How To Talk With Your Child About The Election – The importance of Voice and Choice

On November 3, 2020, election results could shape the future of Boulder Country Day School.

The tension is palpable… Yard signs are posted. T-shirts are actively displayed. Dialogue among the students, employees, and parents can be heard in almost every corner of the school, and rightly so – as this may be the most important election of our time.

Both candidates are cute and furry. One candidate really likes berries, and the other candidate really likes beets. Who will win the election? Sherman or Humphrey?

At times, the candidate debates bordered on contentious, yet both Sherman and Humphrey remained committed to civil discourse and stuck to pressing issues: healthcare, fracking, beets, berries. A mute button was not needed.

Election procedures were explained and thoughtfully undertaken in every grade. “Carefully fill in only ONE oval.”

Ballot boxes were sealed to safeguard against voter fraud, and “I Voted!” stickers were provided as proof of completion.

Every four years, BCD’s Guinea Pig election (run by our 3rd grade students) provides us with an opportunity to talk with our children about how elections work and WHY they are important. I’m sure that there were many factors that contributed to the children’s voting decisions. Who is cuter? Whose fur is softer? Who really hates beets or who really likes berries?

The point is, children were encouraged to make their own choice – based on whatever happened to have spoken to them personally. 

Sherman and Humphrey serve as a welcome distraction from partisan politics and headline stories. They also provide us with an opportunity to talk with our children about the importance of living in a democratic society where we have the privilege to vote. Sherman and Humphrey gently open the door to talking about WHY election processes are important and how elections give ordinary people a powerful voice and choice.

According to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting, involving kids in voting teaches them a real-life lesson in democracy and governance — including the challenges and the parts that still need to be improved. It also provides opportunities to discuss your voting choices and values.

It goes without saying… Preschool-age children should not be exposed to CNN or FOX News headlines. However, we can use political issues to talk about things they can relate to – such as fairness. When talking with your preschooler, Dr. Laura recommends using the following language:

  • “Voting is one way that people make decisions about how we will live and work together. For instance, let’s vote on whether to have pizza or pasta tonight.”
  • “The President is the most powerful leader in the government. We all vote so that everyone gets to say who they think should serve as President. If only certain people got to decide, that wouldn’t be fair, would it?”
  • “All those signs in front of people’s houses are showing who they plan to vote for. They’re hoping that their sign will make you want to vote for the person they like. What do you think about that?”

In her article, Dr. Laura also includes language that parents can use when talking with their elementary or middle school age students. To read her full article focusing on tips for talking with your child about the election, click here.

As parents, we need to remember that helping children learn to talk about political differences of opinion is important. It helps model for them how people can disagree about what is best for our country, and still be civil – even friendly – with each other regardless of whether they prefer berries or beets. Children are the creators of, and contributors to, the world and the culture in which we live. They are our future – people who will think, create, and write policies rooted in acceptance, understanding, tolerance, and peaceful interactions. We need to intentionally teach and model for them how they can lead the way to tomorrow.

And, when I think about our Bulldogs, I cannot help but think that the future really will be a lovely place.

With appreciation and gratitude,

Kath Courter, Head of Preschool

COVID is Spooky – Halloween doesn’t need to be.

The first time my son, Gus, was old enough to “get” the concept of trick-or-treating was memorable. He donned his firefighting costume, strapped on his oxygen tank, fastened his helmet, and headed out with two very eager parents. What we failed to notice was that before we left the house, Gus had filled his trick-or-treating basket with candy …from our house.

The unveiling of his understanding happened at the first door. Gus rang the bell, said “trick-or-treat,” reached into his basket, and handed the neighbor a piece of candy. It was such a sweet gesture and no matter how many ways we tried to explain, (“Gus, that’s not now it works.”) he kept it up. House to house he went, passing out candy along the way. The evening ended up being **hands down** my favorite Halloween – ever!

Halloween, for many parents, is beloved. It opens the door to creating traditions, making memories, and allowing children the freedom to “try on” other identities. For children, the lead up to October 31st is a BIG part of the fun. For approximately 350+ days, Boulder Country Day School teachers have listened to the children chatter about who/what they are going to “BE.” Spider Man, unicorns, ninjas, Elsa, witches, tigers… And, yet with fewer than 10 days to go, many of us fear that COVID may kibosh the children’s planning and scare the fun right out of treasured holiday traditions.

Below are some tips and tricks to help ensure that your family does not say BOO! to celebrating Halloween:

Don’t Skip… Flip (Traditional Trick or Treating)!

•            Consider rethinking the model. Before heading out with your children, fill up a basket of candy to carry with you. As you walk through your neighborhood, decide what you and your child will look for and put a piece of candy in your child’s basket each time you see a decorated house, a witch, skeletons, a front yard cemetery… Approach the idea with a scavenger hunt mindset. Get creative!

•            If you feel that you cannot skip traditional trick-or-treating, look for houses that have candy spread out “grab-and-go” style so that children can take a piece as they pass. Avoid spaces that look crowded or where people are not wearing masks and be sure to sanitize hands often.

•            If you decide to forgo trick-or-treating altogether, consider hiding individually wrapped candy throughout your house or yard, and let the kids go find it. For older kids, make it a challenge! Write clues that lead them from one spot to another – with the end game being a basket full of Halloween candy.

Mask Up!

•            Darth Vader’s helmet is strong, but it won’t stop the force of COVID. Build your child’s costume around a cloth mask. Follow Colorado’s Department of Public Health tips and tricks guidelines for Halloween and remember that a costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.

•            Be sure to test the mask first to ensure that it does not make it difficult for your child to breathe. A costume mask over top of a protective cloth mask can be dangerous.

Stay Close to Home, and Far From Others!

•            If you go out, stay in your neighborhood and avoid large groups. Stay with your household members and avoid mingling with people from other households. If you find yourself with people that are not from your immediate household, practice social distancing.

•            If you really want/need to be with others, try to stick with people who are already part of your family’s quaranTEAM.

Find a Silver Lining!

COVID is spooky, but it does not need to scare away Halloween traditions. Use it as a catalyst for starting a new tradition. Now that Gus is older, I have to say that about two days after Halloween, I am HATING all that candy. Why not use COVID as an opportunity to say bye-bye to sugar-overload? Family pumpkin carving contest? Porch decorating? Spooky movie night? Candlelight ghost stories? Halloween baking/cookie decorating? Homemade glow in the dark slime? Virtual costume contest (that can, in the future shift to in-person)? Mailing candy to our military troops? 

COVID has certainly changed the way we do almost everything in our lives, but not all of it has been negative. Many of the lifestyle changes we’ve adopted this year may end of becoming permanent changes even after the pandemic has ended because we’ve realized what is truly important and valuable in our lives. This Halloween will look different, but that does not mean worse. Be together, create memories, and be safe.

Happy Halloween!

Listen to Me!

Over the last week, I spent some time thinking about the skill of listening and revisiting Mary Renck Jalongo’s book, Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn. In her book, Jalongo poignantly describes how listening is a skill that is commonly misunderstood and hard to define because it often has different meanings to different people. To emphasize this point, Jalongo shares the following examples: If a teacher says to a child, “You’re not listening,” it often means, “You’re not thinking along with me.” If a parent says the same thing to a child, it usually means, “You’re not doing as I say.”

Learning to listen may seem pretty simple, but actually, it’s not. Consider this… When learning to listen and the skill of listening to learn, children must practice effective listening – meaning they must be able to:

  • Take in both verbal and non-verbal messages,
  • Attend and keep our attention focused completely on the message, and
  • Interpret or understand the message.

In addition, they must also be able to filter out distractions, process information, ask relevant questions, and formulate connections. Yowzah!

Now, consider this paradox… Listening is the skill most often used – but least often taught. With this in mind, we believe that learning to use effective listening must be intentionally taught.

In preschool, we teach effective listening skills by practicing “Whole Body Listening” using the descriptive language listed below:

Eyes = look at the person talking to you

Ears = both ears ready to hear

Mouth = quiet – not talking, humming, or making sounds

Hands = quiet in laps, pockets, or by your sides

Feet = quiet on the floor

Body = faces the speaker

Brain = thinking about what is being said

Heart = caring about what the other person is saying

Right about now, some of you are probably wondering – Okay, that’s great. But really…

How do we teach effective listening skills and what can I do at home? Below are some tips and strategies that we recommend:

  • Encourage listening by varying the volume of your voice. Sometimes, children listen best when we whisper.
  • When reading aloud, pause at strategic times to check for understanding by asking who, what, where, or why questions.
  • Be aware of background noise and interruptions.
  • Don’t start talking until your child is showing you “Whole Body Listening.”
  • Keep directions short and use simple, sequential steps.
  • Talk slowly enough to give children time to process information.
  • Ensure children know WHY what you are telling them is important (keep it short).
  • Balance questions that have one right answer with open ended questions that can be answered in a variety of ways.
  • Provide fun opportunities to practice listening. Talk on the phone, listen to children’s podcast, play an audio book.
  • Practice giving your child times of undivided attention. Turn the TV and/or your phone ringer off.
  • Model active listening yourself and characteristics of “Whole Body Listening.”

What To Do When The “Force” is NOT With You – Intentional Teaching and Understanding Children’s Play

How The Batman Brigade Changed My Understanding of Play

Let me set the scene… Three preschool age children are tearing around the room using quick zig-zag motions – climbing on tables, jumping off chairs, darting out of sight. They’re wearing capes that they fashioned for themselves by ripping open pink skirts commandeered from a box of dress-up clothes. Locked and loaded with Lego guns, they’re on a relentless hunt for bad guys. In their minds, they are saving the world. In reality, they’re terrorizing my classroom and destroying my confidence as a teacher.

This was a “Calgon, take me away!” moment… And, the children had me questioning if I was cut out to be a teacher. They pushed me to the edge and I almost threw in the towel – until I decided to join their forces. I needed to better understand what was driving their need for this type of play. Why was it so attractive?

Let’s dig into that scene a bit more… It’s 1995. We’re in a US Department of Defense school in a small town in southern Germany. The children in my class have parents who are either members of the US Armed forces or diplomats from former Eastern-Block countries. Together, the class speaks 13 different languages. And, just a few hundred kilometers away, the Bosnian War is going strong. The children are communicating with each other through play to process their emotions, try on different roles and grasp a better understanding of what is going on in the world around them.

Once I better understood their need, the WHY that was controlling their inner Batman, I was able to support their need for exploring war play.

War play, perhaps more than another other type of activity, is super attractive to children. It helps them to feel strong and in control – “masters of their own universe” – as they plan for and carry out attacks. According to Nancy Carlsson and Diane Levin in their book, Who’s Calling the Shots, war play fits nicely into how children think. They typically group things into simple one-dimensional categories such as good vs. bad or sick vs. healthy. You can be one or the other – but not both. War play provides children with opportunities to feel a sense of power as they experiment with their thoughts and feelings within these categories. We typically see an uptick in this type of play when children are experiencing a difficult event, such as divorce, a sick parent, or in the case of 1995, a nearby conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic now joins the list of catalysts.

The Atlantic recently published an article about how the coronavirus is influencing children’s play. In the article, Kate Cray writes that “Play is children’s language. They act out pretend scenarios to express concerns, ask questions, and, crucially, reshape a narrative. During pretend play, children are driving the plot and can change the outcome of a scary situation or try out different solutions to a problem.” With these needs in mind, Cray goes on to reassure parents that they should not discourage this type of play. Children need outlets for processing emotions, coping with worries and fears and practicing creative problem-solving skills. While many parents would agree that this is all well and good, many of you wonder – what you can do to support your child’s play as they process emotions?

Below are some strategies suggested by Carlsson and Levin:

  • Get to know the scene. What are the themes or storylines in your child’s play (good vs. bad, sickness, family dynamics)? Who are the main characters? What are they talking about? What are the problems that they are solving? What strategies are being used to solve problems? How much time is devoted to the various themes? Is your child inventing scenarios or situations or are they imitating something they experienced personally or saw on television? When observing the scene, think about strategies you might use when joining a conversation cluster at a cocktail party… Most of us will listen in for a while to determine what people are talking about before contributing to the conversation so that we don’t take it over. Follow this same etiquette with your child.
  • Once you understand what’s happening in your child’s play, try to participate without taking over. The power in pretend play is the feeling of control and adults need to make sure that we don’t interfere. One way to ensure that you don’t take over is to limit your language to making comments that describe what is happening such as, “I see that your dog is sick and that you’re rushing him to the emergency room.” Or, “I hear you talking about using your superpowers to kill the bad guys.” Another strategy is to use open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with yes/no or a response that is right or wrong). For example, “What do you think you can do to help your dog feel better?” Or, “How do your superpowers help you to fight the bad guys?”
  • Try to learn about the needs being worked on in play. Does your child’s play focus on being powerful and strong? Are fears or insecurities such as getting lost, dying, or monsters surfacing? If so, try to find a quiet moment to talk with your child. Reassure your child without belittling their feelings or making promises that everything will be okay. You can also read books aloud to your child that cover similar topics. I really like the book, Kate’s Giants. The message in this story is, “If you can think it in, then you can think it out. Just take a deep breath before you think.” Honestly, we could all benefit that advice right now…
  • During times when the world is unsettled, look for simple ways to help your child feel a sense of empowerment and control. Provide opportunities for your child to make limited choices within a non-negotiable decision that is already made. For example, you can say, “It’s time for lunch. (non-negotiable) Would you like to have peanut butter and jelly or egg salad?” (choice point) Or, “It’s time to get dressed. (non-negotiable) Would you like your red shirt or your green shirt? (choice point) Experiencing an ability to make meaningful choices will help your child feel in control of their world.

Some of you may be thinking “you know, I think my kids are battling each other with those makeshift swords simply because it’s fun” and in many ways that could be very true. Its fast pace, level of activity and accompanying sound-effects (Ka-POW!) are appealing. But there are often subtle (or not so subtle) feelings behind the play themes your children choose. Be observant, show interest and look or any patterns that may indicate that you child could use a bit of extra emotional support.

If you are noticing changes in your child’s play and would like to connect, please feel free to reach out to me. In addition, if you sense that your child is struggling or acting out, you are always welcome to contact Sterling Kranjcec, BCD’s school counselor at skranjcec@bouldercountryday.org.

We’re here for you!

Parents need to know that distance learning does not define their worth as a parent.

Take heart…and then take these few simple actions that can smooth the journey.

Distance learning programs designed to bring school curriculums online and into households have been launched by schools all over the globe these past few weeks. For some parents, this may be exciting – a dream come true! For others, it might feel like a challenge from an episode of Fear Factor, or perhaps as though you are being forced to take the stage in a performance for which you did not audition. Gulp!

But, here’s what I want to say to parents – take a deep breath and know that nobody is going to judge you by how well you do – or don’t do – distance learning.

This past weekend I read an article by Dr. Laura Markham, on her website Aha! Parenting.com, about the uncomfortable feeling that some parents may have as they prepare to support their child’s education from home. Several key ideas in her blog resonated with me. However, one point really stood out to me: The situation we are in right now is NOT homeschooling…

Homeschooling is something parents intentionally choose to do. Rather, this is taking on schoolwork in our homes because of mandated shelter-in-place orders and parents should know – they are not in this alone – we are all in this together. As parents and teachers, we are going to find ourselves partnering in new and innovative ways as we transition our teaching and student learning into your home environments – hopefully as seamlessly as possible. At BCD, we believe that the experience of preschool is a valuable tool in the development of children and as such schools should be committed to providing this crucial component of learning and socialization during these tough times to the best of their abilities.

We believe parents need to know that distance learning does not determine their value as a parent. We need to let parents know that we are here for them and that we will support them along the way to ensure they don’t feel overwhelmed. And to that end, we need to offer them tools. Ways that they can set themselves and their children up for success. Below is a list of action items that parents can use to make this period of ‘distance learning’ run smoother. Note, I share some key points here from Dr. Markham’s article as well as some of my own advice.

  • Make the school’s schedule your new best friend. If the schedule they sent doesn’t work for you, make one that does and use it. A schedule will save your sanity and will help prevent every minute of the day from becoming an invitation to a power struggle with your child.
  • Preview any learning activities you can and decide what you can reasonably accomplish. The good news is, if your school is being mindful of children’s needs, as well as the time and energy required of parents, then the schoolwork your school created for your child probably won’t take long. Let your school know what is working and what is not through whatever feedback forum they provided.
  • For Preschoolers, reassure your child that nobody is at school. Your child may not understand what is happening and why they’re not at school. I created a short YouTube video for the families at my school in which I take them on a tour around our preschool building and show them that, really, no one is at school. Ask your student’s teacher if they might be able to provide a message similar to this and I bet they will happily oblige.
  • If you can only do one thing with your preschool child, READ. Research shows that absolute number one thing we can do for our children is to read and model reading. Doing so helps to nurture their love of reading and helps to ensure that they grow up to be a reader – not just someone who knows how to read.
  • Expect emotional development to be on the agenda. We’re all struggling in our own ways right now, and your child is no exception. According to Dr. Markham, some children show this by misbehaving. Others are surly or torment their siblings. You probably have less patience than usual, but your child needs your help to work through emotions they may not be able to articulate. Remind yourself that your child is trying to cope with this unprecedented time, just like you are. Schools understand this and should be making it a high priority within their lesson programming.
  • Give yourself a break and remember to practice self-care. Think of the safety instructions flight attendants give before take-off and put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Be sure to take care of your own needs so that you can better attend to your child’s.
  • You don’t have to be Mary Poppins and you don’t have to suddenly be a model teacher. Resist the urge to compare yourself (or your child) to others. This is new for all of us. It’s not going to be perfect. Focus on keeping things simple and fun as you settle into your new distance learning routines and platforms.

Finally, I cannot resist sharing this Seuss-inspired distance learning poem I found on the internet (source unknown.) I think it really sums up the message the teachers of the world want parents to know right now:

“I will teach you in a room, I will teach you using Zoom, I will teach you while I’m in my house, I will teach you with my mouse, I will teach you here or there, I will teach you because I care…”

With gratitude and support,

Kath Courter, Head of Preschool at BCD

More on BCD’s Distance Learning program

More on BCD’s Preschool program

More on BCD’s Elementary program

More on BCD’s Middle School program