Tales from Lower School

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Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

The Calhoun community welcomed guest speaker Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, who led a workshop for Lower School parents on the topic of parenting in the digital age.

Michelle spoke to the challenges that many parents face today: navigating the ever-evolving world of technology with your children, teaching them to use media in a responsible manner, and protecting them from any potential negative side effects. She assured us that it’s completely normal that these challenges can seem overwhelming. “Change has happened rapidly. We’re the last people who can remember life before the internet,” said Michelle. “There’s also a multi-billion-dollar advertising industry that we’re up against, and we’re expected as parents to counter the messages that children are exposed to – no wonder this feels hard!”


So what tools can we use for successful parenting in the digital age? Michelle outlined a model she calls “The Six E’s.”

1. Exemplify
Be a role model in tech. Kids watch us more than they listen to us, and are learning from what we do. It’s time to ask ourselves, do we have a screen time problem?

2. Explain
Outline expectations, and set guidelines and rules for technology use in the home. Most of all, establish in your home that technology is a big enough deal to talk about often.

3. Engage
Have conversations with your kids about media that have nothing to do with the rules. Does your child love video games? Find out why, and play with them.

4. Empathize
Keep in mind that for the first time in history, kids are growing up in a public space thanks to social media – while we were able to make mistakes in private as an adolescent. Be prepared to have open conversations about how hard this can be.

5. Educate
There’s an important difference between preparing and protecting, teaching and telling. Teach kids to ask questions, and learn to have media literacy conversations at home.

6. Empower
Encourage your child’s own media creation, by telling them about new apps or websites, signing them up for classes, and teaching them new skills.

Most of all, Michelle reminded us, “Kids might be better at tech, but we’re better at being human beings. Their tech savvy doesn’t eliminate our life experience – be confident in the wisdom you have to impart.”

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What Does 100 Look Like?

Calhoun students celebrated the annual 100th Day Museum to commemorate completing 100 days of school. Each cluster worked together to create projects that reflected their understanding of what the number 100 looks like.

This year’s 100th Day Museum was full of interdisciplinary projects that made connections between math and other fields: from a scientific model of a 100-tentacled jellyfish, to an interpretation of a Kandinsky painting. Community service was also a common theme, with some clusters showing collections of donated books or canned goods for a local food pantry.

All of the projects were put on display in the 74th Street theater, and the entire Little Calhoun community dropped by to enjoy the creations.  Bravo to this year’s exhibitors!

Second graders made a scientific model of the 100-tentacled immortal jellyfish. Each of the 100 tentacles had an equation that equaled the number 100. The project reinforced concepts of biology, while helping students practice math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, cubed numbers and factorials.

Using the painting Squares with Concentric Circles as inspiration, second graders created 100 paper squares layered with colored circles to mimic the color study by Wassily Kandinski in 1913.

100 food items that were collected for the local food pantry West Side Campaign Against Hunger.

A collection of 100 books donated to Project Cicero, a non-profit organization that creates and supplements classroom libraries in under-resourced New York City public schools.

First graders created artistic renditions of favorite Pocket People foods. Each child made 10 of one type of food, which they will later add to their Pocket Person’s home.

One group of second graders made a representation of 100 words that they can read, write and spell.

3’s students counted from one to 10 in 10 different languages. Each language was chosen because of its connection to the languages of the families and teachers in the cluster. Many of these preschoolers are bilingual and have been teaching their classmates how to count in different languages.

First graders drew, cut and painted 100 eagle feathers. After counting by groups of 10’s to make sure they had exactly 100 feathers, they then sorted the feathers by colors and divided them into two groups of 50.

First graders posed with their project of 100 paper flowers.

4’s students created a centipede with 100 legs.



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Preschool Apple Study Sets Foundation for Inquiry

How do you teach inquiry to young children? In our preschool, children started with an everyday, familiar food item – apples. 

4's teacher Alicia Klein talks about how an apple study laid the foundation for learning about the process of inquiry.

Apple Study in 4's Classroom

"As an introduction to inquiry-based classroom projects, we started a small unit on apples to model the process. To start, we gathered together to generate a list of what we know about apples. Sample responses included: 'They have seeds in it;' 'There’s juice in it;' 'It’s a fruit;' 'We can eat it;' 'You can make apple pie, apple cake, or applesauce.' 'It has a stem, which is how it hangs on the tree.'

Next, we read the books That Apple is Mine retold and illustrated by Katya Arnold, and Where is the Apple Pie? by Valeri Gorbache. Then we examined the physical shape of apples. We cut open two apples, one vertically and the other horizontally. While the seeds were visible in both, we were amazed to find a star in the one cut horizontally!  We then used these apple halves to create prints with red, yellow and green paint.

We also created our very first observational drawing. Observational drawing is a tool in the process of scientific exploration. This was presented to the children as an opportunity to draw what they see. They were able to choose from four different types of apples: red (Macoun), yellow (Ginger Gold), green (Granny Smith), and multicolor (Envy). The artists studied the apples from all directions and got a good feel for the shape. Then they were given a pencil and asked to draw the outline. After the outline was done, they used colored pencils and crayons to fill in the colors that they observed. This process was done one at a time and the children felt great pride in their work.

The children also organized an apple taste test. The same four varieties of apples were presented and the question was asked: Are all apples the same? Everyone tasted a slice of each of the four apples, sharing comments about how they looked, how they smelled and how they tasted. After tasting all four apples, each child was asked to pick their favorite. We will now generate a graph based on the results. Finally, two students led apple cooking projects: apple juice and applesauce. We used a juicer and took turns pushing apple pieces inside and observing as the juice came pouring out of the spout. Then, the 'chefs' helped cut apples into small pieces to be cooked into applesauce. We sampled it along with apple butter on a baguette for a special snack. It was a huge hit, with many children asking for refills.

As we continue to practice inquiry-based learning, our goal is to trigger students' curiosity and empower them to lead their learning. Today, we met and asked each other what else we want to know. Children continued to form questions such as, 'I want to learn how to make apple pie,' or 'How do apples grow on trees?' In the end, the inquiry process left them hungry to learn more!"

Posted by Anonymous in 4's, science, interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning on Tuesday January 23 at 02:46PM
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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, 2017 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, 2017
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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, 2017 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, 2017 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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Choose groups to clone to:

Lower School 74
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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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