Top 5 March Break Staycation Tips

Who needs ski hills or Caribbean beaches? We live in one of the best cities on the planet, so if you’re spending this March Break at home, get on out there and experience all Toronto has to offer! But if you’re feeling a little low on inspiration, here are five family-friendly ideas to get you started. Have fun!

Canadian-Style Sugar Rush

Nothing says the end of winter like the arrival of maple syrup. So get the kids bundled up and head out to one of the many maple syrup sugarbush events around the city. Our two favourites are the super outdoorsy Kortright Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival and the decidedly downtown Sugar Shack TO fest at Sugar Beach. If the kids give you any static about leaving the house, just remind them there’s plenty of maple candy waiting for them outside!

Kortright

Dinner and a Show

Toronto has tons of great theatre for drama fans of all ages, but this March Break is filled with shows specifically for the little ones. First-time theatregoers will love the puppet-filled version of the classic book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Young People’s Theatre’s main stage is hosting The 26 Letter Dance, a rhythmic and poetic show for ages 4-8. For fans of the Junie B. Jones series of books, there’s Junie B. Jones the Musical. And for those a little too cool for such youthful fare, there’s Mirvish’s production of The Lightning Thief. Just don’t forget to grab dinner downtown afterwards!

Mirvish

Strap on the Skates

If you want to get outside and active, nothing beats a good old fashioned skating rink. But give your local rink a rest and try out one of Toronto’s many unique skating options. There’s the Bentway under the Gardiner, the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront, and the Evergreen Rink at the Brick Works. For those who want to put a little boogie into their skating experience, the rink at Ontario Place hosts skate parties on Friday and Saturday nights, complete with local DJs. Of course, if you feel like staying a little closer to home, there’s always the local Colonel Samuel Smith skate path down at Humber College!

Ice Skating

Brainy Break

Just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning has to stop! If you want to keep your kid’s grey matter engaged over the break, there are plenty of brainy options. The Inventorium 2.0 exhibit at the Science Centre is designed to spark creativity in kids by providing them with lots of hands-on STEAM activities that are based around coding, making, and experimentation. As always, the ROM is putting on a ton of special March Break events, along with a great collection of new exhibits (the wildlife photography display is a real standout!). And if your little one loves creepy crawlies, there’s the Spiders Alive exhibit at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.

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Family Game Night

In this age of screen-dominated entertainment, it can nice to unplug and enjoy an hour or two with a few good old-fashioned board games. The board game café scene in Toronto has taken off in the last few years, so there are plenty of options to choose from! The most family-friendly choice is probably Snakes and Lattes, which boasts three locations throughout the city. There’s also a couple of upstarts in the west end of the city, including A-Game Café in the Annex and Manapool in Bloor West Village. Just remember to be a good sport when your ten-year-old cleans your clock in a spirited game of Settlers of Catan!

Catan

So there are a few ideas to get you out of the house and into the March Break staycation spirit! We look forward to hearing all about your family’s Toronto adventures after the break!!!

Parenting in the Age of Fortnite

I’ve been playing videogames for pretty much my whole life. I started with Pong in my neighbour’s basement way back in kindergarten and then moved on to Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 in elementary school. I traded floppy disks filled with dozens of computer games with my friends in middle school, while Nintendo ruled the day in high school and university. I even spent a good chunk of my twenties working as a game reviewer for a handful of magazines and websites. To this day (well into my forties!), I spend a couple of hours each week relaxing on the couch with my PlayStation or Nintendo Switch.

So it goes without saying that I think videogames are pretty great. At their best, they put players in imaginative worlds filled with branching stories, head-scratching puzzles, and endless opportunities for creative expression. They’re also just really, really fun!

Clearly, many of our students feel the same way, particularly when it comes to Fortnite. For the past few months, the halls of KCS have been dominated by Fortnite dances and play-by-play breakdowns of the previous night’s games. Some of our older students have even talked about the fact that their obsession with the game has had a detrimental effect on their homework, socializing, and sleep. But these types of conversations aren’t just happening upstairs in the Grade 7 and 8 hallway. They’re happening a lot in Grade 4 and 5, and even sometimes in Grade 1. And that’s a real concern.

Most parents and educators (particularly those of us of a certain age) assume that videogames are designed specifically for children, so, therefore, they must be perfectly appropriate for all ages. After all, we played Super Mario when we were little and we turned out alright! It’s just a game, no big deal!

The trouble is, as is the case for the vast majority of games on the market today, Fortnite is not designed for children. I can understand why many people think it is. On the surface it seems totally harmless. It’s full of candy-coloured characters doing silly dances and breaking open llama piñatas. It looks like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. So of course we assume it’s meant for kids.

But at the end of the day, it’s a profoundly violent piece of entertainment. After all, the entire point of the game is that 100 people land on an island, and then 99 of those people get killed. The characters may look adorable, but they are only there to shoot each other in the head. Also, the other 99 people you play against are real people, most of whom have microphones on. So you end up listening to a lot of strangers saying a lot of really toxic stuff. (Take it from someone who has played a few multiplayer games – online gaming chatter is nothing short of a cesspool of sexism, racism, homophobia, and profanity.) Given all this, it’s no surprise that the game industry’s own rating system, the ESRB, gave Fortnite a “Teen” rating, which means it is considered suitable for ages 13 and up.

Now, I recognize that every parent (myself included) has to make choices when it comes to their child’s media diet. Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. I regularly find myself staring down tough choices that seem to have no easy answer. Do I let my twelve-year-old daughter have an Instagram account? Should I let my six-year-old watch a Harry Potter movie? I have spent most of my adult life studying child development, but when it comes to my own kids, I’m usually just making my best guess.

So I’m certainly not intending to come off as judgmental or all-knowing. But I will offer the one piece of advice that I have found works best for me – educate yourself on the media your children are consuming. When my daughters ask for a new game, I take ten minutes and do a little research. My first step is always the ESRB website, where you can get a simple breakdown on the rating given to every game out there. I usually follow this up with a visit to Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides detailed reviews and analysis of most games, along with movies, television show, books, and apps (for the record, they also give Fortnite a 13+ rating). Sometimes I go to Metacritic, an aggregate site that pulls reviews from a number of different online sources. If after all that I decide to give the game a shot, I download it and then simply sit down with my kids to watch them play it for a half-hour. If at the end of that time I’m still feeling comfortable with the game, then we’re good to go!

Ultimately, it’s all about making informed choices as a parent. When it comes to videogames, it’s easy to fall into the “it’s just a game” trap. But if you take the time to learn about what your kids are playing, you can help them make good choices when it comes to digital media and gaming. Do your homework, pay attention to what’s on their screens, and engage in regular conversations about what they are playing. Because while parenting isn’t child’s play, their games certainly should be.

Unsolicited Parenting Advice from my Mom

“Your only job as a parent is to prepare your child for the day they leave the nest and go out to face the world without you.” – My mom’s advice to me on the day my first daughter was born.

My mom gives me a lot of advice – probably a little too much, to be totally honest. But when it comes to advice about raising my own kids, she’s actually pretty restrained. However, when she does offer her opinion, it’s always a variation on the same theme – independence builds resilience.

Growing up I often learned this lesson the hard way. When a note was sent home in Grade 3 about my repeated inability to complete (or sometimes even start!) my homework, her response was, “Sounds like you need to figure this out. I suggest you start by talking to your teacher.” When I left my clarinet on the subway in Grade 6, her response was, “I think the TTC has a lost and found. I suggest you start by looking them up in the phonebook.”

I don’t want to make it sound like I was thrown to the wolves. She didn’t just throw her hands up and say, “Not my problem.” Instead, she would give me advice and point me in the direction of a solution. But it was always up to me to put the plan into action. Yes, I got docked some grades and earned a few detentions, but I always came out of it with a new set of problem-solving skills. Over time, I realized that most of the problems in my life were not the end of the world. They were bumps in the road that I had to learn to deal with.

I have tried to take this same approach with my students throughout my teaching career. I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat on the floor beside a kindergarten student and said, “No, I won’t put your boots on for you. But I will help you figure out how you can do it yourself.” The truth is, every single time I want to grab those little boots, pop them on, and end their frustration. But I know that if I just trust in their ability, they’ll end up walking out to recess with a sense of pride and accomplishment. More importantly, I know that they are also walking away better prepared to face the next inevitable problem.

No matter how much we want to protect them, the simple fact is that our kids are always going to have to deal with disappointments, setbacks, and frustrations. They are going to get cut from a team. They are going to not be invited to a party. They are going to get rejection letters from universities. They are going to be told that they didn’t get the job. They are going to face medical issues, personal struggles, and tragedies.

Unlike my mom, I don’t really like to offer unsolicited advice. But it’s hard to hold your tongue when you work side-by-side with a generation that is notably struggling with mental health. More and more young kids are struggling with anxiety and a lack of resilience. While there are many reasons for the rise of mental health issues in kids, one major factor is the way in which we try to protect them from hardship. Because when we go out of our way to remove obstacles from our kids’ lives, we rob them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, develop coping strategies, and become more emotionally resilient.

So the next time your child is facing a challenging situation, ask yourself “Can they handle this on their own?” If the answer is yes, step back and let them try. If the answer is no, give them some guidance and advice, and then step back and let them try. Trust your kid enough to give them the space they need to build their own independence and resilience. They’ll thank you for it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my own mom and say thanks myself.

Recommended Reading

  • “Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement” by Alex Russell and Tim Falconer
  • “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle” by Lynn Lyons and Reid Wilson
  • “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” by Paul Tough
  • “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

 

Five Things KCS is Thankful for in our 30th Year!

1) The one and only Ricardo – salter of icy sidewalks, handyman extraordinaire, and our foremost class clown!

2) Our alumni are now grown up enough to work here!

3) Foula’s big smile and bigger heart! Whether she’s looking after a sick student, helping a new family find their way around the school, or simply greeting everyone who walks through our doors, she does it all with a seemingly endless supply of happiness and joy.

4) Three additions, one amalgamation, lots of renovations, and (coming soon) a new park too!

5) The visionary and dedicated founders of KCS. Because if they hadn’t followed their dream thirty years ago, we wouldn’t get to be a part of this amazing school that they built for all of us. So from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!

KCS thankful

Grounded in Tradition, Driven by Innovation

“Although so much of KCS has changed, there is still so much that remains the same, and that’s one of the many things that makes this school so special.” – Laura, a KCS parent and alumna, reflecting on her children’s first day of school this September, thirty years after her own first day as a Grade 1 student at KCS.

Last weekend was KCS’s Welcome Back BBQ, an annual event we’ve been celebrating since the school began thirty years ago. In many ways, it wasn’t that different from our very first BBQ, held back when we were just a small school with only 50 students. Both of them featured hamburgers, hot dogs, sunshine, and (most importantly) families and friends joining together to celebrate the start of a new school year.

But this year’s BBQ wasn’t a total time capsule. Along with the classic traditions, the 2018 iteration also featured climbing walls, airbrushed tattoos, and kids showing off their best Fortnite dance moves. Because while traditions are important, you can’t let them completely define you. You have to be open to new ideas and innovations that build on a strong foundation laid by years of thoughtful traditions.

This holds true for everything at KCS, not just BBQs. For example, our academic program is built around a strong core of traditional direct instruction. Our youngest students learn the basics of reading though teacher-led small lessons on phonics and decoding. Older students are formally taught a wide range of study skills to help them find success in exams and tests. And students of all ages spend time practicing and memorizing core math facts that help them make complex computations more quickly and easily. In many ways, all of these would have felt very familiar to the students and teachers at our first BBQ.

However, we also know that tradition must be partnered with brave innovations and experimentation. It’s safe to say that nobody in the late eighties was talking about the importance of young students developing an entrepreneurship mindset, but that’s exactly what we’re doing with our new StEP initiative. Our innovative electives program encourages passion-driven learning and gives students the chance to explore their own big ideas. We’ve also got our students creating wearable technology with Arduino, writing code with Scratch, and learning the process of design thinking. All of these exciting programs go to show that thirty years into our story, we’re balancing traditional teaching and learning with a healthy dose of revolutionary ideas.

Some things – like hamburgers and hot dogs – will stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be bound by tradition. After all, a nice gluten-free bun and a side of quinoa salad can make that burger taste even better!

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Top 5 Work-Friendly Social Events

There’s a real sense of community amongst the faculty and staff at KCS. Even though we spend over forty hours a week together, we still love to hang out with each other once the school day is done!

That’s why the wonderfully creative minds at the KCS Faculty & Staff Social Committee regularly put together fun evening activities for their co-workers. Every month they organize at least one event designed to get us out on the town as a group.

So if you want to nurture a passionate community at your own workplace, why not take a page out of the KCS Social Committee playbook? After all, there’s no better way to build team spirit than by meeting up after work to share a few laughs and adventures! With that in mind, here are our top five after-work events that are guaranteed to wow your co-workers…

CASA LOMA ESCAPE SERIES
With an emphasis on teamwork, puzzle solving and imagination, escape rooms are a natural fit for any large group outing. But why go to an industrial park in Scarborough when you can spend an evening figuring out how to escape from Toronto’s very own gothic castle? Casa Loma offers a rotating selection of themed experiences, meaning you could end up doing anything from cracking WW2 secret codes to evading the law as a Prohibition-era bootlegger. History has never been so exciting.

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We didn’t quite make it out in time, but we had fun trying

AXE THROWING
Get in touch with your inner lumberjack/jane by bringing your officemates to one of Toronto’s many axe throwing venues. You’ll start off laughing at the surreal nature of it all, but it won’t take long before it turns into a spirited competition to see whose axe skills reign supreme. Just remember – it’s more about skill and timing than simple brute force, so anyone can win the bragging rights of a champion!

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The science teacher won, showing physics has an edge!

PAINT/PLANT NITE
If your work crowd is more of a bohemian bunch, take them out for an evening of guided artistic creation. There are a slew of places in the West End that offer group lessons in painting or flower arranging. Afterwards, feel free to offer your colleagues some feedback on their creations while you bond over pub grub and beverages.

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This group created their own gorgeous succulents

VIP MOVIE SCREENINGS
Sometimes after a long day of work all you really want to do is shut your brain off and enjoy some popcorn-fuelled entertainment. But bring along a bunch of your co-workers to one of Cineplex’s snazzy VIP screening rooms, and you veg out together in style. Best of all, nobody will feel left out during the next day’s watercooler movie talk.

 

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Nothing beats a movie night with friends

 

THE GOOD OLD LOCAL PUB
Sometimes you’ve just got to go with a classic. Pick a nearby pub (preferably one with good burgers and wings), choose a night (preferably a Thursday or Friday) and just sit back and wait. Before you know it, you’ll have a crowd of happy colleagues swapping stories, telling jokes and talking about something other than this quarter’s targets.

So there you have it. Five simple ways to get your work family to turn off the email, ignore the office politics and just spend some quality time together. Because just like any friendship, passionate communities don’t just happen on their own – they take a little effort. So be the one to put out the call and organize a night out. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes!

Six Simple Ways to Keep the “Reason for the Season” Spirit Alive at Home

Christmas is supposed to be about “giving.” But in a world full of Black Fridays and consumerism, it often ends up being a season about “getting.”

That’s one of the many reasons why the KCS Parent Network believes so strongly in our annual Reason for the Season campaign. Yes, we want to help out local families by sharing our good fortune with those in need. We also want to teach our kids that empathy, compassion and citizenship are far more important than a new phone or more Lego.

With that in mind, here are six simple things you can do as a family to help keep the Reason for the Season alive at home.

#1. Have a Family Meeting
Giving back should not be just another item on a parent’s to-do list. If you really want the experience to mean something to your child, you must involve them in the conversation. Sit down and talk about how your family wants to help. Finding out what matters in life to you and your kids is the first step to motivating and inspiring the whole family to make a difference.

#2.  Walk (or Drive) Around the Neighbourhood
Our local community is full of shelters, food banks, missions and churches, all of which are home to dozens of programs that help our neighbours each and every day. Take a short road trip and visit a few local charities to see which ones align with your family’s interests and giving goals. If nothing else, showing your child the work that is going on in their own backyard will open their eyes and hearts.

#3. Grab a Second Cart at the Grocery Store
The next time you go grocery shopping, give your kid their own cart and have them choose a selection of healthy and non-perishable food items to donate to a local food bank. Many stores have drop-off bins, but taking the time to deliver your donation in person will make the experience that much more meaningful for your child.

#4. Clean Up the Clutter
Our homes are filled with things we don’t need. You know those hotel soaps and shampoos you brought home and never opened? Put your kids to work by having them pack them up and bring them to Haven on the Queensway. Or get them to gather up those old Eric Carle and Magic Tree House books they never read anymore and take them to the George Hull Centre. You get a cleaner house while they get an exercise in empathy. Win-win!

#5. Pay It Forward
The next time your kids go to the movies, the zoo or the aquarium, have a talk about all those other kids who never get experiences like that. Then buy an extra pass or two and drop them off at a local shelter or charity. If you can encourage your child to pay for the passes themselves out of their own piggy bank fund, so much the better!

#6. Whatever You Do, Do It Together
Making the world a better place isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also a great way to bond as a family. Spending time together serving meals at the Scott Mission. Debating whether to give a goat or a chicken to a family in a developing nation. Playing a board game with seniors at a local retirement home. These are memories that are both deeply meaningful and long-lasting. So take a break from the stress of shopping and help your family re-discover the real Reason for the Season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

– The Parent Network Reason for the Season Team

Three Habits for Aspiring Olympians

At KCS, we spend a lot of time talking about the Habits of Mind, Body and Action. So when Olympic bronze medalist Kylie Masse visited us, we were thrilled to discover that her advice for future Olympians lined up perfectly with three of our own Habits!

  1. “Never Give Up.”

We all face challenges. But you can’t let them stop you. That’s why we think one of the most important Habits for success in life is to learn to “Persist”. And Kylie clearly agrees. She spoke to us at length about the challenges she has faced, which ranged from losing international competitions to getting cut from teams. However, she always came back to the same mantra – “Never give up.” It was that drive and persistence that took her all the way to the Olympic podium.

  1. “Worry Only About What You Can Control.”

Letting go of control is a hard lesson for everyone. The first step is to “Think Flexibly” – a Habit that helps us to work effectively no matter what the circumstances. In Kylie’s case, this meant learning to accept that she couldn’t control the temperature of the pool or the noise of the crowd or the speed of the swimmer in the next lane. So she adjusted her attitude, changed her thinking, and focused only on the things she could control.

  1. “Have Fun!”

Kids today live in a fast-paced world, so it’s no wonder the levels of stress and anxiety amongst children is skyrocketing. That’s one of the reasons why we encourage our students to make it a Habit to “Find Humour.” As Kylie pointed out, she could have easily burned out after only a few years of intense dedication and training. But because she held on to her sense of fun and humour, she arrived in Rio with a smile on her face and a calm heart.

Many thanks to Kylie for sharing her story, to the Parent Network for supporting the Talk That Matters Speaker Series, and to Henry and Charlie for inviting their cousin to visit KCS. We may not all make it to the Olympics, but we can all take some guidance from her words of wisdom!

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Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

Learning is not one-size-fits-all. If you ask every student to do the exact same thing in the exact same way, all they’ll learn is how to follow directions and regurgitate information.

That’s just not good enough. We want our students to solve problems, explore complex issues, and bring their own unique skills and vision into play. Ultimately, we want them to think for themselves.

That all begins by helping them to develop a sense of ownership over their learning. A great way to do that is to simply listen to their questions.

Shortly after the March Break, the Senior Kindergarten students were asked to consider the Habit, “Make the world better”. After some talks and discussions, they generated over a hundred of their own questions that they wanted to explore. These questions were as varied as they were intriguing. They covered everything from littering to solar panels to forest fires to water filtration.

Over the next few weeks, the students chose the question they wanted to answer, took part in experiments, generated hypotheses, and engaged in research with their Grade 5 learning buddies. They also created art, sculptures, and Lego creations to help explain their thinking. They then gathered together all their discoveries and created their own display boards to showcase their learning.

When it was all over, they presented their work to their community. And because they felt a real sense of ownership over their question and thinking, the entire experience was incredibly meaningful. They were excited and eager to talk about their projects, simply because it was what they wanted to learn about!

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

The lesson for their teachers was clear. If you allow a child to have a voice in their learning, they will embrace the experience and take their thinking further and deeper than you can ever imagine.

Mark Magee
SK Teacher

A Brilliant Move

It’s usually a humbling experience when somebody comes along and succeeds with ease where you have already failed miserably. But sometimes you need a little humility to get to a place of deeper understanding.

SK Chess at KCSWay back at the end of September, I tried to introduce chess to the SKs. I played up the thrilling warfare angle, created backstories to help explain the way the pieces moved, and generally did my best to sell the students on a complex and exciting game of strategy. One month later, the boards were gathering dust and the knights were being used as “guys” in LEGO castles.

But then a Grade 5 student came along. She had recently read a book called The Queen of Katwe, which chronicled the life of a poor rural Ugandan girl whose love of chess helped her pull herself out of poverty and set her on the path to becoming a world-class Grandmaster. Inspired by the story, she decided that her leadership project would be to teach chess to the little ones in Kindergarten. So she recruited a few friends, hunted down some extra boards, and started coming every Friday at lunch.

chess 3The first visit from the Grade 5s was at the start of January. And with only a few visits, these student leaders have inspired almost half the SK kids to pick up the game and give it a try. The class now cheers when they see “Chess Club” on the daily schedule, and pick-up games during free choice time have become a common sight.

For me, watching these Grade 5s succeed where I had failed has reminded me that the Official Teacher Voice of Authority just can’t compete with joyful enthusiasm from a fellow student. Peer teaching is a powerful tool, and I feel so fortunate to have ended up at a school where it emerges and grows in an organic and authentic way.

Mark Magee
SK Teacher