Tales from Lower School

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How to Talk to Kids About Tragedies

A message from Lower School Director Alison Rothschild

In the Lower School, teachers have begun to discuss disaster relief projects with students.  As an institution committed to developing empathy and social consciousness in all of our students, conversations about collection efforts provide a developmentally appropriate avenue for this area of our work.

The focus of our conversations has been around loss and damage to material things, and our desire to help children replace those lost and damaged things.  Age appropriate conversations begin and end with reassurance that children are safe. As kids get older (7-, 8-, 9-years-old) they are able to extrapolate that there was also loss of life, but that has not been the focus of our conversations in school.

The responses to the conversations have varied tremendously, with some children enthusiastically offering to give away their toys and books while our youngest students, who are not yet able to understand another perspective, listen to the discussions and follow up with their own experiences with rain, water, toys or electricity.

I trust our teachers implicitly to provide safe and comfortable dialogue around these topics, but wanted to provide parents with some guidelines and some helpful resources to help navigate these and (sadly) future tragic events.

First and foremost, it is best to limit exposure to these events. Graphic images on the news or in photographs can be traumatic for young children. Children should have varying degrees of information, depending on age and maturity. 

It's been my experience that in times of trouble, young children seem to hold it together during the school day and then process fears, sadness and other emotions at home with their family, often at bedtime.  It's important to give children the opportunity to express their fears, ask questions, and then provide them with the reassurance that they are safe.

Here are two resources that may be of interest. 

As I think about all of the events transpiring around the world, I am increasingly appreciative of our Calhoun family.  We are all so fortunate to be part of such a kind and compassionate community. And I'm encouraged and thankful that our children are learning, right from the start, that they have the ability to help others in need.

Posted by Anonymous in kindergarten, 3's, 1st grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 2nd grade, community on Thursday October 26 at 02:01PM
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Little Calhouners Rally for Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico

by Priscilla Marrero, Lower School Spanish teacher

In an effort to respond to hurricane victims, the Lower School community rallied together in an amazing showing of support for the children of Puerto Rico. Over the course of a week, we collected donations of books, pens, crayons, new pajamas and stuffed animals for the Bel Esprit Cultural Institute’s Rise and Read project, which unites with teachers on the ground to restore a sense of normalcy for children while the adults focus on rebuilding.

It was a wonderful, magical week full of so much community support at Little Calhoun: from coordinating ideas and talking with the children about the hurricanes in Puerto Rico to creating bookmarks and sorting the boxes full of donations. It was a real communal effort, and it was incredible to witness and be a part of it all!

Our bookmarks made by 3's –2nd graders, teachers and staff

We had a special donation from our local Stationary and Toy World on 72nd Street. Donna, the owner, gave us pens, crayons, and boxes of composition books – she even sent over her staff to deliver in person!

Some of our students were so eager to participate that they joined me in the theater to help sort and receive collections. Thank you Daisy and Javier!

Emerson was so eager to support that he told his mom that he wanted to make 100 more bookmarks for the children in Puerto Rico! He really enjoyed learning about the process of creating for others.

Thanks to Avy (Calhoun parent) and Elyna (Calhoun kindergarten student), the donations are headed to Brooklyn to meet Kafayat Alli-Balogun, founder of the Bel Esprit Cultural Institute, and go to Puerto Rico!

Thank you to everyone for their kindness and generosity in contributing to this project! What an awesome week!

Posted by Anonymous in kindergarten, 3's, 4's, collaboration, 1st grade, 2nd grade, social justice, community on Thursday October 26
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Painting a Picture with Words: 2nd Graders Embark on Writer’s Workshop

by Giovanni Pucci


Papers are strewn about as if on a literary battlefield … tables are covered with copies of rough and final drafts; blank pages hang upon the lips of tables … are we in the pressroom of The New York Times? No, we’re in my second grade classroom, where students are working on transforming the edited drafts of their personal narratives into a finished manuscript.

In second grade, Calhoun students learn to go through the formal writing process as part of Writer’s Workshop. Though all writers approach their craft differently, as a cluster we have been working on five key steps: pre-writing, or thinking of an idea; writing a first draft; reading and revising the first draft; editing the work for spelling, punctuation and other mistakes; and publishing, which could either mean turning it into a book, or simply reading the piece aloud to the other students in our cluster.

In addition to focusing on the different steps of the writing process, we have spent a lot of time learning about story structure. Stories, we discussed, can be broken down into three major parts: the beginning, the middle and the end. We took a closer look at books we had read in class to understand the role of each of these parts in telling the story. Then, students put this new understanding to work as they created short, focused pieces that intentionally touched on the essential three parts of a story.

We’ve also explored the importance of adding detail to our writing. Our goal in writing is to capture the experience on the page as if painting a picture with words. One day we drew a house together that started out as a basic pentagon shape. Little by little we added lines to make windows, then window frames, and other small details that make the drawing look like a real house. We talked about how writing is like that, too – the more details you can add, the more you can make your lived experience come to life.

Lately we have been applying these lessons to write our own personal narratives. We use what we learned about story structure as a roadmap through the writing process, and do our best to add descriptive details to our sentences that will draw a reader into the world of our narratives. Writing these narratives is an individual journey, but the small class size allows for a lot of one-on-one time with each child. At Calhoun, we are always personalizing how we teach writing so that a child feels that the work he or she is being asked to do is both possible and exciting to them.

Writing is a long process, and it can be easy for young writers to tire of it. But an interesting phenomenon can be observed in our classroom: the more time and energy that children have invested in their pieces, the more excited they feel to work on them. These second graders are seeing just how fruitful all their effort can be, and as they near the finish line, they are beginning to sense that they have created something special and beautiful. It won’t be long before it’s time for a publishing party!

Posted by Anonymous in 2nd grade, writing, language arts on Tuesday May 2 at 03:44PM
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Math Comes to Life Through 5th Grade Classroom Economy

It was payday at Calhoun, and people were busy depositing their checks, paying rent and reconciling their bank accounts. But these weren’t your typical employees: the scene was being played out in Molly Cohen’s fifth grade math class, where students have been engaged in a classroom simulation as part of an ongoing project in financial literacy.

For this fifth grade economic construct, students earn pretend money through such jobs in the classroom as homework monitor, administrative assistant, banker and even loan officer. Students receive bi-monthly paychecks for their work (printed to look like real paychecks with tax deductions), and are responsible for paying for basic needs--rent for their seats. Once they’ve paid their rent, fifth graders can decide to save their remaining money or purchase coupons for certain privileges, such as having lunch with Molly or watching a video in class.

Fifth grade math topics come to life through the lens of the classroom economy: students practice working with decimals while balancing the withdrawal and deposit columns of their bank sheets; they work on percentages when calculating the interest of a loan; and through the simulated banker-client relationship, they learn to articulate these numerical concepts and work together to solve a problem.

The classroom economy also instills a key non-math skill: responsibility. “When [my students] get a check, they work harder to hold on to it than they would a homework assignment, since no replacements are given out for lost checks,” says Molly, who adds that they also learn the importance of preparing for unexpected life events. Early on, the class made a series of “Life Happens Cards.” When one is drawn, a student is faced with either a financial emergency (ex: “you tripped on your way to school and owe $75 in insurance fees”) or surprise (ex: “your grandma sent you $100 for your birthday”).

By bringing real-world situations into the classroom, Calhoun fifth graders are learning first-hand about the impact of their own financial decisions. But the ultimate aim of the classroom economy project goes beyond creating smarter spenders. “When math is hands-on, it resonates more with students,” says Molly. “They’re much quicker to do the math when it’s put in a real-world context.”

Posted by Anonymous in math, multiplication, experiential learning, 5th grade on Friday March 10 at 12:05PM
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Celebrating the Holidays as a School Community

It’s a festive time of year at Little Calhoun, when children in all classes come together to celebrate the holidays. Whether it’s Diwali or Chinese New Year, recognizing a holiday at Calhoun is not only a time to build school community, it’s also an opportunity to learn more about diverse cultural traditions.

“A celebration is a first introduction to the diversity surrounding us: within our own families, other families, our school community, and ever broadening circles in our world community,” says 3’s teacher Diane Ryan.

Take a look at a few of the ways our Lower School students are celebrating the holidays:


By Christy Kong, 3’s Head Teacher

Preschool children have been very busy decorating the classroom for the upcoming holidays, and one of our families even brought in a Christmas tree. It is now adorned with ornaments that the children created at the art table. They made beaded candy canes, which gave them the opportunity to both strengthen fine motor skills and practice pattern making, and made reindeer hats!

In theater movement class, we celebrated with holiday music that we sang along to while playing bells and maracas. We even made it snow inside the theater with white feathers!


By Richard Amelius, Kindergarten teacher

In our kindergarten class, students and families led us in a special celebration of Hanukkah. With the help of parent and neighbor volunteers, we fried up a big batch of latkes that we enjoyed as a delicious snack with applesauce. One of our students brought in a book called Dinosaur on Hanukkah that we read together. After the story, he showed us a menorah he had made and lit candles. We ended our morning with an introduction to the dreidel game and a Hanukkah song.


By Giovanni Pucci, 2nd grade teacher

One of our families led us in a joyous celebration of Kwanzaa, full of music, song and dance. The second grade class took the stage behind their drums and played a piece called “Let’s Celebrate Kwanzaa.” Even [facilities manager] Eddie got into the drumming act! We learned that Kwanzaa is a holiday of new beginnings and hope that began in 1966 as a way for African Americans to celebrate their African heritage. After learning about this rich history, we danced to a song called “Ara Mi Le,” a Nigerian song that means “with my whole self be well.” We ended the assembly united in celebration.

Posted by Anonymous on Friday December 16, 2016 at 05:49PM
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Teaching Empathy & Social Justice to 1st Graders

By Elissa Kompanek, 1st Grade Head Teacher, and Camille Jumarang-Oyola, Associate Teacher

Since the beginning of the year, we have been talking about how our first job is “Taking care of each other.”  We have recognized how each one of us is unique, and we have read many stories that describe unfair treatment of characters just because of the way they look.  These conversations led us to learning more about Gandhi.

Children eagerly sat and listened as we told them that Gandhi is a hero to many people, including their teachers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  They listened closely as we read and talked about how Gandhi was shy and afraid of the dark.  School was hard for him, but through all of this, he believed that all people should be treated fairly.  One of the first points that resonated with the children was the cast system in India that would not allow Gandhi to play with his friend.  They could not believe that some people could not walk on the sidewalk or be in a railroad car or own land.

When Gandhi tried to help make things fair, even if others tried to hurt him, he did not fight back; he was peaceful but strong in his belief, and he helped change the world. 

Through our social justice curriculum, we will continue to learn about Gandhi and his march to the sea as well as other leaders who were inspired by his nonviolent path.

Posted by Anonymous on Sunday October 9, 2016 at 12:37PM
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Being 3: First Days of a Journey!

by Diane Ryan and Yadira Rivas, 3's teachers

Hello, Hello, Hello!

We had a splendid start to the year.  Our phase-in is a gentle process, so on Monday there was just slight trepidation from our little ones.  It is a challenge to say good-bye to our beloved parents, but once we have traversed the great divide and emerged on the other side, everyone feels ready to explore all that the classroom has to offer.

This cluster enjoys books.  Someone will bring over a book and in no time at all, a large group has assembled to listen.  Cars and trucks and trains are being used, and the Magna-tiles and Duplos have been taken from their respective bins for building work on the floor or a nearby table.  We have set out markers and crayons everyday at our little project table, and this week we set out paint at the easel. The paintings your children completed are hanging on the wall opposite our doors.

We have had a choice time in the morning with everyone learning to negotiate through the room and learning about one another.  We have had meetings where we sang our name song and joined together in renditions of "Eensy Weensy Spider," "The Great Big Spider" and the "Itty Bitty Spider." We have laughed. We have enjoyed reading an assortment of the Sam series by Barbro Lindgren, illustrated by Eva Erikson. And we listened to I'll Always Come Back  by Steve Metzger.  We certainly saw ourselves and our own separation process mirrored in this story. Then we have washed our hands at the little sink and shared a snack of fruit and chips. 

The children are practicing going up and down the stairs.  On Friday it was a smoother trip up the stairs and through the 4's classroom to the terrace than it was the first time we tried it.  We have been to our Theater Movement class with Megan, listening and moving to music. Megan taught us Fiesta (dance to the music) and Siesta (lay down quietly), which we played with obvious enthusiasm.  We have attended our very first PE class with Amy, and she had everyone climbing, sliding, and balancing on differently textured materials.  As one of our children remarked afterwords, "I had so much fun in the gym!"  

Thank you all for trusting us with your precious little ones.  We welcome you into our classroom and into the Calhoun community. Together we have experienced a strong beginning and we look forward to a grand time ahead.

Our best to you - Diane & Yadi

Posted by Anonymous on Monday October 3, 2016
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Interdisciplinary Pocket People Project Continues Long-Standing First Grade Tradition

by Tillie Scarritt, Cara Finnerty, and Giovanni Pucci, First Grade Head Teachers 

Pocket People are a Calhoun tradition dating back nearly 35 years! These adorable characters have been cherished and saved by many Calhoun alumni and are even reputed to have their own reunions! And now, our current first graders have joined this long line of Calhouners…

Our “Pocket People” unit is an exercise in Calhoun’s progressive methodology and interdisciplinary, project-based learning. It is an integral part of the first grade social studies curriculum that revolves around “What Makes a Community,” reflecting Calhoun’s commitment to community and cooperation while placing great value on self-discovery and creative expression. 

Each child designs his/her own fabric doll out of muslin and then stuffs it with batting, small enough to fit in a pocket.  The children continue the project by making clothing and constructing a home for their pocket person.

Throughout the process, we discuss what people want versus what they need—and how they get those needs met. These discussions inevitably raise important questions: What about people without homes or jobs? Where and how do we get food? What services do we need for our community? How do people live together in crowded buildings? Why is there a need to compromise?

A crate becomes the foundation for the home; furnishings are crafted out of wood, cardboard and found objects. The assembled homes become a neighborhood. Students decide what is needed for the community and proceed to build stores, banks, movie theaters, hospitals and schools.

Collaborative work comes into play in the construction of these buildings and in decisions made within the community. These interactions provide students with invaluable experiences in problem solving, working collaboratively, and getting along with one another.

The building blocks of this project are many.  Math is an important element, as the children observe rules of symmetry and learn how to measure, weigh and estimate. One math activity involves measuring the length, height, and depth of each Pocket Person’s home, using Unifix cubes, rulers, or other math manipulatives. Scale and measurement are used when the children build their wooden crate homes, and when they try to weigh and balance their Pocket People. The children learn how to use the manipulatives and read a ruler when measuring the Pocket Person’s height. Blocks are often used to further expand the community.

Language arts skills are practiced during the whole life of the project. Each Pocket Person-- human or animal—is given its own “character.” Children write biographies, stories and poems about their Pocket People. The children also design a birth certificate for their Pocket Person, which engages language arts and math skills.  Completing the certificate requires the children to make a lot of decisions and gather information, including their Pocket Person’s name, birth date, time of birth, weight, height, place of birth, guardian’s name, a photo, and prints of both feet!

When the Pocket People have play dates, the children speak for them. Pocket People are, in fact, integral to the rich, wonderful dramatic role-playing that supports the social, emotional and cognitive development of each of our students.  They engage the children’s intellect and imagination, while exercising their math and language arts skills. In addition, this project provides a safe testing ground for the application of critical concerns such as issues of social justice.  It gives students agency as they embrace the complex responsibilities involved in creating a community of friends, even if they are only made of cloth!   

Posted by Anonymous on Friday April 15, 2016 at 09:18AM
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4th Grader Discovers New Way to Multiply by 6!

A great math breakthrough: fourth grader Baelee has uncovered an easier way to multiply large integers by six; check out this video!

Baelee made the discovery on her own while doing homework for her fourth grade math class, taught by Austin Applegate. Although Baelee’s assignment was simply to fill in a multiplication grid, her explorations of patterns during class activities—using manipulatives and number games—prepped her well to notice yet a new pattern....  

When Baelee revealed her innovative approach to Austin, he had her present her findings to fellow fourth graders and colleagues. Baelee’s classmates and several Calhoun math teachers tested the method with a variety of integers, and were amazed that it works every time! 

One of the teachers wowed was Michael Vercillo, who was doing his PEL teaching fellowship in Calhoun's Lower School when the fourth grader first revealed her discovery. In a blog describing Baelee's method, Michael writes, "This is the sort of curious, creative, exploratory mindset that Calhoun and other progressive schools are aiming to foster and encourage in their students.” 

Austin agrees, noting that Baelee's discovery is a also a great example of creating new knowledge. “It’s about inventing a new way of looking at multiplication," enthuses Austin. ”And it issuch a simple, elegant trick that it makes you say, ‘What a great idea; why didn't I think of that?’" 

Posted by Anonymous in math, multiplication, 4th grade, experiential learning on Thursday April 7, 2016 at 12:21PM
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Observation & Classification--In Silence!

First Graders Become Scientists

by Barbara Ackerman, LS science teacher, 74th Street.

In 1st grade science, we achieve the impossible--a lesson taught in total silence!  No words; only gestures and actions. 

With an apparently random bunch of objects placed on a table (colorful Legos, buttons, pom-poms, beads and feathers), we silently and thoughtfully begin to sort the items into groups. At first the students are a bit puzzled, but soon, after some careful observation, a pattern emerges.

Silently begin sorting objects by color. The exercise is then repeated, this time sorting by texture.  As the children begin to realize the parameters of the groupings, they are invited to help in sorting. Before long, all of the students are working as a team to gleefully sort all of the objects on the table, still (mostly!) in silence.

The science lesson of the day: Classification. 

To end the lesson, the students are given a sheet with all sorts of seemingly random objects.  It is up to the children to classify these objects, based on characteristics of their own choosing.  There are many possibilities:  Alive and Not Alive.  Animal and Not Animal.  Wheels and No Wheels.  The possibilities seem endless . . .We have a discussion about why scientists classify. 

Scientists classify by all sorts of characteristics so they can find things more easily and help organize fields of study.  We talk about how we use classification at home, as well: socks in the sock drawer, Legos in the Lego bin.  You certainly wouldn’t want to keep your underwear with your shoes!

Directly after our science lesson on classification, the children enjoyed a snack.  A potpourri of items were offered:  veggie sticks, grapes, chips and crackers.  Without any prompting, the children began sorting their snack into groups, saying “We are doing classification!”

Posted by Anonymous in 1st grade, science on Sunday March 13, 2016 at 11:57AM
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Lower School 74
Lower School 81

Main Building 3rd - 12th Grades 433 West End Avenue New York, NY 10024 212.497.6500

Robert L. Beir Lower School Building 2.8 Years - 2nd Grade 160 West 74th Street New York, NY 10023 212.497.6550

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