We all want our children to become independent, strong, and caring adults. This, however, is no easy task; building resilience in our children takes work and should be started as early as possible.
Last Saturday, we traveled around the world for our Global Readiness Workshop! Children ages 3-8 joined us for a trip to learn about other countries’ customs and traditions on celebrating birthdays. Along with our Dearest educators, they visited China, South Africa, and Mexico for an immersive, multicultural experience!
Imagine that you are walking into a classroom. Close your eyes and visualize the kind of artwork you see. It could be hanging on the wall or in the process of being created. My guess is that your mind’s eye is seeing picturesque, ‘Pinterest-worthy’ art. Even though perfectly cut out shapes, expertly glued papers, and meticulously colored masterpieces are appealing to look at, I can bet that perfectly cut line is not the work of a 3, 4 or even 5-year old… It is the work of the teacher! There have been countless times as a teacher and as a School Director, where I have highlighted the importance of process art vs. product art. This may be the first time you’ve heard of these terms, but you will soon be an art expert!
What is Product Art?
Product art is when the main focus of your lesson is the end result. It is usually based off of a finished copy, with step-by-step instructions outlining how to complete the project. This typically results in an array of work that looks almost identical. For example, a preschool class at my school was studying fairy tales, specifically “The Three Little Pigs.” To make an art connection, the teacher wanted each of them to make a pig. She showed them her example, and then cut out enough ears, snouts, bodies, and tails for her class. This resulted in 12 perfectly plump, pink piglets. While it was adorable, I had to ask her, what did the students learn? I challenged her to dig a little deeper and answer these questions: did it enhance or improve their fine motor skills? Did it allow them to think creatively? The answer to each question was “no”. While it did show their ability to follow instructions, it is also important to see what children can do with their own creativity and ability.
What is Process Art?
Process art is focused on the journey, not the destination. Process-driven art is based upon each child’s creativity, experience, and natural interests. As a result, no two pieces of art will look alike. For example, I asked my students to make pumpkins to decorate our classroom for fall. That was the only guideline given to them, and they had free range of all supplies. When the project was over I was left with some classic-looking pumpkins; some short, some fat, some tall and skinny! I also had quite a few colorful pumpkins and even a rainbow one! Each pumpkin was unique. I can tell you which work of art belonged to which student because they reflected their individual personalities SO well!
This approach teaches students that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do art. It sets up all children for success and allows them to develop a personal connection with their work.
How do I foster the learning through Process Art at home?
Provide a variety of art materials for each project, even non-traditional art supplies.
Don’t make an example for them to copy! I know this may be hard, but children have a deep desire to please. If they see your example, they will try their best to copy it. If they fail to copy it or do it “correctly,” it may leave them feeling frustrated or not good enough. Instead, guide them through the process.
Enjoy the journey! Art isn’t a race! If they can’t finish in the time allotted it’s okay! Highlight the importance of the experience as opposed to rushing to get a finished piece on the wall.
Art aids development in so many ways. It grows their fine and gross motor skills, expands creativity, enhances problem-solving capabilities, and helps them to focus. I know it may be hard to relinquish control, but once you do, your "mini-Picasso's" will create amazing things!
Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.
That crisp feeling in the air, leaves changing color, your local supermarket carrying crayons, binders, and pencils. These are telling signs that the seasons are not only changing, but that school is in full swing! But after all the preparation for the new school year, parents are still left with a lot of questions: Are they enjoying their teacher? Are they making friends? And most importantly, are they adjusting to their new school routine? Some might have made a seamless transition, but some might be facing anxiety. If your child hasn’t fully adjusted yet, don’t worry! Here are some things that you can do!
Set Up Your Routine
If you don’t have nighttime and morning routines established, now is the time! If you had a plan that used to work but is now missing the mark, it may be time to reevaluate how you approach bedtime transition as well as morning routines. Your child is most likely exhausted from the longer school day, which is jam-packed with activity. As a result, they will need more sleep! Start by going to bed a little earlier as a family. Engage them in quiet evening activities, such as reading a special good night story, which will allow them to relax and get a full night’s rest.
It is also helpful to have them start a routine of packing their lunches, and laying out their outfits the night before. Even if they need assistance with these activities, they will feel like an integral part of their school prep. Not only does it give them some control of their situation, it also cuts down on morning chaos. In my experience, a well-rested child that has had an organized and predictable morning will have a much easier, tear-free drop off!
A lot of anxiety comes from seeing a sea of unfamiliar faces. Even if they’ve been seeing their new friends in school for weeks, they may not have established a strong connection yet, which can lead to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction. This is especially highlighted if friends and family have only watched your child or if they haven’t gone on regular play dates. This point was really driven home for me this year when a new student would come in crying each day. I reminded him that, he stays the night with his grandparents, his classmates like him etc. so school should be a breeze. He responded with, “Ya, but they love me. My teachers and school friends don’t love me yet.” It broke my heart and I realized, he was absolutely correct. If the only experience they have is with family members, I would highly recommend setting up a play date with some students from their class. When they have friendly faces to welcome them, they will begin to grow more confident, build elements of trust and community, and find that sense of belongingness in school.
Read About It
Books are a great way to help your child deal with change. It allows them to read about characters that are going through a similar life experience, and provides an element of comfort. I personally love: “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney, and “I Love You All Day Long” by Francesca Rusackas. These books deal with the feelings of leaving family, making new friends, and separation anxiety. As a teacher, I use books all the time to introduce new ideas, or to deal with feelings in my classroom!
Home Sweet Home
The last bit of advice I have is a tried-and-true method, pack them something familiar. Bringing a little piece of home to school will provide a tremendous amount of comfort. It can be a piece of their baby blanket, a snuggly toy, a favorite book, or even a picture of your family. When they are feeling homesick they will be able to take it out and remember that home isn’t that far away!
If your little one is still clinging to you and cries, “Mommy don’t go! ” just remember this is a temporary challenge that will get better with each drop off. In a few short weeks, they will be begging you to stay in school longer!
Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.
Dearest educators came together at Columbia Startup Lab for a Back-to-School Breakfast event to get to know one another, share activities, and brainstorm on the upcoming Dearest curriculum.
We began with introductions and an ice breaker led by Eiko, our founder. Our community has been growing and it was definitely exciting for our Dearest educators to meet some of the newest members!
A highlight of the event was a "show-and-tell” of Fall-themed activities. As seasons are changing, we think it’s a great opportunity to teach students about the concept of autumn and the science behind it. We handed out a booklet full of interactive fall activities for future sessions. It includes creating a tree paper craft to fine tune motor skills and a tree number matching activity that promotes mathematical learning. Our Dearest educators also shared many great ideas, such as a fall scavenger hunt with riddles for cognitive development and a fun game of “giants, wizards, and trolls” that offers a twist on the classic “rock, paper, scissors.”
Eiko then offered a sneak peek of the Dearest educational care curriculum, which is being developed as a way to accumulate early childhood development expertise, knowledge, and feedback in one place. The curriculum is aimed at providing our educators the right resources for them to prepare fun and educational activities that meet the stages of individual student.
Our educators play a huge role in helping us improve the quality of learning for the students. They may come from different backgrounds and specialize in different fields, but they all have one thing in common - their passion for teaching. They provided a lot of useful insights during the brainstorming session and we are already working on them to give families an even better experience with Dearest.
We closed the event by sharing some quotes we received from the parents, about our Dearest educators. As we continue to grow quickly, the quotes are an important reminder that we should always focus on the quality of the child's learning experience.
Many thanks to our Dearest educators for an active participation in the event!!
Individualized instruction is a hot topic in the education world today. Not long ago, this term was only associated with children who require special assistance, or students placed on Individualized Education Plans (IEP), such as those impacted by autism or ADHD. However, parents and educators have come to realize that there’s a flaw in this way of thinking. If you ask a parent if their child has the same interests and strengths as his/her peers, you will get a load of information that highlights the child’s individual strengths, weaknesses, interests, and eccentricities. We see each child as an individual, gifted with a unique set of talents and skills.
As a teacher, I have always felt that schools, both private and public, needed to arrive at the same conclusion that parents have always known: children also need to be educated on an individual basis. Luckily, the educational tides are shifting, and educators are finding the worth in modifying instruction to meet the developmental needs of all children. As the saying goes, “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole!”
So how can we practice this child-centered teaching with our little ones?
- Get to Know Your Students
Whether you’re a parent or an educator it is important to know what makes each child tick. What do they enjoy or value? What are they capable of doing? What motivates them? All of these questions can be answered by way of a simple assessment, ‘getting-to-know-you’ activity, or my favorite way, sit down and have a conversation with each child. Adults who take the time to interact one-on-one with the child will gain a greater understanding of his/her abilities, learning style, and interests.
- Create Opportunities for Learning
A successful educator will build on a child’s interests to create a love for learning regardless of ability. I really want to stress finding out what interests and motivates them, because that is the key to success. If they love dragons, but dislike reading, introduce books that have dragon characters or themes! It may seem like such a simple idea, but it will create a stronger relationship with the student. Having someone acknowledge their unique interests means the world to them!
- Monitor Children’s Progress
Taking note of their individual progress not only provides a basis to celebrate success, but it also informs your teacher’s instructional approach. It is important to create a way to assess their progress. I find that a non-formal assessment, such as observation, works the best in identifying their growth. Not every student is a good test taker, so formal assessments do not work for every child. Working one-on-one or in small groups will give you a window into their thought process, what areas they have mastered, or areas that still need to be developed. An effective educator will then use this information to modify their instructional approach, which will then help them decide when to introduce new content, or increase support for a difficult skill. Ultimately, it will allow you to meet the varying needs of ALL children.
- Celebrate Every Success
This is the most important thing! At the end of the day as parents and educators, we are preparing these little people to do big things! It is important to keep in mind that success varies among children and comes in different forms. Whether it's tying their shoes, reading a sight word, or writing their name, it truly is unique for every child. Celebrating every success, no matter how trivial, encourages them to persevere through difficulties and creates a positive and uplifting learning environment.
My biggest successes as an educator came when I relaxed, saw each child for who they were, and threw away any preconceived notion of how school should “look.” I instead focused my energy on creating a diverse learning environment that was tailor made for each student. As a result, we are in a much more joyous and productive place. I encourage everyone to slow down, get on their level, and have a conversation. The results will astound you!
Experienced School Manager and education professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.
For this week’s “Dearest After-School Series,” we are featuring Manhattan Country School’s after-school program. Ms. Chawon Williams, the director of the after-school program, gave us an in-depth look at how their program impacts the social and emotional development of students.
Manhattan Country School (MCS) is a co-educational, independent day school that follows a curriculum that is deliberately progressive and incorporates a ‘country’ perspective on issues, particularly regarding sustainability and interdependence. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideals, the school envisions its students to gain academic excellence, intellectual freedom, social awareness, self-confidence and first-hand knowledge of the natural world. At MCS, thoughts on how to create change through their commitment to social justice and diversity remain a constant goal.
With that in mind, the MCS after-school program was designed to focus on social and emotional development, while fostering a hands-on learning environment for its students. It is an opportunity for different grades to interact, learn from each other and form friendships. We reached out to the director of the said after-school program, Ms. Chawon Williams, to get more information about what happens after the bell rings at MCS.
The after-school program is based upon a ‘whole child approach,’ wherein students are encouraged to learn beyond the four corners of their classrooms to prepare them for long-term development. Different age groups are mixed together to encourage cross collaboration and for older students to practice leadership. With a total population of 268 students, there are around 60-65 students who participate in the after-school program each day. The students in the program are mostly from the lower school, with 30-50% being kindergarteners.
Starting at 3:00 pm, from Mondays through Thursdays, students begin the program with snacks and supervised free play followed by a 2-hour enrichment class. There are 4 to 5 different classes offered each day and students can partake in the class of their choosing. These cover the staples such as African drumming, theater, and chess, but also include more diverse offerings such as robotics, ‘advanced magic’, and Mandarin. They can also participate in sports such as tennis, or fitness classes like yoga and dance. One of the more popular offerings is a fashion design class that incorporates math into art. Aimed to develop confidence and encourage self-expression, the culminating activity is a fashion show for the students to showcase their own designs. Another new addition this fall is a ‘playgroup' class called, Kids Club, that serves as an educational filler for kids who want a more relaxed setting to play and socialize after a long day in school. While they promote mixed age grouping, certain classes such as animation and coding are offered for the upper school kids only, as it requires more advanced skills. The rates for after-school classes are kept reasonable to allow families to take advantage of their enrichment classes. The full program costs around $1700 per semester.
MCS believes in establishing long-lasting relationships with the students, parents, and teachers. A lot of thought is put into determining the mix of classes to be offered every year. According to Ms. Williams, they study the student population and their interests, while considering the skills and knowledge of the MCS teachers. Their teachers are also given the opportunity to create classes, and even MCS alumni come back to teach at the after-school program. Third-party providers are only hired for classes that need a specialization or technique to learn, like coding.
One of the main goals is to provide support for the families which became the driving force in starting this after-school program. MCS is actually one of the few schools that does not charge parents for late pick-ups, instead believing that the program works best with a culture of mutual respect and cooperation between parents and faculty. They also offer an emergency childcare service to accommodate last-minute changes in parents’ and caregivers’ schedules.
There are many schools that offer after-school programs, but what makes them unique, Ms. William says, is the vibrant community they’ve built together. She believes the success of the program is attributed to the inclusiveness and support of the parents and teachers for the students. MCS might be one of the smaller schools in Manhattan, but it focuses on building the right environment for building individual's social and emotional skills. Every person is engaged, and even after 10 years of working with MCS, Ms. Williams has always believed that the number one priority should be the children - for them to learn and have fun while doing so.
Dearest After-School Series delivers an insider’s scoop on after-school programs at top schools in Manhattan. We are exploring these programs in detail to provide you with the information you need to know to make the best decision for your child. This week, we are putting the spotlight on Speyer Legacy School for intellectually accelerated students. Recently, we talked to Ms. Lemor Balter, the interim assistant head of the lower school, about all things “BLUE” (the after-school program for Grades K-4), including a new program launching this fall.
Speyer Legacy School is a private school that caters to advanced learners in grades K-8. They follow a student-faculty led approach to inspire and encourage a passion for learning and questioning within each of its students.
With that in mind, they have designed an after-school program for Grades K-4 called BLUE, which stands for Build-Learn-Understand-Explore. Students are given the opportunity to pursue their passions while trying new things. To get a closer look at this program, we had a chance to speak with Ms. Lemor Balter, the interim assistant head of the lower school, about what goes on beyond the regular hours at Speyer.
Each 75-minute class in the BLUE program aims to serve as an “exploratory time” for your child after school. At the beginning of the semester, students can choose from a variety of classes that include athletics, performing arts, visual arts, chess, reading, writing, building and innovation, and self-expression. They have the opportunity to switch classes during the first week if they feel like it's not the right fit (and if it isn't already full). Although some are restricted to certain grades, such as basketball (for 2nd to 4th graders), the school strives to create a balance between the variety of classes built for different grades.
According to Ms. Balter, the most popular choices for the lower school are soccer, chess, musical theater, fencing, and math, some of which have waitlists. Depending on the interests of the children, classes such as magic, creative drama, and painting extravaganza, are also offered. One of the new offerings is a recycling art class that combines the concepts of art and science. It develops their creativity and resourcefulness through making masterpieces out of recycled materials.
A highlight of the program is the "Makers’ Lab," which promotes innovation. The younger learners start with simple design challenges and use the materials made available to them. When students reach 3rd grade, they get to work on more complex projects involving robotics and coding.
A child enrolled in the program begins class at 3:30 pm from Monday to Thursday. There is a total of 14 to 17 sessions per semester depending on the school calendar, costing $40-$50 per session. As Speyer maintains a 6:1, student to teacher ratio, the slots are limited -on a first-come-first-serve basis. Speyer parents can register their child(ren) online before each semester.
Behind the BLUE program’s success is their community of educators, who willingly share their time and talent with students. Teaching these classes provides an avenue for them to pursue passions outside of a formal class setting. The school only looks into third party companies if a subject requires a certain level of specialization, such as fencing.
Speyer also values the interdependent relationships they build with the parents. The goal is to support them in any way they can, even in terms of childcare. That led to the creation of an extended hours after-school program called EA Jumpstart, piloting this school year. It runs from 4:45-5:45 Mondays through Thursdays and from 3:30-5:45 on Fridays. The cost (including snacks) ranges from $25 per day for the Monday-Thursday sessions to $55 for Friday sessions. A teacher from the faculty supervises and fosters a ‘study hall’ environment for the students to work independently.
After years of working with the school, Ms. Balter believes that overseeing the lower school program, together with the after-school program, works to her advantage as she gets to know the students on a more personal level. With accelerated students, it’s important to help them reach beyond their intellectual potential while supporting their learning in an environment that is collaborative, exciting, and fun.
Starting preschool is a big (and exciting!) step for your little one. Whether or not it's your child’s first time away from home, as parents, we play an essential role in preparing them for this next phase. Here are a few tips on how to ease the transition for you and your child:
Organize play dates:
Your little one will soon be spending time with many other children and playdates is a great way to mimic a preschool environment. It will teach him to share attention, be a sport, and wait for his turn. Ask the teacher for a list of students who will be in the same class as your little one so you can arrange playdates with them or, find a local play group! Dearest works with the families in Manhattan, so contact us for introductions to like-minded families near you.
Introduce routines and schedules:
Schedules and routines show consistency to help them adjust to the structure of a school setting. According to Rebecca Palacios, Ph.D., a Senior Curriculum Advisor for Age of Learning, Inc., "children learn best when routines and daily schedules are established. Routines provide opportunities to learn about order, sequencing, and concepts of time. Established routines make for smoother transitions and help children to prepare mentally for the day ahead while providing frameworks in which creative learning can occur.” Morning and night routines, that can include singing a song, reading a book, or "tucking in,” will also give them a sense of belongingness and reassurance.
Assign simple chores:
Whether it’s clearing their plates from the table, picking up toys, or dressing up, these simple tasks give them a chance to act responsibly. You will be surprised how much independence your child develops once he/she starts preschool. Aside from developing self-help skills, chores can help tune motor skills. Additionally, you can do arts and crafts activities such as, modeling clay, coloring, or cutting with scissors, for dexterity and improving hand strength. It will provide practice for proper hand placement and future handwriting demands.
Practice language skills:
Take every opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary and practice communicating what he/she would need or like to do. Ask questions and encourage them to do the same to reinforce an inquisitive nature. The better they get at self-expression, the more confidence they build to interact with others. Reading every day with your child is another great way to strengthen language skills. It even opens them up to imaginative experiences which are vital in promoting innovation and creativity.
visit THE SCHOOL WITH YOUR CHILD:
If you haven't visited the school with your child already, ask when you can visit the school with your child or, find out if they have a visiting day or orientation. It gives you a chance to talk with teachers and have your questions answered. It will also be beneficial for your child to meet them, so he sees a friendly face on the first day. Tour the school, show his/her classroom, and maybe even play on the school playground. Experiencing the preschool with you present and gaining familiarity with a new setting can help increase your child’s comfort with this big adjustment.
As much as we want to make this transition as easy as 1-2-3, there’s no need to over prepare. If you make it seem like it’s such a big deal, your child may end up being more worried than excited. Preschool is a time for growth. It’s about exploring things, meeting new friends, and making this whole experience as fun as possible for your little one!