AltSchool Hub

Top 10 Places to Take Kids in SF

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 30, 2014 4:59:00 PM


What are the best places in the city to inspire, inform, and excite children?

This past school year, our students ventured all over the Bay Area to learn about science, history, ecology, and the arts. 

Based on their experiences, here are recommendations from our teachers on the best places to take kids for play and purpose. 

Top Places to Take Children in San Francisco

Asian Art Museum: The Asian Art Museum is full of treasures that fascinate children. Make sure to take advantage of the storytelling tours. “Our fantastic, spirited docent told stories of Hindu deities while pointing out their depictions in art. The kids loved it and they learned a ton!” says Sophia, one of our upper elementary teachers.

Mission Science Workshop: “This is an amazing facility with a million hands-on things to check out!” says Sophia. Our students visited MSW twice this year. Check out their amazing programs.

Flora Grubb: You may not immediately think of a gardening shop as a place to explore with your child, but Flora Grubb (owner) has an incredibly imaginative space. We took our younger students here to find plants a flower box project.

Explore14Angel Island: Angel Island is a state park where families can enjoy hiking and playing on the beach. “The ferry ride to the island is beautiful and the kids love exploring the boat,” says Carolyn, our Director of Education. Older children (age 7 and above) will also enjoy the historical exhibit that provides a real-world perspective of what it was like to be a Chinese immigrant to the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Chinatown Alleyway Tour: This tour is a phenomenal way to get up close and personal with one of San Francisco’s most colorful neighborhoods. The tour guides are young people who are experts on Chinatown history. The tour also includes a stop at the fortune cookie factory, where you can have your own fortune added to a cookie for one dollar.

Fort Point: Our upper elementary students visited Fort Point during our first week of school. “The children loved exploring the Civil War era fort. Be sure to climb to the top and sit directly under the Golden Gate Bridge,” says Carolyn.

YBCenter4Japanese Tea GardensNestled in between the De Young and California Academy, the Japanese Tea Gardens are a hidden gem of Golden Gate Park. They are one of the most beautifully landscaped gardens around and offer a quiet respite where even the most active children can find some tranquility. Bring your sketch books and have fun observing and drawing flowers.

ExploratoriumThe Exploratorium is perfect for inspiring curiosity and wonder. Every exhibit is hands-on and makes physics and biology come alive for kids. Located on the pier, the Exploratorium also offers breathtaking views of the Bay and is an ideal spot for an outdoor lunch.

Presidio/Crissy Fields and Golden Gate National Parks ConservancyEngaging and passionate educators coupled with incredible programming makes the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy an amazing place to learn about the Bay's natural environment. Connecting with nature in an urban environment can be difficult, but with the Conservancy, families can volunteer together to care for our parks. They can also take interpretive walks along the many hiking trails to learn more about native plants and animals. Picnic on the beach afterward to have an unplugged day of fun.  

Children's Creativity MuseumThe museum, a block from our Yerba Buena school, offers a perfect combination of technology and creativity for elementary children. Furthermore, outside of the museum is one of the best playgrounds in the city. You would never know it is there until you plan visit to Yerba Buena or the CCM.

We will continue to add to this list as we make more discoveries!

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Topics: Learning in the Community, Parenting Tips and Workshops

AltSchool Teachers Share: 5 Tips to Make the Most of Day Trips this Summer

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 2, 2014 5:11:00 PM

DayTrip1With summer approaching, many families will venture to zoos, parks, and museums for fun experiences in the city with their children.

Taking your kids out to explore the city is all about helping them make connections to the real-world. These are valuable opportunities to ignite children’s passions and curiosities, as well as increase cognitive and critical thinking skills in children.

So how can you make the most out of day trips with the kids?

We recently asked AltSchool teachers for tips on how to create high-quality experiences that help children grow in new ways.

Here's what they had to share: 

1. Choose an experience that is connected to your child’s interests: Many of the trips we took this past year emerged from our students’ curiosities and passions. For example, one of our younger students developed a passion for boats -  which then led to a curiosity of how food travels in boats. The desire to learn more about how food is distributed led to a trip to Good Eggs, a sustainable food delivery service located one block away from the Dogpatch classroom. Keep in mind, a day trip does not necessarily mean visiting a museum or science center. Sometimes even a trip to a grocery store or food delivery service can be highly educational for children.

2. Preview the Experience:  If possible, map out the visit. Call ahead to find out what types of learning opportunities are available. Scope out the schedule to see what workshops or activities might benefit your child most. Then, preview the experience with your child. In a trip to the Diego Rivera Museum, our teachers pulled up one of Rivera’s murals online and engaged the children in a discussion about its meaning. When children witnessed the mural in person, they experienced a strong, meaningful connection to the painting’s characters and emotions.

3. Follow Your Child’s Lead and Ask Questions:  Let your child enjoy the experience at their own pace and in their own way. Be ready to discuss any questions that arise. If you don’t know the answer, write the questions down or record your child’s questions as a voice memo on your phone. Returning to these questions later is a great way to continue the learning experience at home.

4. Play Games: Games engage children and increase their motivation to learn. So why not make a game of your experience? For a lesson on early American history, our K-1 class ventured to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market to go on a scavenger hunt to find food items served at the first Thanksgiving meal. Children took photos of each item with their iPad camera and compared notes with each other afterwards. For more ideas, the Smithsonian has a list of learning games suitable for a museum visit.

5. Continue the Learning at Home: Consider ways for your child to recreate the experience at home - whether through an art project, science experiment, or media project. Return to the questions your child brought up and investigate answers together. Post-trip discussions often lead to the planning of your next trip to continue exploring the treasures of the city together.

In our second installment of this series, we provide teachers’ recommendations on the top places to take children to learn in the city. 

Stay tuned!


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Topics: Learning in the Community, Parenting Tips and Workshops

“Eating for Health” Community Workshops

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Feb 11, 2014 3:42:00 PM

0U9C0215Siri Scull (AltSchool teacher and nutritionist) is offering a series of four health and wellness workshops open to current and prospective AltSchool families. 

All workshops will be held at 1245 Folsom from 4-5pmNo need to sign up - just stop by! 

Feb 24 - Eating for Health: Learn about the whole food approach to nutrition and how to select organic foods and healthy seafood.

March 3 - Lean Protein and Clean Fats: How to choose outstanding proteins and superior fats for growth and nourishment of our bodies and brains.

March 10 - Colorful Complex Carbohydrates: Learn about how to choose whole grains and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

March 17 - Sustainable Nutrition: Chat about how to protect and sustain a bountiful food supply for the future.  

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Topics: Parenting Tips and Workshops

Healthy Eating for Better Learning: 3 Tips from Our Classroom

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jan 16, 2014 2:59:00 PM

Screen_Shot_2014-01-12_at_11.36.52_AMRaising children with healthy eating habits is not just about keeping them physically well.

Nutrition is key for learning.

Neuroscience has unequivocally shown that nutrition affects cognitive development. What children eat affects their mental abilities.

And is vision really improved with carrot consumption? The study, “Healthy Students are Better Learners,” reveals that proper nutrition enhances vision, motor skills, language, and even social abilities in children.

In our classroom, we regularly nurture healthy eating habits for strong bodies and minds. Below, AltSchool teacher Lauren Hancock highlights ways parents can help their children make smart food choices at home:

3 Tips for Raising Healthy Eaters

  • Cooking projects: Cooking with your child is an excellent way to encourage healthy eating. AltSchool students cook a nutritious meal together in the classroom every week. Next time you feel inspired, cook a brightly colored meal with your child -- kabobs, stir-fry, or homemade veggie pizza, for example -- and show them how to prepare foods using less fat and pre-packaged ingredients.

  • Fresh produce delivery: Order a produce box from a weekly delivery service to expand healthy eating possibilities. AltSchool orders sustainable, locally-sourced produce and snacks from Good Eggs. Each week, students select items for their classroom order (favorites include mandarin oranges, avocados, and apples) and open the delivery box together.

  • Healthy snacks: Anticipate your child’s hunger by placing healthy snack options in visible areas. In our classroom, we cut up fruits and veggies and place them on small plates for children to snack on throughout the day. You’ll be surprised to find your children munching on broccoli crudite or cherry tomatoes when they are readily available.

Children's Health Workshops Coming Soon

AltSchool is delighted to announce that one of our teachers, Siri Scull, will be offering a series of 4 seminars covering current topics in children's health. They will be held at AltSchool's office (1245 Folsom St in San Francisco) and are free and open to community members.

For more information, please sign up here and we'll be in touch with further details.

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Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Parenting Tips and Workshops

Tablets and Tweens: How to Guide Your Child in Smart Use

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 31, 2013 9:53:00 AM

shutterstock_141207379What is the best way to help children develop socially as tablet users? 

On the one hand, we want to give our children the space to explore and learn on their own with tablets.

On the other hand, it is helpful to remember that children need guidance in navigating the online world - particularly as they become middle schoolers. 

How can you guide your tween in smart device use? 

Dr. Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness, says that children in their tweens may be tech-savvy, but they do not yet have the social skills to make their own way in the sophisticated social media world. 

Carter writes

"Middle schoolers are not old enough (or developmentally ready) to have as much freedom online as they often do these days. Think of these devices like cars: Before kids can drive them alone, they need to know the rules. They need clear roads with bright lines painted for them to show them where—and where not—to go."

Carter offers parents sound tips to create an environment for responsible tablet use. They include guidelines for: 

  • Spaces - Living room and kitchen are great. Bathroom and car? Not so great. 
  • Times - Afterschool for play and homework. Not during meals and bedtimes. 
  • Content - Clarify what is private and what is not.
Carter provides more detailed tips in Tablet and SmartPhone BootCamp for Middle School Parents.
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Topics: Parenting Tips and Workshops

How to Shop for Toys that Teach

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 18, 2013 5:12:00 PM

JohnnycircuitsresizedYou’ve seen their lists - you’ve checked them twice…

And yet you STILL can’t bring yourself to order up the latest Nerf Blaster or Disney princess, can you?

The good news? There are some great finds out there that will make your children merry...and bright.

The best toys offer more than just entertainment. They can be valuable learning opportunities that build communication skills, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and creative thinking.

We asked one of our teachers, Lauren Hancock, for helpful advice for parents who want to choose holiday-worthy toys that will help their children grow and develop.

Lauren’s tips? Focus on:

  • Interests: Evaluate toys related to areas that your child loves.

  • Abilities: Choose a toy that matches your child’s current ability and can grow with your child over time.

  • Open-ended experiences: Look for toys that have multiple uses and no “end.”

  • Transfer of knowledge: Find toys that teach skills that transfer to other areas.

As an example, Lauren recently brought the game Snap Circuits to our Dogpatch classroom. Snap Circuits is a kit with multiple electronic parts, including a peg board and button-snap connectors. It is designed for a wide age group (“from 8 to 108”) and enables children to build all kinds of fun projects such as radios, doorbells, and dancing lights.

Lauren played Snap Circuits with both younger and older children.  With both age groups, she made sure that they had free time to just “mess about” with the components. Instead of starting with instructions, she gave children unstructured play with new materials so they can engage in the the discovery process on their own.

With the younger children, Lauren first brought out only a few of the components.“Don’t just throw out all the pieces,” she explains. “Start them off small -  the battery,  a couple of the connectors, and something that glows.” From there, she helps them understand how the basic components work together.

One of the younger students, a 5-year-old, is already interested in building a more advanced project - connecting the circuits with an Ipad to produce dancing lights. Lauren likes Snap Circuits because it enables this type of skill-building over the long-term.

“He may not be able to get it right now, but he eventually will,” she says. 

Lauren also appreciates the social skills that children learn with this toy. She noticed that some students who have mastered basic circuits are already teaching their peers these skills. “Children learn to be experts and are excited to show others,” she explains.

Are you a Snap Circuits family? Love RobotTurtles? Die-hard lego-ers? We'd love to hear which toys your children enjoy the most. Please share below. 



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Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Parenting Tips and Workshops

3 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Children

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 25, 2013 1:33:00 PM

backdrop41Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to ask children why they are grateful. So why not practice the art of appreciation once the turkey is gone...and all year long? 

Instilling grateful feelings now benefits your child for a lifetime. Research shows that children who learn the art of appreciation:

  • are more optimistic,

  • have negative emotions less often,  

  • and are more likely to demonstrate grateful behavior.

While these outcomes sound ideal, it's important to keep in mind that gratitude does not usually come naturally to children. 

As the author of Attitudes of Gratitude, Mary Jane Ryan, states:

“No one is born grateful...Recognizing that someone has gone out of the way for you is not a natural behavior for children -- it’s learned.”

So how can we help children adopt gratitude as a regular practice?

Here are three ways:

1. Play the Gratitude Game: One of our parents, Alice Shikina, plays the “gratitude game” with her children on a daily basis. The gratitude game is simple. Each family member states at least one thing that they are grateful for on that day.

2. Keep a Gratitude Photojournal: Have children take pictures of things for which they are grateful. Organize the photos in a digital folder and update it regularly. If your children are having a bad day, they can watch a slideshow of the things they love so they are reminded of what makes them thankful.

3. Create a Thankful Tablecloth: Get fabric pens and a piece of fabric big enough for your dinner table. Before serving dinner, have each person write or draw the things for which they are grateful. Periodically switch out your normal tablecloth for your thankful tablecloth to bring back those warm, grateful feelings.

Through these simple gratitude practices, you help your children build healthy social and emotional skills that prepare them for a well-balanced adulthood.

And remember, grateful kids are happy kids

We would love to share with you how our teachers cultivate grateful kids in the classroom as well. Stop by at our next info session

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Topics: Parenting Tips and Workshops