Mindfulness Matters for Student Success

Incorporating 'mindfulness' practices into classroom activities is not a new concept. A quick Google search of "benefits of mindfulness for kids" gives you over a million hits. The research is clear - mindfulness practice helps to reduce anxiety, improve focus and clarity, fosters self-regulation and resiliency and promotes 21st Century success skills...and I could go on. 

While the research is clear, there is still a challenge of putting mindfulness into effective practice. It is not that mindfulness is difficult to do, but it is not foolproof either, and there are a lot of considerations to make in order to do mindfulness well. Going into our fourth year of using mindfulness techniques, we  continue to learn how to make practices more effective for our students. Here is what we've figured out so far:

1. Kids benefit far more from the practice when they understand the whats and whys of mindfulness. Mind-Up is a curriculum developed by the Hawn Foundation that does just that. It is based in neuroscience and teaches about the neurological effect that mindfulness can have.  

2. There is not one mindful practice to suit everyone, or every instance.  Tai Chi or a guided meditation may help start the day, but in a moment of frustration, a body scan or breathing exercise may be better for you.  It is important that students learn and practice a variety techniques to learn which are best for them and when to use them.

3. Not all mindfulness resources are created equal. There is no shortage of resources to work with, be it books, apps, or internet resources. On YouTube alone, a search for "mindfulness for kids" produces about 150,000 videos.  Make sure to vet what you intend to use and think about how your students might respond to it.  Visitacion Valley Middle School has provided a great resource list for mindfulness practices found on Edutopia to get you started.

4. If the teachers do not 'buy in' to the practice, neither will the kids.  Because we've made mindfulness an integral part of our daily schedule, we work on our own practice as well.  Not only does this help us to guide the students more successfully, but it helps us to also be more calm and focused and allows us to get through busy days with more clarity and positivity.  It just makes sense, doesn't it? 

5. Consistency and flexibility are critical. Daily practice is necessary for kids to learn the methods and to see and feel the benefits.  Starting the day or a particular class with practice is a great way to build consistency, but it also should not be limited to that particular time only. Mindfulness is most effective if kids are able to practice when they need it throughout the day, so helping students become aware of when they need mindful time, and then encouraging them and allowing them to take the time is important.

5.  Developing  mindfulness practices doesn't 'fix' everything students might be dealing with at at any particular time.  It is a big and very valuable piece to the complex social and emotional toolkit that everyone (adults included) need to navigate the complexities of the 21st century.

Do you have a favourite resource or practice you use? Please share with us! Would you be interested in mindfulness workshops to build your own practice to support your child's practice at home? Let us know.

Ontario Can Use Global Competencies to Bring Education into the 21st Century

The EQAO results were released early in September indicating Ontario schools were failing students in Math education. I was not thrilled to hear this but I was thrilled to hear what Mitzie Hunter, Ontario Education Minister, had to say about it when speaking with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Here and Now. Minister Hunter spoke about the government’s commitment to improve not only Math in our schools, but to also consider making broader changes to better prepare our students for our modern world. This was a message I've been waiting to hear from our government for almost a decade.

For seven years now, we have been building our school to deliver a curriculum that develops the Global Competencies that Ms Hunter mentioned - innovative thinking and creativity, collaboration, problem solving, communication, critical thinking, computers and citizenship. We have been committed to a competency-based curriculum because we recognized that the world was changing very quickly, and it was becoming common knowledge itself that a knowledge-based curriculum was no longer relevant and could not adequately prepare our students for the world they live in. Despite these efforts to be progressive, and the successes that have come with that, the government does little to recognize or even acknowledge that schools like HPDS are providing students with a solid, if not superior education. They have even gone as far as to warn families about the potential "dangers" of private schools, instead of promoting choice in education as other provincial governments in Canada have done.

While I am happy to hear that our government is recognizing the need for change as well, I am not optimistic that this will happen swiftly enough to benefit today's students who need it most. The program goals that Minister Hunter spoke about will need a lot more than a strong will and a budget to be successful. New teacher training, new learning environments, new schedules, new methods and approaches, new assessment measures and reporting methods, and above all else, changed attitudes and understanding about education by the public, will be needed to turn this massive ship around. To fully appreciate the magnitude of the challenge to transform the system, one needs to look only to the current Math situation and see how little effect the plan and $60 million dollars did to improve math competencies. Although one year is not enough time to realize the effects of the investments made for improvement, time is not on our side, and we can’t afford to waste a single second more.  I’m afraid that it may already be too late.

So how can the government accomplish this enormous challenge?  The future of our education is a societal concern and cannot be left to government officials alone to remedy. It will take the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders in education; our government, educators, parents and students, thought-leaders and the public.

If they are serious about their commitments to reform education, our government will model the skills they aim to teach with the new curriculum, and take an open-minded, innovative and collaborative approach to the challenge. To start, they can work with, instead of against, alternative and independent school leaders who have had this vision of education for years so that they can learn from their successes and failures.  It’s time that our government get over their education ego and acknowledge that “their way” is not the only way. It's time to move on from the inharmonious relationship with non-government educators. If they ignore that others in the private sector have been making advances with the curriculum that they aspire to, they will only waste more valuable time and funds. Instead, we can work together to achieve our common goals of bringing education into the 21st Century.

 

Keeping Kids Engaged and Learning all Summer Long

The summer is no doubt a welcome break for students, but a 9 week hiatus from a formal program is long enough for academic skills slide.  There is evidence from research spanning over 100 years to support the reality of “summer learning loss”.  This research shows that students can loose up to 3 months of mathematic skills and slide significantly in spelling and reading.  While some summer school programs are available to students who need the most support, the research makes it clear that our long summer vacations interfere with academic growth for all students. 

This leaves the onus on parents and caregivers to fill the gap and keep kids engaged and active in order to avoid the summer slide.  But not to fear,  I’ve compiled some ideas here to help.  Follow the links for more resources and specific info about programs and events in Toronto this summer that will keep minds active while having lots of summer fun.

Educational summer camps are a great way to keep minds active over a long break.  There are many educational summer programs in the city that will appeal to a diverse range of interests. Many of the larger museum and gallery camps fill up quickly, but there are still many options for high-interest educational camps, such as the Creative Club Lego Camp (lego + robotics!) held right here at HPDS, or themed "Brain Camps" run by the High Park Oxford Learning Centre .  

Your kids don't need to be registered in a camp to take in all of the exciting exhibits and activities offered by Toronto's many museums and galleries.  Take a day trip to experience programs specifically for children, to educate, engage and inspire, like the super cool "Inventorium" at the Ontario Science Centre (their very own maker space!) or the Hands-On Centre at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  If you are looking for more of an adventure and don't mind travelling, you might find something that sparks your interest at one of Ontario's 700 museums and historical sites. Talk about opportunities for experiential learning! 

Of course, one of the easiest ways to keep language skills developing naturally is to READ! As little as 30 minutes a day will benefit your child. Your child can join the Toronto Public Library Summer Reading Club for access to free fun activities and your own on-line log to track all of the great books he or she reads! Looking for a good recommendation?  Here's one of my favourite lists of kids books from a great parent resource site, Common Sense Media.  Road tripping this summer? Audio books for the whole family make for great company on long drives. 

Having opportunities to put pencil to paper over the summer is important to keep writing skills sharp.  Keeping a journal, making a vacation scrapbook or writing letters to a new friend from summer camp are great ways to do this, but informal opportunities, like making a grocery list, will benefit your child too.  Try to have your child write at least once a day, even if it is a short note. If your child enjoys writing, take this opportunity to start a writing project like creating a short story, a joke book or a comic book.

There are plenty of opportunities to keep math minds sharp this summer too.  My first recommendation is to continue practicing previously learned math skills through independent programs such as Jump Math, or to practice of addition, subtraction  and multiplication facts. As little as 15 minutes a day will build confidence in Math and help your child avoid the slide.  Math video game sites have games to target very specific skills in a format kids love. If you're looking for a more applied and hands-on opportunity to exercise those math muscles this summer, cook with your kids and have them follow the recipe and measure ingredients. If you have a vegetable garden, kids can keep a simple observation journal and record growth measurements each day.

Finally, if your kids are looking for some couch time on a rainy day or after a long, active day outdoors, there's plenty streaming to keep them truly engaged. Documentaries will inspire, educate and entertain, and you can find something that will tap into almost any interest - science and nature, technology, history, sports, art, music and more!  Check out these documentaries for kids from Common Sense Media, complete with age ratings and parent guides.  Looking for similar content without the screens?  Why not listen to a podcast, like this one by Tinkercast, made just for kids.

Do you have a favourite engaging or educational summer activity? Please share with us in our comments!

Happy Summer everyone!

Diversity is our Strength - Part 3: Accepting and Respecting our Differences

Our final exploration of diversity focused on some of the challenges that people in our society face because of their differences.  We were further able to celebrate how people have been successful in overcoming these challenges, and discovered how we can be allies for anyone being treated unfairly for any part of their identity.  We continued to develop our understanding of the strength diversity brings to our society, and how discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes, judgement and intolerance of diversity actually make us weaker.

To learn more about racial inequality, students receive a set budget determined only by age. Their challenge is then to "shop" for groceries that would offer a complete and healthy diet. Having the least money only because they are the oldest, our senior students quickly realized how unjust this scenario was and how difficult this task was for them to accomplish. 

To learn more about racial inequality, students receive a set budget determined only by age. Their challenge is then to "shop" for groceries that would offer a complete and healthy diet. Having the least money only because they are the oldest, our senior students quickly realized how unjust this scenario was and how difficult this task was for them to accomplish. 

A student is having trouble find the glopnik Paulette has asked him for during an exercise to help kids see how hard it can be to be successful when you have different abilities as a learner. 

A student is having trouble find the glopnik Paulette has asked him for during an exercise to help kids see how hard it can be to be successful when you have different abilities as a learner. 

Students began to practice perspective taking as they listened to the stories and voices of people who were victims of hate crimes, intolerance and judgement.  After taking the time to learn about different experiences, they were able to share their own thoughts about these issues.  They sought to answer big questions such as, "What are some of the challenges of having diverse beliefs in our society?" and "How can we create a safe space for everyone, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community?"  Experiential activities helped students to further understand the challenges people face and unfair treatment received because of their differences in race, religion, abilities, sexual orientation and gender identity.  Students had opportunities to reflect and relate to the stories and experiences to generate more questions that would lead to a deeper understanding.  They finally discussed ideas about what they can do to be a part of the solution to these challenges.  

Through daily reflections, students concluded that intolerance is fuelled by fear, which in turn comes from ignorance and misunderstanding.  Diversity, they determined, makes us strong because there is a lot we can learn from each other.  The students welcomed the opportunity to learn more deeply about different races, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities in order to be more informed, accepting and appreciative of differences in our society. In addition, students worked on making HPDS a safe space for everyone who comes through our doors. 

Students create signs to show that HPDS is a safe space for everyone, including everyone in the LGBTQ community.  EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE!

Students create signs to show that HPDS is a safe space for everyone, including everyone in the LGBTQ community.  EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE!

While we have just scratched the surface of diversity, we have become more aware of why we need to be more aware of other people's perspectives in order to be respectful and create a space where everyone is welcome.

Up next... The students create art to express and reflect what they have learned about diversity in preparation for our culminating Art Exhibit!

 

 

Diversity is Our Strength - Part 1: We are a diverse community

What is "diversity" and how does it make us stronger?

This guiding question is the inspiration for our whole-school Inquiry Unit: Diversity is our Strength. Students began by exploring what "diversity" means.   They are already well versed in the concepts of “difference" and were ready to dig deeper to understand broader ideas of diversity and how it goes beyond the colour of our skin.  

Guided self-exploration to understand what makes us unique was a good place to start.  We all have different interests, families, cultures, faiths, experiences, abilities, influences, priorities, aspirations and perspectives that make us individuals. Our students reflected about their own lives and who they are in these different respects to understand their own identity and appreciate their individuality. In a whole-school "show and tell" event, students and staff had the opportunity to open up and share more about who they are, and what they bring to our community as individuals.  

 

Students use art to express their self-identity.

Students use art to express their self-identity.

Students present artifacts that represent their interests, traditions, influences and Values to give insight into who and what has helped shape their identities and their perspectives.

Students present artifacts that represent their interests, traditions, influences and Values to give insight into who and what has helped shape their identities and their perspectives.

Throughout our self-exploration, students had opportunities to dig deeper to learn about their families and traditions through "home assignments".  Learning first hand about their ancestors proved to be fascinating for both students and families as they worked together to build family trees.  With the help of his great-grandmother, one student even traced his ancestry back to a King of England, Edmund Ironside!

What better way to celebrate our diverse traditions than through food? We concluded our self-exploration and appreciation of diversity with an amazing potluck lunch shared amongst students, parents and friends!  There were so many different dishes, from pancakes to perogies, kimchi to kugelis, everybody found something tasty and new to try! It was also great to learn about the history or cultural significance of the different foods, and why they were special for our students and their families. 

By learning to appreciate the diversity amongst our own school community, we've opened the door to exploring diversity and its importance in our larger society.

Next up...We're travelling "around the world" to learn about cultural diversity! 

Community Involvement

This week the Senior Students visited Karma Food Coop with a different perspective. Asked to treat the visit as a 'job interview', the students were asked to demonstrate positive work attitudes that might help them to 'stand out' in the workplace. The students were incredible! "Responsible, positive, cooperative and respectful" were words the manager of the Coop used to describe the students. As a bonus, the students earned extra (imaginary) cash to spend in The Real Game we have been using.

In the Junior Class, the students have been discussing and learning about various elements of a community, from the roles of community members to the infrastructure of sidewalks and public pools! In groups, the students have been collaborating to build their own vision of a well organized, successful city.

Book Week!

Welcome Back! This week, the High Park Day School community celebrated our Third Annual Book Week! It has been a week filled with the celebration of stories, graphic novels, comic books and the written word in general!

On Wednesday, we had two different visitors! First, Ms.Ashley Bondoc, a former CYW student here at HPDS, joined the Junior Class to share and read one of her favourite books: Junie B.Jones! Later in the Day, Ann Tudor, an essayist and author of Tales from My Table, shared her experience as a writer and talked about her next project, a cookbook with no recipes!

On Friday, our third Book Week Guest, Mr.Greg Beer, was interviewed by the Senior Students about his career as a Television Writer. Greg currently writes for a variety of shows, including MAYDAY! Since the students have begun working on their own graphic novels, it was an excellent opportunity to learn first-hand about how words become images!

A HUGE THANK YOU to all of our guests, and those who helped organize their visits!!

Friday was also Dress as Your Favourite Character Day! See if you can name the characters:

Have a great weekend everyone!

Spring Forward!

It has been a week filled with accomplishments at HPDS! As we wrap up our Planet Earth Unit and prepare for our April Break, many of the students have begun to share and present their projects.

In the Junior class (grades 1-3), a letter from the Bloor West BIA arrived, granting them permission to plant and tend to four of the planters along Jane Street, just outside of our school! This was a huge accomplishment after the students learned about plants, sprouted seeds, and wrote up a proposal to the BIA explaining the specific needs of these planters that get quite a lot of direct sunlight. The students also took some time this week to care for the plants at school. By adding soil, dusting leaves, and topping up the water in each pot, the students practiced caring for our leafy friends and prepared for the job of tending their project planters!

In the Intermediate class (grades 4-5), the students rearranged the furniture and set up an audience for their debate project! The students practiced presenting their arguments for the Junior students and our CYWs. The debate is centred around the use of natural resources in Canada. Founding their arguments in sound research and a detailed study of how humans use and rely on natural resources, the students have become passionate geologists and activists!

Kindness and Mindfulness

High Park Day School participated in Kindness Week back at the beginning of March, and to add the concept of mindfulness and being kind to ourselves as well as others, we invited our community partner Paulette Goddard from Calm Spectrum Consulting into school to teach our students some techniques to find calm and relaxation throughout the day. This week, Paulette reported that the students have shown a great deal of progress in their breathing techniques and openness to trying new mediations. As a follow-up to both of these programs, the students prepared thank-you letters for members of our neighbourhood who share the sidewalks, parks and playgrounds with us. The students then delivered these letters to our neighbours. It was wonderful to see how inspired and happy the students were to carry out these acts of kindness!

Our Visual Arts program is wrapping up next week in preparation to welcome Mr.Force from Neighbour Note back for yet another wonderful Music program. Check out these pictures from our life drawing class on Monday!

No shortage of characters at HPDS:

Have a great weekend everyone!

*REMINDERS*

The Senior students' Humber River Open House will take place on Tuesday evening from 6:00-7:30 pm. Please come and bring a friend!

The school will be closed on Friday, April 3rd and for the following week. Classes resume on Monday, April 13th, which is also the launch day of our third annual BOOK WEEK!

The Planet Earth Unit Begins!

Welcome back! After a well deserved Family Week, we are reenergized and ready for more. This week, the Planet Earth Unit began! Each class will be covering a different yet connected project about one or more aspect of life on Earth. The Junior students are learning about the life of plants, with a goal to design and create sustainable gardens along the sidewalk of Jane Street outside our school. The Intermediate class is learning about tectonic plates, volcanoes and studying the use of renewable and non-renewable resources with a geologist's perspective. The Senior students are learning about Earth, particularly water, at the atomic level, and preparing an open house which strives to answer the driving question: How can we, as water management experts, educate the members of the Humber River community on how to conserve the Humber River ecosystem and water supply? Watch out for invitations! The open house will take place on the evening of Tuesday, March 31st.

Peer to Peer Learning

On Thursday, the Senior students paired up with the Junior class to teach and assess their knowledge of the water cycle. This was an important review for the Seniors, who are practicing their presentation skills and prior knowledge of water. After an interactive, illustration based lesson, the Seniors used an iPad app to test their students!

Karma Visit

The Senior students were excited to return to our regular Karma Food Coop schedule today, and not only did a fantastic job stocking and reorganizing the shelves, but inducting our new student into the routines and expectations as well!

A Shift to Visual Arts

Our Arts program has shifted back to Visual Arts, being taught by Mr.Downey. The older students have received their own personal sketch books, and will be learning a wide variety of classical and experimental drawing techniques. The younger group will be exploring colour and texture, creating pieces inspired by nature! Mr.Force and the music program will be starting up again for our Game of Life Unit, beginning in April.

***A REMINDER TO ALL FAMILIES***

In the coming weeks, students will be going on skating and tobogganing field trips on Fridays. Please be sure to watch for permission forms and supply lists! Students will need equipment (including helmets) in order to participate. Along with your children, we need your diligent efforts to ensure that students are able to attend and have fun!

The Humber River Open House is Coming!

The senior students have been planning and working diligently towards our Humber River Open House, taking place on Tuesday, March 31st from 6-7:30pm. Anyone who wishes to learn about the Humber River or to support our hardworking students are welcome to attend! This week, students continued to create and paint displays for the open house, distribute invitations to homes in our neighbourhood, and make decisions about donations and other interactive elements of the event.

Please feel free to contact aaron@highparkdayschool.com if you have any questions about the event, who to bring, anything!

The Human Body Unit!

Our second term has started off with a bang! The Human Body Unit has explored seemingly endless topics from active living, healthy nutrition, human body systems and cell structures, to adolescence, hygiene and body image...and there's still a week to go!

Since returning to school in January, the students have gone on an 'Active Living' field trip each Friday. Planned and executed by Mr.Payne, these field trips have been an incredible addition to the experience of our students and the overall building of our curriculum here at HPDS. The students have had the opportunity to push themselves physically and mentally, trying sports and activities for the first time, and building confidence along the way. Be sure to click on the embedded blue links below to visit the websites of these great places!

The first field trip was to The Monkeyvault parkour gym, where students bounced, rolled, jumped, spun and swung around obstacle courses designed just for them.

Next up, the students went bouldering and rock climbing at Boulderz Climbing Centre, where they tested there physical endurance and fear of heights!

Then the students spent an afternoon moving their bodies to music at the Body Language Academy of Dance, just across the street from us here on Jane Street.

Last but not least (in fact it was a top choice of students overall), was CJ Skateboard Park and School in Etobicoke. Students geared up in protective equipment and learned tons of skateboarding skills (including the correct way to fall!).

There's still more! During our PBL Projects, students have been learning a wide variety of specialized knowledge in preparation to transform HPDS into a wellness centre and walk-in clinic. The senior students have been researching and teaching each other about body systems in preparation for creating info-graphics that detail the need-to-knows about common illnesses, viruses and diseases. Below, check out the body systems "Live Share" that the seniors participated in, teaching and learning from one another while making connections and seeing, in real time, how the different systems interact and depend on one another.

One last HUGE SHOUT OUT to Mr.Payne for all of his hard work organizing, fundraising and chaperoning these incredibly rich learning experiences for the students and staff of HPDS. You make us proud, and fit!

The Textile Museum!

On Wednesday this week, the students of High Park Day School visited the Textile Museum of Canada! After a tour of the museum and a discussion of symbolism, the students were given a chance to sketch their own carpet design taking inspiration from the wide variety of culturally and historically significant examples draping the walls.

Later on, the students split into age groups to learn more about spinning, weaving and stitching!

Since our visit, we have seen an outpouring of creativity and ideas from the students. Many of them have already brought in projects from home to share with their peers.

The Textile Museum of Canada is a wonderful place located in the heart of down town, not too far from the AGO. We highly recommend a visit!

The Textiles Unit!

We are excited to have started our Textiles Unit with a bang! The school has had a fabric makeover, and each class has experienced their own launching activity or 'entry event'. During Art and Program Extension, students have started to learn about patterns, weaving and braiding. They have already created beautiful woven paper pieces and begun to swap friendship bracelets!

The Senior students have started the first of two projects for the unit. They have been working in teams to research and create a presentation to answer our guiding question: Considering first world countries setting up businesses in third world countries, what should the international standards for the garment industry be? The learning has already been exponential, as student interest has guided the development of new questions. Students have found information on fire code, land use, window and escape regulations, building materials and more!