WELCOME TO OUR PRESCHOOL
For almost 90 years NCRC has created an inspiring and captivating preschool learning environment. NCRC ignites our children's imaginations and provides them with opportunities to grow and discover themselves and the ever-changing world around them. We realize that a great early childhood education is the solid foundation on which a child builds their future. NCRC’s mission-driven inclusion model and diverse school community make it a truly remarkable place.
NCRC’s highly trained faculty and staff are some of the most talented in the nation. They are dedicated to early childhood and recognize the importance of this magical time in the life of a child. Founded on the premise that current research should inform practice, NCRC’s dynamic preschool learning environment extends to the faculty and staff, who stay abreast of current best practices and compelling areas of early childhood research. This thirst for professional knowledge, coupled with the creativity and dedication of NCRC faculty, makes us a model preschool. Your child is guided each and every day they walk into NCRC by men and women who understand the theory behind the power of play and are passionate about what they do.
NCRC nurtures empathy, kindness, self-awareness, mindfulness, and joy. We believe each child is unique and we meet children where they are, giving them the tools they need to succeed every day and throughout life. Our faculty and staff are only part of our success equation. Our preschool community also includes an active parent body that is always engaged and encouraged to participate fully in experiences that will shape their child for years to come.
Early childhood is all we do and we are very good at it.
I welcome you to NCRC and invite you to experience the wonder of play with us.
Dr. Valaida Wise, Ed.D.
NCRC Head of School
Dr. Valaida L. Wise (Val) is the Head of School at the National Child Research Center (NCRC) in Washington, D.C. An educator for almost 20 years, Val received a Bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology from Syracuse University, an M.A.T. from Trinity College, Washington D.C., and holds a doctorate in Education from George Washington University.
A recent Brava award winner, Val has lectured nationally and internationally, most recently on the topic of early childhood education at Tanjian University and other provinces in China. She presented at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) 2013 national conference as well as other conferences sponsored by NAIS. Val has written several articles on educational leadership in early childhood as well as Montessori Education. Her most recent article: A Critical Absence in the Field of Educational Administration: Framing the (Missing) Discourse of Leadership in Early Childhood appears in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation. Val is an adjunct professor at several area universities where she has presented on the implications of current findings in neuroscience in early childhood education as well as diversity in clinical practice. She is a trustee on several professional and independent school boards. Val is married with 3 children.
- Importance of diversity in clinical practice at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis
- Engaging all families: Successfully including parents of children with special needs in a preschool community at the Zero to Three conference
- Foundations of Resilience: Understanding and nurturing resilience in the preschool years at the McLean School
- The role of father figures in children at The World Organization for Early Childhood Conference
- The Alumni Panel at the George Washington University's Educational Syposium on Research and Innovation
- Potomac Valley Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.'s fall workshop
- Diamonds in the Rough Conference
We will always have a place for you in the circle.
- Allow your child to experience the discomfort of adjustment, but be supportive and encouraging. The feelings your child is experiencing are real and shouldn't be denied. Knowing you are there for them provides them with a foundation of support from which they can grow.
- To the extent possible, develop patterns and routines that work for you and your child. Perhaps it is picking out clothes the night before as a bedtime ritual so you aren't rushed in the morning. Perhaps it is morning routines that allow you to get out of the door more smoothly. These patterns and routines will help your child adjust to the patterns and routines of school-life.
- Set up a playdate for your child. Being able to spend some time outside of school with a classmate from school will help nurture friendships in the classroom.
What have Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and musician Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta) all got in common? Aside from their vast popularity and their rise to the top of their fields, they all scored in the top one percent in college entrance exams when they were adolescents. They also passed through Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth, an adjunct to a Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), the longest running current longitudinal study of intellectually talented children. The study has tracked more than 5,000 individuals over 45 years.
These are the gifts of a premier early child education and what NCRC provides for every child.
- Parenting in the Presidential Year
- Growing up with Children
- Board Meetings and Bounce Houses
- Sing to Me from the Trees, Please
I had the opportunity to participate in a panel on "Parenting in This Presidential Year" at an area independent school this week. Parents had expressed concerns about their children being privy to the vitriol of this year's campaign.
Today NCRC faculty struggled with some big questions around the nature of imagination and how to fan its embers in the classroom as they engaged in a professional development day at an unlikely venue.
When I announced the adult field trip to the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), I quoted Albert Einstein to put the concept of imagination and its importance in the context of our work at NCRC:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
The AVAM emphasizes “intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius” and the museum’s goals closely mirror what NCRC is about, including engendering respect for and delight in the gifts of others, encouraging each individual to build upon his or her own special knowledge and inner strengths, and empowering the individual to choose to do what they do best in their own voice and at any age.
How fitting this trip is on the heels of Back to School Night, where I shared with parents the interesting research conducted by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Dr. Angela Duckwork, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Duckwork coined the term ‘grit,” or”the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals over an extended period of time and to work hard to make it a reality.” She found grit to be a leading factor in successful students. While she is not sure how one acquires grit, she found promise in the work of Stanford University professor Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck investigated two types of mindsets - growth and fixed. Essentially,individuals with growth mindsets believe that failure is NOT a permanent condition and that we can learn from our mistakes. Mistakes, in fact, are just the test run before we get it right and make the next big step in our development.
So how are these seemingly separate concepts interwoven?
Imagination -and play-keeps students engaged and interested while they’re learning. Interested and passionate learners are more likely to enjoy learning and to stick with it to achieve success despite early failures. This is grit. Well, the same is true with teachers. The faculty and staff at NCRC have grit. They love to learn, particularly about early childhood development and inclusion, the proverbial research fire in their belly. And because of this unquenchable desire to soak up all the research they can on the topic, they’re willing to experiment to find the best way to do things. This experimentation isn’t haphazard, though. It’s based on solid evidence-based research and it entails opening their minds to new ways of thinking. An article by Deborah Farmer Kris, an educator herself, suggests that this is vital for adults - especially teachers - who must remain creatively and intellectually agile in a dynamic learning environment. Finding inspiration in interesting places is the fuel that feeds the imagination and at AVAM inspiration was everywhere.
Four-year-old girl 1: I see you have an eye patch.
Four-year-old girl 2: Yes, I need it to make my other eye stronger.
Four-year-old girl 1: Oh, that’s good. You know, my sister wears glasses to make her eyes stronger, too.
Four-year-old girl 2: That’s good, too.
Four-year-old girl 1: Oh, and I really like your glasses. They’re so pretty.
This conversation was overheard in an NCRC classroom recently. It’s a poignant moment between preschoolers, of course, but more importantly, it is a beautiful illustration of two children who are not only comfortable with difference but honor it as well. This seemingly innocent conversation underscores the beauty of inclusion. Inclusive education helps all children learn about and appreciate everyone’s unique differences - including their own. In fact, it underscores the points that Arnie Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, recently addressed during his “back to school” bus tour aimed at visiting schools across the country.
“As our country continues to move forward on the critical task of expanding access to high-quality early learning programs for all children, we must do everything we can to ensure that children with disabilities are part of that,” Duncan is quoted as saying. “States, school districts, local organizations, communities, and families must work together so that children with disabilities have access to programs that offer individualized and appropriate help in meeting high expectations.”
Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, added, “Meaningful inclusion supports children with disabilities in reaching their full potential… Children without disabilities who are in inclusive settings can also show positive gains in developmental, social, and attitudinal outcomes.”
Research on the topic illustrates that all students can benefit from the inclusion model. At NCRC, however, it’s that and more. We bear witness to it firsthand, every day. We’ve witnessed the development of the kind of compassion, empathy, and appreciation that go along with being comfortable with and accepting of difference.
At NCRC, we know we have the answer to what inclusion in an early childhood environment should look like and we know how well it works. We’ve been doing it for almost 90 years - and very well at that - as is evidenced by the success of our students. Documents that highlight NCRC’s research efforts from 1928 thru 1931 illustrate that while some things have changed (dramatically), a remarkable number have stayed the same. We continue to value our highly inclusive environment. We recognize that every child is unique and adds something significant to the very fabric or our school community. We have an incredible legacy of doing great things for young children and we continue to build on that legacy.
This is the year that we begin to let others know what great work we do here. Over the coming months, we will be sharing more stories about what inclusion means at NCRC.
A young NCRC student has an allergic reaction. His mother calls the doctor, who asks the young boy how he feels. He remembers what he’s learned in school and tells the doctor that he “can’t slow down his engine.”
In their book, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development, J. Shonkoff and D. Phillips (2000) define self-regulation as a child’s ability to gain control of bodily functions, manage powerful emotions, and maintain focus and attention (http://journal.naeyc.org/btj/200607/Gillespie709BTJ.pdf).
The development of self-regulation is the cornerstone of early childhood development.
To read more about self-regulation in preschool, please visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780775
As the young man had his hand on the door to leave he turned to me and said,
Of all my years of schooling-even college-NCRC was the very best and I will always remember it.
As we begin this new school year, that is my wish for each of your children and for you - that NCRC will be the best school your child has ever attended. We will work hard to make it so.
I had the opportunity last week to attend an event with a group of independent school administrators. Whenever educators get together, it’s an opportunity for collaboration and information gathering. It is also a great time to make or strengthen the informal connections that are vital for outplacement to area schools. These gatherings inform us as to the broader themes on the educational horizon.
The featured speaker at our gathering this time was Dr. David Andrews, Dean of Education at Johns Hopkins University. And, while I’m partial to anything Dean Andrews has to say (full disclosure- I’m an adjunct in the School of Education at JHU) he was extremely insightful in his remarks. He stated that the educational industry is preparing our students for a world that is fundamentally different from the one we all experienced growing up. It is an ever more globalized, networked, informed, and multi-ethnic society. Big data analytics is allowing the seller to match our every want and need perfectly. And since this kind of information is available everywhere, consumers have come to expect this level of personalization, not only in a toothpaste coupon or storefront ad, but in their education as well. Dean Andrews went on to say that the next iteration of education will have to cater to this much more informed generation that will want and deserve a more personalized educational experience.
He ended by asking us all to re-imagine education. But, as I listened to him carefully, I realized that what he was talking about was something we do at NCRC every day. We see each child as an individual, gathering “data” while observing them interacting with adults and each other. We create and change curriculum based on the needs and interest of the child. We personalize education and even change the classroom environment to reflect information we gather about each child’s needs. So I had to ask him what he thought about my musings. As soon as I got the chance I cornered him and asked, “What about early childhood education?” His reply was, “Yes, that’s a good point. The only place we’re getting it right is in doctoral programs and early childhood, you all have a lot to teach us.”
Yesterday, I had the chance to do something I love to do - speak to an enthusiastic and supportive audience about a really interesting topic. It had the perfect ingredients for a mutually-enjoyable time. A group of NCRC grandparents and I gathered to explore the topic of building resiliency in the early years. “When children show healthy development in spite of adversity, it is called resilience,” according to the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Education. Fostering resilience in young children requires the family, the community, as well as children’s own personal resources. In other words, why is it that some can bounce back from serious stresses and some cannot?
It was a lively discussion (as these things generally are with our smart, savvy grandparents here at NCRC). We covered more than a decade of research on resilience in our conversation. The “take home” message was that while the human spirit can overcome a great deal, there are important environmental conditions that can act as protective factors. And, as is so often the case, the foundation is laid in early childhood.
No matter how we look at it, the recipe for success when it comes to building resilience is a relatively simple one. The necessary ingredients are high-quality, caring relationships in an environment with high expectations and opportunities for the child to contribute. It’s interesting to note that the most important and consistent finding in resilience research is the role and power of the schools (especially preschools) in resilience-building (Werner, 2007).
As a preschool, NCRC is uniquely positioned to offer just this kind of environment. Our faculty’s ability to develop caring relationships with each child and then to dig for and reflect back each child’s strengths while valuing their human uniqueness will guide them through the learning process, picking them up when they stumble, as they will, along the path to mastery. And while the teachers are an extremely important factor because they spend the most time each day with your children, it is the entire NCRC community that acts as a protective factor for our kids. Events like Family Work Day or The Pumpkin Party are evident demonstrations of a vibrant, caring community all working toward one goal-to support and nurture the children we love. And this is the best kind of protective factor there is.
Thank you to everyone at NCRC for creating a community we can be proud of.
Interested in this topic? Read Building Resilience in Children and Teens by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg
A parent came to me recently and said
“I just had to stop by and get a hug from … it just makes me feel so good. She is such a wonderful teacher. I know that … has an amazing time during the day because of her teachers.”
I hear this sentiment echoed so often here at NCRC.
The research is clear about the important role teachers play in the lives of children. In fact, some suggest that the better the teaching, the better the outcomes for the students - especially in the preschool years when so much of what is learned is built on the relationship between the child and their teachers.
The decision to teach is often considered a calling by many, one accompanied by moderate pay and around the clock hours. It is sustained by a commitment and dedication to both the field and to the future. It is nurtured by the joy that teachers see in the faces of their students every day.
As the children file out of their classrooms each day, most are not turning to their teachers and saying things like“thank you for preparing such a great lesson” or “I really appreciate the extra time that you took to explain that difficult concept to me,” or “those were great materials you put together for that lesson.” It’s more often than not expressed by a big hug, a smile, or a wistful “I love you.”
As parents, we know how much feeling appreciated means. When we work hard or do something special, we don’t always need recognition, but the occasional pat on the back goes a long way toward motivating us to do more.
At this point in my column, I would generally quote Daniel Pink and his writing about motivation, or Sarah Lightfoot Lawrence on the importance of the parent-teacher relationship. Instead, I am just going to say “Thank You!”
Thank you for expressing your appreciation to the faculty here at NCRC. It makes all the difference.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: I get to spend my days with children and the talented men and women who work with them, surrounded by laughter and music, regaled with stories, and seeing the school drenched in glitter (have I told you I love glitter?) Can you think of a more joyful way to spend your day?
Now, the part that isn’t so obvious. Within the past two weeks - and truthfully, it happens every week - I have had the opportunity to witness little miracles:
- Children solving their own relationship issues
- Children creating their impressions of artistic masterpieces
- Children discovering they can do something they have never done before
- Children discovering new ways to solve problems
- Teachers are children with innovation
- Teachers are engaging children in new and unique ways
- Teachers are collaborating to foster deeper learning
- Teachers are helping children see the world around them through different lenses
There is nothing more satisfying than watching the children here at NCRC, with all their uniqueness and all their brilliance, show me things I have never seen before or tell me things that I have never heard before. In the midst of phone calls, e-mails, and conversations, the small (and sometimes, not so small) voices of the children confirm for me that what we are doing is special and important.
Regardless of your chosen profession, I hope that when you have the chance to spend time with your children, you witness the types of miracles that I get to see every day. Celebrate these miracles and experience the joy of early childhood.
Last week I reported on the wonderful professional development opportunity the faculty engaged in at the American Visionary Art Museum. We considered big questions surrounded by incredible works from talented individuals. While this was true there is more to the story, perhaps the most telling part of the story, that I neglected to tell you, and it added to my learning that day.
The story that told me all I need to know about NCRC faculty actually happened after our tour of the museum, as we made plans to return to school. My cell phone rang. The bus driver scheduled to bring us back to school told me she had a flat tire. She said someone was coming and it would only take a few minutes to put a new one on. Not a problem, I thought. We had had a full, stimulating day at the museum and there was plenty more to talk about as we walked to where we were meeting the bus. When we finally arrived at our bus the tire still wasn’t on; another repair person had to be called. Another wait. We were slated to be back at school at 3:00 pm. It was now 3:15 pm. We were definitely going to be late.
At 4:20 pm we were finally on the road. The conversation on the bus was light and people were laughing and joking, seemingly undeterred by the fact that we were going to be later than originally predicted, which would undoubtedly impact everyone’s plans.
Then the bus began to shimmy and wobble a bit. It became obvious rather quickly that something was terribly wrong. Our bus driver began to fret a bit; it was clear she was worried. As she moved over to the far right lane, the tire blew and the bus rocked and swayed, finally landing with a violent shudder on the side of the road. There was total silence in the bus. Everyone seemed to take a collective deep breath. Then, the realization that we were safe and it could have been so much worse. There could have been anger, fear or blaming. It’s what you would have expected. It was now 5:00. The rescue bus was being arranged but it wouldn’t arrive until 6:00pm.
Our five-hour trip had turned into a ten-hour ordeal.
While the trip didn’t end the way I had envisioned (not by a long shot), it revealed in a very deep and meaningful way the true fabric of the faculty at NCRC. They are some of the most patient, compassionate and positive people I have ever met.
Our bus driver was visibly shaken and our kind and generous faculty shared their snacks with her, trying to keep her calm and let her know it would all be alright. They found ways to look at the situation as a “glass half full” - thinking of how to use the experience in unique and interesting ways. They told jokes and helped each other make arrangements to pick up children and otherwise rearrange badly mangled schedules. This was living proof of what I’d always heard - you could tell a lot about a person by the way they handle adversity. If that’s the case, the faculty at NCRC are made of gold. And for that, I am very grateful. I suspect you are, too.
I don’t know if you were aware of it (frankly, I wasn’t until one of our NCRC parents told me) but 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of relativity ( I know… break out the funny hats and party favors!) Generally, we all recognize the importance of Einstein’s theory - even if his earth-shaking physics formula, Rµv-½gµvR=(8πG/c4) Tµv, is indecipherable to many of us. The reality is that Einstein’s work is employed by a huge percentage of the human population - including everyone who uses a global positioning system - (GPS) every day.
All of this is important to how our modern world works but it may be the following quote that makes Einstein most relevant to us here at NCRC: “imagination is more important than knowledge.” It was Einstein’s highly developed imagination and creativity that allowed him to “imagine” his theory. I presented at a conference recently where I had a chance to hear Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute. He is a strong proponent of imagination and links it to daydreaming. His research demonstrates a dynamic link between daydreaming, creativity, and imagination. He even goes so far as to suggest that teachers should allow time each day for “mindful daydreaming.” Let’s celebrate this 100th anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity by giving our children the time and space to daydream… you never know what it may lead to.
“These ecstatic moments of delight or fear, or both, “radioactive jewels buried within us, emitting energy across the years of our lives,” as Chawla eloquently puts it, are most often experienced in nature during formative years.”
- Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
I heard a truly compelling definition for inclusion the other day:
“Inclusion is a philosophy, an attitude that creates a community”
(KIDS INCLUDED TOGETHER 2013)
It resonates with me because, according to this definition, inclusion is more than a thing we do - it’s a state of being. Inclusion means belonging to, participating in, and reaching one’s full potential in a diverse society where everyone is accepted and recognized for having something to contribute. That’s a powerful, transformative statement, and one that would be enough to warrant having all classes be inclusive. But there is more.
Numerous research studies have identified the benefits of a fully inclusive early childhood experience for both children with special needs and their typically developing peers. Children in an inclusive environment learn from each other and contribute as equals. Research suggests that children in inclusive classrooms demonstrate higher levels of the “soft skills,” such as more emotional resiliency and significantly higher levels of empathy, and they possess a better internal loci of control (Kate & Mirenda 2002). One researcher found that parents and teachers made gains in the areas of empathy and tolerance. In fact, when properly supported in a dynamic educational setting, an inclusion model can provide a teacher with an enriched and varied experience.
I’ve heard from parents, teachers, and children that NCRC is a special place - one that’s hard to replicate. I would argue that one of the reasons this is true is because at its core, NCRC is inclusive. It is a place where everyone belongs.
In just 16 days we will be welcoming in a new year. It’s hard to believe. There is just something about this time of year that makes us think about the future and what could be. It’s a magical time of year that makes you believe in dreams and wishes.
Everyone has wishes and I’d like to share my wishes with you:
- I wish that eating my favorite foods wouldn’t make me fat… Or unhealthy… Or make people stare and shake their heads in disapproval of me for eating them.
- I wish that I could be on The Voice so people could hear me sing Adele’s “Hello” the way I do when I’m in the car… stuck in DC traffic. Loud. Very, very loud.
- I wish that we had designated parking at NCRC. And, that every space was at the front of the building. That, in turn, would help grant another wish-to have more stress-free time where I can explore topics and activities I just can’t seem to find the time to do most days.
- I wish that all children could grow up keeping their sense of wonder at the natural world and could look for and find these miracles every day.
- I wish that teachers were valued as much as rock stars or top athletes. And that rock stars and top athletes had the integrity, manners, compassion, and knowledge that teachers have (I’m sure a great many of them do but we don’t seem to hear about them as much as the others).
- I wish that instead of painting people who are different than us with the proverbial broad brush stroke; that we try to instead learn about them as individuals, with families, and ailments, and hidden dreams, and middle-of-the-night worries. We are, after all, members of the same humanity.
- I wish that every child in the world could attend a school like NCRC where they are safe from the events adults have created and children don’t understand, where they are healthy and well-fed, where they are loved, and nurtured, and cherished. In a similar vein, I wish that people all around the globe could vow to hold the space of early childhood as a sacred space never to be violated.
And finally, as we close out 2015 in the midst of global unrest and political uncertainty, I wish that as we went to sleep at night that we did not think of war, or hunger, or thievery, or greed, or violence. They are the antithesis of a healthy soul, an inquisitive mind, and a productive and enjoyable life. Rather, I wish for a world where the existence of peace, love, gratitude, and joy are considered just another ordinary day.
We are back from Seattle and it was an amazing trip! Just being in the Pacific Northwest was enough to make the trip lovely but it was the content of the conference itself that made it exquisite. Every speaker seemed to be top notch, including our own NCRC representatives. It was a wonderful combination of current research and practical application.
I had the chance to sit in on the presentation given by our SOS team - Becky Marquez, Marian Brice, and Judith Wides - on self-regulation. I could not have been more proud of them. Not only was the information relevant and important, but it was presented in a fun and engaging way. Attendees asked wonderful questions, demonstrating their understanding of the content. My presentation was also well received. In fact, a representative from the Government of Ontario, Canada asked if I would present my information about engaging parents on a webinar for their early childhood educators.
There was so much information that was useful for our work, but the big take-away was the fact that there has been a revolution in our understanding of children’s minds, brains, and learning capacities. We now recognize that young children know, feel, and learn more than we ever imagined. In laboratories around the world, children’s natural curiosity and drive to learn is being uncovered in research studies. Just as basic research in genetic mechanisms led to the Genome Project, discoveries about the developing mind set the stage for a new science of learning, requiring new policies and programs.
It was amazing to be counted among those who are at the forefront of this work.
You won’t see me at NCRC for the next few days because I’m in Seattle, Washington. In fact, I just got off the plane! I’m here to attend the Zero to Three Conference sponsored by the National Training Institute (NTI). Zero to Three is the nation’s premier early childhood conference. It is a comprehensive and multidisciplinary conference focusing on cutting-edge research, best practices, and policy issues for young children and their families. It’s the place to be in early childhood for researchers, physicians and educators, etc. But I’m not here alone; NCRC’s School Counselor, Judith Wides, Occupational Therapist, Marian Brice, and Speech Pathologist, Becky Marquez (also known collectively as our SOS team) are here as well. We are attendees but we are also presenters. I will be presenting information on work NCRC is doing for our families and our SOS team will be sharing their knowledge in a workshop that highlights the important work they do for every child at NCRC in a presentation titled “Peeking Under the Umbrella of Self-Regulation in the Three-Year-Old Child.”
NCRC is unique in so many ways, but top among them is our SOS team whose expertise (as evidenced by their inclusion in this highly respected conference) and passion help define excellence in early childhood education for every child at our school every day.
It will be a very busy few days with lots of opportunities to learn and share. I look forward to sharing highlights from our experience with you in later issues of The Sandbox. See you all soon.
My job has a lot of “cool factors.” No really, it does. One of my favorite of these is visiting other schools - especially schools I’ve never been to before. I’ve visited almost 100 schools over the years - here, in the US, and abroad. Sometimes I visit to evaluate, sometimes I visit to just observe and learn. Also, I’ve taught in several different schools and headed a few others as well. So, that being said, I definitely consider myself a connoisseur of schools.
Recently, I visited a school that I expected to go against my predilection toward a more progressive education. It appeared very traditional from its materials.
The building was old - ancient, actually - and it appeared tattered and torn from the outside. But once I was inside, things changed dramatically. The teachers were so proud to show me what they had done to this old building in an effort to create a great space for children, to demonstrate to the children that they valued them. They had hand-built lofts and painted clouds that they had created - soft corners - but from every corner you could feel the love and care that went into creating each classroom, and thereby, the school. What it lacked in edifice it made up for in love for the children, dedication to the mission, and really good teaching.
I fell in love with the little school, a school that could not have been farther from what I believe to be the foundation of a good education if it had been placed on Mars. But ultimately, the important things were all there.
Through all of these experiences I have come to learn a few things. Each good school has its own personality and vision, its own joys and weights to carry; each can express those beliefs in a variety of ways. But the most important things that all good schools have in common are the bones on which they are built - gifted teachers that understand and deeply love their students and are dedicated to good pedagogy… Just like at NCRC. And just like at many of the great schools in the DC area. So when the time comes to think about the schools that might come after NCRC - and that may be right now! - please remember to think not only about what makes a school good, but also what makes a school right for your child.
“An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
- C.G. JUNG
Welcome back! It’s a new year at NCRC with a renewed focus, but the same commitment and dedication. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday with lots of time to relax and enjoy some time with family and friends.
We have a very erudite community. It’s a fact, and one of my greatest pleasures. So, it didn’t surprise me in the least when, during the holidays, I received lots of emails from parents and faculty with articles to read (or re-read). I almost don’t have to worry about keeping up with the latest information about education or child development because if I wait long enough, someone will send it to me - and I love it.
Many of the articles I’ve been receiving recently, however, seem to follow a similar theme and, taken together, are quite disturbing. You’ve probably seen the headlines: “The new preschool is crushing kids” or “The drive for success is making our children sick” - just to name a few. These articles suggest that maybe, in an effort to be better, faster, and stronger, we have begun to slowly but surely destroy the thing we love most. They suggest that the act of educating our nation’s children - which should be a source of immense joy for them - may actually be taking the “love” out of learning, and doing so with disastrous results.
For almost 90 years NCRC has been protecting what we believe is a sacred space - early childhood. We understand that “play is the work of the child,” that the young child’s brain is not just a smaller version of an adult brain, but something completely different. The child’s brain is unique and has completely different needs, one of these fundamental needs being a childhood spent experiencing and engaging with life rather than merely studying it. So, as the rest of the world vacillates between adding more “academic rigor” or “seat work,” we will continue to do what we do best, helping to develop curious, independent, and compassionate human beings in an environment where they are loved.
For those of you interested in reading on:
- Where There's Goodness, There's Magic!
- Roots To Grow
- Intelligence, Creativity And Perception
- Interview: Judith Wides on Inclusion at NCRC
...because mommy, where there's kindness, there's goodness; and where there's goodness there's magic!
Believe it or not, spring is on its way. Yes, we just had almost 3 inches of snow and an ice storm but the signs of spring are in the air. One of the real signs of spring for me is when the new seed catalogues begin to arrive. I've always loved the idea of gardening but, frankly, I'm pretty terrible at it. Looking wistfully at seed catalogues is about as close as I get. I remember planting seeds in my preschool classroom when I was a young teacher. I would have the children plant lima beans in a cotton ball between two sheets of glass. The glass made the entire growing process visible. The seed would send out its roots very quickly and the children would be amazed at the magic that happened, seemingly overnight. The roots were strong with the ability to connect to the soil, stabilizing the plant so that it could grow and produce its fruit.
Roots are a wonderful metaphor for so many things, but this is especially true for this year's auction theme - Roots to Grow: Giving Children a Foundation to Blossom. The theme is an expansion of what prominent newspaper editor W. Hodding Carter II said (he had heard it from another woman): "There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of those is roots, the other wings."
We know that the gift of a high quality preschool education can be foundational; it gives children their roots, their foundation for further learning. The auction this weekend allows children whose families have limited means to attend NCRC. This, in turn, allows us to create the diverse school community that is vital to our mission. Our mission is our lifeblood, coursing through everything we do and every decision we make. It is the rich soil of our garden. The Tuition Assistance Fund has allowed us to fulfill this mission, to welcome a wide variety of children, since 1928.
We value diversity of thought, culture, development needs, perspectives, and backgrounds. As we noted in the letter we recently sent, "These [differences] are exactly what make NCRC so special to us. We are an inclusive community. We welcome people not despite their differences in relation to the 'norm' or the status quo, but rather because of them. We value the thread that each and every person at NCRC brings to the cumulative fabric of our special community."
The auction helps to make all of this possible. So I look forward to seeing you there as we celebrate the community that we are building together.
I had an opportunity to sit with Judith Wides, our School Counselor, and talk about the importance of inclusion at NCRC. Here’s a window into our conversation.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS WORK IN GENERAL - INCLUSION IN PRESCHOOL?
WHAT MAKES INCLUSION AT NCRC SPECIAL?
HOW CAN PARENTS SUPPORT OUR INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY?
WHAT ELSE CAN PARENTS DO TO SUPPORT INCLUSION, BOTH SOCIALLY AND EMOTIONALLY?
Classroom gardening projects, shed jackets lined up on the playground fence, and plans for spring break... It's definitely spring time at NCRC. I've spoken to many of you (parents, teachers, and children alike) and what you all will be doing during Spring Break runs the gamut - from a trip Florida to visit the Kennedy space center, to trips overseas, to taking a much needed "staycation." Everyone seems to be doing something that will allow for rejuvenation, exploration, and a good bit of fun. I'm thrilled to hear about everything you're doing because many of you are doing it together with your family. Your children will have the opportunity to have you to themselves, to share their world with you. So, enjoy your time away, however you spend this precious moment. Take the time to break from your routine and let go of the schedule, and connect with your child and each other.
One of my favorite reads this month was Yale Professor Erika Christakis's book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups. It is a fascinating book on so many levels.
Christakis urges parents, teachers-in fact, every one who cares about children-to
"...deepen their connections to the young children in their care."
On the surface, it sounds like such a simple idea. But in our hurried society, where we try to do so much in the little time we have, actually making the kinds of connections that are important to children is becoming increasingly difficult. These types of connections take time, like the time it takes to talk face-to-face about things that interest them. Time to ask questions and provide answers and as Christakis highlights so beautifully. Time to - using the concept attributed to Soviet Psychologist, Lev Vygotski - scaffold learning by
"...offering the right level of learning support to take a child's knowledge to the next level."
Take the opportunity during Spring Break to make the kinds of connections that will help your child stretch their learning. And, if you don't mind, send us pictures of how you're making these connections. With your permission, I'd love to see and share.
I wish you a safe and happy Spring Break, however you spend it.
Amazingly, children are born knowing how to put every thought and feeling into story form. If they worry about being lost they become the parents who search.... Even happiness has its plot and characters."
You probably saw the Google Doodle on its homepage yesterday, reminding us that it was International Women's Day (IWD), "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."
As a woman, I wish we didn't need such a day.
As an educator, I'm delighted we have it.
I wish we didn't need such a day because our need of it is based on the inequality of women and it calls national attention to this inequality in the hope of resolving it.
As an educator, I know we need to raise awareness of some facts. For instance, according to an article on Fortune.com, the gap between men's and women's pay between 2014 and 2015 actually grew. Progress on wage inequality seems to have lost momentum, with a tiny 0.3% narrowing of the gap between 2006 and 2015. Women's representation in government offices is equally uneven, according to The Center for American Women and Politics. What sort of message does this send to our children? Should one group aspire less, settle for not as much, and not strive because it won't matter? Not to my way of thinking. And it's not just about gender.
I feel a special connection to the topic of women. My dissertation looked at the question of women and leadership in early childhood settings. I was and continue to be interested in gaining a deeper understanding of how women identified as successful early childhood leaders understand what it means to be a leader.
The theme of this year's IWD campaign was parity. The way I see this, it's not an either/or, male/female issue. If men and boys were being slighted, I'd advocate for changing that, too. Or people who are denied opportunities because of their socio-economic status or a host of other things that makes each child unique. Equalizing women's opportunities does not take opportunities away from men. If you look at the history of women's issues, significant progress has been made. To me, it's similar to other areas where we have collectively found something to be misaligned, and we have collectively raised consciousness about the issue to make things right.
By providing opportunities to everyone, you teach children early that hard work pays off and that learning is the key to success, no matter how they measure it. It opens up their worlds. And much like our commitment to inclusion in our school, by raising awareness and promoting parity for women, it's not just girls who will benefit. Boys will see that empowering people is a good thing, that a little competition makes for a better final 'product,' and that collaboration with people different than themselves offers a wider perspective. To me, it's not about being a feminist. It's not about being a woman's advocate. It's about removing barriers so that every child can be successful.
...That seems to be the question du jour when talking about the importance of children's social-emotional skills in the context of educational settings. At NCRC, however, we are focusing not on the test, but instead on the value of the whole child and the wide range of cognitive and social-emotional skills we are trying to foster early in their academic experience.
A New York Times article entitled, "Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students' Emotional Skills," addresses the recent update to federal education law that requires states to not only include academic measures when judging school performance, but to also measure skills such as self-control and conscientiousness. This social-emotional learning, also called "grit," a term and a concept popularized by Dr. Angela L. Duckworth, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a MacArthur Fellow, became of interest to schools around 2011, according to the article. At that time, an analysis of 213 school-based programs teaching such skills found they improved academic achievement.
The article notes that schools in eight California districts will test students on their social-emotional skills, "...ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age."
There's quite a bit of controversy about efforts to measure these skills. In fact, Dr. Duckworth and Dr. David Scott Yeager, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, wrote a paper entitled "Measurement Matters: Assessing Personal Qualities Other Than Cognitive Ability for Educational Purposes." The paper doesn't question the importance of non-cognitive abilities. As a matter of fact, one of its conclusions is:
There is a scientific consensus in the behavioral sciences that success in school and beyond depends critically on many attributes other than cognitive ability."
Rather, it questions how to accurately measure non-cognitive qualities properly.
....children can form concepts concerning issues and citizenship responsibility with respect to those issues."
Next week, during Earth Week April 18 - 22, NCRC will highlight its commitment to sustainability by supporting children's natural sense of wonder in the environment. The Lorax will return to NCRC to remind us all to take care of nature. We believe early childhood is the perfect time to broach the concepts of sustainability and community. Every day our students are learning about the world around them. Now we want to teach them to become responsible stewards of it.
So much in it reflects many of the points made in our various NCRCDT sessions, including how wonderful it is that NCRC is one of the very few places that has a regular program for dad/granddads and their kids-way beyond the more common once-a-year 'donuts for dads' type programs or merely inviting dads to help construct a new playground," he says, adding NCRC's focus on dads and grandads is unique.
Earlier this week I attended a program designed to start a dialogue around issues of social justice and inclusion. I was invited to this kick-off event at Beauvoir/The National Cathedral Elementary School because I had facilitated a workshop on the topic at the request of some of our past NCRC parents; that workshop served as a jumping off point for Beauvoir's initiative.
Highly regarded educator, author, and school consultant, Reverend Paula Lawrence-Wehmiller (also the sister of Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot), was the featured speaker and she began her talk with a host of stories from her childhood, reminding the audience of the importance of story. What I found most powerful, however, were her thoughts about parenting.
For Reverend Lawerence-Wehmiller, there is a distinct difference between viewing parenting as a job one has and viewing parenting as a vocation to which one aspires. When parenting is a job, she went on to explain, we see success as a goal and we look for the right way to say or do something. It becomes a checklist where we can simply check off the box and say, "We're done." Her point was that when we view it as our job to parent, we limit ourselves in ways that we not only don't expect, but also, don't want. But, when parenting becomes a vocation, it becomes something to which we aspire; there are few absolutes, only possibilities.
She paraphrased writer and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner, who, when defining it, suggests that parenting as a vocation is, in fact, a calling where,
...your deepest gladness meets the world's deepest needs."
As I think of my own years of parenting (I have 3 adult children) I am sure that at times, especially in the early years, parenting was a job-and I barely hung onto it at that. I looked for the best way to diaper and discipline but, especially as the children became older and I became more confident, it was my highest calling and greatest joy. It was and remains something for which I am grateful every single day.
I wish you all, with the greatest humility, the opportunity to parent (and grandparent) as a vocation-with deep gladness and joy.
- In Celebration of Teachers
- Conversation about Inclusion with NCRC Speech Language Pathologist, Becky Márquez
- A Foundation for Success
- Pajamas on the Playground
a day for honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives."
What brought you to NCRC?
NCRC just felt good to me. When I walked into NCRC, it felt warm. But because of my previous experience, it felt somewhat familiar at the same time. I had come from an elementary school model, where the kids had reading and writing issues. I wanted to catch them up to help them be successful. I thought that if they had had more experience with phonemic awareness at the preschool age they would have been in a better place when they finally got to me. At NCRC, I saw in real life what the research has said all along about the importance of early childhood.
Tell me about your experience with inclusion at NCRC?
Well, I live it and I breathe it every day. I know that inclusion happens here on a daily basis on a very deep level. From choosing materials that are appropriate for everybody or ensuring that everyone has access to materials that are appropriate for them, to decision making, we make sure we take into account the needs of all children. Taking that a step further, we include everybody in decisions. When we have our classroom teacher and SOS meetings, we are collaborative and we include each lens from which all the parties view the problem, including educators, counselor, and therapist lenses. When we have all the perspectives we are better able to make a plan for each child.
Does the SOS team work with all children?
Yes, it's one of the real strengths of our program. The SOS team works with everyone; some children need enrichment, some need intervention. Having a speech pathologist, a guidance counselor, and an occupational therapist working together and knowing that we have the best interest of children at the heart helps bring a coordinated, collective lens on each child as an individual and helps us make the best plan possible for his or her development.
Tell me about your particular lens of analysis?
I need to have a variety of lenses when I work with the children. I will have a plan of action for them but I have to look at more than their "speech and language needs." I have to be aware of their social emotional needs-are they accessible to me? Are they emotionally ready and receptive to the educational plan? If they are not emotionally regulated, I have to ask myself, what is it that they need? I have to be present for them. It's being able to read where they are emotionally. I have my plan or the activity that I want to present but that won't take precedence if they are not available emotionally. I will make sure that I support that need first in order to maximize the lesson I want for them. It's so important to establish that you are a safe person and that school is a safe place. Then the child is available to learn.
By making them do chores - taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry - they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life,"
according to Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult. Her comments came during a TED Talks Live event.
Other factors contributing to a child's success include developing social skills, valuing effort over avoiding failure and setting high expectations. It's an important list; it's also a very interesting list to me because many of the things listed are also characteristics of what is considered high quality early childhood education. More importantly, most of the items on this list are the very foundation of what we value at NCRC. We focus on the development of social skills, we help our young students see the value of supporting their classmates and community through classroom jobs. We believe in the development of independence - from having a child learn to put on their coat by themselves to having responsibilities in the classroom. We celebrate successes but help students learn from failure as well.
Having scientific evidence to hone our focus as parents and educators is fundamental, but having an institution and community to bring this all together at NCRC is priceless.
One of our neighbors stopped me as I came in this morning and said,
It looked like your families had a really wonderful time last night".
He was certainly correct-we did have a great time last night. It was the kind of night memories are made of and that is why everyone in the NCRC community looks forward to the Pajama Picnic for weeks. And last night did not disappoint.
For adults, the Picnic is an opportunity, perhaps, to relive quieter times when you were children. Maybe it conjures recollections of being able to sit outside, in pajamas, after your bath and just in time to watch the fireflies light up the yard. Or maybe it meant piling into the back of the station wagon-pillows and pjs and peanut butter sandwiches, too- to head to the drive in movie theater. Being out at night in your pajamas was something just a little bit daring, out of the ordinary, a break from the routine.
For children, it's a chance to have fun with peers and teachers and parents without distractions of daily routines. It's coming back to the playground after the school day in pajamas to play and sing and eat tons of pizza, to welcome the upcoming summer. It's also a little bit of a goodbye to the school year that will soon end.
Last night was the kind of night the Pajama Picnic founders likely had in mind when they envisioned the event. After seemingly endless days of gloomy weather, the weather was perfect. Mr. Lilo was enthusiastically welcomed back to NCRC to lead us in favorite songs and music, all of it timeless, beloved. And, as a result of the Susan Piggott Fellowship every family received Mr. Lilo's latest CD Singing for a Better World. In the years to come, this CD will undoubtedly transport you and your children back to NCRC and these happy, magical years.
If you missed receiving your special CD please check at the front office.
As I was walking by a window the other day, I caught a glimpse of my reflection-always a sobering event. It's almost like confronting someone you sort of remember (who stole my younger self and replaced her with this mid-lifer? I wondered). I mentally reflected on the changes to the inner me since I came to NCRC as the brand new Head of School two years ago. I wondered, too, what this more gently-used Val would have said to that newer version when she started here.
This year's Val would tell last year's Val that while this is the hardest job she will ever love, it is by far the most rewarding. Watching children's eyes literally widen and their smiles broaden when they've learned something new is absolutely timeless and priceless. It never-I repeat, NEVER-gets old or tired. And it always, always restores my faith in this life-changing field and the work we do in it. I would tell the not-quite-as-seasoned Val that she will meet so many incredible families who care infinitely for their children and the community of which they are integral and valued members. And I'd be remiss if I didn't talk so fondly about the many thoughtful and inspired teachers who are so curious and creative and who will fill her days with new ideas, and old ideas with new applications.
"New Val," I would say. "You will learn some amazing things from some very talented individuals - teachers, parents and kids. You will laugh frequently and love deeply."
Most of all, I would tell her what I tell all of you - enjoy the ride.
In this last Wise Words of the school year, I want to take the opportunity to wish you all an incredible summer filled with adventure, respite and joy. For those of you who will be moving on this year, I wish that the peace and sense of community you've found here at NCRC continues with you to your next destination. You will always be a part of NCRC, and NCRC will always be a part of you. For those who will be joining us again next year-glad you're coming along for the ride. It will be amazing.