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Keeping Sick Kids Comfortable (while keeping your sanity)

When we send our children to school, we know it is inevitable that germs will come home with them. Coughing, sneezing, fevers, and more mucus and boogers than you ever knew a person could make are par for the course. After many days at home, you may start running out of ideas on how to entertain a sick child. Here are a few ideas to add to your arsenal, as well as some things that local parents have found to help their children through illnesses.

The energy levels of sick children can vary tremendously. One minute your kid is tearing through the house coughing on all available surfaces, the next he or she is crying and burrowing into your body, wanting to lie down together and watch TV. When energy is high, a walk outside is generally a great idea if weather allows. The change in environment is helpful physically and mentally, and often going outside can help soothe the child simply by turning his or her attention to something else. It’s easy to forget you feel sick when you are watching squirrels chase each other, or birds hunting for worms!

If outdoor play is not an option, a treasure hunt is a fun way to run off some energy. You can hide a few of your child’s stuffed animals around the house and send him or her to look for them. You could also embark on a project together – one clever parent I know had her sick daughter draw 12 pictures and she turned them into a family calendar. If you need to bring your little one’s energy down a bit, making a fort is a great way to get him or her to stay in one place for a little while. A neighbor of mine plays a game called “world of blankets” with her son – they put all the blankets in the house into one pile and that is their fort. They have picnics there, play with toys, and get under the blankets and pretend they live in a mountain. Or get some other great ideas for activities from Our Daily Craft, Real Simple or Parenting.

If your child doesn’t have enough energy to get out of bed, coloring books, sticker books and magnet boards are great tools – as long as your kiddo is into them. Unfortunately, my own child does not stay entertained by these things for very long, so we often turn to story books, read-and-find books, and word books. My son goes crazy for word books and will look at them for extended periods of time. His favorite is The Sesame Street Word Book, but Richard Scarry made some fantastic ones, and there are many more out there that may be more tailored to your child’s specific interests. Try this reading list for some ideas.

Finally, there is the inevitable: screen time. It is both a crutch and a blessing. When nothing else will do, television, movies and the iPad are there to rescue you both. It is likely that your child already has preferences for television and movies, but if you are looking for educational games that your child can play on the iPad, I cannot recommend the Endless School Bundle enough. Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader, Endless Wordplay, and Endless Numbers. They help your child learn letters, numbers and words in a way that is fun and memorable, touching on aspects of visual, aural and kinetic learning. Math Jr. starts teaching kids the concepts of math without them having to know numbers! Another great series is Little Lit. They take classics of literature like The Jungle Book, A Christmas Carol, and Frankenstein and make them accessible to even the smallest children. And there is always PBS Kids or try out these recommended apps and educational shows. The kids have a great time while learning something, and you feel a little less guilty about reverting to the dreaded screen.

What about if you are the one with low energy, but your child is clamoring for you to play? There are a surprising number of games you can play with your child while lying down. The Baby Center website has some great ideas for kids of all ages, and I have used it many times!

Unfortunately, sometimes your poor kiddo is so sick that playing is just not in the cards. In that case, the best thing you can do is to make them as comfortable as possible. While you certainly have go-to ideas already, here are a few that work for me that I’d like to share.

**** NOTE: I am not a medical professional. Some of these are things my mom did for me when I was sick as a kid, and some were picked off the internet and I found them helpful. They may or may not work for you, but I hope they do!

  • Apple cider vinegar: A capful of apple cider vinegar diluted in 8 oz. of water is a good immune booster, and it helps to thin out the mucous that is making your kid’s life so hard.
  • You can make homemade cough drops and cough syrup with honey, coconut oil and lemon. There are many recipes available online, but these are the ones I used: Wellness Mama and Coconut Mama.
  • Long baths with Epsom salts are great to soothe your child.
  • Any vitamin-rich foods you can get into your child will be helpful. I will often give my son chicken bone broth with garlic powder, a little cayenne pepper, and lemon. Sometimes because their taste buds are blunted, you can get them to eat or drink things they wouldn’t normally, like vegetable juices or tinned fish. This is a good website to look at for immune boosters, but you should check with your doctor first if any of these do not feel intuitively correct to you.

What is the greatest comfort you can give as a parent? Cuddles, of course! Cuddles are the best medicine. They are free, they are fun, and they make everyone feel good. You can’t necessarily speed your child along to recovery, but you can be with them every step of the way.

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Giving Thanks to Our Community

The holidays and the New Year are a time of reflection—a time to give thanks and to appreciate those who have given you joy, friendship and support. Silver Spring Day School works every day to support its students, teachers, parents, and the broader community. Spotlight has been on a bit of a hiatus, but we’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the ways in which SSDS has enriched our community this year, and to give thanks to all those who put time and effort to make these and other events so special.


In early October, Takoma Park held its annual street festival and SSDS was there, adding to the fun and reaching out to the community. Lindsey Simpson, a parent and organizer of the SSDS tent, said this was her fourth year working the Takoma Park Street Festival. “It’s a great way to raise awareness about SSDS to the community and share more about our school,” she said. “Our tent has attracted lots of families to come over and ask questions. We think it can be a strong introduction to the philosophy and programs at SSDS.”

Prospective parents met with a very well-organized team this year. “Megan created easy to fill out note cards for parents interested in learning more about the school,” said Lindsey. “We also provided hand-out materials for those who are interested—pamphlets about open house information, as well as information about our play-based curriculum and nature-inspired playground.” Erin Hoffmann, a volunteer, noted that there was a very positive response from visitors to the booth. “There were tons of parents that stopped by and were so excited about our different options—the before care, the after care and the flexibility of that since you don’t have to commit to the whole year. That’s really cool. And the younger families were so excited to hear about our Rolling 2’s program. That was huge to them.”

It wasn’t all business, though. Erin noted a rather touching human element as well. “It was great to see SSDS alumni come by, and Richelle knew all of them. It was amazing. She has quite a memory for kids.”

Richelle has deep ties to the Takoma Park/Silver Spring community, and works hard to find ways to engage present, past, and future students. One example of that is the Family Nights at El Golfo restaurant. Richelle and El Golfo owner Ada Villatoro began collaborating years ago to organize fundraisers for local Long Branch schools, efforts for which Ada has been recognized with an award from IMPACT Silver Spring. This fall, SSDS and El Golfo worked together to sponsor events to support the arts. “SSDS is trying to teach to give back, and teaching our community to be good citizens,” Richelle said of the effort.

The vibrancy of the SSDS community and its willingness to give back was also evident on Giving Tuesday. Current and former SSDS families showed their generosity and love for the school by donating to the successful campaign, which also garnered a $1,000 match by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in cooperation with a Facebook challenge. Many parents shared warm words for the school and expressed how the SSDS community has impacted their lives and the lives and their children.

And of course one of the highlights of the fall at SSDS is the Octoberfest. The event provides a great way for families to spend time together, to build bonds with new families and to catch up with old friends. “We chose the school because of the sense of community and enjoy participating as much as we can. It’s nice to get to know the other parents,” said Sharon Coffman, one of the Octoberfest committee co-chairs. Octoberfest is an opportunity for children to visit with former teachers and play with friends outside the classroom setting, not to mention the excitement of games and prizes!


And like so much of what SSDS does, Octoberfest is a platform for engagement. The organizing committee includes 20 families with more donating items to the bake sale. And in the spirit of teaching its community to be good citizens, SSDS involves middle and high school students as volunteers to work the game tables, paint faces and chaperone the moon bounce.


Thanks to all of you for being a part of the SSDS community. Best wishes for a joyous and happy New Year, and we look forward to spending fun times together in 2017!

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Reflections of a First-Year Parent

There was never a doubt that Rahm would learn an enormous amount in school. I was proud, but unsurprised, when Rahm came home from SSDS talking about a “chrysalis,” a fact we had somehow neglected to discuss at home despite many readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This was the sort of thing I had expected him to come home with, and in the past year, I have not been disappointed. Rahm is a quick learner and SSDS makes sure he has plenty to learn. Our expectations entering SSDS were that Rahm would find new and exciting things to learn, surrounded by dedicated educators. However, in reflecting back on the past year, SSDS has given Rahm and the rest of our family so much more, and we are the richer for it.


Rahm and Graham make art with Ms. Jerri at drop off for Ms. Beth’s 3’s

Rahm’s teachers have cultivated our son’s natural talents and interests in ways that have often impressed me. One morning in particular I recall Ms. Michelle, in Rahm’s Add-A-Day program, telling Rahm that she had gotten out a counting puzzle especially for him. Puzzles and counting both being high on Rahm’s list of things he enjoys. A little thing to be sure, but demonstrative of how each teacher is attuned to each child. The two of them spent time one-on-one doing a puzzle. Coming from a nanny-share, one of our fears had been that Rahm might feel lost in the crowd. Instead, he has been given dedicated attention and built a new set of meaningful relationships with his teachers. This rapport has made drop-off far easier than I ever would have expected; by enticing Rahm with activities tuned to his likes, I often hardly get a “Bye!” before he is engrossed by an art project or some other activity.


Parents building community through ice cream

The year at SSDS has been accompanied by leaps in development. Amongst other fun new skills, he has a new-found ability to write his name, an eagerness to wash hands (something that used to be a fight), and a sense of independence. This last characteristic in particular highlights yet another unexpected, and much appreciated aspect of Rahm’s time at school: the impact on our home life. Through missives home and solid communication, Rahm’s teachers have provided ways to continuously reinforce and strengthen the behavioral, social, and emotional skills that Rahm has learned in school. Prior to SSDS, it was easy to do everything for Rahm, but through deliberate use of techniques from school, Rahm’s independence is beginning to blossom. We use “safe hands,” make “thumbs-up choices.” We use timers and songs to persuade. Rahm has his very own “big job” to start the dishwasher every evening. Pretend glue now sticks Rahm to his chair at dinner. Every change is little, but together, they are a testament to the growth and development fostered by the school for which we were unprepared but grateful.

Bit by bit, then, SSDS has infused itself into our life. Whether because of spending time co-oping in the classroom, chatting in the hallways, or just reading parent emails, SSDS has offered us an unexpected community. Even if we do not have regular playdates with other families in Rahm’s class, we feel like we are part of a group. We have camaraderie, we can talk through any issues. We have support if and when we need it—it’s comforting.

The SSDS community we have become a part of has even come to merge itself with our existing nanny share care network. Our nanny has been welcomed into the SSDS community as well. We have heard second-hand about parents helping our nanny carry car seats through the doors as she negotiates with a strong-willed one-year old and our infant. We have seen the photographic evidence of the support she has received from SSDS parents as she uses unending wells of patience to coax milk from a bottle into our stubborn four-month old. This, at last, is perhaps what I expected least and appreciate most: SSDS has proved to be a community committed to the growth and development of all its children, molding itself to bring out the best in the child, parents, and caregivers who already care so much.

As a parent new to SSDS, it is easy to reflect back on the past year and be startled by how much has changed in our life without realizing it. Our fears about having a second classroom and teacher pair for Add-A-Day, Rahm not liking school, or our nanny not being welcomed as our proxy seem unfounded and distant. We have gladly been embraced by a community of skilled teachers and administrators. We can’t wait for the next school year to begin!


By Sibren I., Dad to Rahm (Ms. Beth’s 3’s) and Satya (2 months)

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‘Discover’ Something New This Summer at SSDS


It’s almost that time of year! It’s time for a break from the routine—for barbeques, pool parties, and summer camp. If your kids are anything like mine, they love school but also need a break from the norm. But, like many other families, we like to make sure the kids have some structured fun to give us parents a little break from planning those summer days. Going in for our third summer, SSDS Summer Discover Camp has been a real summer saver!


At Summer Discover Camp 2015, students worked together to paint a giant squid.

Summer Discover Camp has been going on for over 20 years to give students an opportunity to see their friends and partake in some structured playtime after the end of school. It has grown from a two week to a six week program due to demand. SSDS offers summer fun for children three to seven years of age for one-week sessions beginning in mid-June and continuing through the end of July.  Mini Discovery is also available for our smallest campers who may still be working on potty training. This year, SSDS is also offering an early bird option for campers starting at 8AM.


At SSDS summer camp, there’s lots of time for free play.

Ms. Veronica, camp coordinator, explains: “The program is designed to promote creativity and learning in a relaxed environment.” Each week has a different theme with fun filled activities. The teachers leading the individual weeks of camp pick themes and develop the curriculum and activities. This year’s themes include:

  • Zoom! Invent, experiment and play with cars and trucks and things that move;
  • Yoga Kids focusing on movement, mindful activities, games stories, kids build their balance, strength, calmness and friendship;
  • Pippi’s Summer Adventure exploring wacky adventures of Pippi Longstocking through drama, movement, and art; (STILL SPACE!)
  • Fiesta! It’s a Latin American party this week, with music, dance, decorations, tasty treats, and a piñata;
  • Camp Out with tents, scavenger hunts, nature crafts, and roasted marshmallows;
  • Ni Hao Friends going on an imaginary journey to China to enjoy stories, crafts, music and food. (STILL SPACE!)

While most of the classic camp is full, there is still space in Pippi’s Summer Adventure (July 4-8) and Ni Hao (July 25-29). If your child loves drama with Ms. Tanory, she or he will love Pippi’s Summer Adventure. Pippi Longstocking is the strong, creative and absurd female character, created by celebrated Swedish children’s author, Astrid Lingrin in the 1940’s.  Ms. Tanory was inspired to use the stories of Pippi when she saw how much her children were captivated by them on a family trip to Sweden. Ms. Tanory explains “We will sail the seven seas with Pippi’s pirate Papa; we will be ‘thing searchers’ to see what we find; and we will clean Pippi’s huge yellow house with sponges on our feet.”

The theme for Ni Hao was developed by Pre-K teacher Vivian Greene.  “I believe exposure to different cultures and languages help make us more open-minded and less fearful of differences, so when an opportunity arose that would allow me to do just that for our students, I jumped at the chance! Just thinking about getting to share a little bit about my home culture got me really excited,” Ms. Vivian explains.  In Ni Hao, students will cook, make crafts like Chinese hand drums, and will hold a Chinese New Year Celebration.

The days, running from 9AM-1PM, are jammed packed with inside and outside fun. And, weather permitting, kids spend much of the day in the playground playing with water. Bathing suits and sunscreen are recommended!

At drop off and pick up, parents will also notice several teenagers guiding the campers through the activities. High school students take on the role of volunteer counselors and earn Student Service Learning hours for graduation. Ms. Jenai explains, “It’s a great opportunity for students to work with children, be creative, and even channel a little of the child in them.”

The campers love to have the counselors around and search for them throughout the day. I recall several times last summer when my kids didn’t want to come home because they were having too much fun with the counselors. It really does add something special to the camp for our young kids who get so excited to hang out with “the big kids.”

Come discover this summer at SSDS! For information on camp registration, go here.


By Nicole Barber-Vincent, mom to Olive and Griffin in Ms. Kelley’s pre-K, and Dylan, 10 months



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Get Your Hawaiian Shirts Out, Spring Social Is Coming!

At the heart of Silver Spring Day School’s mission is a dedication to community. The importance of community underlies the school’s philosophy and many of its activities. And there is likely no example of community more profound than the annual Spring Social—the school’s largest fundraiser, and an awesome party, which takes place this year on Saturday, May 21.

UPDATE: See how much fun we had this year?


The Johnsons, in full luau costume

Like much of what goes on at SSDS, the Spring Social is lead by parents and is, largely for parents. As Adrianne Johnson, co-chair of the Spring Social committee said, “The goal is to put on a great event for parents.”

*Tip: Why not buy tickets in advance right here? It’s cheaper than waiting to get them at the door. You can also win great prizes when you order in advance—just ask Bill and Carolyn Burns, parents of Will in Ms. Rebecca’s 3s, who won a gift certificate for All Set Restaurant and Bar. The next winners will be announced on Thursday, May 19. 


“Serving on the auction committee has been a labor of love,” says Adrianne Johnson, shown about with her kids. “Working alongside other parents and seeing their talents in action has been incredible.  And while the hours are long in the end we throw one heckuva party.”

SSDS families regularly get a sense of community at drop-off or on co-op days. What is not as evident is the breadth of the SSDS community that includes teachers, staff, parents, students, local businesses and even national chains. Take these statistics:

  • Seven committees are either fully or largely dedicated to supporting the Spring Social
  • Three dozen parents are members of these seven committees
  • Eight months of planning are necessary for a successful event—they start meeting in October!
  • 197 items have been donated, from gift cards and hotel stays to horseback riding lessons or vineyard tours
  • 73 items or packages will be available for the silent auction
  • 13 items will be bid upon during the live auction

While these statistics are impressive, the behind-the-scenes is what’s really telling. At the final in-person planning meeting, about 20 parents gathered in the SSDS parent lounge. The tasks to be assigned and executed before the doors open on the 21st were overwhelming, but the creativity and energy in the room was a reminder of why the SSDS community is so vibrant.

*Tip: Check-out auction items in advance as you may want to consider going in on some items with family or friends, such as timeshares.

The truth is, the SSDS community is downright talented. Lyle Turner is a parent with a flair for photography who created the evening’s slideshow featuring SSDS students. (Psst: Don’t forget you can help out by uploading your co-oping or playground pictures to Smug Mug. Maybe your child will be in the slideshow!)


“The event itself is such a great opportunity to hang out with other parents from class,” says Erica Heinsman, shown above with her children.” I went for the first time last year, and was really nervous about not having any to talk to. Once I connected with other classroom parents, I discovered how fantastic and truly interesting people they are!”

It’s been hard to miss the colorful banners and signs adorning SSDS with information on the event. They were all designed by Alison Whitty who also designed the webpage for ticket sales and managed the whole marketing campaign. Teachers and staff are also highly involved—Ms. Carol (and some Little Uers!) designed the centerpieces and the financial logistics of a night of bidding are supported by Diána Hromockyj.

But it’s not just a matter of applying day-job professional skills. The list of contributions from event coordinators Cindy Newland and Elizabeth Leibundguth is seemingly endless but one story captures its essence. In their mission to secure Hawaiian-themed decorations at little to no cost, they scoped storefront displays and asked managers to donate the décor. Some stores obliged but Cindy was told by one manager that it was store policy to throw the display away. Frustrated by the wastefulness, Cindy persisted but was told managers must physically dispose of the display. Her response? Ok, just call me when you’re taking it down to the dumpster!


See you at the Luau! (Photo of late afternoon surf at Maliko Bay, Hawaii, 1973, courtesy U.S. Archives)

Keeping costs down is a priority and, again, the whole community helps make that happen. Perhaps you made it out to El Golfo or over to Sweet Frog on a day when a portion of sales went to SSDS? Those fundraisers helped to offset the approximately $10,000 costs of putting on the event. Lauren McShane organized them all, a great example of SSDS parent talent and the generosity of local businesses coming together.

Sheer time and energy cannot be overlooked. Kelsey McAllister is on the support committee, and Co-chair Erica Heinsman described her as “always first to volunteer for important miscellaneous tasks.” When you get a drink, raise your glass to Kelsey because it’s likely she did something to make sure that drink made it to that glass.

*Tip: This year’s event has a Hawaiian theme and there will be a costume contest with PRIZES! Want to leave dress up to the kids? No worries, attire is casual.

All of this work would be for naught, however, if it wasn’t for the generous support of local businesses. Katrin Sparico from the Solicitation Committee has done an amazing job of organizing a huge number of donations. Fortunately, her job was made easier by the willingness of the Silver Spring business community to support local schools.

“Downtown Silver Spring businesses were very receptive. They all want to support schools. Eight of ten businesses we approached donated in some way,” Katrin said.

Some of the donations stem from parent affiliations. For example, Roxy Aponte of Alchemy Hair Salon donated hundreds of dollars in products and services. Other generous donors include Woodmoor Bakery, Lebanese Taverna, Marriott (which donated 15 stays at hotels from DC to Philadelphia), and Capitol Bike Share—a new business relationship for SSDS. And, of course, we can’t overlook the night’s fare and entertainment offered at a steep discount by local catering company, Kaimana’s Katering.

*Tip: Be sure you ask your babysitter to stay late—impromptu afterparties are where lasting relationships are solidified!


See how much fun Lindsey and John Tessada had at the Western-themed social last year?

Though it takes the whole community to put on the Spring Social, it takes the parents to make it a party. So buy your tickets, leave your kids at home, and come celebrate with your community!


By Korin Davis (mom to Faye, Ms. Judy’s 3s and Amos, SSDS ’14)

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Teacher Feature: Meet Ms. Catharine and Ms. Lesley

Recently there was a question on my neighborhood listserv. A family had just been accepted into SSDS and was looking for feedback to decide whether they should attend. I shared our experiences as a new family in the school, a place where our family could not be happier. The reply from the poster was that she had received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback and would be sending their daughter next year.

It is clear that SSDS has gathered together an extraordinary group of people who believe in a community-oriented, learning-through-play culture. This culture that so captivates parents and children alike at SSDS is fostered and championed first-and-foremost by the leaders of the classroom: the teachers. Teacher Feature, in The Spotlight Community Blog, will hopefully help us get to know our SSDS teachers a little better.

In this Teacher Feature we welcome two new teachers: Catharine Duncan, who teaches pre-K, and Lesley Gramaglia, who teaches four-year-olds. Both teachers are or were SSDS parents and we are lucky to have them heading up their respective classes. I asked each a couple of questions and here is what they had to say:


Quick facts about Ms. Catharine

Teaches: pre-K
Grew up: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Favorite book: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Favorite places: Colorado Rocky Mountains
Favorite season: Warm, sunny summers
Favorite kids’ joke: Knock, knock! Who’s there? Boo! Boo who? Don’t cry; it’s just a joke!
Favorite kids’ song: You Are My Friend by Mr. Rogers

Why did you want to work with preschoolers and their parents at SSDS?

I work with children because they are so eager to learn. Not only are they eager to learn their ABC’s and 123’s, they are eager to learn how to relate to their friends, parents, and the community in which they live. They seek understanding and compassion. I enjoy working with children because I also learn from them. I’ve learned a vast amount of patience and have been shown a type of love that only exists in the eyes of children. They are naturally inquisitive, creative, and open to new opportunities. I love working with parents because of their enthusiasm for their children and their education. The parents I’ve encountered at SSDS are incredibly helpful and always willing to jump into whatever I have planned for the day.


Ms. Catherine: “Children are more forgiving than you know; they aren’t looking for perfection.”

Any favorite playground equipment/feature?

I love the giant sandbox at the school. I’ve always felt that children are at their best when they are getting their hands, feet, and little bodies dirty creating in the mud or sand.

What do you find the most challenging about working with preschoolers?

I’ve found that children have a hard time in the classroom whenever frustration, of any type, arises. Sometimes it can be difficult to help children work through their frustration. Luckily, the Solution Suitcase helps children learn how to work through their problems and learn different tools to help them in and outside of the classroom.

What one or two pieces of advice would you share with co-oping parents?

Children are more forgiving than you know; they aren’t looking for perfection. They are looking for your love, patience, and compassion. I would also tell parents that kids love it when adults can be silly sometimes.

MsLesley_horizQuick facts about Ms. Lesley

Teaches: 4’s
Grew up: Born in D.C. but grew up overseas —Ivory Coast, Egypt, India, and Indonesia.
Favorite book: fiction and biographies
Favorite places: too many amazing spots to choose
Favorite season: loves the change in seasons. Each season is unique.
Favorite kids’ joke: Any knock-knock joke, even a nonsense one
Favorite kids’ song: a Swinging song for pushing kids on the swing

Why did you want to work with preschoolers and their parents at SSDS?

I used to work in the international development and contract management field and this is much more fun and gratifying. Being a teacher has so many different components—planning, observing, organizing, communicating, problem-solving, orchestrating. I think early childhood is a magical time and also a really important time in a person’s development and having a part in this is really exciting and challenging. My favorite things about SSDS are the energy and the sense of community. And I think it’s really cool that you may see kids in elementary, middle, and high school that you knew at SSDS! That is happening to my own girls as they go through school. Some of their closest friends are kids they met at age 3.

Any favorite playground equipment/feature?

I really love the monkey bars because I think they are a great measure of a child’s development. At the beginning of the year in the 4’s many kids can’t even hang confidently from the first bar. By the end of the year most of them can get all the way across on their own! It is such a strength and confidence builder.


On pajama day, a few hams pose with Ms. Claudia (back row left) and Ms. Lesley (back row right)

What do you find the most challenging about working with preschoolers?

Trying to decipher them and keep up with them. J One year a project is perfect and the next year it is a flop. Things are always changing but that is really exciting.

What one or two pieces of advice would you share with co-oping parents?

Remember that you are just seeing a tiny snapshot of our class and our routine, and enjoy your co-op days because once your children are older you won’t have the same opportunities to spend time at school with them.

Whether “relating books to their everyday experiences and observations” (Ms. Lesley) or attempting to “teach through a variety of different songs” (Ms. Catherine), these two new teachers are working hard to create the environment of comfort and supportive learning through play that makes SSDS such a special place.


By Sibren Isaacman, Dad to Rahm (Ms. Beth’s 3’s) and Satya (2 months)


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How a Sculptor Breathed Life into the SSDS Playground Dragon

Once upon a time, circa 2009, in the magical land of Four Corners, was a kind and loving fairy godmother named Ms. Richelle, her flock of merry teachers, and their school of playful and imaginative children. While the children and teachers were very happy, Fairy Godmother Richelle was not satisfied. True, the children had a lovely outdoor space, colorful classrooms full of frogs and towers and secret nooks, but something was missing. Ms. Richelle saw that her teachers were full of energy and excitement. She says that her children simply sizzled with the electricity that only young minds can generate. What they needed to be inspired and reach new heights was something grand—something powerful—something BIG.


The famous SSDS dragon was once a 100-year old oak tree that fell down in Ms. Richelle’s yard after it was struck by lightning.

What could fulfill such grandiose dreams? Gowns for all the teachers? Too much dry cleaning. A castle? Too expensive. A moat around the school? Too complicated to incorporate into the parking regulations. A dragon? Hey, that’s an idea, a dragon! The whimsical nature of SSDS could use a magical creature like that. Fairy Godmother Richelle knew she had to leave something for her teachers and children to continue to inspire and motivate them. A dragon would do it, but where does one find a dragon?


Bringing in the the big oak tree.

This fairy tale story is true (in essence, at least) and like any good story, it’s also personal. Ms. Richelle felt compelled to leave a legacy to the school and community she worked so hard to build. Enter tragedy and magic—it’s a fairy tale, after all.

Around the time that SSDS moved into the space at Four Corners, Ms. Richelle’s father passed away. A Methodist minister, he was also a teacher whose life work was dedicated to the education of children. He was a mentor to Ms. Richelle and inspired her to choose a career path in education. He encouraged her to use her special gifts to build a unique school community.

Installing the Tree at SSDS 2010-1

Ms. Richelle refers to the Dragon as her father’s totem, affectionately naming him “Mr. B” after her father, Paul  Meredith Bradley.

Shortly after his death, a 100-year-old oak in Ms. Richelle’s front yard was struck by lightning. She and her husband tried to save it, and hoped it would survive, but it was soon clear that it was not going to make it. Ms. Richelle reflected on her desire to leave something grand and lasting for SSDS. She thought about the loss of her father and the legacy he left for her. She pondered her desire to keep the memory of her majestic tree alive. From this cognitive brew grew a wonderful and whimsical idea.

The SSDS community was in the midst of transforming the playground into one of the first nature-based playgrounds in Montgomery County, as detailed in an earlier Spotlight post. To create a grand and inspiring playground centerpiece, Ms. Richelle and her husband arranged to donate their beloved oak to the SSDS playground.


Sculptor Jim Calder shows a child the carving techniques he used on the dragon by digging into a sweet potato.

But obviously some magic was needed to transform a dead tree into a lasting legacy. And here Ms. Richelle’s creativity shone. She contacted Jim Calder, nephew of the famous American artist and mobile inventor, Alexander Calder, and grandson to Alexander Milne Calder, a sculptor whose work is displayed in Philadelphia’s City Hall and whose columned arches are well-known landmarks at New York City’s Washington Square Park. Jim Calder is a sculptor, too, but his medium of choice is wood that he carves, mainly using chainsaws. He is a community member whose pieces can be found in Takoma Park, including the “bear bench” in Belle Ziegler Park. Mr. Calder agreed to undertake the commission and visited the unfinished SSDS playground. He stood contemplating the space and then, as Ms. Richelle tells it, he stated the obvious: “There’s a dragon here.”

The majestic oak was cut to meet Mr. Calder’s specifications and a large portion of a bough was delivered to the playground where the artist carved it on-site. The children, parents and staff working on the playground renovations were able to watch the transformation. Mr. Calder even taught the children his sculpting technique using sweet potatoes.

The Dragon is the perfect SSDS centerpiece. Conceived from the admiration of a lifelong teacher and the awe of nature’s beauty and power, it is representative of the SSDS’s ethos.

As for our fairy godmother, she refers to the Dragon as her father’s totem, affectionately naming him “Mr. B” after her father, Paul Meredith Bradley. She adds, jokingly, “I love the thought that kids are crawling all over him all the time.”

Community needs a centerpiece—something to inspire it and to compel it to achieve its potential. Ms. Richelle has left us with this powerful example of how to turn our fantasies and dreams into reality.


By Korin Davis (mom to Faye, Ms. Judy’s 3s and Amos, SSDS ’14)

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A ‘Secret’ Bakery Sweetens a Community

It’s easy to miss it.

After all, Woodmoor Pastry Shop sits in an unassuming strip of stores pressed back from a busy intersection. But for those in the know, for decades, Woodmoor Pastry Shop has made an indelible and delectable impression on those who trek from across the region to sample freshly baked wares.


At Woodmoor Pastry Shop, everything glistens. Photo by Elizabeth Webster

Flaky and frosted pastries, pastel-colored cookies, and cakes with swirls of thick and creamy icing beckon from glass cases and shelves. The bakery’s spread includes cinnamon twists so delicious that one Washington Post reviewer once rhapsodized that a mere nibble transported him back to childhood memories of his mom’s confections. The same reviewer dubbed a Woodmoor’s glazed donut as “fluffy as a roll of Charmin.”

Woodmoor isn’t just any bakery, though. It is an integral part of the Silver Spring Day School community and supports the school by hosting annual field trips and by sponsoring our Spring Auction this May.

For Joanna Gray, grandmother of two SSDS students and owner of Woodmoor Pastry Shop, being active in the community is always something she has valued.

Her son, Jamie Gray, says there is just one reason:  ‘The customers, from generation to generation, making friendships with them and producing products that their families can enjoy. It is a community bakery where we make a great product at a reasonable price.”

Every year, chubby-cheeked SSDS preschoolers hold hands and carefully make their way across the street to the bakery. When they arrive, they are treated to a lesson in how dough rises and how to frost cakes. The bakery also often supports Blair and Northwood High Schools and numerous other public and private schools, churches and religious organizations through various charitable donations; the bakery has even provided donuts for the Thunderbolts’ baseball games.


Ms. Lesley’s class visits the bakery. Photo by Lindsey Tessada

Woodmoor is a member of the Retail Bakers of America and has been nationally recognized with many awards for their baked wares and customer service.  But it’s that sense of connection to the community which has helped convince the family that smaller is better when it comes to customer service.

Baking has been the family business for generations ever since Lee Mower, the great grandparent of two SSDS students, learned the trade in his family’s bakery in Cumberland, Maryland. Mower and his wife, Shirley, moved to the Silver Spring area in the late 1950s, where they lived with their two children in a one-bedroom apartment in the Langley Park area. Mower would work at Heidi, a commercial bakery, until they could afford to buy the bakery in 1963. “The whole family would work at the bakery, including my uncles and my mom,” Jamie Gray says. Lee and Shirley Mower would continue to run the bakery until his passing in 2006. “My mom Joanna Gray would buy the bakery in 2007, therefore staying in the family for another generation,” Jamie Gray says.


Joanna Gray, right, with some of her bakers, are all smiles at the counter. Photo courtesy Woodmoor Pastry Shop

The family’s method of baking is a ritual of sorts. Nearly every morning, folks get up well before dawn to open the bakery. Staffers knead dough and bake bread. From there, they move on to icing cake and pastries; and then there’s the breakfast rush. Things wind down in the early afternoon. Except for a couple of hours in the evening, and Mondays when the bakery is closed, the bakery is always running. On holidays the bakery becomes a 24-hour operation, Jamie Gray says.

“We have had many ‘crazy’ requests and we do our best to complete what the customer wants,” he says. “One of the craziest orders was a customer [who] wanted us to make 400 assorted pies for Thanksgiving. She comes back year after year for her pie order.”

Weekday mornings are full of neighbors popping in for pasties or placing orders for pies. The customers chat amiably with the staff and swap tales about the weather and traffic woes. But the weekends—well, those evolve into a neighborhood meet and greet of sorts as neighbors flood the store to pick up birthday cakes, cookie orders and pastries for the weekend. “Chocolate donuts are my mom’s favorite thing and decorating cakes for any occasion is her favorite thing to do,” Jamie Gray says.

Despite the hustle and bustle, the bakery manages to add such personal touches as a rush order on a Friday for a larger birthday cake when late RSVPs quadrupled the guest list. Little wooden trains are carefully acquired for locomotion-loving toddlers and personalized Elsa and Anna decorations became the must-have cake topper when “Frozen” debuted.

Visitors come for the confections. But they return again and again for the aura of warmth and community that radiates far beyond the store’s toasty confines and deep into a community that has come to appreciate the bakery’s generosity.

“Although our family appreciates the recognition it has received, that is not why we do it,” Jamie Gray says. “It is important that we must support our community and other businesses so that we all can continue to grow and prosper in these times.”

—by the SSDS Auction Committee

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Forget the Kids! Are YOU Ready for Kindergarten?

As we move past the halfway mark of the school year, many parents of the pre-K kids are coming to terms with the end of our days at Silver Spring Day School, and the start of the big and scary move to…wait for it…KINDERGARTEN. If you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself, “How did time go by so fast? Is my child going to be up for the challenge? And what about me, how will I deal?!”


Olive and Griffin, goofing around.

Olive and Griffin, ready for Kindergarten?

To help parents become more comfortable with this big change, each year SSDS holds the Kindergarten Readiness Panel. The event is part of the Silver Spring Day School Training Institute, which was established in 2011. As Ms. Emily explains “The staff at SSDS realized that there was a need for high quality, Maryland state approved Core of Knowledge training workshops offered in our area at a reasonable price.  Originally, our goal was simply to train our own staff . . . In the past few years, though, we’ve expanded to be a trusted provider of training for preschool teachers, day care providers and parents from not only Maryland, but D.C. and Virginia as well.”

Lauren Robinson, elementary school counselor and SSDS alumni mom tells parents, “The transition into kindergarten is epic–for kids and parents. But if you continue to provide support and listen to the needs of your children, things will likely level out within a few months.”

Lauren Robinson, elementary school counselor and SSDS alumni mom tells parents, “The transition into kindergarten is epic–for kids and parents. But if you continue to provide support and listen to the needs of your children, things will likely level out within a few months.”

Parents are invited to attend the workshops. This years workshop offerings have ranged from topics such as “Including All Children and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)” to “Integrating process drama in the preschool classroom.” In 2015, SSDS provided training for approximately 350 early childhood educators.

The Kindergarten Readiness Panel is a training workshop designed specifically with parents in mind. The panel offered parents a birds eye view into a typical day in kindergarten, curriculum changes, and Montgomery special programs, policies, and services. This year, guest speakers included:

  • Erica Edelman, a child psychologist, discussing social and emotional readiness;
  • Lauren Robinson, a school counselor at Chevy Chase Elementary School, discussing policies on holding children back or applying for early entrance, and evaluation and services for children with special needs;
  • Amy Goldberg, a kindergarten teacher at Flora Singer Elementary School, discussing a typical day, curriculum changes, and parental involvement;
  • Sandra Castellon, a language immersion coordinator at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, discussing the admission process and curriculum of the partial immersion program.

The panel gave me more food for thought, and a glimpse into what next year might look like. I learned about the importance of social and emotional readiness for kindergarten such as the ability to listen to direction and make friends. It also gave me a chance to ask the speakers some of the hard questions that I’m still grappling with. Is the average five-year-old able to keep up with the quick pace and advanced curriculum? How are teachers managing classrooms in which some children are still working on their social skills? And to those questions, I got some honest, thoughtful answers. Some encouraging, some a little scary, and all great insight into the journey of kindergarten.


Amy Goldberg, a kindergarten teacher at Flora Singer Elementary School, discussing a typical day, curriculum changes, and parental involvement in Kindergarten.

The underlining message I heard from the panel is that kindergarten readiness largely relies on social and emotional development, and that for each parent and child the adjustment to kindergarten is a process. In the wise words of Lauren Robinson, elementary school counselor and SSDS mom alumni, “The transition into kindergarten is epic—for kids and parents. But if you continue to provide support and listen to the needs of your children, things will likely level out within a few months.”

She explained that many children will be tired, moody, and might even regress in areas such as potty training. She suggested giving them a little leeway until they fully adjust. In that moment, I could take a breath, comforted by the fact that the transition is normal, and I felt hopeful that our kids would be OK, largely because of their time learning and growing socially at SSDS.

Kate Waterfall, mom of John in Ms. Kim’s class, also felt a sense of relief hearing from Amy Goldberg that the transition to kindergarten is real, and that the teachers are ready for it. “She said many kids are still developing socially and emotionally, and then outlined the day to day techniques they use to help kids along.” Also appreciating hearing about what a day looks like in kindergarten, Courtney Pollack, mom of Sam in Ms. Kim’s class, feels “there’s always a bit of nervousness about a new situation for us as parents and for Sam. But I’m feeling confident that it’ll all go well in the end.”

And so, it’s onto life’s next adventure—kindergarten. Feeling a bit more at ease knowing that even if our children have a bumpy start, overall they are ready for kindergarten because of their beloved teachers at SSDS who have supported their social and emotional growth. And also feeling hopeful that we too as parents, will survive.


Nicole Barber-Vincent, mom to Olive and Griffin in Ms. Kelley’s pre-K, and Dylan, 8 ½ months



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Stuck: Things to Do When Your Block Is Snowed In

Snowzilla is behind us. Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. Though spring may actually be around the corner, what happens if Mother Nature dumps that one last load of snow?

Luckily, the families and teachers at SSDS are here to bail you out with things to do at home on a snow day. Below are some ideas for when the Netflix queues are empty, when the snowplows still have not managed to find your street, and the snow person in the yard has been given every spare article of clothing and accessory available in the house.

A cold snowy day is the perfect time to take to the kitchen. A number of families I asked told me about how much fun they had baking cookies or cakes. Kids get to measure, mix, pour, and stir; in the end, they are rewarded with a sweet treat for their efforts. For extra fun, break out the food coloring (more on this later) and make rainbow sugar cookies! Ms. Michelle from the young 3s even suggested that kids can use this as a way to be a “super friend” in the neighborhood and bring cookies to neighbors complete with a handmade card—another good indoor activity. There’s nothing like storms to bring neighbors together.

Have a spice tasting with your kids.

Other families took kitchen time a step further and had a spice tasting!  For example, oregano—flaky, green, and slightly bitter—might be contrasted with sugar—crunchy, white, and sweet.  With some careful parental guidance, a spice tasting can be a colorful, flavorful, texture-ful way to learn.

Ms. Michelle also reminded us that there are plenty of neighbors in our community who need our help and our appreciation. At this age, many kids love helping; why not have them grab either a small shovel or even their sand shovels to help the adults clear driveways and sidewalks of neighbors who could use the assistance?
Snow provides the perfect blank canvas for kids to express the artist inside. One way to do this is to grab an unused storage bin and fill it with snow. Bring the snow inside (and away from carpets), and “paint” the snow with some food coloring mixed with water. This has been a go-to activity for Addison (Ms. Beth’s 3’s) and Isabelle, and they love it.

Addison (Ms. Beth’s 3’s) and Isabelle, 1, paint snow indoors.

Or, you can take the paint to the snow. Find a clean spray bottle, fill it with water and food coloring. The world is now a canvas for your burgeoning graffiti artist.


Rahm (Ms. Beth’s 3’s) uses pink and yellow “spray paint” to express his take on trains.

Finally, who can forget about forts? I heard from parents about pillow forts, blanket forts and even forts made from egg cartons (for bricks) collected over months for just such a purpose. I heard about big forts, small forts and in-between forts. Moxie and her family (Ms. Michelle’s 3’s), though, took the opposite approach: Moxie trained to be a super-spy, breaking into said forts. Yarn, stretched across the hallway and taped to the walls, made a “laser-grid” that required concentration and some tricky motor skills to successfully navigate.

Though we have the sled ready and the Netflix queue standing by, thanks to the ingenuity of the SSDS community, I’m happy to have some parent and teacher-tested ideas for the next, inevitable snow day.


By Siben Isaacman, Dad to Rahm (Ms. Beth’s 3’s) and Satya (2 months)


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Spotlight Topics

#ideas #indoors #kids #neighborhood #parents #silverspring #snowday #takomapark #winter bakery camp childcare Chinese Co-oping Common Goals Community confident parenting daycare drop off Families family field trip friends Giving holidays kindergarten Life-Long Learning local business Ms Richelle nature-based play Parenting peace playground preschool Sharp's Farm Silver Spring Spring Social SSDS Summer Takoma Park teachers Teaching Values Volunteering volunteers

Spotlight Contributors

  • Nicole Barber-Vincent
  • Korin Davis
  • Liz Webster Duke
  • Roz Dzelzitis
  • April Fulton
  • Sean Fulton
  • Tanushree Isaacman
  • Alison Whitty