Dr. Valaida Wise, former Head of School, explains the importance of early childhood education

Head's Blog

Thank you for visiting The Harbor School's website!

Each week, I share some thoughts with the Harbor community on topics of current interest. These thoughts first appear in our weekly newsletter, Harbor Highlights, and are then posted here. I welcome your feedback and am always happy to discuss these topics in more detail.

Kendra Sun-Alperin, Ph.D.
Head of School 

February 23

Fair Does Not Mean Equal


In early childhood, children are traveling through various stages of development.  Not only are they making strides cognitively, physically, and socially and emotionally, they are also forming their moral compass. This is the age where teachers can really make a difference.  This is a smorgasbord of teachable moments.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “That’s not fair!”…well, you know the saying.  In all seriousness, I do hear about the unfairness and injustices of being a kid several times a day.  It’s not fair that teachers get a cookie, it’s not fair that parents can drive, it’s not fair that my classmate gets to be line leader.  Sound familiar? 


One of my mottos is “Fair does not mean equal,” which is a concept that is somewhat meaningless at three, but becoming relevant at seven.  Preschoolers are beginning to understand right and wrong, and by elementary school, moving away from choices based on avoiding punishment toward making decisions based on fairness.  At this age, children are developmentally egotistic – they have limited ability to see another person’s point of view.


An important part of a teacher’s (and parent’s) job is to help children see other’s perspectives.   Through stories, role-play, and discussion, children do begin to understand that their viewpoint is not always the best, or only, way to look at something.  Teachers should also allow children to practice conflict resolution.  Rather than jumping in to fix the problem, the children should have a chance to work it out on their own.  As a parent, I often forget to allow my children to fight and come to their own compromise or conclusion.   I remind myself to take a deep breath and let them slam doors, yell, and finally choose to either spend time apart or compromise.  Both are reasonable solutions! 


By providing children opportunities to experience conflicts (through stories, discussion, or real-life situations), we are giving them practice in perspective.  Nobody learned to read overnight, and teaching character takes time and patience, too!  

February 16

Spirit Week


Twice a year, the Parents Association puts together a full week of fun…Spirit Week!  We’ve got spirit, yes we do!  On Monday, students and teachers dressed in pajamas – some teachers even wore slippers!  On Tuesday, students dressed as their favorite characters.  No doubt, a fan favorite was the 2nd grader who dressed as Mr. AJ!  Wednesday was Harbor Spirit Day, and even our youngest students sported tiny Harbor hoodies.  The spirit continued into Thursday for “what do you want to be when you grow up” day (that just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?) and as expected, the creative juices were flowing. 


We have many aspiring veterinarians, a few astronauts, and more than our fair share of princesses.  We encourage our students to dream big and work hard!  Of course, as hard as it might be to become an astronaut, becoming a real princess is statistically less likely! 


Tomorrow, our teachers will gather for a full day of professional development.  Reminder: no school for students.  We will spend the day working on curriculum, developing a model to improve school culture, and find an hour or so to team-build and enjoy each other’s company.  It is our version of resetting, refreshing, and renewing our SPIRIT.  Monday is President’s Day, so we will see you and your children on Tuesday!  Enjoy the long weekend.  

February 9

In-house Open House

This morning, we hosted our annual “In-house Open House,” inviting current parents to get a small sampling of what’s to come for next year!  Even though I spend my days with these teachers and students, I was still pleasantly surprised at the highlights each class shared.  For example, the ­­­­­­­­­­Preschool 4s make a Thanksgiving Cookbook every year – with recipes created by the children, and photos of them as chefs.  Also, the JK class shared how beloved their class bird, Ziggy, is.  Since Ziggy is less noticeable than Calvin, I sometimes forget what an impact he does have on the JK students’ day!


I was also impressed to learn more about the 1st and 2nd graders’ Science Friday curriculum.  While I witness engaged and excited learners every Friday as the two classes work in teams to solve engineering questions, or physics conundrums, it was a pleasure to have the teachers share how their study of tectonics evolved, or why they are researching volcanoes.  True to our Harbor philosophy, the topics evolved from children’s interests and inquiries! 


As I mentioned this morning, we love sharing our program with you.  We love talking about what we do, and why we do it.  If you were unable to make it this morning, but would like to learn more about what happens in any particular grade, please reach out to me and let’s chat!  

February 2

Report Cards

Tomorrow, you will be receiving instructions on how to access your child’s report card via our Parent Portal.  This time of the year can sometimes be met with anxious anticipation.  Please do not let it be so.  Nothing that is written in the report should come as a surprise to you.  Teachers and parents openly communicate throughout the school year (because a lot happens, developmentally, that cannot be captured in two report cards a year!) 


To be sure that everybody understands the layout, nature, and purpose of our report cards, here are some important things to know/remember:


  • These report cards are comprehensive, containing information from each class your child attends, and several subjects within the homeroom class.  You will find a developmentally appropriate amount of information for your child’s age.  
  • This is a summary of your child’s progress throughout the first semester.  Report cards are designed to provide a progress update on what accomplishments have been made, and where students have been successful with the support of teachers, and how students’ learning journeys will continue.
  • Each year, the objectives for classes and subjects can change.  The children are growing, so, for example, the expectations for Kindergarten are different from preschool.  Our goal is to have children meeting expectations in these areas by the end of the school year.  Even if the written goals have not changed, the expectations do shift, as the children develop.
  • If you have questions or concerns about anything you read in the report card, please schedule a time to meet with the classroom teachers – they are happy to explain if something is unclear.


As always, it is a pleasure working with your children each day. 

January 26

Celebrate Harbor!

If you missed the Celebrate Harbor! event last night, here are some of the highlights of my remarks about our unique school!


“Sometimes, the most brilliant and intelligent minds do not shine in standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.” – Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at NYU. 


I am drawn to this quote for a number of reasons.


  1. As you know, we do not require standardized testing for admissions, though many schools with children our age do.  Time and time again, it has been shown that test scores are only ONE small snapshot of a child’s ability and more importantly, their potential.
  2. We also do not support the practice of using standardized testing to assess what our children are learning.  Standardized testing does not allow creative minds to demonstrate what they know…and our children know a lot – and have a variety of opportunities to show it.  Again, research has shown that children learn more when they are engaged, interested, and invested in their learning.  By avoiding standardized testing, our students are learning MORE, learning better, and learning to love learning.
  3. Our children do NOT have standardized minds.  No children do, but that fact can often be lost when there are many children to teach and standardized goals to reach.  At Harbor, we are committed to the fact that all children are UNIQUE – and our teachers, our classrooms, and our curriculum reflect that knowledge and belief.


I am honored that so many came to Celebrate Harbor last night.  I am honored that you have entrusted us with your children.  I believe, with all of my heart, that you have made a brilliant investment in the education of your brilliant children.

January 19

School Pledge

As the country has been preparing itself for Inauguration Day tomorrow, we, as teachers of young children, have held steadfast in our duty to nurture and protect our students.  Regardless of political affiliation, opinion, or belief, one of our top priorities has been, and will continue to be, to make sure our children feel safe.  To that end, we uphold the guiding principles set forth by our school’s anchors: respect, independence, love, caring, and creativity.  Unfortunately, while it is usually a simple lesson to show children how to be respectful and kind, the current tenor that recent political events have stirred up means we have to be much more vigilant, proactive, and direct with our message. 


Our school pledge, recited weekly by the entire student body, states, “I will work hard.  I will be kind.  I will be mindful.”  Never before has this pledge been more critical and important.  As I have often said, these children are the future and our job is two-fold: to prepare them for the world, and to prepare the world for them.  Our jobs have not changed.  Outside of these school walls, there are big things happening and big decisions being made.  Within these school walls, there are also big (relatively-speaking, of course) things happening and big decisions being made.  Within these walls we are sticking to our promise to work hard, be kind, and be mindful.  

January 12


Wow.  This has been a strange week – both because of the intense variation in the weather (from snow flurries to a balmy 65 degrees) and the stomach bug that seems to be affecting many of us.  The one word that continues to pop into my head, particularly each time a teacher calls in sick, is resilience.  Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Even though several classes have had substitutes this week, and many of our students have been home sick, life at the school has been smooth, the children relatively unfazed.  Kudos to our teachers and our students for rolling along and continuing the good work, even when a wrench is thrown into our plans!  It says a lot about the closeness of our intentionally small school.  Teachers step in to help other classes, children and teachers flexibly adapt to schedule changes, and most of all, we feel for our friends who are not well.  As adaptable as we are, we do miss our classmates, our teachers, and our regular weather patterns.


To that end, I would like to remind everybody of our sick policies. If your children are not well enough to participate in the busy, active environment of school, even if there is no fever, please give them a restful day at home.  If there has been fever or strep throat, children may not return to school until 24 hours of healing have passed.  I also recommend the same for vomiting or diarrhea, both of which are often symptoms of illness.  The above-mentioned guidelines and policies are in place to keep our children as healthy as possible!

January 5


Happiness Jar


Happy New Year!  On Tuesday morning, as teachers were wondering how the break flew by so quickly, parents were hardly slowing down in the carpool circle before handing off their children with a kiss and a wave.  I jest, of course – but the sentiment was there.  Over two weeks of “at home” time was quite enough, thank you. 

Each blog that I have posted for the New Year has focused on New Year’s Resolutions - mostly, on how to make achievable goals (hint: make them small).  This year, in our family, we did not make resolutions.  Instead of repeatedly setting ourselves up for some success, but mostly failure, our family is following advice I recently stumbled across online.  We are implementing a “Happiness Jar.”  If you google this, you will find many variations and suggestions.  The idea is to add one happy thought, moment, etc. per day and at the end of the year, you will have 365 happy memories to read through and cherish.  Okay, hold up.  EVERY DAY?  I have a hard time getting my children to brush their teeth every morning, let alone write down something that made them happy every day.  We are making the goal more attainable for our family – we will add one happy moment per week.  In December, each of us will have over 50 happy moments to remember.  An indirect result of this exercise will also be to open our eyes to the positive moments, the silver lining, if you will – rather than focusing on the negative.  Perhaps in late spring, I’ll post an update on how our weekly jar entries are going!  Let’s hope I have something to update!

As you and your family make resolutions, I just want to remind you to keep them small and reachable.  A more successful variation of “I will keep my bedroom clean” could be, “I will keep all my stuffed animals in my bed (rather than the floor)”.  Just like for adults, a resolution of, “I will keep the house clean” is much less realistic than, “I will never leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight” or something to that effect.  Good luck with your resolutions, and here’s to a wonderful year!



December 15

Spreading Happiness!


As we close out 2016 and eagerly await the new beginnings of 2017, I wanted to leave you with some suggestions on how to navigate the next two weeks without school.  (The teacher in me is dancing a jig.  The parent in me is also dancing, though more slowly and with some hesitation).


  1. Read a book.  Children who see parents engaging in reading activities are more likely to enjoy reading.  Everybody on the couch under the blanket!  Books open!  Read, read, read!
  2. Do an art project.  Sometimes we use a store-bought craft kit, but usually we use paper, paint, tape, stickers…anything really, to make cards, furniture for dolls and action figures, presents for grandparents, or décor for a bedroom!  You will be amazed at what a child’s imagination can do, once unleashed.  You will be surprised to see what your imagination can do, too!
  3. Make a fort!  My children still love building, playing in, and sleeping in forts.  Our forts lead to hours and hours of fun, especially when it gets dark and the flashlights come out. 
  4. Sleep in.  Okay, so that might be hard with little ones…but give it a try!
  5. Donate toys.  Last week, I mentioned how my children fill two shopping bags each December with toys to donate.  While I enjoy cleaning out their rooms and play areas, I also enjoy working with them to find toys in good condition that other, less fortunate children, might love. 
  6. Bake cookies to deliver to friends.  A slow, boring morning calls for baking!  Make dozens of cookies (nobody needs to keep dozens of cookies at home, right?), put them onto pretty paper plates, cover with plastic wrap and a bow – and choose some neighbors, friends, local fire stations and police stations – and deliver them! 


Perhaps some of the above listed ideas are easier than others, but during this holiday time, when we are inevitably spending money, I encourage you to spend time – time with your children and time spreading happiness.  Happy Holidays to you and your families, from all of us at The Harbor School. 


December 8

Encourage Responsibility...


Last month, my mother, fed up with arguing with my son about practicing piano, told him she would pay him to practice 4x a week.  He responded with, “I’m good.  I don’t need any money.”  You could have seen the smoke coming out of my ears.   As soon as he saw my face, he realized his mistake.  I told him that he was right, he did not need any money…but that he would practice, for free, 4x a week.  It was not a choice, but his responsibility.  End of discussion.


Last week, I read “How to raise kinder, less entitled kids (according to science)” in the Washington Post and wondered how the author, Karen Weese, knew me so well!  Children, not meaning to sound entitled, are only responding to whatever norm has been set for them.  If they are paid to do chores, then what will motivate them to help out in other areas around the house?  What we try to do (emphasis on the word try) at our house is what Ms. Weese suggests at the end of her article – she suggests framing chores as part of the responsibility of being a family.  Chores are what help the family function well. 


I probably sound like a broken record to my children, but I often talk to them about all of the things I do for them for free, as part of my job as a parent.  Things like providing food and clothing, taking them to sports practices and play dates, and helping with their class parties.  What I am attempting to avoid is an expectation that I will always provide their favorite cereal, a new pair of stylish boots, the latest and greatest Xbox game…


It is especially difficult to remember not to shower our children with gifts, particularly as we enter the holiday season.  It is, however, also the perfect time to teach them about others in the world that may not have what they have.  Each year around this time, my children fill two shopping bags with “give away” items for those less fortunate.  First, it is showing them the value of giving to others, but also, cleaning out their rooms!  If we give them everything they want, what will happen when they don’t get it all, or have to work for it?  As parents, it is difficult to say “no” to our children – but remember that we are setting them up for success.  I know I complain about my seemingly ungrateful teenager, but honestly, he is usually not so unwise in his comments.  Thank goodness.

December 1


Will Over Skill


Any Caps fans out there?  Personally, I am not a sports fan, regardless of the sport – but my husband will watch anything with a team and a ball (or puck).  Earlier this week, as I read (okay, maybe I was actually watching something on Netflix) in the next room, I overheard a sportscast talking about the Washington Capitals’ new motto – Will Over Skill.  The sportscaster was explaining that the desire to do you best can be the winning ticket.


Dr. Paul Zehr, a professor of Neuroscience and Kinesiology at the University of Victoria in Canada states that “we can do more than we think if we try harder and work to exceed our limits.”  Of course, as early childhood educators, our goal is not to push children to their utmost limits everyday, but by scaffolding their learning, we are, in fact, encouraging them to push themselves a little bit at a time.  By building their self-confidence, children are more likely to keep trying harder.  We are perpetuating a “Can-Do” mindset by showing them that they really CAN do it.  Dr. Zehr referred to the phenomenon of record-breaking in athletics.  Once a long standing record was broken, it became easier to break it again.  CAN DO! 


Children, while not yet the elite athletes of tomorrow, need to feel like they can succeed.  Once they know that, and see how rewarding it is, they are more likely to try harder.  This also teaches children that hard work does pay off – and helps to develop a stronger reliance on intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic motivation.  While success relies on some of both, strong intrinsic motivation is longer lasting – it will keep fueling the desire to learn.  At Harbor, we strive to grow lifelong learners, and to do that, we must remember that the will to learn can often outplay skill.

November 17


Book Fair Extravaganza


What an amazing evening last night at the Book Fair and Pirate PJ Party!  The gym was filled with books, delicious food, and happy families.  While the evening progressed flawlessly, and so smoothly, I remain in awe of the many volunteers who made it so.  A huge shout out goes to Jessica Horwitz, our book fair chair, and her fleet of tireless volunteers, who have been working on the details for months.  From the bake sale, to the books, to the PJ Party, and even the raffles – everybody enjoyed a wonderful evening out with friends, supporting Harbor.


Our many childcare volunteers entertained the children, while parents sipped wine and shopped.  What could be better?  I spotted one child crying toward the end of the evening, and worried, stopping to ask if all was okay.  It turns out he was crying because he didn’t want to leave.  He wasn’t the only one!  An alumni’s mom commented that there is “nothing like this”, referring to the camaraderie emanating throughout the gym, at her son’s current school.  She said she missed the warmth of Harbor’s caring community.  These two particular moments, and several others throughout the night, confirmed for me how wonderful the Harbor community truly is.  


Even as I sit here today, reflecting on the success of our book fair, volunteers are here cleaning up, laughing, and debriefing in preparing for next year!  So, a thousand thank yous to all of our incredible volunteers, our families, our vendors, and our children…what a strong and supportive village we live in!   

November 10


Weekends with Morrie


As much time as we all spend together within these walls, I realize that unless you have experienced a particular grade level, you would not know about all of the wonderful activities that go on each year!  I would like to start showcasing special moments or projects in the school, giving each of you a glimpse into the magic that happens here.


This week, I proudly spotlight Weekends with Morrie in Kindergarten.  Actually, this special weekend project used to be shared with Buster, but Buster was gifted to one of our graduates last year.  The tradition continued this year with Morrie the Monkey, and the assignment is to document fun weekend events and activities.  On Monday mornings, one lucky Kindergartner arrives with a poster filled with photographs of Morrie at dinner, Morrie ice skating, Morrie on a moonbounce, Morrie on an airplane, Morrie at the beach…Ms. Nichols said, “I should have Morrie’s social life!”


This tradition started over 20 years ago, when Ms. Nichols introduced the weekend project to her class.  The children get very excited about their weekend with Morrie, and while for them, it is perceived only as a fun activity, it is also a great learning experience.  It encourages public speaking and language development.  It teaches children to be patient (some children wait weeks to get their turn with Morrie!), and every child gets their moment to shine, as all of the children love hearing about Morrie’s weekend escapades. 


These special posters hang in the hallway outside the Kindergarten classroom.  Come by and see what magical moments Morrie has spent with his Kindergarten friends.  One weekend, even I will have the pleasure of taking Morrie home with me – and eagerly look forward to sharing our adventures!

November 3


Eureka Moments


I was changing my wall calendar from October to November and the quote on the November page caught my eye.  “…eureka moments seldom come when you’re rushing, straining. They come when you’re walking the dog…” (Carl Honore).  I couldn’t agree more.  During a busy day, running from class to class, meeting to meeting, the only thought is about what is next.  My mind is on getting to the next step, and then the next. 


I found this quote to be apropos this week, as teachers and parents came together for conferences.  Rarely during the day do teachers and parents have this protected, uninterrupted time to discuss a child’s progress, celebrate their successes, and mull over strategies to help support areas needing growth.  While we spend many hours with your children at school, you spend many hours with them at home.  Together, we can take half an hour to talk only about your child.  Protected time, free of children calling to us, pulling on us, needing our attention. 


In a study resulting in a list of the Top 10 Eureka moments, I was not surprised to see driving, before sleeping and working out made the list.  This explains why my son always shared deep thoughts right at bedtime when all we wanted was for him to go to sleep!  Less than 1% of eureka moments happen at work, while brainstorming, or while trying to THINK.  In fact, it seems that eureka moments occur most often when we are not trying to think. 


What am I getting at?  Parent-teacher conferences are a wonderful time to share information, observations, concerns, and praise.  However, they are only 30 minutes long.  They are not meant for us to solve the world’s problems, rather, they are to begin or continue a conversation.  After conferences, teachers spend countless hours replaying them, reflecting on what was learned and shared, and coming up with plans moving forward.  Parents – we are a team.  Please take time to reflect as well, and know that we are here to continue the conversations! 

October 27


The Helper’s High


Throughout our day, as educators and as parents, we strive to model, demonstrate, and teach our children to be altruistic.  It is a difficult concept for young children, who are, appropriately, self-centered.  According to various developmental theories on morality (e.g., Piaget, Kohlberg), young children still lack the ability to fully appreciate and understand others’ points of view.  In fact, some adults I know still demonstrate this inability at times!   Kidding aside, it is a skill needing cultivation to thrive.  As children grow, and are exposed to opportunities to do good for others, they may experience “helper’s high”, a phenomenon referring to the pleasure in giving, rather than receiving.  Research at Emory University found that the pleasure centers in the brain are activated as if you were the recipient of the good deed. 


Last week, my 10 year-old daughter, experienced this “helper’s high”.  One of her friends had forgotten to bring money to purchase goodies at the school’s bake sale.  My daughter bought him the chocolate doughnut he was eyeing.  She told me about it, and said, “After I gave it to him, I felt really happy!”  #proudmama!  It is moments like these, and hopefully many more to come, that we work towards every day.  We teach our children to think of others, to care for others, and do for others…and thankfully, they do.


At Harbor, I witness acts of kindness, selflessness, and dare I say, altruism.  This is not by accident.  By fostering relationships between students, between classes, and between students and teachers, we are expanding the opportunities to witness and practice kindness.  We are one big Harbor family and if nothing else, we are learning to take care of one another.  Like in any family, you may not get along with everybody, you may have differences of opinion, you may not have chosen to be friends…but family is family.  When the going gets rough, we back each other up!



October 20


Friends and Community


What a perfectly beautiful Saturday afternoon at Smokey Glen.  A special thank you to Mariana Canelon and her team of volunteers for organizing such a wonderful event!  It was such a delight to see so many families gather together for good food, good fun, and good friendship.  With several alumni families, faculty and staff, and many of our new (not-so-new anymore now that we have been in school for 6 weeks) families jointly celebrating the community of The Harbor School, it confirmed how important it is to make time in our busy schedules for just that – celebrating our community. 

This month and next, I will have attended six potluck dinners at various homes.  Thank you, by the way, to our six host families: the Pals, the Mosiers, the Bloombergs, the Dillons, the Gochs, and the Silversteins for opening up their homes to us!  It is a busy two months, for sure, but the teachers and I thoroughly enjoy the evenings to simply socialize and get to know you better outside of the school setting.  I leave each dinner not only full of delicious food, but full of joy to see our families connecting and enjoying each others’ company.  At a recent potluck, I found myself both laughing (about our children’s antics) and tearing up (about our children growing up too quickly).  Nothing says a good time like riding an emotional roller coaster with friends. 

Our children spend so many of their waking hours together – it is so nice for the adults to get some time together, too.  This period of development for our children, early childhood, is not only instrumental in their friendship building, but also valuable to parents.  Who better to vent to about potty training, picky eating, sibling rivalry, bedtime battles, etc. than to others who are experiencing the same challenges?  Please remember, also, that I am always here to support you, give advice, or just lend a listening, non-judgmental ear!  

October 13, 2016

We've Got Spirit!

“Teachers don’t wear pajamas!” was a line I heard a few times on Wednesday.  This week was Spirit Week, and my favorite day is always Pajama Day so of course I wore pajamas!  What child (or adult for that matter) doesn’t enjoy spending the day in comfy jammies?  What a spirited week this has been.  On Tuesday’s Sports Team Day, children wore the jerseys of professional football players, Nationals t-shirts and hats, or their own basketball uniforms.  Even Mrs. Riley wore an Ohio State team sweatshirt.  On Wednesday, we happily donned our pjs.  Mrs. Forage wore slippers.  Why didn’t I think of that??


Thursday was Dress like a Pirate (or princess) in anticipation of our Bookaneer Book Fair in November!  Did you see Mrs. K, Mr. Fangboner, or Ms. Kiernan?  We had a school full of friendly pirates!  Tomorrow is Harbor Day, so you bet I will be wearing my new light blue Harbor logoed long-sleeved shirt.  Spirit Week’s culminating event is the Smokey Glen Picnic on Saturday, where we will eat delicious food, get tattoos, and jump in bouncy houses (I may get a tattoo but will definitely pass on the bouncy houses). 


What I love most about this week is the obvious school spirit that emanates through the hallways.  It just solidifies the sentiment that this school is a special place, where children happily run in each morning and spend their days engaged, excited, and proud to be a part of this amazing community.  We’ve got spirit, yes we do!

October 6, 2016


Almost exactly one year ago, The Washington Post ran an article called Dogs in Classrooms?  At these private schools, pets are all over the place (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dogs-in-classrooms-at-these-private-schools-pets-are-all-over-the-place/2015/10/01/5fe712ea-6169-11e5-b38e-06883aacba64_story.html) and we all wondered why there was no mention of Calvin in the story!  One year later, and beginning my third year at Harbor, I continue to marvel at the benefits of having a dog like Calvin at school.  To describe the positive effect that Calvin has on our students, our teachers, and our community, I would like to share a story about one special boy at Harbor.


This young child is mad about Calvin.  For whatever reason, he fell in love on Day 1 with a dog he just met…and it has grown into the most beautiful relationship!  In the mornings, the child and his sister stop to say “good morning” to Calvin.  There’s petting, belly rubbing, and lots of smiles.  This little boy’s mother has shared that her son’s speech has improved in a short time because he talks all the time about Calvin at home.  Who knew that Calvin was a speech therapist? 


What other roles does Calvin play?  He is a nurse’s assistant who helps children with boo-boos feel better.  He is a psychologist who sits quietly and listens while children share their woes.  He is a reading specialist who patiently waits while a child reads to him, struggling with difficult words.  He is comic relief when he saunters into a classroom of playing children to say hello…and to eat their leftovers in the trashcan! 


I caught a teacher, just today, during a break, sitting on the floor with Calvin just absent-mindedly rubbing his ear…taking a mind and body break from a busy day. 


You know what Calvin is?  A friend.  A non-judgmental, patient, kind, fun-loving friend…and we all need a friend like that!  

September 29, 2016

Rainy Day?

When rain is in the forecast, teachers (and parents) collectively groan.  Children need recess!  Children love recess!  On a rainy day like today, teachers are constantly looking outside, checking to see if the rain will dampen their outdoor play time. 


Neuroscientists are in agreement that there is a strong connection between movement and cognition.  The part of the brain that coordinates motor activity is the cerebellum.  Interestingly, while the cerebellum is only one-tenth of the brain’s capacity, it actually contains half of the brain’s neurons.  What does this mean?   The information being passed to and from the cerebellum influences much of the rest of the brain.  Using fMRI technology, research has shown that physical activity stimulates the brain; exercise nourishes the brain. 


So, what to do on a rainy day when we cannot utilize the outdoor playground?  First, we make use of our full-sized gymnasium.  With a variety of PE equipment, children’s imagination, and 5000 square feet of running space, our children are certainly getting their exercise!  Also, on a smaller scale, and more often throughout the day, children engage in movement activities to “get their wiggles out.”  Any day, but particularly on rainy days, a stroll down the hallway showcases children dancing, jumping, stretching, and even pretending to be on a roller coaster.


Our brains are being stimulated and primed – rainy days won’t stop us!  As for the rainy weekend ahead, here are some ideas for you to do at home:


  • put on some play clothes and go jumping in puddles!
  • play some music and have a dance party!
  • sign up for some movement fun at gonoodle.com and let your imagination soar!


In any case, enjoy time with the children, indoors or outdoors, and remember that even on a rainy day, there are plenty of ways to get those wiggles out!

September 22, 2016

Back-to-School Night

Back-to-School Night is one of my favorite nights of the year.  Many years ago as a young teacher, I looked forward to this evening – an opportunity to share all that I had been doing in the classroom with the children.  Teachers, though it may seem counter-intuitive, tend to get nervous on Back-to-School Night.  While we sing, dance, and speak all day in front of children, speaking to parents is a much different animal!


Teachers have been preparing all week for tonight, and we are eager to show you our classrooms, our curricula, and our plans for the year. 


Doors open at 6:15 for mingling, refreshments, and a chance to chat with specials teachers, Music Kids, speech-language pathologists, and our Parents Association.  Remarks begin promptly at 6:45 and after time in the classrooms, the evening concludes at 7:45. 


We cannot wait to see you in a few hours!

September 15, 2016

The Homework Debate


As is the case with most educational issues, the pendulum swings back and forth on the topic of homework.  A recent note from a second grade teacher in Texas went viral on Facebook.  In her note she explains that her new homework policy is to not assign homework; rather, she asks families to spend time together eating, playing, and reading.  She also says that research has not been able to support the importance of homework as it relates to student performance.   She received widespread support for her gutsy move. 


While I do believe that homework, for the sake of homework, is often busywork and therefore, does not enhance a student’s learning, I have to disagree with the masses (at least the masses on social media) by supporting homework.  Let me qualify my statement by explaining that research, published in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, in fact, has shown that QUALITY ASSIGNMENTS MATTER.  A general rule of thumb is the “10-minute rule” for younger students, per grade level, meaning 10 minutes for first graders, 20 minutes for second graders, etc.  Researchers also agree that too much homework does indeed take away from down time, family time, and leisure activities. 


All children need time to play, to use their imaginations, and to de-stress.  After all, they are at school all day!  Often, large amounts of homework contribute to parents’ stress, as well.  I know I have spent many an evening fighting with my children about their homework – and by the time they are finished, nobody is in the mood for “family time”. 


What’s my point?  A limited amount of homework has its benefits:  1) students have a chance to practice what they have learned at school, such as solving math equations or spelling words, 2) parents get an opportunity to see what their children have been learning, and 3) children begin learning responsibility, time management, and organizational skills. 


If your child is struggling with homework, please speak with the teachers.  Homework should not be a cause of family stress.  Use homework time to talk to your child about his or her day, and to offer support.  When you’re finished, please do enjoy eating, playing, and reading together!  

September 8, 2016


Teach the way they learn


These days, you can google pretty much anything and be rewarded with multiple pages of results.  Thinking about the first days of school, I did a google search on quotes and sayings, reminiscing about my days as a classroom teacher.  Reading through several pages of quotes, I saw some that were funny, and not entirely untrue:


“The first day of school – the day when the countdown to the LAST day of school begins”,


many were inspirational:


“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops,” - Henry Brooks Adams


and some were just plain cute:


“Be the reason a child smiles today.”


I do not know what I was looking for, but when I read the following quote, I immediately thought of The Harbor School:


If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.  – Ignacio Estrada


This is the precise reason that we have small class sizes, two experienced teachers, and a wealth of resources at our fingertips.  We make it our mission to get to know each and every child.  We put in that extra time and effort to reach each child.  It is true that your children are known, nurtured, celebrated, and challenged to reach their greatest potential.  As we often say at The Harbor School, your child is unique.  Our inquiry-based curriculum is flexible enough to be tweaked for different types of learners; our lessons are academically rigorous, yet also interesting and thought-provoking. 


Teachers participate in professional development to keep them apprised of new research, they incorporate topics that will engage students, that will open their eyes, inspire their minds, and propel them to want to learn more, more, more! 


As we are concluding the first week of school, while some may be counting down the days already, at Harbor we are gearing up for another 36 weeks of invigorated learning!  

June 9, 2016

The Whangdoodle

Today we said, “Have a good summer!” to our preschoolers, who had their final day of school.  Tomorrow, we say “Congratulations” to our graduating second graders, who will soon be moving on to new schools.  Many tears will be shed at the Moving On Ceremony, many hugs will be given, many wishes of good things to come will be shared. 


I won’t share my entire graduation remarks here, as I want to save that for the children and their parents tomorrow.  However, I do want to share some preliminary thoughts, based on the book that I have been reading over the past month to the 2nd graders, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins fame!), one of my all-time favorite read-alouds.  It is 209 pages packed full of life lessons told via a fascinating story about three children and their professor friend who use their imagination to travel to another world.  There is adventure, humor, sadness, and triumph emanating from every chapter.  The 2nd graders hung onto every word, and so did I, even though I have read it more than half a dozen times! 


The lesson I have learned from the book, and one I want to share with you, the adults, is about letting your imaginations and your dreams propel you.  As adults, our imaginations are not as creative as children’s – the reality of life has taken over.  But, wait – we have children.  Children with great imaginations!  Let their imaginations take the lead once in a while.  Get on the floor and play with the stuffed animals, look at the clouds and notice the interesting shapes, sing silly songs that don’t make sense, go for a walk and pretend you’re on a secret mission.  There are so many ways to engage your imagination while fostering the creativity possessed by your children.  As I said last week, summer break is upon us, which often means more time with these magical little creatures that live under your roof (i.e., your kids).  Enjoy them, enjoy their imaginations, and live vicariously through their fanciful dreams and whimsical fantasies!  Happy summer to each of you and your families!

June 2, 2016

Trying their Best

This past weekend, I had a rare evening of simply relaxing with a friend.  It’s something I should do more often, but never feel I have the time.  In fact, my relaxing evening happened completely spontaneously, as I dropped my daughter off for a playdate.  Ready to head home immediately to continue (insert any number of home-based activities here), my friend asked if I wanted to stay and have dinner…so I did! 


This rare occurrence could make for a blog entry in and of itself, but something she said that evening has stuck with me, and her words have been repeating themselves in my head for days.  We discussed how we get frustrated and angry with our children.  We discussed ways to curb our angry outbursts and cultivate patience.  We talked about those moments when our children are hesitant or reluctant to try something we KNOW they will enjoy.  She referred to a book she’d read years ago and quoted the author, “Kids are always trying to do their best.”  Wow.  That stopped me in my tracks, and a million real-life scenarios flooded my thoughts.  Children are always trying to do their best.  I thought back to when my then anxious, risk-averse son refused to join in the fun at birthday parties.  A small part of me (the irrational part) assumed he was doing it to bug me by clinging to me –the truth is that he was trying his best but did not yet have the tools to guide him.  I thought back to my then fussy, temperamental daughter (hmm…that description is still appropriate for today) having an all-out temper tantrum on the floor of the mall.  I only remember feeling embarrassed and annoyed…but really, how can a 2 year old who is so frustrated and angry know how to rationalize and reset?  When I let her stay up for an extra 30 minutes, which leads to a cranky-pants at bedtime, why do I find myself irritated with her, when I am the one who shifted her bedtime (knowing that I was walking down a slippery slope)?  She was trying her best.  The “best” of a child is not the same as our best.  Not apples to apples, here. 


This summer, you will likely be spending more time with your children than usual.  As you undoubtedly encounter frustrating moments with them, please remember that they are trying their best.  We need to show provide environments where their “best” works – whether that be an earlier bedtime, or joining in the birthday party yourself!  

May 26, 2016


The importance of motor skills


What do making bead necklaces and playing with playdough have in common?  What about climbing and running on the playground?  Other than that these are typical activities in a school, they are all building motor skills!  While children are playing, they are building core strength, as well as finger and hand strength that will aid them in their learning.  Strong core muscles allow children to more comfortably sit and listen.  Strong hand and finger strength leads to more coordinated fine motors skills, supporting writing.


More importantly, fine motor development has been found to be a strong predictor of academic achievement.  An article in the journal of Developmental Psychology reviewed various research looking at which skills measured at kindergarten entry best predicted academic achievement in third grade and beyond.  While educators have long understood that many activities designed to build cognitive skills also require using fine motor skills, this more recent research points to a more multifaceted relation between motor and cognitive skills.  In other words, when children are challenged by motor-related constraints, they find ways to adapt to overcome the challenges.  For example, as an infant is quickly growing and changing (rolling over, crawling, walking), he is constantly learning to re-navigate his physical surroundings and his own motor abilities.   


What I found most useful from this reading, as an educator, is that while early reading and math scores continue to be important indicators of later academic success, motor skills also play a very important role.  In fact, many of the skills acquired in classes such as art, music, P.E. and recess are critical to children’s academic success.   The Harbor School’s commitment to these “specials” demonstrate an understanding that not only are our students interested in, and enjoying, these classes, but they are developing skills to help them succeed, even after they have left our safe waters.  

May 19, 2016


The inclusive classroom – what does this mean?  Our faculty participated in a training last week dedicated to learning about the inclusive classroom and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The trainer, a longtime educator, was informative and passionate about inclusive classrooms – and happy to hear how Harbor has been ahead of the curve in terms of welcoming children with different learning styles.  While I was glad to see how much our small classrooms and dedicated teachers benefit each of our unique children, I left the meeting feeling unsettled.  My feeling of discomfort was because I realized how much more we could do, as a school and community, to continue valuing learning differences. 


The inclusive classroom benefits everybody in the community.  The children, who are inherently non-judgmental and welcoming, learn to accept and celebrate differences.  Actually, “learn” is not entirely accurate.  Really, it is that they continue to accept and celebrate differences.  They enter our classrooms loving everybody.  Our job as a school, and as a community, is to foster and nurture this fundamental predilection toward kindness. 


To watch a young child cover her ears when the noise is too loud is an unremarkable occurrence in an early childhood setting.  To witness her classmates pat her on the back as if to say, “You’re okay.  I’m here for you.” is heart-warming.  I often say to the children, “We are all working on something,” be it reading, or speaking up, or keeping our hands to ourselves…and that is ok.  We support each other.


Our teachers and I will continue having deep conversations about inclusive classrooms – strategies, supports, teachable moments.  We are cultivating an amazing group of children – children who, as our school pledge describes, work hard, are kind, and are mindful.

May 12, 2016

Experiential Trips


Each year, at our annual auction, The Harbor School chooses one large-ticket item for which to raise money through the “Raise the Paddle” portion of the evening.  This year, our friends and families raised their paddles to help raise funds for us to purchase our very own 15-passenger van!  The Harbor School bus!  Adorned with Harbor’s name and logo, classes will be able to take more frequent local field trips.  When studying birds, what better way to interact with the birds than in one of the various beautiful county parks and gardens?  When studying cows, how about visiting a nearby farm?  When studying our community, how about a trip to the fire station?  What better way to enrich an education but through field trips?  We believe that these life experiences and interactions further support the hands-on, creative, and child-centered education that takes place within our brick-and-mortar walls. 


Today, I had the pleasure of joining our 2nd graders on their field trip to a Mexican restaurant – where they practiced ordering in Spanish.  After eating, the children salsa danced and sang in Spanish…and made Señora Mier proud!  Our children even watched a gentleman make homemade guacamole (which the adults definitely enjoyed eating!).  My proudest moment was when the servers brought out the food, and the children politely said, “Gracias” to him.  Polite AND in Spanish! 


Next week, preschool 4s and Junior Kindergarten will enjoy a show at Glen Echo’s Adventure Theater and the 2nd graders will take a trip that students have been eagerly anticipating for the past two years…a trip on the Anacostia River on Living Classrooms’ Glass Bottom Boat, the Half Shell! 


Thanks to your generous donations, we will be able to use our own passenger van to see our world.  Our children, our teachers, and I appreciate your support and thank you for helping us continue to enhance and enrich our educations!

May 5, 2016

Anchors Away!


Believe it or not, we are in the homestretch of the 2015-2016 school year.  Just today, I counted how many days we have left of school – 25.  I am not sure how this year has flown by so quickly.  As I visit classrooms and observe children in the hallways, I notice the many ways in which our students have grown.  Some of our youngest children had trouble ascending and descending the stairs on their own in September.  They now practically hop down one step at a time, with confidence and ease.  I have witnessed great growth in reading – students who were distinguishing letters from numbers in the fall are now blending sounds to make words.  Students who were just starting to make words back then have graduated to reading books on their own.  Our 2nd graders amaze me day after day.  They have become such leaders at Harbor – helping with dismissal, hot lunches, and as reading buddies – that I often have to remind myself that they, too, are young children. 


Twenty-five days of school.  (That’s roughly 75 preschool hours, or 150 primary school hours.)  In the blink of an eye, the last day of school will be here.  As bittersweet as that is to me, I can proudly declare that our students will be 170 days more confident, more independent, and more grown-up than they were in September.  In fact, to be specific, they will have been immersed in the true value and meaning of our anchors – love, independence, respect, creativity, and caring. We have spent the past year nurturing these “anchors” in our students and I am proud to say that I can see it in their actions and interactions. 


Let me stop being so misty-eyed – there are still 25 days left of the year for me to spend with your beautiful children.  By the way, I would love to spend the summer with them as well…have you signed up for camp yet?  

April 28, 2016

School Pledge


Once a week we have an all-school meeting.  It is a special time for the entire school body to be together to celebrate birthdays, learn a lesson, hear a story, and learn from other classes.  Each of the classes takes turns leading two all-school meetings a year.  This week the preschool 4s class shared what they had learned about Kandinsky, a Russian painter famous for his abstract paintings.  Each child stood up, shared an interesting fact, and showed a piece of art they had created for their class auction project (trust me, you’ll want this beautiful art for your own home!).  I could not have prouder of this group of four year-olds who courageously spoke to the entire student body.  I also could not have been prouder of the audience, who listened respectively and supported their young friends’ first public speaking experience. 


We recite the Pledge of Allegiance and end the meeting with our School Pledge – “I will work hard, I will be kind, I will be mindful.”  Once a month, we acknowledge students who have embodied the spirit of the School Pledge.  These students come to the front of the group and get a “high-five” in celebration of their accomplishment.  We give them a round of applause.  Mostly these children are smiling, some look embarrassed, but they are all proud…as are we!


The day after one particular meeting where we recognized students with “high-fives”, a student brought me a hand-written note that said, “Thank you for giving me a high five”.  It now hangs, framed, on my office wall, as a reminder about how crucial encouragement and praise are, and how meaningful to the children.  We know parenting is hard, but so is being a child.  Encouragement and praise are welcomed at any age!

April 21, 2016

Unconditional Love

Our dog, Brady, excitedly greets us at the door every time we come home – whether we were gone for 10 minutes or 10 hours.  All 14 pounds of him quivers with anticipation as he can barely contain his happiness.  He then runs around the house, usually with one of our shoes in his mouth (why can’t we ever remember to put them away?) enticing us to chase him and play with him.  People always talk about how unconditionally our pets love us and what a wonderful feeling that is.


The truth is that my daughter, all 65 pounds of her, still jumps up and down and hugs me when she sees me.  Not unlike my loving dog, she often just wants to spend time with me, snuggling on the couch or playing a game.  I have an example from earlier this week.  My daughter came home from school in a bad mood.  She was hungry and tired, and annoyed that she had to practice piano and do homework.  After some down time, she sat down to practice piano, which lasted all of about 45 seconds.  She then asked if she could go outside to play basketball.  I sometimes give in to her requests, mostly to avoid her meltdowns.  But not this time.  I simply reminded her to practice piano and walked away.  What do you think ensued?  Banging on the keys, grunts and groans of frustration, perhaps a kick or two to the piano…but I held my ground.  After practicing, while fussing and crying, for an appropriate amount of time, she grabbed her basketball and headed outside. 


As I watched her from the living room, bouncing and tossing the ball, I started to feel guilty.  Typical parental guilt.  Was I too hard on her?  Was she angry with me?  What’s the harm of basketball before piano?  (The harm, which I have learned the hard way, is that by postponing the chores and homework until too late results in it not getting done.)  I walked outside to check in with her.  She took one look at me, burst into tears, and wrapped her arms around me for a long hug. 


This experience reminded me, once again, that it’s okay for your children to be angry with you.  It’s okay for them to not like you very much, and for you to not like them very much.  At the end of the day, they love you, just as you love them.  Our job, as parents, is to grow them into wonderful, responsible, and kind adults.  Give them boundaries, set limits, and teach them.  Really, THEY LOVE YOU, even when they tell you they don’t.

April 14, 2016

Eat, Dance, and Bid!

Throughout the year, the Harbor community has been asked to help our school Take Flight! through donating to Harbor Fund, attending Spiral Night, making paper airplanes at Back to School Night, and more.  This has been an important year for me, as I feel like I have made a nest in my new Harbor home and found my wings (too much?) as Head of School.  In all seriousness, I consider this my home away from home (although my family might argue that I spend more hours here than in my own house). 


Coming up on April 29th is another, very festive event focusing on empowering the Harbor School community – our annual gala auction, Let’s Flamingle!  It is a great opportunity to not only have fun with friends, but to further help Harbor Take Flight!  The funds raised through the auction go toward what makes Harbor a special place: our small class sizes, our gifted teachers, professional development, community events, and much, much more.  I look forward to seeing you there – let’s eat, dance, and bid! 

April 7, 2016


Family Meetings

Thank you to those of you who were able to make it to Wednesday morning’s Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) workshop on Limit Setting.  Fatima Nascone offered an informative presentation on why setting limits for our children is important, and various strategies for how to do it.  She gave an analogy to explain how limits provide positive and necessary guidance for development.  Imagine driving at night, over a bridge that has no clear or visible guardrails.  We would drive slowly, tentatively, afraid of what’s around the next bend.  With clearly defined guardrails, we drive with confidence.  What a strong illustration of how it must feel to navigate through life without well-defined parameters.  Rules and guidelines are put in place at home, at school, really everywhere, so that we know what is expected of us.  Without distinct guidelines, a child may seldom know if his actions or behavior, in a particular setting, is acceptable. 


One takeaway for me, as a parent, was how valuable family meetings can be.  My family has irregular, spontaneous meetings – mostly because I like how it sounds to be having such a meeting.  The benefits of regularly scheduled family meetings are that it provides a time for everyone to celebrate accomplishments and discuss strategies when faced with a challenge.  In fact, family meeting time seems to be a lot like staff meetings.  It is protected time for the members to be together and have a chance to voice thoughts and feelings.  Fatima suggested that the first few months of family meetings be kept short and simple – take the time to recognize an accomplishment of each member, plan a family activity for the coming week, and adjourn!  This paves the way for upcoming talks that might be more complicated.


Over the next few months, I will be implementing family meetings.  If for nothing else, to restore protected family time.  As my children are getting older, family time is diminishing.  I do not want to wait until it is all but gone – as independent as my children may be, they will be living under my roof for at least another decade!   

March 31, 2016

The Joyful Classroom

Who would have thought that after more than a week off of school, sleeping in, playing games, traveling, and spending time with family, children would be running into school?  Well, I, for one, knew it would happen.  Harbor students are simply joyful about coming to school. 


In a new book called The Joyful Classroom: Practical Ways to Engage and Challenge Students (by the folks who brought us the Responsive Classroom Curriculum used throughout the school), we learn about incorporating activities that kids will love.  The authors list six characteristics of engaging academics and I can honestly say that our teachers embody each and every one:

  • Learning is active.
  • Learning is interactive.
  • Learning is appropriately challenging.
  • Learning is purposeful.
  • Learning is connected to students’ interests and strengths.
  • Learning is designed to give students some autonomy and control.


A perfect example of learning that incorporates all of the above is Harbor’s unique Spiral Curriculum.  It begins with choosing an area of focus driven by the students’ interests.  Teachers introduce topics to fuel curiosity, discussion, and action, tailoring the lessons to keep children engaged and engrossed in    The children interact with one another, with the teacher, and with classroom materials (books, art supplies, SmartBoard, etc.) to make connections.  They exercise autonomy and control over some of the ways in which to demonstrate what they have learned.  Spiral is a group effort, and as you witnessed on Spiral Night, and truly an experience that is hard to describe in words!  I cannot wait to start planning around the topic for next year!  

March 17, 2016

Spring Break


The sun is out, the birds are chirping, daffodils are blooming – all just in time for Spring Break!  (Although the forecast is calling for some snowfall this weekend…what?!?) 


My family and I are getting away for a few days, and we plan to implement plenty of “no technology” time and a lot of family time.  The idea of simply enjoying life as it is, or at least trying to, is exciting.  I always find that removing myself from my regular schedule gives me a chance to experience life from a different perspective.  Forget laundry, packing lunch, and work…just for a brief moment in time.  As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 


We are so excited to see you all tonight for Spiral Night.  You will be amazed by how the students and teachers have transformed the classrooms into the Spiral Museum.  Please take your time exploring each room and the creativity and energy that it took to bring this special night together.  Spring Break is the perfect reward for all of this intensive work!

March 10, 2016

Spiral Night!


Two years ago, before officially beginning my role as Head of School at Harbor, I was invited to attend Spiral Night – Great Artists.  I was awed and amazed by the beauty, innovation, and creativity emanating from every part of every classroom.  This year, the entire school spent three months infusing the theme Take Flight! into their literature, mathematics, science, social studies, art, and more. We chose the topic, understanding that the students would focus their study on birds, but allowing the theme of flight to drive discussion, lessons, and activities surrounding space travel, as well!


To further each classroom’s individual study of birds and flight, our students will be treated on Tuesday to Raptors Up Close. Raptors Up Close is an educational program designed to teach conservation through an entertaining and engaging demonstration with live birds of prey.  On Wednesday, our preschoolers will learn even more about birds with the Audubon Nature Center’s “Birds of a Feather” presentation.


To culminate this in-depth, all-school thematic study, we hope you will join us for Spiral Night!  Next Thursday evening, March 17, from 6:30-8:00, The Harbor School Spiral Museum will open to families and friends to showcase this unique part of a Harbor School experience.  

March 3, 2016

The Importance of Support Networks

I am an introvert.  I like my alone time.  When something is tough, I grit my teeth and move forward, one step at a time.  I do not often ask for help.  Challenges face me, and I face them back, often on my own – not because I lack support from the people around me, but because I tend to believe that the best way to handle a challenge is to go straight through it.  Time and time again, it has been proven to me that “alone” is not always the best way through an obstacle.  Yes, I get through it, but often with more struggling and stress than necessary. 


Yesterday afternoon I had my monthly telecon with several Heads of School located all over the United States.  Up until the minute I dialed in, I contemplated bailing and working on something…enrollment, outplacement, strategic planning, field trip scheduling.  But I had made a commitment, so I closed my door, picked up the phone, and connected with my peers. 


As always, after a meeting with my peers, I felt refreshed and able to see challenges with a new perspective.  Schools all over the country, big and small, move through the same motions.  Admissions and marketing, retention and enrollment.  At the heart of all we do, however, is to serve the children in our care.  It is so helpful to know that my victories can be shared with others, and my heartache, as well.  Speaking with my peer group allows me to be myself, open up, and take in and give sage advice.


As a new parent years ago, I was the same way.  With my first child, I struggled to leave the house with him, and more often than not, ended up not joining other moms at lunch or at the park.  I did not invite people over because I was dealing with a crying baby and diapers, and that was about all I could handle.  One friend was relentless about seeing me and getting our children together.  At the time, I found her invitations exasperating.   Twelve years later, she remains one of my best friends – someone I can talk to about parenting highs and lows.  Lean on your friends and reach out to your peers.  Whatever the parenting struggle du jour is, somebody else has been or is experiencing the same thing.


I found that my children’s teachers, who spend more daytime with my children than I do, serve as members of my support group, as well.  They care for my children, and understand my excitement and my frustrations.  It is so important for parents and teachers to work together.  We are all on the same team, and want the best for each child.  Do we agree on everything?  Of course not.  Do we want our children to succeed and be their best selves?  Absolutely.  Parents and teachers bridge that connection between home and school – and work together to ensure a stable and consistent learning environment!  

February 25, 2016

Food and Sleep

Food and sleep.  According to Maslow’s seven-stage Hierarchy of Needs, food and sleep rank as two of our biological and physiological needs.  In the next level, safety needs, are shelter and stability, security, and order.  After that come love and affection, then self-esteem and achievement.  Only after all of those needs are satisfied, can cognitive needs be reached.  Therefore, in order for a child to be fully present to learn, he must first fulfill the more basic needs of biology, safety, love, and esteem.  The logic is very straight-forward, yet many children today may be missing out on vital learning opportunities.  Food and sleep.  Parents have been hearing about the importance of healthy meals and a good night’s sleep since before their children were born. Yet, daily life can often complicate this seemingly easy equation.


I often say that my daughter’s mood is highly dependent on whether she is hungry or tired.  When full-bellied and well-rested, nobody is more charming, funny, light-hearted, adaptable, or loving than she.  When hungry or tired, everybody watch out.  Her mood pendulum swings so far in the other direction that if it wasn’t my life, it could almost be viewed as funny.  Almost.  Except it is my life…and nobody in my house is laughing.


Food and sleep.  So basic and really quite simple. Yet somehow, even after 9 years of parenting this particular child, I still sometimes get it wrong.  We all do.  Oh, and just when I think I have it down?  She goes and changes on me! 


My message is two-fold: first, feed your children and make sure they get enough sleep, provide structure and expectations at home, and continue to love them so much it hurts… so that at school, we have students who are ready to learn, learn, and learn; and second, cut yourselves some slack.  Parental guilt lurks everywhere…learn to ignore it and praise your child and yourself for all the wonderful growing and learning you are both doing!  

February 18, 2016

Learning is in the Process

The beauty of play and creativity is that the learning is in the process, rather than the product.  A favorite activity at Harbor is building with magnatiles – they are the center of hours of collaborative play, only to be taken apart and restarted the next day.  The learning that occurred while building contraptions far outweighs the impression of the finished product.  Children have negotiated, resolved conflicts, cooperated, persevered, and compromised…and all while building the multi-colored magnetic Eiffel Towel. 


When my son was in second grade, his art class made clay animals and then painted them.  When they were displayed in the school, I practically ran to go see these amazing works of art and imagination.  My son had made a cat (he had told me earlier that day) so I was expecting a beautiful brown piece of absolute marvel, to be displayed proudly on our mantel.  (Yes, this was my first child, and a “Mama’s Boy” at that!)


I approached the display of incredible animals and saw red dragons, blue whales, yellow ducks, green frogs…  I held my breath as I looked beneath the animals for the little card with my son’s name on it…and…there it was!  Screech to a halt.  The animal was, well, colorful, to say the least.  It had blue ears, a red face, a green and white body, and a purple tail.  My heart sank as it was not at all how I had envisioned his clay cat.  Shame on me, but I was disappointed.  The art teacher happened to be walking by and I made a light-hearted joke about my son’s rainbow cat, to which she responded, “He was the only one who dared to use so much creativity and imagination with his animal.  I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of him.” 


Not only is using one’s imagination something to be applauded and celebrated, but that so much learning occurs in the process.  Creativity is one of The Harbor School’s guiding principles, and we wholeheartedly believe that play, creativity, and imagination are at the core of early childhood education. 

February 11, 2016

Community Service

This past Monday, my extended family and I celebrated Chinese New Year – the year of the Monkey.  This is arguably the most important holiday for many Asian cultures.  Our family looks forward to this celebration every year, and my children often complain that they should have the day off of school.  Now that my 7th grader has joined the debate team at school, he thinks he may actually convince me! 


The most important part of the Chinese New Year for many families is the opportunity to gather together.  It is a time to celebrate the old year and wish for good fortune in the new one.  Older generations give red envelopes with lucky money inside to the younger, single relatives.  Like many holidays, the importance and true meaning of the special day gets lost in the excitement of getting money, getting gifts, getting candy.  Wow, our children really do get a lot.  But, they also give a lot, too.


Community service is an important part of our curriculum.  In age appropriate ways, we show our students how important it is to give back to the community.  Our youngest children made cards for sick patients at Walter Reed.  The whole school donated gifts for children being treated at NIH.  First graders are helping Heifer International end world hunger, and the 2nd graders delighted the residents of the Brookdale Senior Living Community with a visit and songs....and this was only in the past week!  One afternoon, I overheard a 4 year-old say to her mother, “Mama, we are making cards for little children in the hospital.  They are sick and we are making them feel better!” Not only are we raising bright and inquisitive children, but thoughtful, caring, considerate and kind citizens of the world.  

February 5, 2016

Harbor's Uniqueness

If you missed the Celebrate Harbor! event last night, here are some of the highlights of my remarks about our wonderful school! Harbor truly has a unique approach to education.  First, and most obvious, is our commitment to early childhood.  

 Let's imagine early childhood as a growing tree.  Three branches of development are occurring simultaneously - physical, cognitive, and social emotional.   


During this period of development, children's brains grow from 70% to 90% of adult capacity.  This is, of course, accompanied by a surge in cognitive abilities.  It is still impressive to me, as I am visiting classrooms, to see the inquiry, problem-solving, and cooperative work that goes on each day.  You know how annoying it was when your toddler asked you "why, why, why" all the time? Well, it is those same inquisitive minds that fuel some of our most fascinating discussions - through which children are learning!  


It is a cliché, but most certainly true, that our children's minds are like sponges.  Presented in interesting and thought-provoking ways, there is no limit to their learning.   

One of Harbor's greatest strengths is our ability to give personalized attention - academically and socially.  

Children are challenged to reach their own potential - and in any classroom, there is a wide range.

Not only is there a range in reading and math ability, but also in social skill growth.  All children are learning to navigate friendships and solve conflicts.   


Like I said, young children develop physically, cognitively and socio-emotionally simultaneously...at the SAME TIME and all the time.  The branches of our early childhood tree intertwine, touch each other, splitting into thinner branches.  

One branch breaks into gross motor vs. fine motor skills, another branch divides into different levels of friendship, 

another breaks into understanding what is a big deal vs. a little, and yet another splits into different mathematical concepts.    


Here at Harbor we teach the whole child - being a good friend is just as important as learning to read.  Working cooperatively is just as important as solving math problems.  A perfect example of the type of innovative and creative learning we do at Harbor is the 1st grade's CITY project. As part of their study of geography and maps, they are studying city planning and designing and creating their very own city.  These children are living our educational philosophy through child-driven ideas, teamwork, problem-solving, and hands-on, interactive learning.  


As it is so important to teach to the whole child (and complicated - since we focus on so much more than just the academics) we are mindful of the makeup of each class.  We really do try our best to balance abilities, personalities, and interests.  It is part science and part art.  On Friday, we will be mailing out re-enrollment contracts to welcome your children back next year.  I encourage you to help us out by sending them back as soon as possible - this helps us determine class make-up as we offer spots to new applicants.  We do have applicants at every grade level!  This also helps us finalize staffing decisions.  So, please do send those contracts back by the deadline so we can guarantee your child a spot in the class!  


January 28, 2016

Consistency and Continuity

It seems appropriate for me to write something about the massive snowstorm that crippled our area this past week. After all, I have spent the past week mostly at home, watching my children climb up snow mountains, dig out snow forts, throw snowballs at each other, and most amusing perhaps, watching my little dog navigate his new unfamiliar backyard terrain. 

I love snow days.  The gift of the extra day to sleep in, catch up on home projects, catch up on work projects, watch some t.v…a snow day, to me, is akin to finding a $20 bill in my pocket.  But, enough is enough.  After three consecutive snow days, my internal clock was completely out of whack, my children’s schedules had been completely unraveled, and husband and I really started to get on each other’s nerves.  As much as I love snow days, there is something to be said about consistency and continuity of schedule.  

At The Harbor School, particularly via our Responsive Classroom (RC) social curriculum, we set schedules and expectations to build consistency and continuity.  Children are more able to succeed when they have clear guidelines.  Have you heard a teacher say, “Use walking feet!” to a child running by?  Ever wonder why we don’t say, “Don’t run!”?  In order to promote children’s self-discipline, we remind them what to do, rather than what not to do.

The structure of the day is of utmost importance to children’s success.  Each class begins each day with a morning meeting.  Teachers across the school use the same positive language, guided discovery, and classroom organization to promote creativity and independence.  Most children benefit greatly from knowing what is to come.  Teachers post the daily schedule, even for our youngest students, and prepare the children for the day's activities during morning meeting and the morning message.  The unknown can be unsettling, and we aim to provide a safe and secure environment for our students.  

As much as I loved the mini-vacation gifted to me by Winter Storm Jonas, my mind and body have felt much more settled being back at Harbor!  We certainly enjoyed welcoming your children back to school today…and I think they were happy to be back, too!

January 21, 2016

Heart and Soul

Over the past few months, my family and I have been house hunting.  Nothing serious, and certainly not in any hurry, but attending Open Houses and considering our options.  Each house that we have visited has fallen short on at least one major aspect.  We have spent many hours talking about what our priorities are, be it the neighborhood, the commute to work and school, the house size, the house style, storage, or the backyard.  We are taking our time to find the one that meets our stringent criteria.

One house in particular was close to perfect for us, in size and style.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood did not feel right.  I could not imagine myself taking walks with the dog, or enjoying the outdoors with my children.  One of our top criteria is that we feel good in the home.  It may need new bathrooms or windows or some landscaping work…that we can live with.  But the ambience of the home, yard, and the neighborhood is harder to change.

Similar to finding the right school for your child and your family, the house not only has to meet certain criteria, but also has to feel like “home.”  Over the past several months, as we have progressed through admissions season, many families have commented that Harbor felt “right” to them.  Not only are our visitors welcomed by a warm, comfortable atmosphere, they are also greeted by friendly, smiling teachers and parents, and engaged, enthusiastic children.  

Many of the classrooms’ jobs include “class ambassador,” whose responsibilities include greeting visitors, showing them around the classroom, and explaining what the students are currently working on.  There is never a prouder moment for me when a young child confidently and animatedly talks about readers’ workshop, or a science experiment.  

I am sure that these types of interactions at Harbor were what drew you here, as well.   The brick and mortar is nice, but the heart and soul are essential.  

January 14, 2016

Passing Time

My mornings are spent running around.  My workdays are spent running around.  My evenings are spent running around.  It’s a true wonder that my pedometer never seems to accurately count those 4,000,000 steps I must be taking!  In reality, the true wonder is how few steps I do take while feeling as though I am on the go all the time!  Not only does my body get a workout (at least it feels like a workout, although I am pretty sure I am in no better shape…) but my brain does, too.  Life seems like a combination of sprints and marathons, with few water breaks to recoup.  

A few years ago, my son’s school schedule included “passing time” between classes.  The students had five minutes between classes to return to their lockers, use the restroom, chat with a friend.  One morning I was complaining vehemently about the crazy day that lay ahead of me: back-to-back classes and meetings, with what felt like absolutely not a single break.  At the end of my rant, I looked at him and commented that he probably felt like I did, since he had rush to back-to-back classes all day long.  True to the old soul that he is, he shrugged and said, “No, it’s not so bad…we have passing time.  Don’t you have passing time?”  

Author Tom Giaquinto says, “Find some quiet, private time.  Allow yourself to slow down and relax.  Find nature, meditate, or do nothing.  Take a mental break.  You’ll gain the benefits of a quiet mind.” All of the classes start the day with mindful lessons, and these lessons continue throughout the day. Some days we feel more balanced, and on other days we need moments to reset.  Students are encouraged to take breaks when needed, to take mindful minutes, to reset their bodies and brains. 

Passing time.  What a wonderful idea.

January 7, 2016

Priceless Memories


Happy New Year! It is truly a delight to be back at Harbor, surrounded by happy children. We hit the ground running, fully expecting a period of re-adjustment, but have been pleasantly surprised by how well the children (and teachers) have jumped right back in to the school schedule.


With a new year, there comes the opportunity to start fresh - hence our various New Year’s Resolutions. My resolution this year is a simple one.  I have learned that when I make grand resolutions, I only set myself up for failure.  This year, I vow to spend more quality time with my family.  As many of you know, I spent two weeks over the winter break in Kenya with my brother and his family. After some time in Nairobi at their home, we flew to the coast for a week at the beach. After all of that planning, preparation, and frankly, money, my children spent the majority of their time at the pool.  The POOL.  My husband and I were a little disappointed that we’d traveled so far from home for a swimming pool.  However, the main objective of our trip was to meet my new niece – a bubbly, happy, 18 month-old Kenyan baby that my brother is in the process of adopting.  We certainly accomplished that goal and along with dozens of logged pool hours, my children have precious memories of playing with their new cousin.  Many of those hours were of spent with her in the pool, actually…


Life is not, and cannot be only about tangible experiences.  Yes, we are blessed to have been able to travel to Africa for the holidays, but more importantly, we spent so much quality time with our family.  I don’t know how many months will go by before we see them again, so whatever resources and effort it took to get to Kenya, it was worth it. 


As we all embark on our new beginnings, please remember that the quality time you spend with your children is worth so much more than gifts, toys, and trips.  This week, when we Skyped with my niece and she squealed with delight when she saw my children, lighting up their eyes and faces with pure joy, I was reminded that the memories we made were priceless.  

December 17, 2015

The Greatest Gift

I was nervous a few weeks ago.  I was coming to school on a Monday with a new very short hairdo.  I prepared myself for the onslaught of comments from the children.  Your hair looks weird.  You look like a boy. All developmentally appropriate comments from young children.  I was ready for many teachable moments.


The biggest surprise, however, was to be mine.  There were many questions and comments, lots of double takes, but not the types of interactions I was expecting.  I was greeted with “Did you get a haircut?  It looks so good!” and “I like your short haircut!” Rather than teaching them anything, they taught me something.  Our children are kind, open-minded, and respectful. Their reactions also taught me about the culture in which we are raising them.  Our community is raising children to accept and respect differences, to support their friends, and most importantly, to be kind. 


During our weekly all-school morning meetings, we always end with our school pledge, “I will work hard. I will be kind. I will be mindful.” It is a nice reminder to treat our classmates, teachers, and families with kindness.  To me, our children are already working hard, being kind, and being mindful.


This lesson was a wonderful gift – one that hopefully helps start our winter break off in style!  Happy Holidays to each of you.  Please make the most of spending the next two weeks with your loved ones.  We will see you in the new year!

December 10, 2015


At this morning’s book club meeting, we discussed the over-scheduled lives of our children.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am attempting to bring downtime back in my own house.  It has been challenging, though, since as we sit down to relax, I notice a bookshelf that needs organizing, holiday cards that need stamps, dishes that need cleaning, and maybe even a sock drawer that needs cleaning out.  What I have found is that when I have a few spare moments, rather than taking those moments to breathe and reset, I fill it with chores.  The result is a check off my to-do list (one that was not a priority in the first place, in fact, it might not even have made it onto a to-do list!), somebody running late, and a harried me


Taking a step back and observing as an outsider, what are my children seeing?  Life…as a constant merry-go-round of activity and stress.  As hard as it is for me to admit, there are fewer moments of laughter and simply enjoying life.  Living life, but not living it.

Laughter should be the rule, not the exception. 


Don’t get me wrong – it is important to expose our children to a variety of activities, and to challenge them and encourage them when they might feel like quitting.  Stress, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  Stress keeps us moving forward and teaches us perseverance.  It keeps our brains active.  However, too much stress is a bad thing.  Stress in moderation…?


There is a very fine line between enriching and over-scheduling.  We are all searching for that line, which is not static, nor consistent.  There is no right answer, as each child, each activity, each family dynamic is unique.  My advice is to make sure there is a balance of activity and downtime.  This advice is not only for your children, but also for you!

December 3, 2015

Good Enough!

Decision-making is something many sometimes struggle with. I do. We all do.  Some of us are less mentally taxed by it than others.  I, unfortunately, am not one of those people.  Decision-making can be taxing for me.  All day, I make decisions – and when my husband asks me what we should do for dinner, it takes everything I have to hold it together to say, “I don’t care.  I cannot make that decision.  You decide.”  It is physically and mentally too much for me to even think about dinner by that point in the day.  It is yet another decision. 


I recently read that there are two types of decision-makers: maximizers and satisficers.  Satisficers make decisions that satisfy them, decisions that are “good enough”.  Maximizers look at every possible choice to get the best possible outcome.  This perfectly describes me.  If you could hear the internal conversations I have about how many and which type of [insert just about anything here] to purchase, you would probably walk away from me, annoyed by my option-weighing wishy-washiness.


Many of us have a hard time making decisions because there are too many options. Too many choices. This made me think about our children, who are inundated with choices and options at every turn. When I ask my daughter to get dressed, she has to choose between 6 different pairs of black pants.  One looks better with short tops, one better with tunics.  One has zippers that match certain shirts, and one has lace for dressier outfits.  Still others only work under dresses.  I have only myself to blame.  I created this monster!


In an effort to please our children, we offer them too much choice.  Children are not given the opportunity to just “deal with it” – it’s no wonder today’s children are less flexible, less resilient, and less patient – we have taught them that the options are endless, and theirs for the choosing.  The unfortunate truth is that in many cases, with the internet, the options are truly endless.  Gone are the days of waiting for a song to come on the radio…we can get any song with a few taps on a screen.


Sometimes, it is better to have only two choices, and have to choose the better of the two.  We do not always get what we want.  Sometimes we have to be satisfied with “good enough.”  In fact, not only is it less of a mental strain, it also takes less time.


I try to practice what I preach.  When my daughter and I choose her outfit, I offer her two choices: black pants or gray pants – and hold one of each in my hands.  Those are the choices.  That’s it.  When that choice is easily made, I am happier and she is happier.  At the end of the day, I prefer a happy child over a perfectly well-dressed, matching child…don’t you?

November 20, 2015

Staying Healthy

The month of November is nearing its end.  The unseasonably mild weather of early November turned into crisp fall days, and now we are bracing ourselves for the inevitably chilly days of winter.  I have purchased cold medications, snow boots, extra tissues, and other accouterments to keep my children warm and well.  Especially as the holiday season approaches, I am doing my best to keep my family and me healthy.  Nobody wants to miss a family gathering due to illness!


Along with aiming to keep my own family healthy, I also strive to make sure our students and their families are healthy, as well.  To that end, I would like to remind everybody of the school’s health policies.  If your children are not well enough to participate in the busy, active environment of school, even if there is no fever, please give them a restful day at home.  If there has been fever or strep throat, children may not return to school until 24 hours of healing have passed.  I also recommend the same for vomiting or diarrhea, both of which are often symptoms of illness.  The above-mentioned guidelines and policies are in place to keep our children as healthy as possible!


Our students have been excitedly preparing for next week’s Grandparents’ and Special Friends Visiting Day.  After they WOW you with the art show, their classrooms, and the Thanksgiving Program, we will dismiss at noon for our Thanksgiving break.  I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday, as it has always been a wonderful time spent with my family.  Sleeping in, leisurely cups of coffee, family movie and game nights, delicious feasts, and extended family gatherings...?these are a few of my favorite things!

November 13, 2015

Patience IS a virtue

What are we teaching our children?  We want them to be attentive and focused.  We want them to think creatively and use problem-solving skills.  However, every time our phones beep or buzz, we glance to see if it is “something important”.  Every time we need an answer to something, we “google it.”  What behavior are we modeling for our children? 


It has become increasingly difficult to separate our personal and professional lives.  With smartphones, we check our emails, texts, social media during all of our waking hours.  I bet some of you have even checked your phones in the middle of the night!  How can we be expected to turn off our professional selves when the lines have become so blurred?  In an effort to check items off of our to-do lists, we respond to emails and texts almost as quickly as we receive them.  As a result, it is now expected that responses are delivered ASAP.  We have all become increasingly impatient – not so much because we are impatient people, but because we want to get things done. 


Unfortunately, this self-imposed and new societal norm of instant gratification is teaching our children to expect action instantaneously, or be bored.  I cannot even cook a meal these days without checking facebook while waiting for water to boil or the oven to pre-heat.  People standing at bus stops all have their faces turned down to their phones, rather than interacting with one another or simply enjoying the view.  Everyone is checking and responding to email, messaging friends, or researching something.  Nobody is satisfied just being alone with their thoughts. 


I urge you to model mentally healthier behavior for your children.  Family is important, work is important, down time is important.  This is not only healthier for them, but for you.  As I write this column, I am also preparing to take my own advice.  Wish me luck!

November 5, 2015


Several books, and numerous articles, have recently been published about this epidemic referred to as “over-parenting.”  One of these books is The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, who recently spoke at a Parents Council of Washington event.  NPR hosted an interview with her and Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/08/28/434350484/how-schools-are-handling-an-overparenting-crisis) which confirmed what we all already know, but do not necessary do. Isn’t that so often the case with everything? There is a very fine line between supporting and over-parenting.  Each child is different, and each situation is different.  When a psychologist suggested that I push my very timid, risk-averse, and anxious young son to play soccer, I was appalled.  Knowing my child, he would have hated every minute of it – and he did.  On the other hand, there were other areas where I did push…although I prefer the word encourage. Even though he did not sing with his class on stage, I made it clear that I expected him to at least stand on the stage.   Fast-forward about 6 years to 7th grade.  As my son gathered his school belongings from the car at his morning drop off, he exclaimed, “Oh no!  I forgot my laptop at home!”  Oh well, my dear son – too bad.  Don’t get me wrong, we support him in so many ways, but in order to learn from mistakes, he has to be allowed to make them.  Every fiber of my being longed to rush home and get his laptop for him.  Taking a moment to realistically consider “the worst that could happen” without his laptop, I reassured myself that while he might face some consequences at school, this was an opportunity for him to design a strategy to help him remember his school effects each morning.    Lahey and Lythcott-Haims remind us that making our children happy in every moment does not prepare them well for happiness in life.  As a parent, my job is to keep my children protected and safe – but it is also to guide their growth into responsible, independent adults – successful adults that have the strategies to overcome challenges and navigate obstacles

October 30, 2015

Some Things are Scary

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In order to learn the important lessons in life, one must each day surmount a fear.”  Each day, each of us does face fears – things that make us anxious or uncomfortable.  These fears are different for each of us.  For me, speaking in front of a large group of people drums up some anxiety.  Driving into DC does the same. 


At our all-school meeting on Tuesday, I read a book called Some Things are Scary (No Matter How Old You Are) by Florence Parry Heide.  She lists a variety of things that might be scary for some, like “Stepping on something squishy when you’re in your bare feet”, “Being on a swing when someone is pushing you too high,” or “Looking in the mirror while you’re having a haircut and they’re cutting it too short.”  Personally, all three of those are scary to me!  As I read and looked around the young audience, some children nodded in agreement while others smiled in confusion (the thought that’s not scary! written all over their expressions). 


My son was a particularly risk-averse child.  He never liked the swings at the playground and heights frightened him.  To be fair, haircuts frightened him, too.  Raising him (not that we are near finished with that – he’s only 12!) was a constant balance of figuring out when to back off, and when to push him.  We never wanted to give him too much control, nor did we want to traumatize him by pushing him too far, too quickly.  Parenting is not easy, but we are responsible for preparing our children for their futures…and that can be an overwhelming task.


Just as teachers spend their days scaffolding the learning and development of children, parents must do the same.  Scaffolding, as the term suggests, is the provision of temporary support while children reach the next level of comprehension or skill acquisition.  There is no discrete formula for this, as each child is different in each situation. 


Little by little, as parents and teachers, we guide our children forward.  We help them traverse a myriad of ever-changing systems, putting one foot in front of the other, even when something feels a little “scary”.  The lesson we teach?  That they can do it!

October 23, 2015

The Power of Community

What a beautiful, and somewhat chilly, Saturday afternoon at Smokey Glen.  A special thank you to Meg Press and her team of volunteers for organizing such a wonderful event!  It was such a delight to see so many families gather together for good food, good fun, and good friendship.  With several alumni families, faculty and staff, and many of our new (not-so-new anymore now that we have been in school for 6 weeks) families jointly celebrating the community of The Harbor School, it confirmed how important it is to make time in our busy schedules for just that – celebrating our community. 


This month and next, I will have attended six potluck dinners at various homes.  Thank you, by the way, to our six host families: the McCarthys, the Bloombergs, the Dillons, the Sensenbrenners, the Silversteins, and the Golds for opening up their homes to us!  It is a busy two months, for sure, but the teachers and I thoroughly enjoy the evenings to simply socialize and get to know you better outside of the school setting.  I leave each dinner not only full of delicious food, but full of joy to see our families connecting and enjoying each others’ company.  At a recent potluck, I spent much of the evening discussing our families’ histories with a dad – something I would never have time to do during the school day. 


Our children spend so many of their waking hours together – it is so nice for the adults to get some time together, too.  This period of development for our children, early childhood, is not only instrumental in their friendship building, but also valuable to parents.  Who better to vent to about potty training, picky eating, sibling rivalry, bedtime battles, etc. than to others who are experiencing the same challenges!   

October 16, 2015

Silver Lining

I am a big proponent of thinking positively, and finding and embracing the silver lining.  Sometimes I have to wade through the murky mud of negative thought to get to the silver lining, but I can almost always find it.  Over the past 4 years, I have had several surgeries and other medical conditions for which sleeping upright was the most comfortable and often, the only option.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, we own the world’s most comfortable armchair.  Just this past month, I have spent two weeks sleeping in this comfortable chair.  (Truth be told, it is comfortable but it is not as comfortable as my bed.)


From a purely logistical and practical standpoint, this has been a bit challenging for me.  I am a creature of habit, so as you can imagine, being displaced from my bedroom was unsettling.


Here’s the silver lining part – my daughter sleeps next to me on the couch.  We pushed the two “beds” next to each other, and I get to know that she is sleeping peacefully next to me.  There are moments when I think that I shouldn’t let her sleep on the couch, but from her perspective, and in her own words, she feels so lucky to be having the longest sleepover with her favorite person in the world.  Needless to say, that makes for one happy mama!


How I can deny her this special time?  Truth?  How can I deny MYSELF this special time with her?  In a few years, I will count myself lucky if she wants to spend so much time with me.  For now, I will treasure the time we are together.

October 9, 2015

Valuing Downtime

Overscheduled and stressed.  These two words bounce around my head pretty consistently.  Imagine me with these two words literally dancing around my head, cartoon-style.  This has become my home life.  I am willing to bet that it is not all that different than many of yours.  Between my children, my husband, the dog, and myself, there is little time to relax.  The children have sports practices and games, piano practice and lessons, homework, birthday parties, projects…oh, and did I mention the everyday chores of straightening their rooms, helping prepare lunches, feeding and walking the dog, taking showers…and then there are the things that we, as parents, must do. 


I was disappointed in myself (retrospectively) when my son requested a family game of Monopoly on Sunday.  As the four of us sat around the table, in between each of my turns, I wrote thank you notes.   I was not modeling the type of behavior that I would expect from them.  I was also not modeling completing one task at a time, and doing it well.  If I could do it again, I would have played with all of my attention and focus, showing my family how important they are to me.


There has been a disconcerting pattern in our house where unstructured playtime is squeezed in between everything else.  Even when the more essential chores are finished, I am like a magician – there are always more to be pulled out of the hat!  I am making a conscious effort to be more mindful about valuing down time.  Numerous studies cite a disturbing trend: as generations of children have less free play time, we are seeing a rise in anxiety and depression.


At my next book club meeting in November (be on the lookout for the date and time), I would like to discuss these very troubling statistics and how we, as parents and teachers, can help alleviate some of the anxiety.  First and foremost, let’s promote creative, imaginative play in our children!  

October 2, 2015

Celebrating Music

Q: What exercises the body, the brain, the senses, the imagination, strengthens listening skills and improves executive function?


A: Music! 


Research on music education in early childhood has resulted in an abundance of support for its many benefits.  Brain research demonstrates the activation of various parts of the brain, such as language processing, memory, mathematics, and creativity, through music.  The National Association for Music Education states that music should be integrated and woven throughout the day, as well as during time dedicated solely for the purpose of music for its own value. 


As I walk the hallways of Harbor each day, I hear teachers using music to signal clean-up and transition times, power brief dance/movement breaks, and set the tone for quiet moments of reflection.  I hear students singing rhyming songs, clapping rhythms, and personalizing song lyrics.  Many studies have found that “singing relieves anxiety and contributes to quality of life” (Julene K. Johnson, UCSF).  The more singing, the better!


Sitting in on one of Ms. Wilson’s preschool music classes this week, I was impressed and delighted to see all of the above-mentioned musical learning opportunities taking place.  The children entered to a backdrop of soft music and found their place on the rug.  They worked on rhythm and rhymes, all while engaging their bodies in movement.  They sang gleefully and even the quietest of children sang with enthusiasm. 


Taken together, these exercises can help children’s organization of thought and multi-tasking skills.  Playing an instrument further fosters this development and skill building, as it requires organizing, regulating, and arranging the information before memorizing it.  Music also gives children another way to express themselves. 


As Elaine Winter explains in her article in Independent School magazine on music education, “we provide children with joyful opportunities destined to enrich their learning for years to come.”  

September 25, 2015

Well-Prepared for Next Steps
We are only one month into the school year and the 2nd graders' families, teachers, and I are preparing to identify the "next step" for each of them.  At the end of last year (1st grade), we had a wine-and-cheese event to introduce parents to the idea of graduating from The Harbor School.  GULP!  At the event, parents heard an admissions director speak about the process of applying to independent schools, as well as an MCPS principal, who addressed the transition into 3rd grade.  The recurring theme was that Harbor's students are well prepared for their next step.
Over the next several weeks, I will meet with each of the families to narrow down the options for 3rd grade.  After we identify 2-3 schools, families must tour, apply, schedule admissions testing, visit, and then...wait...for schools to make their acceptance decisions.  This process, not entirely unlike that which one goes through for college, can seem daunting and overwhelming.  The truth is that it is a lot.  However, we are here to help families navigate the process with as little anxiety as possible.  The 2nd grade teachers, who also taught these students in 1st grade, truly understand how their students think, what makes them tick, what challenges them and what supports would benefit them.  We work as a team to find the best fit for each individual child.  Over the past three years, we have sent our graduates to 20 different area independent schools, in addition to several MCPS elementary schools. 
When children are ready to "graduate" from The Harbor School, whether they (or their parents) believe it or not, they are ready to TAKE FLIGHT from our little nest.  They emerge more confident, more inquisitive, and more prepared to tackle the academic and social challenges before them. 
Enough about graduation for now - it's only September, after all!

September 18, 2015

A Solid Foundation

I was moved by the feeling of community, support, and love at Back-to-School Night.  It is a long day for teachers, but one that is so valuable for all of us.  We truly enjoy talking to you about your children, and sharing the wonderful things that transpire in the classroom. 


The theme of the year, and of my remarks last night, is TAKE FLIGHT.  The theme has taken over the hallways, the conversations, and our mindset.  To reiterate my remarks from last evening, the beginning of the year is a time to form bonds and connections, both with teachers and classmates.  It is a time to get acclimated to the routine, the structure, the expectations of the classroom.  It is a time to get ready to TAKE FLIGHT and make the best of the year.


However, not only is the start of a new year a place for beginnings, but the entire educational experience at Harbor is a beginning.  The Harbor School is a place for beginning friendships, beginning to read, beginning to develop an interest in engineering, painting, writing...It is a place where children begin to develop independence, confidence, and learn from their mistakes.


The research is irrefutable.  Children who have had a strong foundation in early childhood (ages 3-8) are better prepared for success when the accelerated demands of 3rd grade begin.  They are better prepared academically, socially, and emotionally.  The Foundation for Child Development has reported extensively on how this specific population of children is best served by teachers with broad knowledge and skills in early childhood development.  This period is the first level of their education.  It sets the stage for a lifetime of learning. 


The Harbor School, a school dedicated to early childhood education, builds that strong foundation.  The team of teachers here work hard to prepare your children to TAKE FLIGHT each day!

September 11, 2015

Focus on Social Skills

I have been surrounded lately by articles (in both scholarly and contemporary venues) emphasizing the value of play and social skill development in early childhood education.  For example, a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University (Montroy, Bowles, Skibbe & Foster, 2014), published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, supports the theory that well developed social skills are beneficial for growth, particularly in literacy.  An article recently published in the Washington Post discusses the role that play has in predicting future success.  Quoted in this article is Dr. Damon Jones, a professor at Penn State, who states how important it is to incorporate social skill building into the curriculum.  Well, we are well ahead of the research curve.


One of the foci of a Harbor School education is age-appropriate social skill development.  Our preschool is play-based, which means we provide a multitude of opportunities and scaffolding to encourage and support social skill development.  Play can be described as a child's laboratory - a safe place to make and learn from mistakes, experiment, and ultimately develop better skills in negotiating, cooperation, perseverance, leadership, and creativity.  Play fosters language and vocabulary development, mathematics and problem solving, and motor development.  On top of all of this, play is FUN. 


The Harbor School places significant emphasis on the building of all academic skills, from reading and math to art and music, but a strong early childhood program also emphasizes the non-academic skills.  The whole child must be taught, and well-developed social skills are at the foundation of all learning.  After all, in the "real" world, very little is accomplished in isolation - cooperation, collaboration and teamwork...that's what it's all about! 


You can be confident that The Harbor School promotes this very critical aspect of child development!

September 4, 2015

Ready, Set . . . Go!

The classrooms are ready, the teachers are ready...are you and your children ready?  We hope so!  As we near opening day, I want to thank you again for entrusting us with caring for your wonderful children.  The Harbor School engages in Responsive Classroom practices, a social curriculum designed to construct a learning environment where high-quality work ensues through collaboration, cooperation, and support of one another.  The first six weeks of school are the most crucial for building this level of understanding and practice. 


Pursuant to Responsive Classroom and the five anchors on which our community is built (independence, caring, love, respect, and creativity), the teachers aim to create an optimal learning environment.  They will start each day with a peaceful morning meeting, which includes greeting each other, hearing about the exciting day ahead, and a "mindful minute" to center and prepare our minds and bodies. 


Teachers, students, and parents are all part of the equation for encouraging mindfulness.  To that end, please have your child at school on time (or a little early!).  Junior Kindergarten through 2nd grade begins at 8:45; preschool begins at 9:00.  The teachers will close their doors at those times to keep out distractions and noise, promoting focus for morning work and the morning meeting.  Of course, we welcome parents to walk children into school.  We know the beginning of a new school year causes both excitement and a little anxiety, for both children and parents!  However, we respectfully request that you grant your children the opportunity for growing independence - and invite you say a quick good-bye and enjoy a cup of coffee in our conference room! What a great chance to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and start the day with a cup of Joe!  We will have coffee set up in the conference room through the month of September. 


Enjoy your long weekend and get ready to "Take Flight" next week at Harbor!

August 28, 2015

Great Learning Starts with Great Relationships

As summer nears its end and schools are getting ready to roll, I have been reading a lot about powerful and effective teachers. The teachers that students remember most are those with whom they have made a connection, a bond, a friendship.  They remember the teachers that took an interest in them, those who demonstrated genuine care. Not only is that relationship important for emotional well-being, but when there is trust and respect, students are more willing to take academic risks and give their best effort. 


The teachers at Harbor, while busy setting up classrooms and preparing lessons, are also readying their minds and souls.  We have been practicing ways in which to understand our own emotions better, so that we can help our students better understand theirs.  We are developing stronger listening skills to build even better relationships with each student.  We are dedicating our time to becoming even better teachers (is that even possible?). 


At Harbor, we strive to provide an educational experience that serves each child.  Your child is unique, and at Harbor so is his or her education.  But at the heart of it all is that special bond between teacher and student.  I can remember those special teachers I had, not because I learned to read poetry or design a science experiment...but because those teachers showed a sincere interest in my learning.  I mattered to them.  Each of your children matters to us!  The teachers here at The Harbor School are looking forward to welcoming your wonderful children back to school...and we cannot wait to build relationships that will help propel learning and growth!