So Many Options Yet I Don’t Know What to Do

Parenting is hard. So when we try something that works, we should share. This week I thought I would share a successful parenting experience that occurred in my family this weekend in this spirit of sharing and giving parents another tool in the “parenting toolbox.”

I brought my seven-year-old twins to WES with me on Saturday as I had some work to do. I told them beforehand that they could play in the gym while I worked in my office. We brought a basketball, a soccer ball, and a football as both boys enjoy these sports very much. When we arrived at school I turned the lights on in the gym and thought to myself how lucky these two were as they have a big beautiful gym all to themselves–something my siblings and I would have relished as children. As I began my work, Jace and Trey came to my office and looked blankly at me; it had been seven minutes. When I asked them what was up, they replied, “We don’t know what to do.” Baffled and bewildered, I swallowed the words that wanted to escape my mouth, and I racked my brain for ideas of how to get them back into the gym to play.

I had an idea. I gave each of them a piece of paper and a pencil and told them to have a seat at the table and to write down twenty things they could do with a gym and various balls. Fifteen minutes later they were finished with their lists, and I asked them to compare their lists and identify which activities they wrote down that were the same or at least similar. They had 12 similar activities including dodgeball, handball, obstacle course race, and a human version of LEGO Marvel. After a brief conversation about a few of the activities and how to play them, they went back to the gym with their lists in hand. About an hour later, I went down to check on them and found them happy and engaged. The simple act of having them take some time to thoughtfully think about what they wanted to do increased their engagement and creativity.

This concept is not new, and I am certainly not a pioneer. Teachers use a similar concept in their classrooms called Play Planning. According to “Tools of the Mind,” Play Planning is when children purposefully plan their play before actually playing. In the classroom it usually occurs before center time or recess and often involves imaginary or make-believe play. This purposeful act of planning helps children develop their organizational and collaborative skills as well as their self-control. It also gives children power and ownership over their decisions which then builds their confidence too. So if you ever find yourself in a situation where an activity is not keeping your children’s attention for very long, perhaps hit the pause button and ask them to think through what their play might look like. You may be surprised by how creative the ideas can get!

When the Start of School is Not Going Well

Advice from an Admission Director

What a joy it is to welcome new and returning students to school. Most students we see at WES are excited to start the year, hop out of the car to give high fives to friends and dash off to class. But as the parent of three now grown children and an admissions director for more than five years, I know firsthand that the start of school for some children is not easy. Being nervous and a little tentative is perfectly reasonable, but sometimes a child’s negative reaction is a little more serious. Sometimes it can be a signal that a change needs to be made for that child.

Over the years, I have received inquiry calls from families who are looking to apply late to an independent school, hoping that there is space to enroll their child for the current year. Typically, the family has come to the conclusion that another year at their present school is just not going to work for that child. The child’s negative reaction to the start of school may not even be demonstrative, but a parent can feel it in their gut and in their heart. They see their child quietly go off to school and come home apathetic and disconnected. Homework is done in the bedroom and in a matter of moments. Asked how their day was, the child responds with a quick, “fine.” At this point parents think to themselves, “I want my child to love to learn. I want my child to come home excited to share what they have learned. I want my child to enjoy their day.”

Families may feel a bit embarrassed, overwhelmed, and anxious about trying to make this move so late in the game, but I am here to say they shouldn’t. Independent schools were created to give families a choice. While our application season is generally January and February, these late inquiries and applications do often happen. Over the years we have had wonderful students join our school in the fall, and we were fortunate to have openings for them. After going through an expedited admission process that still includes an application, transcript, recommendations, test scores, and student visits, offers of admission have been made.

Having said that, families who apply this time of year need to be prepared to answer a few extra questions about their child when applying for the current year. An admission director’s responsibility is to make sure the school can provide the student the best possible learning environment. If there are learning issues, social-emotional needs, or other significant components to a child’s profile, then it is imperative that the family shares that information with the school. The last thing any school wants to do is have the child (and family) go through another bad year. Additionally, if the school is not a good match for the child, the admission director may be able to provide the family with recommendations of other area schools to visit and learn more about and that may be a better match for their child’s learning style.

Finally, the DC area has more than 100 independent and private schools. Many schools have openings, even for the current year. Families in this situation should do a little online research and talk to friends and family for referrals. I am confident that families looking for schools this time of year will have a list of multiple great options in a matter of a day or two. With a quick call to the potential schools, families can easily determine if there is an opening in that school and what the school’s expedited admission process entails.

Here at WES we have heard parents of late-enrolled students tell us “I never knew school could be so great,” “I am so glad we made the move,” and “It has truly transformed our child, our family, and our home.”

If you’re thinking you just can’t do another year at your current school, there are great options waiting for you.

Transitioning to a New School

Advice from a Director of Admission

Congratulations! You’ve made that big decision and have decided where your child will be going to school next year. Now what? The process of transitioning to a new school can seem like a daunting one as you leave a community in which your family is attached. However, it doesn’t need to be a nerve-racking switch. And while your new school will have some things in place to help make the switch easier, you should be proactive as well.

At WES, we spend the spring creating and implementing several strategies for you to get know the school and community before the start of school. The first of those approaches are “class mentors”—once we have received all of the enrollment contracts from those families that have chosen to attend WES, we look to assign you a mentor whose child will be classmates with yours and who lives relatively close to you. It is our hope that this family can be both a resource for you in answering questions and one that can be your liaison to the WES community as you start. Some ways they may get you involved in WES’s campus life during the summer is through a family barbeque, a pool party, or class birthday parties. When invited, try your hardest to attend—your child will start making new friends before the school year has even begun and you will meet other parents, all of whom can be a resource for you.

Anther great way to become comfortable with your new school’s campus is to become familiar with it first-hand, and summer camp is a wonderful way of doing so. Summer@WES is regularly attended throughout the entire summer by our current students as well as newly enrolled ones. Attending for just one week can be a great way to get familiar with the school, get to know some of the teachers and staff, and a nice way to meet new classmates.

Also, many admission offices have unique ways to bring our current and newly enrolled families together throughout the summer. At WES, you can expect playgroups in local parks for younger children, a campus scavenger hunt for older children, an evening out for parents, and much more. The office of admission should be constantly in touch with you as you work your way through your transition.

Finally, the school’s administration should be contacting you between May and July about getting all the needed forms completed, your child’s summer reading, the school supply list, and other traditional summer preparation. The timing of these communications can very, so don’t worry if you have not received this information before the end of the current school year. Many administrations work throughout the summer.

By doing a few of these key steps, you and your child will quickly become a part of the school community and be ready to start school in September.