No Quid Pro Quo (Kids)!

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Intrinsic Motivation
When Rewards Can be a Bad Thing

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasize how they might feel over your own approval. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Take on Empathy

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

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

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

Find out why below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Giftedness in Preschool Children

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Image result for giftedness 

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

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

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

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

Birth to 4 months

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

4 months to one year

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

One year to 18 months

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

18 months to 2 years

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

Two to three years

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

Three to four years

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

Four to five years

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

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

A Look at Student Perceptions

Written by Jacey Dexter, Elementary Principal on .

Student Perceptions
What do they think, and what do we do with that information?

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to serve on a WASC Accreditation Committee, conducting an in-depth evaluation of another school. I spent three days on campus meeting with the school’s leadership team and parents, observing teachers/students, and learning what their program is all about. I enjoyed serving on the committee and gaining some wonderful insights into their program. But, it also reinforced how special and outstanding our program and community are. This year, our school is also renewing our WASC accreditation, and I can’t wait for the committee to come see what we are all about. 

What is WASC Really Looking at?
We develop a self-study and action plan, outlining our goals for the next six years, addressing the areas below. These goals are based on feedback from: students, parents, teachers and the leadership team.

  • Organization & Support for Growth - How well does the school live out its vision and support the needs and academic achievement of all students? 
  • Community Involvement - How is the school involved in the community and how involved is the parent community with the school? 
  • Resource Management - Are resources allocated equitably to best support the needs and academic achievement of all students?
  • Curriculum Instruction & Assessment - To what extent is the school’s curriculum rooted in educational research and proven to be effective? 

Student Survey
Part of our self-study includes a student survey, which we recently conducted with the entire elementary school. We asked students about their school experience. You can find a list of the questions here. I am sharing some data from the survey (a full analysis will be included in the WASC report available to parents this spring). 


 Further expansion of the leveled library has already been added to our next action plan for Resource Management. The above questions reflect just one small example of how feedback (in this case from students) is used in shaping our goals. 

I DARE you to read this last part and not smile!
In the survey we asked students the following open ended questions. Students were not required to answer. Here are all the answers we received (click the links to find out what they said).

  1. I think my family chose WHPS because...
  2. The best part about WHPS is...
  3. Something I wish we could learn about is...

You can learn more about our action plan and goals throughout the year. And, I strongly encourage you to come meet with our Accreditation Committee when they are on campus this Match. Stay tuned for more information.

Student Survey Responses

I think my family chose

WHPS because...

 The best part

about WHPS is...

Something I wish

we could learn about is...

My parents love the school and when they meet the kids they felt that all the kids feel happy.

Because they want me to learn a lot.

It's a good school and the last school was the worst.

Because I am on level.

Because it is close to my house.

I chose this school because my best friend from preschool was going to it.

Because my family wants me to learn a lot and for me to go to a good school.

It is a safe environment.

Because it is a really good school and it’s a private school.

Because it was a smaller, calmer, easier, school.

This school is fun.

My brother went to this school.

I think they think that it is safe.

Everyone is nice and no bullying.

Because it has better education than public schools and we have friends that go to this school and everybody is very respectful.

It is a good school.

It is a good private school and is close to my house.

Because it is a great school and I can learn a lot.

Because I think that it is a very good campus to learn.

My family chose this school because my TK and kindergarten best friend came to this school.

Homework, better education, closer to home.

Because it has a lot of different subjects.

We have been her for 6 years.

It does grade ahead work. Everyone is united and is a friend.

Because it's nice.

Because it's a private school.

Because it was big.

Because I will learn more.

Because they liked it.

Because they thought this was a good school for me to learn.

Because another school wouldn't let me go in 1st grade.

Because I was in a bad school and then they saw WHPS.

They thought it would be awesome.

Because it's good for me.

Because they want me to learn more.

Because they saw it and they thought it was going to be a great school.


Because they are so kind to me.


Because they liked it.

Most of the things I need to learn - books, math makes me smart. Not too much fun.

Because they like it for me.

Because it’s new and they want me to learn new things.

To have fun be good and learn. This school is really helpful.

It's a good school and a nice place to learn.

It's helpful.

Because my cousin goes to the other campus.

Because it's a good school.

Big school and I like it.

Because it's a big school and it's good for me.

The wanted me to be at a good school.

It's the right school for me.

Because it has a lot of nice teachers and is really expensive and I love it.

Because they think I will like it a lot.

Because I'm a good listener at school.

Because I was here in preschool.

Because I’m happy.

They were good friends.

I wanted to come to this school.

God said.

It was good for me.

They like it.

It's super good and I'm not grumpy when I leave school.

They didn't like schools that were different.

It's a nice school.

Because it has nice play yards.

Because it's nice people here.

I'm not sure.

Because they went to school when they were kids.

Because my brother went here.

Because I love it here.

Its name is Woodland Hills Private School.

That they didn’t want me to wear a school uniform.

It’s a good school and I will have fun and learn.

It is close to our house.

Because WHPS is the best school ever.

It was a good school.

It is good for me.

Because I have been at this school for my whole life.

I don’t know.

They saw a commercial and decided to put me into it.

I think that they love this school so much.

So I could be with my brother.

It is a great school.

Better education.

It is very close to my house and it is private.

Because I like animals.

Because WHPS is close to my house. 

Great teachers and everybody is friendly.

The basketball hoops.

My friends.

It is a fun place.

Either the barnyard or the cool specialist classes.

It teaches me a lot about subjects.

Is the friends that I made.

My friends and the games and teachers.

It feels like home.

The administration.

The teachers.

The teachers.

The education system.


P.E. (thx coach) everybody is nice and very respectful smart and helpful.

The supportive teachers.

The friends and teachers I have.

It is fun.


All the people and students are very nice and caring and are super kind.

P.E & Computers & Math.


It has a good time for the school day.

Bully free.


My friends.

That we have a pool.

That I have friends.

I get to play with my friends.

I went to Collins campus.


Going to barnyard.


When I get to see my sister.

That we get to learn a lot.


We get to play at PE, recess, snack and lunch.

We do art.

Play yard.

Play equipment.

I get to play with friends.

A lot of math.


Get to have fun.


Great toys.

Computer and art more often.

My friends.


Fun and helpful for me to learn.

Making new friends.

Playing inside.

Ms. Tripp is my teacher and I love her.

Lots of books.

Playing on the playground.

That there's so much to do.

Hugging Miss Kasey.

Clapping hands.





Playing with Samaara.

The basketball.

Sometimes we have PE.



Readers workshop.

Writers workshop.

Being nice to others.


Maple yard.

Writers workshop and computers.

Writers workshop.

It's fun.

Math, recess and lunch.

That I can make new friends and play with them.

The subjects, the people , the teachers, but mostly everything!

The barnyard and to meet and socialize with other kids to make new friends. The extremely nice teachers and the curriculum to find the perfect level of reading, math and special abilities to help kids learn.

I love having friends at this school.

They have nice teachers

To see my friends.



That they help us in math.

I love writers workshop.

The teachers and the animals.



Having fun.

PE because we run a lot and it's super fun.


I have a lot of friends.

I can learn. 

Is that the school is safe for me.



What happens after life.

9th grade math.


Civil Rights!

The history of sports in P.E.

How to type faster.

Walt Disney.

I don't know. They already teach so many cool things.

Beginning of Earth.

I like everything.

A lot of experiments.

Royals and leaders of other countries.

What is going on all around us.

More weird things in science.

Harder math topics.



Probably more social studies.

Other countries via multicultural night.

How to make crystal candy.

6th grade math in 4th grade.

Geology and physics.


More playing.

Learn about how air is not in space and how air got to Earth.





Counting to 100 in Spanish.

How rockets go into space.


To read.


Switch jobs.




What stuff is made of.








Learn more about school.


More writing.



Learning how to count to 100.

Hot wheels.


Being more helpful.



Having a gym.



To make pumpkins into jackolanterns.



United States.


To read.

To read.


Writers workshop.


How to tie my shoe.

Do more writing on the computer.

Doing math faster.

Kitties and rainbows and puppies and hamsters.




Library class.


Nature and my body.



To learn about the Earth.

Getting better at tipping.

Amazing people.

I wish WHPS had a bigger computer lab.


Learning about how to feed baby animals.

Space, planets, and black holes.

Famous people’s art.


Space station.

  Back to the top

Person-First Language

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Person-First Language
It’s not just about being politically correct

Our language shapes our attitudes; our attitudes shape our language; they're intertwined. If you’ve been reading my newsletter and blog articles over the years, you know how strongly I feel that the specific words we choose can impact a child's mindset, motivation, self-image, and the likelihood they may comply with what’s being asked of them. Language also has significant implications in how we teach children to perceive others. Using person-first language is one way we convey respect and dignity to people and avoid teaching children implicit bias.  

What is Person-First Language?
Quite simply, it means putting the person first when talking about someone. Person-first language avoids using labels or adjectives to define someone, utilizing terms such as "a person with diabetes or "a person with dyslexia instead of a diabetic or a dyselxic. The intention is for a person to be seen foremost as a person and only secondly as a person with some trait. Here are some examples:

Person-first language originated in the education and disability communities. It has become more present, though I would argue not as ubiquitous as it should be, in journalism and media and in the legal code. 

journalists and editors remember to use person-first language (or focus more explicitly on the person, not their traits), it can help reduce bias in the media.

Think about these three sentences:

  • The man ran from the burning building.
  • The Black man ran from the burning building. 
  • The turban-wearing man ran from the burning building. 

Like it or not, our own implicit bias kicks in when race, gender, weight, age, religion or other factors are involved. The topics of bias and representation are complex and will be discussed in other blog posts and conversations. The point being that careful word choice has power.

Legal System
The legal system is also gradually evolving. Just this year, AB 46 was signed into California law, replacing derogatory and stigmatizing terms such as crazy, lunatic, insane, feeble-minded, mentally defective, and abnormal (which were part  of the legal code until 2019!) with terms less rooted in negative stereotypes, such as: a person experiencing a mental health disorder.

Learning Profile & Personality Profile
In our school, in addition to striving to always use person-first language, we use the terminology: learning profile
or personality profile. We work with a lot of gifted (about 1 in 5 WHPS students) and highly intellectual children and also children who experience a variety of learning differences or are on the autism spectrum. We find that viewing these traits as part of the child’s learning and/or personality profile helps to acknowledge that giftedness, high IQ, anxiety, ADHD, sensory processing, speech/language disorders, dyslexia or autism are only one, of many, aspects of the child’s learning or personality profile.

My closing thought...
We can't always get it right, but we should make our best effort to use person-first and respectful language intentionally. If you're not sure, try talking like a [good] journalist: focus explicitly on the person, not their traits. If you are talking to your child about that boy in their class. Consider just calling him the boy rather than adding (autistic, gifted, Black, Spanish-speaking, epileptic, gay, Muslim, etc.). It's a small language shift that could reduce some of the implicit bias we pass along to our kids.

* Addendum About the Autism Community (Person-First v. Identity First Language)

Identity-first language is preferred by some people in the autism community. While many autism advocacy groups support using person-first language (in general), there are different opinions about person-first language as it pertains to the autism community.

Identity-First Instead?
In the autism community, some self-advocates and their allies prefer terminology such as “autistic,” “autistic person,” or “autistic individual” because they see autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity. They feel is impossible to affirm the value and worth of an autistic person without recognizing his or her identity as an autistic person. Some of these advocates assert that referring to someone as “a person with autism,” or “an individual with ASD” is demeaning because it implies that
 it is unfortunate and an accident that a person is autistic. These advocates say that using person-first language implies that the person has value and worth, and that autism is entirely separate from what gives him or her value and worth. Most of these advocates are careful to point out that they don't reject the principles of person-first language, rather, they reject the assumption that autism is an affliction.

Positive v. Negative Stigma
These advocates often point out that (in general) we don't separate traits like "winner," saying, "person who has won," because winning is not regarded as a negative that should be untangled from someone's identity. The argument above treats autism similarly: it is not a negative to be untangled from an autistic person's identity; therefore the use of person-first language may be misguided in this particular context. Person-first language aims to separate disabilities and other negative characteristics from people: this intention to be respectful may backfire if it demonstrates that the person writing or speaking regards the characteristic negatively when the person being described does not.

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