Karen Duncan: A blessing to Orlando's parents
March 13, 2020
If you have had the honor of attending a Shayna's Village class at The Roth Family JCC's Richard S. Adler Early Childhood Learning Center, you most likely met the director, Karen Duncan. I met her when I first had a baby and was looking for how to become a parent. Right away when I met her, I knew she was special and unique. I wanted to learn from her and ideally, be like her. As a new mother of a newborn baby, once I met Karen, I signed up for every class she taught and attended her parenting discussions. I continue attending her classes and sessions three years later. Years after meeting her, my fellow parents joke and say, "What Would Karen Do (WWKD)" when we're struggling in a situation with our own children.
Duncan will be honored by The Roth Family JCC at the March 26 J Ball with the Harriet Weiss Legacy Award in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to Jewish life in Orlando through Shayna's Village. Tickets are on sale at orlandojocc.org/jball.
The physical space of Shayna's Village is an expression of who Duncan is as a person. It's warm, inviting, creative, safe, and inspiring-just like Duncan. She is a parenting educator who embodies and exemplifies what she teaches. She shows how to de-escalate situations firsthand. She role-models how to treat children. Any time a child has a behavioral struggle in Karen's presence, my eyes are glued on how she handles it. She always shows the children respect. Her famous, "uh-oh, that's not safe" became one of my mantras in parenting. This expression is based on Duncan's belief that all households need to have two simple rules in which everything is based. This technique makes discipline not personal, the child isn't wrong, the behavior is wrong. The difference between shaming a child and empathizing with a child in order to teach them. In her classroom, she chose safe and helpful. I found those to be most important in my own life and I quickly agreed those would be our household rules. How much easier parenting became when I didn't have to think about how to phrase my discipline, just a quick "Uh-oh, that's not safe; we only throw balls outside," or "Uh-oh, that's not helpful; please pick up the cereal you just spilled all over the floor."
Duncan's parenting philosophy, that discipline is education and not punishment, changed my worldview. She teaches so simply and beautifully how to guide our children with the understanding that they are not intentionally trying to anger, hurt or disappoint us. In addition, to remember that when they act "bad" it is because they feel "bad" and need our help. Not to be shamed or ridiculed for something. Children don't need to be punished for things when what they need is connection and correction.
Duncan encourages parents to create a safe-haven in their homes that block out the chaos and noise of the complicated modern world. She promotes JOMO-the Joy of Missing Out-with the belief that families need to get back to simple pleasures, such as enjoying time outside together and letting kids be free to explore without the pressure of achievement and competition. That children are loved simply for being part of the family. There is no need to prove themselves.
We all want more for our children than we had. Sometimes people think it's the materialistic part that matters, but really it is so much more that has value to them. Duncan teaches how to provide a safe, comfortable, loving home where children can learn to emotionally regulate. To feel empowered to be true to themselves- that's all I can hope to pass on to my child. Duncan has impacted thousands of families in her role, and I know she will continue to touch the lives of all who walk through Shayna's Village's doors.
Rebecca Tregerman director of Outreach & Engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.