Category Archives: Critical Thinking

It’s Time to Consider Coding a Core Skill

While there has been much written on the purpose of schooling, it is hard to refute schools exist to prepare students for success in their next steps.  At St. Andrew’s, as Amarillo’s only Pre-School through 8th grade private, Christian, college preparatory school, we do not look at ourselves just as high school prep or even college prep.  Rather, we consider our mission through lens of being life prep.


Life prep is an exciting proposition in our rapidly changing world.  While the skill-sets our students need to succeed will continue to evolve, at the core will always be the ability to read for insight, communicate for impact in speech and writing, and to understand and apply mathematics in context.  The success of St. Andrew’s graduates clearly demonstrates the strength of our program in preparing them in these important areas.


A skill widely recognized as becoming core to our students’ success is coding.  Coding was elevated in the national conversation with President Obama’s initiative, Computer Science for All, in 2016.  We cannot ignore the trends in industry that have moved coding beyond just being a fad in education. Coding is clearly becoming a necessity for our students.  Consider the following…


  • In 2017, there were $21 billion of unfilled tech industry jobs in the U.S. (Business Insider).
  • 90% of parents want Computer Science taught in their schools (White House).
  • Coding is built into the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education Standards (ISTE).


For those of us committed to the holistic education of children, the value of coding resonates the same way learning Algebra resonates: it promotes a habit of mind, of thinking sequentially and analytically.  It’s also cross-curricular. Consider the following from iD Tech, a provider of summer STEM learning opportunities…

  • Programming helps kids better understand the world around them.
  • Coding is fun and satisfying.
  • Coding improves creativity.
  • Coding improves problem solving.
  • Coding instills persistence.
  • Coding improves collaboration.
  • Coding improves communication.


What I have witnessed in our students is that coding also helps our students learn to apply technology, not just consume it.  To teach our students how to be positive influencers and creators in the digital world is one of the most important roles we can play in our children’s lives.  We must stand counter-cultural in this manner.


St. Andrew’s is committed to leaning into this conversation and teaching our students the basics of coding.  Our students engage in dynamic learning activities on and, participate in the international Hour of Code program, compete in the FIRST Lego Robotics competition, and apply sequential thinking in hands-on, project-based activities in our Tinkering Lab.  Through the Middle School SOLE Project, we have students learning programming language to create video games. We also recently began receiving external feedback from our standardized test, the ACT Aspire, in the snapshot they provide of our students’ STEM related skills.


At St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, we empower students to strive together as learners, artists, athletes, dreamers, believers…and coders.  Are you ready for your child to experience what school can be?

Let’s Play

“What did you do at school today?”  “PLAY!” That’s the answer you want to hear!  Whether in the classroom, recess, P.E., Motor Lab, or sports, at St. Andrew’s we strive to offer PLAY consistently, thus providing physical, social, cognitive, and language development throughout your child’s day.

Research shows that play contributes to healthy brain development.  This development aids in higher grades, self regulations of emotions, executive functioning, and brains that know how it interact with others in a positive manner. However, children today have less opportunity to engage in play than past generations. (recommended 60 min.per day)  With our rushed schedules, planned activities, and lack of child-driven play, some children are experiencing ‘play deprivation’. It is essential to provide opportunities for children to initiate and direct their own play in order for them to feel in control of themselves and their environment.

Without the fundamentals of play, schools are observing increases in childhood obesity, attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), weak bone development, anxiety and depression.

Childhood Obesity

  • Diet, exercise and active, outdoor play are important in reducing obesity in children.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder

  • Physical play may be beneficial in reducing disruptive behaviors associated with ADHD.

Weak Bone Development

  • Calcium and daily activity will build strong bones and reduce osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life.

Anxiety and Depression

  • Providing the choices, creativity and socializing that play provides, reduces the stress that people experience when there is a lack of control over their own lives.

St. Andrew’s will always strive in building your child’s emotional, spiritual and physical health every single day!

“Our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded with such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens.” Plato

By Laura Gabel, 2019-2020 Head of Primary Branch


Improving Children’s Health through Play: Exploring Issues and Recommendations A collaboration between the Alliance for Childhood and the US Play Coalition 2018

Headmaster’s Blog

Headmaster’s Blog – Thoughts from the Head

What can parents do to encourage school readiness in their children?


Just this week, my family returned from a two-week whirlwind tour of colleges in the Boston and St. Louis areas with my daughter who will be a senior next year.  While that time is far away for many parents, I’m finding it arrives sooner than you think! In addition to marveling in what was to come for her, I found myself also thinking about her journey to this point – all of the milestones that seemed to be marked by “First Days…”  First Day of Kindergarten. First Day of Middle School, High School. First Day at her First Job…


These musings about beginnings lead me to look into available podcasts on early childhood education.  I ran into a wonderful podcast called “The Early Childhood Research Podcast.” Created by “Liz,” a veteran teacher overseas with a passion for early childhood research, the podcast’s episodes range from “Does Movement Improve learning Outcomes?” (the answer is a definitive “Yes!”) to “Dyslexia and Early Intervention.”


Fascinated, I made the logical decision (sort of) to start with Episode #13, “School Readiness for Children, Families, Teachers and Schools.”  I would encourage everyone to take a listen. While there are plenty of anecdotes, everything she shares is supported by research. One topic covered included suggestions for parents on how to encourage school readiness in their children.  Here they are…


  • Encourage language development – There’s tons of research on the positive effect of exposing our kiddos to lots of words – in conversation, in reading to them, in teaching them songs.
  • Develop fine and gross motor skills – At all ages, we need to get our kiddos outside to run and jump and fall down (and get back up again).  While inside, encourage them to draw or finger paint and build with different materials (and tear down so they can build again).  Not only does this create new connections in their developing brain, it also strengthens hand muscles.
  • Develop healthy emotional and social responses – Have friends over, let them play and to learn to deal with disappointment or arguments in constructive, independent ways.
  • Connect your child to your community – The great takeaway here was to broaden your child’s experiences with other adults – at pools, libraries, church, in volunteer opportunities.


“Liz” was spot-on throughout…she was probably most poignant in her message on supporting moms.  I picked up the phone immediately to thank my mom for all she did for me growing up. Certainly, I’m looking forward to listening to more of her podcasts.  If you are interested, you can find her on the web at  


How Free Play Influences Critical Thinking Skills

How Free Play Influences Critical Thinking Skills

For kids across the country, the pinnacle of playtime is about to be reached – summer vacation. One of the reasons kids love summer vacation (other than no homework!) is that they have more leisure time to play with their friends or on their own. What your child probably doesn’t know is that this unstructured free play is actually building their critical thinking skills, developing their muscle tone and coordination, and promoting their creativity by allowing their imaginations to run wild.

Many times our child’s day during the school year is scripted and scheduled. Every minute of their day is carefully calculated from one class to the next, one activity leading to a lesson leading to a practice. As parents, we believe that we are providing the most enriching opportunities for our child. However, recent studies have shown that one of the best ways for kids to develop critical thinking and brain development is to engage in free play.

The Brain Benefits of Free Play

Free play is both beneficial and crucial for the brain’s healthy development. A child’s frontal cortex, which is responsible for problem-solving and controlling emotions, is activated during free play. When a child is playing, the brain is making neurotransmitter connections that are directly related to the growth and stimulation of critical thinking and reasoning. Researcher Sergio Pellis states that the “experience of play changes the connections on the neurons in the front end of your brain.” When those changes occur, it prepares the brain for making plans, solving problems, and regulating emotions. For children who do not have these extended free play experiences, their brains are not wired to tackle the upcoming challenges of childhood and young adulthood with the same ease.

Free Play Encourages Independent Decision Making

Children have dozens of decisions made for them every day, whether it’s what to wear, what to eat, their mode of transportation, how they’ll structure their essay, or what chores they need to complete. Parents are often too eager to rush in and try to solve a child’s problem because they are used to setting these daily rules and functions. If a child forgets their beach toys, the parent might run to the store to grab new ones. However, free play is a perfect setting for children to exercise their independent decision-making skills. Has your child forgotten their beach toys? Encourage them to come up with a creative solution, such as utilizing the items that have been brought to their advantage. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that your child might be able to fashion a makeshift scooper out of a plastic drinking cup.

Free Play Allows Complex Problem Solving

If you were to watch a group of children in the park playing a made-up game, you would be surprised how intricate they often become. Kids can create mini-fiefdoms, complex rules and guidelines, and even hierarchies all based on the parameters they’ve set during this free play time. With limited structure or rules, kids are amazingly adept at solving complex problems and making critical thinking decisions based on what activity they are doing with their peers. Children need space and practice to perfect these complex problem-solving skills, and free play is the perfect opportunity to work on this.

The next time your child asks to go to the park, play outside, or hang out at the beach, don’t dismiss it as idle free time. Think of this free play time as a great way for their young brains to develop in a different capacity.