3 Survival Tips for Parents & School Projects

dreamstimefree_259944Your son Aaron has had a good year with Ms. Kelly. At the last conference, the only concern she repeated was that he needed to get his work done on time. This was not news to you. You’re always working on it with him and it’s excruciatingly painful.

Yet here you are at his soccer game and overhear someone complain about the science fair project due Friday. “Weren’t those directions confusing?” and “What is your kid doing her project on?”

In the car, you say, “Aaron, do you have a science project due this week?” Yes, he says, but he lost the directions. Or they’re in his desk at school, he thinks. You buzz over to the school and get the custodian to open the classroom. Aaron finds them and you read them. An experiment? Research? Poster board? Argh!

While dashing to Staples for the tri-fold board, you try not to explode. “Haven’t we talked about procrastination, Aaron? Letting us know ahead of time that you have a project due?” Aaron is nowhere near as stressed as you are. You try again. “How can you do your best science project at this late date?”

Some reassurance for you–we teachers have seen this happen hundreds of times. It’s how some kids learn. Here are three tips I can offer you:

  1. Let Aaron do the work. You create the environment and then let go. Teachers want to see Aaron’s work, not yours.  We can tell immediately if a parent did the work.
  2. Clear Aaron’s schedule, even it if means missing a sports practice.  If there are penalties, well, that’s another lesson learned.
  3. If his finished project is less than stellar, send it to school anyway.

Try to keep your tone matter-of-fact throughout the ordeal. All of this is very tough stuff to do because not helping sounds harsh.

But look closer and you’ll see that it’s showing love. By remembering this, you let Aaron grow and learn.

Parents and Backyard Science

When I visit my father, I like to tell him about the wildlife I’ve seen in our yard. “Heard the coyotes last night,”  and he smiles upon hearing this. “This is a picture of the robin’s nest on our front door wreath” makes him shake his head in wonder.  “A little snake ran over my bare feet” prompts him to ask, “What did you do?” “Nothing–it was exciting!” I said.

He and I have broadened our conversations to include other wildlife.  Bluebirds. Bald eagles.  Red-shouldered hawks. A Cooper’s hawk holding its prey. Today I plan to tell him about the latest bobcat visit to our yard, and that the robin has laid two eggs.

As you can see, backyard science is for every generation.

When our children were young, I showed them how to listen for peepers in the early spring.  (If you live in the central or eastern United States and Canada, you know this magical sound that rings in spring.)  They learned to ask questions and find answers, used their imagination to think up answers, and discovered the peepers’ habitats.  Soon this became an annual home science experiment.

All of this noticing connects directly to what a child learns in school. Observing, listening, wondering, and critical thinking are some of the greatest skills you can help your child develop in relaxed, natural, disconnected-to-a-device ways.

One of the best parenting tips I know is to show your child how to notice things in the natural world.  Even if you’ve never done it yourself, it’s a beautiful and rewarding experience to share.

 

 

Children and Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Don’t you love it when your child plays with others and uses her imagination and creativity to act out stories?VG.peasant-woman

Then you must read aloud one of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s excellent books. They mix fantasy, adventure, mystery, and magical thinking in a way that children respond to.

A person’s imagination is not an isolated ability.  It needs to be fed, stoked, and given time and space to develop.  When we do this with our children, we’re helping them learn problem solving, thinking, and social skills.

There are two of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s book that I recommend.  One is The Velvet Room–a girl explores an old, abandoned house and discovers a room full of books surrounded by velvet drapes that becomes a special space to her. When I read it, I remember the feeling of becoming the character and thinking about solving the problems.Book_egy_2007

The other is The Egypt Game, a Newbury Honor Book.  If your child likes to read about Egypt, or is drawn to Egyptian relics, this is the way to explore it.  The Egypt Game is used in lots of schools today to teach about Egypt through a child who discovers an artifact, and draws her friends into a magical game about Egypt.

In my next post, I’ll say more about how to bring special book experiences to your child.

 

 

Life with a Yorkshire Terrier

If your children are lucky enough to enjoy life with a Yorkshire terrier, you’ll recognize our Teddy.IMG_4672

Happy. Self-confident. Highly intelligent. Persistent. Protective. Noisy. Wags a lot.

Barks at perceived intruders. Monitors the yard for mourning doves, squirrels, rabbits, or anything masquerading as such. Rages at roaming cats.

Loves car rides. Sits in his car seat for the sheer pleasure of it. Backseat driver. Announces trucks, motorcycles, scooters, baby carriages, runners, bicycles, and cars with other dogs.

Unafraid of any other animal. Bosses larger dogs with ease.

IMG_4686Follows directions that fit with his agenda. Chooses softest seating for himself.

Bounces back after day surgery. Turns neck doughnut into fashion statement.

Helped to raise our family with a sense of humor and unlimited tolerance for snuggling.

Who Was X in Your Family?

On the day I received my bachelor’s degree in music, my father told me that I was the first person in his family to graduate from college.  It was a fact I’d never known.

Years later, while digging into genealogy, I learned that my paternal grandparents–the generation that emigrated to Boston–received only a few years of schooling. Some of my great- and great-great grandparents had no education and used X to sign their names.

VG.PotatoDiggers.

This didn’t surprise me.  My family lived in western Ireland, the area hardest hit by potato famine. Somehow they suffered through severe poverty, cold, starvation, and disease.  Their lives were about survival, not adult and child literacy.  X spoke volumes to me.

My story is not unique. Most immigrants share a similar tale of escaping poverty and disease in search of a better life and education for their family.  Look back a few generations in your ancestry and you’ll discover where your X is.

 

William Shakespeare for Parents

I bet you’ve never thought of looking to William Shakespeare for parenting help, but I have.VG.Onions-and-drawing-table-1889

When one of my daughters was a teenager, she fell in love with Shakespearean sonnets. Sonnet 116 was one of her favorites:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
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Inside this sonnet, on line five, I found words that I clung to when the going got tough:
Love…is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
Those are true, supportive words we parents need to whisper to ourselves when we are overwhelmed and don’t know if we can handle one more conflict. They are also words that every teenager must hear from us, repeatedly.
No matter how we argue, fight, or disagree, I will love you no matter what.
William Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets.  Which one speaks to you?

 

 

 

Venus in Music and Art

Your child read the book, did the research, wrote the report, and made the model of the planet now exhibited in the hallway.  What’s missing?

The art and music that the planet inspired, of course! And it’s not limited to the composer Gustav Holst, whose composition The Planets consists of familiar melodies to many people. You can listen to the section “Venus, The Bringer of Peace” starting at 8:11 in this video.

Vincent Van Gogh created more than one painting that included Venus, including this one, The White House at Night.VG.White House Nigh.  Venus is so bright here that it illuminates the landscape as if it were day.

It’s one thing for your child to learn facts and gain knowledge.  But how do you know when your child really gets its?

It happens when you  deepen your child’s understanding by looking for links to music and art.  There isn’t a subject too dry or too complex that hasn’t been brought to life through an artist’s or composer’s eyes.

 

Understanding “Politically Correct”

In our homes, what we say and how we say it matters. Children hear everything and understand more than we think they do. We’re the ones who help explain the world for them as they grow. And there is plenty to help them understand  during this election season.VG.Country.Rd.Prov

In school, your child learns to understand today’s politics by thinking, reading, writing, and discussion.  We teachers guide students toward carefully considered, informed opinions expressed with appropriate vocabulary.  Most teachers do this without inserting their opinions to sway a student’s mind.

This year, though, parents are needed more than ever.  The accepted–even admired–communication style consists of rudeness laced with vulgarity and crudeness, with the disclaimer, “This isn’t politically correct, but…”

Our language and its phrases change over time. Not long ago, being politically correct referred to the act of being sensitive to expressions that disparaged people or ridiculed groups.  But now, thanks to the media, we’re able to hear these vicious statements blared over and over and around the clock.

When you get your child thinking about politics, I urge you to teach him that being politically correct is not wrong. Teach him to understand that respectful disagreement is fine, healthy, and sheds better light on ideas.

The Art of Tinkering Teaches Thinking

It’s Saturday morning and you have a list of chores to complete.  One of them is to fix part of the backyard fence.  The wear of winter snow tore away some lengths of  wire from the wooden posts, which are somewhat rotted.VG.Blue.Fence

Your child tags along.  You talk to her out loud as you poke around in your workbench drawers.  Which would work best, nails or staples?  Should you try one first? Staple gun or hammer? Bungee cords? A tape measure? A shovel or not? A wheelbarrow? When your work apron and hers are full of supplies, out you go to fix the fence.

This scenario is the beginning of learning to tinker, to fix, to mess around, to try out an idea and then adapt it until it works.  It’s the foundation of problem solving and visualizing and talking back and forth about what might work and why.

When children use real tools to solve real problems, it creates an opportunity for a parent to help show that tinkering around is real life problem solving.  Find ways to involve your child in tinkering.  You’ll be well on your way to building a good, solid, parent and child bond.

 

 

“Hi guys!” as Salutation

“Hi guys!” said the teacher to her class.

I have strong views on the subject of using “hi guys,” and “you guys” to address children.  I believe it is an inappropriate and unprofessional term to use when addressing two or more people.

How many guys are seated at the table?

How many guys are seated at the table?

Perhaps I learned this as I came of age during the women’s movement of the 1970s and women could not even get a credit card in their own name. Only the “guys” could.

Whether I’m their principal or their college supervisor, I point it out to teachers when they say hi-, you-, or bye- guys.” They’re invariably shocked to realize they use it at all, because it is incorrect to address a group of boys and girls in that manner.  Guys are boys, girls are not.

“Hello friends” or “Hi everyone” are better and inclusive.

For parents, I think it’s a bit more complicated.  Some parents use it as a salutation to greet or shepherd their children out the door.  Other parents feel it is relaxed, informal, friendly, even affectionate.

But using the word “guys” when addressing a group of boys and girls perpetuates the myth that the day of women’s liberation is over.  It is not. We have all kinds of male referenced slang in our language and plenty of phrases in our speech from men’s sports.

Use salutations for your sons and daughters that are inclusive and appropriate.