Head of School Blog

Hello! I'm Laurie Wolke and thank you for visiting my blog! Whether this is your first time reading it or you're a frequent visitor, I hope you'll enjoy the ideas, articles, and thoughts I have to share about educating children and raising them to be kind, confident, and life-long learners. I hope you will find some of these posts useful for you - wherever you are in your journey. Please visit often.

Laurie Wolke
Head of School

News, Insights & Articles

Cursive's Still Got It: Tradition Grounded in Science

By: Laurie Wolke

Balancing tradition and innovation is an important tenet at Laurence, and has been since our founding in 1953. One tradition of elementary education that has been the subject of debate is the teaching of cursive handwriting. We all remember those worksheets – solid lines, separated by the dashed line, showing us exactly where our lower case vowels should reach. We practiced each letter, one at a time. Upper case, then lower case. Laurence has continued the tradition of teaching cursive, even as we have added typing and keyboarding, and, later, mouse and stylus skills.

The Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by most states, only require handwriting instruction through first grade and do not require cursive instruction. But we believe that the traditional approach of teaching cursive handwriting remains important. One reason is that being able to write in cursive helps one read cursive, which is of course, how many of our most important historical documents were produced – for example, the U.S. Constitution! But, as educators, we also believe – and our beliefs are backed by studies – that handwriting notes increases understanding and retention as compared to typing computer-generated notes.

Writing in cursive, and handwriting in general, have important positive neurological impacts in children's brains, according to several studies. For example, brain scans have shown that block writing, cursive, and typing each elicit distinct neurological patterns, but it is handwriting that triggers parts of the brain known to relate to successful reading and improved letter perception. Typing does not have the same effects. Practicing handwriting has also been shown to help students develop motor skills, in addition to improved composition and reading comprehension abilities.

So cheers to good old-fashioned tradition!

Read Edutopia's article, What We Lose with the Decline of Cursive, to learn more and for links to other articles and studies.

Arts Education Teaches Important Life Skills

By: Laurie Wolke

Arts education has always been an integral part of Laurence's curriculum. What I love about the arts is that they provide children with cultural experiences and outlets for their creativity, while also serving as a vehicle for teaching public speaking, perseverance, and resilience.

Central to teaching the arts is a process that encourages risk-taking, and teaches students to positively accept constructive feedback. The process looks like this: Students study a great songwriter, they interpret and adapt their own version of a song, teachers work with students to reflect on their technique and provide constructive critique, and students then apply the feedback to their performance and see improvement or growth. Familiarity and comfort with this process enables our children to develop and progress, not only in the arts, but also in math, science, and athletics.

Moreover, this process takes place in a safe environment, where trying something new and expressing creativity is encouraged. There is no negative consequence for singing off key; rather, the mistake is treated as a learning opportunity to improve technique. By experiencing this process repeatedly within the nurturing elementary school atmosphere, our students learn at an early age to try tasks and activities outside their comfort zones and to accept and appreciate feedback. Also, because they see the link between applying feedback and improved performance, they are able to learn that the process of working through challenges can be enjoyable. As a result, our students begin to develop resilience and perseverance, as well as intrinsic motivation as they learn the satisfaction that comes with an accomplishment or performance achieved through hard work.

I have watched this process play out firsthand, time and time again. Not every child is a naturally talented artist, but through practice, hard work, and motivation, they can obtain these skills. It is so heartwarming to watch a 2nd Grader who cannot carry a tune continue to work hard, and through taking risks and being encouraged and nurtured, they become the 6th Grader with a lead role in the musical. It's a remarkable process to witness!

The benefits of this process through the arts can be seen throughout the school, starting with our youngest students. For example, our 1st Graders studied the works of the Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, this year. Our visual art specialists led a discussion with the children about Gaudí's architectural style and what made it interesting. Then, students each made their own version of a Gaudí building using clay, painting and decorating it in the same style. Along the way, the teachers helped them work through challenges in their projects, and eventually, these six and seven-year-old students created finished pieces that did, in fact, reflect Gaudí's architectural style. When the children saw their works on display in the school's front office, they were delightedly proud to show their works to their parents.

If you'd like to learn more about how the arts help students develop important life skills such risk-taking, you might enjoy this video from Edutopia about how the New Mexico School for the Arts is teaching students to embrace failure and build a growth mindset.

Global Education, Curiosity & Character

By: Laurie Wolke

At Laurence, our Global Garden Educational Program has long been a celebrated aspect of our curriculum. One of my favorite aspects of the program is its emphasis on inspiring curiosity in our students – a key trait for developing a love of learning. Students explore the wonders of the world around them right here in America, as well as in foreign countries where their sister schools are located. The Global Program is also a vehicle to teach students the values embedded in our Character Education Program, which include kindness, empathy, and respecting different points of view. Conversations through emails, letters, videos, and Skype give our students a chance to ask students in Mexico, Africa, China, and Europe: What does kindness look like to you?

In our recent Global Garden Newsletter, Eric Hogenson, Director of Grades 3 – 6 & STEAM Innovation, K-6, wrote an eloquent piece about the intersection of the Global Program and this year's character education theme, "Follow Your Inner Compass." I am so proud of his work and I wanted to share it here with my blog readers.

Click here to read his article.
Expanding Our "Circle of Concern" to Build Empathy
By Laurie Wolke

At Laurence, we celebrated Random Acts of Kindness Week with special activities designed to help students focus on the many ways to be kind. While we put additional emphasis on kindness this week as part of this national movement, we celebrate and promote kindness every day through our Character Education Program. Just ask our students about how they "Keep Kind in Mind!"

This past fall, Harvard Professor and psychologist Richard Weissbourd, co-director of the Making Caring Common Project, spoke to our parents about raising kind and caring children. One key take-away that has been particularly inspiring to me is the concept of expanding our students' (and our own) "Circle of Concern." He explained that children tend to be naturally empathetic toward their own friends and parents, but they need to learn how to develop empathy for people outside their "circle" – empathy for a waiter, their school bus driver, and people of different backgrounds.

We do a lot here at Laurence to help kids develop this type of empathy through our Global Education Program, service learning activities, and daily classroom discussions. I came across an article on the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation's blog that I thought was especially helpful in giving you, our parents, some concrete ideas for what you can do at home to expand your chrildren's "Circle of Concern." The article also points to great resources from our all-things-media-partner, Common Sense Media.

Click here to read "5 Ways to Help Children Care More."

Holiday Cheer, Holiday Perspective

By Laurie Wolke

With winter break just around the corner, I think back on years when my children were small and winter break was a time for all of us to slow down and be together. I am filled with all of the warm memories we created during those years, as I anticipate, with excitement, making new memories with my children.

But it is also easy to idealize this time of year, placing overly high expectations on ourselves to make the holidays perfect. We also tend to transfer those expectations onto our children, who are bound to spill chocolate on their impeccably selected outfits or become tired and cranky from the change in routine and whirlwind of events and visiting relatives.Children also absorb the stress of the adults around them.

So this is an important time of year for perspective and practicing some of the mindfulness techniques our Laurence students have been learning. Remind them to do their belly breathing when tensions get too high, and while you're at it, remind yourself! Take a short walk together when the house feels hectic. And remember that what is most important to your children is the time you spend with them and the traditions you create for them – those are the building blocks of warm memories that they will cherish for many years beyond this season's batch of toys.

For suggestions about how to make lasting memories, you might want to take a look at a recent article from The Washington Post's "On Parenting" column, "What children need even more than presents this holiday season."

Here's to making lasting memories this December!