Why Play When You Can Already Read?

When people come tour my preschool I am frequently told by the parents that their child is reading at a second grade level; then asked what are your teaching the children? Upon entering a yard under the shady of a Chinese Elm you can see children coming in, finding an activity such as digging a river in the sand, or creating art with a marble, a box, paper and paint. There is play dough made fresh everyday.

A friend is being made while other children are thinking about making a friend.

Developmentally when we study children’s play we are looking for how best to teach each child individually, with objectives that are appropriate for their stage of development. While parents, and my apology in advance yet it is usually fathers, seem to want their children to learn academic principles, feeling that play is something a child can do at home.

While that is true, as I raised four children and they all played at home, children need to learn to be capable and cope able away from their home environment, as someday they will need to be independent of their parents. This is a huge task when you think about it. At the same time if I child can be given the time to develop at home as well as in a school environment from the preschool age with an emphasis on social emotional development studies show children being more secure in the world, with healthier social relationships and even a higher income. All this through exploring the world in a school where children are playing,even while they can read a second grade level.

Debbie Bacino has been an early childhood educator for the past twenty years as a preschool teacher, director and parent educator. She is a member of the National Association of Early Childhood Educators, Pasadena City College’s Advisory Board and a local preschool directors networking group. Debbie is the owner and Director of La Canada Preschool. Her vision is to provide the best environment for children to experience discovery and their sense of wonder at this magical moment in human development.

Pet Safety Tips!

I was recently at my vet’s office, Parkview Pet Clinic in Glendale, and saw a flyer printed by the ASPCA which read, “101 things you didn’t know could harm your pet”. I consider myself to be pretty cautious and careful with my two Labs but I was interested to see if I knew of the 101 things.  I learned a lot and wanted to share with you.

The first thing that I learned was: “of the 167,000 poisoning cases handled by the Animal Poison Control Center in 2012, the no. 1 culprit was human medications” (ASPCA).  This seems crazy to me since all of our medications are in the cabinet above our sink in our bathroom.  I have yet to see either of my Labs crawl onto the sink counter and open the cabinet but I also understand that people might leave their medications laying around the house where pets can get to them.

The ASPCA explains that symptoms of poisoning vary but your pet may experience vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy.  If you experience this with your pet you can call 24/7 to the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.  Be prepared with your pet’s breed, age and potential poison.

Now is the moment of confession…..yes we have had to call this number.  When our Lab puppy was a few months old, she got into some grapes.  One of the kids left a bowl on a coffee table and the puppy grabbed a bunch and ran off to eat them without anyone noticing. (Just for the record I was not home at the time!).  When I returned home and found an empty vine of grapes I panicked.  I knew that grapes are toxic to dogs!  We called the poison control center and they walked us through a process of helping our dog.  They charged us $75 to our credit card but I will share the secret with you for free.  If you discover that your dog has just eaten something toxic you can induce vomiting right away with the attempt to get it out of their system right away.  Give your dog a soft piece of bread and then 1-2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide.  You can stir the peroxide into some peanut butter or yogurt, something that your dog will enjoy eating quickly.  Then head outside and wait for your poor puppy to vomit. She will pace around and feel terrible, not fun to watch. Then she will throw up the toxic food that she shouldn’t have and will feel much better.  It was super fun for us to count the grapes in a puddle of puck!  We had round two with another dog that got into some chocolate.  Having shared this with you, if you have an emergency you can also head to the emergency clinic or vet’s office for professional intervention.  Poisoning is nothing to mess around with.  Sometimes stomach pumping or surgery is needed in these situations.


Now that I have totally scared you and gotten your attention, here are the lists of items to look out for…..

Household Items

Household Items: ibuprofen and aspirin, acetaminophen, cold and flu meds., antidepressants, vitamins, diet pills, anti-cancer drugs, tobacco products, detergents, fabric softener, drain cleaners, oven cleaner sprays, disinfectants, bleach, lime/scale remover, paint thinners, lighter fluid, insecticides, flea and tick products, rodent bait, mothballs, fly bait, lead and liquid potpourri.

Harmful Foods: chocolate, gum and candy, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, avocados, onions, garlic, salt, tea leaves, coffee, alcoholic beverages, raw yeast dough, spoiled foods and fatty foods.

Objects: balls, sharp objects, coins, buttons, batteries, twist ties, rubber bands, cotton swabs, glass, hair pins, jewelry, nylons, paper clips, plastic wrap, yarn or needles & thread, dental floss, electric cords, wax, socks, and towels.

Harmful Foods

Common Plants: aloe, amaryllis, Andromeda japonica, Asian lily, asparagus fern, Australian nut, autumn crocus, azalea, belladonna, bird of paradise, bittersweet, black locust, branching ivy, buckeye, Buddhist pine, caladium, calla lily, castor bean, ceriman, clematis, cordatum, corn plant, cycads, cyclamen, daffodil, daylily, devil’s ivy, dieffenbachia, dumb cane, Easter lily, elephant ear, emerald fern, English ivy, eucalyptus, ferns, fiddle-leaf-philodendron, Florida beauty, foxglove, glacier ivy, gladiolas, gold dust dracaena, golden pothos, heavenly bamboo, honeysuckle, hurricane plant, hyacinth, hydrangea, iris, Jerusalem Cherry, jimson weed, kalanchoe, lantana, lilies, lily of the valley, lupine, marble queen, morning glory, mother-in-law, mountain laurel, narcissus, needlepoint ivy, nepthysis, nightshade, oleander, panda, peace lily, philodendron, poison hemlock, precatory bean, privet, red emerald, rhododendron, ribbon plant, sago palm, stain pothos, schefflera, striped dracaena, sweetheart ivy, tulip, water hemlock, wisteria, yew and yucca.

Trouble Areas: doors and windows, balconies, bathtubs and since, toilets, washer and dryer and fireplaces. Dogs are more likely to be injured in these areas of your home.  Keep your pets away from these places or watch them closely when they’re near them if you can.

Outside the Home

Outside the home: algae, antifreeze/coolant, fire pit/grill, fences or gates, deck lattice, non-pet safe de-icing salts, compost, gasoline, oil, pesticides, fertilizer, pools and hot tubs.  Make sure that your dogs are safe if they enjoy the outdoors by keeping them leashed and away from these potential dangers.

I know this is a lot of information.  I felt that it was important to write because I have heard of too many stories of pets lost due to poisoning.  My sister-in-law lost her beloved dog due to raisin poisoning.  He got into a container of trail mix and ate a large amount of raisins.  When dogs eat raisins it causes them to go into renal failure.  So very sad.  We have also had our brushes with potential life threatening poisonings but thankfully have not lost a pet.  Let’s all keep our furry ones close and safe!

Maggie Mason, M.S.W.

Mother of two humans and two canines. Author and therapist in “pre-mom life”.

Parents in Preschools: Seek first to understand

As a preschool director I find one of the most important things I can do is to understand parents. And at the same time I find it can be one of the hardest things to do. While I am a parent my children are grown. I have a different perspective having gone through adolescents with three strong willed children who were bound and determined to push me away as far as they could, only to come back as amazing adults.

Well, I have a puppy, and in this experience I have been reminded of how it feels to be a new parent, with a vulnerable being. My puppy is 2 pounds eight ounces and her name is Sofi. She reminds me of a toddler, with her uncoordinated body, her inability to regulate herself, her neediness and her fun spirit.

At the same time I an anxious, waking up in the middle of the night, wondering if she is ok when I am at work, showing pictures of her and telling everyone how smart she is.

When we work with parents I believe we have an obligation to see their child as that little pup, so young and fresh, their pride and joy. When you are looking for a preschool be sure to get a feel for the director and the teachers by interacting with them when possible. Do they smile when you walk in the classroom? Are you greeted or glared at?

Many times I have heard teachers being negative about parents coming into the school environment. While it can be disruptive, I believe we make unstructured time in a school program where parents are welcome to come in and have a visit. Many days I have seen the need for a parent to come in and observe their child, watching them and being able to see what is going on in the school. This can create trust, build a bond and reassure parents that their child is settled and doing well.

When looking at preschools take the time to tour and visit the school while in session. You will come to know if it is a place where parents are being understood and valued. A place where you can chat with a teacher, hear how your child is doing, a place where you belong.

 Debbie has been an early childhood educator for the past twenty years as a preschool teacher, director and parent educator. She is a member of the National Association of Early Childhood Educators, Pasadena City College’s Advisory Board and a local preschool directors networking group. Debbie is the owner and Director of La Canada Preschool. Her vision is to provide the best environment for children to experience discovery and their sense of wonder at this magical moment in human development. 

Re-thinking Glendale High


It was late 2005 when it finally hit us: Our son, an 8th-grader at Wilson Middle School in Glendale, was fast approaching The High School Years. It just sort of snuck up on us.

When we moved to Southern California from the Midwest in 1998, my wife and I chose to live in Glendale—Verdugo-Woodlands in particular—over the alternatives of Los Angeles and Pasadena because of the public schools. V-W Elementary is a special place, as everyone in that neighborhood knows. Wilson: pretty good, too.

Then there is Glendale High. We were warned by friends and neighbors and Realtors that we might not want to send our kids there. But in 1998, our kids were 6 and 4, and high school was years away. We figured we’d deal with that then.

Suddenly, it was then. Like a lot of parents we knew who were in the same boat, we started to panic. We had heard all the horror stories about GHS – the overcrowding, the low test scores, the kids from troubled homes, the gangs, the fights.

So we did what many of our friends were doing: we started looking at private schools. We read the brochures, took the open house tours, and applied our son to Harvard-Westlake, Pasadena Poly and Flintridge Prep, among others. He was accepted to all three, and suddenly we were staring down the barrel of $20,000 a year in private school tuition, no matter which one we chose. That’s 80 grand for high school, even before we started thinking about paying for college. Not to mention the education of our daughter, just two years behind her brother.

Some of our friends had chosen a third route: They moved to Montrose or La Crescenta to get their kids into C-V High School. For reasons too numerous to go into here, that was not a practical option for us.

We were a two-income household, but working in newspapers and higher education, we could just barely afford to live in Verdugo-Woodlands, but probably not also send our kids to private school. Even with an offer of assistance from my Mom, we were facing a crushing financial burden.

Then fate intervened. In the spring on 2006, I was offered a transfer by my employer to Washington, D.C. It seemed the perfect solution on so many levels: a dream job for me, a chance to return home to the East Coast and be near my family, and some of the best public schools in the nation for our kids.

We settled in suburban Fairfax County, Virginia, and were amazed by the quality of the schools and the money invested in public education. (If California’s public schools were funded and operated like Fairfax County’s, Glendale would have five high schools, not three, with two new ones built in the last 20 years.) Yes, the property taxes were astronomical – no Proposition 13 in Virginia – but still a bargain compared to private school tuition. Bullet dodged.

Then came The Crash of 2008. Long story short: we ended up back in Glendale, both unemployed, no money for private schools, and two teenagers insisting on being reunited with their V-W and Wilson friends at Glendale High. Despite some residual misgivings, we relented, with the proviso that they would take mostly AP and Honors classes and focus on college prep.

My first impressions of GHS were not good. It was during our first Open House, in September 2008. With its windowless façade and high security fences with iron bars, the place looked like a penitentiary. Just getting on campus as a parent felt like visiting your kid in jail. Inside the gates, a sea of concrete and asphalt, it was not exactly clean. The physical plant was obviously stressed from overcrowding and underfunding. I made disparaging comments–which I now regret–about GHS in front of my kids, lamenting what we had left behind in Virginia.

But over time, I came to realize that many of the negative stereotypes about GHS were just that, stereotypes. Gangs? Fights? A myth. Drugs? Practically non-existent. Academics? Yes, some teachers seemed to be just going through the motions, but many others were terrific. Some would even call us at home if our kids had missed a few days of school or were behind in their homework assignments. (Special shout-outs to Holly Ciotti and Amy Rangel, who made lasting impressions on us and our kids.)

The AP and Honors classes were especially challenging. My kids were surprised how hard they had to work. Coming from Fairfax County, where the school curriculum is a full year ahead of Glendale’s, they thought GHS would be a breeze. Wrong. They both have struggled mightily at times with the workload.

Much is made about the ethnic Balkanization at GHS. But that, too, is exaggerated. In the big center courtyard during breaks, it’s true that many kids tend to cluster with their cultural groups – the Mexicans over here, the Armenians over there, the Anglos over that way, etc. But teenagers tend to form cliques no matter where they go to school. In my high school in the ‘70s, there was zero ethnic diversity, but we split up into the jocks and stoners and nerds.

My son’s circle of friends at GHS included kids with Anglo, Japanese, Iranian, Armenian, Filipino, Indian and Mexican backgrounds. It’s a similar mix with my daughter’s group. To them, ethnicity is no big deal, just another trait like being tall, short, male or female. Having grown up in the Southern California melting pot, our kids thought the white-bread suburban scene in Virginia was a little weird and unnatural.

Three years on from that first Open House, our son is a proud graduate of GHS and starting his sophomore year at a major West Coast university. Our daughter is a senior at GHS, a strong student who has her sights set on UC next year. Despite my initial misgivings about GHS, both of our kids have turned out beautifully. They made good choices, made friends with other good kids, stayed out of trouble, and are well on their ways to college and adulthood.

I don’t want to sugarcoat it. Glendale High has problems. It’s woefully underfunded and overcrowded. And at times it seems like it’s being run by airport security guards from the TSA.

I am also aware that my change of heart about GHS could be perceived as simply a matter of lowered expectations, of learning to accept what we ended up with and not dwell on what could have been. But I don’t think so. The truth is GHS exceeded expectations because it really is better than people think. F or me, it’s been a lesson in perception vs. reality, and the importance of giving people and institutions a chance to prove themselves.

I am not trying to promote Glendale High, or influence other parents’ decisions. We are almost done with our GHS years, so I have no personal stake in how the school fares going forward, or what school choices other parents make. And if not for the turn of events, we might have followed the private schools path as many of our friends did. But we didn’t, and things have turned out fine.

That’s my Glendale schools story. What’s yours?





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