PLAYguide: Education

September: Library Card Sign-up Month

Bring a friend to sign up for a new library card to be entered into a grand prize drawing.

A library card is your ticket to a world of learning and entertainment. Share that world with a friend by bringing them to sign up for a new library card and be entered into a grand prize drawing as part of National Library Card Sign-up Month at the Orange County Library System (OCLS).

From September 1–30, OCLS invites all library card holders to bring a friend in-person to sign up for a new library card at any of the 16 Orange County Library locations. Card holders and their newly library-card-holding friend will be entered to win a prize pack full of great prizes to share. They can also post a selfie showing off their new card to Instagram with the hashtag #OCLSFriends to earn an extra chance to win. For complete promotion details and library card sign-up requirements, visit

Prize pack will include:

  • Four $10 gift cards to The Glass Knife
  • Two $25 gift cards to Ross
  • Two certificates redeemable for a dozen mini cupcakes at Sweet! By Holly

National Library Card Sign-up Month is an initiative coordinated by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries nationwide to promote library cards as a passport to lifelong learning and academic achievement.

The promotion is open to current and new library cardholders ages 18 and older. Both current and new cardholders must have a library card in good standing in order to be eligible to win. Odds of winning depends on number of entries received. OCLS staff and Board of Trustee members are not eligible to win. Current and new library cardholders may earn an extra entry in this contest by posting on Instagram with the hashtag #OCLSFriends. To earn the bonus entry on Instagram, your profile must be public. Prize pack will not be mailed. Online library card applications are not eligible for this promotion.

About the Orange County Library System

The Orange County Library System is a public library system that serves its patrons by providing access to collections, facilities, events and services that connect our community to the evolving world of ideas, information and technology. For more information on the Orange County Library system, visit

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Prevent Sex Abuse: Become a Safer, Smarter Family with These 5 Tips

Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating adults and children about sexual abuse prevention, developed the Safer, Smarter Families program to arm families with tools and resources to help keep children safe.

Words by Senator Lauren Book, M.S. Ed.

Beginning a new school year is a magical time for children, from shopping for clothes and supplies to meeting classmates and starting extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, the back-to-school season also brings increased opportunities for child sexual abuse, whether at the hands of a teacher, coach, baby sitter or other trusted adult.

According to The Advocacy Center, one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and one in five children will be sexually solicited through the Internet before they graduate high school, as indicated by the National Children’s Alliance.

As one of the 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America, I know what it’s like to have my childhood stolen from me. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to ensure all families are equipped with the resources needed to prevent abuse. The statistics may be scary, but you can teach your kids about personal safety from a place of fun, not fear.

The first step toward preventing your child from being victimized is to arm yourself with information. Here are five important things to know about sexual abuse:

  1. 95% of abuse is preventable.

The most important thing to know about child sexual abuse is this: 95 percent of cases are preventable through awareness and education. Continue to remind your child that they always have the right to feel safe and help them identify three trusted adults they can tell if they ever feel unsafe, confused or not quite right.

  1. “Stranger danger” is a myth.

The truth is that in more than 90 percent of abuse cases, a child is suffering at the hands of someone they and their families know and trust, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Remember, a stranger is just someone your child doesn’t know well, and you can’t tell if someone is safe or unsafe based on how they look or even how well you know them. Instead, empower your child to decide if a person is safe or unsafe by the way he or she makes them feel.

  1. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone.

Child sexual abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, at all levels of education and in every ZIP code. We may think it will never happen to our child, but everyone is at risk. Predators are skilled at gaining the trust of both their victim and their victim’s family, which brings me to my next tip…

  1. Predators are master manipulators.

Predators are skilled and know exactly how to form close relationships with children and their families. They manipulate their target by a process called “grooming,” where they befriend and gain the trust of a child over time before beginning the cycle of abuse. Be cautious of any overly generous gifts or special attention your child receives from another adult. If an adult seems more interested in pursuing a relationship with your child rather than with you, that is a red flag. Other signs of abuse include nightmares, emotional withdrawal, acting out in school and inadequate personal hygiene.

  1. It’s never too early to teach kids about body boundaries.

Whether your child is five or 15, it’s never too early or too late to start a dialogue about personal safety. Teach your child the proper anatomical names of their body parts, and reinforce that their private parts (areas covered by a bathing suit) as well as their mouths belong to them and are part of their personal bubble. Also, when talking about touch, use the terms “safe versus unsafe” rather than “good versus bad.” Some touches may physiologically feel good, but emotionally make the child feel icky or confused.

Parents are the first line of defense to protect children from unsafe situations, so it’s critical to arm yourself with information. My foundation, Lauren’s Kids, created a free program called Safer, Smarter Families, which offers an interactive online tool to help you create a personalized Family Safety Plan, customized based on your child’s age as well as any developmental delays or disabilities they may have.

After answering a few short questions, you’ll be able to access your custom plan complete with engaging videos, printable activities and other helpful tips on topics such as body boundaries, cyber safety, healthy relationships and self-esteem.

For more ideas on how to protect your family from abuse and to generate an interactive, custom Family Safety Plan, visit

Senator Lauren Book, M.S. Ed., is an internationally respected and renowned child advocate, former classroom teacher and best-selling author. She represents the Broward County-based District 32 in the Florida Senate and serves as the Democratic Leader Pro Tempore. Book is also one of 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse living in the U.S. today, and founded Lauren’s Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, in 2007.


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Learn to Skate: Homeschool Edition

Learn to Skate: Homeschool Edition is a new eight week program at RDV Ice Den for homeschoolers ages 6-17.

Participants meet once a week for a 30-minute class followed by 15 minutes of supervised practice. This program is a great opportunity for your homeschooler to try a new activity while staying active and socializing with other homeschoolers. This class is for skaters in Learn to Skate levels Beginner-Delta only.

Rental skates are not included with Learn to Skate classes. Skate rental punch cards with eight rentals may be purchased at the Ice Den service desk. The fee is $26.25 plus tax.

August 23, 2018 – October 11, 2018
Thursdays 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Ages 6-17
Register Here

Visit the RDV Ice Den for More information on the Learn to Skate program.

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STEAM Lab Opens at TCS

The Christ School Enhances its Curriculum with a STEAM Lab

The Christ School (TCS), an independent, Christ-centered, TK–8 school located in downtown Orlando, has enhanced its curriculum with the opening of a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) Lab.

Dr. Aaron Farrant, TCS Head of School, says, “At The Christ School, we believe in experiential learning. We don’t believe students have to be perfect the first time they try something new. In fact, research shows that students learn best when they are solving problems and working through initial failures and setbacks. Students also develop higher levels of persistence and grit in this type of learning environment. The STEAM Lab will be a premier educational space that will allow our students to experiment, build, design, and learn.”

Dr. Farrant continues, “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are critical fields of the future, and research shows that the earlier children are exposed to these fields the more likely they are to pursue them as careers. At TCS, we have chosen to add Art to this space. Art allows people to bring technology and designs to life in a way that makes them desirable to potential customers. It is the difference between something being functional and something being marketable. We designed this space to help our students develop a passion for these critical fields and prepare them to use that passion to impact the world.”

The Christ School has selected teacher Christina Liu, a seasoned STEAM instructor, to lead the new STEAM Lab. Ms. Liu is renowned for her enthusiasm for integrating all components of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), into exciting and relatable experiences for her students that inspires their curiosity about these important subjects. “I look forward to joining the team at The Christ School to help build the STEAM program,” says Ms. Liu. “My previous experience of starting and building Think Tank, (a STEAM-based critical thinking class), has been the ideal preparation for me to take on this new role at TCS. STEAM is so much more than just the subject areas of Science, Engineering, Technology, Arts, and Math. STEAM integrates these subject areas into and provides a framework for teaching the essential 21st century skills. Developing these skills will help prepare our students for jobs that don’t exist yet. I can’t wait to go ‘full STEAM ahead’ at The Christ School!”

The Christ School’s STEAM Lab concept began with an idea by the school’s leadership team to have a premier educational space that would foster students’ curiosity and bring real world concepts to life through hands on learning. The new Lab was brought to life through the support of The Christ School community. This amazing space would not be possible without the generosity of TCS families and the support of Florala, Signman Sez, KMF Architects and Aquagrove.

Dr. Farrant continues, “Thank you to our parents and community who supported this effort through their financial gifts, sharing their expertise, and donating their time and talent. I am so grateful for their support. Eric Kleinsteuber, TCS dad and architect, has been an invaluable resource in bringing the STEAM Lab to The Christ School. We are also fortunate to have many TCS parents in STEAM occupations who have offered insight into their fields of expertise so we can ensure the space incorporates real world applications. Our larger school community rallied around this idea and raised the funds to build this space. It has been amazing to see our families come together to bring this new STEAM Lab to our students in the fall.”

The Christ School looks forward to integrating the new STEAM Lab into their curriculum at the start of the 2018-2019 school year!

For further information on The Christ School and its new STEAM Lab, visit or call 407-849-1665.

About The Christ School
The Christ School partners with families to provide an academically rigorous and Christ-centered K – 8 experience. TCS students and graduates confidently pursue excellence in scholarship, service and leadership. The Christ School, established in 1996, is an independent school, located in downtown Orlando on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. The Christ School is accredited by the Christian Schools of Florida, Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) and Florida Kindergarten Council (FKC), and is also a member of the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA).

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READing Paws at Seminole County Library

Did you know that early readers can go to the Casselberry or Oviedo libraries to practice their reading with a READing Paws dog? Trained therapy dogs and their handlers provide a low stress, non-threatening environment for hesitant readers to practice their skills.

Call or stop by to make an appointment for a 15-minute reading session at one of the following locations:

  • Central Branch Library (Casselberry) 407-665-1500
  • East Branch Library (Oviedo) 407-665-1560
  • West Branch Library (Wekiva/Longwood) 407-665-1670

Check out all of the exciting and free programs for kids at the Seminole County Libraries here.

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Get 20% Off Science Center Membership

Duke Energy Celebrate Science Night, photo by Roberto Gonzalez

With all of Orlando Science Center’s exciting, hands-on offerings, it’s easy to spend a whole day or a whole year at the Science Center! If you’re planning a visit or considering purchasing an annual membership, we have good news for you: OSC offers a number of discount opportunities to help you save on science.


Purchasing an annual membership is the best way to save at Orlando Science Center. A family membership is just $165 and covers two adults and any children under 18. Membership includes free admission and parking every day; free admission to special events like Otronicon and Science Night Live; discounts on summer camps and other programs; discounts for on-site retail like Subway and The Coffee Spot; and more.

  • Bulk Memberships: OSC’s best savings are available with bulk memberships. When memberships are purchased in groups of 10 or more, everyone saves 20%. Gather some friends to save on science together!
  • Science for All Access Program: Limited memberships are available for $25 per family to those who demonstrate their need with certain documentation. For eligibility requirements and details, visit OSC’s website.
  • Other Discounts: OSC offers membership discounts of 10% to 15% for various groups of people including teachers, military, seniors, and more. Visit the website to see the full list of discount opportunities.

Daily Admission

With your general admission ticket, you get to experience all of the Science Center’s hands-on exhibit halls, giant-screen films, live programming and more. If you plan ahead, you can save on general admission by making sure you have what you need to qualify for one of OSC’s discounts:

  • Science for All Access Program: Show your Access Florida EBT card and a matching photo ID to receive admission for $3 per person for up to six people.
  • Bank of America Museums On Us Weekends*: The first full weekend of every month, show your Bank of America credit card and your matching photo ID to receive free admission. (The discount does not apply to guests or children.) For dates and details, follow Orlando Science Center on Facebook.
  • First Responders & Military: First responders, staff of first responder organizations, veterans, and active military all receive a discount of $3 off adult tickets and $2 off child tickets. Just show your valid ID demonstrating that you belong to one of these groups.
  • Teachers: Florida teachers receive free general admission to the Science Center! Just show your faculty ID from a Florida school.
  • Board of Trustees Affiliated Businesses: If you work for a business represented on Orlando Science Center’s Board of Trustees, you can receive a discount of 25% off admission. Check OSC’s website for the list of businesses.
  • $10 Day*: Orlando Science Center has a special opportunity a few times each year for everyone to receive admission for just $10 per person. The next $10 Day is September 23, 2018. For future dates and details, follow OSC on Facebook.


*Bank of America Museums On Us weekends and $10 Day tend to be busier than typical weekends at OSC.


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New Montessori Preschool in SoDo

Learning Minds Montessori is an independent private Montessori school located in the core of sunny, downtown Orlando. Our student-to-teacher ratios are above state standards. We believe that children, especially the primary ages from birth to six-years-old, learn the best in small, warm settings. That is why we are keeping our total capacity to a small group setting, ensuring that each child gets the attention and care they need to learn and create. We welcome a multi-cultural community of families and are committed to fostering diversity in all the areas of our Montessori program.
Our Montessori curriculum is based on the education philosophy of Maria Montessori, which is a child-centered approach based on scientific observation of the child’s learning behavior from youth to adulthood. Our Director is AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) certified. AMI is the most prestigious training program founded by Maria Montessori, and is recognized worldwide for its excellence and authenticity. Our preschool is lead by trained and certified Montessori staff that is friendly, respectful, enthusiastic and passionate.
Our Montessori Curriculum is complimented with STEM based activities. Children work with hands-on materials that involve planning, creating, communicating, reflecting and improving their scientific thinking skills resulting in making them critical thinkers and future problem solvers.
Our all-natural environment is painted with soft organic yellow paint that surrounds the children as they use the spread of natural wood Montessori materials from Neinhaus Holland along with unique STEM materials.
At Learning Minds Montessori, we value the idea that each child is individualistic and naturally eager for knowledge, and that each child is capable of initiating creative learning when put in a nurturing and supportive learning environment. We feel proud to be able to bring this principal of learning that has been tested and used for over 100 years and practiced throughout multiple cultures, to our community and families.

Come tour our facility and see our unique learning environment where children achieve their skills to the highest potential and experience the joy of learning and discovery.

Open Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Offering 5 Days, 3 Days and 2 Days Programs for Children Age 2 to 6 Years Old
Get a 10% Discount on Tuition Now Through April 2018
2116 South Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL, 32806
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Private School Open House/Tour Round-Up

Next school year may feel like it’s far away, but now is the time to research private schools for the 2018-2019 school year. To help you with your search, PLAYGROUND’S private school partners have provided a list of their upcoming open houses. Mark your calendars see what each of these excellent schools has to offer!

The Christ School

Call to schedule a tour.



The Geneva School

Call to schedule a tour.



Lake Highland Prep School

December 7 – Lower School Visitation Day (Grades 1-5), 9-11 a.m.,
January 11 – Kindergarten Playdate, 9-10 a.m.
January 18 – Pre-K Playdate, 9-10 a.m.



Orlando Science Center Preschool

Tours offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-11 a.m. or 3-4 p.m.
Call or email to schedule a tour.



The Parke House Academy

January 11 – Open House, 10 a.m.-Noon
Call to RSVP.



Park Maitland

December 1 – Admissions Open House, 9 a.m.
January 13 – VK4 Screening Fun Day, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
January 25 – Admissions Open House, 9:00 a.m.



StarChild Academy

Multiple locations; check website for phone numbers.
Offers private tours daily. Call to schedule a tour.



Sweetwater Episcopal Academy

January 27 – K4 & Kindergarten Fun Day Screening, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
February 10 – Open House, 1-3 p.m.



Trinity Preparatory School

December 8th – Open House, 9 a.m.-11 a.m. RSVP online.



Methodist School for Early Education

Call to schedule a tour.

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We Love Our School

Choosing a private or charter school can be nerve-wracking. Sure, you read their marketing materials and talk to the principal, but what’s the real deal? We went straight to Central Florida parents to get the inside scoop on local private and charter schools.

Compiled and Edited by Tracey C. Velt

Engaged Teachers

As new parents, it was easy to choose StarChild Academy, Wekiva. Our friends recommended it highly, and it was within walking distance of our home. After three years, the decision to continue with StarChild is just as easy. Our daughter’s care and education are highly valued, not only by us but by the entire staff as well. Parents are encouraged to engage with teachers, making the learning process a team effort. StarChild also goes above and beyond to teach non-academic values like patriotism and responsibility.

Scott and Amy Evans of Apopka; Parents of Abagail (3)

Learning to Be Intentional

We moved to Florida from Connecticut about five years ago. At the time, we were concerned with finding a safe and comfortable learning environment like we had back home. Holy Family Catholic School is where we decided to send our three children.

The principal, Sister Dorothy, along with the teachers and students welcomed my three children with open arms and kindness. The children made lasting friendships that have carried over into high school, as my oldest is now a junior at Bishop Moore Catholic High School.

We love the fact that our children are academically challenged and know that God is with them at all times! They learn to be intentional with their thoughts and actions. We love that our children are exposed to many different cultures and learn to embrace the languages as well. They begin learning the fundamentals of Spanish very early on.

Sports are a huge attraction for our family, as all three kids have engaged in more than one sport. Holy Family encourages each child to go outside their comfort zone and experiment with different sports. My kids love the special camaraderie of being a Lion and representing their school with pride!

On a very personal level, the school conducted a moment of silence to pray for our family when the children’s grandmother was very ill. It spoke volumes to get a phone call from Sister Dorothy expressing her thoughts and prayers. We know that our children consider their school their second home.

Sue and Ryan Burr of Windermere; Parents of Taylor (16), Caden (13) and Dustin (8)
(No photo provided)

Focus on Independence and Creativity

It’s hard to put into words what a blessing Galileo School for Gifted Learning has been to our family. As a former teacher, I love entering the classrooms and seeing the kids in hands-on learning environments and fully engaged. Many of the teachers use flexible seating choices with yoga mats and exercise balls, so you see children completing their work all over the classroom. My children love the independence with which they are entrusted.

Outside time is valued and given more than once a day. Teachers pay attention to the whole child and all of their needs.

Creative Productivity is a time that truly sets Galileo apart from other schools. The children get to choose from six different activities that interest them. Some of kids’ favorites are robotics, origami, candy making, team sports, project runway and musical theater, to name a few.

I truly believe that any child could thrive in this learning environment, and I know my children are getting the very best education. More importantly, they are learning to give back, be kind to others, and become contributing members of society and overall better human beings.

Nichole and James Topelski of Sanford; Parents of Kyliee (10) and Kaiden (7)
Photo by Tammy Hoffman Photography

Individualized Attention

Both my children attended The Parke House Academy from age 3 through fifth grade. When they first walked through the doors at the school, they felt as if they were home. I love the small class settings, where children are taught and shown love, structure and discipline with the ability to move ahead or obtain extra help on an individual basis within the school’s academically challenging and creativity inspiring curriculum.

Shannon and Rex Hurley of Winter Park; Parents of Parker (11) and Tanner (14)

Beyond Academic Excellence

Our family chose Lake Highland Prep (LHP) for many reasons, but a few of them beyond academic excellence was the sense of community that Lake Highland offers and the innovative teaching and cultivation of character that the school instills. There are so many opportunities for you to get involved and participate at LHP. My daughter, Piper, started in pre-K and is in first grade now. Piper’s favorite thing about Lake Highland is when their class gets to go to the iLab (Innovation lab), where students create, build and explore. There is something for every child at this school — swim team, chess club, STEM activities after school, sports teams and Odyssey of the Mind. This is a major draw to the school. We couldn’t be happier with our choice of school. Go Highlanders!

Megan and Will Dennis of College Park; Parents of Piper (6)

A Nurturing Environment

We love Sweetwater Episcopal Academy (SEA) and its sweet, nurturing environment. The teachers are the heart of the school and truly love their jobs. They are extended family to our children. We love the KIND Zone, where everyone is kind to each other, and if someone is not, then other kids step in and remind them. It’s a big part of SEA’s culture. Also, we love the Rainbow Awards, which are given to kids who are caught doing random acts of kindness. The awards are presented in front of the entire school and parents at chapel each week.

I’ve enjoyed being involved in the Parents Club and getting to know other families. My kids love going to school and are always eager to learn. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing they are safe, happy and in good hands while receiving a first-class education.

Ellen and Leo Bessette of Longwood; Parents of Gianni (20), Elizabeth (11), Katherine (10) and Madeleine (7)
Photo by LM Photography

Recycling Lessons

One thing I love about the curriculum at Creative Inspiration Journey School (CIJS) is the emphasis on using recycled materials as part of the kids’ learning. I’ve seen my older son transfer this to the way he plays at home. He’s constantly rummaging through our recycling bin or asking to hold on to packaging materials because he’s making plans for some new creation. I also appreciate that they are not afraid to get dirty. Experimentation and learning are supposed to get messy, and they embrace that. The messiness of play is too frequently missing in today’s childhood, and I feel better knowing my children get plenty at CIJS.

Marie and Elysa of Winter Springs; Parents of two children, ages 2 and 4
(No photo provided)

Hands-on Learning

What our family loves most about O2B Kids in Altamonte is the hands-on learning! Each Friday, our soon-to-be 3-year-old daughter has show & tell, where she is encouraged to bring in an item based on the letter, shape or color that she’s been learning all week. It gives us the opportunity to go on a treasure hunt at home and gives her a chance to tell a story about her item at school. It really helps us as parents connect with what she’s learning in class in a fun and meaningful way

Justin and Claire Pagan of Altamonte; Parents of Jocelyn (2)

Shared Values

What I love most about The Christ School (TCS) is that we are a community of faculty, staff, students and families who share a similar set of values that are rooted in the Bible, and we truly care for and support each other. You know the saying,“It takes a village to raise a family?” TCS is my village. There is a sense of trust and commitment, and that is the foundation on which everything at the school is built.

Jen and Mike Bostedo of Orlando; Parents of Jace (10) and Ellie (14)
Photo by Simply Shelby Photography

Strong Academics and Real Conversations

There are so many things we love about Park Maitland School — from the strong focus on academics to the very special annual events tailored for each grade level. However, with today’s generation of young children so focused on social media and texting rather than having real conversations, we love that Park Maitland focuses on developing strong social skills. This quickly becomes apparent when visiting the school. Students are taught to look people in the eyes when communicating and to answer in full sentences in a reciprocal conversation. We love seeing how much adults appreciate it when our children answer their questions with a question of their own. We think these skills will give our children a strong head start to becoming successful and productive members of our community.

Bryan and Jessica Reuss of Winter Park; Parents of Kensington (7) and Paxton (7)

Feels Like Home

I was a teacher before having children and was immediately drawn to the atmosphere at Walden Community School (WCS). When we visited, I was comfortable and felt at home. It’s easy to see that the students feel the same way. The kids were learning and having fun. Some students had their shoes off. Some were lounging in beanbag chairs, and some were laying on yoga mats. A teacher was working with a small group at a table in a side room. Most importantly, every student was actively engaged in his or her work.

When our youngest daughter, Eliana, visited WCS, she didn’t want to go home. She became a Walden Student the week after her visit, and I became a Walden teacher the next school year!

Kristi and Matt Klein of Winter Park; Parents of Eliana (10) and Sasha (15)
Photo by Emelie at Photo International

Nurturing Environment and Staff

I count my lucky stars every day that we found A Kid’s Gym Learning Academy in Oviedo. My two children have been students of the preschool and gymnastics programs for four years now, and we couldn’t be happier. Like every working parent, I struggled with mom guilt and wondered if I was doing the right thing by going back to work and not staying home with my children, as I did when they were babies.

Everyone from the director to the teachers and gymnastics coaches nurtures and cares for my children as if they were their own. My youngest struggled with the transition to full time daycare when he was two years old, and his teachers and the school staff supported us to ensure that he could spend a little time each morning with his sister to get him acquainted with his new home away from home. It was that small, kind gesture that set this school apart from everywhere else.

They understand that every child (as well as this helicopter mom) has unique needs, and they treat them and their challenging moms accordingly. These qualities, along with their exceptional curriculum and teaching techniques, make learning fun. My children have thrived and have become independent, intelligent, healthy young people. Every day is a new and exciting experience at A Kid’s Gym, and we would never consider anywhere or anyone else to protect, nurture and care for our children. A Kid’s Gym and their fabulous instructors will always hold a special place in all our hearts.

Jennifer and Jeff Bowman of Oviedo; Parents of Evie (7) and Jake (5)
Photo by Kabiki Photography

Forward Thinking

We love Windermere Prep School (WPS) because our school loves our kids. They teach and care for each of our children like the unique individuals that they are. I am proud that WPS, after the successful pilot program in our son’s class last year, has started mindfulness in the classroom.

Alongside the Young Yogi Program, WPS is creating an environment where our children can learn joyfully, self regulate and succeed. It’s this kind of forward thinking by the staff and administration that comforts me when I drop them off each morning.

Danielle and Chad Newbold of Windermere; Parents of Miles (9), Violet (6) and Reed (4)
Photo by Daniel Kuykendall

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Orlando Science Center Afterschool

Duke STEM Field Day at the Orlando Science Center, photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Limited space available – Program begins January 17, 2017.

Orlando Science Center Afterschool is an immersive program that gives students in grades K-5 an opportunity to develop their skills with hands-on STEM activities.

This program runs Monday – Friday.

About Orlando Science Center Afterschool

The program will provide an interdisciplinary approach to various STEM topics in an afterschool environment that fosters skill development over time while encouraging existing interests and passions. Through engagement in project-based activities, students will be provided with opportunities for self-direction and access to various disciplines such as arts, social studies, and more.



Orlando Science Center will offer transportation from Princeton Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, Audubon Park Elementary, and Fern Creek Elementary. Orlando Science Center will require a minimum of 15 registrations from each school before transportation can be guaranteed. Additionally, families may provide their own transportation for students to Orlando Science Center.


$90 per week for General Public
$80 per week for Members
$50 One Time Registration Fee

O'Neill Headstart at Orange Center Elementary, photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Orlando Science Center is offering scholarships to qualifying students; scholarships are available on a limited basis, so apply now for consideration.

Snacks, outdoor recess time, and homework assistance are also included with this program. In addition to the group activities, kids will get the opportunity to do self-directed, project-based activities and explore everything the Science Center has to offer each day.

Learn more at the Open House Saturday, December 10!

See OSC’s classrooms, preview Afterschool activities, and meet some of the teachers!
Saturday, December 10 | 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Visit the Orlando Science Center Afterschool webpage for more information on registration and scholarships.

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Registration Open at R School Orlando

R School, a new Florida nonprofit independent school, is now accepting applications for the spring term. The first of its kind in Central Florida, R School is an accessible educational alternative to public, private, and home school.


Enrollment options for grades K-8:
  • Full-time, campus-based independent school
  • Part-time, campus-based homeschool or private school enrollment
  • Private school umbrella enrollment

The R School flexible enrollment plan allows families to choose the option that best fits their needs.

About R School

“In contrast to learning environments that emphasize high-stakes standardized testing and adherence to fixed curriculum, R School offers a child-centered approach to education that allows students and families to be active participants in the learning experience,” said R School Founder and President Meribeth Huebner, an Associate Dean at Rollins College. “Students learn in small, multi-age classes guided by education professionals and content specialists.”

In addition to traditional academic curriculum, students participate in a rotating number of electives such as gardening, yoga, and creativity/design thinking. Frequent field trips to nearby farms, nature preserves and other venues enhance R School’s non-traditional educational experience.


New Central Florida Locations

R School launched two Florida locations last August for the 2016 to 2017 school year. R School’s East Orlando location is located at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. The second campus serving K-5 students is located in Lakeland under the directorship of Dr. Wendy Bradshaw.

“R School is an independent-minded, community-spirited solution for parents who seek to provide the highest quality education for their children in a progressive, pioneering environment,” added Darren McDaniel, Vice-President and Creative Director for R School and founding director of Urban ReThink, a community hub for stimulating collaborative endeavors, economic growth, lifelong learning, and community evolution.

For more information, visit, contact, or call 407-385-0234.

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The Christ School Invites Parents to Explore


The Christ School (TCS) is an independent, Christ-centered K-8 school in downtown Orlando. TCS is hosting two events for interested parents to check it out:

On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, parents are invited to the Kindergarten Chat, held from 9 to 10 a.m. in the school’s Library and Media Center. Learn about kindergarten readiness and get your questions answered. After the presentation, attendees are invited to tour The Christ School and explore the kindergarten and transitional kindergarten programs. This event is designed for parents of 2 to 5 year olds who have not been to kindergarten.

On Tuesday, November 15, 2016, The Christ School invites prospective parents to learn more about the school at their Prospective Parent Open House. Attendees will hear a message from Head of School, Dr. Jason Powell, on the mission and vision of The Christ School. The school’s Academic Team will discuss Fides, the kindergarten-8th grade academic structure which provides excellence for all students. Following the presentation, attendees are invited to take a guided tour of the school. Parents of students who currently attend The Christ School will act as tour guides and will be available to answer questions.

The Kindergarten Chat and the Open House are free and the public is invited to attend. Reservations are requested. To reserve your space, RSVP to Joanne Fleming, Director of Admission, at

The Christ School is currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 school year. For more information, visit or phone 407-849-1665.


About The Christ School:
The Christ School partners with families to provide an academically rigorous and Christ-centered K – 8 experience. TCS students and graduates confidently pursue excellence in scholarship, service and leadership. The Christ School is an independent school, located in downtown Orlando on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. The Christ School is accredited by the Christian Schools of Florida, Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) and Florida Kindergarten Council (FKC).

The Christ School
106 E. Church Street, Orlando

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All the “graduations” are a bit excessive


I was just reading a flyer about the VPK graduation at my daughter’s preschool. It reminded me of when we tortured my first born at his preschool graduation. We were all really excited about it, I asked family to travel from over 2 hours away to attend (and they did), then we laughed and pointed at a large group of 4 and 5 year olds who were giving a performance. (Note: We laughed at, not with.) I remember having a moment of realization and thinking: are we torturing our kids?

I remember attending my little cousin’s Kindergarten graduation back in the 90s.

I recently received an email from my son’s old charter school about their 5th grade graduation. That particular school has Kindergarten through 8th grade in one building. They are not even “graduating” to a new building! I don’t get it.

Remember when graduation was just for high school and college? I actually Googled the definition. Here it is:

Screenshot 2016-05-14 06.42.24

So, who started this whole slippery slope of FAKE graduation ceremonies? (Your child is not receiving a degree or diploma.) I blame private schools. As far as I can see the public schools are only hosting REAL graduation ceremonies at the end of 12th grade … You know, when students have actually EARNED THEIR DIPLOMAS!

I know VPK is the new Kindergarten, and 5th graders are doing math I only learned in community college, but damn … let’s save the graduation ceremonies to honor those students who have earned “an academic degree or diploma.”

I love a party but let’s skip the meaningless cap and gown and call these celebrations what they really are …

  1. an end-of-year party,
  2. an end-of-year performance or
  3. an end-of-year public humiliation ceremony.

Then we can keep fewer fake Facebook posts off our timeline. #BeTheChange

Picture 381

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Smart Start by LearningRx

Smart Start Parent Flyer

LearningRx is now providing Smart Start, fun, interactive brain training classes for children ages 4 to 6. By attending weekly classes and labs with your child, you will be able to work together on skills such as attention, memory, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, and processing speed.

Smart Start includes a class kit containing a Smart Start class binder and session packets, brain cards, a brainy bag, brainy blocks, a color arrow board, liftoff number cards, liftoff sound cards, metronome, a stopwatch, and a LearningRx canvas bag. This course takes place at LearningRx Orlando-Windermere and lasts for 6 weeks. Classes are 90 minutes long and labs are 60 minutes long with 8 parent/child duos in each.

The foundational brain skills learned at Smart Start will help you continue training your child in a fun way at home too, so that they can be prepared for everyday experiences in life.

You can call LearningRx at 407-614-6255 to reserve a spot for you and your child, or visit their website to learn more. LearningRx Orlando-Windermere is located at 6735 Conroy Road, Suite 326, Orlando, Florida.

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Hands-On Harley Davidson

Hands-On Harley-Davidson 3

Hit the Road with the Hands-On Harley-Davidson™ Exhibit!

Dream It! Build It… and Ride It!
Orlando Science Center exhibit opens on Saturday, January 30 at Noon

Ready to hit the road? Opening this Saturday, January 30 at Orlando Science Center, the Hands-On Harley-Davidson™ traveling exhibit immerses children in the world of motorcycles in an engaging, free-flowing atmosphere that lets them interact with the machinery around them! This compelling interactive experience teaches STEM concepts in a fun and exhilarating way and will have children jumping at the chance to hit the roads and explore!

The exhibit invites children to explore a pretend motorcycle dealership while learning about the people, places and processes that make a community work. The exhibit’s pretend retail setting features two kid-sized motorcycles inspired by a Harley-Davidson Road King® and opportunities to “Dream It!,” Build It!” and “Ride It!” using activities that promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

It all starts when they Dream It! Little learners can become design engineers with “Machines In Motion,” where they will learn how acceleration, speed, friction and gravity affect motorcycles in motion. Then, before they hit the road, it’s time to visit “Gear Up,” a dealership where they will learn the importance of riding gear that will keep them safe, warm and dry.

Next stop … Build It! This area features three areas of exploration: “Motorcycle Mechanics,” “Build-It Bay” and “Custom Shop Style.”

  1. First, visitors become motorcycle mechanics and learn about engine and motorcycle parts and how they work together to create a smooth and safe ride!
  2. Next they can build their dream ride using interchangeable custom motor parts and accessories, including seats, mirrors, and engine components. These amazing kid-sized motorcycles are inspired by a real Harley-Davidson® Road King®!
  3. If that doesn’t leave them spinning their creative wheels, they can customize their rides with magnetic decals and more!

Hands-On Harley-Davidson 2 Now grab a vest and helmet, and get ready to ride! Learn about traffic safety, hand signals, and preparing for a trip by becoming a motorcycle-riding community service officer. Afterwards, visitors head over to “Let’s Ride,” a first-person riding experience, including a throttle to control the speed of the bike, working turn signals, costumes, audio effects – and the wind in their faces! The last stop is the Off-Road Recreation, a multilevel play space with real Harley-Davidson® motorcycle parts, accessories and sounds!

The exhibit’s educational content reflects developmental milestones set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and national academic standards for school-age children. Signage in English and Spanish helps caregivers understand how the exhibit experience supports STEM education, literacy, social development and a child’s awareness of related careers.

Stop by today and experience the Hands-On Harley-Davidson Exhibit before it hits the road on May 1.


Experience Hands-On Harley-Davidson with admission to Orlando Science Center, which is $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for students and seniors, and $13.95 for youth (ages 3 – 11). Admission is free to Science Center members. Tickets include access to all four floors of exhibits, giant screen and 3-D educational films, one Hollywood feature-length film, and live programming.

For more information, call 407.514.2000 or visit


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Dream School



If you were to ask a student what a dream school would look like, the Walden Community School is probably what they would describe.

Words By Heather Reneau | Photos By


Walden Community School is a progressive private school in Winter Park, Florida, founded in 2002 by Dr. Carol Mikulka in an effort to provide her two daughters with an advanced academic school that was also focused on developing the whole child while being supported by inspirational teachers and a community of other students. Over the years, Walden Community School has gone through many transformations. Originally a middle and high school program, the school currently serves students in first through sixth grade and will continue to expand to meet students’ needs. After more than 14 years of evolution, Dr. Mikulka says the school’s program transcends intellectual pursuits and academic achievement to educate the whole person. She does this by carefully choosing extraordinary teachers who are progressive-minded and passionate and who demonstrate respect for students’ autonomy.

Walden's school culture emphasizes collaborative versus competitive learning.

Walden’s school culture emphasizes collaborative versus competitive learning.

collaborative learning

Dr. Mikulka describes the school culture as a hybrid between homeschooling and private schooling. Homeschool parents usually don’t grade their students; rather, they evaluate the students’ entire body of work. Teachers carefully evaluate each child’s performance based on his or her educational, social, emotional and physical literacy through individual quarterly evaluations instead of traditional testing and letter grades. Dr. Mikulka believes kids should not miss any educational standards. However, she has created a safe and stress-free school that allows students to hit these standards on their time without anxiety because their individual personalities and learning styles are considered.


Students play a history-themed game during lunch.

hybrid school

During a visit to the school, you’ll feel at home because, well, you’re in a house. Situated on an acre of property, the main house acts as the school office, reception, art studio, library, kitchen and features a few open collaboration areas. The property also has another building that houses the lower elementary group as well as a classroom trailer that houses the upper elementary group. Outdoors, there’s a zipline, a student-tended vegetable garden and an outdoor science lab. Shoes are optional (kids can wear whatever they find comfortable). Each student has housekeeping chores, completing tasks such as watering the plants, stacking chairs, sweeping the floor and taking out the classroom garbage.

The classrooms offer a variety of seating areas, much like your home does, allowing students to choose where they are most comfortable to learn. Students may work at a table for large group projects, sit on comfortable chairs while working with a friend or work independently on the floor. The kids get plenty of outdoor time. Students eat lunch together outside in addition to daily P.E. class and ample recess time. It’s very common to find children engaged in independent reading on the outdoor hammocks.

Heather Brunson, the upper elementary teacher, works independently with a student.

Heather Brunson, the upper elementary teacher, works independently with a student.

inspired curriculum

The curriculum is developed by the faculty each year and includes an overall historical theme. Writing, critical thinking, and hands-on projects are the largest components of the inquiry-based lessons. For example, when the upper elementary students researched and studied the Civil War, they were not tested on dates and facts. Instead, they were asked to explain how the slaves might have felt after being freed and what challenges they may have faced. This year, upper elementary students are studying evolution and philosophy with help from community advisors from the Rollins College Philosophy Department. Meanwhile, the multi-age first through third grade class made Stone Age-inspired tools and fire pits, created cave paintings and hand stencils, read The Epic of Gilgamesh and engineered an irrigation system after planting their first crop.

Walden Community School offers an interesting combination of Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Classical, Harvard’s Project Zero and the Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences education approaches. Their curriculum development is inspired by the Finnish education system that is consistently rated one of the top systems in the world.


Students grow herbs and vegetables in their literacy garden. For math, the lower elementary students watched a video on Egyptian pyramid building, then students applied their math skills to construct sugar cube pyramids at the outdoor science lab.

the fine print

What’s not so dreamy about Walden Community School is the tuition. It costs $12,000 per student per year. The tuition ensures that the school maintains great teachers at a 1:10 student-to-teacher ratio. Walden is accredited by Advanced Education Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is also a designated Project Learning Tree educational center, instilling responsible action on behalf of the environment. Walden accepts McKay Scholarships and Step Up For Students scholarships. For more information or to request a campus tour, visit

Thumbs up for Walden

Thumbs up for Walden.

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Kindergarten Chat & Open House

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Explore The Christ School This November at Two Special Events

The Christ School (TCS), an independent, Christ-centered K – 8 school located in downtown Orlando, presents two events designed for prospective parents this November.

On Thursday, November 5, 2015, parents are invited to Kindergarten Chat, a program exclusive to The Christ School.  The Kindergarten Chat is held from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Library and Media Center at The Christ School, 106 E. Church Street, Orlando.  Targeted for parents of 2 to 5 year olds who have not been to kindergarten, the chat will focus on kindergarten and transitional kindergarten readiness.  TCS kindergarten teachers will discuss developmentally sound exercises and practices for parents to engage in with their children as they prepare to enter kindergarten. The presentation includes a question and answer session. After the presentation, attendees are invited to tour The Christ School and explore our kindergarten and transitional kindergarten programs.

On Thursday, November 12, 2015, The Christ School invites prospective parents to learn more about the school at our Open House event.  Attendees will hear a message from Head of School, Dr. Jason Powell, on the mission and vision of The Christ School.  Additionally, attendees will hear a message from the Academic Team about Fides, The Christ School’s academic structure which provides excellence for all students. Following the presentation, attendees are invited to take a guided tour of the school. Parents of students who currently attend The Christ School will act as tour guides and will be available to answer questions.

The Kindergarten Chat and the Open House are free and the public is invited to attend.  Reservations are requested.  To reserve your space, RSVP to Joanne Fleming, Director of Admission, at

The Christ School is currently accepting applications for the 2016-2017 school year.  For more information, visit or phone 407-849-1665.  

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OMA Homeschool Art Classes



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TechMe Avalon Park


YouTube vlogging, app-building and computer programming are just a few of the subjects all tech-savvy kids want to know. TechMe Avalon Park makes it that much easier. Founded by two highly motivated tech-savvy educators with more than 18 years’ experience combined, TechMe After School is a hip and fun way for school-aged kids to learn the latest technology such as: Ozobots, Made With Code, Blockly, Makey Makey, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, GarageBand and Incredibox.

TechMe After School class projects change weekly and run from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The cost is $125 (includes a one-time $20 registration fee) for the week or $30 for the day. Your techno geeks (just own it) can learn everything from audio mixing and television studio work to creating a magazine and setting up a mic, storyboard and camera.

Once TechMe is done with them, we just might hire your little coder to update our website. Maybe. 🙂

13000 Avalon Lake Drive, Suite 208, Orlando, FL 32828



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STEM Activities For Preschoolers

Preschool Science

STEM Education & Activities for Preschoolers
by Bright Horizons at Windermere

One of the newer educational terms that we see frequently in the news is STEM education. But what exactly is STEM education and is it appropriate for preschoolers? We met with the new Bright Horizons at Windermere team to learn more! (Did you know Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool is opening in Windermere this summer? For more information on their Infant – VPK programs, visit

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM Education, a term initiated by the National Science Foundation, refers to an educational approach which integrates more than one of these disciplines. Science, technology, engineering, and math may seem like lofty subject matter for preschool children. In reality, preschoolers spontaneously engage in STEM activities indoors and out on a regular basis. With a little guidance from us, we can enhance children’s opportunities to engage in STEM learning and develop their critical thinking skills.

While building with blocks, children can build bridges and ramps, incorporating engineering and math. They can add a technology component by researching these on the computer. Outdoors, children could help solve the problem of getting water to a garden they helped to plant, drawing on their science and engineering knowledge. Incorporating the use of children’s garden tools like rakes, shovels, and a wheelbarrow build on this activity to provide an even broader STEM experience.

STEM Activities for Kids

  • Go on a nature walk. nature walk can be a great outdoor STEM activity for children. Take a reusable bag and encourage your child to collect interesting objects she sees like small round stones, leaves, seed pods, or flowers. When you get home, help her sort her treasures into categories, such as color, texture, size, and shape. Skills used: math and science
  • Do a cooking activity together. Cooking with children is another way to engage kids in learning at home. Look up an interesting recipe together online. Follow the recipe letting your child help measure and mix. Skills used: science, technology, and math
  • Build ramps to test which cars, balls, or marbles go the fastest. Use a board, sheet of cardboard, or small table with one side elevated to make a ramp. Try rolling a variety of objects, two at a time down the ramp to see which is fastest. Record your findings on a chart. Skills used: engineering and math
  • Set-up building activities with paper or plastic cups. Give a challenge such as, “How high can you make a tower of cups?” Measure each tower and record their height. Skills used: engineering and math
  • Explore the grocery store. With your child, purchase some fruits and vegetables that you have never tried before. Before cutting up the fruits and vegetables, have your child predict what will be inside. Then, with careful supervision, have your child help you cut up small pieces to try. Invite your family members to a tasting party. Make a graph that shows everyone’s favorites. Skills used: science and math
  • Play with water. Water is a rich STEM material and water play activities is a great way to engage kids. Provide a basin of water outside so you don’t have to worry about spills. Provide tools to experiment with like a turkey baster, empty dish detergent bottles, plastic measuring cups, etc. to fill and compare. Skills used: math and science

The possibilities for STEM education are endless. Children love to experiment, combine new substances, build, knock down, collect, sort, and have fun while learning. You were probably having your child do STEM activities at home and didn’t know it. Look for additional opportunities to build STEM activities in your daily routine.

Bright Horizons at Windermere is located at 7866 Winter Garden Vineland Road, Windermere, FL 34786 and will be opening this summer. They will offer Infant – Kindergarten Prep (VPK) programs. For more information, visit

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Dora & Diego New Exhibit

Dora & DiegoExhibit_OSC

“Dora & Diego — Let’s Explore!”
Exhibit Opens to the Public Saturday, Jan. 24 at Noon

Get ready to explore with Dora and Diego at Orlando Science Center in the new exhibit “Dora and Diego — Let’s Explore!” The exhibit features beloved characters Dora and Diego along with their friends Boots, Map, Backpack, Isa, Tico and Swiper, now in their own exhibit for your preschooler to explore as they learn and play along.

This new, interactive traveling exhibit, created by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in partnership with Nickelodeon and presented by Amerigroup Foundation and locally by Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, will open to the public on Saturday, Jan. 24 at noon.

“Dora the Explorer” follows the adventures of the 7-year-old Latina heroine Dora and her friends in an imaginative, tropical world. “Go, Diego, Go!” stars Dora’s 8-year-old cousin Diego, a bilingual animal rescuer who protects animals and their environment. The exhibit gives children and their families the opportunity to go into the worlds of Dora and Diego to engage in problem-solving and active play. Young children play along as they join an adventure and learn how to solve problems, be a good friend, and care for animals and the environment. Spanish vocabulary is incorporated throughout the exhibit to introduce Spanish-speaking skills to preschool children.

“Dora the Explorer” is a ground-breaking children’s series that draws kids into an interactive quest using a variety of learning techniques in every episode. “Dora and Diego — Let’s Explore!” carries the play-along theme throughout the exhibit as children are encouraged to actively play while they solve problems, share and learn about the natural world.

The exhibit is funded in part by a grant from the Amerigroup Foundation. The Amerigroup Foundation’s support of “Dora and Diego — Let’s Explore!” provides underwriting for preschool field trips to the museum for youth populations identified as most at risk for childhood obesity. Information about healthy, active lifestyles is available to parents via the exhibit’s Family Guide and website, and free school curriculum is available to teachers as well.

“Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore!” will be open through Memorial Day on May 25. Be sure to bring your little explorer to play along with Dora, Diego and their friends so they too can say “We did it!”

Favorite friends and places from episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Do!” are incorporated in the exhibit including:

The Purple Planet
Visit the Purple Planet with Dora and Boots! A Purple Planet home invites young visitors to climb inside and slide down on the surface of the Purple Planet.

Rocket Ship
Dora’s outer-space friends want to go back to the Purple Planet and need help getting there. Aboard the Rocket Ship, preschoolers are invited to put on a spacesuit, pilot the ship and test their memory with images of colorful planets as they help Dora and Boots take their outer-space friends home.

On the way to the Purple Planet, Dora and Boots encounter some interesting star groupings. Children and their families are invited to help identify the patterns made out of stars by inserting star shapes to light up a constellation.

Isa’s Flowery Garden
Dora’s friend Isa the Iguana demonstrates how to take care of flowers, plants and animals. Preschool visitors can tour Isa’s Garden to pick flowers, interact with bird, butterfly, and insect puppets, and pretend-fly with toddler-sized bird and butterfly wings. Even the littlest visitors will enjoy smelling the flowery scents and picking soft-fabric posies.

Tico’s Tree and Car
Dora is a good friend to Tico the squirrel and young visitors are invited to be a good friend to Tico too. Tico needs help picking nuts from the tree for a family picnic. Children can play along with Swiper to swipe the nuts and watch as they shoot up and over to fill Tico’s basket. Tico’s car is in need of fuel! Visitors can help Tico fill up his car with nuts so he can begin his journey.

Pirate Ship
In the Pirate Ship, preschoolers can join the Pirate Piggies crew and dress like a pirate to pretend-play along sailing the ship and divvying up the treasure. Visitors can raise and lower the Pirate Piggies’ flag, look through the telescopes to spot the treasure chest and then divvy up the coins into the Pirate Piggies’ banks and help them share the treasure.

Animal Rescue Center
Young children can practice caring and helping rainforest animals in Diego’s Animal Rescue Center. Preschoolers can be an animal rescuer, like Diego, as they diagnose and address an animal’s problem from the “Scanner” bed, bandage and apply cold packs at the “First-Aid Station,” and bathe stuffed animals at the “Care Station.”

Rainforest Maze
Preschoolers will explore a rainforest to locate rainforest animals. Active play is encouraged as children swing across the Bobo Brothers’ monkey bars, crawl through a fallen tree, climb across Jaguar Mountain and jump or hop across the River Rocks.

Experience “Dora & Diego — Let’s Explore” with admission to Orlando Science Center which is $19 for adults and $13 for youth (ages 3 – 11). Tickets include access to all four floors of exhibits, giant screen and 3-D educational films, one Hollywood feature-length film, and live programming.

For more information, call 407.514.2000 or visit

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President's Day Brain Training



Kids’ ability to memorize all the presidents can motivate you to get a better brain too!

For many of us, the upcoming Presidents Day holiday mostly means a day off, or the annual bombardment of mattress commercials and car ads. But for thousands of kids across the country, it’s much more than just a brief reminder of George Washington, or a reason for another three-day weekend. For them, Presidents Day brings the perfect opportunity to share an accomplishment – the ability to quickly recite from memory all 44 U.S. Presidents in order. They can do it forward and backward, and often while blocking out intense distractions, or performing tasks like hitting baseballs.

This impressive memorization feat isn’t designed to give kids an advantage in American history class; the goal is to build a better brain. The training used to learn this strengthens the underlying mental skills that we all need to think, reason, remember, learn, read and pay attention. By building up these cognitive skills, people actually become better learners with faster, more efficient brains.

Learning to recite the presidents is one of the first things students master when going through a brain training program at LearningRx. They use a memory tool called a mnemonic – a colorful picture of all the presidents linked together in a story-like list. Learning to memorize the presidents with this mnemonic not only strengthens long-term memory, it can also grow visual processing skills, increase processing speed and strengthen attention.

At-home brain-building exercises can help in similar ways. One way to strengthen memory is by creating paperless lists. Simply imagine your items strung together in a colorful, memorable way. Often the more funny or vivid the image, the easier it is to remember.

Ready to give it a shot? Let’s say you need to remember four things at the market: 1) toilet paper, 2) carrots, 3) cereal, and 4) chicken. First, picture yourself walking into the store following an incredibly long roll of 1) toilet paper to the 2) carrots. The toilet paper is wrapped around the giant singing carrots which are stuck into an animated box of 3) cereal. The cereal is holding a flying 4) chicken by the leg. As you add more things to your paperless list, grow the picture. If you remember you need cheese, expand your image to include the chicken eating mozzarella.

The presidents exercise also helps strengthen the three types of attention:

  • Sustained attention is strengthened by focusing on recalling the presidents from memory.
  • Divided attention skills are honed by working on more than one task at a time.
  • Selective attention is improved by working to block out unnecessary distractions.

Here’s a way you can help your child strengthen the three types of attention at home AND work on basic math facts.

  • Gather ability-appropriate math fact worksheets for your child.
  • Time him as he completes it as quickly and accurately as possible.
  • Next, warn him that you will try to distract him as he tries to beat that time. Start with low-level distractions like tapping or humming. After he can meet or beat his best time, add higher-level distractions like singing off-key or blaring the TV.
  • Make it fun and reward effort and accomplishments. High-fives and verbal encouragement go a long way, as do small rewards like M&M’s or extra screen time.
  • Next, add a task to help strengthen working memory and divided attention. Explain to your child that while he works, you’ll say three words that he must repeat immediately after he finishes the worksheet. This will force him to choose which information to remember and which to ignore.
  • Finally, combine the timed element, the distractions and the additional task for the ultimate brain-building exercise.

Can you see where these types of targeted attention drills are especially beneficial for people who struggle with ADHD? It not only enhances their ability to pay attention, it also helps them multitask and ignore distractions.

Still need a little motivation to get you working on improving your own cognitive skills? Check out to see some Orlando kids who’ve mastered memorizing the presidents. And remember, it’s more than just an impressive memory feat – it’s a sign of a better, faster, more efficient brain.

Article provided by Georgia Leacox, Owner/Executive Director, LearningRx Orlando-Windermere. For more information, please go to our website and explore: or call us at 407-614-6255.





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Let's JAM



Hello Families, Let’s JAM!

The wise and revered philosopher Plato once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”  The founder of the Junior Academy of Music (JAM) could not agree more!  When it comes to unlocking potential and planting the seeds for a lifetime of success, there is simply no better tool one can provide to the growing child than that of an excellent music education.  JAM does just that – the program offers comprehensive early childhood music instruction that’s based on meeting the developmental needs of children as they grow.  The Junior Academy of Music is celebrating its grand opening this June and the classes are not to be missed! The program is language-rich, sensory focused, and active — perfectly suited for the developing child and an excellent complement to other education programs.

Why Early Childhood Music?
Music study in childhood awakens neural pathways in the brain that help develop memory, language, mathematical thinking skills, and the powers of abstract and creative thought.  The study of music, combined with deliberate rhythmic movement, activates the senses and refines both gross and fine motor movement. Both vestibular and proprioceptive senses are engaged and enhanced throughout each class session. Scientific studies have shown that music activates all spheres of childhood development, including: language, concentration, leadership skills, problem solving, and much more.

Why JAM?

The Approach
JAM offers a unique, sequential program that guides children from general music competency to advanced instrument play, to a lifetime of arts involvement.  Our emphasis on Classical literature, sensory development, and age-appropriate pedagogy means that each class is educational, fun, and purposeful.

The Teachers
Your JAM instructor is a highly qualified, certified education professional with extensive experience in both Classical music and child development.

Your Family
The JAM program makes family education and involvement a priority.  Family activity guides extend the fun and benefit of music education at home.

Our Community
For every child you enroll, a child in need learns for free through the Spread the JAM program.

The Junior Academy of Music is now offering summer classes in Winter Park and Baldwin Park for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers (up to age 5), June 9 – July 21.  JAM with the best, enroll today for a lifetime of benefit!  For schedule, details, and registration call 407-921-2903 or visit

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Engineering for Kids


STEM, When I grow up!

What is STEM? Why all the fuss over STEM?

As a mother of two small children, I have about 10.1 million things to worry about. Did I remember to put my daughter’s sweater in her backpack? Were there enough pull-ups in my son’s school bag? What are we doing for dinner tonight? Is there a soccer game this weekend, or a dance rehearsal? Oh, wait, summer starts in less than two weeks! What are the kids doing for the summer?! Then comes the hours and hours of internet searching and flyer filtering for which camps will be fun AND keep their brains working until school starts again.

As a working professional, I want to make sure my kids are in a safe environment all day, since Momma has to work (and Dad too)!  With today’s economy, no matter what class – upper, lower, middle, we all want to stretch that dollar, while exposing our children to the best of the best (especially when it comes to education). So which of the hundreds of camps do I pick? In comes STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

STEM is not just another buzz word, it is ‘the’ buzz word.  STEM fields are the professional and corresponding academic disciplines that fall under Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Due to the national and state research which reflects our STEM workforce is in crisis, most states have a large push to increase “STEM” literacy.  In mommy terms – our kids, who are already very tech savvy (iPhone savvy!), are not necessarily building on their science, math and definitely not their engineering knowledge. The state of Florida created a Florida STEM Council, STEMflorida, Inc., to focus on STEM education in partnership with private and public companies, as well as education groups. From Florida’s small businesses to our large fortune 500 companies — we will always be in need for STEM professionals, and unfortunately what America is doing today is not cutting it. But we want to do better.

There is a vast amount of local and national resources that parents can take advantage of, to help their children position themselves to be successful. One in particular is a program named Engineering For Kids.  They offer enrichment classes, camps, and events in a fun way to wheel in our children to understand the fundamentals of engineering. At the root of engineering is problem solving, a lifelong transferrable skill we require to be independent and successful. Engineering For Kids teachers coach your child to help increase their reflective thinking skills, a skill which comes natural to many gifted and talented students.

During this summer in the Central Florida area, Engineering For Kids is offering camps at several locations.  Locations include: Foreign Language Immersion Prep Academy in Celebration, where your child can participate in two camps in one, as half of the day they spend in a full immersion language class (Mandarin, Spanish, or French), and the other half of the day they are in STEM classes. Lake Mary Prep in Lake Mary and Rollins College in Winter Park, where your child can design their own video game, program their LEGO Robots to battle, build a roller coaster, and for our girls – there is a Beauty & Brains, GIRLS ONLY camp! For those heading out to the beach for a closer-to-home vacation, Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, where your child will design and build their own shelter and flashlight to help get them through Survivor: Engineer’s Cove camp!

Check out these exciting camps offered this summer in Central Florida by Engineering for Kids.

The Amazing Race, STEM Edition: with Foreign Language Immersion

Location: Foreign Language Immersion Prep, 1530 Celebration Blvd., Ste. 103, Celebration, FL 34747
Camp Dates:  6/9 through 8/15
Camp Times: FULL Day: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Free early drop off at 7 a.m.; Afternoon extended care available 4-6 p.m.
Grade or Age of Campers: 2 Separate Camps for PK4 to 2nd graders and 3rd to 7th graders
Cost: $299 Full Day. Free early drop off.
Description: TWO CAMPS in ONE! Our Amazing Race will take us to try new things from trying different food to speaking foreign languages, designing a car to building a rocket that flies 50 to 200 feet high! Half of the day you will work on engineering challenges such as building your own airplane, hot air balloon, helicopter, parachute, paddleboat, or having to create clean water, build and program a robot to retrieve water from a well or to launch a glider.  These challenges are related in some manner to the country wherein they are located or its culture. The other half of the day you will not only acquire or build upon Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese language skills, but also learn about different countries and cultures across the world through plays, art, and festivals! Spaces are limited due to low student to teacher ratios, so sign up fast!
Business or Instructor: Engineering for Kids Teachers & The Foreign Language Immersion School teachers, who are native speakers of Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese.
Website (Phone): (321-348-7801) and (321-939-4177)

The STEM Camp:
Game Design, Robotics, Amusement Parks, Wreck-It Week, Heroes Week, Beauty&Brains

Location: Lake Mary Preparatory, 650 Rantoul Ln., Lake Mary, FL 32746
Camp Dates: 3 WEEKS ONLY: 7/07 – 7/11;  7/21 – 7/25;  7/28 – 8/01
Camp Times: Half Day: 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m., FULL Day: 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Grade or Age of Campers: 3 Separate Camps for PK4 to 2nd grade; 3rd to 5th grade; 6th to 8th grade
Cost: $199 Half Day; $285 Full Day.  Full Day sibling or multi-week discounts available.
Description: Welcome to a world of innovation, imagination and fun! THE STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) CAMP offers a different theme each week where you will design, build, test and compete in various engineering related challenges. Themes such as: How Amusing – Ah, the thrill of an amusement park…zipping around on racecars, zooming through the loops of a rollercoaster and enjoying a cold, refreshing ice cream treat at the end of a hot, sticky day; Da Vinci EV3 Robots, where you will program the latest generation of LEGO® robots to solve similar challenges Leonardo da Vinci faced, such as retrieving water from a well, launching a glider, and even draw; Game Design Your Way, where you will use Multimedia Fusion 2® to create your own platform video game that you get to take home and play, such as a Mario-type game; these themes, corresponding dates, and more are described on our registration website. Free T-Shirt for all campers! Spaces are limited due to low student to teacher ratios, so sign up fast!

The STEM Camp: Game Design, Robotics, Amusement Parks, Wreck-It Week, Out of this World, Beauty&Brains

Location: Rollins College Hauck Hall, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789
Camp Dates: 6/16 through 8/8. No camp week of July 4th.
Camp Times: Half Day: 9-11:45 a.m., FULL Day: 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Extended Care Available: 7:30-9 a.m., 3-5:30 p.m.
Grade or Age of Campers: 3 Separate Camps for PK4-2nd graders; 3rd to 5th graders; 6th to 8th graders (4 Weeks Only)
Cost: $234 Half Day; $330 Full Day. Full Day sibling or multi-week discounts available.
Description: Welcome to a world of innovation, imagination and fun! THE STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) CAMP offers a different theme each week where you will design, build, test and compete in various engineering related challenges. Themes such as: How Amusing – Ah, the thrill of an amusement park…zipping around on racecars, zooming through the loops of a rollercoaster and enjoying a cold, refreshing ice cream treat at the end of a hot, sticky day; Da Vinci EV3 Robots, where you will program the latest generation of LEGO® robots to solve similar challenges Leonardo da Vinci faced, such as retrieving water from a well, launching a glider, and even draw; Game Design Your Way, where you will use Multimedia Fusion 2® to create your own platform video game that you get to take home and play, such as a Mario-type game; these themes, corresponding dates, and more are described on our registration website. Free T-Shirt for all campers! Spaces are limited due to low student to teacher ratios, so sign up fast!
Business or Instructor: Engineering for Kids Teachers

The Central Florida area owners of Engineering For Kids, are three mothers with backgrounds in engineering, education (HS Integrated Physics and Chemistry Teacher and Child Development), technology, science (NASA), epidemiology, and marketing. Their mission is to make a difference in your child’s life by exposing them to the world of engineering!

Engineering For Kids offers an educational brain sport experience through high-interest, hands-on, brains-on courses! Your children will further develop their reflective thinking and problem solving skills at a very young age through this program.




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Fannie Hillman Goes to the Head of the Class


Fannie Hillman + Associates and several of its clients and closest friends raised over $1,600 in cash donations and school supplies to help 350 children residing in The Meadows apartment complex owned and operated by the Winter Park Housing Authority. School supplies included everything from backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils to calculators, pocket folders, notebook paper, scissors, rulers and highlighters.

“We are extraordinarily grateful to Fannie Hillman + Associates for their commitment to the 350 youth who call The Meadows home. Our September school supplies have been exhausted and Fannie Hillman graciously recognized the need to assist the youth. The impact of this wonderful gesture can never be truly measured,” said Patsy Rice, executive director of the Winter Park Housing Authority which owns six rental properties in Winter Park, including The Meadows, and operates under the Central Florida Leased Housing Corp.

“It’s our way of annually giving back to a very worthy cause in the community and one this year that will help school-age children have the supplies they need as they prepare for year-end projects, the FCAT and final exams,” said Scott Hillman, president of the celebrated 33-year-old Winter Park residential real estate agency.

The Winter Park Housing Authority is just one of many community organizations that Fannie Hillman + Associates has helped over the years. Others include the Winter Park High School.

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This Week in Space


This Week in Space: Brought to you by Kennedy Space Center

March 1st–March 15th

  • On March 4, 1979, the Voyager 1 spacecraft discovered a ring system surrounding Jupiter. Today, we know the system contains three major components: the Main ring, the Halo and the Gossamer ring. Within the Main ring are two small orbiting moons whose dust makes up the majority of the ring.
  • On March 6, 2009, United Launch Alliance launched a Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler spacecraft. Its mission was to observe specific areas of space for Earth-sized planets orbiting stars similar to the sun. There have been numerous findings of planets and solar systems with characteristics comparable to our own, but another planet with proper living conditions has not yet been discovered.
  • On March 7, 1969, the Spider LM, or Lunar Module, performed its first manned flight proving it worthy of manned spaceflight. It was one of several tests performed by the Apollo 9 crew. The mission launched March 3, 1969 and lasted 10 days.
  • On March 8, 1979, active volcanoes were discovered on Io, one of Jupiter’s four moons. At 5 a.m., the Voyager spacecraft took a long-exposure photograph of Io and a large cloud was noticed in the picture. The data didn’t coincide with previous studies of Io. The orbiting moon had no atmosphere, so why would there be a cloud? Further investigation determined this was the result of a violent volcanic eruption occurring on Io. 
  • March 9, 1986: The Soviet Union’s twin Vega spacecrafts flew by Halley’s Comet on their mission back from Venus. Although both spacecraft approached the comet, Vega 2 came the closest to Halley at a distance just under 5,000 miles. Vega 2 successfully captured the clearest pictures of the comet. Halley’s Comet is known to fly by Earth’s atmosphere once every 75 years. The next expected visit from Halley will be in 2061, so mark your calendars!
  • March 10, 2006: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrived at Mars eight years ago. Today, the mission is still ongoing. While orbiting our neighbor planet of Mars, it uses extreme up-close photography to scan the Martian surface, analyze minerals and seek out any history of water the planet might have. It also monitors the daily global weather. 
  • On March 11, 2008, STS-123 Endeavour launched for the International Space Station. This was the 25th space shuttle mission to visit the ISS. The crew delivered the Canadian Dextre robotics system, which proved successful in completing any repairs normally handled by the astronauts during a spacewalk.
  • March 12, 1981: Russian Cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh became the 100th person to fly into space. Viktor was the flight engineer on Soyuz T-4 which docked with the USSR space station, Salyut 6, for 79 days. This was also the last Soyuz spacecraft to dock with Salyut 6.
  • March 13, 1781: 233 years ago, English Astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus. This was the first discovery of a planet made with a telescope. Herschel originally named the planet “Georgium Sidus” after King George III of England, but German astronomer Johann Bode suggested the name “Uranus” which stands for the ancient Greek deity of the universe. By calling the planet Uranus, it also followed the theme of classical mythology-derived planet names.
  • March 14, 2014: Participate in hands-on robot exhibits and games at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Robot Rocket Rally. Beginning today, the three-day event showcases the most recent robotic and engineering technology. The event is in conjunction with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch March 16th to deliver Robonaut 2 its legs. 
  • March 15, 2014: Tomorrow morning at 4:41 a.m. SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule will launch to the International Space Station (ISS). It will deliver food and supplies, along with climbing legs for Crewmember Robonaut-2 (R2).

For more information, visit

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Holiday Shopping for Children


For many parents of young children, the holiday shopping season becomes a painstaking session of research and deliberation in deciding what toys to purchase. There really should be a flow chart for holiday shopping for children. We imagine it would go something like this:

  • Is it age-appropriate? Yes, next question.
  • Is it budget friendly? Yes, next question.
  • Are the reviews good (note: reviews are your lifesaver. What looks like fun and a good deal can easily be the first thing to break)? No, back to the beginning. If yes, the final question is the trickiest.
  • Will my child be stimulated with it? And by stimulation, we mean boosting creativity and other skills.

To help you along with the process, Christina Fecio, director of education for Doodle Bugs! Children’s Centers, has provided the top educational gifts for children under five this year. “All recommended toys are open-ended experiences, meaning the purpose is the process more than the product. Open-ended experiences encourage creative thinking and boost skills needed for school,” Fecio said.

These encourage critical thinking/problem solving skills and find motor development. Blocks introduce children to concepts of balance and gravity. Melissa and Doug is a terrific resource for blocks…and more!

a. Infants: Try these soft blocks
b. Toddlers: Try foam blocks
c. 3+: Try these wooden blocks
d. 5+: Legos or Duplos are best

You really can’t go wrong with art supplies. Parents can make a “creation station” in a simple tote or three-drawer cart with paper, paint, crayons, glue, scissors and playdough. This is an extremely low-cost option and offers a world of possibilities.

a. Consider adding office supplies, such as a stapler, tape or label makers for older children
b. Try this easel to make the artist studio complete!

Reading to young children is the single most effective way to build strong reading skills, even beginning in infancy. By encouraging thoughts like “I wonder” or “What if” can naturally connect a book to many other topics. Here are a few seasonal favorites:
a. Llama llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
b. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
c. The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
d. The Family Book by Todd Parr
e. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
f. Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner

This activity encourages children to “try on” different roles, experiment with new vocabulary, etc. It includes play kitchens and food, playhouses, dolls and puppets and appropriate for both boys and girls. Consider this Melissa and Doug play kitchen or this shopping cart.

Just because there’s a chance you played with it as a child doesn’t mean that its fun is out of date. Most of the toys like Mr. Potato Head, Magnadoodle, Etch-A-Sketch, Slinky and Hula Hoops have made it to the National Toy Hall of Fame and are all gifts that encourage skill building. Check out the list for more ideas.

Visit for more information on Doodle Bugs! and their BRAVO! Curriculum.

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Project Learning Tree



When Dr. Carol Mikulka, founder and principal of Walden Community School in Winter Park, stumbled upon Project Learning Tree (PLT) in 2007, she knew she found something quite special. “Project Learning Tree provides schools with the resources to educate about environmental issues,” says Mikulka. “More than that, it helps you integrate lessons about the environment into every class, from math to English and more. It’s not all about science.”

PLT’s Florida partner is the University of Florida’s forestry department, and the program is an education program designed for teachers and other educators, parents, and community leaders working with youths from preschool through grade 12. The goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues.

Since attending the PLT conferences and training, Mikulka and her teachers have completed multiple projects using the PLT curriculum, including building a community garden, where they tried different organic fertilizers and no pesticides. As part of a literacy program, students at Walden Community School planted a garden with tomatoes, basil and oregano. “We did a unit on Italy, so we read books about Italian immigrants, artists and more. At the end of our unit, the children harvested the food and cooked an Italian meal,” she says.

The school also has received grants from PLT to hold events. “We got rain barrels and built a passive irrigation system to irrigate a garden that was friendly to gopher turtles,” says Mikulka. “We built two gardens, one for us and one for the gopher turtles. The children researched what types of food the turtles like to eat. It was a lot of fun.”

Another community event was held to “raise awareness that environmental studies should be part of every lesson,” says Mikulka. At this event, the Walden Community School students displayed their science projects, held scavenger hunts and played games. “We invited children from other schools to participate,” she says.

According to PLT, “Studies show that when environmental education and outdoor learning components are integrated into curricula, student achievement increases, including test scores — particularly in science and math. More than half of all PLT activities can be conducted outdoors. Furthermore, independent evaluators confirm PLT increases students’ knowledge, reasoning and academic skills.”

The Walden Community School isn’t the only school in Central Florida participating in this program. Other schools include Lakeview Elementary in St. Cloud, Waterbridge Elementary in Orlando and William S. Maxey Elementary in Winter Garden. “I’m not sure why more schools aren’t members of PLT,” says Mikulka. “It’s especially great for elementary school, but the program offers some interesting high school and middle school options as well.” For more information, go to

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Camden's Corner








With a mission to provide compelling messages and impact children and families in a positive way, MicheLee Puppets is a very special puppet show company.

Central Florida’s children are being schooled on some of the most critical social issues of today. MicheLee Puppets is tackling the social issues that are harming our kids. Show conversations range in topic from bullying to domestic violence, biracial connectedness to environmental education.

After serving as a puppeteer in college for a disability awareness show, Tracey Conner approached her college puppet partner, Michael Prazniak, about starting their own puppet company. It’s name, MicheLee, is a combination of their middle names, Michelle and Lee.

In a casual fashion like only a puppet can accomplish, MicheLee puppets talk to kids about knowing how to hydrate adequately (so your “pee is as clear as glass” — hee hee, the puppet said “pee”), or confide in a trusted grownup to help stop domestic violence. The organization refuses to simply provide an entertaining show, and instead is intentionally and strategically choosing subjects that matter.

Currently the show, Rhyme Time, for pre-K-aged students, fills the void of educational theatrical performances for children this age. A STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) show is on the horizon, which will expose kids to the need for more scientists among us. This program aims to enchant kids on the value and appeal of careers revolving around science.

Seemingly serene and sweet, MicheLee puppets are hard-core when it comes to helping keep, and often saving, our children from perilous circumstances. Hand in hand, MicheLee Puppets has worked with organizations such as the Volusia County Health Department, the Holocaust Center and even the Victim Program Center to produce videos that get distributed to schools. As the puppets talk to elementary-aged kids, tweens and teens about everything from bullying to walking to school and sexual assault, kid angst is quelled by the puppets as the audience learns it’s important to speak out, stop hurting others and help one another keep safe.

Word of mouth is how these shows get booked, so call your school today and request a puppet appearance by MicheLee Puppets for your (and all of our) kid

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Zoology Class



I’m not a big planner. I prefer to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, so when my husband had to work in Crystal River for a few days, I decided to take the kids and join him. I knew we would have fun lounging at the pool and hoped we would get to swim with the manatees. What I didn’t realize was what an incredible learning experience it would be.


Since I’ve been labeled the “hotel snob” by my family, I’m not ashamed to say that the typical discount hotel my husband opts for on work trips was not where we were going to be staying. Even though he insisted there wasn’t much luxury in the little town of Crystal River, I proved him wrong when I found the Plantation on Crystal River. It looked like the only resort in town, in a great location, with a beautiful pool, restaurants and a golf course to boot. Bonus: The resort has its own marina and dive shop, so we could easily schedule a manatee boat tour.


We had to get up extremely early to make it to the Adventure Center at 7:30 a.m. for our manatee pontoon boat tour. That’s crazy early for a mom with a toddler and a grade-school boy who both have to get dressed and eat before we head out. Trust me, it was worth it! We were greeted by Captain Sandman. He quickly got us outfitted in wet suits so we would be comfortable in the 72-degree spring water. Then, we watched an informative video on the Florida manatees. They are federally protected animals, so there are a lot of rules on how humans are able to observe and interact with them in the wild.

Next, we were on the boat heading to the famous Kings Bay (only a few minutes by pontoon boat from the Plantation). Captain Sandman was a wealth of information regarding the manatees. He talked extensively about why they are protected, how important it is for tourists to obey the rules of engagement, and everything else about the cute little sea cows — like their preferred habitat, migration rituals and curious personalities.

I was a little anxious about getting in the water with my son, Kai, who is a mediocre swimmer. And he was donning fins, snorkel gear and a wet suit for his first time. Thankfully, the wet suit provided buoyancy, which was a help, but we quickly had to replace the mask and snorkel with regular goggles (thank goodness I brought those!). It was just too much for him to try to figure out while in deep water.

Captain Sandman mentioned that a manatee boat tour is not a good time to try to snorkel for the first time. He also frequently mentioned that to invite a manatee encounter, you must be quiet and swim horizontally — with your feet and head up toward the surface of the water. I thought for sure that this was not going to go well. You see, my son is one of the loudest kids I know, and he only swims vertically — with his head above water and his feet toward the bottom. (I know, I know, he needs more swim lessons.)

But to my surprise, he did everything exactly the way he was instructed. It was amazing! It was like seeing a whole new side to my child. He was listening, engaged, and following directions and swimming horizontally! So, he had manatees swimming up to him constantly. The first one that came up to see him was a baby. He was very playful and kept rolling on his back, so Kai and Captain Sandman could rub his belly. His mother was close by our boat, and the baby would frequently go over to her to nurse. Yes, I saw a wild baby manatee nursing right next to our boat! After that, another adult female came up to say hello. She kept getting chased away by two males that were pursuing her. Later, we saw a few others that were relaxing in protected areas.

We soon moved on to the Three Sisters Springs, which had crystal clear shallow water and was beautiful. We were able to see the leftover fences from where Jacques Cousteau had created a manatee hospital years ago. Kai was able to try out the snorkel again there to get a little more practice. Apparently, in the winter, the manatees all flock to the small Three Sisters Springs area, as that is the warmest area of water that time of year.


I can’t speak highly enough about the amazing educational experience that we had. The combination of the informative video, knowledgeable captain and hands-on interaction with these large, but gentle, mammals was a real learning moment for my son. I highly recommend this trip, as it’s not far from Orlando, moderately priced and so darn exciting! It was just one of those moments with nature that humble you, inspire you and connect you to this beautiful planet that we all share.

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St. Luke's Lutheran School




We believe in opportunity- the opportunity for every child to learn, grow and succeed. We believe students thrive in a Christian environment where security inspires confidence and parent participation breeds success. We believe opportunities in fine arts, music, athletics and foreign language are integral, not optional. That spirit of success started in 1947 when we laid our foundation on faith and built a one-room schoolhouse for 12 children. out campus has grown to include over 500 students, 65 teachers and staff, and 30 classrooms. Making the most of every opportunity at St. Luke’s has produced top-tier test scores, state championship sports teams, and concert musicians. But most importantly it has given out students the advantages they  need to succeed in high school, college, and beyond.

2025 W. SR 426, Oviedo, FL 32765

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The Primrose Experience

BTS_Gateway_header3 The Primrose Experience: Building the Right Foundation for Future Learning and Life

Choosing the right care for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. At the end of the day, it comes down to entrusting the care of your child to a provider that will give you peace of mind and give your child the best possible experience.

Primrose Schools® is an accredited early childhood education preschool that offers a premier educational child care experience for families across the country. The Primrose Experience starts with fostering a strong connection and partnership with parents to help build the right foundation for future learning and success in school and in life.

“When parents visit Primrose School of Waterford Lakes, they experience a nurturing environment where children are happy, safe and having fun while learning,” says Maranda and Curtis Elsis, Franchise Owner, Primrose School of Waterford Lakes.

What makes the Primrose Experience unique?

Our People and Culture. One reason parents choose Primrose is because they know they are leaving their children with qualified, caring people. Our management team members and teachers exceed expectations by creating and maintaining trusted relationships with every family we serve, and share our vision: To deliver the best and most trusted early childhood education and child care services for families across America.

Our Balanced Learning® System. The Primrose Balanced Learning System provides high-quality educational experiences that support children’s development as well-rounded individuals. The Balanced Learning curriculum addresses children’s social-emotional, cognitive, creative and physical development as we determine what experiences children need at different age levels. This curriculum is reviewed and updated annually to ensure continued alignment with early learning standards.

Our Standards of Excellence. Primrose Schools holds schools to high standards of excellence with the implementation of quality assurance and continuous improvement through an internal Service Excellence Assurance program and an external AdvancED Corporation Systems Accreditation which ensures each school’s adherence to AdvancED Standards for Quality Early Learning Schools.

 Our Partnership with Parents. Our teachers and staff establish strong connections with families by providing ongoing communication through orientations, our mobile app, school events and resources for parents to extend and reinforce children’s learning at home.

To find out how you and your family can have the Primrose Experience, please visit or call 407-247-1061 to arrange a tour of the Primrose School of Waterford Lakes campus.

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Little Learners Workshop Series

Orlando Science Center Little Learners

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Legoland's STEM Programs

Legoland STEM programs

LEGOLAND® Florida makes learning fun by taking imagination outside of the classroom with its third year of educational field trips. The park offers STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-focused programs that meet Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. The programs translate classroom curriculum into real-world examples featuring LEGO products for grades K-6 including the WeDo Robotics LEGO® Education Set and LEGO MINDSTORMS® NXT-bots.

Working with LEGOLAND Florida, teachers can choose from a number of programs and associated in-classroom curriculums that tie in to interactive in-park activities. In the park, program facilitators teach kids about science and math concepts through the creation and strength of structures, how to build simple machines equipped with gears, levers, pulleys and motors, and more.

Each of the eight programs, which incorporate STEM and the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, includes a 45-minute hands-on, educational session and a full day at the park for just $8 per student. LEGOLAND Florida continues to offer Florida teachers a complimentary annual pass to those who qualify. Field trip reservations are limited per day and can be booked by appropriate school officials by calling 1.877.350.5346.

Field trip programs include:

  • Tall Towers (Grades K-3): Students learn about how structures are made and what makes them strong and then test their creation on an earthquake table.
  • Funtastic Gears (Grades K-2): Students build a theme park ride using gears to alter the speed and direction.
  • Robotics for Young Beginners (Grades 1-2): Students will build a Florida alligator and make it move to learn introductory concepts of robotics using motors and sensors. Program uses WeDo Robotics LEGO Education Set.
  • Get Moving (Grades 2-5): Students build a car and predict which car will win the race and why – all while learning about friction, inertia and wind resistance.
  • Energy Lab (Grades 2-6): Students build a solar-powered car where they collect, store and transfer the solar energy to power their vehicle.
  • Amazing Machines (Grades 3-6): Students build their own amazing machine equipped with gears, levers, pulleys and motors.
  • Dr. Heartbeat (Grades 3-6): With students at the helm, “Dr. Heartbeat” and other NXT-bots complete a variety of life-saving operations and medical procedures using a computer, light & sound sensors and motors.
  • Adventure Bot (Grades 3-6): Students can go on a mission using Adventure-bots to retrieve golden marble treasures and hide them from the treasure hunters using a computer, light and sound sensors and motors.

To learn more about education programs at LEGOLAND Florida, please visit

In addition to the education programs, LEGOLAND Florida guests can experience more than 50 rides, shows and attractions specifically geared toward families with children ages 2 to 12. To find out more, visit

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5 Room Mom Tips

Parke House Academy Room Mom

The dos and don’ts of being an A+ room mom

Written by Sandy Franks, Parke House Academy room mom and mother to Parker (11) and Paige(6).

If your kid is in school long enough, you’ve surely encountered the overachieving, overbearing room mom. She may get things done but with a lot of collateral damage. Don’t be that mom! It is possible to be a productive room mom while making friends with the other parents and teachers.

Being a room mom is a big job. The reward is being able to spend more time with your kids and be a bigger part of their educational experience. It is also a great way to get to know other parents. Even if you are shy, as a room mom it can help break the ice and get to know people. Here are Sandy’s tips:

  1. Respect. Before making any final plans, always discuss everything with the teacher. This is her class, and she or he will have the final say. Some teachers don’t mind extravagant parties, but some do. Respect the teacher at all times. The teachers really appreciate all you do, because they know that this is a big job.
  2. Listen. While you’re at it, respect and listen to the other parents. Don’t take every project on yourself then complain that no one will help you. And, don’t try to dictate what the class will do and when for the events. This is a team effort, and your job is to organize the team. On the other hand, you may have to remind parents that you expect them to help —you are the orchestrator, not a one-man show. The more you get to know the other moms, the stronger the bond of the whole class will be.
  3. Ring a ding. Get a phone list out to the parents via email and hard copy as soon as you can. Save it as a PDF file and keep it accessible. You’ll be asked for it over and over again, even after you’ve laminated it and given everyone a copy.
  4. Mom’s night out. Plan a mom’s night out or a morning meeting within the first three to four weeks of school. Get to know the moms and find out who can help you. Some parents just like to write checks, some like to bake, some like to decorate. If your school has an auction or fundraiser, this is the time to discuss expectations of the class.
  5. Click and save. Start a photo-sharing site on Shutterfly. This is a great way for parents to share pictures of the kids that were taken on field trips, at the bus stop and doing classroom activities. Be sure to make the site private with passwords. It’s also cute if you personalize the site for your class. Choose a site from which you can make scrapbooks. At the end of the year, you’ll be thankful that you did as those scrapbooks will be easy peasy.

Sometimes one great room mom can really make the difference in a class!


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Free STEM Field Trips


Local Students and Schools to Benefit from Free STEM Field Trips to the Orlando Science Center

The Duke Energy Foundation awarded a $75,000 grant to Orlando Science Center to allow more than 3,500 elementary school students participate in STEM- (science, technology, engineering and math) focused field trips free of charge. The program, now in its third year, is designed to excite students in Duke Energy’s service territory about fundamental engineering principles.

“Duke Energy is a valued community partner who understands the importance of engaging young people in STEM experiences now. Orlando Science Center is excited to continue our longstanding partnership with Duke Energy because it’s an investment that will pay off in big dividends for our community’s future,” Science Center President JoAnn Newman said. “Together, we can get kids excited about STEM concepts through hands-on, interactive labs and exhibits.”

Field trips will start with a 90-minute discovery lab in which students team up and design a bridge to withstand the heaviest load. After that, they venture to the exhibit floor to use the engineering design process they learned in the lab and follow specific criteria to solve problems. Working together, they will design, prototype and test their creations and compete in challenges among their peers.

“When we support STEM programs, we are helping build the energy workforce of the future,” said Alex Glenn, Duke Energy, state president – Florida. “We are pleased to continue our partnership with the Orlando Science Center, and to support the great work they do every day in getting our children motivated to learn.”

The Science Center will recruit schools from Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola, Polk and Volusia counties. The grant also enables the Science Center to host Title I schools aiding underserved and poverty-stricken youth. Field trips will start and run through the next academic year (2013 – 2014).

Duke Energy — and its antecedent, Progress Energy — have made substantial commitments to the Science Center over the years, totaling more than $720,000. The STEM field trips offered by the Science Center speak to Duke Energy Foundation’s direct areas of focus, specifically, K-12 STEM education.

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Educational Gardens

Local public schools are growing green thumbs.

Lynda Roche (teacher) and Kai Jordan (student) evaluate the different textures and smells of the herbs in Stenstrom Elementary's educational garden.

Lynda Roche (teacher) and Kai Jordan (student) evaluate the different textures and smells of the herbs in Stenstrom Elementary’s educational garden. Photo by Amy Smith

Gardening is so “in” right now, and the trend has sprouted roots in Central Florida’s schools. Despite budget cuts, several public elementary schools are earning grants to build educational gardens on campus to bring an interactive learning experience to our children — and the kids couldn’t be happier.

A case in point: Stenstrom Elementary in Oviedo. Last summer, Stenstrom’s PTA president, Betsey Jewell, got wind of a new program called Lowe’s Hometown Heroes. Through the program, participating Lowe’s home improvement stores award a grant to a local nonprofit organization or K-12 public school that’s in need of an upgrade. As the parent coordinator of the STEM leadership program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at Stenstrom, Betsey brought the idea to the team. “Our timing was incredible. They had just opened up the application process, so we submitted photos and spoke with [the Oviedo Lowe’s store manager] about our vision for the garden. We heard back about two weeks later — our project had been chosen!” says Betsey. The $1,200 award package included all of the plants, pavers, soil, mulch and lumber, as well as a team of Lowe’s volunteers to build it.

The garden was in full bloom the first day of the 2012-13 school year. It’s right in the middle of the school, and kids love to run on the paths, touch the plants and explore nature on their way to class. Dr. Sharon Tanner says that teachers are able to use the large garden for outdoor lectures (there are built-in benches that seat a classroom of children), or they can plant, observe and evaluate organic experiments. For example, a second-grade class cut the top off of a pumpkin, added some soil and watched to see if the seeds would grow. They did!

The garden provides valuable opportunities for the kids to learn, get some fresh air and spend time connecting with nature. Many other Central Florida schools have followed suit. Goldsboro Elementary Magnet School in Sanford built a garden this year for its teachers to use as outdoor classrooms by way of the NASN SCOPE grant. Also, Wilson Elementary School is implementing a Green Club next year for students, which will eventually include an on-campus garden.

If your child’s public school hasn’t implemented an educational garden yet, approach the PTA about creating one. A few hundred dollars and some volunteers is all it takes to create a healthy and dynamic learning experience for our kids.

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5-Star Summer Camps

Summer is quickly approaching. We’re here to help get your boredom-busting game plan together with our insider’s guide to the coolest camps Central Florida has to offer this year. So, bring on the summer – we’re ready!

Written by Cris Phillips-Georg

Enzian Young Filmmakers Camp THAT’S A WRAP
Give your resident Spielberg-in-training the experience of a lifetime at Enzian Theatre’s Young Filmmakers’ Summer Camp (Grades 5 – 8). Youth will experience the art of filmmaking by studying cinematic techniques and actually shooting their own independent film. (See ya’ at Sundance!) Family and friends are then invited to live out their red-carpet fantasies at a special screening of the final film projects. Students also receive free admission to all Kidsfest films.

Science rules this summer, thanks to Orlando Science Center’s something-for-everyone lineup of weeklong camps. Young scientists (Grades K – 6) can go on an astro-adventure, fiddle with fossils, create chemistry concoctions, study backyard bugs and do some serious sleuthing. Registration includes science-themed workshops, live science programs and hands-on exploration of the exhibits.

Orlando Magic Camp

A record 20 basketball camps are being offered at the Orlando Magic’s Youth Basketball Camps for girls and boys ages 7 – 16 (placed in groups according to age, skill level, and experience). New this year: A first-ever overnight camp hosted by Magic guard Keyon Dooling. In addition to basketball skill training, campers also receive awards, giveaways, a camp T-shirt, their own full-size Magic basketball, and a ticket to a Magic home game. SCORE!

After a hectic school year, kids need to find healthy outlets for social, creative and physical energy. SPARK! Family Enrichment Center’s Mind, Body, Spirit Camp puts a fun spin on getting Zen. Camp activities cover etiquette, the culinary arts, knitting/sewing, nutrition, yoga and hip-hop dance. Plus SPARK! offers a trendy, relaxing parent lounge (with Wi-Fi) where grown-ups can chill out and get “centered,” too.

SeaWorld Overnight Camp

An ocean odyssey awaits your mini-Marine Biologist this summer at SeaWorld’s Day Camps. Take a “Seafari,” discover how animals play hide and seek, see how human senses compare to a shark or stingray’s, and find out “what’s for lunch” in the ocean’s cafeteria. Camp registration includes up-close animal encounters, fun activities, take-home crafts, lunch, snacks, complimentary parking during the program, and a camp t-shirt and water bottle.


History just got a whole lot more exciting thanks to the Orange County Regional History Center’s “Adventures in History” summer camp series. Youth (age 5 – 11) will travel the world as art anthropologists, sail the high seas on a swashbuckling pirate ship, and travel back in time to experience life in a bygone era. Each camp series includes cool crafts, interactive activities, and tours of relevant exhibits in the museum.

CF Zoo Camp

The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is offering a “zoopendous” lineup of 18 cleverly themed half-day and full-day Summer Adventure Camps. Options include: Alien Invaders, Build-a-Zoo Workshop, Ickyology, I Dig Bones, Pirates of the ZOOribbean, Predator Prowl, ZOOper Heroes, and ZSI – Zoo Sleuths. A t-shirt and snack is provided at each camp. Need before- or after-care for your little monkeys? They offer that, too.

Want to be a pop star? Then give Opera Camp a try! It turns out that opera is a merge of all the critical elements essential to pop/rock performance: Dance, theatre, voice, costume, set design and music. The Orlando Opera Center offers multiple fantastic summer camps (Grades K – 12) that teach the fundamentals of group singing, music, rhythm, dance/movement, voice-pampering and tips on successful auditioning.

JCC Design Your Own Camp

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando (JCC) is offering youth (Grades 3 – 9) the chance to “Design Your Own Camp.” Campers customize their experience by selecting from an imaginative list of enrichment courses including: Gymnastics, cheerleading, arts & crafts, magic, robotics, digital media, forensic science, puppetry, culinary arts, yoga, journalism, sports & fitness, dance, inventors’ closet and much more. Fieldtrip options are also available.

It’s all about fresh air and green thumbs at Leu Garden’s Garden Camp (Grades K – 6). Outdoor explorers will take daily hikes, participate in plant activities, learn about bugs and animals, and enjoy nature-themed games and crafts. Registration includes a healthy snack for each camper. Sounds like a great cure for Nature Deficit Disorder. Sign us up!

Kennedy Space Camp

“Reach for the stars” this summer at Camp Kennedy Space Center. Junior Astronauts (age 8 – 12) will experience cool space shuttle mission simulations, design space exploration vehicles and habitats, tour the Kennedy Space Center and hobnob with real-life astronauts during this unique five day experience. Registration includes lunch, snacks, t-shirt, an out-of-this-world ride on the Shuttle Launch Experience and a Kennedy Space Center season pass.

Let your child’s inner-artist out to play. OMArt’s colorful array of youth art programs (Grades 1 – 8) are just the muse your mini-Matisse needs to get the creativity flowing. Classes focus on self-expression, but also provide age-appropriate instruction in varied art media and techniques. Exploration of the museum’s galleries is also included.

Page 15 Reading Camp

Put your budding author on the path to a Pulitzer at Page 15 Young Writer’s Camp (hosted at Urban Think! Bookstore). This creative weeklong camp, for youth in Grades 1 – 8, helps kids discover their own voices through storytelling, bookmaking, songwriting, illustration, graphic novel design and screenplay writing. Camp registration includes age-appropriate writing activities, all supplies, a museum or park visit, Page 15 t-shirt, yummy lunch from Infusion Tea, and a book-of-choice from Urban Think.


Interested in Orange County Arts Camps?
Click here to view the digital edition of the O.C.A.E.’s Arts Summer Camp Guide.


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The Handy-Dandy Guide to Your Child's Education

Written by Cris Phillips-Georg


circletree Remember when we were little? “Early Childhood Education” consisted of two mornings per week at the neighborhood nursery school where we ate paste, made macaroni necklaces and slid face-first into the mulch on the playground. (sigh–good times). Nowadays, our kids attend full day preschool “academies” where they eat zero-waste lunches, log hours in the computer lab and say their daily greeting in Mandarin (“Ni Hao”).

The evolution of Early Childhood Education is certainly exciting and we’re all eager to find the “right” preschool for our genius offspring, but let’s face it, keeping up with the ever-changing terms and trends of the Early Ed sector is about as easy (and fun) as keeping pace with our 4-year-olds’ mood swings. Should we emphasize “academic rigor” or return to “play-based learning?” Is the goal of preschool “reading-readiness” or “positive socialization?” Should the classroom environment be “teacher-led” or “child-led?” It’s enough to make your brain explode.

A rose by any other name is just confusing! So, first things first, let’s clarify the difference between preschool and daycare. Here are the quick-and-dirty distinctions between them.

PRESCHOOL is a formal, curriculum-based early education program for children ages 3 – 5, with the sole purpose of preparing a child academically, socially and emotionally for Kindergarten. The program is contained to specific, limited hours (usually a 4- to 6-hour time frame), though before- and after-care may be offered.

DAYCARE (also called “child care” or “child development”) is an extended-hours program, for children aged infant to 6+ years, with the purpose of entertaining a group of children with structured activities (games, songs, crafts, free play, naptime and sometimes TV/movie watching) while parents are working. Some centers include “preschool” as part of their services, but outside of those preschool hours, the rest of the day is standard daycare.

SO, WHAT THE HECK IS VPK? Oh great, another acronym. Only this one is TWKA (totally worth knowing about), because it saves you money! Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (or VPK) is a FREE preschool program offered by the state to all Florida children who turn 4 by September 1 of the school year. VPK is offered at both public and private preschools (meaning your preschool-of-choice probably offers it). The only difference between VPK and paid preschool is that, since it is free and offered by the state, VPK has stricter rules regarding attendance, mandating 540 instructional hours during the school year. If your family travels a lot or needs greater schedule flexibility, opt for paid preschool. If you are the show-up-every-day type, go with VPK.

READ, READ, READ! What can you do to best prepare your child for Kindergarten?

READ, READ, READ!  Reading is a natural developmental process, so have lots of fun while strengthening his/her emerging skills by surrounding your child with many kinds of books, going together to the library, and doing phonics and literature-based activities at home. A child who is experienced and confident with letters and words will have great success in kindergarten.

Beth Zwick, Director of Admissions
The Parke House Academy, Winter Park

class Despite the rhetoric, all quality preschools have more in common than you might think. Every school is trying to help children gain solid social skills: Waiting their turn, sharing feelings in healthy ways and listening to directions. Likewise, there are basic academic skills all quality preschools are trying to instill: Letter and number recognition, phonemic awareness, colors, shapes, etc.

Where preschools can diverge wildly is in the approach used to help your child learn basic social and academic skills. In recent years, trends have shifted away from the classic teacher-led model and have moved to a child-led approach. There are three different child-led methods represented in Central Florida. Here’s the breakdown on how they differ.

MONTESSORI Want the Montessori Method summarized in a tidy phrase? “Help me learn to do it myself” probably says it best. That’s because Montessori is all about instilling independence and authentic confidence. Montessori also provides individualized education. Though classrooms are multi-age (ages 3-6 mixed together), every student progresses at his own pace. Emphasis is placed on helping children cultivate concentration and inner discipline through self-directed learning. All learning tools are also self-correcting (which means that if a task is completed incorrectly, it is visually easy for the child to tell a mistake was made and self-correct without asking for assistance).

Sounds effective, but we just had to ask:
Montessori is known for focusing heavily on grounding children in reality; do kids get to use their imaginations and just be kids? Michelle Dulany, Founder, Director and Head Teacher at West Orange Montessori in Winter Garden, explains that children in the preschool years are trying to figure what is real and how their world works. Montessori aims to “give the children this world that they live in.” Therefore, fantasy play is not included in the Montessori Method but cultivating creativity and imagination are (through art, book making, etc.). The emphasis is always placed on real skills and information. For example, Montessori children don’t “pretend” to set a table in a dramatic-play center; they actually learn to set a table. Learn more about the Montessori method by visiting

REGGIO EMILIA Founded in Italy and based on the belief that there are many equally valuable ways for children to learn and communicate (and that, as such, every child is “gifted” in some way), Reggio Emilia takes an empowering approach to the child-led concept. Rather than teacher-selected themes, Reggio students engage in child-selected “projects” based on the students’ interests (castles, turtles, construction, etc.). Teachers function as co-learners and aid the learning process by constantly asking questions that prod students along in a domino effect of knowledge acquisition. “Mistakes” are encouraged and viewed as a vital learning tool, and class work is frequently revisited and revised as new information is discovered.

Sounds exciting, but we just had to ask:
If children are only doing projects they are interested in, how are other important topics being covered? Anne-Marie Boveri Schlemmer, founder of The Learning Center of Dr. Phillips and The Learning Center of South Park, explains that no preschool covers every possible topic and that Reggio children tend to explore the topics we want them to study anyway: Namely, how their world works. Because learning has a domino-effect, a wealth of subjects ends up being covered. A project on animal homes can transition to human architecture, which might transition to aspects of a community, shifting to people who work in a community, then on to doctors, ending with how the human body works. The difference is that the progression happens as the children’s interests naturally shift rather than on a teacher’s predetermined time table. To learn more about the Reggio Emilia method visit

PLAY-BASED PRESCHOOL In play-based preschools, children “play with a purpose.” Teachers prearrange the sections of the room into planned play experiences tied to a chosen theme. Learning opportunities cover the standard concepts (letters, numbers, science, etc.) but all learning is approached as play and is entirely child initiated. Teacher-to-child ratios are kept impressively low and creativity and imagination are highly encouraged. What you won’t find in a play-based preschool is children sitting at tables completing worksheets. What you will find are enthusiastic children (and teachers) sporting costumes and engaged in creative role-play. What better way to learn about the Wild West than pretending you’re cowboys on the open range? When children are engaged through their imaginations, learning happens effortlessly.

Sounds fun, but we just had to ask: With all of this playing, is any actual learning occurring? Play-based does not mean anarchistic free-for-all. Robyn King, Director of Go Play, a play-based preschool in Altamonte Springs, explains that, in play-based learning, a teacher is interacting with the children at all times. In the case of the Wild West theme, if the children are cutting hotdogs for their campfire, the teacher uses that moment to explain fractions. If the children hang their wash on the line, the teacher might use that moment to demonstrate patterns and sequencing. If the children pretend to ride a stagecoach, the teacher might use that moment to teach children about time. In short, optimizing play-initiated teachable moments is the name of the game. Learn more about Go Play preschool and play-based learning at


smallcircle Ahhh, Grade School. Remember recess? And new school supplies? (Two words: Trapper Keeper. What ever happened to those?) Oh-oh, and remember gym class? When it was still fun, that is, before you reached middle school and started hating it. Grade School, at its best, is a wonderful time of learning and discovery in a child’s life. But, holy FCAT! There sure is a lot of pressure on young students these days.

With study after study indicating that American students just don’t measure up to their global peers, modern parents are increasingly focused on securing the best possible education for their little future-leaders-of-tomorrow. In our day, parents had two choices: Public school or private school. Nowadays, there are a myriad of school choices available. And while options are great, it can be confusing to determine which option is the right fit for your child, and for your budget, and for your commute, and which one aligns with your personal philosophies, and, of course, there’s still Grandma’s opinion to factor in.  You get the point …

So, let’s break it down to the basics. Public and private schools, you’re already familiar with. Here’s our breakdown of the rest of your options. “Choice” is the new trend in public school education, thanks to the advent of charter and magnet schools. Both are subsidized with public funds, but what is the real difference between the two?


CHARTER SCHOOLS run independently of the public school system, so they do not have to follow most state laws and district policies regarding what to teach, how to teach, who to hire and how to spend money. What do they do with all of that freedom? They offer reduced class sizes, integrate a multi-learning style curriculum, and typically offer a broader range of arts and enrichment programs (think private school without the hefty price tag).

MAGNET SCHOOLS cover all traditional learning concepts but do so through the “lens” of a specific focus, typically: Arts & Culture, Community & Leadership, Science & Technology, and/or Mathematics. At a Science & Tech magnet, for example, math problems might focus on sorting animal species, students might write stories about traveling in space, and art projects might include creating 3-D digital murals.

WIN THE EDUCATION JACKPOT! Because of limited space and high demand, charter and magnet schools both admit students via a lottery system. The odds can be daunting, but the educational payoff is huge. Contact your school of choice for application deadlines and details.

There is a new breed of modern homeschoolers emerging, and they’re breaking all the stereotypes. In fact, you might be surprised (we sure were) to discover just how many hip parents are making the leap. “Progressive Homeschooling,” as the new movement is called, books balances academic rigor with creative fun to produce customized lessons that embrace a child’s varied learning style. Emphasis is shifted away from strict focus on test performance and placed, instead, on the pure love of learning.

So how does it work? The approaches are diverse. Some families purchase pre-packaged curriculum, some create their own comprehensive lessons, while others supplement at-home learning with online courses and correspondence schools. What about the age-old question: “What about socialization?” With a wealth of enrichment activities available community-wide (i.e. sports, dance, art, theatre, scouting, book clubs, etc.), keeping homeschooled kids positively connected to their peers is no longer an issue. Check out how one Orlando mom is navigating her homeschooling journey at

Another unique option is a “homeschool hybrid” approach. This combines a traditional classroom environment 2 or 3 days per week with learning at home. Some hybrid schools, such as The International Community School in Winter Park (, provide curriculum for at-home learning, which allows parents and kids to build on the topics that interest them most.

Whether you conquered a private school wait list or opted for the public school down the street, there is one thing we can all do to help enhance our children’s love of learning (and boost their grades in the process). Planning regular Family Learning Activities is the newest way savvy parents are combining much needed quality family time with academic enrichment. Pick a topic your children want to learn about (either a topic your children are studying in school already or just any topic that interests them). Then plan fun, structured activities to do together that have an educational component.

Make learning a family affair Need an example? Okay, here’s a random topic: Butterflies. Purchase a “butterfly kit” at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market and make a family project of raising a caterpillar into a winged beauty. Name it, feed it, keep a diary of its growth, and then throw a big “spread your wings and fly” celebration when its metamorphosis is complete.  Or visit the Butterfly Encounter at Lukas Nursery in Oviedo where you can pet caterpillars, watch butterflies emerge, and pick up special plants to create a butterfly garden in your own backyard.

Now keep the idea going. Do an internet search for butterfly crafts to make together at home. Check butterfly themed books out of the library. Research the difference between butterflies and moths. Once you focus on a subject you’ll be amazed by how many activities come to mind.

So give it a try. Let your kids pick a topic your family can explore together and make Family Learning a regular part of your family culture. Activities don’t have to be labor intensive or expensive, just fun and something you do together. Hmm … fun family time that bolsters learning? Now that’s what we call smart!

You might be wondering  why we are running an education article in middle of winter, isn’t it break time?  There is a reason, friends! Most schools start the admission process in the middle of spring, so do your research now and contact your “school of choice” to find out the application deadline. Many schools make their decisions in February for an August start date! Yikes, the clock is tickin’. Lucky for you, we started your homework for you (cheater). Check out these great sites to help you determine which school will be right for your kid.

  • The mother of all education sites provides information on your local school options, public and private, at one convenient place. Click “Research & Compare” to check schools out by location, performance and parent feedback.
  • This nationwide search engine will help to find the charter and magnet schools available in your county. Just click Florida and you can refine your search by clicking charter or magnet under the “schools by type” header.

Take an interest in your child's education. What can you do to best support your child’s school experience?

Take an interest! Children read verbal and nonverbal cues better than we think, so showing true enthusiasm is important. More than just asking, “How was school?” or “Did you do your homework?” Kids need us to ask, “What did you learn?” and “What interested you about that?” Kids are more likely to achieve their personal best when there is genuine interest and real accountability around what they are actually learning, instead of the focus being solely on how they are performing.

Jamee Miller, Seminole County 08-09 Teacher of the Year
Crystal Lake Elementary, 4th Grade Teacher

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