Category Archives: Education

Bells Will Be Ringing…Part 2

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Back to school new

 

Hello and welcome back to my back – to – school series re-blog.  As I mentioned last time, I wrote these posts on back – to – school this time last year and thought that now would be a good time to revisit them.  Today’s post will include  Back to School Basics: Let’s Go Shopping (I think you’ll be surprised!) and Back to School Basics: Striking the Right Balance.    I know that I previously said that the last post would be about sending your little munchkin off to Kindergarten, however, I misspoke.  That post didn’t come until much later.  What can I say?  This is what happens when you do your blogging late at night after everyone is asleep and your brain has turned to mush.  Forgive me.  Actually, a post on finding balance is probably more appropriate coming from a woman who has her kids in absolutely everything.  I hope that these posts actually help you get ready for the return to the classrooms.  Summer is slipping away too soon.

 

Lisa

Bells Will Be Ringing…

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Back to school new

 

…school bells, that is.  Yes, it’s August 1st and that means that the start of the 2014 – 2015 school year is just around the corner.  This time last year I wrote a series of blog posts called “Back to School Basics”  that covered 4 different areas: getting organized, parent/teacher relationships, back to school shopping and sending your baby off to Kindergarten.  Obviously with 5 kids – three of them now adults – I have a little experience with getting kids and myself ready for heading back to class.  I decided to share some of my observations in hopes that I might be of some help to you.  Because they were so well received last year, I’m going to post them again in my next couple of blog posts.  Today, we will start by talking about getting ourselves organized (Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized) and the importance of the parent/teacher relationship (Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership).

Feel free to share these (PLEASE DO!) with others.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions. I love hearing from you!

 

 

Bringing Back Children’s Book Clubs

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As if I don’t have enough going on keeping up with dance intensives, track meets, play dates and such; I decided that this summer I wanted my girls to be a part of a summer book club.  Not a reading incentive club like so many libraries and schools sponsor now,  but a real old-fashioned book club. Back in the day – the good old 90’s – when my son was younger, one of our favorite toy stores that carried mostly educational items would sponsor summer book clubs.  Twice during the summer the facilitator would introduce a new book and the participants would read the assigned reading then meet each week to discuss the book.  Although he was an avid reader, initially he was not a fan of the idea of getting together with a bunch of strangers to talk about characters, plot lines and settings.  However, after the first couple of meetings, he was hooked.  He made new friends; was introduced to new genres; and he genuinely had a good time.  This is what I wanted for my girls, but unfortunately that store went out of business years ago,  just as this type of book club has fallen by the wayside.  So, since I couldn’t find one, I figured I’d start one.

I turned to Thing 1’s Girl Scout troop to recruit participants and most, if not all, of the girls (and their moms) said “yes”.  Today was our first book club meeting and this was our first book club selection (click on the photo to learn more about the book):

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han

Honestly, I was a bit nervous before the girls got to our house.  It didn’t help that I lost our copy of the book somewhere between finishing it and the meeting.  I know that it’s somewhere in the house, I just don’t know where.  Kinda makes you wonder what the inside of my house looks like, doesn’t it?  Anyway, as you know, 3rd grade girls can be unpredictable.  I knew that my daughter had enjoyed the book, but I had no idea if the others did, too.  Would they be talkative?  Would they be bored? Would they even bother coming to the meeting?  They did, in fact come to the meeting. Yes, they were ready to talk and no, they were definitely not bored.  The response that I received from these delightful little ladies was pure joy.

This had to be the most lively book club meeting that I have ever been to in my life.  They came prepared by actually having read the discussion guide that I had posted on our Facebook group (I will post the discussion guide here  if you would like to share this book with a group of young readers of your own). Talkative?  They were actually fighting over who got to answer questions during our discussion.  They volunteered to read out loud and actually acted out scenes from the book.  No prompting from me at all.  There was an abundance of enthusiasm in the room and I was ecstatic!

Book Clubs are supposed to encourage  and develop a love of reading by allowing children to delve deeper into a story.  On the contrary, reading incentive programs that reward reading a certain number of books in a certain amount of time do not address comprehension or enjoyment.  In fact, they can have the exact opposite effect by emphasizing speed over depth.  Often, in order to win a prize, children will read books that are below their reading level, therefore not building their vocabulary or their level of understanding.  In a time when schools are pushing the importance of reading comprehension these reading incentive programs seem to be counterproductive.

Call me “old – fashioned” or “old school’ or what ever you want, but what I saw here today was a group of kids enjoying each other through reading.  The fact that they actually learned something was a bonus. We need to bring back real book clubs and encourage our children to have fun with books. Today was awesome and I think that I will be smiling about this all week. 🙂

We Must be Super Sciency

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Audra and science

Today we started a new science module for the summer.  My girls love science, but I was planning to keep it simple. We began by going over some basic terms (observe, analyze, infer, etc.) then we reviewed the scientific method.  They had been asking (every. single. day.) when we were going to get started on the science workbooks that I bought for them, but, if I’m going to keep it really real here, science required more input from me than I was willing to give.  I just wasn’t ready, but eventually I got there and we are easing into it.

A little ways into the lesson Thing 1 excitedly asks “Do we get to take a science test?” Her face looked like she had just asked me if we get to go Disney World.

“Uumm, no, ” I replied, slightly taken aback.  “You want to take a test over science?”  I looked at Thing 2, who was animatedly nodding in agreement and I was suddenly sure that I was being set up for something because this was unnatural.

“YES! I LOVE ANSWERING QUESTIONS ABOUT STUFF I LIKE!” Thing 2 yelled. She yells when she is excited.

Just then her sister, Thing 2, chimed in, laughing and grinning while waving her arms in the air, and said “Well, not a test, but a experiment! YES! YES!”

By now they both were on their feet jumping around dancing and skipping.  I tell you it was straight out of some weird sci-fi movie and I was s-c-a-r-e-d.

“We could do something splatuous and all explodey!!!” Thing 2, continued.

Huh???

“YES, IT DEFINITELY MUST EXPLODE!!!”  Thing 1 was yelling again.

“Then there will be all of this smoke and dust around.” Thing 2 was lost in this wistful gaze that I can only describe as , well, weird.

As they continued creating their science experiment fantasy, I sat there with my cup of iced coffee wondering if anyone else’s kids are as freaking crazy as my own.  No, probably not.  Obviously, somehow I was straddling the line between reality and an alternate universe.  One where kids like science, vegetables, clean bedrooms and brushing their teeth.  I don’t even know what “splatuous” means.  I googled it and even Google hasn’t heard of it. She’s using words that even Google doesn’t know.  I was dazed and confused for a bit, but when I heard mention of pink lab coats with their names embroidered in silver stitching, I knew that I had to regain control of the situation.

“Girls. Girls! GIRLS!”

They stopped twirling and looked at me. I think that I must have looked stupid, not sharing in the merriment, and all.

“I really just want the two of you to complete the first page in the workbook.”

They sat down, opened the books and stared.  Then Thing 2 turned to me and said “This is it?  This is soooo easy.”

They were disappointed, but they finished the page, excused themselves and left me there to wallow in my inadequacies.

Never in my life did I think that I would be judged  so harshly for my ability (or lack thereof) to provide a stimulating and entertaining science experience over summer vacation.  And what kind of comeback was there for me to use? “Do you ungrateful brats know how lucky you are to have a mother that even buys you science workbooks for the summer?”  Doesn’t work does it?

However, I am determined to rebound from this temporary setback.  This Mom Fail, if you will.  I will dig deep to create a summer science module that will satisfy even these two crazy girls in their quest to be “super sciency” – sans pink lab coats with silvery embroidery, of course. Yes, I will include an experiment or two, although I seriously doubt that it will be “splatuous” and “explodey”.  But first, I’m going to go to bed and then I’m going to get up and drink coffee…and then I’m going to pray.

Some Brief Thoughts on: Education, Gwyneth Paltrow and World Vision

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Things were very quiet here on the blog last week.  I was around but, I was quite crazy from a lack of sleep due to my 7 – year – old’s month-long bout with insomnia.  As you can imagine, when your child can’t get to sleep or stay asleep, you don’t get to sleep much either.  Some nights we slept a total of two hours and by last week it had all caught up with me.  I was pretty much incapable of carrying on a conversation for longer than five minutes so, obviously writing blog posts was out of the question.  However, I did keep up on things as they happened in social media and there were a few (just a few) that captured my attention, albeit briefly.  I’m not going to pretend that this post is going to eloquently tie all of my thoughts together because it’s not. You’re just going to have to go along for the ride, But first, a little more on Thing 1’s insomnia.

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I have to say that it is extremely frightening when a child is begging for sleep, but simply can’t get there, or stay there, night after night and week after week. My husband and I had never dealt with this before with any of our other children and were at a loss as to how to help her get some rest.  Thing 1 is an extremely active girl who dances two hours a night, three days a week and does gymnastics two days a week.  We limited sugar in her diet, changed her eating patterns and her bed time routing to help soothe her.  She would sit up and read for hours in her bed.   None of this worked.  Finally, while taking her to the doctor for her asthma check up, I found out the real source of the problem: school.  The girl was stressing out about school – in second grade.  She admitted to waking up in the middle of the night worried that she hadn’t double checked her math work.  She worried about not having enough time to finish an assignment.  She didn’t want any of her grades to suffer because of silly mistakes.  She’s a stressed out seven-year-old and I am heart-broken.  School isn’t supposed to be this way for a child so young.  Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a tirade about Common Core, the problem with education (although I do have a few thoughts on both of those subjects) blah, blah, blah.  I will do that another time, but, what I will say is that there is less of a focus on how well students are learning and instead more of a focus on learning the right things to perform well on standardized testing.  We are pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing to the detriment of our children’s peace of mind.  And, for what? So that they can regurgitate math facts in record time.  Tell me this, when in your life (after elementary school) are you hard pressed to recite your multiplication tables up to the 12’s in less than 2 minutes?  I’ll tell you when…NEVER!  Isn’t it just more important that the student understands what she’s doing, how she get’s to the answer and how it all relates to the next level of math or science, or geography, or whatever?  Do we really need to express to their little fertile minds how important it is for them to do well on a standardized test or they may be held back in the same grade the next year?   The fact that this could be true is completely ridiculous.  Learning is supposed to be fun!  School is supposed to be an adventure!  I said as much to Thing 1 and made it clear that nothing she is doing could make me any less proud of her.  Even if she did forget to check her math before she turned it in, there’s always tomorrow to get it right.  The important thing is that we work hard and in return you get to see the fruits of your hard work.  Our efforts may not always result in an “A” or even a “B”, however we will LEARN something, which is the goal of education.  Thing 1 took it all in and relaxed a bit, then that night she slept.  She has slept all night every night for the past week.  So have I and I’m finally almost human again. Almost.

Awkward transition…I told you this wasn’t go to be easy.

I was saddened, but not necessarily surprised to hear that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin are “consciously uncoupling” (i.e divorcing). Honestly, initially I thought that the term “consciously uncoupling” meant that they had really made an extraordinary and thoughtful effort to maintain their parental and familial devotion to their children while no longer staying in their marriage.  Then I read the real explaination and was like “Huh!  Okay.”  Anyway, shortly after the announcement of their split, Paltrow gave an interview to E!  in which she bemoans the difficulties of being a celebrity/actress parent.
She so eloquently (I’m being very sarcastic here) explains how moms who work the regular 9 to 5 grind have it easier than folks like her.  Okay, I’m pausing right now to let you stop laughing – especially those of you moms who are at your 9 to 5 reading this while you make your grocery list.  You see, to her it’s most stressful to have your family uprooted and relocated to the location of her latest movie for weeks or months at a time.  Or even, if the family doesn’t have to accompany her, she is separated from her loved ones.  Yes, I get that the separation part can be unpleasant, but really Gwyneth?  You think that your life with all of your nannies, personal chefs, private jets, personal assistants and the like is harder? Cause I know when I travel and I take our nanny and my personal assistant with us it makes things so much easier!  Wait, what am I talking about? I don’t have a nanny and personal assistant and most people don’t  either!  We do all of that $%#& ourselves! When we move for a job, we get our neighbors to pack our U-Haul, drive our selves to our new location and pray that we can afford a house in a decent school district. Come on Gwyneth, step out of that privilege that you’ve spent your life surround by and get a grip!  Working a “regular” job, with “regular” pay doesn’t provide any of the perks that you live with on a daily basis.  Before and after work (and sometimes during) we are being moms and the scheduling of our lives to accommodate our jobs is simply out of necessity.  We need these “regular” jobs to pay our “regular” bills and just a few indulgences.  Like an evening at the movies to possibly watch you…but probably not.  Gwyneth, I think that I speak for a lot of non-actress/celebrity moms when I say just stop it!

Another awkward transition…sorry this is getting long, but I have to make sure that you get me.

Last week the Christian relief agency World Vision International announced that in a dramatic change of policy, it would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriages. The organization said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it really wasn’t stepping into the fray of whether same-sex marriage was right or wrong.  It was simply accepting the help of homosexual, committed believers who wanted to be of service in this manner.  What happened next is what I want to talk about.  In the face of the policy shift, reportedly thousands of donors who supported children in need through World Vision cancelled their sponsorship.  Just one day later, World Vision reversed its decision and rescinded its welcome to the LGBT community and apologized to any current or former donors that may have been hurt by their (brief) change in policy.  Again, my comments here are not about World Vision itself, but about the thousands of people (Christians) who dropped their sponsorship.  I have to wonder what the motivation was behind your donations in the first place if these children in need could be treated like collateral damage.  If you are unfamiliar with the term collateral damage it is damage or destruction to things that are incidental to the intended target.  Let me just be clear here, I am a Jesus lover.  A Christian. A woman after God’s own heart.  I am not ashamed to identify myself as a follower of Christ, but I am embarrassed to align myself with those who could be so callous and thoughtless that dropping the child seemed like a good idea. Nelson Mandela was a master at partnering with people with whom he may have openly disagreed with on  several issues, however, he found the one thing that they agreed on to work toward a common goal.   That’s what this is about – a humanitarian effort to work toward a common goal for people in need.  What this is NOT is a flagpole for Christianity.  You don’t participate to make yourself look good, you participate to help someone in need.

Let me ask you, if your loved one were dying and the only doctor who could provide the cure was gay, would you refuse his or her help?  If your child was in need of a blood transfusion or an organ transplant, would you say only heterosexual donors need apply?  I’ve got to tell you, there are probably already members of the LGBT community quietly working for World Vision and other organizations that we, Christians, support.  That’s the thing, gay people are human and they live and work right next to us and often, we have no idea.  I found it interesting that while World Vision was apologizing for any hurt that they may have caused to their Christian supporters by the brief change in policy, they didn’t apologize to the LGBT community for the hurt that they caused them. This is so ugly.  We are behaving so very ugly.  There has to be a better way.  I could go on and on about this, but I think you get where I’m coming from.

 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”    John 13:35

 

 

Baby Dance

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Baby Dance by Ann Taylor

Baby Dance by Ann Taylor

Baby Dance, by Ann Taylor, with illustrations by Marjorie van Heerden, is a sweet little board book about a daddy who gives mommy a break as she naps, by playing with their baby girl.  They dance, they sing and they twirl long enough for mommy to get some much needed rest.  I chose this for the Black History Month Book Parade for a few reasons.  First, it is vitally important for children of color to see themselves in literature from birth (because you should be reading to them from or before birth).  They need to be able to identify with who they are in relation to the world around them.  Second, as my children learned to read, they often used board books as some of their first readers.  The words are usually easy and the illustrations are vibrant and engaging for a young child.

My third reason is probably my most compelling.  Not too many years ago -, when I was the mom to an 18 – month – old and a newborn, my sweet, sweet, sleep deprived husband used to do this very same thing.  Thing 2 was a “cryer”  – she cried about absolutely everything.  And, I was about the only person that she would allow to touch her.  So, on those rare occasions that I could sneak in a little nap ( with Thing 2 sleeping on my chest) while he was at home, he would play and dance and sing with Thing 1, much to her delight.  She would laugh, you know, that belly laugh that kids get and they run out of air because they are laughing so hard?  I have to admit that on more than one occasion I pretended to still be sleeping because I loved listening to them.  This book, Baby Dance, reminds me of those days. Those are precious memories that will linger a lifetime.

It’s Time to Talk to the Teacher

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Aaahh, yes… the parent/teacher conference.  It’s that time of year again, Mom and Dad, when teachers tell us all about our children – the good, the bad and the ugly.  I tried to count up all of the  parent /teacher conferences that I have been to over my past 23 years of raising kids and I lost count.  I’d have to say that most of them have been very encouraging with positive feedback and constructive criticism.  A few were a bit scary, like my son’s ninth grade algebra teacher.  I had seen his grades so I was aware that it was not going to be pretty, however, upon placing just one foot over the classroom threshold, his teacher Mr. Butts (I kid you not), a former Marine, bellowed “INCONSISTENT!”  Yikes! At least let me get seated and comfy before you start yelling about my kid.  Then there was the teacher who opened her classroom door to see me standing in the hall waiting for her, let out a sigh of relief and said “Oh, thank goodness it’s you!  I thought it was another parent.”  Awkward silence.  “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that!”  No, maybe not.  I will let you in on a little secret: Teachers dread parent/teacher conferences as much as we do.

If you read my previous post Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership , then you know that I feel that parental involvement is an extremely important factor in a student’s success.  So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think parent /teacher conferences should be on the high priority list for every parent.  I consider it one of those things that both Mom and Dad must schedule time off to attend because it only takes about thirty minutes of your time, at the most, but can produce much longer lasting dividends.  I guess then that it also won’t come as much of a surprise that over the years, I have developed a strategy for making the most of these usually brief meetings.  

The lines of communication between parents and teachers should be open from the first school bell of the year.  An introductory e-mail should have been sent (see my previous post) to the teacher, follow – up contacts have been made and you have attended curriculum night and open house.  You have gotten their attention and the teacher now knows (hopefully) that you are involved and cooperative parents.    Now it’s time to get specific.  Use parent/teacher conferences to ask specific questions because by now, specific areas of concern, or at least areas of  interest have become apparent. Most of the time teachers have a form that they have filled out with information that they must share with you.  Let them talk first and get this out of the way, but be attentive because your questions may get answered or there may be follow up questions that arise.  Maybe your child is doing well academically, but socially she is feeling a bit left out. Or, maybe your student wants to become more involved in extra curricular activities but doesn’t know how to go about it.  Make a note of things that have come to your attention and discuss it with the teacher face to face.  This serves two purposes: 1) you will get your questions answered and 2) you will find out just how well the teacher knows your child.  Today’s classrooms are often over crowded and teachers are often lacking in classroom support.  Unfortunately, what that can mean is that unless your child is an over achiever, disruptive or performing behind the class, they often can be overlooked.  You don’t want this to happen to your kid and, as the parent, it’s your job to bring the teacher’s focus back to your student.

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The parent/teacher conference isn’t intended to be a negative experience although, don’t you just love the expressions on your children’s faces when you tell them that you have and appointment with their teacher?  I always get a little kick out it.    On the contrary, the conference is intended to help the student. Not belittle. Not berate. Not humiliate.   The goal is to encourage,  to uplift, to provide constructive criticism and to assist.  It’s for THE STUDENT!  It’s not a referendum on your parenting skills,  your genetic ability to make a perfect child or your own intelligence.  It’s all about THE STUDENT!  With this in mind, when my older kids started middle school, I made them go with me to meet with the teacher.  After all, since it’s all about them, they need to hear it straight from the teacher and they need to be able to give feedback of their own.   In so doing, I have experienced both children who suddenly backed down from their complaints about their teacher when sitting face to face and having to answer for their own behavior and/or performance; and I’ve had the teacher that had to do the same.

Look, there’s no way of getting around this because parent/teacher conferences are kind of like a fact of life.  In a weird way, I kind of look forward to them because I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects – my kids.  What it boils down to is the fact that attitude is everything. So….

1) Show up!

2) Be positive!

3) Be specific!

and…

4) Be helpful!

Good luck and have a happy conference. 🙂

Wordless Wednesday: What Work?

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Kindergarten Studies

Kindergarten Studies

 

Me: “Are you finding that you have enough time to get all of your work done in class?”

Her: “What work? We don’t do any work, we just cut out, and color and glue and stuff.”

Me: “Yes. That.  That’s your school work.”

Her: “Oh. Okay. Yes, I’m getting all of my work done.  If you want to call it that!”

 

Back to School Basics: Striking the Right Balance

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Back to school new

To cap off my Back to School series, I’ve saved the best for last.  When I say “best for last”, I really mean the part that I struggle with the most: Finding the right balance between school, activities and family life.  I wish there was some magic formula that makes this work for everyone but, alas, we are all pretty much on our own to figure this one out.  Out of my five children I’ve had two musicians, a few athletes, a couple of boy scouts and girl scouts and an editor of the high school year book.  My older three all even had part-time jobs during high school. I have spent more hours behind the wheel of my minivan, carting them to and fro than I care to think about.  Despite all of that, I remain a strong believer in children being encouraged to find out what makes them tick; to develop outside interests; and to become involved in an activity and own it.   You see, education isn’t just what happens in the class room, but it’s also what happens in life.  It’s trying something and discovering a new passion or maybe not.  Education can be failing at something and trying it again or setting out in a new direction.  So, when do you begin?  As soon as possible.

It wouldn’t surprise me if others have accused me of being one of THOSE moms.  You know, the one’s that have their kids over scheduled in just about every activity known to man kind.  While it is true that my kids do take part in a lot of activities, particularly my younger two, there is a method to my madness. Obviously there is no “one size fits all approach”  but, I do think that there are some things that we (parents) need to keep in mind as we help our children develop their interests:

1. Know your child.  When my oldest son was little he loved his alone time.  Yes, he was sociable, but he also really needed time when it was just him, his video game or favorite book and silence.  One or two extra curricular activities was about all that he could handle and he would have never been up for the schedule that my younger two girls keep.  Dance, swim, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, tennis…they only know one speed and that’s “go”!  I have tried different combinations of activities and I realized very early on that keeping them fairly busy is a sanity saver for all of us.  Build in your boundaries, like all activities need to be over by a certain time in the evening (depending upon the child’s age) or your child must maintain a certain grade in school to participate.  What ever it is, set the limit then pay attention to your kid.  Some kids are just fine with one activity at a time until they find the one that clicks, while others really do need more activities or they will be bouncing off of the walls and taking you along for the ride.

2. Let their imaginations run wild.  I once knew a woman who had three children – two boys and a girl.  The girl was her baby, five years younger than her older brother – and the mother had been impatiently waiting to finally enroll her little girl in ballet lessons.  She wanted to do “girl stuff” (her words, not mine)! Her daughter, however, loved soccer.  LOVED soccer!  She HATED ballet!  Needless to say, things didn’t go the way mom had hoped that they would and there was a quick return to the soccer field.   This should have come as no surprise since the girl had told her mom up front that she wanted no part of dance classes.  See, the thing is that we (parents) need to follow our children’s lead.  In the beginning, when they are very young,  it is our job to introduce them to a variety of activities, but then, as they get older, we need to step away and let them take the lead in exploring new interests. Sometimes their imaginations will take them to places that we never expected, but that’s okay…really, it is…trust me.

How much is too much?

How much is too much?

3.  Know what your goals are and be realistic. Yes, both of my girls take gymnastics.  No, I do not think that either of them is going to be the next Gabby Douglas.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were but, I’m just keeping it real.   Quite honestly, I do not approach any of this with an eye on some prize, unless that prize is high self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment for my children.   Anything else is a bonus.  How often have we seen a parent’s disappointment with their kid for sitting the bench or watched a child berated for not making that shot or swimming faster than their opponent.  That’s not what this is about, people.  Getting your children involved in extra curricular activities is about helping them grow into well-rounded adults.  They need to struggle, and sometimes fail, in order to learn how to appreciate success.  They need to learn process and the value of hard work.  They need to be a part of a team or an organization to learn how to work for a common goal.  They will not always be the star player or the president of the club but, that’s another thing that’s okay…you can trust me on this one, too.

4. Understand the level of commitment that is required by you, then go all in. Let’s just say that you discover that your little girl, who was just playing around in gymnastics, happens to be really talented.  Or that your son’s gift for gab and arguing every single thing that you say has turned him into an extremely valuable member of the debate team.  What now?  Here’s where things can get pretty tricky because not only can they spend hours practicing and training, but you can also spend hours sitting at practice and/or driving him and maybe even his team mates around to various events.  School clubs tend to not be very taxing on the wallet, but they are in need of parent volunteers and over sight.  On the other hand sports can be both expensive and time-consuming.  Once you see that your child is getting serious about a particular activity, it’s best that you do your homework and determine just how far that you are willing to go both in budget and time.  Maybe your child is a musician?  That, too, can become costly between purchasing instruments and private lessons.  Know what you are dealing with because part of a child’s success can be determined by the amount of support that they receive at home.  By all means, don’t over extend yourself financially, but do look for alternatives in order to support your son or daughter’s interests.

5. Know what you are not willing to sacrifice.  I will not spend every weeknight and every weekend driving my kids around from activity to activity.  Not going to happen. Preferably, both Saturday and Sunday are free of any lessons or commitments, other than church, but that’s not always possible.  It has happened that we have scheduled classes on Saturday, however, Sunday belongs to my family.  Additionally, I keep one weeknight free, or at least flexible.  Big Poppa travels quite a bit and even when he is home, the girls and I are rarely in the house when he gets in from work.  We need our time together as a family and we make it a priority.  Set your priorities and stick to them, whatever they may be.  As much as I believe that kids need activities and new experiences, they also need their families and time to just be a kid.

It’s not easy to determine what balance works best for your family and there are a lot of factors to consider – time, finances, interests, availability.     Countless articles have been written on the subject and there’s still no easy answer.  However, one thing is commonly known and that is that kids thrive when they are involved in healthy extra curricular activities.  Encourage your kids to try something new this year.  Find out what their interests are and help them to explore new avenues.  The main thing is that you are there encouraging them inside and outside of the classroom.

Have a wonderful school year! 🙂

Back to School Basics: Let’s Go Shopping!

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I think that I should start by telling you that if you are expecting this to be a blog post telling you the best place to find a deal on back to school supplies or clothing, you may want to look elsewhere, because it’s not.  In fact, I stopped doing “back to school shopping” years ago.  When possible I buy my kids supplies through the school (except for the extras, which we will talk about later) and unless it’s necessary – and I’m talking holes in shoes and blisters on feet – I just don’t do it.  I don’t like the feeling that I’m being manipulated by retailers.  However, I do go back to school shopping for myself.  Yes, parents, this list is about YOU!  You’ll be glad that you listened to me.  I’ve tried to narrow my list to just a few items that you will find beneficial,  not just surviving the school year, but just maybe helping to make it enjoyable.

1. Buy your self a planning calendar.

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Consider this a free commercial for this calendar.  I use these and I love them!  “The Mom’s Plan It” series comes in several different versions, but I always look for the 17 month, August through the following December calendar.  It covers an entire school year plus the following summer which is great because, as you know, these days our kids schedules keep rolling year round.  I’m aware that a lot of us may prefer to keep our important dates and reminders on our phones or in our computers, but this calendar is really a family calendar.  Make sure that you post it in a public place so everyone in your home has access to it.  When all five of my children were at home – three in high school and the other two were toddlers – facilitating everyone’s schedule became impossible. No one knew what the other was doing, nor did they care. Once I started posting the calendar and directing them to it as questions arose, they started connecting the dots and they had an epiphany: One person (me) couldn’t facilitate everyone’s life.  They became a participant in the logistics of their own lives. Even my younger kids like it!  There are stickers (for doctor appointments, parties, no school, holidays, etc.)  to help them chart out what’s going on and I make sure to include my own schedule so that they realize that I do have a life away from them.  You can also keep emergency phone numbers and contact information right there in the calendar.  LOVE IT!  I really do because I didn’t receive a dime, or a free calendar or anything for saying any of this nice stuff about it.   “Mom’s Plan it” calendars can be purchased at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

2.  Purchase $50 in gift cards to any big box store that carries school and/or craft supplies (Target, Wal-Mart, Michael’s, etc. or any combination)  and keep them.  Once, when Mr. C. was in grammar school, he forgot (neglected) to mention to me that he had a project due at the end of the week and that project was somewhat craft intense.  Well, the bills had been paid, the budget was set and it wasn’t near another pay-day.  Enter that gift card.  It was a life saver and it happens to all of us.  Once school starts the money just starts flying out of your wallet and there is always something that you didn’t plan on.  Do yourself a favor and prepare for a rainy day, but put the gift cards away and try to keep them for a real emergency.

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3. Find yourself a cute cup or mug.  Something that you really enjoy using.  Maybe it has an inspiring message or one that’s really pretty.  I particularly like the mug pictured above that says “World’s okayest mom” because I like to keep expectations low.  That way it makes it pretty easy for me to look like a rock star. The pink, blinged out on-the-go cup always makes me feel soooo…….you guessed it, GLAMOROUS! Get it? Never mind.  The  point is (and this is particularly important for those of you sending kids to school for the first time), you will be staying up late and getting up early.  You will be missing sleep and in desperate need of your favorite caffeinated beverage of choice.  Which brings me to….

4. Stock up on your favorite caffeinated beverage of choice.  For those of you that don’t drink caffeine (huh?) stock up on whatever beverage energizes, comforts or soothes you.   Make sure that you have plenty of it at all times.  I wish that there was some way to make this easier, but there isn’t.  The never-ending tide of papers to review and sign, checks to write, volunteer forms to fill out…remember that I talked to you about the need to volunteer in the last post?  It’s all time-consuming and it usually takes place after the kiddos are off to bed and you would like to be sleeping, too.  Sorry.

5. Finally, and I hate to bring it up because it has become such a sensitive subject these days, but buy extra school supplies.  More and more school districts are moving toward shared school supplies.  There are a few reasons for this transition, the most common of which is that a lot pf parents simply can’t afford all of the items on the list. Or, there are parents who can’t afford the name brand versions of the requested items and other parents that will over purchase.  They are trying to protect children’s feelings and for the most part, I’m okay with that.  As I stated above, I buy the supplies through the school however, I do purchase extras of some things because inevitably by the middle of the school year (if you’re lucky) you will begin receiving emails with requests to replace supplies that are running low.  Notice, some supplies go more quickly than others and this is why I’m telling you to stock up on the following now: glue sticks and liquid glue (I honestly think the kids eat it); sharpened pencils with erasers (again, I think that the little monsters eat the erasers); large pink erasers (this should be obvious); and crayons (because they absolutely destroy them).  You know what I find ironic? I’ve never been asked to send extra tissues.  One large box per student lasts the entire year for 22 runny nosed children, but 6 glue sticks per kid doesn’t?  Really?  You do know this is because they wipe their noses on their shirts, right?  I’m just sayin’….