Cortland Preschool Bridge Years Committee

Hello! This is still in process, more to be added and edited tomorrow to wrap it up.

What are the “Bridge Years”? Cortland teachers started discussing in earnest the school’s long-term goals and future together in 2016. We targeted and launched the Bridge Years (September 2018 – August 2020) with the idea that more brains make for better thinking, and shared, common goals for the future of Cortland Preschool are worth planning for.

Who is on the committee? The Bridge Years Committee is a “come and go” committee comprised of Cortland mentors like Neal Bader, Elaine Coorens, Mary Pat Garr, Mary Artibee, past and current Cortland teaching staff, past and current Cortland families.

Has been great to revisit every little scrap of paper, notebook, etc. that has led us from the Bridge Years April 2018 “start” to today.

Meeting 1 Overview: Met as a group with special guest, Reggio Director Andrea Cocke, at Dos restaurant to discuss our growing and learning with regard to the Reggio Emilia approach, what our community wants and needs (namely, a Reggio based school that continues through at least 8th grade), identify potential partners within our community who might support our goals, consider how Cortland might grow in “lab” approach through hosting student teacher candidates, teachers in training, other simpatico school delegates. Recap Ms. Amy’s first trip to Reggio Emilia and goals that were generated in Italy. Ms. Amy to identify local, trustworthy realtor and developer.

Meeting 2 Overview: Share notes from Greenfields Academy meetings and observations,
Meeting 3 Overview: Target film and media as an area of growth interest to showcase Cortland’s work,
Overview, to-date:
Action Items: Ms. Amy to explore a conversation with Scuola Enrico Fermi. Alumni Survey info will be synthesized into useful info for our next meeting, and to best benefit current families, preliminary “feelers” have been sent out to learn from pre-existing programs in our area that successfully embrace a sliding-scale tuition model, starting with Families Together Cooperative.

Long Game: Continue to explore potential for partnerships with existing schools that would allow for Cortland to provide ages 3 – 1st grade while the partner agency provides through at least 8th grade.
Next Meet:
For detailed, specific info, especially for those who have already attended a prior meeting, please contact to schedule a meeting or phone call.

CPS Test Prep

From a Cortland alum parent, here are some tips / advice / resources—keep in mind that CPS changes this annually, so you need to be proactive and look at the new website, read their info, tour schools, etc. to best prepare. See supplemental articles on Preparing Your Young Child… and What To Look For In A Classroom.

Application Process:
CPS’s school choice program is administered by the Office of Access and Enrollment ( To start the school application process, in September or October, you request a PIN, which CPS will mail you. Starting in October and running through mid-December, you submit an online application. You can choose up to 20 neighborhood and magnet schools, and up to six classical and gifted schools. Lottery and selective enrollment placement results come out in March or April, and wait lists continue to move through September.
Both magnet and gifted/classical schools assign spots in part by tier — CPS uses census data to divide the city into four socio-economic quadrants. You can find your tier here:

CPS has three kinds of schools:
Neighborhood schools/ Magnet cluster schools:

You can enroll in your neighborhood school any time. Some neighborhood schools are called magnet cluster schools — that means that CPS funds an extra position in a focus area (language, arts, etc.), but they’re otherwise regular neighborhood schools. It’s a good idea to check out your neighborhood school, many have active parent organizations that support the school and fundraise.
Magnet schools:
Magnet schools are open to the whole city for enrollment. Siblings of currently enrolled students are given first priority. The rest of the spots are assigned by lottery; 30 percent of the remaining spots go to students within a 1.5 mile radius, and the other seventy percent are divided between the four tiers. Many of the magnet schools only have one or two classes per grade, so only have a few non-sibling spots per tier. Some magnet schools provide busing.
Gifted/Classical schools:
Gifted and classical schools are also open to the whole city. If you apply for any gifted/classical schools, your child will be tested for both at IIT. The tests for kindergarten are administered one on one by grad students. The classical test focuses on reading and math, and the gifted test looks at things like critical reasoning. In practice, both kinds of schools offer an accelerated curriculum. In gifted and classical schools, the first 30 percent of spots are given to the highest scorers, and the remaining spots are evenly split between the four tiers. Most of these schools only accept one class per year, so cutoff scores tend to be high. Most of these programs start in K, but Bell and Beaubien’s gifted programs begin in first grade. Some programs are stand-alone, while others are housed within neighborhood schools. Gifted and classical schools provide busing within a radius that varies for each school.


Take screen shots and confirm that your application went through. This year, a few parents had a glitch where CPS never received their application.
If your neighborhood school isn’t an option for you, be sure to apply to some solid neighborhood schools that have traditionally accepted a significant number of students from outside the neighborhood (some of these include Burr, Agassiz, Prescott, Hamilton, and Goethe)
If you don’t get a spot you’re happy with right away, don’t panic — wait lists do move, and most people eventually find a spot that they’re happy with. You can also reapply for the next year if you’re not thrilled with where you’ve landed.
There’s more school chatter at and NPN (

Get your teacher notes here!

Parents like to see the notes that we prepare to govern our classroom day. Please ask in person if you have questions, and enjoy following along with us through these notes. We will no longer send home “per child” notices beginning August 27, 2018. Thanks!

Cortland Teachers Share Links

From Parent / Teacher Conferences–parents asked for articles covering these topics, and Cortland teachers have delivered some great answers.

“Rough-housing”: (Ms. Shanel)

“Perfectionism / needing things to be just so”:
and (Mrs. Alexa)

“Exclusionary play / leaving others out / failure to connect or make friends with others at playground”:…/d…/friends/when-kids-feel-left-out/
(Ms. Nicole)

Parents wanted information regarding, “using polite manners at home and in public.” (Ms. Rebecca)

“Preparing for / dealing with new sibling”:
(Ms. Karen)
Ms. Karen also says, “Ask me for a printed list of books in the Cortland library that speak to this as well.”

If there are any additional article topics you are looking for, please ask any Cortland teacher for advice and resources—keep in mind, we have an excellent lending library for Cortland families, and are happy to search for a title that best suits the need. Hugs to all and thanks for a great autumn full of social / emotional and physical growth, development and achievement!

Cortland Parent Written Article : Social Emotional Learning

We are delighted to bring you a new parent written article from Cortland Preschool Dad, Bryan Heidel. A very worthwhile read. –Ms. Amy

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a fairly new concept. At least in the way that it is currently being viewed. SEL is the process in which children and adults learn skills associated with conflict management, emotional regulation, and social skills. It is well accepted that SEL is important in the development of children, but traditionally has been thought of as an activity for children who have deficits in social functioning or emotional management, and that most children just naturally develop emotionally without explicit practice. Actually, these “soft” skills are not much different from other academic skills — they can be developed through small practices that help children to exercise their emotional awareness.

When we begin practicing and learning about emotions at an early age, the building blocks for pro-social development are strengthened and cemented, allowing for children to learn more difficult skills at a later age. Plus, simply put, who wouldn’t want a child to have a better understanding of their own emotions?

Below, I have outlined a few simple strategies to begin developing social emotional skills with children at any age:

Feelings Cards –

These are great because they have the markings to play Uno, Go Fish, and any other card games. With very young children you can play memory. When they pull a card that has a particular feeling, you can have them describe a time that they saw someone else feel that way. This is an early way to help children develop an understanding of feelings in other people, reading body language, and ultimately empathy. This is also an important tool in building emotional vocabulary and personal feelings. The uses of these cards are endless, and children love them.

2) Highs and Lows –

This very simple game with a variety of different names is very simple to play. Each person shares the best part of their week/day/hour, and then they share the hardest part of their week/day/hour. There is a lot of modeling occurring in this conversational game. Mostly though, you are opening up space to discuss feelings that are uncomfortable or hard, and allowing children to process those feelings. It’s okay to be angry or frustrated or upset, and that in any normal day, we will all experience a range of emotions.

3) Explicit Story Reading –

I love the book “My Many Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss. It serves a similar function as highs and lows do, but has many more elements of learning. By reading stories that explicitly teach children about feelings, social interactions, and other important skills like resilience, making mistakes, etc. we take an active role in working on skills that we want to develop in children. There is literally a dozen books for any particular subject that you would want to address with a child.

4) Calm Down Strategies –

Calm down and mindfulness activities are important for young children to not only learn how to regulate their emotions, but also to connect their feelings to body sensations. Being able to identify the way feelings affect your body is an important skill in regulating your emotions. I linked a site that has some free printables, but the star breathing visual is one of my favorites.

Of course, there are tons of different activities that you can use to facilitate emotional growth in children that range from board games to television programming and art activities. The main thing is that we are deliberate about the learning that we engage children in, and more so, that we value SEL and understand the importance that it plays in our children’s’ lives.

Bryan Heidel
Student Support Manager
Communities In Schools of Chicago

Book Club Recap : All Things Tech-y

In early March, we met again for our intrepid Cortland Book Club. A few years ago, we figured out that our book clubs needed to center around participating in meaningful ways without having to commit time to reading a lengthy book. We do this through articles, experience, and topics that are close to home, for example, sharing your child’s favorite non-fiction picture book, or having a special theme for the night.

Cortland parents requested a “Tech Book Club”, so we went ahead with the theme of “All Things Tech-y” for our March meet.

It was important for all of us to define together what “tech” actually meant, and we came to define it as video via television, video via computer, apps, “screen time”, and anything else that requires a device for use, i.e. a podcast or a book on cassette.

We also read, as a group, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) article regarding “a healthy media diet.” I mentioned that this report is softened from an earlier version, which initially said NO screen time for ages birth to four.

We agreed that tech is becoming easier to use, not more difficult, so the argument that children need to use tech at an increasingly younger age so they, “don’t get behind” is really a moot point nowadays. The film “Screenagers” was recommended. So was the book, The Big Disconnect. We also learned of this tech podcast that you might be keen on,

You can use your technology to learn more, she types, somewhat ironically.

That said, we earnestly discussed and respectfully shared the ways we use tech in the home and classroom. Or the ways we don’t. Cortland is known for a very thoughtful and deliberate type of parent; I appreciated that we represented a broad spectrum of both types of use and amounts of use.

Resources / recommendations from our group that are tech-driven included:
-PBS, namely Peep and Pals
-Bloom App and Bebot App, for music creation and synthesis that can grow with a child over time into something rather sophisticated
-Monkey Math App, Moose Math App, Park Math App
EPIC App, which gives you many favorite book titles, just for the tablet instead
Metamorphabet and Word Wagon App
Classical Baby, which you can catch on youtube
-using calm, child-friendly videos in foreign languages to teach / reinforce bilingualism in your household
-dvd resources Linnea in Monet’s Garden, Al Jarnow’s Celestial Navigations, kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson’s Machines (parents who have these on loan, please return to Cortland soon!)

Parents also submitted info to this cause after the Book Club event, via email, with a specific ask for CODING Apps (all the rage right now):

From Belinda Duellman
“I like the idea of sharing what online resources (apps, games, shows) people like. I’ve mentioned Peep and the Big Wide World that are short 10 min videos that have a live learning component to them at the end (on Amazon they have the learning component but the ones on youtube don’t; we still like the cartoon, though). We have also really enjoyed Cosmic Kids yoga and Scratch Garden too, which we learned from Cortland. I bet other families have similar random obscure similar apps, games or shows that it would be interesting to hear what others like because there is so much out there, it can be a bit daunting digging through to find what’s actually good and educational with value vs just commercial junk.”

From Kari Poby

“Here are a couple apps for coding for kids: Kodable (Amelie’s favorite), and Daisy the Dinosaur. The board game Robot Turtles is also great for this, but needs some adult interaction. It’s great because it can grow with their skills.

We also love the app Thinkrolls for problem solving.”

From Angela Crowley

“Thanks for the info. My son likes the Scratch Jr app for coding. We also have the Robot Turtles board game.”

So, use them, don’t use them, these resources are here for you to decide for yourself and your child what is best. We use technology to supplement what is already taught in person at school, provide gross motor on rainy days, and to answer questions that we cannot answer ourselves, i.e. What does a Kookaburra‘s “laugh” sound like?!

NEXT BOOK CLUB is TBD for July or August. The theme is BYO empathy building book or resources. We will meet at Ugo’s for snacks, drinks, and good conversation. Child care and fun in pajamas for ages 2+ provided at Cortland, $5 is the suggested donation to the attending teacher. 6:00 drop off at Cortland / meet at Ugo’s – 7:30 p.m. wrap up, pick up by 7:45 p.m.

Have a tidbit to contribute? Let me know and I’ll add you to the list!

Book Club, #6 RECAP

Book Club, #6 RECAP

The theme of November’s book club was “favorite non-fiction picture books”–we had a great session of sharing, eating, and just talking as a community. Books shared included:
Henri’s Scissors
N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims
Bedtime Math
Sesame Street–We’re Different, We’re the Same

Conversation generated lots of topics, including:
–the book Mathterpieces
–the game Zingo and the Zingo time telling version
–the fun film, Hotel Transylvania 2

YouTube resources (search on youtube and find all of these):
–Hexaflexagons and soooo much more in a great YouTube math series by Vi Hart
–DVD Celestial Navigations by stop motion animator, Al Jarnow
–Peep and the Big Wide World
–Daniel Tiger
–Cosmic Kids Yoga

And questions regarding:
–Chicago charter schools–does anyone out there have info / insight to share?
–intrinsic motivation–what is it, how do we reinforce it, why is it important, good article here15193582_1181006748643595_2118724537943247730_n

We are currently taking ideas for our next book club meet, please share if you’ve got one!

Harris Collection at the Field Museum

Harris Collection at the Field Museum

Written by Evelyn Anagnostopoulos

Perhaps you’ve noticed large, white boxes with exciting contents such as world instruments, animals pelts, or crazy shoes in your child’s classroom? Maybe a beautiful stuffed owl or a bat skeleton to study?

These hands-on learning experiences are due to the wonderful Harris Learning Collection, found in the basement of the Field Museum.

My children and I are thrilled to be part of the Harris Collection pick-up. As frequent goers of all Chicago museums, an excuse to explore parts of the museum that we would not otherwise see is very exciting.

Ms. Amy had printed out a map and instructions making the whole pick-up process super easy. Always appreciated with kids in tow! There is a parking lot where you can park for free and it is nice and close to the entrance for pick-up. We went a little earlier so that we could have time to explore the museum first.

When it was time to pick-up from the Harris Collection, we went downstairs to select our items. The shelves were filled with many old artifacts, retired from the museum, that evoked a sense of wonder and excitement.

The teacher working there was so great with my children. She let them look at and touch anything. We were not rushed and she was so patient. She was genuinely happy to have children there and appreciated their interest in everything. When it was time to collect our items for Cortland, she brought out a big cart with a giant crate; the kids were so excited to look inside! She then brought out another box, and let the kids look; she explained what everything was.

We carted our treasures to the car. My son, Nikolas, was very excited and proud to bring these treasures to school the next day! I was very impressed with the museum and staff, we had a great experience. It’s a beautiful thing to provide hands-on experience to children. (It really sparks their inborn sense of wonder!) Bravo to the Harris Learning Collection and bravo to Ms. Amy for coordinating every year and bringing such a great experience to our children!

*Note: The Harris Learning Collection is now open to families, as well as learning institutions. More information on how you can visit this special place found here:

If you would like to volunteer to be our Fall 2016 “Field Family”, please email Ms. Amy at

A special thank you to the Anagnostopoulos Family for taking the time and energy to pick up and drop off boxes this fall and winter/early spring. We all benefit from your kindness! Kudos from your Cortland teachers





Scholarship Thank You

IMG_5064Every year, for the past four years, Cortland Preschool, with the help of Mary Artibee and Milt Mallory, our families, friends, and Cortland community members, has provided full and partial scholarships for families with financial need. Recipients are always kept confidential, but sometimes a family will opt to share a thank you with the community upon graduation.

This thank you comes from the Bosaw Family. We (Ms. Amy and Ms. Nicole) have been fortunate to know Sara Bosaw as an accomplished colleague, friend, and lover of small humans for over a decade now. We knew her son, Abel, just had to be a part of Cortland, so for two years, Abel attended on a full scholarship. Here’s what Sara has to say:

July, 2015
“Our family has been blessed to be a part of the Cortland Preschool community for almost two years. It’s been a time of emotional and physical growth for Abel, as well as growth in our family size!

When Abel started, he was an only child. Within a few months of starting preschool we got a call and 7 month old baby Ricky joined us the next day. Within a year, 8 month old Amari had joined us as well. I mention this to emphasize that while there were enormous changes at home, one thing was consistent for Abel: his beloved school. All of the teachers and parents were so kind during that time, reaching out to make sure we had what we needed and making sure Abel was feeling adjusted and getting a little extra attention. He has handled these big adjustments with so much grace and I know a lot of that has to do with the support system around him.

As a single parent by choice through adoption and foster care, there are obviously a lot of careful budget decisions and sacrifices made. Abel’s schooling, thanks to a very generous scholarship from Cortland, has not had to be one of them. He has thrived at Cortland. I see a real change in his confidence and empathy toward others. Thanks to his preparation at Cortland, he is truly ready to head to his “big nest” at Kindergarten.

We are so grateful for the Cortland community for making it possible for Abel to have this experience. Thank you!”

Thank you, Cortland community, for supporting diversity in our classrooms. Thank you for caring when families need help the most. And thank you for making excellent education something for everyone, not just some. We hope you will bid in our current fundraiser, the Online Student Art Auction, which runs until November 30, 2015.

“We make a life by what we give.” –Winston Churchill

Parent Supplements

Parents will occasionally ask me, “What can I be doing at home to help my child prepare for gifted testing?” or, “What can I be doing at home to best supplement what my child is doing at Cortland?” or, “What can I be doing for the first few months of my child’s new public school environment, where he or she may be ahead of the group and bored?”

Create an environment that supports provocative learning is the best honest answer I provide. We can work toward creating an intelligently chosen, thoughtfully curated school and home environments that encourage and support higher levels of curiosity, “grit” (tenacity over time), and critical thinking. While I continue to maintain that hands-on, exploratory learning that is child-led is still the best and highest form of synaptic connection building, here are more concrete suggestions:


Home environment–Does your child have a workspace (desk or table) that supports extended work times?
Seating or standing that promotes the development of spinal strength and good posture?
Has appropriate task lighting (they all really like the clamp lamps at school and are used to working with them, IKEA, about $15.)
This space needs to allow for projects to stay out at times (create a “revisit zone” for one or two projects that your child wants to return to over many days.) Storage that your child can access and be in charge of? This area can serve building, tinkering, art, writing, science, etc. and will get your child off onto the best foot for in-home, purposeful creation, work, and exploration.

If you need help creating a child-friendly home workspace that will serve your child’s needs until graduation, talk to Ms. Amy. She has highly-skilled craftsmen as friends and might be able to make a referral.


EARLY Reading–Guided Reading, which levels books AA, A, B, C, D and up based on word count, difficulty, frequency, etc. is important. We recommend Newmark Learning for a series of Math, Science, Social Studies, or Classic Tales that will pad your home library and introduce your child to the concept of the “easy” or “guided reader” in a very intelligent way.

(Note: At present, there is no standardized leveling of books for publishers–typically, they don’t like to get too specific on level because then less people will buy it. If you are uncertain of a book’s level, for example, it says Level One on the cover, check the back cover for the Guided Reading level. Not there? Check inside, the first or last few pages. Not there? Google it. “Lego City: All Hands On Deck guided reading level” for example. has a pretty extensive list. Still not sure? Compare the word count and difficulty with a book of the level you are looking for. If it is too hard, save it for later. Guided readers are aimed at getting your child books that set up your child’s early reading success. They should be “just right” and not be too hard or frustrating.)

READING INDEPENDENTLY PAST THE Guided Reading LEVEL J–Most children won’t be reading J and above level books until second grade, but sometimes children read really early, and read with full comprehension and enjoyment. If your child isn’t to this level yet, no worries. He or she will get here when the cognitive time is right. These are still great suggestions for your future toolkit.

Advanced readers need to keep reading for pleasure and for purpose, and find series that he or she really connects with, which sometimes takes a little time. Be patient, and try to tailor books to your child’s interests du jour. Series that children really enjoy in the classroom or during tutoring sessions include:
My First Little House–great historic fiction based on the show you and I remember
Iris and Walter
Young Cam Jansen, a detective series with strong female lead
Jump Into Genre, a great set with lots of different fables, folktales, and classic stories, this is the second grade level but stronger readers would do fine

Mercy Watson Series and Bink and Golly Series (Kate DiCamillo)

Writing and Handwriting–The Handwriting Without Tears series is (in my opinion) the best for consistency and for continuity from home to classroom. and
To keep your child writing and inventing give him or her an area of the house with envelopes, cool paper and stationary, graph paper, fun pens and pencils, stickers, notebooks and journal books, post it notes, etc. Children love to create when given so many fun options. You can also get wonderful ideas from the Alphabet Glue series–you buy it, print it, and use it! Inexpensive and WONDERFUL content!

Journals and diaries become important in Kindergarten and First Grade. I like writing an answer to a child’s question, and then asking a question that a child answers, back and forth, as a shared journal to start.

As much as I like to limit screen time, Khan Academy is pretty amazing for building the math skills. You’ll need to set this up and get your child going, but this is a resource that can give exponentially and over a long period of time. Try it. It’s really amazing, and many say, the very future of education.


Scratch Garden on youtube — look it up and play these short, awesome videos at home
Bedtime Math Book Series — great fun for pm students, you can get a good math lesson in any time, not just bedtime (the covers glow in the dark tho!)
aMag — VERY SMART and cool architecture magazine / online resources for developing all kinds of brainy-ness
Our Facebook and blog — yep, good old Cortland Preschool’s blogsite has good stuff, you know how to find us on Facebook
Menomonee Club — this not-for-profit boasts stellar instruction, fair prices, ample parking, and over 60 years of experience
Just play simple games like duck duck goose, follow the leader, parachute — play and practice the classics so that your child knows these skills
Cat and Mouse Games — love this store on Armitage, near Damen, they have excellent materials and we talk often about what I want them to carry!
Kumon brand — really, any Kumon workbook is good. Sometimes kids really like workbooks.
Singapore math — again, workbooks, but these should be done with an adult. You can develop killer math skills with these.


The state of Illinois Learning Standards for Language Arts, to get you started, you have to click around a bit to get the detailed list, but this takes you through all of the standards for each discipline and grade level. Knowledge is power!

Please find attached:
Preventing Reading Difficulties — This is the full list from Latin and a wonderful checklist to mark progress through the next year, it really is more about what children should be doing and not about reading difficulties preventing_reading_difficulties
What Are Dolch Sight Words — You should read this to understand what the expectations are, again, this is age five and up, generally What are Dolch Words
Dolch Sight Words — I’ve included the entire list for you, this goes pre-k through 3rd grade Dolch_full_list

Have fun learning in as many ways as you can. Hands-on is always the way to go. One last article, this talks about how to ask better questions to develop critical thinking skills. Over and out from Ms. Amy M. Ewaldt, MAT