These are challenging times and I applaud all the tremendous efforts that students, teachers, and parents everywhere are making to balance it all. It is not easy.

A student setting up a home library with children's books
Balance is something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. We probably all feel out of balance to some degree as we try to develop a new normalcy while staying at home.

I have been following the blogs of several experienced homeschooling families to learn more from those who do this year in and year out. Last week, we sent a survey to our Westside parents to get feedback on what’s working well so far with remote learning and what could be improved. We have thoroughly analyzed all of the comments and the data, and both our Lower School and Middle School teachers are making adjustments based on what we are hearing and learning. Finding balance is one of the big keys to success.

A kindergarten student dressed up with a cape and binoculars on a walk outside
When it comes to remote learning at Westside, we do not want our children to be on screens for hours and hours a day. Making sure that students are reading every day is essential. So are the creative arts, and getting outside, and helping the family with household tasks. Many of our families are cooking or baking – there is a lot of math to be found in the kitchen!

I’ve been reading a wonderful book Let the Children Play, co-written by Finnish and American authors about the importance, or rather the absolute necessity, for children to play throughout childhood including at school. The authors state that active physical play “is essential to the healthy development of minds and bodies and to cultivating the complex personal and social skills they need to make their way in the world. Active play should be a regular part of every child’s daily life.” Real play is not a particular activity. It is a state of mind. Real play is self-initiated and self-motivated. It is creative and active.

One of the principal reasons that the average American child does not play enough, according to the authors, is time. Normally, we don’t give our kids enough unstructured time in which to get bored and to create play. Ironically, as families, we now suddenly find ourselves with more unstructured time than we know what to do with. This is a great time to practice play! While we can’t give our kids all the active play opportunities we want, due to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in Washington, I do encourage you to let them really play.

A preschooler in a vest with binoculars and a net infront of a big, mossy tree
This is a stressful time for all of us, exacerbated by the necessity of living in close quarters all the time. I urge you not to make it worse by stressing about school--if something is not going right, connect with your Westside teachers or division head. And remember that many teachers are doing amazing work for students while also managing their own kids and needs at home. This is a time to be graceful.

Be gentle with your children and yourselves. And when it gets frustrating, take a breath, walk away.

Now more than ever, we are grateful for the closeness of our connected Westside School community. For so many of us, we are missing seeing each other every day. Please reach out to us and to each other and know that we are here for you.

While we know these uncertain times will eventually pass, this is not easy for any of us. We are here for all members of our community. The connected ties that we have built at this wonderful school will see us through while we are apart. Find the balance where and when you can. On behalf of all of our Westside faculty and staff, we miss all of our students and families and look forward to being back together on campus soon.

Steve de Beer
Head of School
A student reading a book on the couch with lots of pillows