TNCS: A School To Be Thankful For

These friendly maidens grab a postdinner hug.

These friendly pilgrim maids grab a postdinner hug.

The approach of Thanksgiving was a special time at The New Century School. Each class explored the meaning of being thankful and participated in seasonal activities. The primary classes got to really embrace the season and reenacted a Thanksgiving feast. Because the primary classrooms are Montessori, there, students learn by doing, by really being in the moment. Mrs. Lawson’s and Mrs. Lazarony’s classes planned a traditional pilgrim and Native American get-together for the day before Thanksgiving, for example. They hosted, as pilgrims, and each invited one of the preprimary classes to join, playing the part of the Native Americans. After first voting on the menu, they next prepared the feast during class on Wednesday morning. Once more, the Montessori curriculum demonstrated its efficacy. During food prep, even the youngest primary students, at age 3 years, were adept at cutting apples, popping corn, and arranging the dishes. Their experience with the Sensorial and Practical Life materials stood them in good stead for this big celebration. The students also made hats and headdresses and decorated a Thanksgiving-themed table runner, bringing art into the history lesson.

The Chinese immersion preprimary students (Native Americans) joined Mrs. Lawson's primary students (pilgrims) for the Thanksgiving meal.

The Chinese immersion preprimary students (Native Americans) joined Mrs. Lawson’s primary students (pilgrims) for the Thanksgiving meal.

Mr. Sellers’ class also celebrated both the holiday and the spirit of togetherness by collaborating on a big pot of Stone Soup. The students got the hands-on experience of preparing the veggies and cooking the soup as well as a great lesson in cooperation: if everyone contributes just a little, no one goes hungry. They read the book to lead in to their delicious project.

The primary students discuss the concept of this soup as well as its merits. Many had seconds!

The primary students discuss the concept of this soup as well as its merits. Many had seconds!

Perhaps one of the nicest aspects of these celebrations was that they offered several ways for parents to be involved—either by joining the feast, volunteering with prep and/or clean-up, or contributing food for the feasts to name a few. In fact, having access to what our kids are doing day to day is one of the nicest things about TNCS in general, and something to be extremely grateful for.

Speaking of grateful, here are some of the things that our primary friends wanted to say thanks for during their feast:

  • Julia: My little brother and my family.
  • Dylan: I’m keeping it a secret for my family.
  • Mia: Food.
  • Dez: Mommy. Oh, and Daddy.

The rest declined to comment! Too busy tucking in!

The ABCs of ZZZs at TNCS

Looks nice, huh?

Looks nice, huh?

Sleep. That beautiful, elusive state of dormant consciousness we just can’t get enough of. As adults, many of us enjoy a torrid relationship with sleep: desiring it mightily, while in return, it plays hard to get.

But for kids, sleep is not something to flirt with. Say doctors writing for WebMD, “Sleep is no less important than food, drink, or safety in the lives of children.” And yet, with our busy lives and comings and goings, we can inadvertently contribute to sleep deprivation in our kids. “With parents working long hours, schedules packed with school, after-school activities, and other lifestyle factors, naps are missed, bedtimes are pushed back, mornings start earlier and nights may be anything but peaceful. Missing naps or going to bed a little late may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It all adds up, with consequences that may last a lifetime.”

This dire pronouncement is no exaggeration, as more and more research on the importance of sleep illuminates. In Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth, M.D., writes,

“Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain’s battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best.”

Sleep Tight

We all have our sleep triggers. This baby girl gets to sleep with--and on--a pacifier.

We all have our sleep triggers. This baby girl gets to sleep with–and on–a pacifier.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, here are the recommended number of hours per age group.

  • Toddlers: Kids ages 1–3 years need about 12–14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
  • Preschoolers: Kids ages 3–5 years need about 11–13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Most do not nap after age 5.
  • School-aged kids: Kids ages 5–10 years need about 10–11 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

In addition to sleeping in sufficient amounts, sleep should have certain other important characteristics. Sleep should be:

  • uninterrupted to allow the child to cycle through all sleep stages, which is important for brain development;
  • timed correctly and with the right number of age-appropriate naps, which will optimize the child’s alertness; and
  • in sync with the child’s circadian rhythms.

Golden Slumbers

Healthy sleep will provide the necessary foundation for your child’s optimal mind and body development. Although it may seem counterintuitive to trade your budding genius’s classroom time for sleep, the opposite is true. In fact, check out these sleep stats (compiled from multiple sleep studies):

  • Children who sleep longer during the day have longer attention spans.
  • Children with higher IQs sleep longer.
  • Toddlers who sleep more are more sociable and less demanding, whereas those who sleep less can exhibit hyperactivity.
  • Sleeping more helps children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder both socially and academically.
  • Healthy sleep enhances neurologic development and can prevent both learning and behavioral problems.

The New Century School takes naptime seriously. All preprimary and primary kids either nap or have a resting (quiet) period every day. Naptimes are consistent, and so are the rules. Our kids are healthier and happier for it—and they are learning the good sleep habits that will keep them that way throughout their adult lives.

Speaking of adults, healthy sleep is essential for us, too. The Harvard Medical School gives us the following inducements to grab some zzzz’s:

  • Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  • Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  • Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  • Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  • Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

In October, a new U.S. study hypothesizes a new benefit to sleep, one that begins to explain why we and, in fact, every animal on earth (some up to 20 hours a day!) and even some primitive life forms like nematodes, evolved requiring sleep. In Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, researchers report that when we sleep, cerebrospinal fluid washes through the brain, flushing out built-up debris. “I think we have discovered why we sleep,” the study leader Maiken Nedergaard said. “We sleep to clean our brains.” The mechanism sounds kind of like MacKeeper for your head. At any rate, it’s a very cool theory.

What time we go to bed also makes a difference. You may have heard that every hour you sleep before midnight counts double? It’s not a myth. The underlying physiology probably has to do with hormones and metabolism, says Susan R. Johnson, M.D. in The Importance of Sleep.

Need any more convincing? Thought not. Now go get some rest—you probably need it. Smiles await you when you rise.

Anxiety-Free Kids at TNCS

Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D., speaks at TNCS about the importance of teaching our kids how to manage stress and anxiety.

Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D., speaks at TNCS about the importance of teaching our kids how to manage stress and anxiety.

Parents came out in droves on Wednesday to attend the inaugural presentation of The New Century School‘s new lecture series. Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D, a psychotherapist at The National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression (Washington, D.C.) and at Alvord, Baker, & Associates (Rockville, MD) spoke to the audience about using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce or completely abolish anxiety disorders in children. You might think that handling kids’ anxiety and related emotions tends to be the provenance of mothers, but the number of dads present disproves that assumption. Anxiety disorders, evidently, do not discriminate along gender lines. Nor do they prefer adults so much any longer. Pyschopathology rates have been skyrocketing in children and adolescents for several decades, according to the American Pyschological Association; some even call this The Age of Anxiety. Kids can begin to manifest anxiety disorders as early as age 4 or 5 years.

Anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations, but chronic anxiety can cause a cascade of health problems, from depression and substance abuse to serious digestive disorders (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers) and heart disease. Learning to manage our response to stressors can significantly reduce the health risks associated with anxiety as well as make daily living altogether more enjoyable. And that’s exactly what Dr. Zucker helps parents to do: “I speak about five times a year at schools,” she says, “targeting parents to be more aware of their kids’ anxiety and giving them strategies to help them manage it whether it’s a disorder or not.”

In her presentation, we learned first and foremost that the tools she would be demonstrating are useful for everybody—“there’s nobody who doesn’t get stressed,” she made clear. Several parents attended for just that reason: Sundai Valcich, mother of three kids ranging from age 1 year to age 6 years, said, “My children do not have severe anxiety at this point in their lives, but I thought it would be useful to learn some techniques for how to address anxiety should it occur. Dr. Zucker presented some great techniques for helping our children—and ourselves—deal with anxiety. I hope to introduce ‘calm breathing’ to my family to help all of us do better in stressful situations.” More on calm breathing in a bit.

A full house in Building North came out for the Anxiety-Free Kids presentation. And they kept coming!

A full house in Building North came out for the Anxiety-Free Kids presentation. And they kept coming!

Other parents wanted to know how to distinguish between natural anxiety responses and potentially problematic ones. Dr. Zucker emphasized that anxiety only becomes a true problem—a disorder—when it interferes with daily living. When a child cannot attend a birthday party because social situations stress her out, that’s an interference. When a child can’t go play baseball at the park because he might encounter a dog there, that’s an interference. The fact is, anxiety disorders are the most common form of psychopathology in children, adolescents, and adults. Moreover, a strong correlation exists between childhood and adult disorders; if you were an anxious child, you may well be an anxious adult. Nipping excess anxiety in the bud, even learning to recognize it, will set our kids on a healthier mental path. Another TNCS mom of three, Meredith McCormack, says she came because, “I was interested in learning about what type of behaviors might signal an underlying problem with stress and anxiety and I thought that practical tools for addressing anxious behaviors would be helpful. I thought that the talk was great and very interactive. The fact that Dr. Zucker got on the floor to demonstrate deep breathing techniques was a good example of the types of very practical examples that she used throughout the talk. I was very glad that I attended!”

Dr. Zucker demonstrates the calm breathing technique in her interactive, informative, and very entertaining presentation.

Dr. Zucker demonstrates the calm breathing technique in her interactive, informative, and very entertaining presentation.

So what did Dr. Zucker show us? As mentioned, her approach is CBT. Anxiety, she says, affects our bodies, our behaviors, and our thoughts. By repeatedly exposing a child to his or her anxiety trigger, in a safe, controlled environment, Dr. Zucker can teach heuristics to deal with these effects. So, when the little boy who can’t play in the park sees a dog, his muscles probably tense up, his heart rate accelerates, and his stomach might even hurt (indeed, Dr. Zucker explained that our digestive tracts are home to greater quantities of neurotransmitters than even our brains, giving credence to that old claim of a “nervous stomach”). These bodily effects can be lessened with calm breathing, yoga, meditation, and guided imagery, for example. (A huge advocate of yoga and meditation, Dr. Zucker, exhorted everyone present to take up these activities if they have not already done so and “call [her] in a year” to thank her for the resulting life improvements :)!) We can employ calm breathing in any situation but, first, refining this technique is necessary–it’s not a simple matter of taking deep, slow breaths. To practice calm breathing, lie down (Dr. Zucker recommends donning a yoga mat) and place an object on your chest. When you inhale, if the object moves, you are not breathing calmly! The breath should originate from the deep, low abdominal muscles; the chest remains static. It’s harder—and therefore far more rewarding—than it sounds!

Next, our little boy needs to address the avoidance behavior he resorts to out of fear. “Behavior change happens first;” says Dr. Zucker, “thought change comes second.” At the child’s pace, expose him step by step to dogs or to dog-related situations. “Face your fear!” she says. She makes “ladders” to help the child both chart and see his progress and to convey a sense of climbing/achieving. One rung at a time, the child conquers his fear. (Works for adults, too!) As for thoughts, the little boy is probably experiencing a lot of worry as well as “negative self-talk” (e.g., “I can’t”) and thinking “errors” (e.g., magnifying/distorting the intensity of the problem). To address the thought component, Dr. Zucker suggests replacing the errors and negativity with positive thinking, and, here, practice makes perfect. “Anxiety breeds self-doubt,” she says. “Fostering resilience can prevent self-esteem issues.” Thus, our body, behaviors, and our thoughts intersect and influence each other continuously. Harnessing this interaction is the key to CBT and using it to overcome anxiety.

We can thank Head of School Alicia Danyali for introducing us to Dr. Zucker. “I thought bringing someone into the school with expertise in the area of anxiety would speak to many families that have their own questions about their child’s behaviors, and to confirm or cancel out any ‘anxiety’ they may have regarding their observations. Also, in this overstimulating world, how does overstimulation affect those predisposed to anxiety or any signs of these behaviors mentioned in the talk?”

Dr. Zucker’s take-away message is clear—teaching our kids how to manage anxiety and anxiety-inducing situations is on us parents. We need to both educate ourselves in CBT techniques, and we also need to model our own correct responses to stress. “I look at managing anxiety as a life skill,” she says. She’s right on target. We cannot delude ourselves that our kids are never going to experience these unpleasant emotions or that we can always shield them from situations that might induce such feelings. What we can do is teach them how to rally and move on. Yes, you have to get a flu shot, and, yes, the needle is going to hurt. It’s okay to cry, but know that it will be over quickly, and you’ll be just fine. There’s that buzzword resilience again!

Want to learn more? Check out Dr. Zucker’s book, Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children!

TNCS Gives Thanks by Giving Back

Beans & Bread---it's not only the nutritionally perfect combination of protein and carbohydrate, but it suggests new possibilities, just as Jack's magic beans opened up a new world via his giant beanstalk.

Beans & Bread—it’s not only the nutritionally perfect combination of protein and carbohydrate, but it suggests new possibilities, just as Jack’s magic beans opened up a new world via his giant beanstalk.

With the autumn holiday season gearing up, The New Century School is counting blessings, taking stock of its manifold accomplishments, and looking for ways to share its good fortune with the surrounding community. So, just as TNCS did last year, we are once again hosting a food drive from 11/13 through 11/22 to donate to St. Vincent de Paul’s Beans & Bread program. Head of School Alicia Danyali says, “We chose Beans & Bread because they are close to the school, and we feel strongly that giving back should be kept in the neighborhood or in close proximity to what would make a difference locally.” TNCS is participating in a measurable way in keeping Fell’s Point viable and sustaining.

“Beans & Bread is a comprehensive day resource program that offers a complete range of supportive services designed to help individuals attain stabilization and self-sufficiency. Services are client-centered and focused in four core areas:  housing, employment, health, and recovery,” according to their website. TNCS is making it extremely convenient for us to assist with these very worthy pursuits. Simply bring your donatable food items to drop off in boxes placed outside the school office when you come for your parent–teacher conferences in the coming 2 weeks. “I cannot remember how much we collected last year,” says Ms. Danyali, “but I know we filled an SUV to the brim when delivering the goods! This year, I hope every family at TNCS can participate and donate a minimum two items from the needs list, if possible.”

Emphasize low-fat, low-sugar, whole-grain foods that you would serve your own family! A copy of this list was sent home in your child's school bag.

Emphasize low-fat, low-sugar, whole-grain foods that you would serve your own family! A copy of this list was sent home in your child’s school bag.

Sounds eminently doable! Partnering with United Way of Central Maryland’s Healthy Food Initiative, Beans & Bread asks for food items to be those that you would serve to your own family. Also, choose whole-grain and low-fat options when possible, avoiding sugar-added and sweetened food and drinks.

True to form, the TNCS community is finding other ways to demonstrate their inherent altruism. Such creative and inspiring acts include donating surplus Halloween candy to deployed armed forces, for example. Another idea that caught on like wildfire among TNCS families was asking for charitable donations in lieu of birthday gifts at kids’ parties. Local hunger charities (such as Beans & Bread and Our Daily Bread) welcome canned goods collected at these parties, or cast your net more broadly and request small monetary donations to buy livestock through Heifer International, as one family did. Not only do the beneficiaries of these donations see immediate life improvement and empowerment, but your kids get the lifelong reward of learning to share and give. It’s wonderful to see how they so naturally welcome the idea, even when it means giving up birthday presents!

Howsoever you decide to share your wealth, remember that you will actually derive personal benefit from your selflessness—a beautiful paradox! Being altruistic is a  recognized happiness inducer!

Proceeds from our 5th birthday party went to Our Daily Bread! We were so happy that our friends helped us feed our Baltimore neighbors, and we enjoyed meeting the volunteers at ODB and seeing their huge kitchen :)!

Proceeds from our 5th birthday party went to Our Daily Bread! We were so happy that our friends helped us feed our Baltimore neighbors, and we enjoyed meeting the volunteers at ODB and seeing their huge kitchen :)!

TNCS Makes Strides Against Breast Cancer

Wearing our TNCS tee-shirts, team TNCS poses for a quick snap before heading out on the trail.

Wearing our TNCS tee-shirts, team TNCS poses for a quick snap before heading out on the trail.

Breast cancer is a scourge that has affected nearly everyone on the planet, whether directly or indirectly. On Sunday, October 27th, The New Century School, represented by Team TNCS, joined the walk to raise money for breast cancer research as part of an ongoing commitment to our school, Baltimore, and global communities. The event had 6,000 walkers and raised $400,000 and counting. Our team pledged to raise $5,000 of that number and we’ve raised just over half of our targeted amount so far.

Held at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Y at Stadium Place, the event was inspirational on so many levels. Seeing so many survivors taking part, looking hale and hearty, and beaming with happiness reduced scores of participants to tears. Baltimore was a sea of pink along the 4-mile trail. Even the weather seemed determined to cooperate—walkers could not have asked for a more pleasant day of warmth and sunshine.

Did You Know?*

  • In 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed among U.S. women and 2,240 in U.S. men (and an estimated 64,640 additional cases of in situ breast cancer).
  • Approximately 39,620 U.S. women and 410 U.S. men are expected to die from breast cancer in 2013.
  • Breast cancer is the second deadliest cancer for women (only lung cancer accounts for more).
  • 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • The most significant risk factors for getting breast cancer are being female and getting older.
  • One case of breast cancer is diagnosed every 2 minutes, and one woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes in the United States.
  • Only 53% of U.S. women 40 and older reported having a mammogram in the last year.

 . . . And the Good News*

This photo needs no caption. . .

This photo needs no caption. . .

  • There are 2.9 million breast cancer survivors alive in the United States today—the largest group of all cancer survivors.
  • About 80%–90% of breast cancers in U.S. women without symptoms will be detected by mammography.

*Statistics collected from the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

It’s not too late to donate, folks. Click here to show your support for this worthiest of causes. (Note: Click on “sign up,” then “join a team,” and then search the team name “TNCS.”)