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Teaching Gratitude (Just in Time for Thanksgiving)

By Staci Mathura, Language Arts Instructor

Teachers always rely on lesson planning to map out what students learn throughout the year, but sometimes there are these unplanned opportunities that arise where teachers get to offer insight that has nothing to do with the curriculum, but about life lessons.  Sometimes a kid has a bad day, sometimes there is a national event or tragedy in their lives, or sometimes they have a question about navigating the world, where teachers have to give pause and address that. These are precious and magical instances where teachers extend learning and engage students on a humanist level.

When I taught in the inner city, most kids were faces with unimaginable hardships and there were many challenges to engage them academically. Thinking back, some of the most meaningful moments were the teachable moments where I got to connect with students and I would be able to build trust and rapport. One activity that I was able to connect to the students was in their journal notebooks where I had them incrementally complete a ‘Gratitude List’ of all the things they were thankful for. It was great to share this list with each other because it showed that no matter what was going on in our lives we all had something to appreciate and we had someone to be grateful for. Kids soon learned that when we focus on the good things, the tough times became easier to get through, and they learned to think optimistically. The optimism had a positive impact on the classroom, thus increasing academic performance.I often think about how I could further these lessons instead of waiting for teachable moments, and when I did some research and lesson planning I was able to find some fun writing activities (such as practicing writing letters and thank you notes) as well as role playing activities (which was great for public speaking and building confidence) to integrate into our learning. This time of year is perfect for a teachable moment in gratitude, but these are some activities you can try at home any time of the year to put some ‘gratitude into your kids’ attitude!’

  1. Thank-you notes.When young kids receive gifts, they should be create and send a thank-you picture (if they can’t write as ye) or a short note to practice correspondence skills.
  2. Be polite. Role-play with your kid’s favorite toy or stuffed animal to practice saying “thank you.” You can model etiquette for your child so they know when to say thanks without being prompted.
  3. Your daily top 3. At dinner or bedtime, take turns sharing the three best things about your day. It will engage your family in a positive daily ritual.
  4. Make a gratitude jar. Fill it with short handwritten notes of gratitude (“I’m thankful we won the big game!” or, “I’m grateful Grandpa came to visit.”). Pick a special time to pull out notes at random and read them aloud.
  5. Celebrate your year & milestones. Every major milestone or birthday, make a list of things you are grateful for that year. A 5-year-old can think of five things to list, while a 10-year-old can manage at least 10.
  6. Thank a teacher. Send a handwritten note to let her or him know how much their efforts make a difference.
  7. Volunteer. Think of a food pantry, animal shelter or even your local church, where you can give your time and try to make it a regular commitment.

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Experiential Learning – What We’re All About

By Staci Mathura, Language Arts Instructor

“There is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education.”  (John Dewey 1938)

As an educator and avid researcher of pedagogy, I’ve used many tried and true techniques to engage a range of learning styles. However one of my preferred approaches to engaging students is through the concept of ‘Experiential Learning,” whereby a student learns by a hands on approach, a direct experience or even through observation. Studies have shown that this method has tremendous benefits for the learner and give teachers creative opportunities to enhance the curriculum. As we know, each student has an individual learning style, so where one child can easily grasp a concept in writing, another’s learning style necessitates an actual sensory experience to connect and apply the concept to the real world.

Experiential learning is a model based on the fundamentals of renowned educational theorist John Dewey who wrote about the benefits of experiential education almost a century ago. Dewey advocates for progressive methods to have an experiential component and not rely on content based styles. He argues that by focusing only on content, it eliminates the opportunity for students to develop their own opinions based on interaction with the information. Furthermore the practice of creating hands on learning opportunities enhances learning and creates an invaluable transformative moment for the learner.

While it is undoubtedly important for students to grasp academic concepts through traditional learning and classic methodologies in classroom, it is impactful to create opportunities for concrete experiences. This gives students the opportunity to actively engage in their learning process, and apply the concepts to real world experiences. When teachers create opportunities for students to learn through experiences, they are able to react to new sensory situations, observe and reflect on the experience though direct participation and apply abstract ideas to real world situations.

In my teaching career I have been fortunate to give my students best practices in the classroom as well as outside the class walls so they can absorb and engage with academic concepts in a variety of methods.  I have found that not only had the learning experiences made positive impacts on pedagogy, but it created unforgettable moments between the students and teacher.  For instance I have done hands on lessons that were visually or tacitly focused, I have taken teenage students on local college tours, to volunteer in the community,  to Chicago for a choir festival and even abroad to Paris and Lisbon! Whether the experiential lesson was a small curriculum modification or an international trip, they connected the abstract concept form the classroom to a real and genuine experience for the learner.

Here are some ways that Experiential learning can be beneficial to your child:

  1. Accelerates Learning
    Experiential Learning methodology uses critical thinking, problem solving and decision making to accelerate learning through hands on and concrete experiences. Concepts that are learned in the texts can now be applied in real life scenarios.
  2. Provides a Safe Learning Environment
    Taking kids into nature, to museums or even to a restaurant and getting them to have fun will encourage them to try new things while they learn in a safe controlled environment.
  3. Bridges the Gap Between Theory and Practice
    By giving learners opportunities to apply text based information in the real world allows them to interact and test out abstract ideas, thus allowing them to retain and build upon concepts and ideas.
  4. Increases Engagement

When students are encouraged to explore and apply their knowledge, they are able to interact with the world in an academic mindset, therefore every new experience becomes a teachable moment and opportunity to absorb information.

  1. Enables Individualized Learning
    To enable personalized learning, the teacher should modify the curriculum to creatively engage the visual, auditory and tactile strengths of her students. The best way to encapsulate all of these learning styles as well as encourage learning is by creating opportunities for students to learn and apply the concepts to real experiences.

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Fostering a Love of Writing and Nurturing a Strong Reader

By Staci Mathura, Language Arts Instructor

In the book The Magical Child, author Joseph Pearce explains  “The child can never learn to play without the parent playing with the child. Play … is a huge creative potential built within the child, which never develops unless it is stimulated by the adult model, the parent.

I’ll tell you a secret, I was not always fond of reading!

That is almost sacrilegious coming from an English Professor, instructor and researcher, but it is the truth. Over time I had to learn to become a lover of books, and appreciate them for enjoyment rather than for rote information. Thankfully my parents always had books, magazines and newspapers around the house for us to read so there was no excuse to say “I’m bored.” I would choose a story for my parents to read to before bed, and on our way to school I would read the newspaper aloud to my mom as she drove. Sometimes at school I would shock my teachers with my advanced vocabulary from reading these materials. At the dinner table my family would discuss current headlines or literary topics, which engaged me further in world news.

My mother worked across the street from the New York City Pubic Library, where she got me my own library card as soon as I was old enough. In my teens I would spend an hour or so there while I waited for her, after my classes and after-school activities.  In this time I began to explore the library, talk to the librarians about various genres and quickly I realized that I loved being there so much that working in the library became my first ever summer job. Soon enough I began to develop writing skills that I would eventually use a cathartic device in my private journals and ultimately in college, and now in writing my dissertation.

As an educator of over twelve years, I know personally that teachers are under immense pressure from districts to cover a stringent curriculum, raise test scores and produce college ready learners. While this is necessary for academic purposes, systematic rigor of the general curriculum leaves little room for stimulating a child’s creativity. However a love of reading and written expression can easily be nurtured at home, which thus creates healthy study habits and lifelong skills. Similar to the personal examples I’ve shared above, there are simple reading and writing engagement practices that can be fun for parents and students alike that will have a lifelong impact on the learner. Parents are immense assets to learning and the key to stimulating the child’s creative potential outside of school.

If you are a parent who’s child struggles with writing and reading at home, these are just a few ways you can integrate these necessary skills into fun activities that you can experience together. Most importantly, parents are the ultimate role model and learning coach who can encourage a child’s imagination and spark their written communication of those ideas.

Journals, Scrap books or Chromebooks

Pick a medium that your kid enjoys using the most and have them paste fun pictures, doodles and illustrations as they write. Start with a brief sentence about their day or a fun writing prompt and incrementally increase the amount of writing every week.

Make it a game and not a chore

Pick books to read and topics to discuss that your child enjoys. Whether its about daily activities, dinosaurs, sports or movies, your kid has an interest and an opinion to share. Talk through the ideas, ask questions and listen to their answers and opinion. Time them to see how much they can ‘free write’ in their journals

Curate a robust lexicon

Build a strong vocabulary! Have your child record a new word they learned every week in their journal. Maybe practice using it in a sentence, or implement it into their weekly writing. This will have a profound impact on raising reading levels.

Designate writing time and reading time

Whether it’s a few times a week before breakfast or before bedtime, carve out a space for reading and written expression. One good method is to time your child and see how much they can accomplish.

Reading or Creative writing nook

Most kids have a space where homework and tasks are completed. However have them pick a comfortable space, grab a snack and allow them to read and write in a where they feel at ease. Don’t you love curling up with a book on the couch or in bed? Your kid has a favorite spot where they can tap into their creative potential!

Your kid is hilarious, witty, sarcastic…

Let your child naturally develop their writing ‘voice’ or tone. Many of my students are admittedly hilarious and keep me laughing with their natural comedic sense. Soon you will see their unique personality reflected in their writing style.

Be a connoisseur not a critic

We know you are your child’s biggest fan! Journals are known to be private, so don’t force them to reveal their inner musings. But if your child chooses to share written creations with you, make sure to give lots of praise and encouragement. Ask enthusiastic questions to convey your engagement in their topic and don’t be critical about their grammar.

As an educator and now an enrichment instructor, there is so much I can do to academically serve the needs of my students. Remember parents, you are the critical element in assisting your child’s development of strong reading habits and for nurturing written expression skills outside of the classroom walls. You play a pivotal part of cultivating their love of reading and writing, so please encourage your child to pick up a book and a pencil and let those creative ideas flow!

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Go Where Imagination Takes You

Prior to instructing art at the Washington Cathay Future Center (WCFC) and in Public Schools, I was the unlikely painting companion to a 91-year-old woman named Charlotte.  Most Saturdays, for over a year, Charlotte and I sat side by side and created works of art. We not only painted together, but we also discussed techniques and critiqued each other’s works. Her critiques were sometimes harsher than mine, but I guess you can be a bit unfiltered when you are in your 90s!

The time I spent with Charlotte generated some of the most uninhibited and meaningful art-making of my life that has brought me to a dedication to visual art education at the WCFC.

“The discourse transformed the art.”

We’d talk about her trip she took to Mexico when she was in her early 20s, a story she often forgets that she already told me twenty times, and suddenly she selects brighter paint colors and her brush strokes become a bit more active. I learned that art making can be a lot more fruitful in a social setting where artists can discuss and look at each others ideas.

But I haven’t always felt this level of creative freedom and connection to my artwork.  In college, I felt stifled by my professors’ limited definition of what it means to create art in the 21st century.  I felt like they expected all works to be abstract and scoffed at anything representational that involved traditional subject matter – still lives, landscapes, and portraiture. As a result, I created works that I neither understood nor valued.  During critiques, I disagreed with my peers’ interpretations of my work, but couldn’t offer a more accurate interpretation. Painting and interpreting my art felt more like a cumbersome task only to be attempted with a guiding hand. This was definitely a class style I hope to avoid.

One evening I went to a celebration connected to the camp I attended since I was young. The celebration happened to be at the house of Charlotte’s daughter, Sandy.  Sandy expressed her concern that her mother, once a prolific artist, now a victim of depression and dementia, had not painted in a decade. Sandy suggested having a visit with Charlotte to see if Charlotte was interested in working with me. I met with Charlotte the next week over lunch and we have been connected creatively and emotionally ever since.  On the weekends I painted the still lives, figures, and landscapes I love with her, which has helped me return to a similar subject matter in my own artwork and to inspire students to select the subject matter that is right for them.

When I started working with Charlotte, I thought my art would evolve to have a specific style.  But watching Charlotte create her art now, and comparing what she has done in past weeks, to 30 years ago when she was in her 60s, and even before that, has taught me that making art is a constantly evolving process, with no specific end point. Just like my students, I have to keep taking art lessons and working on my craft.

“I have to just go where my imagination takes me and help my students to do the same.”

Melissa Eisen is a programs manager at the Washington Cathay Future Center in Rockville, MD. In her spare time she continues to create her own personal art work that can be found at

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Raising Honest Children In The 21st Century

A core value we hope to impart to our children is to not lie; no matter the circumstance, honesty is key to being successful. Right after family, honesty is one of the first values we emphasize to our little ones.

Unfortunately, in this 21st century age of internet, it is easier than ever for people to confidently lie with little repercussion to themselves personally. Users can lie, cheat, steal, etc. anonymously or under the guise of a character, without others knowing their name. The internet has become an integral tool for introverts in particular to communicate and in some cases live life. But it isn’t the only outlet for this expression and it definitely isn’t the healthiest.

Luckily it doesn’t sit entirely on the shoulders of parents to create another generation of honest individuals.

“One need not look further than a public speaking classroom or a visual art studio to see a place for children to confidently be their most authentic selves.”

In public speaking students learn and build upon skills to formulate and communicate ideas. Even the quietest of children can develop and support their own arguments. Teaching students to search for the facts provides a platform for them to not only tell the truth, but to have the truth supported by reputable sources. Visual art is another tool that can help visual communicators accomplish the same goals. When it is difficult to speak about emotions or how events have impacted us, an art class allows a child to represent themselves and formulate their message.

And for children who still love make believe, there is always performing arts. Acting can be a great way to play out scenarios and emotions in a structured environment. Definitely a safer environment than the internet.

Remember to use support where you can to help your children develop into the upstanding individuals we and you hope for them to be.

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Putting the “A” in STEM

By Brittany Kerfoot, Freelance Writer, Language Arts Instructor

Most people know what STEM stands for–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math–as these subjects are crucial to today’s schools curricula as the world sees more new and exciting innovations every day. Schools and educators alike champion STEM programs in part because the US is falling behind other countries in these areas, and it’s clear we need to start with our young people to catch up to the rest of the world.

While there are many benefits to STEM programs, a new acronym is making its way into the education world’s lexicon: STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineer, Art, And Math. As we continue to recognize the importance of arts for children, both in and outside the classroom, we’ve seen the idea of STEAM gain in popularity…and for good reason.

While STEM is based in practical, logic-based subjects, STEAM would introduce a more creative aspect to the regimen. Not only would this appeal to and challenge a wider range of students, but studies have found that “half brain” education (classes that only target either right-brained or left-brained individuals) leaves students at a disadvantage.

In fact, a study performed by the University of Florida found that, “On average, students who study the arts for 4 years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less.” In addition, “Students who took up music appreciation scored 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section.” It’s hard to deny the importance of the arts in every child’s education, whether it be dance, graphic design, or simply drawing and painting.

For more information on adding the “A” in STEM, check out, which boasts numerous case studies, resources, and ways you can help promote the arts in your child’s education.

Washington Cathay Future Center is dedicated to a well-rounded curriculum that includes subjects ranging from STEM to Chinese to art. Sign up today to help broaden your child’s horizons and round out their education.

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What If: Envisioning a World Without Art

One chilly winter afternoon, I decided to get hot chocolate from the Starbucks drive-through.  When I pulled up to the window, a friendly barista confirmed my order, verified the price with me, and asked me a standard friendly question about how my day was going.

I answered, “My day is great; I think it’s going to snow.”

The man looked out the window at the sky and asked how I knew something was coming. At first, I was a bit confused by the question as it seemed obvious to me that it was going to snow. I pointed to the trees near the edge of the parking lot and described how they seemed so still. I looked toward the sky and identified the misty grey color that seems to always appear before a snowstorm, and I took a deep breath in and mentioned that the air seems wet and cooler than usual.

The barista then asked if I knew a lot about weather. I said “No, but I do know a lot about art.”

What seemed to be small talk had more complex implications. Though I am by no means a meteorologist, I used the skills I learned from my arts education to observe the environment around me and used descriptive vocabulary to explain my hypothesis regarding the weather.

“I began to wonder what my life would be like without the numerous ways art enhanced every part of my day.”

What if I didn’t notice all the world’s unique colors and shapes? What if I didn’t have the words to describe a sunset or the look on a child’s face when he learns something new?

Perhaps the barista didn’t see the signs because he didn’t have the observational skills of an artist, or the ability to make connections between his surroundings and the state of the world. Maybe he didn’t have the language arts training that would help him find the vocabulary to describe what was going on around him. This is a clear display of how the arts and the sciences are intrinsically linked.

The arts help children in many other areas of study, and broaden their horizons in life in general. Supplement your child’s education with visual, language, and performing arts at Washington Cathay Future Center this school year.

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Where There is Art, There is Possibility

According to, “High arts involvement equals higher scores on achievement tests.” It has been documented that students involved in art performed better than students with low arts involvement on standardized tests in other subjects. In addition, students with a high interest in art watched less television, were more involved in their community, and were found to be less bored in class. In older children, high school students in art classes perform better on the SAT; in fact, the more art classes they take, the higher their score.

Now some of you may be wondering, “Why art? Why all of this pomp-and-circumstance and fuss over art?” Well, I’ll tell you why.

Art doesn’t just encourage students to think outside of the box.  Art creates new boxes and then tells students to think outside of those. Art challenges children to be fearless, restless and visionary.

“Where there is art, there is possibility.” 

Where there is art, there is diversity and inclusiveness. Where there is art, there is a future for those who otherwise might not see one within the four walls of a traditional classroom.  Art opens doors, but it also opens hearts and minds.  It engages.  It enlivens.  It invites. It energizes. As importantly, art cultivates our youth as critical-thinkers, problem-solvers, better students and more productive global citizens. So, while you may ask, “Why art?”, I say, “Why not art?” Perhaps, world renowned art educator Olivia Gude said it best. Gude said that arts education gives a democratic people “the freedom to experience fully, reflect freely and represent without fear.”

At Washington Cathay Future Center or WCFC, we are constantly seeking ways for our students to share their many passions and pursuits with the world. In fact, as the most premier, K-8 educational program in Montgomery County, we are firmly dedicated to the arts, academic and cultural enrichment of our children.

Here are a variety of visual arts classes to consider.

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Why Our Children Should ALL Try Dance

By Brittany Kerfoot, Freelance Writer, Language Arts Instructor

Despite the fact that many public schools are being forced to remove arts programs from their curricula due to budget cuts, classes like dance and theatre remain an integral part of your child’s education. While math and science prepare children to think analytically and employ logical thinking, the arts allow them to express themselves and channel their energy while also teaching them the value of discipline and hard work.

As a child, I never liked or excelled in sports, but as soon as my mother signed me up for dance classes, I knew I belonged at the barre. Dancing allowed me to express my emotions when words failed, and gave me a sense of confidence I previously lacked. According to FamilyTalk Magazine, dance lessons can improve your child’s social and communication skills by teaching them how to work as part of a team. Dance is especially beneficial for shy or introverted children and expands their social circle. I made lifelong friends in my classes, and learned skills like collaboration, patience, and perseverance.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of dance for children is its ability to spark creativity. Dancers must learn how to convey feeling without words, which requires them to use a part of their brain that is not always activated during the school day. Exercising creativity in areas like dance actually improve your child’s performance in other subjects. Another finding from FamilyTalk Magazine estimates that students with a background in dance often achieve significantly higher SAT scores and do perform better in math and science.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to enroll your child in a dance class, Washington Cathay Future Center (WCFC) in Rockville, MD has a number of offerings to fit different skill levels and schedules. Their summer camp program offers musical theatre for ages ranging from 5-10+, as well as hip hop, modern, and jazz classes. And there will be a $5.00 Street Dance Workshop on Aug 11 for anyone community! During the school year, WCFC has even more dance courses including ballet, street dance, dance party workout, and Dancing Through Disney. There are even classes for adults, like a morning “Mommy and Me” dance class and Hip Hop Abroebics in the evening.

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Welcome to the Washington Cathay Future Center’s (WCFC) official blog. On this blog you will find articles and news connected to the WCFC’s mission to cultivate students’ and their families artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential. Enjoy the articles, comment and share as you wish! Happy Reading! To learn more about the WCFC visit!