ rather than ‘authoritarian’ or ‘permissive’.

First published in the 1960s, University of California, Berkeley developmental psychologist Diana Baumride found there are basically three kinds of parenting styles:

·       Permissive: The parent tries to be non-punitive and accepting of the child 
·       Authoritarian: The parent tries to shape and control the child based on a set standard of conduct  
·       Authoritative: The parent tries to direct the child rationally 

The ideal is the authoritative. The child grows up with a respect for authority, but doesn't feel strangled by it. 

Parenting is such an awesome responsibility!  We are grateful for all you do on behalf of your children  . . . and for trusting us to raise them with you!