Letter from Teacher Marty – February 2019

Dear MPS Families,


Hard to believe but we are slightly over half way through the school year.  Looking back to August and September it is fascinating to see how your children have grown and changed in the five months we have been together.  Vocabularies have expanded both in terms of volume of words and complexity of expressed ideas and thoughts. Cognitive skills have been growing as evidenced by the types of structures children have been building with all of our blocks and manipulatives, increasing difficulty of the puzzles they are willing to tackle and the fledgling math and reading skills we see being demonstrated across the various ages.


Their social skills have been exploding.  As your children grow, so does the complexity of their social world.  They go from playing in proximity to others, to playing next to others and noticing what is happening around them.  Fledgling attempts to engage with other children are witnessed and these attempts are sometimes seemless and graceful, met with smiles and warmth.  Other overtures fall flat because of mistaken ideas of how to get someone to play with you or how to go about getting what you want. It takes practice and guidance and insight to understand that if you really want to play with someone, you are far better off offering them a block to add to their structure than walking up and knocking it down!  Some children seem to grasp this skill with little apparent effort and others still need our help to guide and coach them through each step and to regulate their arousal level to match the intensity of their targeted playmate.


As your children grow and change, these skills will get easier.  But the social cues they will have to read and respond to will actually become more complex. Three year old play schemas are pretty drastically different from the world of the five year old.  The older four and five year olds are beginning the process of evaluating social desirability, power dynamics in dyads and triads (an believe me when I say that triads are really hard for little ones to navigate).  Who is in and who is out? Who is directing the play? Learning about flexible pathways in problem solving and how to be inclusive is a huge piece of curriculum in preschool classrooms. It really hurts to be the one who is left out.  And it is intoxicating to be the one everyone seems to turn and listen to. Learning to temper our reactions and to think of others is not only a skill but a cultural value as well.


Our American culture highly values individual success and advancement whether it be in academics, sports/athletics, or leadership and business. You can see this reflected in children’s desire to be the fastest, the smartest, the funniest, the tallest, the prettiest, etc.  Children are invited into competition constantly and are rewarded for winning. We even use competition as a component in our parenting tool box. “Who can get ready for bed the fastest?” “Who will be the first to get their teeth brushed?”


Competition doesn’t make a lot of sense to little people but they seem to learn very quickly that “losing” has big consequences and is pretty undesirable.  Think about how they get upset at losing a game, sometimes going as far as to hysterically fall apart or developing sophisticated skills at slight of hand and changing up the rules to avoid the discomfort of being seen as a loser.  I watch my pre-k class as I dismiss them from circle to go wash their hands for snack and without guidance and coaching it becomes Lord of the Flies pretty quickly! They race and push to get ahead of each other without there even being a consequence to being last.  There is enough food for everyone and they sit in assigned spots that don’t change if they get there first. In other words, there really is no WINNING or LOSING – except in their own minds and their beginning sense of social order.


To combat these impulses, we play a lot of cooperative games and we use a lot of teaching tools to prevent a mass rush to the door of the bathroom in order for them to get experience being both first and last.  And we also spend a lot of time drawing attention to the times that we see great kindness happen.


This is something you can all do within your own homes as well.  How is kindness valued in your family in comparison to competition and winning and being the best at something?  Children want to feel valued in your eyes and hearts. They want to have that feeling of being special. If we express greater interest in their accomplishments than we do in their character then we are teaching them to value one over the other.  


Supporting your children as they experience both success and failure, joy and pain will help them to learn and integrate resilience.  Helping them balance our national desires to win and be the ‘best’ with equal attention to kindness and service to others will help them grow in to adults who know that their worth is not based on the size of their paycheck, the size of their muscles, their appearance, or always being the ‘winner’ but rather on what is in their hearts and the content of their ‘character’.  


Emergency Preparedness


I really enjoyed our speakers from the Hillsdale Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) at our January General Meeting.  They did a very nice job of explaining the need to be prepared for emergencies without gratuitous scare tactics. It is important that we plan and prepare for the unexpected whether it be for weather events, utility failures or natural disasters.  Assessing your current readiness and creating a plan to enhance it is worth your time and effort and will lead to greater peace of mind and less worry.


As I mentioned at that meeting, when the big New York Times article came out several years ago about the risk for a very large subduction zone earthquake along the west coast I completely freaked out.  Because I had already lived through such an event as a child and have some deep and lasting memories of the trauma, I felt sick to my stomach that I was ignorantly living in the potential pathway of harm without being adequately prepared.


I had been blissfully ignorant and skipping through my life with the incorrect belief that ‘lightening could not strike twice’ and I would never have to face such an event again.  Those blinders were unceremoniously ripped off by that article. Once I got over the my initial reaction, I began to analyze what it was that was so frightening to me and what it really came down to was my lack of preparation.  I realized that not only was I not prepared to take care of my home and family in the event of a disaster but I was not prepared adequately to take care of you and your children if an event happened during school hours.


That set off an assessment of what we had and what we needed.  I worked with Liz Smith and Matthew Plies to create a to-do list and to purchase the items necessary to maintain our health and safety at school until all children could be picked up.


We have a large storage bin outside the front door on the sidewalk.  That bin is full of food, water, first aid supplies, shelter and communication tools, your emergency contact information, flashlights/lanterns and batteries, emergency band radio, cell phone charger, sanitation supplies (yes we have a luggable loo!) and more.  In addition to the canned water in the storage bin, which has a 30 year shelf life, we also have a 55 gallon barrel of water that can be used for both drinking and sanitation, complete with a crack kit (that includes a gas turn off tool) and pump. We have added a water preservative that means that water is good for five years.  The replacement date is written on the side of the barrel in sharpie.


The storage bin has a lock on it, but it is not opened with a key.  It is a combination lock of sorts and the code is the same as our street address: 5500.   The luggable loo is in the shed right off the sidewalk outside the front gate.


We practice fire drills monthly – however we call them Exit Drills to avoid scary language.  And 2 to 3 times a year we practice an earthquake safety drill. We drop, cover by getting under tables and hold on until I tell them they can come out.  We practice being like a turtle, drawing our heads under and covering them with one arm, pulling our legs up under us to make us as small as possible and holding tightly to a table leg.


If the building is not safe for us for any reason, we have an agreement with our neighbors, Nevah Shalom, that allow us to use them as our OFF-SITE SHELTER.  In the even of earthquake, if their building was not safe, we have a large tent in which I can shelter your children away from the building as needed – likely on the upper playground or in the center of the upper parking lot.   I am prepared to keep your child for up to 3 days.


Please make sure that you have a home emergency plan.  Were some large event to happen, whether it be windstorm or flood as we had in the winter of ’95/’96, a freak snowstorm, or an earthquake, have a plan in place for who would come to pick up your children.  Especially if you live or work across the river. Will you drive? What if roads are impassable? What route would you walk?


If you find yourself feeling panicky, sit yourself down and begin to make an emergency plan.  Believe me when I say that being prepared will do so much to help you feel more confident about your ability to respond, protect and care for the people you love.


February Happenings


Special Person’s Tea Parties are right around the corner.  Be sure that someone is able to return to the school to enjoy this party with your kiddos. It is always a sweet and fun event. And Pre-K parents, move heaven and earth to be there if you can.  The pre-k event is an Author’s Tea. Your children will be sharing the books that they have created with the audience. They have been working for a month on coming up with their own version of the Laura Numeroff “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” books.  They finished their illustrations this last week and we cannot wait for you to hear their stories. It is such a great view into their imaginations.


Re-Enrollment is over and the Open House will happen within days of this newsletter coming out.  We will soon be hosting tours for prospective families, giving them a chance to peek into our MPS world in action.  We will be limiting the size of groups that come in and keeping them in the kitchen or cubby room rather than letting them wander through the classroom – this is especially important in the three’s class this year.  I will let you know if you are parent teaching if a tour is going to happen on your shift. Be sure to reassure any curious or concerned children that they are just visitors looking for a school for their own children next year and they won’t stay long.


And lastly, the Auction is coming up so quickly!  We are almost ready, procurement is essentially complete with a few items still coming in.  Our totals look terrific and I cannot thank you each enough for your hard work.  The lead volunteers for many of the different elements are being called up now to organize their crews and get many of the tasks related to auction night planned out and ready for implementation.  Please be sure to to respond quickly to any request directed to you. If you do not know what auction committee you signed up for or if for some reason you are not assigned to a committee yet, please contact me or Sonya Bastendorff to find out how you can help.


I am grateful to each of you for your hard work and the work still to come. I am always amazed by this event every year and the way it comes together and raises the funds we need to keep the school moving forward.  And I am especially grateful to those of you who stepped up to lead us in this effort. Sonya, Kim, Sheila, Duane, Hillary, Laura, Lucy and more. I cannot thank you enough.

That is about it for me for the time being.  As always, watch your emails for periodic updates from me on bits and pieces of information you really need to know!


Heart thoughts and hugs to you all,

Teacher Marty