WHPS Blog

Semi-Virtual Graduation

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

If you have never been to graduation at WHPS, you are missing out. I have not seen an elementary school experience quite like it. We feel very strongly that every student's voice matters and that they have something important to say that we all need to hear. If we don’t give students that opportunity now (in elementary school), how can we expect them to speak out as they get older? As we reminded our graduates last night, the older they get, the more serious the consequences can be if they don’t speak up when something doesn’t seem right. 

It's impossible not to think about the world these young people are going into and the current local and global events we are all facing together. What I do know about this outstanding group of students is that they fill us with hope for a brighter future. These students: Are passionate in many different areas, they know that their voice matters, they are goal oriented, and they speak up for other people when something isn’t right. We love and admire these graduates, and we are honored to have been an integral part of their development

Meet the Graduates

If you have ever wondered what a WHPS student is all about, I encourage you to check out this year's speeches. 

The Drone

We hosted this year's event semi-virtually.  We were all live in the school parking lot, but due to physical distancing requirements, students each gave their speeches on the big video screen (see speeches above). For non-touch diploma delivery, we flew each student their diploma on a drone. Check out one of the diplomas taking off, en route to a graduate.

Teaching Kids to Confront Racism

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

This has been a heavy-hearted and difficult time in our city and across the country. We stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters and the fight for equality, and we unequivocally denounce the senseless killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others as a result of the persistent structural racism against African Americans in our country. It is a gut-wrenching but important time to be talking with children about racism (anti-racism), bias and advocacy.

Some tips for talking to children about the recent events:

  • First and foremost, a rule of thumb for parents and teachers when discussing any mature topic, whether it has to do with racism, school safety or puberty, is to follow the child’s lead.

  • Don’t avoid talking to your child about what happened. If you avoid the topic, your child may find the event even more threatening or think it is simply too horrible to speak about (and even if it is, we NEED to talk about it in order to confront it).

  • Invite your child to tell you how s/he feels, but avoid leading questions, such as “Are you worried about ______________?”

  • Answer the questions they’re asking honestly but reassuringly, but don’t delve deeper into the topic than they take it. Give children the facts they need to know now, but avoid discussing your fears or anxiety.

  • Correct any inaccurate information: If your child has misconceptions or inaccurate information, correct them in a simple age-appropriate way.

  • Reinforcing safety is important with very young children.

  • Stay calm and use “emotional self-control” when talking about this topic. The emotions you express will influence your child’s feelings.

  • Focus on ways your child/family can take positive social action.

Below are just a few resources parents may find helpful. Let us be clear, we are not sharing these links and resources to point out how much we have already done, but rather to acknowledge the amount of work that likely won’t be finished in our own lifetime. We are committed to advancing anti-bias education and working with our community to address inequities that have persisted in our country for far too long.

No Quid Pro Quo (Kids)!

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Intrinsic Motivation
When Rewards Can be a Bad Thing

Experiences from age 0-8 influence how kids will think for the rest of their life. No one wants to raise an adult who will always think: “What’s in it for me?” when confronted with a task or responsibility. But you might be surprised to know that some commonly used discipline and “positive reinforcement” strategies can actually contribute to this kind of mindset. 

Here are a few suggestions that can help ensure we are building up intrinsic motivation and not a “What’s in it for me?” mindset in our children. 

Avoid Rewards, Incentives & Bribes
One strategy to keep in mind is to avoid giving children a reward for doing something that is a basic expectation: going to school, separating without tears in the morning, putting dishes in the sink, getting a good grade, doing homework, reading, etc. These kinds of rewards often influence a child’s behavior in the short term but don’t promote intrinsic motivation. 

Rather than giving rewards, we strive to give children words to tell them exactly what behavior is working and why. 

  • You put your toys back in their spots so they won't get broken or lost. 
  • You put your book back in the right bin so we can find it next time. 
  • You put your blanket in your nap bag so it will be there when you need it tomorrow.
  • I saw you get out your homework and get started so you will have time to play later. 

Emphasize how they might feel over your own approval. 

  • You worked really hard on the art project. 
    • Instead of: I am so proud of you.
    • Try: I bet you feel proud.
  • You remembered to put your dishes in the sink without being asked today. 
    • Instead of: I love that you did that. 
    • Try: That’s really responsible. 

Please & Thank You
While important aspects of politeness, the words "please" and "thank you" suggest that an action was optional. Responsive Classroom reminds teachers to avoid thanking children when they do something that is a basic expectation: Lining up quietly, putting our supplies away, cleaning up the lunch tables. Just like the prior examples, the ideal response reinforces the behavior that is working and why. 

  • Instead of: Thank you for pushing in your chairs.
  • We might say:
    • You remembered to push in chairs so no one will trip.
    • Let’s go back and try that, remembering to push in chairs so no one will trip.

Similarly, at home, you can try "noticing" and remarking about the desired behavior without the "please" or "thank you," if the behavior is an expectation, as opposed to a personal favor. 

That's not to say you can never say "please" or "thank you."  They still very much have a place in the lexicon, but they can be used more appropriately if the child does you a favor or a gesture of kindness. For example, "Thank you for grabbing me a tissue when I sneezed" or "thank you for holding the door".

Finally: I noticed you read through the entire article and learned a bit more on how to help build intrinsic motivation.

A Different Take on Empathy

Written by Dr. Tracy Ewing, Preschool Director (Oxnard St. Campus) on .

"How would you like it if someone did that to you?"
"Say sorry" ...after they’ve hurt a friend

While very common, these are actually not developmentally appropriate for most preschool children."

Find out why below!

One goal we have at WHPS is to support young children’s social and emotional development. An area that is particularly important during the preschool years is empathy. Parents and educators agree that we want children to be empathetic and caring individuals. Understanding how children’s minds develop can help us improve the way in which we teach our little ones to be more kind and empathetic.

Three Aspects of Empathy
Empathy actually encompasses three distinct aspects: Emotional Sharing, Empathic Concern, and Perspective-Taking.

  • Emotional Sharing - “Occurs when we experience feelings of distress as a result of observing distress in another individual.” For example, your child who was perfectly fine before may begin to cry upon witnessing another child crying. This is commonly seen during preschool drop-off.

  • Empathic Concern - “The motivation to care for individuals who are vulnerable or distressed.” This is the aspect of empathy we most often think of, and we see this in preschoolers when one child tries to comfort a crying friend by offering a tissue, a toy, or a hug.

  • Perspective Taking - "The ability to consciously put oneself in the mind of another individual and imagine what that person is thinking or feeling."

You can think of these as stages of empathy development. It starts with Emotional Sharing. As young children have opportunities to practice, they develop Empathic Concern. The last aspect to develop, Perspective Taking, is the hardest for children (and some adults too). Developmentally, many preschool children may not yet have the ability to truly take another’s perspective.

Theory of Mind & Perspective-Taking
Researchers have conducted a variety of experiments to better understand when and how children can understand other people’s mental states (theory of mind). “Theory of mind is the ability to recognize and attribute mental states—thoughts, perceptions, desires, intentions, feelings—to oneself and to others and to understand how these mental states might affect behavior. It is also an understanding that others have beliefs, thought processes and emotions completely separate from our own” (Pedersen, 2018). Children younger than approximately four years old are typically unable to understand perspectives separate from their own and the majority will not pass a simple false-belief task, which is designed to test how well a child can reason about other people’s thinking.

Instead of: “How would you like it..”
Have you ever asked your child: "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" Or asked them to say sorry after they’ve hurt a friend? While very common, as you can see, this is actually not developmentally appropriate for most preschool children. There are some specific things parents and teachers say and do to give children the opportunities they need to practice and develop these skills.

Tips for Parents and Teachers from (Teaching empathy: Evidence-based tips for fostering empathy in children):

  • If you observe someone in distress (in real life, on TV, or in a book), talk with your child about how that person must feel (Pizarro and Salovey 2002). Even a very brief conversation might have an effect.
  • One of the best ways to encourage empathy is to make children conscious of what they have in common with others.
  • Another is to get out and meet people from different backgrounds, and learn about what life is like in far away places.
  • Conversations are helpful, but it's worth remembering that kids are heavily influenced by what we actually do, and less by what we say. Decades of research indicates that one of the biggest predictors of racial prejudice—and a failure to empathize with members of other groups—is having little or no contact with people who aren't like you. Moreover, this enhanced empathy is linked with increased happiness and scholastic achievement (Le et. al 2009; Chang and Le 2011).
  • Fictional stories and real-life narratives offer excellent opportunities for teaching empathy and sharpening a child's perspective-taking skills. What do the characters think, believe, want, or feel? And how do we know it? When we actively discuss these questions, kids may learn a lot about the way other people’s minds work (Dunn et. al 2001).
  • Other research has shown that kids are more likely to develop an internal sense of right and wrong if their parents use inductive discipline—an approach that emphasizes rational explanations and moral consequences, not arbitrary rules and heavy-handed punishments.

Signs of Giftedness in Preschool Children

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Image result for giftedness 

Knowing a large segment of our school population is identified as gifted, parents often come in with questions about young children:

  • How do you know if a preschooler might be gifted?
  • When should we pursue any testing (or is testing even important)?
  • How do we meet the needs of gifted learners in the preschool setting?
  • Is there something we should be doing outside of school to meet my child's needs?
  • Should we see if my child is ready for TK?

I am always happy to discuss your child's individual learning profile and to help guide you on whether any kind of outside assessment or program modifications are warranted. And, some of your questions may be answered in our January Giftedness 101 workshop. However, here are some possible signs of giftedness in young children.


When very young children demonstrate precocious behaviors, such as seeming to understand words and adult conversations that are beyond their years, or strong interest in things and topics that generally interest older children, this can be a sign a child might be gifted. Below are some characteristics that can be signs of giftedness in very young children. The earlier any of the behaviors are exhibited, the more likely the child may be highly to exceptionally gifted. These lists are merely guidelines; not all behaviors need to be present to indicate probable gifted-level intellect.

Birth to 4 months

  • Makes eye contact soon after birth and continues this interaction and awareness of others
  • Makes eye contact while nursing
  • Does not like to be left in infant seat
  • Almost always wants someone in the room interacting with him or her
  • Very alert; others notice and comment

4 months to one year

  • Seldom “mouths” toys
  • Shows purpose with toys, seldom destructive or arbitrary
  • Pays attention when read to or watching TV
  • Plays pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo
  • Waves bye-bye, says ma-ma, da-da, and bye-bye
  • Follows directions, doesn’t miss a thing, knows what’s next in routine

One year to 18 months

  • Obvious interest in competence; has “fits” when not permitted to do it himself (or herself)
  • Long attention span
  • Obvious interest in letters, numbers, books, and talking
  • Surprisingly good eye-hand coordination for shape sorters, putting things in and taking things out
  • Uses puzzles and toys that are beyond stated age level
  • Does not chew on or tear books
  • Tries hard to please; feelings easily hurt

18 months to 2 years

  • Talking, clear understanding of others’ talk
  • Knows many letters, colors, and numbers. The brightest gifted children often know how to count and organize by quantities, know many colors and shades, and know the alphabet in order or isolation. This is at their insistence, not parental drill.
  • Tenacity; needs to do it own way and not done until they are done
  • Not easily distracted from what they want to do; don’t even try tricking them with distraction
  • Can sing a song with you, knows all the words and melody
  • Clearly exhibits a sense of humor beyond typical “bathroom humor”
  • Although active, activity is usually very purposeful and important to the child
  • Interested in activities, machinery, and implements that are complex and maybe delicate, e.g., CD player, computer. Can handle them well, if allowed.
  • Bossy; quickly loses interest in any children who cannot do what they want to do.
  • Grandparents or other family members may have started to complain that your child is willful and perhaps spoiled
  • Draws and identifies what they’ve drawn
  • Stacks block towers of 6 blocks or more
  • Recognizes basic shapes and pointing them out elsewhere
  • Notices beauty in nature
  • Pays attention to the feelings of others
  • Needs to know “why” before complying

Two to three years

  • Excellent attention for favorite TV or videos
  • Shows tremendous interest in printing letters and numbers
  • Will catch your mistakes, hold you to your word, and not forget promises or changes of plans.
  • Frustrated with own lack of ability, seems to obsess on some things
  • People outside the family start to comment on how smart your child is
  • Has trouble playing with other children same age, prefers adults or much older children but is not a lot of fun for them because child is still too immature
  • Throws fits or tantrums especially when thwarted in doing something his or her own way to completion
  • Can play with games, puzzles, and toys that state an age range twice their own or more
  • Early reading, e.g. know most store and street signs, recognize many names, labels and words in print
  • Most tantrums precipitated by lack of adult respect or understanding; child is more likely to cooperate than simply comply with adult demands
  • Highly competitive

Three to four years

  • Highly inquisitive
  • Highly talkative
  • Increasing interest in books and reading and finding answers there
  • Loves to debate and reason and argue
  • Can do many things on the computer
  • May become fearful of what they don’t understand, tend to think ahead and worry
  • Show interest in how and why; ask questions and listen to answers unlike most age-mates
  • Interested in strategy and application of rules; dismissive and annoyed at others who don’t “get it”
  • Bossy
  • Creative
  • Cleverly manipulative
  • Perfectionistic, even obsessive about developing own skills

Four to five years

  • Many start reading simple books then chapter books almost spontaneously before they are five
  • Interested in mature subjects but can be frightened by their own lack of perspective (e.g., natural disasters are both fascinating and frightening)
  • Intuitive grasp of numerical concepts and mathematic reasoning; many can effectively compete with older children and adults in board and card games
  • May start to question the meaning of life, their own worth, etc.
  • Huge vocabulary, huge memory for facts, events, and information
  • Increasingly facility with computers and keyboarding, video games
  • Obvious abstract reasoning ability, love of concepts and theorizing; philosophical and speculative
  • Great need to engage others in meaningful and intelligent conversation about the things that interest them (the children, not necessarily the adults)

Summary: Gifted preschool children tend to initiate their own learning. In fact, their curiosity is one hallmark of their high intelligence. Although strong parental or preschool involvement and instruction can support any child’s acquisition of academic skills, gifted children will gain those skills at a noticeably faster rate than typically developing children. 

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