Children’s Play Hasn’t Changed

Head of Early Childhood, Kim Barnes, talks about the importance of big bold play.

I felt a tap on my shoulder early one morning as I was watching a group of children play King of the Hill on the burm on the Lower School playground. A tap on the shoulder and the hair on my arms stood up as I braced myself for a confrontation for a group of parents had been watching the play on the hill for a few days and I had been waiting for one of them to ask, “why are you allowing this play?” I turned to find a parent with a big smile standing just behind me; she simply wanted to comment that “the games children play haven’t changed much, have they?” This parent was correct and my heartbeat slowed down as here was a comrade who realized the importance of what the children were doing.

As my observation continued, the ebb and flow of natural laughter and, to be quite honest, squealing hung in the air. The boys and girls had their hands open, palms to the inside, revolving with one another in imaginary circles, big smiles, and bursts of exuberant, joyful laughter. Occasionally a child fell or slipped down the hill and there was always a hand or two to pull them back up into the melee of circling.

Swat and down went a child! Although the child jumped right up, the fall was a bit hard. He didn’t say anything to the other child and he was ready to return to his play. Another child had witnessed the fall and he made a point to both the boys that the hit was too hard as he demonstrated what motions and actions could take place so everyone would have a good time and would feel safe.

Before school begins each morning, the Lower School children are enjoying opportunities to participate in self- selected, big-body, bold play. The games and activities they feel they are creating (but we know better) are building muscle tone, upper body strength, lower body strength, agility and balance. Affective and intellectual learning is also taking place. Children learn to take turns and the give and take of physical games. These children are learning to “even the playing field” as they learn to judge how to make allowances for another child’s size and age and how to communicate these expectations. They are modeling appropriate play behaviors for one another as these behaviors become innate life skills. These children feel empathy for an “injured” party and learn to care for one another in a nurturing manner. No one is excluded – all are welcome and many come.

A watchful eye is always nearby. The urge to step in is always close to the edge. It takes great confidence in children to not intervene. Yet time and time again these wonderful little beings prove they know what to do and how to interact. If left to the devices of children, play hasn’t changed much over time nor has the craving and need for that big bold play. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trust.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Kerry Shea, Director of Marketing and Communications, writes about capturing the Greenhill experience through photographs.

I have always believed the adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it wasn’t until I started working closely with images in my marketing career that I realized the power of an amazing photograph. In education, a single picture can capture a student’s captivation, a teacher’s dedication, and convey the warmth of the classroom in an instant.

We had a professional photographer on campus for two days last week. We tasked him with gathering images of the Greenhill experience for our website and other marketing materials. As we toured campus together, I was struck by how relatively easy it was for us to amass a large body of material in a relatively short time. By lunch time on the first day, the photographer told me that he had taken more than a day’s worth of photos already. “You are what I call ‘a target rich environment’,” he said.

I had to agree with him. Every place we moved on campus contained dozens of photographable moments. In the middle school, we saw 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist, Doc Patton, speaking to the varsity cross-country team, a student presentation on potassium, and a colorful science experiment, all within 45 minutes. In the Lower School, students played Orff instruments, drew still-lifes, and received reading help.

Our fine arts building and playing fields were also rich with opportunity. Students played flutes, tubas and violins; dancers hovered at the bar; and middle schoolers were weaving all over the fine arts hallway and 3D art room. We saw girls deftly wielding field hockey sticks, cheerleaders flipping through the air, and football players scoring touchdowns.

I had scheduled some of our classroom and field visits in advance, but many of the photographs that were taken were the result of being in the right place at the right time. Or, as I like to think of it, it was simply the result of being on the Greenhill campus, where the magic of learning, the wonder and awe that every parent wants for her child, happens every day on every corner of the campus.

Wellness in Middle School

Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School, writes about the importance of teaching wellness to students.

Last week, sixth graders returned home to report that they did yoga in English class. Imagine the confusion as their parents tried hard to connect downward facing dog to the latest sixth grade novel. In fact, there was a very compelling reason for the excellent yoga instruction (provided by parent Amy Harberg): the Middle School Wellness curriculum.

In grades 5-8, social and emotional growth proceeds along with intellectual and brain development. Research tells us that parents and educators must teach and reinforce social and emotional skills in order to ensure appropriate and healthy physical, mental, and social growth throughout the teen years. Much of the adolescent behavior that drives adults crazy can be mitigated through intentionally addressing strategies, setting boundaries, and empowering young people to respond to the challenges they face each day. Our goal in the Middle School is that our students will develop habits that will lead to a lifetime of smart choices and overall wellness in all areas of life. To meet these learning objectives, five times during the year and rotating through each of the academic desciplines, each grade participates in Wellness classes designed by Middle School Counselor Ginna Johnson.

So that takes us back to yoga. One of the five Middle School Wellness topics is “Locus of Control,” developing personal physical and emotional awareness. Yoga, through deep breathing and relaxation, can calm overly emotional reactions by slowing things down and allowing the brain to refocus. Taking care from the inside out strengthens the belief that we are actually in charge of our own actions and responses, a powerful concept for early teens.

Additional Wellness topics include Healthy Relationships, Physical Wellness and Nutrition, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs, and Problem Solving – both individual and in a group. A number of outside experts join Ms. Johnson in presenting to grade level sessions throughout the year. These concepts are reinforced through Character Education activities as well.

We are charged to help young people navigate early adolescence, and we take that charge seriously. Just as we talk about students becoming self-advocates for their own academic needs, we also want to help them develop the sense that they can manage social challenges, societal demands, and constant change. Including Wellness as a critical component of the Middle School program demonstrates our commitment to the whole child and to our hopes for a healthy, meaningful adulthood.

Michael Simpson, Head of Lower School, shares his thoughts on Monday mornings.

I love Mondays! Every Monday morning we kick off our week in Lower School with an assembly. The whole Lower School community gathers under the bird mobile in the Lower School atrium. 3rd and 4th graders sit on the stairs, and Primer, 1st, and 2nd graders are on the floor facing the south doors. Occasionally some peacocks join us, hanging out just on the other side of the glass. I welcome everyone and Mrs. Holmes leads the children in song, (e.g. The Star Spangled Banner). She also leads a concluding song (e.g. Hail to Greenhill). Other than that, the assembly is led by fourth graders.

Every Friday, four 4th grade students—new ones every week— meet with me to plan what will happen on Monday. We decide what community news to share and if there need to be any public service announcements. This past week they wanted to remind Lower Schoolers not to throw mulch or sticks on the playground. They also offer a “thought provoking question” to the community. One recent one was, “Is it possible to take action, if no one knows you’re doing it?” (Yes parents of first graders, deep thinking is not far off for your little ones!). We also take the time to recognize community members who have modeled our core principles of respect, honor, and compassion, or anyone who has taken action to make a difference. How do we do this? Students or adults may submit a story about anyone they feel should be recognized; they drop it in the shoebox outside my office door. We can’t read them all at each assembly, so the fourth grade leaders decide which ones to read each week. At the assembly they ask the student to stand as the story is read, and this is always followed by wild applause. It’s a great moment.

There are specific reasons for having these assemblies—public speaking and leadership opportunities for fourth graders, adding to our community song list, public reminders, highlighting exemplary behavior, to name a few. But I have to tell you that there is hardly a more pleasant way to start your day. Everything comes together to make it a very uplifting 15 minutes: the bright sunlight, the fresh feeling of a new week, all our students together, the artwork around us, 350 children singing, and four 10 year olds confidently addressing the audience. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Observations from the World of Preschool

Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood writes about her recent observations in pre-k and kindergarten.

Eye Contact
“Hola, buenos días ¿cómo estás?”
Child answers.
“Bien, gracias. ¿Y Usted?”
Maestra greeted each child at the door, expecting eye contact and a hand shake. A surprising comment from Maestra came as a child did not make contact – “What? You do not like me? Is that why you do not look into my eyes?” Startled by the comment, the child looked up to make eye contact and with a smile gave an answer to Maestra.

The kindergartner came running up the sidewalk and grabbed my hand. “You have to come see this.” After a quick trip around the patio and through the muddy grass, the child declared, “Do you see that? It’s a leaf. We planted seeds there and that is the first one to grow. See those we planted those from our classroom. That one is mine. It was four inches tall when I planted it.”

The pre-kindergartners were busy setting out their lunches. One child spilled something and others quickly came to the aid of that child. Another child observed my interest and stated, “It is always important to help someone who is having trouble with something. That’s using your manners.”

The pre-k girls were overjoyed to share their observations of the snails. “This one,” as they explained, “fell and we had to put a band aid on his shell.” “Watch this one. He is going to go across this circus. We just have to keep spraying him. We know he is going to make it.”

The kindergarten teacher moved from table to table and then to the floor, just checking in to see how things were going, to make a comment, to listen to a story. Confidence exuded from each child. The sixteen children were focused on the job he or she and their partner were assigned at that moment in the rotation, which included a variety of small motor tasks, current project needs, and math games. Towards the end of the rotation, a book on disk was added as the teacher shared the book with this group of learners and many, even with just five weeks of kindergarten under their belts, had learned to balance work and attention to the story.

The combined voices of the ninety-two children brought one teacher to tears as she became the recipient of a friendly shoulder hug from a nearby teacher. After the song, the teacher quietly said, “The voices of children move me to tears, their voices are just so beautiful.”

The playground was bustling with cooperation. The children didn’t have to know one another; they just needed to have the same goal in mind, such as water flowing from the water table to the stream, a trip around the bike path, a sand creation, a deep hole that needed to grow deeper, climbing high to the top of the Explorer Dome, a how-to discussion on how to get to the sling swing, or simply standing up and settling one another after sitting in the spinner. Teachers were always watching and moving and keeping an eye on things and listening to the sound of children learning but never interfering as the children went about their business of constructing knowledge and meaning.

Join Us
Constructing knowledge and meaning of their world through models, cooperation, collaboration, and trust is key to the lives of these young children, never a dull moment. Join us for a time and recreate a tiny part of your world or just leave with a smile.