Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Happy Summer!

The song, "School's Out for Summer," always plays in my head whenever I think about the last day of school. What a wonderful year it's been at Seisen. Because of the anguish the world has experienced, it's easy to focus on all of the conflict & terror that is constantly being displayed on our news feeds. I believe it's even more important to recognize the good that we see. With that being said, I feel as if our students have accomplished so much, from deeds of service, to choral, dance and drama performances, to sports accomplishments and, most importantly perhaps, LEARNING! Our girls have not only been learning math, science, English, etc., but also understanding more about themselves, and how to be a better friend, student and global citizen. Though the ending of a school year is always bittersweet, I am happy knowing I'll get to see many of the ES girls during Sports Camp and again in August for the start of the next school year.

Parents, though I  know many of your girls will be attending camps home and abroad, there may be those times when you require some non-screen time activities to keep them occupied, especially during rainy days!

Here are a few that I found while browsing.

Good old fashioned board games are always an amazing way to have fun as a family or group of friends. Most of all, kids just want to spend quality time with their loved ones, even if it means having to put their iPads or smart phones down for a little bit. They'll thank you when they're older!

In closing, I want wish all of the Seisen community a happy & safe summer. See you all in August!

~Ms. Carnright

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Death, Dying & Grief: How to Help Kids

I believe one of life's most difficult challenges (even as an adult) is accepting and coping with death, and grappling with our own immortality. For children, coming to terms with the loss of a someone or something close to them can be confusing and hard to comprehend. Throw into this process the idea of reincarnation, heaven, hell, etc., and it can become even more abstract and thought-provoking.

One of the rewarding aspects of being a counselor is getting to answer kids' questions about all sorts of topics. More often than not, they involve friendships and family matters, but occasionally the subject of death and dying comes up. One session that I had last year with one of our grade 5 girl's, really sticks out, because she and her family had just experienced the sudden loss of a close and young family member.  It is during these times, that I feel especially vulnerable, even as a counselor, because it's sometimes difficult to find just the right words to say. Any adult that has been to a funeral or wake can understand this feeling of, "Whatever I am going to say is NOT going to make a difference."

However, I really believe that, out of tragedy, comes opportunities to build closer connections with those around you. Specifically, life's toughest moments offer the chance to have meaningful conversations with loved ones, especially children, who may need this valuable dialogue to know how to conceptualize what has occurred. Death is, inevitably, something that all children will face, and it's important that parents know how to talk to their kids about this. It helps to remember that, based on age and development, children have varying ideas about death and dying, to include it's permanence. Each child is unique, therefore, there is no "one size fits all" approach, but here are some great resources and ideas for talking to kids about death. The following information was taken from healthychildren.org.

Infants & toddlers
Infants and toddlers do not understand death, but they can sense what their caregiver is experiencing. Take care of yourself and recognize your own need to grieve. Keep as many routines as possible intact, as these allow the child to feel more safe and secure by knowing what to expect. Giving extra physical attention to comfort your child and may also be beneficial during this time. 

Preschoolers (Ages 3-5)

Preschoolers see death as something temporary. Because young children are concrete thinkers, it is important that they are told about death in simple, clear language. Do not use euphemisms like, "She has gone to sleep," "…traveled to the great beyond," or "…passed away." 
Instead, young children should be told that their loved one has died and "that means we will no longer be able to see her." You can explain that, sometimes when old people become very sick, their bodies may stop working, and that is when people die. If it is a younger person that passed away, a similar explanation can be given. Be prepared for young children to continue to ask where the deceased is or when they are coming back. Give clear messages, but balance this out with discussions about memories you have with this particular person, and that these will remain forever. For young children, using solely religious explanations may be ineffective because they need much more concrete, specific explanations about the physical realities of death.
Because young children can't always express their feelings, their thoughts and fears often will come out at unexpected times, like in their play. Play can be the language of childhood, so remain alert to what kids may be trying to tell you through their play.

School-aged children (Ages 6-11)

School-aged children begin to understand death as a final event and will begin to realize that everyone dies someday. Give your child simple and honest explanations (e.g., "Aunt May had a disease that made her very sick, and she died.") about what happened and then ask her what she understands. Give children repeated opportunities to talk about their feelings. 
Younger school-aged children also may not yet understand the causality of death. It is common for them to personify death (i.e., think of death as the "boogeyman" or a ghost). They may believe they are to blame and feel guilty for what happened. Assure them that nothing they said or did (or didn't say or do) caused the death and that nothing they do can bring the deceased back.
Children may also worry that they will be left alone, especially by the death of a significant adult. They may also ask you about when you're going to die. Don't be surprised if your child becomes cuddlier, more watchful, and more possessive of your time.
  • Remind your child that not everyone who gets sick will die, and most often the body heals itself
  • Reassure her of your health
  • Let her know how many people in his life care for her.
  • Encourage and facilitate opportunities for you, your child and family to engage in fun activities that can be a distraction during difficult times
  • Take care of yourself and make sure you have support 
In the tragic event of a loss of a parent, sibling, or very close family member, keeping this person's memory alive is invaluable in order to help children cope. Photo albums, special mementos or items belonging to the deceased can serve as a great source of comfort for children experiencing this more extreme kind of grief. Often, I have children complete picture books depicting fond memories or images they have in their mind about that particular person. As they draw, I will ask questions, but more often prefer to listen to them discuss their pictures. Enclosed are additional activities from pbs.org, which has many helpful resources for grieving families. Ahaparenting also offers some good advice.  
Furthermore, as with most other topics, books can often be wonderful in teaching children about death and dying. Here are many examples of literature which explores this experience and prompt conversations about it, in addition to books I've found that have gotten very favorable reviews ("God Gave Us Heaven," by Lisa T. Begren and Laura J. Bryant;  "I Miss You," by Pat Thomas; &  "The Invisible String," by Patrice Karst). The books depicted below are available in my office for parents to borrow.

Lastly, if you feel like you need a bit of assistance discussing the death of someone in your child's life, please do not hesitate to reach out. Even if it means letting your daughter know that I am available if they need to speak with me, or to "normalize" the grieving process for them (because, as adults, we've all gone through this, to varying extents), I am happy to help.

~Ms. Carnright

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Does Friendship Have to be a Puzzle?

The title of this blog post was also the title of my bulletin board. The inspiration arose due to the number of students I see who struggle to solve friendship problems without adult intervention. And, while I have witnessed what I believe to be benefits to an all-girls education, I've come to understand that the male population can, at times, buffer some of the "drama" that seems to unfold more frequently among even the youngest of females. I wrote a blog post entitled, "Peace Be With You and Begins With You," earlier in the year, that goes into greater detail about the kinds of behaviors that are commonplace in girl world. 

Grade 4 students are used to the "roller coaster" metaphor when speaking about friendships, which is why they were asked to complete a puzzle activity (see above) outlining what they believe to be important characteristics of friends. The activity was taken from a curriculum I've come to really love, called The Ophelia Project: Kids Helping Kids. Most chose similar attributes and discussed how friendships tend to become more meaningful the older they (we) get. Last year, I utilized another activity from The Ophelia Project, but this time it was from the "Let's Be Friends," program designed for grades 2 and 3. The girls were asked to come up with their "friendship recipe," as if they could create a friend using a perfect combination of "ingredients." Here are two of my favorites from Olivia O. (3A) and Kaho (3A). 
Perhaps the most challenging thing about friendships is solving the conflicts that arise and knowing when maybe a friendship isn't quite working out the way you had hoped or the way it once had. Well-intentioned parents often try to guide their children in the right direction when it comes to their relationships, and want to offer sound advice. Sometimes, though, active listening can be a better strategy, rather than simply offering solutions or taking action to fix the problem for them. Throw in some questions that allow them to take different perspectives and see the conflict through a different lens and POOF: you've got kids who are building the skills necessary to more easily get through these rough friendship patches. I believe it's also important to remember that arguing/fighting IS important, not only because it's inevitable, but because it allows your child valuable practice opportunities for solving their relationship problems. Dr. Laura Markam, author of "Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting" said it best with this statement: "Children need to develop their voices, learn how to express their needs, and try out strategies to meet their goals." In short, they have to figure out what words for them and learn from their mistakes. And, like us, they'll make plenty of them!

A few resources to help parents know how to better guide their kids in the social world include ahaparenting (complete with many recommended books at the bottom of the page) and pbs.org, which specifically targets girl issues. Books can also be really valuable when trying to teach kids about conflict resolution and pro-social coping skills. One book by Madonna titled, "The English Roses," has been a hit with many of my students. For older students, the Chicken Soup series is great, and several can be found in our ES media center. I also really like the books pictured below, that happen to live in my office. 
When reading books to and with your children, asking thought-provoking questions has two benefits: it can encourage their comprehension and ability to self-reflect on their own experiences. "Can you tell me a time about when this happened to you?" or "Wow, this character is having a big problem. How do you think you would have handled it?" and, "What could the character have done differently that would have changed the story?" are just a few examples of the kinds of queries you can give. I always find it amazing the kinds of responses that kids have and their eagerness to make a connection or share instances when they've gone through something similar. 

Parents and teachers, what successful strategies have you used to teach your kids about friendships and conflict resolution? 

~Ms. Carnright :)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Building Empathy

Empathy has always been a fascinating topic to me, mostly because the behavior is something that many believe to be exhibited predominantly by humans and (perhaps) other animals as well, most notably primates. As such, the capacity to be empathetic may be in embedded in our very DNA, but our actual display of this trait/behavior is shaped by our environment and our experiences.

The definition of empathy, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is, "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experience and emotions," and "the ability to share someone else's feelings."  In the metaphorical sense, empathy is to put yourself in another's shoes.

I recently spoke to our 4th grade girls about empathy, and how it relates to qualities we look for in friends. Much to their surprise, I pointed out how even babies demonstrate empathy.  I posed the question: "What tends to happen when two babies are together and one of them starts to cry?" One of my students called out, "The other one starts to cry!" BINGO! Empathy in infancy at work.

In our school, and in accordance with the PYP, empathy is one of our learner profile words, so we as teachers are trying to embed this concept into instruction. For younger students, the best way (I believe) to have them understand empathy is through storytelling. There are so many great books on the topic as well as wonderful videos from Class Dojo, one of the best web resources out there for teaching social-emotional skills. Check out Part 1 of their three-part video series on empathy!

There are many books and literature that showcase empathetic behavior by its main character(s), and several can be found right in our own ES media center. Here are a few that I noted while browsing in the library:

One of the books, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud, describes how we can make one another feel good through words and actions. Furthermore, when we fill eachother's buckets, we end up filling our OWN. Contrarily, when we say or do something unkind, we (knowingly or unknowingly) become bucket "dippers." Student's in grade one and grade 2 at Seisen are familiar with this book and have designed buckets using Pic Collage. Some even took it a step further and used Chatterpix (thanks, Mr Towse!) to give their buckets a voice. Listen to Camille and Shrisha's views on how to fill a bucket:

I was so impressed with how much pride the Grade 2 students took in their buckets. Check out a sampling below of some that were particularly creative:

The grade four girls also had their chance at some "bucket-filling" during an activity titled, "Talking Behind Your Back." The students were asked tape a piece of paper onto their back, and to write one positive thing about each person in their class. The fun part? Not being able to see what others wrote about you until everyone had finished! I actually took part in the same activity in 7th grade and remember feelings of happiness & pride that accompanied it even to this day. If it made just one of my students feel good afterward, then my objective was achieved. What do you think? Do they seem to be having fun?

Parents and teachers: how do you teach your kids about empathy? For more information on this topic, please visit the following link on one of my favorite websites, ahaparenting.com.

~Ms. Carnright

Friday, January 27, 2017

Putting the "Pressure" On

Welcome back to school, Seisen students! It's been a couple of weeks since we've all returned from holidays locally and abroad which, for most, included lots of time spent with families and close friends. We hit the ground running in Grade 5, as their current Unit of Inquiry, Human Growth & Development, is nearing its end (booo!). Once again, I have absolutely loved being a part of it and getting the chance to work with our fabulous 5th grade tweens. Though their parents may feel a bit of anxiety/nervousness about their daughter's impending adolescent changes, I can't help but feel excited for them. Yes, being a teenager can be scary, uncomfortable, awkward and stressful, but I also remember it as a time of building close bonds with fellow classmates, new experiences and rights of passage. There is a feeling of invincibility that accompanies adolescence that cannot be duplicated or recreated in adulthood, unfortunately.

The focus this week has been on:

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships 

Peer pressure (direct/verbal, indirect/nonverbal) and what this looks like, sounds like, etc.
Many thanks to www.thecoolspot.gov for the "Bag of Tricks" used to pressure kids outlined above. The goal was to have the girls recognise features of each and their basic differences. Check out the role play videos from Mr. Carroll and Ms. Christine's classes demonstrating these very concepts. They were amazing!


5B-"The Look" 

Building awareness, in addition to knowing that the student's can make connections to their own lives, especially moving forward, is my primary focus when teaching this unit. I absolutely want the girls to have a "bag of tricks" of their own for dealing with peer pressure.  Here's what I thought were some good strategies. Can you think of any more? 
I also utilized the video clip below to demonstrate direct/verbal/spoken peer pressure. The girls really seemed to enjoy watching part of this episode of Full House, where sixth grader Stephanie is pressured to smoke by a group of older seventh grade students. This clips also portrays the complicated friendship dynamics of middle schoolers, which was an added bonus!
Additionally, it's important for the girls to know that friends can be very positive role models, and encourage you to make changes for the better. This "positive peer pressure" is one of the reasons why we should choose our friends wisely, and move away from relationships that we feel are unhealthy. Here's hoping that our girls rely on one another to make good choices, and confide in us when they are unsure about which path to take.

~Ms. Carnright

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Keep Calm and "Christmas" ON!

Well, we did it! We made it to Christmas break. The students & teachers are eager to begin their holiday vacations and spend time with their loved ones, both near and far.

For most people, the holiday season is a time of joy, togetherness and excitement. However, according to many psychologists, Christmas can also be a time of significant stress. Some experience loneliness and isolation and are reminded of those they have lost. The added stressors of gift giving, increased expenses, family feuds, travel and the kids at home for long stretches of time can also wear on parents and on the kids themselves!

Here are some tips about how we can deal with holiday stress, brought to you by the staff and students at Seisen who contributed to my bulletin board!

Suggestions include:
  • Meditating
  • Breathing in and out
  • Counting from 1 to 10
  • Talking with friends
  • Making a stress ball and squeezing it
  • Going for a run
  • Dancing
  • Going outside
  • Watching YouTube 
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Petting animals
  • Giving hugs
  • Humming
  • Sleeping
  • Reading
  • Hitting a pillow
  • Doing homework

Thank you to all those who gave suggestions about how to "RE-LEAF" stress. Many thanks to Mr. Towse for his always fabulous puns. Have a wonderful, happy, and healthy winter break filled with love and memory-making moments. See you in January! 

~Ms. Carnright

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for All

In the wake of this year's US election, it appears that we've lost our moral compass when it comes to respecting others. Many people have used the election as a platform to spew hate, disrespect, and prejudice, most notably through social media platforms towards those that have voted in a manner that they do not agree. It's quite disconcerting and worrisome that a great many individuals seem to be unable to discuss the outcome of the election in a way that's mindful of others' feelings and without judgement--no matter which side of the political spectrum they're on.

As a PYP school, Seisen aims to teach our kids about tolerance and celebrating diversity while encouraging understanding and empathy. We continuously strive to have our students "put themselves in another's shoes," and to approach conflict with the purpose of expressing our opinions in a respectful, solution-focused manner. I can imagine that most parents and other adults attempt to instil similar values. The question I sometimes ask myself is this: Are we practicing what we preach?

Recently, I went into one of our grade 6 classrooms to talk with the girls about respect: respect for themselves, respect for the environment and respect for others. We started the conversation on this very broad topic, which will become much bigger when we get into talking about stereotypes & prejudice, which I'll also link to our assumptions about political parties.

For now, I'll introduce what I put on the board (from goodcharacter.com) in grade 6, to give them a bit of a think:

Are You a Respectful Person?
  • I treat others the way I want to be treated.
  • I am considerate of other people
  • I treat people with civility, courtesy and dignity
  • I accept personal differences
  • I never intentionally ridicule, embarrass or hurt others (gossip, rumours, etc.)
Mr. O'Shea followed up this brief discussion by having the students actually rate themselves on these using "Never," "Sometimes," and "Always." Though this was just a small exercise, I feel as though it's important to have the girls continuously reflect on their behavior and attitudes towards others equally as much as they reflect on their schoolwork. Here were some additional thoughts by a few of the students:

"Most of my answers were 'sometimes' so I would like to make those 'sometimes' answers 'always' to become a more respectful person."

"I ALWAYS treat people the way I want to be treated because treating each other without respect is not fair especially if the person is very innocent and didn't do anything. I SOMETIMES accept peoples differences because sometimes when I learn something about something else that I find weird, sometimes my voice just comes out like oh my gosh or something like that. I NEVER segregate people with their skin colors because I think that skin color was just not chosen just like flowers and their petal colors. They are all so pretty."

"I ALWAYS accept peoples differences because everyone is different to everyone else like for example if their religion was different I don't care.  I SOMETIMES talk behind peoples back but not like bad things but good things, but I don't want them to know. I NEVER gossiped before and I think that it is so rude to that person."

One of the books I plan on using with them is called Mr. Peabody's Apples, by Madonna (yes, the singer!), which was inspired by a 300 year old Jewish story by the Baal Shem Tov. What's its moral? We must choose and use our words carefully to avoid spreading untrue rumours and causing harm to others. We must also be careful about what we believe and, therefore, repeat.

Parents, I'd encourage you to discuss what respect looks like and what it does not look like. When you see an example of respectful or disrespectful behavior, please point it out. There is plenty of it on TV, in movies, and in the news media. For grades 4 and above, the book Wonder is a fantastic fictional story (but showcases a very real genetic disorder) about how we should treat others who are different than we are. It was highly enjoyable to read even as an adult, and easily lends itself to conversations about respect, empathy and tolerance. Another book that is a great example of a lack of respect, in the form of group bias, is The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss.  It involves characters (Star-Belly Sneetches) that deem themselves as better than the Plain-Belly Sneetches simply because they have stars on them. As stated previously, in the coming weeks, I will begin to have the conversation about prejudice & stereotypes, and will be looking to this book as a teaching resource.  More to come on this topic!

~Ms. Carnright