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

 

World Mental Health Day Every Day

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, from the earliest ages, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world.” – World Health Organization

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day set aside by the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate, increase awareness, and mobilize efforts to promote better mental health around the globe. This year, the focus for World Mental Health Day is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World, a topic that is obviously near and dear to the hearts of everyone at KCS.

For far too long, mental health was seen something that mainly affected adults. It just wasn’t on the radar when it came to young kids. But one only has to glance at the statistics and facts provided by organizations such as CAMH to see that there is a clear need for families and schools to pay close attention to the mental health of our young people. Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence.

Faced with numbers like that, it’s clear that we must continue to make mental health awareness a core component of our overall wellness strategies at KCS. Events like World Mental Health Day and the annual Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign certainly help to bring greater awareness and understanding that helps to reduce the stigma around mental illness. But it can’t stop at awareness. Any effective strategy must also include a proactive approach to both prevention and recovery.

We know that when children are given the skills that they need to foster resiliency and accept challenges as an obstacle they are able to work at to overcome, they are better equipped to cope with adversity and the inevitable bumps in the road of life. Because early intervention is key, learning these skills can and must begin at a very young age. When children learn and recognize that they do have the skills and the strength to pick themselves up and dust themselves off after something does not go as planned, they are building up that resiliency.

At KCS we recognize this and continue to make mental health a fundamental priority. Beginning right from PK, our students are encouraged to talk about and recognize their feelings. Social-emotional growth and development is an intentional component of our curriculum, and the adults in the building use those “teachable moments” to role model and discuss dealing with disappointment and asking for help.  Our faculty and staff are certified in Mental Health First Aid, allowing us to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of mental distress, and assist our students in getting the help they need.

We also recognize that we need to help our entire school community better understand the importance of mental health and wellness.  Through our Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, we have shared information about brain development, mental health, and our children, volunteerism and contributing to the community, moving from stress to strength, developing resiliency, internet, and online safety, and we will continue in January 2019 when Greg Wells – author of The Ripple Effect – comes to speak with us about our overall well-being.  The more we talk about mental health, the better we understand its importance – not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day.

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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!!!

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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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Kindness in Kindergarten

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“Kindness is the language in which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” –Mark Twain

As I reflect on this past school year with my Senior Kindergarten class, one word comes to mind – kindness. In over 20 years teaching, I have never met a group of children who were so empathetic and accepting of one other. These children set such a good example to those around them through so many acts of kindness.

I can still vividly remember an incident when one of our students was upset and laying on the floor crying. On their own accord, two students laid down next to this child, patting her back to comfort her. It made me so proud to see them, without hesitation, go out of their way to help calm their friend.

Their kindness was contagious and it led to authentic writing activities in our SK class. They created Get Well cards for a classmate who had been ill. They also wrote messages and decorated Christmas cards for cancer patients at Sick Kids Hospital.

These children impressed me every day with the ways they lived and breathed our Habit “Make the world better”. If only SKs ruled the world, what a kinder world it would be!

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Inch by Inch, Row by Row

“Mother Earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care.” – John Denver

You may have noticed some striking wooden planters freshly built in the front yard of the school; it seems that spring has finally sprung and construction for the brand new KCS Teaching Gardens is well underway.  Over the past several months, Ms. Tenebaum has graciously led an initiative with Mrs. Mosun and Ms. Russo to bring an exciting opportunity for outdoor education to our blossoming school community.  Special thanks to our Annual Giving supporters and Plant World for their generous contributions.

KCS has enlisted the help of a master gardener, Alexis Yanaky, to design the gardens in tandem with the Early Learning Program, the Primary Division, and some of the Junior/Intermediate learning buddies.  They have carefully curated the soils, and each section of the garden is planned around a theme:  the PK/JK Harvest Garden, the SK Butterfly/Pollinator Garden, the Grade 1 Love Garden, the Grade 2 Diversity Garden, and the Grade 3 Indigenous Garden. All of the gardens are sure to yield plenty of food, flowers, and fun!

Following the continuing successes of our Outdoor Classroom, it is no doubt that these special gardens will be a popular space for authentic outside learning experiences.  While our students tend to the soils together, they will naturally learn about healthy living & eating, environmental sustainability, community growth, and so much more.

A grade one student said, “We’re going to plant lots of different flowers and we’re going to learn about unity and how to share stuff and be thankful.”

Our KCS Teaching Gardens will produce more than fresh roses, kale, and gourds- we will cultivate rich opportunities for learning.  It is already clear that the harvest will be bountiful!

Someone is watching over you!

Separated by 6,071 km and nearly 73 years, two strangers meet to remember and honour a fallen soldier…..Let me start from the beginning!

Every two years, grade 7 and 8 students have the opportunity to spend part of March Break with teachers and interested parents on a group tour of the Canadian battlefields of Europe. Ms. Biljetina and I are the teachers who lead the trip. What I’m about to share began after my third battlefield trip, when my grandmother told me the story of her first cousin, Leslie, who died while serving in the Second World War.  His body was never recovered and his name is among those of the missing on the memorial at Groesbeek Cemetery in the Netherlands.  With my involvement with the Kingsway College School battlefield trip, it meant a great deal for me to be able to visit this site for my family.

Fast forward to March 8, 2015 when I finally had the opportunity to return to Groesbeek Cemetery, but this time it meant much more to me.  Upon arrival, I immediately looked for Leslie Roherty in the register, and there in black and white was his name, the division he served in, his place of birth, age, family information and the panel number (10) where his name is engraved.  Instantly something came over me. What was I feeling?  It is incredible how emotional I felt considering I never knew him.  While hard to explain, I felt an undeniable connection to him and it gave me a new appreciation for how difficult it must have been for my cousin Hazel and her family, my grandmother, and other family members when the message was delivered explaining that he would not be returning home from the war.  It made me think about all of those families who lost loved ones and how heartbreaking it must have been.  I was quite choked up by this experience and decided I needed to write something in the visitor’s log.  What does one say?  For someone who always has a lot to say, I found myself relatively speechless.  In the end, I wrote, “RIP Leslie Roherty” and signed my name, Jenn MacDonald.  I took many photos of the register, panel 10 and the cemetery to show to my family.  Little did I know that this was just the beginning.

Nearly one year ago, my cousin Mark Roherty received a letter from Alice van Bekkum, president of the Faces to Graves Foundation.  Alice received my aunt’s obituary and it listed Mark as her son. From there, she started her search to find the relatives of Leslie Roherty.  Last year, my cousin passed along this letter to my grandmother and asked if I had visited Groesbeek Cemetery.  Since I had not left my address, Alice was at a loss in her search for information.  Finding my cousin was the break that she needed.  In the months leading up to our recent 2017 battlefield trip, I got in touch with Alice to let her know that Groesbeek Cemetery was on our itinerary.  We were both extremely pleased that we would get to meet each other.  All of my family and I were so touched to see that there are people out there like Alice who make it their mission to put faces and stories to these brave souls.  They want people to know who they were so we can always remember the sacrifice that they made.

To understand Alice’s motivation, here is some background information on her involvement and the connection with my relative.  In 2002, Alice visited her parents’ grave where she discovered one lone Commonwealth war grave in a general cemetery in Gorinchem.  On the headstone was the soldier’s name and a date.  This piqued her interested and Alice decided to look into it.  She found out he was a Canadian soldier who was killed in the battle of Arnhem.  After doing further research and speaking with contacts at Liberation Museum, she had a clearer picture of who he was and where his body was discovered.  Alice was also in contact with this soldier’s family back in Canada.  This story picked up a lot of momentum in the news and this soldier’s family was able to get answers that they waited decades to hear.  The connection to my family you ask….this soldier was in the same storm boat as my cousin.

After many emails and text messages, the time had finally arrived for me to meet the wonderful woman who has taken such an interest in my family.  When the KCS contingent reached the cemetery, Alice was there smiling and greeting us in the parking lot.  She came with poppies for everyone on our tour, a candle to light, and a beautiful homemade heart wreath made of moss from her own garden.  Again, I found myself emotional that a complete stranger took the time to prepare all of this for my cousin.  We spoke for over half an hour while we walked around the cemetery.  As we were leaving, we placed our poppies on the wreath that she made and left it there by Leslie’s name.

There are moments and people in your life that will stick with you forever. Meeting Alice will be one of them for me.  Her compassion and dedication are remarkable and very much appreciated by my entire family and me.  The work that she and her organization do is significant.  We will never be able to thank the thousands of young men and women who gave their lives for our freedom, but with Alice’s help, we will never forget them!

– Jenn MacDonald
Grade 5 Teacher

The five-minute challenge

What can five minutes do? It can help change the world. This is the main message that went home with 160 members of the KCS community after the Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series presented by Kingsway College School in partnership with the KCS Parent Network.

Volunteerism: Choices That Make a Difference featured a panel of non-profit leaders sharing their experiences and engaging in lively discussion with the audience. Alex Robertson, CEO of Camp Oochigeas, Kristine Gaston, Executive Director of The Leacock Foundation, Martha McClew, Provincial Director for The Terry Fox Foundation, James Noronha, Program Director for Special Olympics Ontario and Gohulan Rajalingham, Special Olympian were joined by keynote speaker and host of the evening, Canadian football legend Michael “Pinball” Clemons.

With a focus on instilling the habits of volunteerism in our children early to follow them through life, panelists encouraged the audience to help children find their passion and to teach by example. Feel uncomfortable and feel nervous. Show your children that is how you are feeling and show them that volunteering can be hard. And show them that it’s all worth it.

Pinball and our panelists issued a challenge: start with five minutes a day. Just five minutes to make someone’s day better. Soon, those five minutes turns to twenty, then an hour. Before you know it, a habit has formed that will help our children become volunteer leaders of tomorrow.

What is truly remarkable about our passionate KCS community is the level of volunteerism we see at the school every day. This event, for example, was made possible by the generosity of two volunteers from the KCS Parent Network. Parent volunteers who devoted hours of their time to ensuring that this annual event was the best one yet and provided our community with an unforgettable experience.

It just takes five minutes to help change the world. What will you do with your five minutes today?

A Dialogue on Volunteerism

Electric. Motivating. Inspiring.

These are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Tuesday’s fantastic assembly in Canada Hall. Thanks to the generous support of the Kingsway College School Parent Network for the Talk That Matters Speaker series, KCS proudly welcomed an impressive panel of guest speakers whose message of volunteerism electrified our students, staff and faculty. Canadian Football legend, Michael “Pinball” Clemons, Program Director for Special Olympics Ontario, James Noronha, and Special Olympian Gohulan Rajlingam shared uplifting stories of how they came to embrace volunteerism.

With his energetic and engaging style, Pinball Clemons asked the students to pause and reflect on what it means to be in the service of others. Like The Good Samaritan or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pinball reminded the audience of people who believed in the goodness that comes from standing up for others. He spoke eloquently of his own mother, who worked very hard to raise him by herself and instill in him a deep understanding of giving back to the community.

James Noronha and Gohulan Rajlingam each shared personal stories of how the Special Olympics presented them with many opportunities to build community spirit, celebrate exceptional athletes in multiple sports and cultivate a tightly knit network of friends and families whose generous spirit connected them forever. James also explained how he was drawn to volunteerism as a thirteen-year-old student. By typing and mailing a simple letter to the Trillium Hospital, James began his lifelong journey of helping others.  After listening to these wonderful stories, what may be holding you back from reaching out and making a difference?

What makes a community great?  Without a doubt, it’s when we stand up and help others with the gift of time. Whether it is investing 5 minutes a day to make someone’s morning brighter, or five hours filling the Wall of Service, these simple gestures have the power to make a big difference. We all win when volunteerism becomes a part of who we are.

A very special thank you to our Parent Network volunteers, Mrs. Alison Bell and Dr. Christina Semler for their tremendous support of this unforgettable event. Now that deserves a Pinball Clemons high five!

The Benefits of Outdoor Education

I was first introduced to Outdoor Education as an international student completing my teaching degree in New South Wales, Australia. Although I was familiar with “Environmental Ed,” it was not until I experienced The Earth Keepers program that I acquired a deeper understanding of experiential learning. For one, I discovered that traversing the Australian back country is very different than bushwhacking through Canadian forests. The abundance of poisonous snakes, arachnids and spiny plants required a deliberate mind shift. Luckily, my Aussie instructors were quick to correct my “Canadian style hiking.” When the program concluded, many of my classmates agreed that exploring unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar country was a learning experience that would be remembered forever.

Every September, KCS students participate in our longstanding tradition of outdoor education. Led by outdoor specialists and KCS faculty, Grade 6, 7 and 8 students are immersed in many unforgettable experiences. Each three-day program is uniquely tailored to help students reconnect with classmates, engage in team-building exercises and begin the fall term both re-energized and in a positive frame of mind.
Our students are practicing farm-to-table by preparing meals created with ingredients harvested within a hundred kilometer radius of the city. They are building trust and teamwork by navigating challenging ropes courses and testing their limits with rock climbing and rappelling at Rattlesnake Point. And my personal favourite, students are introduced to early Canadian history when they reconstruct the challenging life an 18th century fur trader.

All of these activities are linked together by a fundamental and defining thread: Hands-on learning flourishes when students take responsible risks, step out of their comfort zones and push themselves to try something new.

As many of us become more accustomed to an urban lifestyle, connecting with the outdoors has become an important issue. I am reminded of Richard Louv’s influential book Last Child in the Woods. As our cities grow and green spaces recede, Louv’s poignant observation that “direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults” seems to ring true now more than ever. In the beginning, I thought that I understood outdoor education. I thought that I was a capable outdoor enthusiast. I thought that environmental education was simply learning in an outdoor classroom. Australian Earth Keepers opened my eyes. Experiential learning at KCS opened them even wider.

Outdoor education at Kingsway College School not only encourages students to try their best, but it also recognizes that leadership, environmental stewardship, and personal development reap benefits that transcend the traditional classroom. Besides, where else can you dress up as the Mad Trapper of Norval?