#PlasticPlants

If your family is like mine, your social media use has probably exploded during the pandemic. Without the ability to see family and friends in-person, social media has provided a respite of connection during a time in our lives when public health officials are advising us to limit in-person gatherings. While the benefits are many – the pictures that my daughter sends of our “grand-dog” are absolutely precious – we also know that misuse of social media can have  devastating effects on friendships, attention to work (school or otherwise), self-esteem, and more. So, what now? When is social media use appropriate? What boundaries should we set?

The key is balance. In an article for the Military Health System about maintaining positive social media interactions, the author explores how social media helps us connect with far-flung friends, provides a creative outlet for many, and can help nurture deeper relationships offline. On the flip side, social media can encourage unhealthy social status comparisons, lead to aggressive posting and online bullying, and lower feelings of well being. The Department of the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. Steve Schaick, sums it up well. He compares social media to plastic plants. “From a distance, they look good. And of course, they don’t need to be watered so there’s nothing to maintain.” But, says Schaick, “the rewards of caring for live plants are exponentially more satisfying.”

The research isn’t yet clear regarding how much social media use is the right amount, and it probably varies by person; however, our job as parents and role models is to dig deeper into these questions. The challenge is that your family is different from mine, age matters, and no 13 individual year-old has the same makeup as another. As a result, we need broad guidelines that can account for differences in each child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families develop a media use plan and also published recommendations for families to consider as they think about their plan. They include:

  • For children younger than 18 months: Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older: Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Common Sense Media recommends social media rules for different age groups. Check out the basic rules for middle schoolers and the rules for tweens and teens. They also publish a guide for new parents that helps us understand what we should and shouldn’t post about our own growing families.

Ultimately, each of us will need to wrestle with these questions and more as we think about the benefits and risks of our children’s social media use. Regardless of outcome, I hope you’ll keep Maj. Gen. Steve Schaick’s advice in mind. Being in the presence of a live, caring person far outweighs the relationships we only have online.

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!

One Thing in Common

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In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey writes one thing “undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication…every effort in which we are engaged. That one thing is trust.” While trust traditionally forms the bedrock of all school-family partnerships, it is especially important this school year. From election year politics to social injustices to the pandemic, rarely have we tackled a year like 2020. Uncertainty lies around every corner, and never in my nearly 30 years of independent school education has it been so critically important that schools and families work in partnership to build trust in our communities. 

It’s certainly not surprising to know that students learn best when schools and families have robust partnerships. Yet, those partnerships are much harder to develop and nurture in 2020-21 than they were a year ago. Ironically, the health and safety measures we have in place for the purpose of protecting our community result in the distancing of families from in-person connections. If school is in session at all, parents drop off their children in carline or Hug ‘n’ Go, are restricted from entering campus, and can’t participate in natural community-building activities like meeting on the playground after school. Furthermore, intentional community building efforts such as back-to-school gatherings, community socials, and all-school assemblies are also not part of the “new normal.” How, then, will we build the type of community our constituents can depend on?

Over the course of the past six months I have been collecting advice from experts across a variety of fields (education, business, psychology, and more) that will help us build trust in our community. If we consider these suggestions as the year progresses, we’ll have a much better chance at overcoming the obstacles in our way. And, who knows, maybe we’ll emerge a stronger community as a result.

  1. Assume good intentions and operate from the fundamental premise that families and school personnel have their children’s best interests at heart. Put our students at the center of our thinking. 
  2. Forgive easily and be empathetic to others. Stress and anxiety levels are high and all of us could use some extra breathing room.
  3. Simplify. At school we are focusing on the core tenets of our education and program. Try this at home as well to lift unnecessary burdens.
  4. Communicate frequently, especially informally. Small gestures of gratitude can have a huge influence on trust building.
  5. Be consistent and authentic as we parent and teach our children. They have an incredible ability to see and feel when something’s not right. 
  6. Remember, this is a temporary situation. This, too, shall pass. Be optimistic about the future and think positively.
  7. Don’t forget to play. Our world is full of restrictions; be sure to find time for joy.

Way back in 1997 James Comer and Norris Haynes, Professors at Yale University, wrote an article for Edutopia titled, “The Home-School Team: An Emphasis on Parent Involvement.” In it they remarked, children “constantly observe how the significant adults in their lives treat one another, how decisions are made and executed, and how problems are solved. All the experiences children have, both in and out of school, help shape their sense that someone cares about them, their feelings of self-worth and competency, their understanding of the world around them, and their beliefs about where they fit into the scheme of things.”

As the significant adults in their lives, our job is to deepen our relationships and build our level of trust so that the children we love and the students we serve develop a greater sense of certainty in what are without question uncertain times. If we follow the advice of Comer, Haynes, and others, I am confident we can fulfill Stephen Covey’s assurance that “trust is something [we] can do something about. In fact, [we] can get good at creating it!” Doing so will not only allow us to navigate this school year, but it will also provide a springboard for school-parent partnerships for years to come.

Attend an Open House to learn more about BCD’s strong community. https://www.bouldercountryday.org/admission/tours-and-open-houses

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