Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is there a "Right" School?

How do I find a school that is right for my child?

Today we are so desperate here in New York City, to get our child into school, private or public, we often forget that some schools are just not the right choice for our children. I'll never forget a mother, whose children attended the very non-pretentious, home daycare that my children attended was very vocal about her dilemma about where she should send her son to school. He was accepted into a very small, progressive lab school on the upper West Side as well as a dual language, G&T program. finally one day as we were about to pick up kids at daycare she said to me in an extremely stressed out tone of voice "What's better public or private school?". Growing up in New York City Public schools from kindergarten-12th grade and teaching for and working with the system for 10 years, I understood the pro's and cons of the public school choice. I said to her, you're a good parent, a smart parent. The choice is not about public or private, the question has to be about who do you think will serve your child the best at this time in his life and possible for years to come? Look at your kid, look at the schools. Can they offer what your son needs? If the teaching practices radical or cutting edge, will your child be able to handle it? Does your child need structure or more laid back? Can you reflect the philosophy of the school in your home? Can you reflect your home in the school? Can you afford the private school or will you be applying for financial assistance?

In the end no one, not even you, the parent has a crystal ball. I know parents who sent their kids to a K-8 school thinking they were "safe" from applying to Middle School. After 4th grade their kids were miserable and had to be taken out. They endured the nerve-racking middle school application process and are now waiting on pins and needles to hear which school they will attend in the fall. When you buy into a school you buy into many different people, with different personalities, and with different temperaments. You buy into a philosophy, an administration , a group of teachers, a group of students and a group of parents. It is elementary (no pun intended) to believe that your child or you, will be satisfied every year with each one the components. Administrators, teachers, PTA presidents can all leave and be replaced and there is never a guarantee that policies stay the same. So, use what you know about your child, yourself . It is all a gamble, much like the day you decided to have children!

Monday, April 27, 2009

What's your Homework Routine?

Children as early as pre k are getting some type of homework. For the little ones it is often optional but for the kindergarten years the routine begins. In some cases it is as much a lesson in organization for you as much as it is for the kids. Whether your kids love homework or down right hate it you should have some rituals in place.

To begin with, look at your schedule. Take into account what time your child gets home. If your child has activities on some days you must differentiate your routine. Keep in mind how tired your child will be when they walk in the door. In some cases it may be a good idea to get some homework done before the extra curricular activity begins, if possible.

For a typical day here are some suggestions:

When you get home make time to wash hands and have a small snack. Allow 10-15 minutes of "unwinding" time. Some children enjoy talking about what they did during the school day others do not. Don't push or interrogate your kids. If they want to talk, they will. If they don't, make small talk about the weather ("What a beautiful day !"), tell your child about what you did during YOUR day or enjoy the silence. Children need time to process, being away from an activity and allowing for quiet time helps them to make sense of the experiences they have had during the day .

Once unwinding time has finished there should be a designated place for your child to do homework. Your space should be clutter free, well lit, with appropriate seating. Have all your supplies in one place so that they can be easily found. A child sized desk where the child's feet touches the floor is best but no real harm is done if they are at the family dining table. Have children go into their backpacks and take out homework sheets, books, notices, etc. and bring them over to the homework area. Take notice of how your child takes care of their belongings. If they tend to be sloppy, be careful not to criticize. You can gingerly suggest another way to keep order. If your child tends to become reactive to your suggestions, mention to your child's teacher your concern. They might do a class lesson addressing the issue (probably other kids are doing it too!) in order not to single out any one child.

When it is time for homework to begin there should be no television, computer or any other distraction. In some cases families like classical music on while work is being done. Make sure this practice is appropriate for your child and will only enhance their concentration. You may quickly discuss the previous days homework if it was marked and sent home. Take a look at all work that needs to be done and discuss with your child what should be done first. I like to encourage children to do what they like the least, first. This way it will be done and they can end with a subject that they feel good about.

If your child can work independently let them do their work and they can bring it to you to check. Make sure you ask them to proof their work before they bring it to you. Always look for things to praise first, "wow your handwriting has really improved". Be very careful about pointing out too many mistakes. One or two suggestions is enough. Give them a chance to explain what they have done or read what they have written back to you. If the homework has mistakes let the teacher see that your child is having trouble. You can include a note to your child's teacher about your concerns. If your child needs more guidance, ask them first how their teacher taught them earlier in the day. If they are unable to remember or make a mistake try to ask questions that will help lead your child to the correct conclusion. It is important to be aware that many of the techniques you were taught in school are much different than today. Try to avoid modeling "the way you were taught". It can often lead to confusion. If your child is unable to do their homework. Request a meeting with your child's teacher so you can learn the current techniques being used in the classroom and discuss any other support your child might need.

Try to do all homework in one block period of time if it is not too much for your child. In the case that they need breaks keep them to no longer to ten minute intervals. After your child completes one subject and you have checked their work, they can move on. Make sure they have put their name on top of their work as well as the date along with any other appropriate headings required by the school. Once children are done with all of their homework have them place it neatly into their folder, notebook and place everything they will need into their backpacks for the next school day. Nothing is worse then searching for important papers and projects in the morning.

For whiners and other creative techniques that make homework time miserable make sure you discuss that homework is not a choice. All children in their class are required to do this. It is important practice and can help them feel good about what they know. You can use incentives to help with motivation. You can use a chart like the one mentioned in my previous post regarding the end of the school year. It is also okay to mention that the television, computer, being read to by you, talking on the phone or playing with friends cannot take place until the homework is done properly. Make sure you discourage rushing or sloppy work. If your child is really giving you a hard time, require them to write a note to their teacher describing why they are not doing their homework and make them sign it. You can discuss with the teacher if they will carry out consequences in the classroom.

In the end, the earlier you get children to create good habits with homework the better they will become at owning the task. It is a lifelong lesson...After all, does your homework ever end?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How can I keep my child motivated as we come to the close of the school year?

I once saw this High School student wearing a T-Shirt "Got Senioritis?" I still chuckle thinking about it. If your child is a High School Senior, I have no advice for you except you better forget about it and let them go wild, didn't you? For the rest of us, the close of the year can produce fears, anxiety, sadness, excitement and pride and that's just the parents!

No matter your emotions which are probably mixed, it is important to really watch and support your child in the home stretch of the school year. The New York City Public Schools now give their exams mid year so the test stress is gone at the end of year, however it is important to remind your child the work for the year is not over. Stay focused on homework, reading 20 minutes a day, look for ways to weave math into everyday tasks and stay on top of the usual routines even though you might stay out a bit longer in the school yard as the weather gets better. You can begin to provide your child with books that might challenge them beyond their current reading level. If your child's school levels books using the Fountas and Pinnell method ( , you can find the book in Barnes and Noble in the teaching section. The book lists exact children's book titles and their corresponding levels and gives lots of other important information, certainly worth a look for the list in the back. Play simple math games in your spare moments together or add a "Game Night" to your weekend routine using board games that are educational such as Scrabble, Boggle, bananagrams, Yahtzee, etc. I see families playing board games in park fields while having a picnic such as The Central Park Meadow, Riverside Park. If your child is having real difficulty focusing on their work, it might help to set up a simple reward system. Create a simple chart that states exactly what you want your child to achieve, for example, "Each time Jordan completes his homework with out whining he will get a sticker. After 10 stickers, Jordan can choose a book of his choice." I like to offer books and magazines as rewards. In the case that books as rewards does not work for your child, agree on a small reasonable item beforehand.

Watch how much pressure you place on the next grade. Saying things like, "Next year third grade is going to be really tough." or when your child is having a tantrum "They won't tolerate this baby behavior in kindergarten next year!" statements such as these can backfire and produce needless anxiety. Instead, take your cues from your child. If they bring up that they have concerns for the next grade, assure them that you and their current teacher think they are ready and even though they might be afraid, it's okay. If they are going to a new school assure them that you have done your research and you have worked very hard to find them a school where they are going to feel safe.

Make sure you keep the lines of communication open and watch for changes in behavior. Often children act out because they are unable to express their feelings. Be supportive and encouraging. Finally, there is an entire two months before the new school year begins and we will have plenty of posts addressing how to keep up the academics over the summer!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back in the Swing of Things.

Hope you survived the very rainy Spring Break. I don't know about you but it put a damper on some of my plans. The week boiled down to doing homework and a research project, Kumon books for my 3 year old (you should check these out if you don't know them!), doing some of the projects metioned in my previous posts, going to the local playground, a trip on the 7 train and a trip on the South Ferry (the closest I will get to a cruise for the next few years!) So, today, the big kids are back and I think we are all better for it. Getting back into routine can be reassuring for both kids and parents.

Today is also the 10th Anniversary of the Columbine massacre. While I will not attempt to analyze the actions of the boys responsible or debunk any theories of why this terrible tragedy took place I will comment on what the situation and other situations like this make me think my responsibilty is as an educator and parent.

One of the greatest mistakes I see parents make is not understanding who their children are. This creates an inability to parent effectively. To be an effective parent we must try and learn who our children are and provide them with encouragement, access to tools to help them establish their self esteem and yes, provide them with discipline. Contrary to what many believe, discipline is not a "punitive" word, it comes from the Latin meaning, "to teach". We must teach our children if they are to succeed. We must not be afraid to address our children's undesirable behaviors in an effective and honest way without cutting them down. Children need to learn what will be tolerated and need to replace and practice acceptable behaviors. If your child is aggressive and angry, then you must acknowledge it, discuss it and give children a chance to master appropriate actions. Anger needs to be channeled into positive venues and power and control need to be discussed as responsibility. If your child is weak you must build them up and encourage them to be stronger. You must look to find activities that they can succeed at and provide opportunities to make friends that make them feel good. And while adults are the leaders in a child's life it is not too early to begin impress upon school aged children that everyone is responsible for their own safety and behavior as well as those of our peers. When we make children responsible for their behavior we help them to develop self confidence, the root of of all happiness in it's greatest form.

So in reflection of this very difficult day and unfortunately many others that have followed with the same outcome, I look to parents to learn, to know, to discipline, accept and love their children so our children can learn, know, discipline, accept and love themselves.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Finally, A Reality Show that Taught a Really Valuable Lesson!

After watching the You tube video of Susan Boyle, a 47 year old British fuddy duddy that supposedly had "never been kissed" and drove the judges of "Britain's Got Talent" to tears (including Pierce) with her resounding singing, I was truly moved. Whether this was a set up by the show or actually a real scenario was not what intrigued me. The idea of this entire audience laughing and mocking this seemingly unattractive, middle-aged woman and within a matter of minutes completely gaining the audiences admiration and cheers, was fascinating! It made me think, how I, we, you and our children view others and how we act based on those views. I played the video for my six year old. I was curious what his reaction would be. We discussed the way Susan Boyle looked and the way she acted made the judges and the audience think she was going to fail. My son said "that's not very nice". Small children are sensitive when these moral situations are explained to them and often come up with an "empathetic" answer. The hard part is for children to retrieve this type of empathy when they are not with us. For me, there was an even bigger lesson to be learned here. It was not the fact that Ms. Boyle ended up having a lovely voice, but the revealing comments that the judges made about her after the performance " we were all against you", "We were laughing at you..." "...this is a wake up call..." . What cruel thoughts to have about someone and for what? Because they may not have talent? Because they are unattractive? Because they are old? Can you imagine what would have happened had Ms. Boyle played into the role in which they had set up for her? We have all witnessed or been the target of this type of cruel behavior, painful. Fortunately, we witnessed something we very rarely see, very mean "characters" on television admit that they had been wrong. As I thought about the video I realized that many of these issues were very familiar to me, particularly because I am an educator and a parent.

We can tell our children over and over to be nice, be kind, to not judge and we get angry when they do not listen. Although we have tons of sayings that represent the mantra "actions speak louder than words" we all too often still use only our words without action and therefore our point is not made. If we look at the behavior of other kids, other adults and the media, being mean to others and not apologizing is acceptable. Simon Cowell and the other "British invasion" judges on shows like American Idol, America's got Talent and Hell's Kitchen have made a fortune on being mean. It seems that being mean has now become a mainstream part of our culture.

So what do we do? The options can hardly be summed up in this blog posting alone ( I feel another series of posts coming on...) but here are a few ideas to chew on. We need to be in control of our parenting. We are a child's first teacher and statistics say that parents opinions and approval hold a lot of weight. Be loving but be firm. Children need guidance. Set parameters and stay clear about what children may and may not do. Talk to your children about mean behavior and it's consequences. Talk to your children about what they see and hear characters do on television, movies, video games. As well, when you witness your child acting mean or callus or being intolerant of another child or adult provide reasonable and timely consequences (one warning is enough!). Role play with small dolls for young children demonstrating the appropriate way to give an apology or deal with a disagreement , for older children share real or mock situations in which you had to give an apology, or reveal that you were incorrect when you made an assumption about another person. Finally, do what the judges on "Britain's got Talent" did. We must own up to our children when we have not been nice, whether it was to them, to our significant other or to the bus driver. Children will always remember when they receive from you or observe you making an apology, it is an action (remember speaks louder than words) and in the case of Susan Boyle, one that the reality shows or the world won't soon forget!

Sara Lise

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Child Is Enrolled in a Language Program in His School, What Can I Do To Help Him Learn and Practice?

This question comes from a friend of mine. Her son is in a dual language Spanish program in Queens and she does not speak Spanish.

Even if you do not speak the language your child is studying, keeping up the exposure for your child is the most important factor in keeping them connected. Gently encourage your child's interest in the language and in the culture. Try to attend cultural events that feature music, dance, or food from the country or countries where the language is spoken. You and the other dual language parents can ask your childrens' teacher to put together a packet or resource sheet, worksheets and/or books that they recommend. Make sure you put this request in written form leaving enough time before the end of the school year (aka) soon, rather than leaving it to a casual discussion. There are lots of foreign language books, games and videos that are available online, at Barnes and Noble and my favorite, the library. You can talk with the other parents of the students in the program and try to get as many kids together as possible once a week to use any books, videos or games they have found. This will create the social situation that will encourage students to speak, sing songs and play games in the foreign language with others that know the language.

I found a nice site that has a few activities that can be helpful:

The site below does not provide you with activities in the actual language but gives you some great ideas of how to use games you already know or have to practice a foreign language:

This site is a potpourri of resources for both educators of foreign language and for parents:

Bonjour, Buongiorno, Buenos días, Boker Tov, Guten Tag,

Sara Lise

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Party Favor Hunt!

I am continuing posts on keeping children active and academic on spring break while keeping you sane. I love doing this activity. It not only rids my home of useless toys (my favorite part) but gets my kids to use the park in a fresh way and even helps to make new friends!

Today my friend's daughter celebrated her 3rd birthday. It was a Strawberry Shortcake theme. Each little girl left with a Strawberry Shortcake sun hat. These hats are one of the best and most useful party favors my child has ever come home with. My daughter looks adorable and I don't have to keep another useless cheap toy that will be broken in 5 seconds. Not so many parents can be so clever to give such a cute party gift, I know I'm not. I have definitely been guilty of the 99 cent store special. So what to do with all the cheap chachkas? Why not along with your Easter Egg Hunt or search for the Passover Afikomen, have a party favor hunt! Round up all those little toys, have your child make a list of all the items, make copies for each participating child, go to the park and get the hunt started. If your children can't read you can take pictures and print them on paper. Bring items to any local park. Ask friends to join the hunt or make new friends by inviting other kids in the playground to participate. One kid can hide all the items (if they are skilled enough they can write down where they hid all the items) and all the other kids can find them or you can hide them for the kids. Make sure you discuss with your child before hand that this is a great way to spring clean and that it is important to know by doing this fun activity they must be willing to lose these toys and/or give them away to friends that find them. In my experience, kids forget where they stash the toys and other kids just take them before they are found so make sure that there is nothing your kids are really attached to.

In the end, your child will have cleaned out the chachkas, shared with their friends, counted items, written and read a list, participated in a group and had fun. It's educational and fun, what could be better?

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Hunting!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Cleaning!

Sorry I have been offline for a few days. My oldest son had a 'bout with strep throat, that looked more like meningitis in the beginning...Thank goodness it was the former. Nothing like a good medical scare to keep the wine companies in business! Sometimes the general craziness that goes with being a freelancer and mother of three makes it hard to post regularly! I'm thinking that I might make a weekly post on one particular day. I just have to see which day will work the best.

So, here comes another idea to do over the Spring Vacation with the kiddies. The activity not only gets your children categorizing, an extremely important skill for math, science and reading, it also fits in perfectly with the idea of Spring Cleaning! How great is that?

I know that I have tons of toys with little itty bitty pieces that are lost throughout my home, I'm guessing that you do too. Vacation is a good time to start finding those pieces and getting them categorized. You can use clear storage bags, clear boxes or draws, develop sections for "like objects" in their room or better yet, give them away or throw them out! Your main objective, what goes with what? And get it labeled with an index card, sticky mailing label and a Sharpie pen. It is not necessary or possible to do an entire room or organize every group of toys. Take on a new group of toys daily and go slow. Discuss why certain objects might go together. By doing this children take ownership and can help make a sustainable system of organizing their rooms and hopefully, their lives. Some children will naturally be able put together that like objects such as, super hero accessories, barbie doll/princess shoes and clothes, animals, legos/mega blocks etc. are types of categories. Other children may need some gentle guidance. The work is in the discussion. Ask "What is similar (a good vocabulary word, make sure you define it) about these objects?" "How can you use them together?" modeling is a very effective technique. you can say "What I might do is...". I personally, tend to make categories without regard to the make of the toy, in other words Fisher Price animals go with other small figures of animals. Older children can even be encouraged to organize their home libraries by fiction, non fiction or informational texts such as dictionaries. The more you get your children involved in the process the more they will learn.

You might try to do this activity for about 20 minutes or so, each day of the vacation. I get excited just thinking about how much cleaner my home might look as well as the toys we might get rid of! Good luck!