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!


Monday, September 5, 2016

WELCOME TO 2016-2017!

Dear Lower School Families:

WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL!  It's been so fun to see so many of you in the early morning walking your children into school and waving as you drive up in the car line.  Similarly, the energy is high as students exit their buses and enter Door K.  What a thrill it is for us to be into a new school year!

Last week, we had our first Community Meeting where we welcomed 65 new students and 5 new faculty members to Lower School.  More than 40 parents joined us for this meeting . . . the theatre was rockin' as we sang our community song!  Our first C.A.R.E. theme for the year is CITIZENSHIP.  We will use this theme throughout the year as a foundation to six pillars of citizenship.  Our student council and fourth grade leaders will help us learn more about being citizens of our community.

Three primary goals are our focus for the 16-17 school year:

  • Singapore Math In Focus will be implemented in kindergarten-grade four.  After more than a year of research, we selected the math program based on coherance (the program focused on fewer topics to greater depth), focus (students learn to 'think' about their learning), and rigor (it teaches to mastery so students can transfer their understanding and skills to new situations).  Math In Focus pays attention to fact recall, problem-solving, and builds algebraic thinking.  Students use manipulatives to build a solid understanding of concepts before moving to the abstract.  Bar modeling is an important component of the program.  Embedded in Math In Focus is appropriate support and enrichment for students.  Join us for a Math Parent Night on Tuesday, October 18 at 6:30pm to learn more about Singapore Math.
  • STEAM (Science, Engineering, Technology, Arts, Mathematics) will give all Lower School students an opportunity to engage in design and problem-solving.  Each grade level will participate in project-based activities facilitated by Emily Jones, Dave Kust, and Kris Simonson.  In January, students will learn how to code in the classroom.  We're excited to see this initiative unfold 'organically'.  Any parents who have expertise in this area are welcome to share their knowledge in the classroom.
  • Healthy Eating Initiative:  What are 'nibblers'?  What are sources of protein?  Why is it important to "eat what you take"?  We are paying attention to making choices at lunch that will fuel our brains and bodies for learning!  Small changes will initially be seen in preschool-kindergarten lunch, including nibblers (ie-carrot sticks/hummus) on tables and a small-sized salad bar beginning in October.  New signage will call attention to 'special' salad bar items, teachers are spending time in the classroom talking about nutrition, and all of us are reducing waste by taking a portion size that we can eat.  We've also asked our parent ambassadors to think about healthy alternatives as classroom holiday parties are planned.

As part of our ongoing professional development at Breck, teachers are engaged in learning groups throughout the year.  Topics of exploration include:  growth/fixed mindsets, visible thinking, mindfulness, inquiry-based learning, motivation, resilience/grit, project-based learning, and understanding "quiet" introverts.  Teachers/administrators will collaborate on self-identified SMART goals in these topics during the year.  Shared reading, online learning, school networking, and professional dialogue are some of the ways we'll learn this year.  This effort is part of the work of the Peter Clark Center for Teaching and Learning.

So . . . the year is underway!  Right around the corner are four important dates:
Thursday, September 8  (6:30pm):   Back-to-School Night
Saturday, September 17:  (11:00am):   Blessing of the Animals and Homecoming 2016
Monday and Tuesday, September 19 and 20:   Picture Days  (2/3/4) and (P/K/1)
Thursday and Friday, October 6 and 7:   Parent-Teacher Conferences

I hope your child's first weeks of school have been exhilarating . . . new teachers, new friends, new experiences!  Thank you for sharing in the work we do - we are grateful for your partnership!  Please find ways to get involved and share your child's school journey!

Peg Bailey 

Ruby enjoys her first day of kindergarten
                 Sam says, "I'm finally here!"


Monday, January 11, 2016

It's the Start of a New Year!

January 2016

Dear Lower School families:

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here we are at the start of the second semester . . . a time of both reflection and looking forward.  As we ‘take stock’ on what we’ve accomplished to this point, we look for evidence of student growth.  As learners, our students’ writing reveals their ability to record their thoughts, write with a beginning/middle/end, paraphrase information gathered from non-fiction texts, and create narrative writing pieces.  Similarly, their knowledge of place value, fluency with basic fact operations, and ability to solve more complex math problems demonstrates their increasing skills.  Social competence is another important aspect of school and “listening in” on conversations at lunch, along with helping students resolve conflicts gives me confidence in the way our students are demonstrating their ability to engage in respectful conversation, share good humor with friends, and show empathy for their peers.  I feel good about the progress I’ve seen our students make, both academically and socially.   Looking ahead, the months of January and February are always a time for “focusing in on academic learning” in the classroom.  Students are ready for greater challenges as teachers dive into the content of the curriculum.  Literacy skills will expand with our youngest children putting sounds together to make words, and engaging in reading with more velocity.  Writers will engage in crafting opinion pieces, persuasive letters, and research.  Field trips to the MN History Center, travel down the Mississippi River, and investigations at nearby nature centers are coming up soon.  Mustang Club will offer students opportunities in coding, scrapbooking, STEM-ventures, and of course, chess. 

As many of you know, our fourth graders have been learning more about leadership this year.  Who is a leader?  What characteristics do leaders possess?  How do ‘everyday people’ demonstrate leadership?  Every day, I see more examples of student leadership in our community.  This semester, third graders are learning how to ‘biddy’ during preschool/kindergarten lunch and Eloise took charge of our table as she managed her responsibilities with ease.  Niya introduced her fundraiser to raise $166 for the Animal Humane Society and I learned that Cori is a grant recipient for her interest in helping Agape/Oasis Child Development Center.   Our Student Council and Sustainability Committees shared important messages about “respect” and “reducing our trash” at Community Meeting earlier this month.  Max, Katie, Cooper, Piper, Ophelia, Henry, Catherine, Noah, Emerson, and Cori served as tour ambassadors at our winter admissions open house.  It’s really humbling to see how eager our students are to develop as leaders in the community.

Last week, I spent time with our teaching assistants exploring the topic of motivation and engagement.  Using research from child development expert, Wendy Ostroff, we looked at what she identifies as the “propellers of motivation” in young children.  According to Ostroff, play and community joining are the cornerstones of motivation.  I certainly saw evidence of this when I was called over by four boys in Mrs. Wegner’s classroom to see the city and castle they’d constructed.  While they likely didn’t realize the skills that were being developed as they engaged in their play, their project required them to collaborate and plan, communicate with each other, negotiate the placement of blocks, measure and problem-solve, and work cooperatively.  They were so pleased with their accomplishment, and proudly posed for a picture with their “masterpiece”.  Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.”  What is meant by “community joining”?   The other day, I passed by several groups of students working in the 3/4 Commons and it occurred to me that students of all ages are attracted to what their friends are doing.  They yearn to be “in community” with their peers.  Some of them were working on a project together, while others were working on individual work, but doing so in the company of each other.  As I thought about what I’ve observed, it reminded me of what Ostroff refers to as the ‘propellers of motivation’.  In our session, we also viewed a video about teaching strategies that enhance engagement in the classroom.  As I watched, I couldn’t help but reflect on what’s in place in our classrooms . . . close teacher-student relationships, safe learning environment for risk-taking, high expectations, active learning tasks, feedback via conferring and blog comments, questioning as a form of instruction, project-oriented work, and the presence of student voices in classrooms.  All of these are strategies our teachers employ in such a natural way, and propel high levels of engagement in our students.  How lucky are our children!

Looking ahead, opportunities for parents are in abundance in the next couple of months, including:
* The LS Parents’ Association meeting on February 3, where Carol Grams, Lisa Hunninghake, and Barbara Jacobs-Smith will share highlights of the incredible learning opportunities they’ve had via the self-reflective study, summer grants, and sabbatical programs.
* Parent meetings to learn more about  “Mindfulness” with our counselor, Lisa Heurung . . . January 21 and February 18.
* Celebration of the Chinese New Year (the Year of the Monkey) with dinner and a special performance on February 8.
* The “Breck Blue & Gold Bash” (aka Applause) set for Friday evening, February 19.
* Conferences . . . mark your calendars for March 3-4.

Lots of work . . . and play . . . and community building for us all!   Life is good!

Peg Bailey