Category: Ask Natacha

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Ask Natacha: Temper Tantrums

cefa™ parent says, September 3, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Dear Ms. Beim,

Firstly, thank you so much for the wonderful program that my daughter enjoys so    much at cefa™! We love the school, and the teachers and staff are so wonderful!

My daughter is two years old, and my question is: How do we avoid temper tantrums when they come?

Dear cefa parent:

Thank you for your question, and I am so glad that you are enjoying your time at cefa™!

Firstly, to learn to avoid temper tantrums, we need to understand why they happen. Normally, these occur at a time when your daughter is not fully able to express her emotions, or know how to “deal” with them. She is going through a great deal of changes, and learning to be herself, independently from you. There are also hormonal changes happening at that time, and it is one of the times when you child will most need your support and understanding.

As embarrassing and inopportune as these are when they happen, they are normal, and despite your best efforts, will happen sometimes. The first thing to do to avoid them is to avoid any situations that may trigger a tantrum:

– taking your daughter to the supermarket or somewhere very busy when she is too tired to help you or you are in too much of a hurry to let her experience it at her own pace.

– running errands or shopping for extended periods of time, where your daughter has to follow you and stay close to you at all times, and has nothing interesting to do in the meantime.

– taking your child anywhere when she is in need of a nap first.

It seems very simplistic, but there is not much to it. All you need to do is stay in tune with your child and her needs (which may not be the same from one week to the next – that is how fast children grow!) and avoid situations where you have to say “no”. Instead, try saying “yes” and tell them when. This avoids many conflicts, and is so easy to do! For example: “mommy, can I have a piece of cake?” “of course you can! let’s save it for you so you can have it as soon as we have our dinner!”. Most children will not be upset by this because you have said yes, and the timeline is logical. If they do oppose, or ask you to have it right now, still show them empathy, but always stay consistent with your answer: “I know it is very tempting to have it now, it looks so good, doesn’t it? The thing with sweet things is that they trick your tummy into thinking that it’s full, and they won’t let you eat your dinner, which you need! What we eat at dinner is what feeds our muscles and our body, and what we need to keep growing and stay healthy. Cake won’t help you grow, but it’s ok to have it sometimes. We just have to make sure that we have it at the right time so it doesn’t trick us! If we eat something sweet and nothing good beforehand, we have a tummy ache, but if we eat it after dinner, it won’t. Now i know you really want to have this cake as soon as possible, what could we do to make this happen?” and help your child think of a solution. Perhaps she will help you prepare dinner so it can be served earlier!

The secret to avoiding temper tantrums is keeping your child in control of her own decisions as much as possible. This can only be done if you take the time to explain the reasons behind your own decision, and give her room to present you with a good alternative if there is one. This is very different from giving in to your child’s tantrum, which you should not do since it will give her the message that as long as she screams long enough, she will get her way. This means that, like in the example above, she knows why you responded as you did (you gave her valid reasons that she can understand), and she knows you trust her to come up with an alternative solution, and that you will consider that solution when presented to you. Many parents rush the process by saying “no”, but there is so much to gain by helping them problem-solve!

Now, if your child is having a temper tantrum, the only thing to do is to get down to her level and hold her until it subsides, letting her know that you are there for her. Remember that it is not something that she can control once it happens, and the worst thing to do is to get angry at her (which means she can’t count on you in her times of need) or give in (which will encourage her to have a tantrum in the future when she wants something). As embarrassing as it may be, drop what you are doing and help her calm herself. If you can, go somewhere quiet.

I will be happy to help you come up with alternatives if you write specific examples as well. There is so much to be gained from helping our children find solutions to their problems, and it is a skill they must learn. Remember, just find a way to say no by saying yes!

Vancouver Parent Says, September 3, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Hello Natacha,
What is the difference between daycare and junior kindergarten?
Parent of 3 children

Hello! Thank you for your question!

The difference is exactly the same as grade 5 compared to after school care. In Junior Kindergarten (like in elementary school), you learn reading, writing, math, science an much more, whereas in daycare (like in after school care) you can play and participate in activities, but there is not a curriculum that teachers have to follow, or activities they must present. For the same reason that no parent would choose to leave their child in after school care all day instead of having them attend school, no parent should choose a less stimulating program for their young child, given the choice.

By age 6, the child’s brain is fully formed. It is very important that you choose a program that is designed to stimulate brain development at this crucial stage. This does not mean starting worksheets or algebra, it means having teachers trained to recognize the developmental level of each individual child, and presenting activities that are rich in content and that meet the child at that level of development.

At Core Education & Fine Arts, out Teachers have experience and training as Early Childhood Educators, but they also have an additional year of training as junior kindergarten teachers, that allows them to present more complex activities for reading, writing, math and sciences, as well as for art, dance, drama and other essential elements of a balanced education.

Most other countries in the world have 3 years of kindergarten before children start school. Canada and the United States don’t and it is, in my opinion, an incredible disadvantage. Children really want to learn and explore, and I think many parents fear it will be too strict, or too soon, but if you walk into one of our school, you will see that there is nothing strict about our educational method. We inspire children to develop their reasoning skills, to learn, to question things, to come up with projects, to contribute to society, and in the process, they learn to read and write (if and when they are ready). If you have not already done so, I really encourage you to visit our junior kindergartens and see for yourself the difference it makes to stimulate children earlier.

The Canadian Government is now saying that Junior Kindergarten is very important, and it really is. We have known that for years, and have made it happen for thousands of BC children, all of which are doing well at school now. To educate your children during the most crucial developmental period of their lives will be one of the most important decisions we will make for them, and one that will affect them for the rest of their lives. I strongly encourage every parent to at least visit a junior kindergarten before they decide.

Single Mother 2 Children Says, September 3, 2009 at 10:35 pm

What advantages are there to young children being away from there parents at such a young age?

Well, there is more than one thing to consider when answering this question. Firstly, no one will deny the importance of a strong bond between a child and his family, and this requires time and commitment as a parent. The time a child will spend with his parents is irreplaceable. Once you have decided to become a parent, you must make sure that you make all the sacrifices necessary. This means making sure that you have time each day to spend with your child, to play, to chat, to hug, to listen. No one else should be doing this for you.
This does not mean, however, that some time away from the family unit to explore a wonderful universe with children their age, volcanoes that explode in front of their eyes, puppets that come alive, songs they have never heard before, games they can play with friends, squishy paint between their toes and on their bellies, sand and water play, new toys, and other children’s laughter, is not beneficial: It is.

When children go to “school”, they are offered many new possibilities that a home environment cannot always offer, and they are learning from other children as well, which they can’t do in the same way at home, or by going to the park, where there is not such a strong bond since the “group” is seldom the same. Children are exposed to so much when the program is good, that if balanced with a healthy family life, is incredibly beneficial.

I am an elementary school teacher, specialized in junior kindergarten. Before I started cefa, I did not have children. I had taught young children and seen how much they enjoyed a good program, and how deep the friendships formed could be. I remember thinking at that time, that although, as a teacher, I was perfectly capable to give my children (when I had them) all the necessary early education I had seen other children benefit from, there was no question in my mind that having them experience those skills with other children was much more beneficial to them than what I alone could give them, even if my entire day was dedicated to my children. It was then that I decided to open my own school. I was married shortly after that, and had two beautiful children who went to cefa 5 days a week. To this day (and they are now 7 and 10), they remember their school very fondly, and wish they could still be at cefa today. They talk to their new friends about it, and they still have many “best” friends the met when they were 2 years old, at school.

As a mother or father, the important thing to remember is to make time each and every day to connect with your children. To be there for them, share their successes and their sad days when there are some, help them grow, play games, listen to them, and share your life with them as well. If you are doing this, I think you will find that there is still time in that day to have them enjoy school with a group of friends their age. If you choose the right program, this time “away” from you will be extremely beneficial to them (and to you!). They will learn to learn from other people and other environments, they will form their own personality and not be as dependent on you when making decisions, and they will learn to bond with others (adults and children) as they have bonded with you. The advantages are many, and they will also be more prepared when entering elementary school, as they will have learned to socialize in a different setting than home, and to work with teachers and peers.

I believe that some time away from their parents will benefit children greatly if spent in the right environment, and even enhance their development. You do not have to start them when they are so young, you can wait until you both feel comfortable, or you can choose a program where you can attend two or three days a week (this is why at cefa we offer part-time programs as well), but I would definitely recommend that you have them experience the great benefits of early learning away from home, before they start kindergarten :)

Suzanne Says, September 4, 2009 at 3:04 pm

My husband and I are very interested in the cefa program. However, the cost of your program is markedly higher than daycare and frankly, higher than we can afford. Is your market upper middle class only?

Dear Suzanne,

Thank you for your candid feedback. We definitely want to offer junior kindergarten education to all children, and are working with the government to make it happen (which is not a fast process :)

The reason for our fees is that our schools do not receive any funding in order to operate, which means that parents, through their tuition fees, pay for everything. Most of our money goes to pay our teachers, our rent, and to purchase the material we need in order to provide a program of this calibre. We have tried very hard to keep our tuition as low as possible, and always try to find better ways to make it happen. All this being said, we are still much less expensive than a nanny, and less expensive also than a pre-school if you compare on a per-hour basis (2 hours at cefa versus 2 hours at a pre-school). Your average daycare, which has no educational component but has long hours, costs between $700 and $1,300 monthly. Although we are not a daycare, we do offer an all-day program with nutritious food, field trips and co-curricular activities included in the tuition price, for $1,245 per month.

Unlike many other programs, we have to pay for our own rent (and rent in BC is extremely costly), and we do not receive funding to pay our staff. I believe in our program, and I would not offer any less to young children. I think that we as parents and educators must work together to ensure that every child in Canada has access to a stimulating program. I am doing it one school at a time, but it is my hope that one day soon, the government will provide it for all children equally.

I encourage you to voice your opinion, and together, we will make it happen!

Tara Weiser mommy of 3 Says, September 6, 2009
What is the difference between Montossori and cefa?

Hello Tara!

This is a question we get asked all the time! Both Montessori and cefa are methodologies that aim to stimulate the child’s development by working with  specific curriculum. However, although cefa has taken the best of the Montessori curriculum and incorporated it into its own, cefa goes beyond the strict Montessori guidelines to offer a curriculum that better reflect the needs of our children and the realities of our school system today. For a better comparison, you can refer to the chart incorporated here:


6. Lan Parker, ECE graduate Says:
September 10, 2009 at 4:13 am | Reply   edit

Hello Natacha,

I have heard much about your schools over the last few months.  would hope that you please take the time answer the following questions as a potential teacher I would like to know as I’m sure other individuals in my position would.

I’m curious to know how the training of the teachers are any different if at all then any other school? What credentials does one need to be a teacher at Core Education? What training have you yourself received?

Hello Lan!

Firstly, thank you so much for your interest in our program!

Our one year training program is taken in addition to your Early Childhood Education certification, and teaches you to become a Junior Kindergarten Teacher basically: It teaches you why it is important to teach a child to read earlier, how to teach it, what type of literature is recommended, how to set up your class library and your at home reading program (for your students), and it does the same for reading (what is important to develop in a child as pre-writing skills, from babies to 5 or 6 year olds, how to set up and create material and games to make it happen without resorting to worksheets, etc. For math, we explain what is important about math (which is not necessarily what they learn but how they come to that understanding), what to have in your curriculum, etc. We do the same for science, art, culture immersion, yoga, etc. We also teach you to contribute to a shared curriculum and to create your own games, projects and materials, but more importantly, how to observe, document and teach intuitively, rather than how to use a specific set of material. We teach you to create a harmonious environment with very few and very diluted transitions, and to introduce the children to the wonderful world around us :)

I am an elementary school teacher myself, specialized in Junior Kindergarten Education. I have taught for the French system of education, but I have also developed a methodology that embraces early learning teaching objectives and respects the child and his/her process of discovering knowledge. I have also studied early learning, psychology and development. I am still studying and researching each week, as well as visiting other programs in their countries of origin (such as Reggio Emilia for instance). We aim to provide a program of international standards, and inspire educators worldwide to challenge their perceptions on early learning and work collaboratively in creating an incredible program for our young children.

Thank you again Lan for taking the time to ask such insightful questions!

Many thanks to everyone who submitted questions to Ask Natacha! We hope you all enjoyed the answers as much as we’ve enjoyed reading your questions. Keep an eye out for the next round of Ask Natacha!

Ask Natacha: Toys and TV Shows

Jean says,Submitted on 2009/10/16 at 3:48am
Hello what kind of toys and tv shows do you suggest to show your children?

Hi Jean!
It is a very good question! And very difficult to answer concisely as well!
Depending on the age of the child, the toys I would recommend are toys that either:
– allow them to use their imagination as much as possible (role-paying, for instance, where they can use the toy to create a “story around what the toy is doing, or what they are doing with the toy) – a good example of this is playing house, or playing with characters (dolls, playmobil, trains, cars), and dress-up games in general.
– allow them to develop physically (for this, there is nothing better than a good visit to the park, but you can also have a good assortment of indoor games that are physically challenging, like soft indoor-safe balls of different sizes, and other typically considered outdoor games but really good for inside as well – like golf, basket ball, etc. I know that these typically scare parents when I suggest them as indoor games, but there are so many smaller and softer versions of these games made these days that they can safely be used indoors. Especially in the winter time, it is important to provide our children with toys that encourage them to be active even when outside is too rainy or too cold. My seven year old son’s favourite game indoors is still “balloon badminton”, where we play with small badminton rackets and a balloon. It is easier for younger children because the balloon is lighter and therefore much slower than a regular ball, which is perfect for their developing hand-eye co-ordination skills. He also invented “solo ping-pong”: He plays ping-pong at the bottom of the stairs leading to our bedroom, by hitting the ball with his ping-pong racket and having the stairs be his partner as the ball bounces from the different steps at different speeds!
– Puzzles are very good for everything from reading to reasoning, so if your child likes those, I strongly recommend them! Choose good puzzles (like Melissa and Doug), because when they are poorly designed, the pieces do not fit easily and it becomes frustrating for a young child.
– Lego is one of my all-time favourites for boys and girls, because it is like all of the games above, combined! There are so many benefits to this game, and it lasts for years and years! They even have legos for babies, which are soft, coloured and scented! they are not from lego, they are from a company called “gumi”, and available in most good toy stores.
– any games or activities where the children can use their fine-motor skills and creative skills as well: beading, lacing, cutting, crumpling, knitting, sewing, etc. Don’t be afraid of these, they just need a little supervision but are great for young children. The perfect activity to do with parents!
– If you can, have an art table or corner at home, where they have appealing coloured pencils, crayola, scissors, glue, paper of different kind, scraps of fabric or interesting materials, including natural things that you pick up during an outdoor walk… Have a look at a cefa classroom’s art table for inspiration!
– Many many books, puppets, felt stories (you can make these together from your child’s favourite books), and a cozy, quiet and well-light corner where your child will love to read! You can have a weekly trip to the library and choose books together!
– Board games (there are many “junior” versions of our favourite games available now).
– Basically any game or activity that inspires your child to think, be creative, and be happy. A good rule of thumb, when they want a toy, is to ask them (and yourself): “how would you play with this?” If they have an endless amount of ideas for all the wonderful things they could do with the new toy (if they can imagine, build, share with you, share with friends, etc.), chances are, it is a good choice. If it is violent, sends the wrong message, or simply does not have many uses (ex: one more teddy bear to add to an already growing collection), unless your child is enamoured with it, I would suggest you “realize” together that the new toy does not offer that many possibilities. Then, you will see that your own children will become experts at choosing!
– As far as television, you do not need it. If you really want to, then take the time to watch a movie together instead (a good, inspiring children’s movie), or choose shows that are not aggressive in nature. Good choices would be Sesame Street, Toopy and Binoo, Pocoyo, the Magic School Bus, and even Scooby-Doo, Dora the Explorer, Diego, and shows that help children discover the world and treat our little ones with the respect they deserve (in other words, they do not underestimate their potential, as is often the case).
Thanks again for your question, Jean. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, so if you would like more details, please do write again!


joss.r. says Submitted on 2009/10/22 at 10:18pm
Hello There,
Are you yourself a teacher? What is your background? What are some of the hardest things you have had to deal with as a teacher and as a mom?

Hello Joss!

Thank you for your question. Yes, I am an elementary school teacher, specialized in junior kindergarten. I also have spent the last 20 years (and here I am dating myself!) studying and researching early learning, child development, and different methodologies. I went back to school also to study developmental neuroscience and psychology, to better understand how we learn, from a biological point of view. I think there is so much to learn still in this field, for instance: Are we sure that the way we are teaching our children in schools is the right way to teach? In my opinion, elementary schools should have a more integrated and participative system, where children forge their own knowledge, much like we do in the early years! I still have many years to go, and hope to contribute much more in the topic of learning (especially early learning) and developmental psychology. It fascinates me!
I have always found it very natural to be a teacher, and to be a mom. I felt very prepared for both, although no matter how much you read and study, you never are prepared enough!
As a Teacher, the hardest thing for me was to learn to slow down, and know that no matter how many things you want to bring to class that day, and no matter how hard you worked on them for the children, you have to wait until the time is right. Being in the classroom, I learned, is a relationship between you and the children, and they may have other intentions for that day. It is really difficult to be a really good teacher, because you must always intuitively work with each child individually, and at the same time, fulfill the goals you have in your curriculum. I learned that it is better to think of those goals as weekly, monthly and yearly goals, rather than daily.
As a mother, I remember asking myself if I was doing the right thing by not staying at home full-time with my children. I knew that I wanted them to be exposed to the wonderful world a school has to offer, but I wondered many times if the time I spent with my sons was enough each day. I have always made time each day for my children and my husband, and I have come to realize with time, that the important thing is to spend valuable time with your family. They need time to socialize with friends also, and to have a fruitful life outside the family “nest”. Going to cefa as children is something they still talk about, even with their friends, and that tells me I did the right thing. We are very close with our children, and I think that although it was difficult to “fit it all in” -a career, children, a wonderful husband, a loving family and great friends- it was only difficult for me, during the first few years. Now I find it easier. I have had the fortune of working at cefa while my children attended, and to be able to stay home when they were sick (which is not easy to do with a different kind of work), or to take one of them for a special lunch together, or a special day from time to time. After work, my husband and I would take turns cooking and playing with the children, and we spent all the time we had with them, until they went to bed. Now, I make sure I am home by the time they return from school at 3:30, and if I have to work longer, I work after they have gone to bed. I know it is harder to work and to be the kind of mother that I want to be, but it is definitely worth it for me. I feel I need to contribute to our society, and I find that I can do it and be a wonderful mom. But there is no doubt about it, it is so much harder to be a mother now than it was a few years back!

Thanks Joss!

holden says,Submitted on 2009/11/18 at 9:59pm
Hi Natacha,
I am trying to understand the “official” terminology and concepts of child education in the province. Could you help me please?
1. What is a preschool? (and is the concept of preschool recognized in the whole country or just in the province?)
2. What is a Junior Kindergarten? And what is just a Kindergarten?
3. What is the difference between a Junior Kindergarten a Kindergarten and a Preschool?
4. Is the concept of Junior Kindergarten recognized in the country or/and the province?

Thank you for your help

Hi Holden!

Thank you so much for all of your great questions! A pre-school is a program of 4 hours or less (most are 2.5 hours) that is more “educational” in nature than a daycare. For example, they might teach colors for mathematics, shapes, etc. They also do crafts, art projects, etc. There is no difference in the training of a pre-school educator or a daycare educator, they both have the early childhood education training. This is a program recognized in all of Canada, although some of the licensing rules around it might be different, depending on the province.The ratio is also higher than a dayare ratio, allowing for 20 children in a room, with 2 ECE (ratio of 1 teacher to 10 children)There is no nation-wide or even pre-school-wide curriculum for pre-schools. What they teach, how they teach and even if they teach at all, is left entirely at the responsibility of the owner of the pre-school.
Also, because the hours are much much shorter than that of daycares, pre-schools have much more relaxed regulations, especially around outdoor space, nap and meal spaces, etc. Another important aspect is that pre-school children must be between three and five years of age, and potty trained :)

The difference between a Kindergarten class and a Junior Kindergarten class in Canada is this: Kindergarten starts at age 5, and is part of our school programs (and the responsibility of the Ministry of Education), whereas a Junior Kindergarten IN CANADA is not recognized as part of the school system. Therefore, it does not fall under the Ministry of Education. Instead, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. In most other countries, there are 2 or 3 years of kindergarten before grade 1, and that is what we call “Junior Kindergarten”. It simply means kindergarten for juniors, or younger children.

The difference between the first two is explained above: A Junior Kindergarten is simply a kindergarten but for younger children. It has a curriculum, and expectations from Teachers. The difference between Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten is the same difference between, saw, grade 2 and grade 3.
At Core Education & Fine Arts, we have a curriculum for all 4 years, which the Teachers base their planning on (as they would in Kindergarten). As well, the Teachers have special training as Junior Kindergarten Teachers, which allows them to teach children to read, write, learn science, math and socials concepts, amongst many other things.
Pre-school children, as explained in your first question, do not have this special training above their ECE certificate.

Junior Kindergartens are recognized, and the BC Government wants to finally add “Junior Kindergarten” as part of our school system, but so far, there is no program in place for it. It is in a very preliminary stage. Core Education & Fine Arts has put together its own program, based on the highest standards for Junior Kindergarten around the world, and on research on early development and early learning.

I hope these answers were able to help you Holden, thanks again for your thoughtful questions.


Ask Natacha: CBC Documentary Response

North Vancouver Mother
Hello Natacha,
You have done a wonderful job with this school. I would like to know what we might expect to see with the documentary Hyper Parents? The title is concerning.

Dear North Vancouver mom,

Thank you for the compliment!  I have to agree with you, the title of the documentary is a tad worrisome! I had a long chat with the researchers while they were making the documentary, about the stress that was put on parents to sign up their children for so many after school activities, sports, music classes, etc.

When creating cefa, I wanted an environment where the child would be exposed to a spectrum of activities all in one nurturing environment, with the same group of friends and Teachers. I of course believe that all children MUST be exposed to a challenging, stimulating and creative environment during the brain’s most formative years. Ensuring that your child develops in this rich environment is not being a hyper-parent, it is being an intelligent parent. I see that most if not all of our cefa parents have a healthy relationship with their children, where they share stories about each-other’s experiences throughout the day, and they truly enjoy life, without worrying about their child being the next genius.

This entire two hour conversation was over the telephone, and was not videotaped. What was videotaped for the documentary was our graduation ceremony, an interview with me where I was asked to specifically reply to very streamlined questions, and several interviews with parents which proceeded in the same fashion. For the parents who are part of our cefa family, it is very clear that the graduation ceremony is not about prestige or about pretending to be at a university graduation. It is about celebrating a new start, and about embracing (rather than fearing) school life. Our graduation celebration is intended to close one chapter and send the children to the next chapter of their lives with their best foot forward. I stand behind it and would not change anything about it! Life should be celebrated!

I know that the researchers and I understood each-other very clearly, and shared our points of view with respect to parenting. My only hope is that the documentary was made in an ethical way, respecting my vision rather than distorting the facts to make it appear to be something that it is not. We will find out tomorrow (February 4th), and I will most certainly get back to you after seeing it, to give you my feedback!

Thank you for your question, I am glad I got to share my thoughts with you :)


Ask Natacha: Hyper Parenting and Coddled Kids

Julianna M
Hi There,
I was curious to know how you felt our schools were depicted in the documentary and what you felt about the documentary over all?

Hello Julianna!

Thank you for your question!

I had the opportunity to see the documentary, and I do think they have some valid points, but I think that the issue is not as simple as it is stated.  There are so many intertwining factors that contribute to today’s parenting behaviours, that simply calling it “overparenting” is, in a way, over-simplifying it.

I am a great believer in raising independent children, and the whole goal of our program at cefa is to give children the tools to think for themselves, to act intelligently and to learn to cooperate amongst them. I have yet to see a cefa parent “hover” over their child in the way described in the documentary. But I have seen many now that my children are in elementary school, especially during sports or other activities. I know of many parents whose children are “too busy” to play with friends during the week, and some are even too busy all the time, even on week-ends! How can one be too busy as a child? Why is soccer more important than friendship in a seven year old’s life? And why must we, as parents, sacrifice every hour of our day to drive our children from here to there? What happened to us contributing to society? There is a fine balance to be maintained, and I do agree, many parents have not stopped to think about whether or not doing what we call “the best we can” for our children is, in fact, the best for our children.

I do think that as parents we feel tremendous cultural pressure to keep our children busy in as many classes and after-school programs as possible, which in my opinion is counteractive to their development. Children need time to play with friends, to play alone, to think, all without an adult telling them how to do it. This is how we learn to think creatively, to solve problems, to enjoy life! Does this mean that children should stay at home until they are six? Absolutely not! Children crave socialization. Being in a stimulating, creative program that balances their ideas with those of the school, has little to do with over-parenting and over-preparing, and everything to do with providing your child with the environment they need while they are developing.

Having your child attend an enriching program during the day allows parents to have some time for themselves and for their own work. It helps the children understand that they are an invaluable part of their family, as are their parents. I think the problem is not whether or not we should provide opportunities for our children. The issue is recognizing those opportunities, and differentiating them from the other activities that fill our children’s days and robs them of their time to play. Do they need extra math classes after school? Like the documentary mentions, many children go to those math classes “just in case”, not because they truly need them. The purpose of homework (and here I am speaking as an elementary school teacher) is twofold:

– to see if outside of the classroom environment, the child is understanding the concepts taught in class; and

– to involve the child’s home (family) in the child’s school work – to keep us in the loop as parents.This means two things: 1) the child needs to think about the homework without the help of a one-on-one teacher (that way the Teacher can evaluate whether or not the concepts were well assimilated by the whole class); and 2) we need to be around when our children are doing their homework.

Not the nice lady from oxford: US – the moms and dads -. It is then that we can discuss the wonderful (or not so wonderful) things that happened at school that day, and it is then that we can proudly pass on to our children the right study habits, help them understand different concepts, and share our values as a family. Homework time should be quality time shared as a family, a great time to show our children that we care about them, about their work, about their assignments and their responsibilities. We do not need more school time for our children: we need to work with them, as their parents. This is much more valuable than the countless hours we spend “for them”, driving them from the homework program to the ballet class.The same goes for after-school activities: moderation is the key. Do they need to be in tennis 5 days a week at age 4? or do they simply want to “play” tennis here and there? I am not suggesting that we aim low as parents, I am simply saying that your child also needs free, unstructured time, which means that one or two extra activities are great, but when it consumes your child’s days, chances are, you are over-doing it.

We just have to remember that we are not “training” our children like we would an olympic athlete, we are supporting them in their development. It is difficult to explain the difference in this blog without writing pages and pages about it. The issue is not really that complicated, and it does deserve our attention as parents. I was thinking of hosting a parent night where we could all discuss the issues around parenting (and over-parenting!)
I will look into dates and keep you posted if this discussion interests you.

My apologies for this incomplete answer, and please feel free to ask for more details on things I may not have touched on…

Yours truly,


Ask Natacha: Finding the perfect school for your child

Christina Says:
May 7, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Reply edit

Hi Natacha,

During our introduction to CEFA, it was emphasized that it is not a play-based approach, so I was wondering what the official CEFA position/response is to the article you posted in the “Interesting News Links” on May 2nd:”Crisis in the Kindergarten: A New Report on the Disappearance of Play”? (


Thank you so much for asking the question! You are very right in saying that our program is not merely “play based”: It is not. But that is if you define “play -based: as it is generally defined (or at least interpreted by most) in Canada
-a time where the child engages in the act of play without any further stimulation or guidance. That, we have as well, but it does not fill our students’ entire day.

I would like to also argue that we are not a test-oriented, sit-behind-a-desk type of school either; on the contrary: our classrooms are filled with the happy voices of children collaborating, singing, playing, and being themselves. We simply offer our children an environment where they can play, discover, learn, and experiment with different mediums. They are learning all day, about math, about reading and writing, about dance and yoga and friendship and music, and they are constantly challenged to think further, to give more of themselves, and yes, they are introduced to  concepts, but the way we do it is with games, fun group activities, puppets, and many other tools. They are learning all day, but to them, they are playing, and this is what it should be like for children throughout pre-school and elementary school. It is very true, children should not be sitting behind desks all day, and our school system should change. What that articles says I fully agree with. But we are here to demonstrate that it IS possible for children to learn and to play at the same time. We must stop viewing “learning” and “playing” as two opposing forces: they should always go hand in hand.

At cefa, we focus on how to achieve both successfully, without compromising. Our children are delightfully engaged in a myriad of activities without ever feeling pressured or stressed. This is what every pre-school and elementary school should be doing for your child.


penelope Says:
June 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Reply edit

Have you ever found cefa children to be too “advanced” when making the transition in to kindergarten?

Dear Penelope,

Although we have had a handful of children skip a year in kindergarten or grade one, it is rare to find a child who is “too” advanced. You see, too advanced means that they no longer fit with the rest of the group, and this is generally not the case for children who are ahead in class. For example, during reading time in kindergarten, children may be reading a few sentences in twenty minutes, while your cefa child will be, in the same twenty minutes, reading a book or two. Same amount of time, two different outcomes. During writing, children will write one sentence as a journal entry, while you cefa child will write four or five and spend time constructing elaborate and descriptive sentences, and still find time to illustrate the same. During math, children will solve a few equations in the same time that it may take your child to solve double that amount. As you can see, being too advanced is hardly the problem. The only problem is not being able to keep up with the minimum standard in class.

Children who comprehend better simply think more (go to the next level so to speak). As well, a good teacher will (or let me say should) always cater to the different levels of comprehension of the students. Children who understand the basic concepts simply have more time to ask more questions, and practice using that concept rather than just being introduced to it. It is always to a child’s advantage to be “advanced” in a subject. The only time a smart child can become a problem is when they have a bad teacher. And that happens sometimes. For example, the mother of one of our graduates came by our school one day to say hi, and told me that her daughter (in kindergarten at that time) came home with a beautiful journal, with stories and drawings, completely full. After a week, she told her mom that she really missed writing in her journal at school since her journal was sent home. She was simply sitting at her desk during writing time, with nothing to do. The mother, assuming that the school had no money to buy a new notebook, sent money to school for her daughter to purchase a new journal. The money was sent home. She then figured the teacher may not have had the time to buy a journal, and instead, went to buy a new notebook for her daughter, exactly like the one she was using in class. Her daughter, thrilled, took it to school to use during writing time, but the journal came home with a note from the teacher reprimanding the mother for purchasing the journal. The teacher said that she did not want the other children to feel bad that they had not reached the point where they needed a second journal, and that it was better if her daughter (our student) did not start one. This is the perfect example of a teacher who should never have become a teacher in the first place. If a child loves to write, let her write, if she writes 50 journals, all the better to her, all the better to everyone!! She has so much to say, she has so much creativity, and she is bothering no one by wanting to write. We should not aim for mediocrity, ever. If your child has a teacher like that, you have to work even harder as a parent to challenge your child. Your solution as a parent should not be to slow down your child’s ability to learn, so the teacher is happy. Inspire your child!! If there’s nothing to do at school, then play chess with your son after school, go to the park and collect bugs, go to science world, read some books together, be an inspiring person in your child’s life.

In any case, even if your child was, let’s say, “too smart” for his classmates. He has been taught at cefa, from the time he was one, to contribute. This means that your child automatically will look to help in other ways. If he is better in math, he can help the students at his table learn how to complete the exercise (after all, children learn so well from other children, and your child will understand it even better by explaining it to someone else). If your daughter finished her work ten minutes before everyone else, perhaps she can ask for more work, or she can be allowed to read a book, or draw, or help her classmates. Creative teachers will always offer creative solutions. Creative children (and cefa children definitely are) will always find a way to use their knowledge in creative ways.

My advice to you
When I worked as an elementary school teacher, I always set up about one quarter of my classroom as the children’s area. I bought educational games, books, puzzles, art supplies, knitting, craft projects and other creative activities that children could play with if they had finished their work. This was not meant as a reward, it was there out of respect for their time. If they had to wait for the others to finish, at least they had a place where they could do other things, things they loved, in that time. And every single child went to that area of the classroom, several times per day. Not one child was left behind, because everyone had their area of expertise in something, and could figure it out quicker than the average of the group. This gave me more time to spend with the children who really needed it, and gave all the children a reason to focus on the task at hand and complete it promptly and effectively, and then go play with their friends. I have helped my sons’ teachers set up areas like this in their classrooms in the past. The teachers have always welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm! Why not do the same? All you need is a few quiet games to get started. The teacher can even send a letter home asking each child to bring something for that special area from home, so it costs nothing to put it together. This gives children a sense of belonging that is much stronger, since they helped put it together and it is their area. My advice to you is that if you do one thing to help your child at school, put this area in place. You will never have a bored child ever again, plus your child (and all the other children in the class) will greatly benefit from this because it allows them to think creatively, something that is greatly lacking in today’s school curriculums. It is a win-win situation for you, the teacher and all the students in the class, cefa graduates or not.

In any case, the education that your child receives at cefa has a far greater value than just the concepts learned. They need to learn to think, and the age to learn and exercise their brains is before age six. If you think about it, depriving your child of learning opportunities jut so he can be less smart and fit better is simply not an option. No one ever wished they were less smart :)

Thank you for your brilliant question, and let me know how it goes!


kendra rae Says:
June 29, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Reply edit

what should a parent look for in an elementary school and how can i prepare my child for elementary school.

Thank you for your question! If you are a cefa parent, I strongly encourage you to speak with your principal about what the best choices are for your particular child. We know many schools and can give you much more specific information and help you with this important choice. As well, we will provide you with a thorough reference letter for you to take to the schools of your choice. If your child does not attend cefa, you can still benefit from the advice that I have put together in the article I am enclosing at the bottom of this page. Please feel free to get back in touch with us after you have visited a few schools. We can help you decide :)


Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make in his lifetime. School is where he will spend most of his days, meet most of his friends, and find inspiration to learn and to pursue his dreams.

Keeping this in mind, it is important to ask the right questions and to know what you are looking for before you make your final choice. Here are some things you should look at while visiting the schools of your choice:

The curriculum

Look for a program that is well balanced. A good program will challenge your child academically, artistically, physically and socially. All four strands must be visibly present and reflected accordingly throughout the school. Ask the principal to tell you about the projects that children have been involved in, the involvement of the school in the community, the sports that children can participate in, and the music and dramatic arts program. The children’s work on display will tell you a lot about the program.

The principal

Look at the relationship between the principal and the students. Are the children at ease around her or do they “straighten up” and pass her by quietly? A good principal should know every child by first name, and be approachable and caring. Try to find out how often the school changes principals. Schools can change immensely when a new principal comes on board. The principal’s role is to inspire teachers and offer leadership. If your interview with her did not leave you inspired, I can almost guarantee you that the teachers don’t feel inspired either, and thus, neither do the students.

The relationship between teachers and students

Look around you: do the students feel happy to be there? Do they seem at ease around their teachers? Are the teachers merely supervising the students or can you feel a connection between students and teachers? Look at the way that teachers display their students’ work. It should be displayed with pride, truly highlighting the essence of the projects and of the students themselves.

The student to teacher ratio

A good school will offer a ratio of about 20 children per classroom, and additional help as needed for writing, reading, math and other activities. Some schools even provide two teachers during the first two or three years of school (one teacher and a teacher’s aide), bringing the ratio down to 10 students per teacher. This is not absolutely necessary but very desirable, especially in grade one.

The support systems in place

What does the school do for children who experience learning deficiencies? Is there a counselor on site or do they readily have access to one? How do they help students who are behind, to ensure that they can succeed? What do they have in place for children who are advancing faster than the rest in some areas? As well, inquire about other available staff on site, such as teacher aides, nurses, special needs instructors, curriculum development coordinator, etc. Ask what they would do if a child has a minor learning deficiency. Ideally, the school should have a clear plan in place (because every child will need help at some point), and should be eager to suggest some options for you. The best schools will suggest a strong partnership between the child, the family and the school.

The culture of the school

Visit a school during pick-up time and observe the families. Do you fit in with that social group? These will be your child’s friends for the next twelve years. Their values will affect your child immensely, choose wisely.

The school’s approach to bullying and discrimination

This is extremely important. Many parents don’t think of asking this question until their child or a child they know is suffering from discrimination or bullying. Ask them to explain exactly what the school’s guidelines are in this respect. Bullying happens every single year without fail, and its effects are long lasting and often horrific. Without the strong support of the school, a family cannot deal with the problem effectively. You want to know that the school has a clear and effective strategy to eliminate the problem at the root if and when it presents itself.

The extra-curricular activities

Many schools offer activities after school (for a fee), like chess, sports, band, etc. When a school goes out of its way to arrange for these extras, it demonstrates that it has its students’ best interest in mind.

The school itself

A school is a place where children should feel unique, independent, inspired to learn and to contribute. Look at the school: Is it dull and grey? Are the classrooms chaotic? Does it represent each student? Does it reflect cultural diversity? Your child’s dreams and aspirations will begin here. Are the hallways full of work from the children? Is the artwork unique and reflective of each child’s individuality, or is it a mass-production? Are the classrooms organized and easy to understand for a child? Do they have some dedicated space where your child can play and relax once the work is finished (between activities?)

Once you are confident that you have chosen the right school, ask how you can participate. Remember always that the school is only one third of the equation. You and your child are the other two thirds. Your involvement with the school will help your child succeed, and will ensure that the school can meet its goals and aspirations as well.

Good luck in this wonderful journey!