Category: Blog

An Attitude of Gratitude

With the Christmas season upon us, it is natural for children to imagine what gifts they might receive.  At a time when so many ads are targeted towards children for toys, games, and “things,” how do we teach children to be grateful for what they have? For more than just things? An attitude of gratitude can be helpful to a child’s well-being throughout their life. Understanding thankfulness, and truly being able to recognize their many blessings, helps establish a foundation for a joyful disposition.  

Christi Schwalk, first grade teacher, and Susan Dodgion, transitional kindergarten teacher at The Christ School (TCS), share their ideas on ways to help establish an “attitude of gratitude.”

Christi Schwalk says parents should “Model, model, model gratitude! Children are always watching their parents (and other adults) and learn from our actions. Make a point to tell your family why you are thankful for them. Purposefully speak about who you are thankful for in your life – Sunday school teachers, classroom teachers, mail carriers, sanitation workers – anyone who makes your life better. Then, teach your children ways to express that thankfulness. Can you leave a note? Give a cold water bottle on a hot day to someone who works outside? These are easy ways for children to show gratitude.”

Christi suggests that parents use the phrase “enough” with their child.  For example, “you have enough stuffed animals,” or “you have enough candy, you don’t need more.” “It sounds simple, but using that word early makes an impact later when you talk about how others do not have enough. We use the rule: “get one, give one” at our house. Get a Barbie doll for your birthday, give one that you are not using to someone who may not have one.” These conversations open the door (and a child’s heart) to a spirit of generosity and compassion.

“Serve together as a family and, serve often. Helping others in the community shifts the focus from what you get to what you can do. In the book of James, God calls us to take our faith and do something with it (James 2:14-26).

Our family plays High, Low, Change, Thankful at dinner. What was a high for your day?  A low? What would you change about the day?  Who or what are you thankful for today? We often talk about how we can express that thanks.

Point out that God blesses everyone in different ways for His purposes. There will always be people who have more than you and people who have less. Our job is to use our gifts, no matter how big or small, to help others.”

Susan Dodgion agrees with Christi. “Model thankfulness in your home. Adults can thank each other for dinner, for doing chores and everyday things we do for each other. Children don’t always understand what they have. Be sure to draw attention to them. Not so much things, but family, teachers, the love that surrounds them, pets, or the great school they attend.” Susan continues, “Remember to thank God for things all day long. For example, “Thank you, God, for this day.” “Thank you, God, for my comfortable bed. Every moment is a teachable moment.”

Being thankful and showing gratitude with happiness is a trait children will learn and reflect in their own thoughts and actions. Recognizing the many ways God has blessed each of us goes a long way for our happiness and that of our children!

Merry Christmas!   

Selecting the Right School for Your Family

by Joanne Fleming, Director of Admission

Selecting a school for your child may be one of the most significant investments you make. Just like families, schools have personalities, visions, passions, missions, that must be a good match for your family in order for the partnership to work. In my conversations with families, many questions arise as the family seeks to learn about our school and I seek to introduce them to our offerings. The following, big picture questions typically arise as parents decide on their school choice.

What is the difference between an independent school, parochial school and public school?
The biggest difference is the organizational management and funding. Independent schools are mission-based, typically non-profit in design, have tuition-based funding and a Board of Trustees that focuses solely on the school’s long-term vision and financial health. Independent schools have the freedom to assess students requesting admission into the school based on the school’s mission and academic platform. Enrollment is a privilege, not a right. Parochial schools are ministries of a church. They offer curriculum that compliments their denomination’s beliefs, typically receive funding via a budget allocation from the church and/or facility usage, in addition to tuition. They are managed by a Board of Elders, or the like, who are responsible for all of the church’s ministries. A public school receives tax-based funding and must admit all students who are zoned for the school. Charter schools, also under the public school umbrella, have a few more freedoms yet are ultimately accountable to the local public school board.

Do you have any openings?
In keeping with a private school’s academic focus, classes average in size. Private schools use waiting pools in grade levels that have reached their maximum capacity. Students in the waiting pool have been assessed and deemed mission appropriate. The waiting pool allows schools to manage offers of enrollment based on class dynamic, gender distribution, learning styles and personalities to build a class of students who will compliment each other to create an engaged learning community. Public schools must enroll all students within their zoning area.

How do I apply for financial assistance?
Each private school has a program that is designed for their admission/enrollment process. If financial assistance is a need for your family, be sure to discuss the financial requirements up front. No matter the program, having a need-blind enrollment process is a top priority. A school’s first concern should be to determine if they can serve your child within their academic platform. Through a need-blind system, financial assistance is processed only after an enrollment offer has been extended. Most school’s financial assistance is privately funded through the school’s budgeting process and is need-based. Allocations match the family’s need to the school’s ability to serve.

Tips for Interviewing a School

  1.  Schedule a tour when students are on campus. This will give you a feel for the school’s energy and personality.
  2.  Prior to the tour, review the school’s website, bring a list of questions to ask and take notes during the tour. Remember, this school must be a good fit for your family. Make sure the mission and vision of the school match your family. Ask the same or similar questions of each school you visit for quality compariables.
  3.  Ask to see the curriculum materials used in the classroom. What is the school’s academic philosophy?
  4.  Ask to speak with at least one grade-level teacher and students, if possible.
  5.  Ask to speak with a current family in the grade level to which you are applying. School culture is essential for you to understand – does it blend with your family?

Questions to Consider When Interviewing a School

  1.  Are differentiated teaching tools available in the classrooms and used by the faculty?
  2.  How much screen time will students experience per week and what technology resources does the school offer? (I would be looking for minimal screen time in the lower grades with more hands-on learning. Still looking for hands-on/project based learning all the way through high school however, the percentage changes.)
  3.  Is the school accredited? If yes, by whom?
  4.  What are the class sizes?
  5.  Are faculty credentialed and teaching within their certification area?
  6.  What are the professional development expectations of the faculty?
  7.  Does the school have a student support center? What services are offered?
  8.  Are after school enrichment programs offered?
  9.  Does the school offer an extended day program?
  10.  What is the school’s safety protocol?
  11.  Does the school have a STEAM lab? If not, how do they intentionally introduce STEAM-based learning?
  12.  Is project-based learning a priority? Ask for examples …
  13.  Does the school offer multi-age/multi-grade learning programs? Ask for examples …
  14.  Is recess offered and if so, how often and for how long?
  15.  What “special area” classes are offered?
  16.  Does the school offer a lunch program?
  17.  Are athletics offered and at what grades?
  18.  What is the school-wide discipline plan? What tools are used for classroom management? (Is the school looking for children to exhibit positive  behavior or, is the school watching for children to make mistakes?)
  19.  How will the school communicate with you? How many times per week and in what methods? How do you communicate with the teacher? How do you communicate with the school?
  20.  What is the school’s admission/assessment/enrollment process?

Remember, each school, just like your family, is unique. Select a school that compliments your desires for your child, will help advance your child’s passions, will partner with your family as bumps occur and celebrate when challenges are overcome. A strong family/school relationship is key for a student’s success. Choose wisely…

My Child is Struggling to Read… Now What?


by Jennie Farrant, Reading Teacher

Reading is a complex process that takes years to develop. As soon as children are born and introduced to the sounds of oral language, they begin developing literacy skills. However, it is years later before they begin to blend sounds together to form words. Since reading is not a skill children learn overnight, it can be difficult as a parent to recognize when your child is no longer learning to read but struggling to read.

These three steps will help you determine if the challenges your child is encountering in reading are a natural part of the learning process or may indicate the presence of a learning difference.


1. Look for signs.

When people think of dyslexia, letter reversals are likely what comes to mind first. Parents of young writers may notice reversals in their children’s work and say, “My child reverses letters. Does that mean she is dyslexic?” The answer is no. On the contrary, it is developmentally appropriate for young writers to have reversals until around seven years of age.

That may leave you wondering, “So what are the signs of dyslexia?” Signs of dyslexia vary by age and can become evident as early as preschool. Preschool age children may struggle to learn common nursery rhymes, identify the name of letters, recognize their names in print, and recognize whether or not words rhyme. Children in kindergarten and first grade may have difficulty associating letters and sounds, recognizing that sentences and words can be broken into parts, and sounding out simple words. For children in second grade and above, the act of reading may be very laborious and lack automaticity or fluency. Students may also guess at unfamiliar words since they lack the skills needed to decode them. These are just a few signs that children with dyslexia may display. For a comprehensive list, visit The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.

Low self-esteem and confidence may also indicate reading difficulties, even in younger students. As students enter school for the first time, they are generally excited to unlock the mystery of reading. However, if learning to read proves to be more challenging than anticipated, children may try to avoid reading or comment on its difficulty.

It is also important to consider whether your child has a family history of reading or spelling difficulties since dyslexia is often hereditary.

2. Talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns.

If you feel your child does display some of these signs, the next step is to speak with your child’s teacher about your concerns. In addition to possessing professional expertise, your child’s teacher spends several hours a day with your child and, academically, knows him or her better than anyone else!

Make sure to let the teacher know you are concerned about your child’s progress in reading and schedule a time to meet. This is not a conversation to have in the hallway during morning drop-off. Your child’s teacher will need time to gather work samples or classroom observations to support what she is seeing in the classroom and may want to invite other specialists from the school to join the conversation.

We are fortunate at The Christ School to have a community of educators who have been trained to recognize the signs of dyslexia and implement gold standard reading and spelling instruction. All of our teachers in TK-3rd grade have participated in 30 hours of Orton-Gillingham training through a Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. In addition, we have a Student Support Center that provides small-group intensive reading support to equip dyslexic learners with the skills they need to develop into proficient and confident readers.

3. Have your child evaluated by an expert.

If the teacher also has concerns about your child’s progress in reading, the next step is to schedule an evaluation by an educational psychologist. Check to see if your school has a specialist who can assist you in this process. At The Christ School, we have a Student Support Specialist who is well-connected in the Orlando area and can recommend psychologists who are experienced working with children who have specific needs.

Getting a psychological evaluation is often the most difficult, and the scariest, step for parents. However, it is one of the most integral. While it may be evident that a child is struggling to learn to read, the question is still…
Why? A psychoeducational evaluation provides that glimpse into what is going on inside a child’s brain. Without an evaluation, we can still utilize various strategies and best teaching practices to meet a child’s needs, but we can only speculate about the source of the difficulties. A psychological evaluation provides a roadmap by helping us understand exactly why a child is struggling so we can tailor instruction and offer accommodations to meet those needs.

In addition, the importance of early intervention cannot be overemphasized, and children are now being identified as dyslexic as early as five years of age. Research shows that as children are identified earlier, they are more likely to need fewer hours of intervention, maintain a high self-esteem, acquire content knowledge and vocabulary, and develop a love for reading.

If you would like more information on dyslexia, diagnosing dyslexia or the programs at The Christ School, please contact Alissa Plaisance, TCS Student Support Specialist.  



Steam 101
By Christi Schwalk, First Grade Teacher

What type of learning is open ended, engaging, creative and mimics real world problems? STEAM! It is comprised of five disciplines used collaboratively: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. The number of careers involving STEAM is growing rapidly in our country so preparing students today for the STEAM jobs of tomorrow is essential. Activities that focus on STEAM help children learn through trial and error, experimenting and problem solving. STEAM begins at home by pointing out how and why things in our everyday lives work. An acorn falls? It fell due to gravity. Families can also focus on activities that focus on one of the five disciplines of STEAM. Gardening, building forts, mixing paint colors, filling different sized containers and making a ramp to race play cars are a few examples. Parents can also encourage problem solving by asking questions such as, “What are you working on?” “What do you think will happen?” and “What else could you try?” Educators promote STEAM learning into the classroom by providing open-ended questions and allowing students the time and materials to solve them. The Christ School’s first graders chose an animal to research. In addition, they were asked to create a structure that would provide shade for their animal. Using their research about the animal’s characteristics and habitat, the students designed, measured, built, experimented, revised and re-built their structures until they provided shade for a clay replica of their animal. When STEAM education is in place, children learn to question like a scientist, design like a technologist, build like an engineer, create like an artist, and deduce like a mathematician!

Developing a Growth Mindset

By Aaron Farrant, Head of School, The Christ School

Developing a Growth MindsetAt The Christ School we are committed to developing great learners. One of the primary attributes of great learners is that they have a growth mindset. So many people are quick to say they cannot do something or they lack the natural innate ability to be successful in different areas of their lives. As an educator, I see this in children all the time. Children will say they aren’t smart, or they “just aren’t good at math”. The truth is no one knows what a child can accomplish with the proper training, strategies, and effort. Despite this truth, children and adults often identify areas where a child does not start off strong and prematurely decide the child cannot or will not be successful in that area.

Here at The Christ School we reject that idea. There are too many cases in which people struggled at first, but after time and effort they excelled. In fact, struggle is the way people learn best. When we try something new there are usually high levels of failure and only after we keep working and trying do we become proficient and begin to experience sustained success.

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Helping your child enjoy reading

A love for reading enriches lives in many ways; learning new things, facts about a favorite subject, gaining knowledge to enhance a craft, and even developing new interests. How can you encourage a love for reading in your child? Amanda Gordon, Curriculum Specialist at The Christ School, offers tips for parents to encourage a love of reading.

  • Helping your child enjoy readingRead to your young child often. When your child can read on their own, take turns reading the chapters.
  • Talk about the books together. Go to the bookstore or library and pick out books together – make it a fun activity!
  • Reading doesn’t always mean reading a novel. Maybe your child enjoys reading a certain type of magazine; this is still reading! If your child loves cartoons, you can introduce stories like Captain Underpants or Dogman. If they find a silly story on the back of a cereal box, let them read it. Let your child who likes putting things together read the user’s manual. Anything with words can be reading content, even street signs!
  • Give books as gifts. Find fun books about topics that interest your child, and share your excitement about the gift.
  • Research movies that are based on books. Have the child read the book first, and as a reward, take your child to the movie.
  • If a child is reading a book that is too difficult or boring, let him or her quit reading it and find something new. Reading shouldn’t be a chore. If you are forcing children to read something they don’t enjoy, they won’t enjoy reading. Don’t feel like your child has to read to the end of the book “just because.”

What if your older child hasn’t caught the reading bug? How can you encourage a love of reading at this stage?

  • Ask your older child to pick out a book and read it to younger siblings. By choosing the book, he or she will be interested in reading it.

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