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

Raising Resilient Children

By: Laurie Wolke

You may have heard me share that resilience is one of the most important life skills that we can teach our kids. They need to be able to roll with life's ups and downs, great projects and those that didn't quite work out, a win on the field and a loss on the court. Some days everyone's your friend and other days you might struggle. But the goal is to stay positive, deal head-on with whatever happens by reflecting, and move forward. "Solve and evolve!"

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties -- toughness. Resilience also encompasses the ability to adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. These qualities are so important to success, in school and in life. Through our Character Education Program, our faculty focuses on helping our students build this quality – which can be taught and built up like a muscle. We want the children to feel comfortable taking risks, but confident that they can withstand the bumps in the road as they work toward their goals.

It is also important for parents to build resiliency in order to help their kids do the same. So what can you do to help your kids build resiliency and mental toughness? Here are some great tips from a recent Inc. article: Mentally Strong Kids Have Parents Who Refuse to Do These 13 Things.

Device-Free Time to Improve Your Children's Intellect (and Yours!)

By: Laurie Wolke

Like so many of you, I find it challenging to strike a balance between the attention commanded by my iPhone and my logical understanding that it is important to put it away. This powerful device allows me to work on the go, read the "newspaper" in between meetings, peruse the Instagram feeds of my friends and family to keep up with their daily lives, make a dinner reservation in under a minute, or look up a fact that is eluding me in seconds.

Yet the attention this miraculous device draws drains our brains and our children's brains.

At Back to School Night, I talked about studies showing the negative impacts on children's school performance, sleep, and social lives resulting from tech devices in their bedrooms. Even more concerning are the many recent studies indicating that mere proximity to our smartphones negatively impacts our intellect.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece called, "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds," which summarized some of this new research. Here's the gist -- we are so overly attached to our smartphones that their presence (even when not in use) can impede our ability to reason, problem-solve, feel empathy, and connect with others. For students at the college and secondary school levels, two studies demonstrated that simply having a smartphone in the classroom negatively impacted performance by an entire grade.

But at Laurence, we're all about "solving and evolving." Last week, Internet security, safety, and ethics expert, Lori Getz, spoke to our parents about managing technology in their family's lives. She had many kernels of useful knowledge, but I want to share one that is relevant here. And you can use it today!

Lori told us that she bought a charging station for her house and put it near the front door. The rule in her home is that parents and kids put their devices in the station as soon as they walk in. This impacted her family in several important ways.

  • First, it allowed her to give her kids technology when requested, instead of constantly taking it away.
  • Second, it kept the grownups from looking at their phones while talking to their children – allowing them to both model desirable behavior and better connect with their kids.
  • Third, it kept devices out of the bedroom, which improved sleep.

And, yes, the last piece required the purchase of a good, old-fashioned alarm clock!

During our Back to School events, you were provided with a sleeping bag for your cell phone. Please use it! Laurence is all about connection and communication. With study after study imploring us to put our devices away, it is exciting to have a concrete step to take as we solve, evolve, and overcome challenges caused by our beloved and infinitely useful smartphones.

References: "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds," Nicholas Carr, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6, 2017; "The mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, study shows," ScienceDaily.com, June 23, 2017.

Parents who missed Lori Getz's Parent Education Series talk this week can view it online on the Videos page under the Parents section of our website.

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.