Empowering students with language-based learning differences grades 4-12
The Siena School Blog
We’ve noticed a trend in our school population: many of our students are left-handed, but they’re not always aware of how to adjust to a right-dominant world.
In the U.S., there’s approximately an 89-10-1% breakdown between right-handed, left-handed, and mixed-handed people, respectively. Researchers tend to agree that there’s at least a correlation between left-handedness, brain lateralization, and language-based learning differences like dyslexia.
Although there is not yet a definitive genetic link between dyslexia left-handedness, handedness is linked to brain hemispheres. When the hemispheres don’t “speak” to each other effectively, children can develop language- and communication-based issues, since the left brain hemisphere is the seat of language and communication and responsible for the evolution of language understanding.
Resources for Left-Handed Students
In appreciation of left-handed learners within our language-based learning differences community, here are some resources, ideas, and links to help.
- Siena’s Math & Science Department Chair Jennifer Chambers recently wrote about valuing students’ input when setting up virtual learning environments, which parents can make lefty-friendly with a little extra feedback from their children. This could be as simple as having students work on the left side of their desks, as one of Siena’s students does. Another student puts her computer directly in front of her and leaves space on the left for writing. She also uses left-handed pencils, which prohibit smudging because they’re different from typical pencils.
- Independent School Parent has more useful advice for parents to help their left-handed children adjust to right-dominant environments, such as “facing your child when demonstrating a new technique...to create a mirror image of the actions.”
- Parents.com offers several great tips for virtual learning spaces, such as putting a lamp on the opposite side of the child’s dominant hand to avoid shadows while they write or draw. It also suggests having multiple spaces (if possible) for focused work, reading, and other tasks; if children are working in more than one space at home, parents can make sure each one is lefty-friendly.
Supplies and Technology
- Learning Without Tears goes over how to help left-handed children write by hand more effectively. Parents can help by ordering left-handed pencils, pencil grips, scissors, notebooks, planners, and other school supplies. This piece from September 2020 shares 15 school supplies for left-handed students. See other recommendations here and here.
- Students can also reconfigure their computer’s mouse or touchpad to be left-handed, whether they have a Chromebook (video here), iMac, or MacBook.
- The website for Left Handers Day (August 13) always has good material and resources.
- Facebook has groups like Everything Left-Handed and The Left Handers Club to meet other left-handers and share information.
- Pinterest has a lot of great left-handed ideas, like “Why it's awesome to be left-handed,” “Left-handed crocheting and knitting tutorials,” and other content.
- Anything Left Handed is a great news and research digest; it also has Facebook and Twitter communities.
- Read some recent news articles about a global study of handedness and neuroscience studying left-handers.
- Take a deeper dive in scholarly articles about brain lateralization, handedness and developmental coordination, and lateralization in humans and some animal species.
In a distance learning environment, left-handed students have more freedom to optimize their workspaces than they might in a classroom. This could be an especially good time for left-handed students to adjust their learning environments and supplies so they’re better prepared when in-person learning resumes.
Do you have any ideas or tips for optimizing left-handed workspaces for children or adults? Let us know in the comments.
Preparing for your student’s first day of school and year looks very different than past years. Instead of looking for a new backpack and lunch box, you are searching for an optimal space for your child to learn at home, in addition to gathering supplies that not only will help them learn but also make their learning environment inviting and fun.
Preparing Home Learning Spaces
As you prepare your student’s more permanent learning space in your home, are you considering what this looks and feels like for them? Have students reflect on what worked well for them this past spring; it will be meaningful to check in with them about possible changes to their learning spaces that can help them both academically and emotionally.
Depending on your child's age, you may use all or some of these questions and conversation starters:
- How do you best learn?
- Where in the house do you want to do school daily?
- What would be most comfortable for you?
- Do you need to have a variety of different positions and locations to learn? How could you help create a flexible learning space?
- Do you need to move all or part of your body during school?
- Do you want to be by yourself or with another person when in school?
- What will be distracting for you? What will help you focus during school?
- What supplies/materials do you need and want for your learning space?
- How do you want to organize those supplies?
- What rules or boundaries should we have for computer usage, beyond your school’s rules?
- Is your child left-handed? If so, read this Siena School blog post on left-handers learning from home.
- What will remind you daily to smile?
- Something from school?
- A family picture?
- A childhood memento or knickknack?
- A stuffed animal?
Distance Learning Ideas
When you have this conversation with your child, enter it with a mindset of collaboration, with each of you a member of a team working towards an outcome of establishing the best learning space for them this year. Most importantly, have fun working on this project together.
For ideas to engage with your child in this conversation, read this New York Times article by Melanie Pinola. She not only gives great ideas for establishing this space and its boundaries but also provides links to possible supplies that may help set up your child's learning environment. For a refresher on distance learning tools and tips, read Ms. Darefsky's March blog post on distance learning ideas and tools.
Connecting To Your School Community Online
Joining the community at a new school has always been important for families: whether it is finding new friends for children, exchanging contact information, arranging meet & greets to get children and parents together, or sharing information on where to find school supplies.
It’s become extra-important this year with so much of our socializing and community formation becoming virtual. But, there are still plenty of options for new school families to meet current ones and get the kids acquainted before the school year starts.
Families can start connecting with each other now to ease the transition from summer to the new school year. There are also plenty of ideas out there for art projects, games, and more to help families get acquainted and grow the school community.
Resources for Online School Communities
- Look at our recent blog post about virtual summer vacation, which offers ideas for having a virtual book club or movie night, among other ways to keep kids connected.
- Remember that student grade representatives are especially important now for welcoming new families into the school community virtually. Once they have contact information for new families, grade representatives can reach out and arrange a virtual activity. This is a wonderful way to meet families who have been at the school for years and learn about grade-specific events.
- Attend school-based meetings: often schools will kick off the transition to the school year by hosting a grade-level event to allow the families to become involved.
- Check to see if your school has a private social media group for families at the school for sharing information and resources. This could be a great way to connect with families across grade levels. You might need a moderator to give you access to the group, but this is usually a simple process.
- While ensuring that you adhere to state and local guidelines, parents could also trade ideas for small-group social activities like hiking or biking in outdoor, socially distanced spaces with adjacent trails (such as Brookside Gardens, Lake Needwood trails, or Meadowbrook Park in Montgomery County, MD).
Online Resources, Games, and Activities
- The Kids’ Table offers virtual cooking classes for kids to learn cooking and baking skills with each other and their families.
- There are plenty of online board game options from Parents.com that school families can build a virtual game night around: Monopoly, Clue, and more. Remember also that Jackbox offers family-friendly games.
- Happy Hooligans has plenty of virtual science activities for kids to learn and try out with each other.
- STEAM Powered Family has some at-home science ideas and “Summer Boredom Busters” that families can work on together for socializing and community building.
With a different kind of school year approaching, virtual socializing will help families and kids stay connected throughout the summer. Expanding friendship and community circles now will not only give kids and families something else to do in the dog days of summer; it will also help expand the support network everyone will need in the coming school year.
With a different kind of summer this year, parents might be looking for resources to not only structure their kids’ time but also give them some (fun) intellectual work to ready them to thrive next school year.
Sara Weiser, an occupational therapist in Northern Virginia, noted in a recent webinar that, “As parents, we sometimes forget that kids really thrive on structure and routine.” In the same webinar, Maria Zimmitti, a psychologist and clinical director in the DC area, added: “Summer is not the time to make up everything that was lost in the last ten weeks of school. Keep it simple.”
Thankfully, parents looking for a manageable, flexible structure this summer have options for balancing their work needs with family time, children’s learning and leisure needs, and their own self-care. Many of the ideas for trips, tours, and social activities that we shared for virtual spring break could also work for the summer.
Here are some more ideas and resources for families that can get kids moving, keep activities multisensory, and allow for some independent and some social time:
Planning and Scheduling
- Have a visual schedule that allows for some flexibility and input from the whole family, so everyone in the family feels heard and paid attention to. What kinds of options can give kids some control and choice, while still ensuring an appropriate level of structure? (See below for a sample schedule.)
- Ann Dolin, owner of Educational Connections, suggests asking kids, “What do you want to learn or do this summer?” From there, each family member can brainstorm around their interests and write their answers on Post-its (each family member gets their own color). Sharing and discussing options as a family helps identify a few activities to build summer plans around, which can then turn into a chart with multiple columns for each person.
- For talking to high school kids, Zimmitti suggested that parents schedule a meeting to discuss important topics so everyone has mental prep time. Sending a calendar invite and letting kids pick the time and day avoids springing important discussions on teenagers, who might not be flexible or amenable to ideas if they feel blindsided. As well, she advocated giving teens daily and weekly tasks but letting them decide when to do them; this potentially gives high schoolers a nice balance of responsibility and flexibility.
- Regardless of whether kids are internal or external processors, allowing lead-in time for the discussion helps parents process along with their kids, provided that they follow the R.U.L.E. approach (Resist the urge to tell them what to do, Understand what they want to do, Listen with empathy, and Encourage them).
- Reading-based games and activities, such as virtual book clubs and read-alouds, are encouraged. Parents could coordinate a virtual read-aloud to give kids some social time, as well as help each other get some work or down time. Older readers might even like leading the read-alouds for younger kids.
- Kids can both listen to stories read and see some animations at Storyline Online: it’s primarily for younger readers (K–4) but could also be good for older kids’ nostalgia and seeing celebrities they might already know read old favorites. Audible is another fantastic resource for readers of all ages, including their free audiobooks for kids.
- Some parents are rereading and sharing old favorites with their children. Have your old copy of The Hobbit, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, or the original Choose Your Own Adventure series? This is a good time to introduce them to your kids, who could then share them with their friends. Parents can either co-read these with younger children or have older children read them on their own and report back in a fun book report or reaction list. Parents could also choose one dinnertime and make it a book discussion—or even get a special to-go meal when they can then have a book discussion and one-on-one time with their child about a book they both read.
- Parents could do the same with movies they enjoyed in their youth to give kids a quasi-educational activity and sneak in some learning (e.g., watching a film adaptation of a favorite book and then steering the kids to the book, or vice versa). Arranging a virtual movie night around parents’ old favorites could be a fun (and repeatable!) social activity too.
- Kids ages 9–14 interested in video editing can attend Virtual Video Production Camp from Zack Wilson, a teacher at Takoma Park Middle School in Takoma Park, Maryland.
- Preteens and teens might enjoy the Virtual Music Production Songwriting Camp from Dudley’s B Sharp Academy. There are 5 sets of dates in July and August; email info@bsharpworld for information and registration.
- Kids of various ages can leverage their creativity into sharing and/or volunteering opportunities. Have a child who likes to cook or bake? Look into how they can teach others their skills virtually (such as a younger relative). Parents could also help kids figure out how to cook or bake things for front-line workers, as well as donate items to a local food pantry. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland, has a full list of volunteering opportunities; check for other opportunities in your area.
- Enjoy some family game time with Scrabble, Word Witt, or other games that merge fun and language learning.
- Additional creative/learning options include John Spencer Writing Prompts on YouTube, BrainPOP, and BrainPOP Jr.
- Check out Virtual Field Trips, which has many options sortable by age.
Social and Outdoors Time
- We Are Teachers shares some great Fourth of July (and after!) activities for families, multisensory water activities for STEM and other kinds of learning, and imaginary vacations that parents can take to Paris and elsewhere with these 21 books.
- Many of Parade’s 125 things to do with kids at home can still be done over the summer, such as setting up a treasure hunt, playing Read-at-Home bingo, taking virtual museum or aquarium trips, and more.
- Connecticut Children’s has ideas for geocaching, exploring science at home, virtual museum trips, and more.
- Moving and working on team-based sports skills can be quite difficult when leagues aren’t in session. Without team activities and practice settings, young athletes can still keep themselves in shape and develop good habits. Some parents could involve coaches and other mentors for virtual meetings and training sessions.
- To both leverage technology and gamify learning, parents could introduce friendly competitions between kids (or whole families!). Number of steps? Skills building? Successful gardening or flower growing? Scavenger hunts? Cell phone photography? Lego builds and challenges? Parents could agree on a prize for the winner to further incentivize the competition.
- Siena counselor Holly Rothrock wrote about self-care and anxiety management, which remain important as the pandemic and related closures and other social restrictions continue.
- American Camp Association’s Resource Library has ideas for parents, and a page full of organizations offering virtual resources for mindfulness and mental health.
- Documentary filmmaker Delaney Ruston’s Screenagers continues to be a useful support for parents dealing with teens and screens. See their resources and information about online events.
- Parents can also learn more about high- and low-dopamine screen activities to manage screen time (which can sometimes be good).
- Dyslexia Help from the University of Michigan has a lot of information for parents about finding kids’ interests over the summer and improving reading and writing.
- Allison Sibley of The Sibley Group offers “Summer Ideas during COVID” and a family communication plan about continuing to deal with the pandemic and related closures, as well as preparing for limited social activities outside the house.
- Sara Weiser offers resources on her website, including Flexible Structure Tips for making a visual schedule.
- My Learning Springboard has a blog and other resources, including “How To Avoid the Summer Slide.”
- Ann Dolin offers her “Homeschooling During COVID-19” e-book, among other resources.
Managing kids’ energy and boredom while engaging their minds, bodies, and social needs might take a whole-family effort, so communicating and exploring options is especially important. Summer break doesn’t have to be broken this year. It can, in fact, be more connected and constructive than it might seem at first.
*Note: We do not endorse any of the above sites or resources. Please check the privacy and appropriateness for your child.
As part of Siena’s continuing mission of community outreach, diversity, and education, we’re joining many educators and others across the country in commemorating Juneteenth (Freedom Day). June 19, 2020, is the 155th anniversary of the day in 1865 when the last enslaved persons in Texas were emancipated. This was two-and-half years after President Lincoln emancipated enslaved people in Washington, DC, on April 16, 1862.
We recognize that, although this is an historically significant day, the work that Juneteenth represents must continue each day. Here are some resources for all of us to engage with and discover ways to celebrate:
- An original order of emancipation in the National Archives from June 19, 1865.
- A list of commemorations, protests, vigils, and other events in the DC area for today, as well as this brief history of Juneteenth’s extra historical significance in light of recent events.
- See the “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Resilience” from the African American History and Culture Museum
- Locally, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in southeast DC, where Douglass lived late in his life and, among other work, finished his final autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Douglass also attended the dedication of Lincoln Park in northeast DC. As of 1974, Lincoln Park also features a statue of famed educator and civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
- Look at these resources and material from Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders of the University of Dayton and Cheryl Hicks of the University of Delaware.
- Read this editorial from Dr. Tera Hunter from Princeton about Juneteenth.
- DC’s Loyalty Books has a fantastic list of Antiracist Reading Recommendations, as well as a virtual book club about antiracist works. Also check this Juneteenth Reading List from Random House and this one from Colours of Us for children’s books.
- Juneteenth Book Fest on YouTube will continue sharing material related to this important day—and everything it entails. They also have an online bookstore.
It’s always important for high school students to think about the skills, mindsets, and habits they’ll need as their academic careers advance. With many activities and events still canceled, this summer presents a good learning opportunity: high school students can take the time to build their writing and related skills to carry them through next fall.
Learning How To Write in College
Before coming to Siena, I was an English and First-Year Writing professor in the Washington, DC, area for 15 years, so I’ve worked with a lot of students on their approaches to writing and research. The most important thing that new college students can do is this: be open to learning the new and, sometimes, unlearning the old. I always reminded students on the first day of class that what worked well in high school wouldn’t necessarily work as well in college. This learning/unlearning ranges from time management and working independently, to structuring papers and performing online research.
In The Siena School's summer writing workshops for rising 9th–11th graders, Siena’s English teacher Maya Furukawa will focus on learning the steps in writing through multisensory strategies, graphic organizing, and assistive technology to compose persuasive writing while applying feedback to proofread and edit one’s own work. This summer could be an excellent opportunity to learn without the pressure of a grade, as this workshop will focus on skill building.
Developing Writing Skills in High School
Here are some more tips for writing in college, although it’s never too early for high school students to start developing their writing skills and work habits, as well as hone their skills in preparation for the next level:
Embrace the processes of writing and research: note taking, outlining, planning, scheduling, brainstorming, drafting, reviewing, and revising. These are all important steps in the journey from idea to a finished project, and they can’t be done in a day. Always give the process time to develop. If an assignment is due in three weeks, use the three weeks to plan and draft it. Taking breaks in the course of a day, weekend, or week helps ensure quality writing. Bookmark these resources from the University of Chicago, Psychology Today, and Oregon State University to learn about how breaks help writers process information and improve their writing output.
Remember that A’s and other consistent successes in high school will not easily translate to A’s in college. Even if, for example, an assignment can be done all in one sitting the night before it’s due, there are no guarantees about its quality or fit for the rubric. Rushed writing also leads to avoidable errors (e.g., spelling, overlong paragraphs, wrong details, and missing citations) that affect assignment grades.
For students who’ve been taught the AP Essay format, be prepared to leave it in high school and upgrade your writing approaches. It’s designed as something to write all in one sitting without books or notes to consult, which is virtually the opposite of a college paper or other assignment. Think about it like an app that isn’t compatible with a new phone—the app worked well when it needed to, but now it’s time for something more advanced.
Read the syllabus and assignment handouts closely, and then reread and review them when working. Professors sometimes give specific instructions on them that they don’t fully explain in class about the assignment length, number and type of sources to use, and format. Remember that professors still hold students responsible for following instructions even if they weren’t explicitly addressed in class.
Always make sure to have whatever notes or book(s) needed for a writing assignment close by—preferably close enough to grab easily. Avoid trying to quote from memory or generally describing something from a book when a quote or something else concrete is better. Notes and books are especially great tools when they’re reread, so don’t hesitate to review a passage or chapter before writing about it.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions, but remember that professors might not give all the guidance or answers. They might ultimately expect students to figure out most of a problem independently after giving some advice. If students have questions about an assignment on Day 1 of working on it, they should ask them on Day 1.
Use professors’ office hours—and not just during the week an assignment is due. In general, professors—especially first-year writing ones—like seeing students plan and outline their work, so meeting with one to talk through ideas and drafts can be helpful. It also shows good motivation and self-advocacy.
Use all the available resources the college or university offers, such as the Writing Center and Disability Support Services. It’s always a good idea to look into academic support options as early as possible to avoid the beginning-of-semester rush.
Understand that writing and editing are two discrete processes, so avoid the trap of trying to self-edit while writing. Scheduling your work is a great way to keep your writing and editing separate since it gives you ample time to do them. Write first to express thoughts, and then go back to edit, expand, and clean up. Reading papers out loud when editing is a great way to notice errors, SpellCheck misses (e.g., “defiantly” instead of “definitely”), long and awkward sentences or paragraphs, and other issues that affect an assignment’s grade. Using assistive technology like Read & Write and NaturalReader to have documents read aloud can also help students catch errors or awkward writing. (See this resources page from the University of Michigan for more options.)
Learning to write well is a lifelong process. Teachers, professors, and tutors are continually developing their approaches to writing, research, and revision. Remember, too, that no parental communication with professors might be a big adjustment in college, so be prepared to self-advocate and be independent.
The more that students can start preparing themselves for writing and managing their time in college now, the more likely they are to succeed once the first assignment is due.
Whether you need to liven up your queue or want to take a virtual trip to Broadway over spring break, Siena's Performing Arts teacher Stephanie Wendell recommends these must-sees currently available online through Broadway HD (free content for a week then a monthly subscription is available):
- Swan Lake
- She Loves Me
- Stars In Concert: Sutton Foster
- An American in Paris
- 42nd Street
- Memphis (recommended for high school and up)
- Putting It Together
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
- Gypsy (with Bette Midler)
- Peter Pan
Ms. Wendell suggests these other performances and sites for more virtual Broadway options:
- Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway (Amazon Prime)
- Newsies: The Broadway Musical (Disney+, Amazon Prime)
- Ballet Now (Hulu) (Note: one scene has adult language, might only be appropriate for high school and up.)
- Alvin Ailey's Revelations (YouTube channel) and Alvin Ailey All Access are posting their most famous works for free!
Watching some of these with the family—and maybe encouraging the kids to reenact scenes or learn to sing and play their favorite songs—could be a musical way to spend some time over spring break.
Spring break will look a little different this year. Thankfully, there’s a lot that families can do inside and outside their homes in lieu of a traditional spring break trip.
Social time is especially important now. Consider setting up a Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype, Duo, or FaceTime meeting space for kids and parents. As we all keep finding new ways to stay connected and create communities online, remember that there are a lot of individual and virtual group activities to do with friends, classmates, teammates, and extended family members.
Here are some options for indoor and outdoor fun:
- Take a virtual cruise with Viking or Riviera, or take a trip to Florida and many other beaches.
- Ride the virtual roller coaster from Canada’s Wonderland amusement park. Kids can then create their own roller coasters.
- Visit our school’s namesake city.
- Go to Yellowstone National Park.
- Visit Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and see their penguins.
- Visit the Cincinnati Zoo and live stream with a different animal every day at 3:00 pm.
- More virtual field trips can be found on Siena’s distance learning resources page.
Virtual Groups: Activities
- Read-alouds let kids hear from the authors themselves. Parents could also take turns reading recent books and favorite classics to their kids and friends.
- Group cooking and baking: choose a specific ingredient or recipe and compare the results.
- Have a virtual picnic (indoors or outdoors).
- Learn to sew or knit in a virtual crafts circle. One of Siena’s students suggests reusing old t-shirts and turning them into a blanket! To start knitting with yarn, there are various videos on YouTube about how to cast on (getting the t-shirt yarn on the needle), how to knit, and how to cast off (getting the knitted t-shirts off the needle).
- Host a movie night using Netflix Party app (Chrome) or TwoSeven.
- Make music with friends using Incredibox.
- Host a virtual dance party or play Name That Tune.
- Karaoke Night! Select songs from YouTube, Spotify, or Plug.DJ, and perform them. There are two ways you can do karaoke with remote groups:
- Assign a song to each person or let them choose their own. Everyone records an individual session singing —using something like WeVideo or Screencastify. After, each person sends the clip to the organizer, run a virtual award ceremony that includes showing the best songs and awarding prizes.
- Another way to do virtual karaoke is to do a mashup harmony. Each team member sings the same song and records the session. Then, a video-editing master mashes the clips together into one song. You can then watch this video together, post it on social media, or share with family and friends.
Virtual Groups: Games and Challenges
- Do a backyard camping trip—tent, sleeping bags, ghost stories, and s’mores.
- Play some backyard games with friends (e.g., HORSE, soccer goals from increasingly difficult angles, beanbag toss/corn hole, and other sports challenges).
- Gardening: For a one-month competition, team members can plant and cultivate a garden from scratch. The competitors can sow seeds from fruit or propagate vegetables. By the end of the month, two things happen: (1) you see who’s got gardening skills; (2) you’ve made participants’ lives a little greener.
- DIY Craft Challenge is a 30-minute surprise activity you can play with family or friends. Bring everyone on a virtual call, share the rules and theme, and then start a timer. Each person has 30 minutes to build something from materials available at home. You could make pasta art, construct an epic pillow fort, or doodle a poetic harmony. The goal is to spark creativity.
- Typing speed races can be fun (and educational!). To begin, kids can take a typing test using typingtest.com. Then, they can share their results with family and friends. The more competitive members will reply with results quickly, and others will follow. Kids can then up the challenge by hosting a typing speed relay, even forming teams and adding up the cumulative scores to see which team wins.
- Virtual Jeopardy! lets you either play pre-built online games or do the research to build your own. As you put your scoreboard together, remember to include fun elements like Daily Doubles.
- See if you can adapt Werewolf and Can You Hear Me Now? for families or kids to play together over Zoom or Google Hangouts. For example, in Can You Hear Me Now? one person is the speaker and the rest are artists. The speaker uses a random image generator; the goal is to describe that image in such a way that the artists can draw it successfully. Without saying exactly what the image is, come up with your own rules to make it easier or more difficult.
- Have kids work on the same puzzle virtually through videos or pictures. Some have timers so you can compete against others.
- Remember these apps that kids can play either on their own or with family and friends: Words with Friends, Bingo, Origami Zoo, UNO!, Monopoly, Houseparty, Scattergories, and Mario Kart Tour.
Indoor Fun & Projects
- Have kids (especially younger students) pick an activity from a jar each day.
- See these Printable Lego Challenges for kids.
- Try some of your own Lego builds, challenges, or activities:
- Have kids create a scene from a movie or show and then have friends guess what it’s from. They could also challenge each other to build what they can only from a set number of pieces or colors.
- Kids could make something to use in their home workspaces, such as a pencil holder, paper organizer, or cord tamer. They could also Lego-ize their family, house, or favorite room and share pictures with friends and family.
- Play chess (vs. human or computer) or Sudoku.
- Repurpose household materials.
- Create cards or postcards for family, friends, grandparents, and others to mail. Send ecards too—such as through Punchbowl or Greetings Island.
- Set up a family scavenger hunt in the house with clues.
- Organize that box of photographs that’s on your to-do list.
- Do some Virtual Volunteering in your area (see Montgomery County’s site for an example).
STEM and Other Learning At Home
- Can’t go to the beach? Make your own sand.
- NASA has some great at-home STEM activities (sorted by grade level).
- The STEM Laboratory has some great Lego Challenge Cards.
- EYE (Educating Young Engineers) also has Lego Club Activities.
- Have kids take part in a coding program.
- See what free resources and daily schedules (broken down by grade level) the Khan Academy has for parents and teachers.
- See the KID Museum: Make It! Plus for live and interactive programming to create at home.
- Check out PBS Kids Full-Time Kid for DIY projects.
- Listen to free Audible stories for kids. Rediscover old favorites or find new ones.
- Attend one of these virtual concerts that NPR has shared.
- Pick a series like Harry Potter to read (or reread!) and then engage with podcasts about it.
- Encourage kids to be theatrical and write their own one-act play, perform it, record it...and then share with family and friends. They can do the same with making their own live- or stop-action movies.
- Enable kids’ creativity by having them make a comic, write a short story, or compose and record an original song using GarageBand or other software.
- Create a photo slideshow and put it to music. Kids could also create slideshows of fun times with their friends to share with each other and reminisce.
- Check out Round House at Your House from Round House Theatre. Their education department has a Theatre Education Challenges for Students: a weekly series of age-appropriate activities to encourage acting, movement, design, and playmaking. They’ll also have videos released by age group; see their website for more details.
- Imagination Stage’s blog hosts weekly 3-minute movie challenges and other performing arts options.
Staying active and connected while at home is a great way for families to enjoy spring break. Keep sharing ideas with fellow parents and others in your networks.
While distance learning is the new normal in K–12 education, college-bound high schoolers have an additional task: college research and tours. Seniors might be wondering how they may tour and then choose a college for next year without actually visiting campus.
Many colleges are closed as a result of COVID-19 and are canceling admissions tours and other events. College visits and open houses are still happening, though, and resources continue to become available to learn about campus life and academics virtually. Here are a few ways to do so:
1. Understand how much the admissions process has changed as a result of COVID-19.
Usually, May 1st is the deadline for seniors to decide which college they'll attend. But, with COVID-19 making it impossible for seniors to attend accepted students’ days or overnight visits, many colleges are extending their deadline to enroll until June 1st. Students may reach out to the colleges they’ve been accepted to for more information. Here’s a list by ACCEPT of many colleges that have adopted the new deadline.
Seniors can make the most of this postponement by reaching out to colleges for more information as they weigh their options. Forbes has published “The COVID College Choice: How to Pick a College During a Global Pandemic”; it offers some helpful tips and a useful acronym to help college-bound students and their families keep things in perspective.
And, although the ACT and SAT have canceled their April and May test dates, students may still register to take the June test. Some colleges are considering going test-optional for the entire class of 2021 in light of COVID-19; check the websites of any colleges you’re interested in for their policies.
2. Take virtual tours of the colleges you’re interested in.
Many colleges offer remote 360° tours and virtual reality experiences of their campuses, as well as basic information about the schools.
Rebecca Chabrow, director of enrollment management at Gratz College, has assembled a detailed list of over 900 colleges that offer some kind of virtual tour; there’s also data on location and student population.
3. Reach out by phone or email to admissions representatives. It’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions in advance.
Katherine Daley-Bailey, an advisor in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Georgia, suggests a few questions based on those she’s received at orientations and other open-house events:
- What resources does the school have on setting expectations and time management? What can students start doing now to prepare themselves for college life? (See this example from Southern Methodist University.)
- What scholarships and other opportunities are available for tuition reduction?
- Do freshmen have to live in a dorm in their first year? And, can freshmen have a car on campus?
- How can students learn about the courses offered to freshmen? How does the registration process work?
- What does a typical workload, average credit hour disbursement, and first semester look like?
This is also a good time to ask prospective colleges about what kinds of learning support they offer students: e.g., the writing center, assistive technology, tutoring services, and workshops on study skills and library research. See here for some of the college-prep resources The Siena School offers its students.
4. Ask the admissions office to connect you with students at their school who share your interests. Get in contact with alumni.
Online communication and networking have become essential. To replicate the typical follow-up experience after a college tour, students could reach out to admissions and student affairs offices to get directed to relevant online groups or other resources.
Students could also schedule a call or video conference with any alumni that their school’s college counselor puts them in touch with.
Doing some research and outreach now is good training for what students will have to do at college: taking initiative, self-advocating, and managing their own time without direct guidance from teachers or advisors. Managing some of the college research process virtually can help students make informed choices about where they’ll attend in the fall; it can also start building an online support network to aid the transition.
Written by Megan Noyes, Volleyball and Basketball Coach, Middle School social Studies Teacher and Associate Dean of Students, and Edie Schutz, Basketball and Lacrosse Coach, Elementary Teacher
On January 26, 2019, the NHL made history when Kendall Coyne Schofield became the first woman to compete in the fastest skater event in the NHL All-Star skills competition. Three other female ice hockey players, Brianna Decker, Monique Lamoureaux, and Jocelyne Lamoureaux were also showcased as demonstrators for the events in the skills competition. This decision by the NHL was witnessed around the country and is a big step towards women's equality in sports. Many parents remarked on the excitement their daughters felt getting to watch women compete on TV alongside male players.
The NHL's decision comes at a perfect time because today is the 33rd annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day (#NGWSD). This year's theme is Lead Her Forward, which the movement's website explains is, "to honor the many ways that sports push girls and women to achieve excellence and realize their boundless potential." This is an important message to send to young girls, especially since, according to a 2017 “Girls In Sports” study by Gatorade, girls are dropping out of sports at 1.5x the rate that boys do by age 14. More than half of girls will quit sports altogether by age 17. As coaches and athletes, we have witnessed first hand the multiple life skills learned through playing sports that go beyond the health benefits of the athletic activity.
Here are what some of the Siena female athletes have to say about what we believe are 5 of the most important life skills that girls learn from playing sports:
As we help to foster these skills in our female athletes, you can support your daughters by going to their games and cheering them on. Try to point out the positives that you see, which will help to build their confidence. You can demonstrate your own athletic ability or share your sports stories with them. Take your daughters with you to the gym or somewhere you can practice a sport together. If you notice female athletes being recognized on TV or in the community, make sure to point them out. For example, an NFL ad that ran during the Super Bowl featured Sam Gordon, a 15-year-old who started the first girls' tackle football league in the United States. Playing sports can have huge benefits throughout girls' lives, even if they are not going to play in college or professionally. Along with initiatives like National Girls and Women in Sports Day we as parents, coaches, and fellow athletes can work together to keep girls playing and enjoying sports.
- Form Factor (laptop size): The two most common sizes are 11" and 13". The smaller is recommended for students up through 8th grade, while high school students could probably use the screen size upgrade to 13". Smaller units tend to have better battery life.
- Touchscreen or regular screen: About half of all Chromebook models are now touch-capable, and some of them even have a 270- or 360-degree swivel that can turn them into a stand-up or tablet mode.
- Android app compatibility: The models listed as "Stable Channel" in this link can also run Android apps, like the ones on Android smartphones, in addition to Chrome Extensions!
Sam McCormally, Siena’s fine arts department chair and music teacher, has just completed his fifth full-length film score, for the documentary “Brave Girls”. A depiction of three young Indian women in a town where conservative culture is the tradition, yet they are trying to rewrite their futures through education and self-determination.
McCormally was approached by Ellie Walton, director, award winning filmmaker, and educator, to create the film score, as they have worked together on several projects in the past. Sam has composed for several dozen short film projects. Walton shared rough edits of the film and they discussed guiding parameters, such as genre, instruments, mood, and pace for the score. Walton and McCormally continued to collaborate until the film was finalized. This entire process took several years, although most of the music was created in the last few months.
McCormally shared his established routine to make sure the score was complete by the production deadline. After work, he would make dinner, put his child to bed, and do the dishes. Then he would enter in his home studio and begin to work on his extra-curricular musical projects. When asked about inspiration for this film, he shared that he drew inspiration for this film score from podcasts and radio programs like Radiolab, This American Life, and Reply All. McCormally also drew from Errol Morris’ films and music from the movie “Pina”.
McCormally used Logic Pro to record, edit, and mix the audio together. He incorporated more acoustic instruments than he has on past projects, since Indian musicians, Rajna and Anjna Swaminathan, were in the score as well. Siena is proud to recognize and congratulate, Sam McCormally, on his successful work as this film’s musical composer.
Write your college essay about an activity or event that was particularly important to you. Your goal should be that if you dropped the essay on the floor in your school, and forgot to put your name on it, someone would be able to pick it up and recognize your voice. This means that you're fully showcasing your personality and experiences.
In your list of activities, highlight your commitment to a few activities that showed how you deeply explored your interests. Colleges also love to see that you've had a summer or after school job.
Strategize with the teachers who are writing your letters of recommendation. Explain what you're writing your essay about and what activities you're emphasizing in your application. That way they can also mention them. Colleges like to see continuity in applications.
Visit your guidance office and get a list of when representatives from colleges will visit your school. These representatives are responsible for reading applications they receive from your school. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you're excited about applying to their college. This will help representatives make a personal connection with you that they'll remember when they read your application.
Finally, 2 to 3 weeks after you've submitted your applications, call or email each college to double check that they have everything they need from you to review your application. They'll appreciate your follow through!
Using these tips will really help distinguish you in the college process. Good luck with your applications!
November is National Adoption Month, and Siena is celebrating our adoptive families, which make up 20% of the student body. We are honored to have guest blogger Beverly Clarke, a Siena Parent and the Senior Director of Clinical & Support Services at the Barker Adoption Foundation, highlighting Barker and recommending ways that everyone can become involved.
National Adoption Month (November) was originally designated as a time to bring awareness to the now over 100,000 children who are living in the foster care system without a permanent, safe and loving family. Here at Barker, this month holds special meaning as we work tirelessly to find families for these children through our “Project Wait No Longer” program. Through this program we seek to find families for older children (primarily between the ages of 10 – 17), 25,000+ of whom “age out” of the foster care system without a family each year.
When my twins (who are now teenagers) were about 7 years old, they began making up sentences based on their kid-sized understanding of the word “inspiration”. It was fun to discover all the things that are “inspirational” in the life of a 7 year old. My favorites were “I am inspired to eat my broccoli so that I can have a brownie” or “I am inspired to read 3 books so that I can watch an episode of Scooby-Doo”. Listening to them was entertaining but also got me thinking about what I found to be inspirational. Looking back at something I wrote then, I found this paragraph that still rings true today.
“I realize that I am fortunate to feel inspired on a daily basis while working with Project Wait No Longer, Barker’s older child adoption program. I am inspired by the children and teenagers that still have the audacity to hope for a forever family even after surviving years of abuse and neglect at the hands of adults. I am amazed when I see them begin to break down their protective walls, change their behaviors and develop trust for the members of their new families. I am inspired by the parents that come to our program determined to provide loving and stable homes for older children who often times don’t know how to be a part of a family. I am also inspired by the families that stick it out, even when the going gets unbearably tough.”
At Barker, we believe that every child deserves a safe and loving family, and we encourage any family that might be interested in learning more about older child adoption to reach out to us with questions. We also know that there are many ways that everyone can help, even if older child adoption is not the right fit for your family!
During National Adoption Month, please consider helping by:
- reaching out to volunteer with an organization like Barker
- donating to holiday drives that serve foster youth
- connecting us with your community groups or religious communities to schedule information sessions
- donating to programs like Project Wait No Longer
If we work together, we can all make a difference in the life of a child who needs a family.
To learn more about Project Wait No Longer, or ways that you can support kids in foster care, please contact Molly Dunlap at email@example.com – Barker’s Community & Outreach Specialist, or visit our website at www.barkeradoptionfoundation.org.
To see the story of a few families that took the “leap” into adoption from foster care, please view this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ3PFmUEoTk&t=28s
Guest Blogger: Beverly Clarke is a Siena Parent and the Senior Director of Clinical & Support Services at the Barker Adoption Foundation.
What are your strongest and weakest subjects?
What subjects do you like the most and least?
Is there anything specific you’d like me to ask your teacher?
- What is an important goal for [child’s name} in your class? How have you communicated this to them?
- If there was one tool or strategy you wished [child’s name] used, what would it be? What can be done in class and at home to encourage this tool and/or strategy?
- What should we do to support you at home?
You may also ask teachers what authentic assessments they are providing in their classrooms. Authentic assessments are assignments that give students multiple ways to demonstrate proficiency and real world applications for their skills apart from traditional tests and quizzes.
Following the conference, discuss what you learned with your child by emphasizing positive points and being direct about problems. Make sure to follow through with what was discussed during the conferences at home, especially if an action plan was created.
Parent/Teacher Conferences are incredibly important to develop a communicative relationship with your child’s teachers. Remember that the goal of each conference is to help your child be successful in and out of the classroom. Be sure to ask lots of good questions, and encourage your student at home, you are an important part of the educational equation to help your child get the most out of their educational experience.
October is Dyslexia Awareness month! 1 in 5 students have a learning difference like dyslexia, and there are several organizations who are serving and helping this growing population. Read below to find some resources specific to the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region.
Decoding Dyslexia, Maryland, is a grassroots movement driven by Maryland families who are concerned with limited access to educational interventions for dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities in Maryland public schools. Their mission is to raise dyslexia awareness, to empower others to support struggling readers with dyslexia, and to inform policy-makers on best practices to identify, educate, and support students. There are chapters all across the US; you can find your local chapter here. The Montgomery County Chapter of Decoding Dyslexia meets at The Siena School every month! They provide numerous resources for parents and teachers on their website.
Microsoft is hosting free trainings at their store for local stores for students with dyslexia. Their software helps students read and write. Access articles on their training, learning tools and One Note.
The DC Capital Area Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (DCIDA) serves dyslexic individuals, their families, the local community of educators and interventionists, and education policymakers.
WISER (Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources) is another area resource for students with learning differences. Their goals are to improve educational services and promote child advocacy by providing comprehensive resources to children and parents in the DMV area. They are the foremost referral resource for parents and professionals. Some services they provide include testing, tutoring, speech therapy, language therapy, and occupational therapy. They maintain member blogs, speaking events, and publications, which you may access through their website.
The Learning Disabilities Association of Montgomery County (LDAMC)’s mission is to promote awareness and provide support to maximize the quality of life for individuals and families affected by learning and other disabilities. provides resources for students who have learning disabilities. Access a list of their resources here.
The Exceptional Schools Fair showcases schools and programs that ensure every child receives an exceptional education. With offerings that range from private day schools to therapeutic services, they aim to equip families and educators with the supports and interventions students need to succeed. This FREE public event is on Sunday, November 17, 2019 from 11am-2pm at the Katzen Arts Center at American University. Visit their website to see the list of schools in attendance. The Siena School, who prepares bright, college-bound students with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia, to become confident, curious learners who understand their personal strengths and gain the tools and strategies to excel, will be attending the Exceptional Schools Fair, so make sure to stop by the table and say hello!
Maybe your child is new to school or you feel distant from parents in the school community. Maybe you are well connected with your school’s community, but you want to learn how to make new families feel more welcomed. Regardless of your situation, here are some helpful ideas on how to get involved at school and build community with other families.
The first big event of the school year that families attend is typically Back to School Night. At this event you walk through your child’s class schedule and meet their teachers. While you are waiting to enter the classroom, why not introduce yourself to a nearby parent? There is a chance that their child is a classmate and might be a great resource for homework help.
If your school offers a Family Picnic Gathering, attend! This is a wonderful way to meet families who have been at the school for years. If you are a returning family, you remember how important this event was to help with the transition to a new environment. Make sure you introduce yourself to the new families and help them get engaged with the school’s community.
Consider attending parent association meetings as a way to meet new school members. There is always time to network prior to the meeting and at the conclusion of the meeting. You will also gain valuable insight from the shared topic of the evening.
The carpool line is a fantastic way to meet school community members. If you arrive early in the lineup and are allowed to leave your car, please do so! Encourage other parents to get out of their cars too, weather permitting. This is a great way to build community with other parents on a daily basis.
Grade level parties are another means of introduction. You may use the school directory to contact the parents of each student in your child’s grade and arrange a time and place to meet. Not enough room at your home to host the entire grade? You can always throw a party at a local park for free!
Another great way to get connected to the school community is to give. There are so many ways to give- time, monetary, advice, and appreciation to name a few. You could provide a donation, volunteer for events, committees or help drive to a sporting event. You can also make sure your child’s teacher feels appreciated, not just during Teacher Appreciation Week. Spread the good news about your school. If you are seeing a difference share that news with others. Our families remain the best referral source.
Lastly, you can volunteer to be a Grade Representative. This will definitely get you connected with every parent in your child’s grade. Grade Reps are a great resource to help you learn about activities related to just your grade.
The start of a new school year is a great time to make new friends and build a community with other parents at your child’s school. It does take effort and engagement to strike up a conversation with a parent that you don’t know, but your school’s community will grow and become a welcoming place for new families.
The future of the new wing is looking bright: the windows are in and lighting is being installed in the new rooms! We're enjoying the view from one of the new science labs (pictured above) and wanted to use this blog post to show you some of the new wing's details that aren't visible from outside the building.