Tag Archives: back to school

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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…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!

 

 

Back Together Again

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Together again!

Together again!

They haven’t gone to the same school for a few years.  Thing 1 was age  four and Thing 2 was age two and they were both in pre-school at the time.  Both sisters have been waiting for this day for two years and it finally came today.  I tried to stay out of their way and let them have their fun, they giggled a lot and talked and planned.  Big Sissy gave advice to Little Sissy, who promptly tossed it aside and decided to do things her way (My girl!).  There were no tears and once they reunited after school it was non-stop talking and comparing notes.  I listened, asked a few questions but, mostly listened.  I learned a few things like:

  • The first day of gym is boring because all you do is listen to the rules about playing gym.  It’s gym…who needs rules in gym?
  • Thing 1 saw at least three – yes! three! – One Direction back packs and A LOT of One Direction t-shirts being worn by girls her age.  This means that Mommy (that would be yours truly) obviously doesn’t know that it is in fact NOT inappropriate for young girls to have One Direction on their clothes and backpacks!  I stand corrected.
  • Since we are talking about backpacks, apparently Teen Beach Movie is the most popular backpack in school and Mommy (again, that would be me) should have known that and bought each of them a Teen Beach Movie backpack!  I am so lame.
  • Apparently, there is a kindergarten boy who comes after you and actually…SQUEEZES…YOU…TO…DEATH! Thing 2 got this from a very reliable source, another kindergartener who said that it had happened to her last year (gasp)! Obviously, this is questionable since the child is alive to tell about it.
  • Lunch was definitely the coolest thing that happened all day!

Notice that there was no mention of their teachers or any actual work being done?  I did and I inquired but, I was met with blank stares.  Never mind. I must admit that my favorite part of the day was watching them just be happy being together.  Any parent of siblings as close together as 18 months can tell you that these happy tranquil scenes are often far and few between.  I missed them while they were both gone today.  I have to admit that it’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s a good thing.

Back to School Basics: Striking the Right Balance

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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.

mom's Plani it

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’….

 

Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership

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Every year, just about this time right before school starts, I reach out to my child’s teacher for the upcoming school year with an email or hand written letter that reads something like this:

Hello!
My name is Lisa Owen and my child, ____________, will be one of your students for this coming school year. I just want to touch base with you to introduce myself and to tell you a few things about my son/daughter that you may find useful.

___________ is a very curious child with tons of energy and a vivid imagination. He/she enjoys reading, being physically active (tennis, soccer, dance, etc.), is a hands-on learner and benefits from being given responsibilities in the classroom. While _________can be very sensitive, he/she is also a very independent thinker and student, He/she is a very capable student, but also may need to be encouraged to ask questions.  Please keep your expectations of him/her high because we do here at home.  [Here is where you can insert any information about learning disabilities or health issues that you feel are important for the teacher to know.]

Please feel free to contact me at the following telephone numbers (h)__________, (c)__________, (w)_________, and this email address, with any questions, concerns, compliments (I especially like those) or anything else as the need arises.  Now that you have all of my contact information, I expect to be notified of any problems or concerns BEFORE they make it to my child’s report card or permanent record, so that it may be addressed accordingly.  

Thank you so much and I look forward to working with you over this next school year!

In my 23 years of parenting, this letter has always set the tone for a successful parent/teacher partnership.  By “successful”, I don’t mean that there have never been some tense moments or disagreements between the teacher, my child and myself. However, these situations have always been handled effectively with mutual respect and with the common goal of serving the best interests of my son or daughter.  That right there, my friends, is the single most important purpose of the parent/teacher partnership – successfully educating your child.  In my previous post, Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized! , I talked about the need for parents to focus on their goals for their child’s education.  What is it that you want your child to gain from this school year? To become a better reader? To develop independent thinking skills? To create a desire to dig deeper into subjects?  I also wanted you to think about your role in achieving your goals.  Obviously, I want you to be comfortable with your role as a parent, but try to keep an open mind as you read along because sometimes it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone to achieve what we need and want for our children.

Increasingly there seems to be a growing sense of acrimony between teachers and parents with each side openly, and often unfairly, criticizing the other for failures in education.  Let me tell you something: education, whether it be public or private; charter or magnet; at the local, state or national levels belongs to ALL OF US.   Parents, teachers, administrators, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, social workers, cousins, community activists, politicians, religious leaders…Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, etc….ALL OF US! I have to say that I am beyond tired of everyone trying to pass the buck when it comes to educating our children.  Each of us has a role to play and it’s our own responsibility to fulfill it.  Having said that, I really do believe that the road to effectively educating our children starts with parents. By the time children enter Kindergarten, parents have had a good five to six years to start their child on a learning path and to instill a foundation for their core values.

Let’s start with the learning path.  When it comes to learning, young children are like sponges because during those first formative years, they absorb information faster than at any other time in their entire life.  Not to mention that kids at that age are fun, too!  They haven’t developed the negativity that often comes along at older ages.  Although I am a strong proponent of formal early childhood education for all, I am realistic and realize that, at least for now, it’s not available to everyone.  Parents, that’s where we come in.  In general, by the time a child enters kindergarten, they should know their alphabet, be able to recognize most upper and lower case letters, count and recognize numbers through 10 (if not 20). They should be able to spell and write their first and last names and know their shapes and colors.  These are the basics and remember, children are sponges!  They are capable of so much more! Some of them can read; can handle more complex concepts such as patterning, addition and subtraction; and their technology capabilities are absolutely amazing.  I realize that many parents work outside of the home, may be single parents or are not in situations where their finances provide a lot of  opportunity for educational activities.  However, exposing our little ones to literature and starting them on a learning path doesn’t really require a lot of time or money.  It can be as simple as heading to the library and spending 15 to 20 minutes a day reading.   Best of all, it’s free and it provides much needed uninterrupted time for parent and child to spend together.  As our children get older, it is our job as parents to make sure that they stay focused on their learning path. Admittedly, this gets harder as they get older (keep them doing school work over the summer; provide real life learning opportunities; and continue to read books with them for discussion) but, it’s still part of a parent’s role in education.

Family core values is a little tougher to discuss because I think that it varies depending on the family. While different people place different degrees of importance on certain issues, I think that it’s safe to say that some things are universally accepted as important for classroom success. The most important of these is respect for the teacher and other students.  Teachers are there to teach. Period.  They are not there to teach children manners or the importance of being cooperative.  They are not there to make sure that kids get fed or that kids have on clean underwear and clothes.  They are not there to provide hardcore discipline for disruptive students.  All of these things should be provided at home.  By the way, this is an issue that affects every school district across the country at every socio-economic level, from children who feel entitled and have too much given to them,  to children who do not have enough and feel disenfranchised and isolated.  It’s simply appalling the behavior displayed in classrooms on a daily basis and worse, the parents that feel like they have no control of their own children.  Now, of course kids do act out every now and again.  It’s all a part of growing up.  However, instilling behavioral expectations in our children is simply part of a parent’s job and right now, teachers are spending entirely too much instructional time disciplining unruly children.  And we all know our children, right?  We all know that they are capable of being unruly?  We all have had to deal with their less than perfect behavior, right?  I’m just sayin’….

Now, before you jump on me for being too hard on parents, I don’t expect anything of anyone else that I don’t expect of myself.  I hold my own feet to the fire over these very issues and am convicted almost daily of something that I feel like I’ve failed at in this area.  I am not, nor have I ever been, an educator. I am a mom and while I have no control over the school’s end of the process, I do have control over mine.  I do have expectations of my children’s teacher’s and school administration, which are:

  • mutual respect for me and my child
  • clear and prompt communication between me and the school
  • purposeful instruction and not simply facilitation
  • honesty and integrity
  • genuine knowledge of and interest in my child

I do not hesitate to contact the school when I think any of these things have been compromised.  I do suggest starting with the teacher because sometimes the problem can be a simple miscommunication.  If that doesn’t yield results, then the next stop is the principal’s office.  Again, the most important thing to focus on is the result for your child.

Finally, I think that I must address the issue of race.  As an African-American parent there have been instances with more than one of my children when I have been forced to confront the fact that the situation at hand was either the direct result of or the bi-product of racial bias.  The result has not always been comfortable for all parties (the teacher, administration or myself), but I did always get what I thought was best for my child.  Not by yelling or screaming “racism” at the top of my lungs or threatening law suits (that’s not to say that it couldn’t come to that), but by purposefully pursuing truth and arguing the facts.    However, minority parents do have to recognize that every situation isn’t always the result of racism.  Alternately, teachers and administrators have to admit that sometimes, it really is the issue.

The bottom line is that teachers and parents must work together for the common good of the students.  When it comes to my children and what I want for them, the truth is that I am a bad-ass mom and my guess is, so are you (or dad for that matter).  We have the power to have a real impact on our children’s education.  Volunteer in the classrooms or do projects for the teachers at home; chaperon field trips; join the PTA and be an active member; and take part in parent/teacher conferences.  Make sure that your child’s teacher knows that you are an involved parent.  Teachers want and need our help, so step into your role and run with it!  Next post we will talk about back to school shopping (trust me, it’s not what you think).

Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized!

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Oh, Oh!  The party’s almost over.  We’ve swam, vacationed, and pretty much partied our way through the summer.  We’ve lived like rock stars…well, rock stars that have a 9:30 bed time.  However, the reality is that change is in the air and school bells are about to ring across the country.  Personally, I have mixed emotions about the approaching end of summer.  While I am looking forward to some quiet time in my house (especially so that I can write during the day instead of the middle of the night), I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer with my kids, specifically my two youngest children. Also, I have not missed the hustle and bustle of school days.  Between my schedule, my husband’s schedule and my kids schedule, it takes a lot of control and focus to keep things from getting chaotic.

As the mother of five, ages 23 to 6 (every time I say that out loud, it sounds crazier than the last time that I said it), I know just a few things about getting kids, and myself, ready for back to school.  Over the years I have developed my approach to getting organized, back to school shopping and strengthening the parent/teacher relationship.  I will share these with you in my next few blog posts and talk about when your baby goes off to kindergarten.  I’ve sent a few kids off to kindergarten yet, never seems to get any easier. This back to school series  is kind of my “blue print to sanity” to help me navigate my way through the school year.   So, remember to check back often to keep up with the series or, better yet, check the “Follow” button at the bottom of this post and you will receive my blog in your in-box (it is also posted on my Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest and Linked In) .

I have a confession to make: I am the most unorganized/organized person that you will ever meet.  I tend to compartmentalize my need to be organized by the importance of whatever is going on.  For the most part, I give myself a C+ on my general organizational skills.  I just don’t put that much energy into it on a daily basis, as evidenced by the stacks of unopened mail on my desk.  Sometimes in an effort to deflect my responsibility, I stack it on my husband’s desk. I don’t recommend you trying this at home.  However, in the areas of my life that I am passionate about, I am almost obsessively organized: my kitchen, my blog and my kids. Not necessarily in this order.  I discovered a long time ago that the key to making anything work, no matter how fervent you are, is to be organized in thought, purpose and action.

Organization in thought, when it comes to school, refers to the question: What do you want to get out of the educational experience for your children?  It’s not just that you want to send your child to school to “learn”.  To “learn” is very general so, be more specific.  To learn what and how?  What kind of curriculum does your district teach? For high- schoolers in particular, does the high school that your child attends have vocational training for students that are more inclined to go in that direction after graduation? Are you interested in a more holistic approach to learning or is it okay to predominately teach to the test?  Look at the standardized test scores, but don’t get stuck on them because they don’t tell the whole story. How does the district and/or school deal with learning disabilities? Is there a gifted program? How do you feel about the push to common core standards across the country and is the school/district participating? How important are extra curricular activities to you and your students?  If you don’t know the answers to these questions or have never thought about them, then you have some work to do.  RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!  Even if you are in a situation where economics dictates where you live and the school your kids attend, that’s even more of a reason to know the answer to all of these questions and more.  Talk to other parents of current and past students; talk to educators in the district; go to the district and school websites; and search the internet for any news regarding the district.  It sounds corny, but knowledge is power and by gaining all the information that you can, you will be able to leverage your insight to get what you want for your children.

Organization in purpose refers to: Determine your place, or purpose, in this process?  Do you believe that the educational process starts at school and should be led by teachers or do you believe that the educational process starts at home and is led by parents? Are you looking to be partners with the school/district?  Do you feel that you are an advocate for your child or do you feel that you should get involved as the need arises? Do you see yourself as proactive or reactive? That last question is probably the most important because it will determine how and when you interact with your child’s teacher,  If you are proactive, then your initial contact will come earlier in the year and will probably be initiated by you.  If you are reactive, then the first contact will most likely come from the teacher.  These two approaches set a completely different tone in the parent/ teacher relationship.  We’re going to talk about this more in a later post, but, it boils down to what you are comfortable with and, more importantly, what you want for your child.

Finally, organization in action refers to what specific things you do to help you create some structure around your life as it pertains to school.  I am not going to go so far as to tell you what specific tools you should use to keep your school related items organized.  We are all different so different things work for different people.  For instance, I am not a fan of apps to keep my calendar on my phone.  I am old school so, I have an actual notebook/calendar that I carry around with me.  Old fashioned, I know but, it works for me. You do what works for you.  However, I have developed some strategies that have helped me keep from going crazy in the whirlwind of activity.

  • Keep copies of EVERYTHING! Every form, every application, every check, every communication with the teacher/school…EVERYTHING! I know that this will produce a mountain of paper (and emails) but, do yourself a favor and create a file for each child at the beginning of the year and do not throw them away at the end of the year.  The goal is to have a chronological record of your child’s school career that includes academic and attendance records, standardized test scores, any disciplinary actions, academic or sports awards, etc.  This is a great resource when it’s time to apply to college (everyone has a story to tell – it’s a road map) as well as a practical way to recall important events as the need arises.
  • Set aside at least 15 minutes of your night with your child to go through his or her backpack.  Ask questions; comment on returned assignments; and most importantly, LISTEN TO THEM. This is a small investment with big payoffs.  You can and need to read information sent home from the school.  They are there for a reason and if your kids are like mine you will never get the straight story from them.  Additionally, you really need to know what their homework assignments are and I’m not just talking about young kids.  While you may not go through your high-schooler’s backpack,  you certainly can and should strike up a conversation with them just to see what’s going on.  It shows your interest in them and their lives. It also serves as a conversation starter and trust me, you will need conversation starters with your high school aged children.
  • Getting things done the night before a school day is critical to maintaining one’s sanity.  Lay out their clothes, fill out any papers, pack lunches and snacks, locate library books that are due, etc. Do anything and everything that can be done prior to the next morning.  It seems like common sense and so simple but, raise your hand if you have been held up on a school morning trying to do something that should have been done prior to leaving the house for school?  Or, if you have ever uttered the words “Why did you wait until now to look for that ________ (book, shoe, sock, pencil, notebook, etc.)?” I know I’m not the only one with my hand up! Once, my daughter actually wore two different shoes to school because she couldn’t find the mate to her shoes and we were running late.  She declared it the worst day of her life.  Oh, well.

Some days all of this is easier than others.  Admittedly, I have fallen off of the organizational wagon and by the end of the school year, I am usually holding on for dear life.  However, start thinking about these questions that I’ve put to you and organize your thoughts.  Let’s start this year off right.  Next post we will talk about establishing the parent/teacher relationship.

Thirty-Nine Days

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Yes, I’m counting the days until school starts, but not for the reasons that you may think.  Historically I used to start counting the days oh, about a week after summer break started.  Yea, I know how that sounds, you don’t have to tell me, but it’s true.  Summer break usually was the beginning of the twelve longest weeks of the year.  Children complaining about having nothing to do, but not happy with the activities that I had planned.  Teenagers wanting to go on vacation, but dissatisfied with where we ended up taking them.  For your information, the Wisconsin Dells can be just as entertaining as  Disney World if you do it right.  Never mind.  “Get a summer job!” I said,  to which they replied,  “but, I’m only going to make minimum wage!”  Duh.  Basically, I decided that summer break must have been designed to be punishment for all of the horrible things that I had done during the school year.  That was the only logical reason that I had to suffer through three months of complete hell.

It didn’t change much after the Dynamic Duo were born.  I was no match for them.  I filled their days with activities – pre-school, Mommy & Me classes, play dates – both to keep them entertained, but also to distract them.  I needed relief.  I was overwhelmed and extremely tired.  Please don’t tell me that’s to be expected.  I know that.  However, somehow I just wasn’t prepared for just how overwhelmed and tired I would be.   Did I mention that I was jealous of my husbands ability to leave the house sans children every day?  So what he was going to work.  It was summer and if I had to be trapped in the house with five children, as far as I was concerned, so did he!  It didn’t really work that way.

You know, the irony here is that by the time the school year comes to an end, I am so glad to be done with it.  I’m tired of checking back packs, correcting homework and making lunches.  By that time, I can barely function.  In fact, Jen Hatmaker over at JenHatmeker.com wrote a very funny, but very true essay about this very thing (you can read it here: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2013/05/30/worst-end-of-school-year-mom-ever).  THAT WOMAN IN THAT BLOG IS ME!  Honestly, all enthusiasm  and imagination runs out around March and by April, I’m just going through the motions.  Thing 1 noticed that something wasn’t right after I gave her the same snack every day for two weeks straight.  One night on her way up to bed she said, “Ummm, Mom, that’s okay, I will take care of packing my snack because I just can’t take another day of Goldfish.” I felt like such a failure.  Okay, not really, but I did let her handle it.

I say all of this to tell you that usually, by this time of the summer, I am already planning what I’m going to do with my time on their first day of school and my first day of freedom.  This year, however, something is different.  I’m not planning.  In fact, when I think about the first day of school, I become very melancholy.  I mean, there are definitely things that I will change in my schedule, like no longer blogging instead of sleeping, like I do now.  Also, I’m looking forward to fitting in my workouts, hair appointments, doctor visits without having to rush  to pick up one of the kids.  I can work on recipes without interruption. Dinner. I think I will be able to actually get dinner on the table most nights at a decent hour.  Not every night, but that’s just on  principle.    These are all good things, but I’m still sad.  I think that I have to admit that I have really enjoyed this summer.  I don’t know why it has been different, but it is.  Maybe because they or older? Or maybe because I am.  They seem to have mellowed a bit.  Especially, Thing 1.  Suddenly she’s so sophisticated.  Now, when I’m singing and dancing in the car, she looks at me like “OMGosh!  She’s my mother?!”  Now that I know that it embarrasses her, I make sure that my windows are down as to not obstruct anyone’s view of my antics.  Wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone.

Or, maybe it’s the fact that they will both be in school for 7.5 hours per day, every day.  You would think that a woman with five children and who has been parenting for 23 years would be okay with this.  It doesn’t seem as exciting as it once did.

I also enjoy the fact that they are becoming friends.  This summer, I’ve had occasion to watch each of them defend and protect the other when someone else dared to try to come between them.  And their conversations are comedic gold mines, especially when we are riding in the car, for instance:

Thing 2: “If you could have any princess power what would it be?”

Thing 1: “Princess power? What power?”

Thing 2: “Like talking to animals, singing, dancing, shooting a bow and arrow? That kind of stuff.”

Thing 1: “Well, I do dance, and I’m a great singer.  I don’t need to talk to animals because  I don’t like them.  Shooting a bow and arrow? I don’t know about that one.  How about shooting a Nerf gun?”

Thing 2: “Cool!  Wait, what princess shoots a Nerf gun?”

Thing 1: “WE SHOOT NERF GUNS!”

Thing 2: “Oh, right! So we are the princess that shoot Nerf guns. Got it!”

Nerf Guns.  Just one of the many benefits of having older brothers.

I love the way their minds work.  I love the lazy mornings when they come get in my bed when Daddy’s gone and we all watch cartoons and eat dry Froot Loops.  I love painting our toes ourselves and not going to the salon and learning to braid each other’s hair.  I love spending  afternoons at the pool and looking at their beautifully deep tans.  I love what I now call their “summer smell” – a mixture of sun screen, chlorine and bug spray.  I love making cookies together, reading our favorite and some new books and just being with them.  We have had our share of unpleasant moments, but over all, I have thoroughly enjoyed their company over the summer and I’m going to miss them.

The good news is that it’s not over, after all, there are still 39 days and we have plans for most of them.   I wish there were 40 or maybe 45 more days, although I don’t really know what difference it makes.  I’m just trying to hold on.  Please think of me on the eve of the 39th day.  Say a little prayer that I don’t hang out a little too long at the door of their class rooms or stare in the window as I walk by on my way home.  Better yet, send me a gently reminder to come home, do some blogging and take a nap.