Category Archives: Parents and children

“Little Ears:” The 2016 Election Results

Never do I recall teachers calming frightened students after an election. But that is what happened all day today in many, many schools.

Teachers reassured students from all kinds of families—some immigrants, some children of immigrants, their friends, their classmates, all while handling their own shock. In urban schools, administrators sent home letters and read announcements in many languages so everyone understood that their classrooms were places to feel safe and the adults would help keep it that way. american-flag

The harm and danger children feel is not just about racism and anti-immigration policies that have been made explicit for more than a year.

It’s also about how we adults behave and how we talk to each other. Attacking, bullying, blaming others, vicious name calling, derogatory chants, lying, verbal abuse, rampant misogyny, and deeply trenched xenophobia abound.

Under the guise of eliminating anything “politically correct”, children now see that speaking without a filter, without consideration for hurting others, gets a huge reward!

Years ago during adult conversations, my grandmother would sing in a whisper, “Little ears!” She knew, correctly, that I was sitting on the stairs listening to grownups talk. “Little ears!” was a warning to the adults to monitor one’s tone or words.

What steps can you take in your life to speak more kindly and discuss important topics more respectfully?  As I see it, that’s the only path forward.

A Guide to Back to School Night

A magnificent teacher and a stimulating classroom–that’s what all parents want for their child and what all students deserve.

Yet when you go to Back to School Night, how do you look for evidence of these things?  It’s not as simple as the teacher smiles, is friendly, and the walls are decorated nicely. colored-pencils Here, I share several tips you can use for looking more deeply during that important gathering. They are things that matter to me as a parent, a teacher, and a principal.

First,  listen well, write notes, and take the handouts home.  These are the highlights and you’ll want to refer to them later.  Ask questions, too. Sounds basic, but it’s a busy, crowded night and you have a lot to take in.

Second, find out how often your child will have science.  Do you see a science center? Is it hands-on science?  Science is no longer a frill, it’s a foundation. It’s where children learn to problem solve and think scientifically.

Finally, what is the teacher’s homework philosophy? If there are nightly assignments, how and how much should you help? Ideally, there should be no homework–no worksheets, no busy work, no drills.  You and your child should read a substantial amount every single night.

Teachers carefully plan their classroom instruction.  The more you understand it, the more you can help your child to succeed and thrive this year.

How to Greet the Teacher

Greetings on auspicious occasions range from a quiet hello to a standing ovation.  For your family, a child starting or returning to school requires feats of readiness and coordination. Give yourself some applause!

How about paying it forward? Your child’s teacher is about to shape him for the next one hundred eighty days or so, for six to seven hours a day. That’s a lot of time and a lot of learning–especially when you consider it’s a serious part of building your child’s future. You will be a large presence during your child’s growth and as you know, good home-school communication is critical support for your growing child.

child writingI’d like to pass on some observations I’ve made over the years about parents and the first day of school. I’ve seen some parents help to establish a pleasant and open relationship with a teacher by making these friendly gestures:

  1. A handmade card by your child that introduces him and says what he hopes to learn.
  2. Alternatively, a note from you and your partner thanking the teacher in advance and saying you look forward to work with her.
  3. A small bunch of flowers–from your garden, if possible.

It doesn’t matter what you send in, because as with all gracious gestures, it’s the thought that counts.  Your child will notice your effort, too–what better way to model and reinforce manners?

 

 

 

5 Summer Reading Tips for Parents

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“Books fall open, you fall in” (David McCord)

Almost every student has a summer reading list to conquer.  Some children love summer reading and can’t wait to dive into the books. Other dread it. If your child dislikes required reading, I have five tips for you:

  1. Start early and space reading out over the next few weeks. Plan a related reward for each book.
  2. Is there an assignment to complete after the book? Find the directions and make sure she understands what to do before reading. That way, she can pick up cues as she reads. (Even better: Ask her to find the directions and read them aloud to you.)
  3. Create a routine and a comfortable place to read. In a treehouse? By the pool? Tucked away on the porch with lemonade and cookies?
  4.  If a book is challenging, have everyone in the family read the same book, together or separately.  Invite grandparents to read it, too. Then talk about it over a book dinner.
  5. Complete the assignment right after reading is finished and keep it out where your child can see it.  She’ll use it in the following days to remember what the book is about.

Everyone responds to praise and don’t be afraid of using it abundantly while helping a child complete a summer project, a difficult book, or many books!  It boosts your child’s confidence when you compliment her thoughtfully and often.  Two suggestions:

  •  “Emily, I’m proud of you for sticking with that book. Doesn’t it feel good to accomplish something difficult?”
  •   “Luis, I love to see you disappear into a book.  I can see your mind learning new things when you read.”

Let me know how any of these work for you.

Stargazing, Jupiter, Parents and Kids

Gazing at the night sky is one of the pleasures of summer. The best place to view it is somewhere away from city lights or the yellow-y glow from shopping centers. The darker and clearer the sky, the better.

Toward the end of this month, you’ll see five planets in the sky, including Jupiter, where the exploratory spacecraft Juno, after its five-year journey, is gathering information we’ve never had before.  Here’s a video from NASA that explains Juno and Jupiter:

It’s difficult for most of us to comprehend Juno’s 540,000,000 mile trip to Juniper, or even a five-year journey in a vehicle. Our journey to explore the universe is a marvel of humankind’s collective curiosity and imagination.

The important thing to do, though, is to revel in the wonder of space, to let your imagination tumble around ideas and questions. When you talk with your child about big ideas, no answers are right or wrong. It’s the open exchange of ideas–and growing closer–that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Sloppy Copy” That Changed History

School kids learn that the first draft of writing is considered the “sloppy copy.” Rereading and revision is the writing process they are taught to use and it’s a good one. This summer you may see it, especially if a piece of writing is due on the first day of school.

This Fourth of July, tell your child about how thirty-three year old Thomas Jefferson authored the “sloppy copy” of the Declaration of Independence.  It was only after John Adams and Benjamin Franklin suggested revisions that one of our founding documents was ready to change the course of history.

Here’s one view of the Declaration of Independence in it’s “sloppy” form.

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, loc.gov

Parenting Teens and Saying “No”

The summer my fifteen-year-old daughter started her first camp job, she stepped into a fun, cohesive social scene with other teens, college students, and twenty-somethings. The kids hung out after camp, sometimes walking to a nearby ice cream shop.

It wasn’t long before the older kids organized a Saturday night party. She was thrilled to be invited. I knew that parents wouldn’t be present, that kids would drink, do drugs, and a fifteen-year-old girl would be vulnerable.lights-party-dancing-music

Not that I suspected my daughter would drink, or worse. She was a strong, smart person, who made excellent decisions. But it was our job as parents to assure her safety and set boundaries appropriate for her age.

It’s easy to write a sentence about it.  It’s a gigantic job to carry out.

“Fifteen-year-olds do not belong at parties with kids in their twenties,” I said, explaining why.

My daughter emphatically disagreed. She didn’t care that there’d be other parties, she wanted this one.  We were rewarded with a few days of pleading, pushing, arguing, bargaining,  She wanted to belong, I know.

Setting boundaries with teens requires parental fortitude and consistency.  Although it’s easier to give in–after all, what’s the big deal about one party, she’ll be fine–teens need to know we’re on their side, even when it’s not what they want to hear. It’s our job to teach them and not give up.

I think that saying “no” as a parent is very hard.  Many times while parenting teenagers, it’s hard to know what to do.  Teenagers are separating, growing brains and bodies, and their development is supercharged and fast paced.

That’s why teenagers aren’t always accurate in predicting safety.  We parents need to step up and do the tough work of “no,” even when it’s easier to give in, and hope for the best.

 

 

 

Flag Day’s Star-Spangled Banner

What do you remember about Flag Day celebrations (June 14) when you were in school?  You probably participated in a ceremony at the school flagpole.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts wore their uniforms on that day, and the Boy Scouts usually performed the honor of raising the flag.  This ceremony often included singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

If Flag Day fell on a weekend one of my grandfathers, a WWI veteran, made a solemn ceremony of putting out his flag.  During this task his attitude receded into silence and duty, which impressed me. We’d climb the stairs to the landing just before the third floor, where he’d lean out the window to attach the flag to the pulley.  The sound of the metal flag grommets clanking against the pole made a memorable sound to me.

In addition to Flag Day ceremonies, we school kids were drilled in the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner.  I’m not an educator who favors drilling to learn, but memorization has its place.

When you and your child put out your flag on Flag Day, see if you both know the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, written in 1814 by Washington, D.C., attorney and poet Francis Scott Key.

Thanks to the Maryland Historical Society Collection, all four verses of our national anthem are here.

Living History

Today we’re living history.  We have the first woman with enough votes to become a nominee for president of the United States.

It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is, or if you support Secretary Hillary Clinton or not.  What matters is that you talk with your children about the significance of this achievement, because they are living history, too.

wavy-american-flagWe stand on the shoulders of giants in this moment.  Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké,  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and many others who fought–and took plenty of abuse for it–so women could vote, get birth control, own property, and keep their last names.

Today these things might seem quaint, even distant or irrelevant.  But until we see 51% of top management jobs are held by women, that 51% of board positions are held by women, and that women earn equal pay for equal work, we need to recognize the huge achievement of Hillary Clinton. It’s another step forward.

And if she makes it to the White House, she’ll be making the same salary as the previous two men, $400,000 a year.

 

 

 

 

A Robin in the Wreath

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According to AllAboutBirds.org, only 40% of nests successfully produce young.

Sometimes, you just have to take a breath and look at the world. Or, out your front door and onto a wreath, where a robin built a perfect nest.

For at least the last three weeks, I’ve been hosting a new family of robins.  It was pure magic to see the mother twist the last pieces of grass in place.  When she sat, I began a log.  After she laid her fourth and final egg, I began counting the days.  On day 12, the eggs hatched.

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Now we are two.

Along the way, I invited my friend, Eric, over for a look. As his father lifted him up, Eric looked at the eggs and said, “Wooooowww!” as only a four-year-old can.

Every guest or family member who visited expressed the same wonder.

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The quartet, eyes still closed.

No one rushed to Google “robin” on their phones. Instead, there were conversations about the nest, the occupants, their growth, the male and female robins. Our front porch became off limits to the usual foot traffic. Even the drop-off dry cleaning man got into the spirit, and suggested another place to hang his deliveries.

Looking like teenagers--a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

Looking like teenagers–a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

It’s learning opportunities like this one for which we parents need to keep watch. Teaching kids of all ages to respond to the natural world is extra special when a parent models that behavior. Also, learning at home never requires a workbook.  Birds’ nests are wonderful parent resources for wonder and curiosity.

Finally, I’m reminded that some of our youngest children are never afraid of wondering. To quote four-year-old Eric, “Wooooowww!