Smart Phone Etiquette for Parents

You and your partner are out for dinner, waiting for the nachos to arrive.  At the next table sits a family with small children who are noisy and acting up.  Their parents busy themselves with their smart phones–emails, texts, Facebook, and so on.VG.CafeTerrace

At first you relate, sympathize, understand.  You’ve been there, too.  Must be a different parenting style. Maybe their babysitter cancelled.  As the noise escalates, the mother turns and scolds the kids, and they giggle through it. Desperate, the she hands one of the kids her smart phone.

What’s happening here? Is there one big problem or several problems?

Should you offer some positive parenting tips?  Send your nachos over to calm the kids so you can eat in peace? Give them the url of an etiquette site?

Tell me your opinion or experience with this scene.





Don’t Say This

Do you ever say to your child, “I wasn’t good at math, either,” followed by “I’m more of a English (or other topic) person.”

Pardon the caps while I write,  “STOP SAYING THAT!”PortraitCamilleRoulin Vincent_van_Gogh

I know you’re probably trying to show sympathy as your child puzzles through math homework. Or trying to be honest. Or sharing that they’re not alone. Or trying to show that you, an important adult in their life, confronted challenges just as they are doing.

Today, we know more about math learning and the kind of encouragement that helps children:

  • “I know you’re doing your best.”
  • “Did you call one of your friends (or five or six of them) for help?
  • “I’ll listen while you read the directions aloud.”
  • “What does Mrs.—want you to do when you’re stuck?”

Also, if you are able to take apart a problem and help your child understand it, by all means do so. That can be a great strategy if you are able to teach them, not tell them.

Finally, tell your child to ask the teacher what to do the next time they need help with math homework. We parents want our children to feel confident about asking for help whenever they need it.



Cooking up Math


Did you know that you have a math lab in your home?  It’s called the kitchen and is a perfect place for you to practice estimation and measurement with kids.

Start early with your toddler and have them count everything. Older kids can estimate the number of sections in each orange.

Whether you are a cook who uses exact measurements, or one who uses handfuls and pinches, help them to learn.

A bag of salad feeds about how many people?  How many gallons, half gallons, pints, or cups of milk do you drink in a day?  Monitor the grams of protein in food and estimate how many you eat.

More specifically, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon?  How many tablespoons of butter in a half cup?  You get the idea.

I know when families get home after a long day and dinner needs to get on the table fast, it seems impossible to let children help.  Especially when you can do chicken nuggets, a salad, and couscous in seconds!  But when you’re aware of the possibilities present, you can take advantage of them.

In math, learning measurement and estimation needs practice right through childhood–and perhaps beyond.  That’s because in many schools, there simply isn’t enough time to find, collect and use all the tools necessary for the hands-on learning that kids need.  Parents need to backfill learning math at home.

What are some other places at home to practice learning math?






Books in Your Home

Studies show that the number of books in your home library directly correlates to your child’s achievement.  This isn’t surprising, because children who see books in the home, read books in the home, and are read to at home become better and more fluent readers. It’s reading practice.


Our home library is extensive.  My professional books about teaching and learning fill an entire wall.  Biographies, which I love to read, take up about six shelves of their own. There is a special bookcase holding books by and about E.B.White.  Same with cookbooks.  My husband’s library of program and project management, woodworking, and homebuilding books is significant, too.  Our children’s books remain in the hundreds, although we’ve given many away.

Our children grew up surrounded by books, with everyone reading, going to bookstores, having weekly trips to the library, and stories every night before bedtime.  Our family was immersed in reading practice.

When parents ask me how to improve their child’s reading, I encouraged them to:

  • Consider themselves a critical part of teaching kids to read.
  • Go to the public library and take out books your child finds interesting.  (Take advantage of your tax dollars!) Let the librarian help find books at the proper reading level for independent reading.
  • Read aloud together every day.  Children’s picture books often have challenging vocabulary, so talk about the words as you go.
  • Teach children the pleasure of browsing in a bookstore.
  • Sign up for the classroom teacher’s book club–Scholastic or another one.  This is an inexpensive way to build a home library with fun books your child chooses.
  • Model reading at home every day:  newspapers, magazines, books, Kindle, audio books.   There’s something for every reader.

Your home library matters.  How can you expand it to help your child today?



Je Suis Bruxelles: How to Talk With Children About the News

je-suis-bruxellesHow do you talk to your child about the terrorist attacks in Belgium? It doesn’t have to be as tricky as it seems.

First, make sure your child feels safe and secure in your love as he grows up. Hugs, preparing a meal together, special time cuddling with a book—all of these routines help create the groundwork for a child to develop into a confident, resilient adult.

Second, limit exposure to the news, violent images, and sounds of explosions, screaming, and sirens. Far from being overly protective, this shows good sense and respect for your child.

Talk to your child about the news, find out what he knows, and then discuss it.  You don’t have to provide perfect answers, either. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know” and “You are safe here with me.”

Find positive images to show your child and talk about images of the slogan Je suis Bruxelles. Does he know what it means? Also show the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate lit up to show solidarity and support. Can your child find Brussels, Belgium; Paris, France; and Berlin, Germany on the map?   Use a globe and your finger to trace the distance from your home to each of these places.

When we talk to children about the news in honest and healthy ways, we help them understand possibilities, change, and that there is more good in the world than bad. Appropriate communication surrounded by love always works.

What Does Leap Year Mean to You?

If you have a February 29 birthday, it probably means you have a celebration planned for Leap Year Day. Or, like Amy Adams in the movie Leap Year, you might be following an Irish tradition of proposing marriage to your boyfriend.

As you continue reading, listen to “A Leap Year Promise,”  by Randy Edelman. 

Your family can create a celebration, too.  Brainstorm ideas together about each family member’s life four years from now. This kind of thinking helps children to invent, imagine, wonder, and create—all top thinking skills.

Next, gather paper, envelopes, and writing materials. Have everyone write letters to themselves, to be opened on the next Leap Year Day.

Finally, seal the letters in envelopes and put them away, to be opened on February 29, 2020.

There you go: a new and fun family tradition!

Teacher-Learner Leonard Bernstein

Many educators believe that teaching and learning are the same—two sides of the same coin. It’s because when we teach, we learn and when we learn, we teach.

For example, when you teach a math topic you know well, and then have students pick it up in different ways, we learn more about how we teach and add to our knowledge of how students learn math. It may sound obvious or simple, but it’s not.

To be a teacher-learner or a learner-teacher means to remain open to possibilities, to other ways of thinking, to other kinds of knowledge, even to be ready to grow in a way not yet known. You have to take risks, be creative and embrace problem solving.

Leonard Bernstein draws a good picture of this. While he studied piano as an advanced student, he also gave lessons to students who were beginners. As his career unfolded, his learning and teaching evolved into collaborations with some of the world’s greatest conductors and musicians. He famously mentored many younger musicians, and his close collaborations blurred the lines of teacher-learner even more.

Enjoy the great Bernstein discussing teaching and learning at :50 to 1:30. For a second treat, watch a teacher-learner in action from 41:35 to 43:30.

Writing a Love Letter to a Child

Some time ago, my husband and I agreed to stop spending more than $2.00 on a card. Later on, we scratched even the $2.00 and resumed our note writing. I say “resumed” because back in college, we wrote love letters to each other every week for two years.

I saved every one of his. Forty years later, I discovered them bundled together in our cellar.

His handwriting hasn’t changed much. He used his own voice, wrote in his style, from his heart. His love sings clearly and he writes about specifics—what he’s thinking of me as he rushes off for work, how he feels as he drives home. The letters said things that were meant only for me. Above all, he took the time to send it in an envelope with a stamp, something rare today.IMG_4572

Believe it or not, there’s a parallel here to home and the classroom. We educators are taught to give specific praise to a child. “You chose an excellent synonym for ‘yellow’” helps the child more than the generic “Good job!” Not that “good job!” is wrong, but it can mean anything to anyone.

It’s the same thing with Valentine’s Day cards. Why purchase generic messages? Write a handwritten love letter to your child, full of specific things that only you know and notice.

Also, remember that the best love letters are personal.  In forty years, your child might even have a bundle of them, in their own cellar, to rediscover.

Handshakes As Positive Discipline

A father with two little girls approached me at a school picnic. He explained that his daughters were new students, and that the older one, Maria, was a bit worried about starting a new school.

“Say hello to Dr. Nollet,” he said to Maria.

Maria stepped forward and stuck out her hand.

“Hi, Dr. Nollet,” she said. “My name is Maria,” She made eye contact, her grasp was firm, she stood straight. A smile transformed her face.

The father said that teaching his children to look someone in the eye and shake hands properly was important to him. He’d been working on this discipline since they were preschoolers.

“I tell them anywhere they go in life, no matter what they become, it is important they greet people with a proper handshake and eye contact.”

When we discipline children, we’re instructing them. When we teach or discipline with respect, we teach respect for the other.

Positive discipline is effective discipline because it’s light-handed, substantive, and guides through practice. It lifts children up instead of putting them down while preparing them for life.

Here’s a wonderful video about mentors teaching children to handshake:


Social Justice and Excellence in Learning

Today’s designation of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day reminds us to take his memory a step further.  It’s more of a call to action, for as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asks in this speech to junior high students at a Philadelphia school,  What is Your Life’s Blueprint?  As you’ll see, he believed there was a three-part structure to think about.

The themes of social justice for all and excellence in learning are as fresh today as ever. Watch this speech with students sometime this week.  Then ask them, “What is your life’s blueprint?”





Video from Beacon Press on