Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Not Even New Year's Eve and I'm Exhausted

I admit it, I am totally fried from vacation this week. Alone with the three kids all week and one child with a substantially high fever, has been enough to make me eat lots of chocolate I don't need (but saves me from pulling out the liquor) and I have yelled at my kids more than they deserve. I'm tired and I need a break. And don't think for a second that I have not told myself "2010 is another opportunity for me to become the parent I want to be!"

So my message this week is going to be short and sweet.

I started this blog because I care deeply about the institution of education. I feel that teachers are gifted artists that build the future and have a great deal of power in moving our society to its next level of great thinkers in all areas. While I feel teachers are the professionals and should be given much greater respect, I also feel parents need to know, be connected and in tune with educational philosophy and child development technique and practice. I hope that I have helped to get parents thinking about their role as educators for their children and that through my shared experiences on this blog, both negative and positive that I have lead you into understanding that much like a great classroom teacher, it is not knowledge or perfection that makes you a great parent, but aiming to be better, trying new approaches, laughing at yourself, being honest with your children within reason, forgiving yourself and recognizing that a fair portion of your child's development is out of your control.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Please continue to email me with your questions in 2010.

Sara Lise

Monday, December 14, 2009

Doing the Best We Can

Sorry I missed last week. Have a wonderful holiday!

"We are among the first generation of self-conscious parents. Before us, people had kids. We parent."

The above quote was taken from a new book written about a father's journey through his son's drug addiction. When I read the quote it made me think of how there are services for every reason a parent could imagine. Even the reason I have this blog is because in this period of parenting there are enough interested parties to read about solutions to parenting from an educator. While the quote might be seen as inflammatory to my parents and parents of other generations, the job of parenting has evolved into a huge industry. I remember my mother-in-law once said walking into "Buy Buy Baby", I remember when I had a choice between two strollers, red or blue."

It seems now in addition to all the stuff we can buy, a barometer produced by individuals and media of all sorts, measures how we are doing and can leave many of us feeling guilty. We are more thoughtful about what we do and say with our children and it seems every few months there is a new group, product or expert to tell us how to do it better. So do we worry too much? I thinks so. This does not mean that I don't think parents should use opportunities to grow and try to learn about the many quality options there are out there but keeping it all in perspective is important. The fact is kids are going to go through the stages they need to go through. While we have gotten better at understanding these stages, have gotten better at solutions to deal with problems and pressures, we still have a certain matter of waiting on the sidelines while we watch our kids figure it out.

Here is a Top Ten list of concerns that I hear from parents and they will probably happen in your home too, no matter what you do (and some helpful advice for when you get there!):

1. Your child will be potty trained. The pacifier will have to go. Any other milestone will be reached at some point. Whomever (you or your child), insists longer and more creatively on a certain issue, will win.

2. Someone has to be the youngest. Having a child with a late birthday does not mean your child will be a late bloomer. A child's developmental faculties do not develop all at the same time. Watch your child's maturity and don't make "being young" an excuse. Check out this NY Times, article Here

3. No one has a crystal ball when it comes to finding programs for your children. Research your day cares, your schools, your camps. There is no guarantee that it will work out. People who run schools can leave and there can always be a teacher that your kid does not jive with. No place is perfect and your child's needs can and will change. when it does not work out this is a great opportunity to teach coping skills!

4. Your children will get hurt by other children, by teachers and even by you. Teach your children various approaches to deal with when someone hurts them. Teach children to expect apologies, to walk away from toxic relationships and to say "you hurt me" or " you need to leave me alone." On the converse don't think for a second your little angel is always, well, an angel. Any child has the capacity to be mean.

5. "It's always something". There is always an unforseen situation that was not planned for, an important choice that was not expected or a tough obstacle. Be thoughtful, creative and do the best you can. Be honest with your children when you are not sure what to do but assure they are loved and will be safe think aloud about how figuring out solutions.

6. Self esteem will waiver. You can tell your child they are "beautiful", "smart", say: " good job" or use the more pc ways to encourage rather than praise your child. There will always come a point when what you think or say will not be enough. Children will increasingly look for acceptance from their peers and it will outweigh your opinion. Give your kids opportunities to work with quality mentors and get involved with a variety of friends that uplift.

7. They will really dislike you at some point. When I was a sixth grade teacher, I would check my students journal entries. I was in shock at how many of my students were angry with their parents and felt that they "did not understand". Open School night became much more like therapy sessions for the parents. Try to be understanding, pick and choose your battles, stay firm on values, keep discussions going and seek help from school counselors or a family therapist if you feel things are getting too big to handle alone.

8. What you want for your child will differ then what they want for themselves. We all have a dream or an interest we want our children to explore. Sometimes children take the bait and other times they show no interest. Children become more adamant about doing it their own way (The terrible two's and three's revisited and when their older they have a vocab to back them up!) Kids sometimes need to choose their path even if we know that the end result might be painful. Discuss the importance of a learning experience and that we must keep trying even when things don't work out the way we planned.

9. Your children will sound like you particularly when showing their anger. It will be the same statement, same pitch and with the same intensity. And you'll think " oh, my gosh, that's how I sound?"

10. They will need you more then they will say. Be there for them even when they push you away. Remind them that you are around to listen. Give them options to talk, write you letters, draw pictures or send you emails.

And remember....All stages, good or bad, end!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stress: The Ghost of Holidays Past, Present and Future...

Sorry I'm a little late with the post this week. I 'm swamped with a major project and to be honest, I'm stressed. Not to mention the fact that the holidays start this week! Friday is Channukah and while the presents are ready, I have not had time to pick up wrapping paper. It's bad for the environment anyway, right?

I know that I am not alone here in my complaint about stress. This is crazy time and everyone is talking about it. The rush of it all and the financial pressures, the onset of the cold (switching all our jackets to deal with the weather changes has added a different level of anxiety to the morning routine) and just the plain idea that yet another year is behind us. And guess what? If you're stressed guess who else is? Yup. I have seen more kids crying on the way to school, having blown out tantrums in the playground and the nastiest language coming out of my own little cuties. In fact, three different parents have come up to me in the last week to discuss how they see changes in their children and are just shaking their heads in disbelief.

So our question this week, "Why are our kids so stressed and what can we do about it?"

The Holiday Season:

As I stated earlier, I'm stressed. It's work, it's getting ready for the holiday season, it's going to extra family parties and functions (even during the week), it's all the gratuities I have to give , it's getting presents wrapped and making sure I get the holiday cards out and the fact that I'm sleep deprived because of all these extra tasks, you bet I'm a pleasure to be around. And these are just my issues. My son has a holiday concert that he keeps talking about how "nervous" he is. My daughter is wiped out from all the extra events and is having a very bad time adjusting to the idea that she has to wear glasses and my toddler has eczema all over his face from the cold. Pressure is all around and it does not discriminate by age.

How to Deal: Behaviors, including how to deal with stress are often learned from parents. While I try to talk about staying calm and taking deep breaths in front of my children. All parents can crack in front of their children, this morning I think I earned an Oscar! And when we do fall apart and lose it, the best we can do is apologize when we have cooled down and reassure our children that things will be okay. Explaining to children that even adults can have trouble expressing anger appropriately can bring your relationship to a new level and even open the gateways to help your children to open up to you.

Presents!, Presents!, Presents!
Whether your kids are waiting for Santa, or Channukah Harry or mom and dad to hand over the goods, the bottom line, this is the season of "this is what I want and what will I get?" If you don't celebrate or don't practice gift giving, don't dismiss the fact that your kid can pick up on all the frenzy. Yes, there are a few children that might have regulated themselves and understand that they don't need much or anything and it is the spirit of the holiday that is important. For most kids, it is in their nature to want and to have and the other spiritual lessons have yet to be learned. Children are children and they don't stay that way forever. A parent, I know constantly worries about her kids being spoiled. It takes a lot more than just the holidays to spoil a child. Spoiled children are made that way through years with little or no limits and parents who are afraid to parent.

How to deal: If you feel you the endless presents and the "what else did I get?" syndrome, is something you want to address have a discussion with your child about not being able to have everything. Parents can pick an appropriate number of gifts a child can have and children can make a list to pick and choose what items are most important to them. Beginning a ritual through volunteering, purchasing a new toy for a child though a program like toys for tots or even sending a card to a soldier.

Life is Hum Drum
My son was complaining about his homework incessantly around November. He had never been so difficult when it came to doing his homework and I was pretty concerned. I formed a theory around his behavior and a friend of mine kind of wrapped the theory up into a simple statement, "the honeymoon period is over!" School is in full swing! The new school backpacks are dirty, the pencils are down to the nub and children are expected to know what to do and be accountable. Educators often call this processing time. Children are putting into practice everything they have learned thus far in the new school year and absorbing the information can be overwhelming. In some cases, children can feel overloaded and to be honest, so are the teachers. It would be nice if our children could just talk about the stress they are feeling with us but kids often show us their fears and sadness in other less desireable ways.

How to deal: The best we can do is try to be understanding and continue to leave room for discussion and problem solving.

They Don't Tell You Everything:
Ask any teacher around this time of the year and they will tell you "the kids are crazy!" Think of the anxiety your child might be displaying in your home and then imagine a classroom full of children with the same type of behavior. They might not display their distress in the classroom but dollars to doughnuts the kids are letting it out on each other during recess. I can easily spot a new nasty comment that probably was said to my children at school by another child. It usually is quickly used on one of the siblings in my home soon after.

How to deal: Kids take little emotional pelts from other individuals when they are away from us. It hurts them and us, if we find out about it but we must teach our kids to cope. Helping your child with appropriate comebacks and letting them know that they don't have to listen or be around others who put them down.

There will always be stress and there will always be holidays. And many times they come as a pair. Be honest about it, talk about and try to model the best ways you can handle stress, together.

Chinese Proverb: "Give a child fish, they eat for the day, teach the child to learn to fish, they eat for life."

May you recieve the gift of coping strategies this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Can we talk, too?

I had some interesting responses from readers on my last post, "Can We Talk" so I decided to do a follow up this week. Please, I love your emails but don't be afraid to respond on the blog directly.

First, please make a special point to join me at apple seeds this Saturday, December 5th from 10:00AM-12:30PM. I will be answering questions on any topic regarding development or education. As well, it is a great place to get to know. Apple seeds not only has an award winning play space and classes but even if you do not live close by, they do a super job on birthday parties, haircuts and more! So please come, ask away and pass along to friends!

So my last post "Can We Talk?" discussed the importance of talking with your child no matter how young they might be. One of our readers posted a response, which stated that it is important not to expect an "okay" or even a response from children after a conversation. That we have to go on "faith" that they get what we are talking about. This was a very insightful comment and there is a logical reason why many times there is no response. Children (and many adults I know) need time to process new information. When we bring up something that children may not be able to wrap their head around or something they are not ready to hear they often say at the end or before we finish, "okay, can I go play with my toys now?", as one of my readers wrote me. While it may seem like your child might be brushing you off they might actually be saying "okay, I hear you but I can't handle all of this right now, let me play on it!"

How many times have you had the experience when something that may have seemed insignificant to you is suddenly brought up by your child months later? Just because you have experienced, processed and "filed" the memory, your child may be still discovering what the experience meant and how they were connected to it. Many educational programs (called spiral curriculum) are developed based on this premise whereby information is revisited over time in bits and pieces because of the "processing" that needs to take place in order for children to be ready to understand the information. Taking into account a child's age and maturity level some conversations need not be longer than 1 minute and only need to happen once, whereas some conversations need to or can go deeper, may need different approaches and need to be had many times over a period of time.

I have to say as both an educator and as a parent I see the value in conversing and connecting regularly with your kids. It takes practice and time and it is important to understand your child's cues when they have had enough. Conversations can backfire if you go on too long, push for a "fake" response (like an "okay") or over talk your point. If you miss your cue children will either tell you they have had enough i.e "can I go play with my toys now" or mentally shut down and begin to glaze over (fellow teachers you know that look!).

Here is a great example of a time when I trusted myself to have a tough conversation with my son and how my 7 year old let me know it was time to end it. It's a bit deep but drives the point home.

Recently, we lost a dear family friend to a tragic death. My husband and I were going to the funeral. The untimeliness of the death along with the quick funeral arrangements left little time for me to process as to whether or not I was going to tell my children. The morning of the funeral my son quickly sensed something was wrong with me and my husband. We were very tense and probably doing a poor job at hiding it. "Daddy is not going to work? Where are you and Daddy going" My seven year old asked. I was not prepared to go into it. I was still trying to understand what went on myself. I kept thinking to myself " Do I tell him now?" " Will he begin to ask if me and my husband are going to die soon, since our friend had a son close to his age?" "Will he begin to cry so hard that he won't handle school for the day and I will have to miss the funeral?" "If I send him to school with all this suspicion will I freak him out?" In the end, I told him what he needed to know. Our friend died and I went into very simple detail, enough to satisfy him. " What happens at a funeral?" he asked. I explained. "So he will be in the ground?", he asked. "Yes", I said. Along with a short talk about our religious beliefs (he goes to a weekly religious school class) I said finally, "What will you remember about him ?" My son came out with some super memories. Just as I was finishing my statements about how important those memories were, he quickly said in a very matter of fact but cheerful voice, "okay, mom, I am sad enough we don't need to talk about it anymore."

Children have a great capacity for understanding and building knowledge around new information if told in simple, honest language and for some with just a bit of time to process and to revisit.

So, keep talking!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can we talk?

Please join me at apple seeds, Saturday December 5th from 10:00AM-12:30PM. I will be answering all your developmental and parenting questions, for free! Pass along!

Question of the week: Sometimes I feel like I am just battling with my 3 year old son all the time. What can I do to connect with him and not feel like we are screaming all the time?

When my son was seven months old I placed him in a home-based daycare that took two busses to get to. I had two daycare centers across the street from my home but there was something about Joanie, the woman who ran the daycare center, that made me feel like this was the right place for both of us though it was far away. "Mud Pies" daycare, was housed in a two room, small NYC apartment and had children ages from two months to four years old.

Joanie was loving yet firm with the children and the parents. She had a few mantras that you needed to accept if you sent your child to the program: "discipline and love go hand in hand", there was "no baby talk" and "conversations are important and make a difference for children at all ages and stages." The last idea, I used to snicker at a bit. I mean really, how can you have a conversation with your seven month old and expect him to understand? But Joanie believed and she told us parents we needed to as well. When our children would misbehave, begin to throw a tantrum or hit she would look at them in the eye and have a talk with them. "We don't hit. That hurts others. If you want to hit something, hit a pillow." She would say to us parents at pick up "make sure you go home and have a talk with "E" about hitting." So I would. I felt stupid but I did it. The next day Joanie would say "your talk worked, the behavior is better today."

Joanie's approach if nothing else, opened up an opportunity for me to speak with my child rather than shout or do worse. And over time, I began to see that using my words and not just telling my children to, did make a difference. By talking with our children we send a message that we need to tell others (even our children) what we expect from them.

I use "I have to talk to you about something" or " we need to have a conversation" as a constant in my household. When I want to discuss something, such as a behavior that I do not approve of, I try to make time to have the conversation when it is not in the heat of the moment. I find when I do this my children are more responsive to my thoughts and tend to have perspective on their actions. For example, a conversation that might be held at dinner or before bedtime "I notice when we arrive at school that you hit your friends instead of greeting them with a 'hello' or a 'good morning.'" "I'd like for you to think about another way with which to greet your friends." After a discussion of why it happens, etc. and a solution is reached, I would probably say on the way to school the next morning, "remember what we talked about hitting our friends last night?" "What's your plan this morning?" Another example was my daughter throwing a tantrum when we had to leave the playground. Trying to have a conversation while she was kicking and screaming was worthless and almost got me kicked! Once we got home, (yes, I practically dragged her!) I let us both cool down. Later that evening and on the way to school the next day, we talked about if we wanted to go to the park after school we would have to understand when it was time to leave. We have had very few problems since that discussion.

I also find that when I anticipate a potential meltdown or stressful event (like before we go shopping and I want to make it clear we are not buying everything on the shelves) and make time for a conversation and even negotiation, I notice that my children really listen and have an easier time handling themselves when the discussed situation arises.

What is even nicer is that my children have begun to set aside time to talk to me too. When they want something or something is bothering them, they say "mom, we need to have a conversation." As parents, we want our children to feel comfortable talking with us and not shut down as we talk at them. It is a hard and there is no guarantee that the conversations will always work or that the conversations will always have the outcome we would like but as Joanie taught me, it is never to early to start.

So get talking!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Practice What You Preach

Please join me at apple seeds on December 5th from 10:00AM-12:30PM. I'll be on hand to answer any parenting questions you may have, for free! Come check out the beautiful facility and the boutique is stocked with super books and goodies! Put it on the calendar now!

This week I'm not going to answer a question but share a personal anecdote about something that happened to me this past weekend. I guess one of the greatest joys of parenting is when you experience your child putting into practice the very values you wish to instill in them and while doing so, reminding yourself that you too, must adhere to the same values you preach.

Last week my husband was away on a business trip for four days. Our kids were great the entire week. I have to say, setting daily up routines early in your child's life makes all the difference when you need your children to pull together and be independent. The only time that they seemed to get a little crazy was the night before my husband was coming home (they wanted to wait up for him - they didn't but they pushed the limits on bedtime). He came home at about 8:00AM on the red-eye. The kids were overjoyed but frenetic from the excitement of staying up so late the night before. After hugging the kids and sharing a few stories, my husband just crashed. Unfortunately, the kids and I were up for the day and it was really hard keeping three riled up kids calm and quiet in a small apartment. It was a gloomy, on and off rainy morning but even so, I knew I had to get them out of the house. So I rounded up my rowdy bunch and rushed them out concsiously allowing the children to skip minor hygenic tasks and not preparing for the possibility of being caught in the rain. In other words, they smelled, they were underdressed and noone had an umbrella or a raincoat. I never said I was supermom!

I knew the Upper West Side Apple Store had its grand opening day and I was hopeful that they would be giving away some nice freebies. Plus, I knew that there would be a kids computer game area that would keep them busy at least for a short while. As we walked over to the newest trendy business of the UWS, it began to drizzle. We approached the store and there was a long line of people and they were being admitted in a few at a time while they received a rectangualar box and cheers from the staff as they entered. As we watched the line it began to rain badly. We waited under a nearby awning. My kids began to incessantly complain that they were "starving" and wanted a lunch. Of course my two older children could not agree on where they wanted to eat and my 16 month old did his infamous, impatient yelp which indicated he wanted me to "get moving". I pointed out that they were handing out free stuff at the Apple store and it was worth it to get wet. It worked, and we got on line and let the the rain pelt us. As we approached the front of the line an Apple store employee handed us an umbrella and said "you can borrow this and we'll collect it on your way out." I gladly took the umbrella and we were thankful that we were close to the front. We quickly made it into the store and each received our door prize (a t-shirt). We enjoyed our time in the new, sheik establishment. We played with some games and it was nice to chat with some other neighborhood friends who had come to check out the fanfare.

When we were ready to leave we made our way to the front exit as we weaved in and out of the crowds and tv cameras recording the opening event. I was truly a bit frazzled from the morning but would be lying if I said "what if they didn't collect the umbrella" did not cross my mind. Sure enough, with my two older kids walking close to me and pushing a stroller, I made it out the door without anyone asking me to return the umbrella and luckily the rain had stopped. We began to walk up the block leaving the excitement of the apple store and were on our way to find something to eat. When we reached about half way up the block my oldest son exclaimed "Mom, you still have the umbrella! We were supposed to return it!" With a cross between embarassment and apprehension, I said "Oh wow...I forgot...thanks for reminding me..." At that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could have made up something like "They told me we could keep it." or "It's okay, they have plenty, they won't miss it". But my son's voice was so innocent and filled with righteousness. He was being honest, responsible and proud of it. How often did I preach these values to him? My child was putting into practice what I thought so often fell on deaf ears. I had an opportunity to honor these ideals, and that is what I did.

We walked back to the store and I made a point to tell one of the employees how my son is the one who noticed that I had "mistakenly" taken the umbrella. I secretly hoped the salesperson would let us take it anyway (remember a parents goal is to have your child be better than you!). She quickly took the umbrella, thanked us and then said to my son "thank you for doing the right thing" and handed him another t-shirt. "You see" she said, "doing the right thing has its rewards!" While the umbrella would have been nice and it was clear that the extra t-shirt was kind of a waste, my son did not care. He was proud. Proud that he did the right thing on his own and proud that someone knew it. That my friends, does a proud Mama make!

I reflected quickly on a sign one of my teaching colleagues had posted in her classroom: "Doing the right thing is hard, but it's right!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Polyglot Primadona

It seems that my posts are getting out as late as Wednesday, these days. So I'm going to say that my weekly posts will generally come in, early to mid-week from now on because life with three kids and working freelance is pretty darn crazy!

Ask the Educator, went off nicely at apple seeds this past week! If you are new to the blog via apple seeds, welcome! Glad you're here! I will post the next date that I will be at apple seeds as soon as it is settled. Please make sure to stop by!

So, I think it is appropriate to use a question that was asked quite frequently by parents at apple seeds as the weekly question:

"What can parents expect from a child that is multilingual and how can they foster learning?

I'll never forget when my music theory teacher in my sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of the Arts, said, "music, math and language are subjects that are all connected." I remember thinking to myself , "that must be the reason why I am failing all three subjects!"

Not so long ago, the United States had a great deal of controversy about the topic of multilingual children. There was fear that young children whose first language was not English, would hold them back from succeeding in academics. As well, failed programs such as bilingual education classes were being used in the public schools as a crutch and not providing non-English speakers with the tools they needed to graduate and to go onto higher education.

Now, more studies seem to shed a more positive light on bilingualism or multilingualism. In one study in Italy, children who were spoken to in two or more languages from birth -10 months were able to identify and distinguish sound at a much quicker rate to their monolingual counterparts thus creating a child who seemed to connect to sounds more readily and could speak more like a native. As well, children who are multilingual have been shown to be very strong in the subjects of math, music and science. You can read more about why that may be, here. In addition to what seems to be the "academic" benefits, parents of bilingual children are thrilled to foster cultural bonds. The idea that children will be confused by learning a second language or more, have also been quelled. While there is always some initial confusion for the child and even some speech delay, it is most often worked out before school age.

Many experts agree that children begin to lose the their capacity to learn another language at about age 10. Distinguishing sounds, using correct accents and the process of switching between two languages becomes much more difficult at a later age and for some, it is so frustrating they quit. Some studies also suggest that listening to language on a cd or video is not enough. There is great importance in a child looking at lips and actively engaging while using language. The process of language learning needs to be active and not passive.

Parents who are teaching children a second or third language should teach with little translation and full immersion at different points during the day. Reading stories, singing songs, cooking and playing games are wonderful ways to get your child enjoying and listening to language. Be sure to remember that understanding comes way before actual language is spoken so keep going even if you feel your child is not actively using words.

If you are like me, just a monolingual gal, consider getting your family involved in a foreign language class. I recently met a woman who hired her Israeli friend, to come to her home weekly to teacher her family and another family, Hebrew, on a weekly basis. Sending your child to a foreign language class alone will do little unless there is some connection happening in the home. If you choose to enroll your child in a school dual language program, consider study groups and summer intensive programs to support ongoing language learning. Another study has found that while adults will have a tougher time mastering a new language, just trying to learn one can help keep your mind young and active! So getting involved has benefits for you as well!


Monday, November 2, 2009

A Most Meaningful Meeting

I can't believe it is November already!

Please come join me this weekend at apple seeds and ask me your questions face to face!

Saturday, November 7th
10 West 25th Street
NY, NY 10010

On to the question of the week:

How do I maximize my time with my child's teacher during parent teacher conferences?

When I was a classroom teacher I remember how rushed I felt meeting parent after parent. Conferences usually end up being less than 10 minutes and the time truly can get away from you if you are not prepared. Here are some varied ideas and questions that might guide your conference to make it more meaningful. You need to have a bit of an understanding of what your child's strengths and weaknesses look like before the conference in order to choose questions and topics to explore with the teacher.

Creating a Mood
Every good teacher should begin with one compliment about your child before discussing any issues that might need to be worked on. When discussing any issues, teachers should be sensitive and parents need to listen. Conferences should end on a high note with solutions or even discussing a project or piece of work your child did particularly well. I instruct all of my education students to run their conferences this way. If you feel a conference is being handled poorly make sure you take notes and make it clear to the teacher that you are frustrated. If you run out of time be sure to make a follow up meeting. Contact administrators as a last resort.

Know Your Child
If you have not been already, make sure you are looking over your children's work (writing, test grades, worksheets, etc.) weeks before the conference. Even with little contact from the teacher, not all aspects of your child's work should be a complete surprise. Begin to write down questions. Do you notice your child's handwriting seems a bit sloppy? Or that you are not clear on some of the new techniques in the math homework? Is the reading a bit choppy or robotic sounding when your children read to you? Or do they throw tantrums at the thought of doing their homework? Narrow your questions to the two or three that are really important to you. This can also help to navigate the conference.

Discuss your childs reading level
Are they on grade level?
What techniques are being used to get your child to the next level?
Do they have recommended books or book series that might fit your child's needs at this time?
How often are children assessed?
What can you be doing at home to support your child?

See Writing Samples
What is your child writing about?
What techniques are being used to evoke language?
How often is writing done?
How do you critique?

Discuss Math
Discuss mathematical goals for year.
Ask your child's teacher to walk you through any unfamiliar or new mathematical techniques that the class may be covering at the time.
What concepts are currently being worked on?
Does your child make careless errors or do they see a much bigger problem?
Any products that might help you to continue the learning at home.

Other topics
Science, Social Studies, Technology, etc. How are these topics being taught in class? These areas often get neglected with the focus being on the Three R's. Don't be afraid to offer any professional help if you work in these fields. Consider sponsoring a trip as well.
Special help - Know your rights as a parent. Your child should not be tested or receive any extra help (being pulled out or otherwise) without you being notified first and your written consent sought. Contact administration and/or your local district if you do not get a reasonable explanation if this has happened to your child.

What is your child really doing well at?
Are they an active participant in class?
What techniques do they use?
Do they seem to interact well with their peers?
Do they transition well?
Can they recommend any special programs that might suit your chid?

End the conference by discussing next steps and what are the best ways to stay in touch with the teacher until the next conference.

Don't forget to visit the special teachers (art, dance, music, etc) they may tell you something about your child that you or even the classroom teacher don't know.

Remember: Don't worry about what other children are doing. Focus in on who your child is and how you can support and foster in them a love of learning.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Videos entitled "How to Get Your Kid Into Harvard"? Not!

Having a bit of a hard time getting this post going this week, lots of stuff going on. I have many different questions on a range of topics sitting in front of me and well, I'm feeling indecisive, dare I say "unmotivated". I think I will rip a page out out my son's recent work habits, "book" and take the easiest way out.

Before this weeks post:

apple seeds
10 west 25th st ny, ny 10010

On November 7th, 10:00AM-12:30PM apple seeds, will have me as a guest at their facilities! Parents can come on down and ask any question about their kids and their education, face to face with me, Ask the Educator!

apple seeds is an award winning, beautiful enrichment facility and play space. Check out their boutique and super classes! appleseeds

So, rather then answer the question of the week, I will make some short statements about the Baby Einstein , class action suit. You can read the article, here.

First, did they consider that using these videos in moderation (one video a day) has given countless tired, sleepless and overwhelmed parents a much needed break for a half an hour? I looked forward to my showers, preparing bottles and even resting when I popped in the video for my children!

Second, are parents that naive to think these videos would actually make their babies smarter?

Finally, watching TV or videos is not the enemy as some pediatricians and parents see it. In fact, if used correctly it can even become an extremely valuable tool. But I'll answer how, on another post!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Educator Is In!


Do you remember Lucy from the Peanuts Gang with her famous booth that said " The Psychiatrist Is In, 5 Cents"?


Pop by apple seeds on Saturday November 7th from 10:00am – 12:30pm and have your most pressing parenting questions answered by an expert (for free).

Sara Lise Raff ( is an educator, artist, parent and creator of the blog "Ask The Educator". Sara answers parent’s questions weekly on her blog on all types of topics. They range from setting up reward systems at home, creating routines, understanding developmental milestones, developing reading and math skills with your child, parent/teacher communication, dealing with transitions and a myriad of concerns that parents face. Sara also facilitates various parent and teacher workshops for schools and cultural organizations throughout New York City . Sara will be stationed across from the apple seeds front desk. Come in and meet her!

apple seeds is a beautiful child enrichment facility with super programs, a boutique, a cute cafe filled with goodies for the kids and coffee for the adults!

Come down and ask away!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Picking the Right Battles Can Win You the War.

I'm in a bad mood tonight after leaving my buildings' co-op board meeting. Not the right blog to vent, so I'll leave my expletives out of ear shot of my kids and spare you the gory details. Which leads to our question of the week:

How do you pick and choose your battles with your kids?

When I was a classroom teacher I felt my students in East Harlem needed firm rules and clear directions to keep them on task (I have been referred to as a reincarnated nun). I was tough and stayed on top of my class relentlessly which left me exhausted most of the time. I remember when I began my position as a sixth grade teacher I had 38 students, many of whom were extremely tough. One day my class was giving me a particularly hard time and my colleague, who was standing in the gym while I was getting my students in line, said "You may be losing the battle now but you are going to win the war".

Some days my three kids feel like 38 of them and leave me exhausted.
Children at different stages have different requirements, limits or directions that you expect them to adhere to. Some parents are extremely laid back when it comes to setting limits with children while others are way too strict but the ultimate goal most of us should strive for is somewhere in the middle. The idea is to decide what is most important in order to teach your child and shape them. In order for the "shaping" to take place you want to be consistent and follow through while making sure children understand that the requirements that you set for them is what you expect at all times, everyday.

There are days or even periods in your child's life that they are no longer adhering to your directions. It seems as if they have tuned you out or maybe even act like it is the first day they have ever heard your rules as if they were rude guests who entered your home from outer space. You know what I mean! What then? Do you just give up? Beat your head or better yet beat their head into the wall? (kidding) Yell? Punish? Needless to say you will not ruin your kid if they get away without brushing their teeth one night or not zippering their jacket. But when do you have to re-evaluate what you expect from your children? Or change the way you are handling a situation or just plain let it go?

If You're Not Committed, They Won't Be Either
We need to look first at what we are asking of our children. Why is it important that my child follow the directions that have been set up for them? Is it important for their well being? Is it teaching them an important value or lesson? Is it because "I said so!"? There is a place for each and every request and the key is to make sure we use each one for the right reason and with balance. If you don't have the patience to follow through with a request or make a half hearted attempt, your child will most likely respond the same way. If you don't really care or really don't have the strength to go the distance then don't ask in the first place. In many cases it only diminishes your authority.

Know Your Opponent
Second we need to look at if our request fits with the individual child. If you have more than one child you know that children even in the same house have a different response to directions and guidelines. One child has no problem with the the night time routine and the other you might have to work a bit harder to get them into bed. Sometimes you have to be creative and look for new strategies like changing your tone of voice, or rearranging a schedule to get children to do what they need to do. Consider posting rules or directions in your home, creating a reward system or trying to make the task more fun or play a more active role. For example, some children need you to help clean up as opposed to them doing it by themselves.

Are You, Your Worst Enemy?
Third, are you working yourself up over something that is not really important, adding fuel to the fire, picking at a behavior or even worse, trying to argue to win a battle not worth winning? Case in point: My son, who is going through a period of some fresh language and even some talking back was having a fit the other day. He was ranting that "we were mean parents" and that he "never wanted to see us again." Initially we responded with humor, even laughing but I quickly realized this was adding fuel to the fire and leading to a battle we would not win. We could have also gone the route, scolding him for speaking to us so rudely, giving him warnings and following up with a punishment. Instead, I whispered to my husband, "Let him vent and just say 'we are sorry you feel that way'". Within minutes our son calmed down and we moved on.

I truly believe had we kept pushing rules and even taken disciplinary action in this case it would have made matters worse. It just was not worth the battle. Some days kids are more emotional, are releasing pent up stress and frustration or are just tired or not feeling well. Staying rigid with rules and punishments and being inflexible will only lead to disaster.

Nix the Mutiny
Finally, you must have clear ideas about what is important to you and your partner and discuss a flexible plan on the days or periods when your child does not respond. If children know that their mixed messages sent or that parents are engaging in a power struggle it opens the door for divide and conquer on the part of the child and in many cases sends a stressful message. If you find you and your partner are unable to agree on the discipline of your child look at various strategies laid out on the internet or look for books. If you are still unable to agree on a discipline strategy seek professional help.