ISY Elementary Blog
Breadth over Depth for Our Youngest Students
Mike Simpson, Elementary School Principal
February 11, 2020

Over the last two weeks, our Early Elementary team has been working with Dr. Linda Henke. Dr. Henke has a wealth of experience in many school settings and has a particular interest and expertise in developing a capability and love for deeper learning in our youngest children.

Our team continues to work with Dr. Henke in developing some key ‘Principles of Practice’ that will guide us in developing innovative practices that will meet the needs and interests of all our students.

Below, I have reproduced an article written by Rishi Sriram that appeared in edutopia, a popular educational blog. I think it provides an excellent overview of the importance of early education. I am particularly interested in the idea that, at any early age, it is best to expose children to a wide variety of skills and activities rather than specializing too early. To make this point, this article references the book, Range by David Epstein. I have just finished reading this book and I highly recommend it to families with children of any age.

Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much for Brain Development: Rich experiences—from play to the arts and relationships—fundamentally shape a young child’s development.

When Albert Einstein was a child, few people—if any—anticipated the remarkable contributions he would make to science. His language development was delayed, worrying his parents to the point of consulting a doctor. His sister once confessed that Einstein “had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn.” How did this child go from potential developmental delays to becoming, well, Einstein?

Part of the answer to that question is symbolized in two gifts that Einstein received from each of his parents when he was 5 years old. When Einstein was in bed all day from an illness, his father gave him a compass. For Einstein, it was a mysterious device that sparked his curiosity in science. Soon after, Einstein’s mother, who was a talented pianist, gave Einstein a violin. These two gifts challenged Einstein’s brain in distinctive ways at just the right time.

Children’s brains develop in spurts called critical periods. The first occurs around age 2, with a second one occurring during adolescence. At the start of these periods, the number of connections (synapses) between brain cells (neurons) doubles. Two-year-olds have twice as many synapses as adults. Because these connections between brain cells are where learning occurs, twice as many synapses enable the brain to learn faster than at any other time of life. Therefore, children’s experiences in this phase have lasting effects on their development.

This first critical period of brain development begins around age 2 and concludes around age 7. It provides a prime opportunity to lay the foundation for a holistic education for children. Four ways to maximize this critical period include encouraging a love of learning, focusing on breadth instead of depth, paying attention to emotional intelligence, and not treating young children’s education as merely a precursor to “real” learning.


Young children need to enjoy the process of learning instead of focusing on performance. Educators and parents can emphasize the joys of trying new activities and learning something novel. We need to help children understand that mistakes are a welcome, normal part of learning.

This period is also the time to establish a growth mindset—the belief that talents and abilities are developed through effort instead of being innately fixed. Educators should avoid labeling children or making universal statements about their ability. Even compliments such as “You’re so smart” are counterproductive. Instead, emphasize persistence and create safe spaces for learning. Children will learn to love learning if we show enthusiasm over the process rather than fixating on results.


One way to avoid focusing on results during this phase of development is to emphasize the breadth of skill development over depth. Exposing children to a wide variety of activities lays a foundation for developing skills in a range of fields. This is the time to engage children in music, reading, sports, math, art, science, and languages.

In his book Range, David Epstein argues that breadth of experience is often overlooked and underappreciated. Focusing on excellence in a single activity may be appropriate at some point in life. But the people who thrive in our rapidly changing world are those who first learn how to draw from multiple fields and think creatively and abstractly. In other words, our society needs well-rounded individuals.

Well-roundedness is especially important for children from ages 2 to 7. Their developing brains are ready to soak in a wide range of skill sets. This “sampling period,” as Epstein calls it, is integral. This is the window during which to develop children’s range. There is plenty of time for them to specialize later.


Yes, we want children to read well and learn the fundamentals of math. But we should not disregard emotional intelligence. The advantages of learning during this first critical period of brain development should extend to interpersonal skills such as kindness, empathy, and teamwork.

Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain the importance of developing children’s empathy in their book The Whole-Brain Child. Empathy begins with acknowledging one’s feelings. Therefore, they suggest helping children in this age group to first label their emotions (“I feel sad”) and then tell the story about what made them feel that way (“I feel sad because I wanted ice cream and you said no”). Once children practice labeling emotions, educators can start asking questions that encourage them to consider others’ feelings.

One way to encourage care for others is to include children in what adults do for others. Even allowing young children to help with chores can make them more helpful and considerate people.


Children’s brains can uniquely absorb information during this critical phase. If intelligence is defined as the ability to learn, children between the ages of 2 and 7 may be the most intelligent humans on the planet.

Research suggests that some skills cannot be learned nearly as well after this first critical period of brain development. For example, research shows that children in this age range are best suited to learn the patterns of language development, enabling them to master a second language to the same level as a native language. However, once children reach age 8, their language learning proficiency decreases, and second languages are not spoken as well as native ones. The same age effect is found when learning musical abilities such as perfect pitch.

It is noteworthy that Einstein’s parents did not enroll him in physics lessons—the field that would lead him to a Nobel Prize. Instead, Einstein’s father included him in his work as an engineer. His mother signed him up for violin lessons because she wanted him to love and appreciate music. Both activities worked to develop his young mind holistically. It is tempting to think of early childhood education as a precursor to “real” education. But these may be the years that matter most.


How to maintain hope in the face of adversity.

Although the events of the past few weeks have had far reaching effects, one consequence for our students has been a temporary return to full time online learning.  Several students have indicated that returning to full time online learning has been a struggle.  Their disappointment might make it more difficult for them to hope for a full return to school.  This had me wondering what we can do to help our students maintain hope when faced with adversity.  In seeking an answer, I found Martin Seligman’s theory of Learned Optimism.  Learned optimism frames adversity as a healthy way to take ownership of solutions.  This framework consists of 3 principals: Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization.

Permanence: Acknowledge that nothing is permanent.  We will be together again on campus at some point.

Pervasiveness: Although the adversity may feel overwhelming and much is beyond our student’s control, there are areas in their lives, which remain consistent.  These areas have not changed and need to be acknowledged.  However small, they can show gratitude for the areas that have not changed.  They still get to see their friends and attend school, even if over Zoom.

Personalization: Student’s thoughts, actions and efforts do make a difference.  Trying their best and developing social connections online are actions toward resuming in-person friendships.  Washing hands and wearing masks are efforts to maintain a healthy community, ready to learn together on campus. 

Talking with our students about these principles can help them develop the skills for Learned Optimism and build resilience in a time of uncertainty.

Ms. Patty is available to support students and families in need.  Questions and appointments can be made at


How can you support your child during times of change?

Although ISY strives to be a consistent presence for students, this week’s current events impacted your child’s learning schedule.  Several parents have reached out to ask how they could help their child during these unexpected changes.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Be a Role Model: Children take emotional cues from the adults around them.  If parents demonstrate a calm, healthy attitude toward change, typically they will also.  Demonstrate healthy habits, such as proper nutrition, sleep & exercise.
  2. Explain world events with terms and vocabulary your child can understand.  
  3. Highlight their safety.  Children have a limited world view.  They need to know that they are safe and what measures are being taken to ensure safety.
  4. Allow children opportunities to share their feelings.  Let your child know that their feelings are valid and you want to support them.
  5. Highlight areas for gratitude.  Change can be scary but it can also highlight the constants, the areas in our lives that are stable and supportive.  Take a moment to be thankful for these areas.

If you or your child would like support in dealing with change or other transitions, feel free to reach out to Ms. Patty.  She can be reached at

Virtual Recess is still running from 1:00-1:30 PM.  All activities will be student driven but will include fun and games.

  • Grades 3, 4, & 5: Tuesday at 1pm
  • Grades 1 & 2: Thursday at 1pm

Quarter 2 Report Cards Available Today

Quarter 2 student report cards are now available on PowerSchool.

Accessing your child(ren)’s report:

  1. Login into PowerSchool
  2. Once you log in, you will see your child(ren)’s name on the left-hand side top of the screen along with information of their student schedule.
  3. Click on your child’s name
  4. Click on the “Document” icon on the left side of the screen
  5. Student Documents box will appear on the screen
  6. Click on the file name “Semester 1 Report 20-21.”

If you have difficulty accessing your child’s report, please know that you can contact PowerSchool team by email ( for assistance.

MAP Testing Postponed

We have postponed MAP testing in the Elementary School and will reassess the timing of these tests at the end of next week.

MAP assessments in Reading, Language, and Mathematics are online adaptive assessments that provide useful data in developing a fair and accurate assessment of a student’s academic achievement and growth.

Teachers combine MAP assessment data with all other student data that they have collected in the classroom. MAP data itself is not used for grading at ISY but this combination of data informs teacher instruction in meeting the needs of each child.



With COVID, we needed to adapt our schedule for online learning to prioritise our core curriculum subjects as we started the year. This meant we needed to combine our World Language and Culture and Communication programs. These classes are related but intended to be taught separately so students can focus on developing specific skills in their chosen language.

For the first semester (ending January 29), we decided upon a Culture and Communication focus with all Grade 2-5 students (French and Mandarin) in the same class. We decided to use the Education Perfect app to provide our students with skills practice in the language of their choice. This is not how we would normally teach languages in the Elementary School at ISY and, while this app is a useful supplementary resource, it is not the basis of our language program.

For our second semester (beginning February 1) we have shifted our focus from general Culture and Communication classes to specific French and Mandarin classes. We have separated the students into separate French and Mandarin classes which allows for smaller groups all focusing on the target language. We have two teachers assigned to each of our French and Mandarin classes to allow for more specific instruction.


Did you know that Mr. Zar Li, our head security officer, was a former Mr. Myanmar! He is very fit and knows 100s of different exercises to stay fit.

Mr. Zar Li has kindly offered to run 15 minute work outs for our students that will start at 8:10am every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. These work outs will start next Monday. The Zoom link for the workouts will be on the Friday Family Report email that you receive from your child(ren)’s teacher. All ages are welcome and parents are welcome to join in too.

The workouts will finish at 8:25am to give students time to get a drink and get organized before joining their classes at 8:30am.

These workouts do not replace regular P.E. classese during the school day. 

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