Monday, September 21, 2009

The Educational Top 10

I am preparing some great questions that have come in the last few weeks, but until I hunker down and take a bite of my big posts here is my version of the Educational Top Ten for the school year:

10. Have your children prepare backpacks the night before and any other details that can become ugly in the morning hours. Getting your children to take responsibility for their own gear is an important life skill.

9. Bedtime needs to be bedtime. Set routines. Be realistic about the time children an adults need to go to bed in order to function the next day. Stick to your time frames and wake up might only be chaotic versus a massive calamity.

8. Be realistic about what can get done in the morning. Rushing to school harries your kids and turns you into a mad person. See rule #9. I see all you "mad parents" in the morning!

7. I'm feeling like I'm talking to a lot of "helicopter" folks lately. You did all that research to find the best school for your kid, let the educators do their job. Find ways to be involved without moving into the classroom and only question and fret when you really see your kid is not thriving.

6. "What did you do today?" If I used my son's answer to that question for the last 3 years his educational career could be summed up to a resounding "nothing". However all days were mostly classified as "good" according to him. Folks, you can try to ask and you can try to even be more directed such as "Who'd you sit with at lunch?" or "Who got in trouble?" At the end of the day, stop picking and accept what they give. They may just need to process the days' events and need time. If you suspect something might be deeper, contact your child's teacher.

5. Give time for your kids to chill for about 15 minutes once they come home. Encourage kids to eat a healthy snack, take deep breaths or lay down for a bit and then gear up to do homework. Once homework is done to the best of their ability, let kids do what they like. Turning the TV on or playing computer games will not ruin them, just set firm limits on how long. If board games or craft projects are to their liking, encourage it.

4.If your child does not understand the homework let them try the best they can or leave it blank. Allowing the teacher to see that your child is struggling tells them what they need to focus on with your child. Helping your child too much can create resentment and doing it for them helps no one. If you need to, have you or your child write a note stating that you or your child were confused.

3. Pick and choose your battles. We want our kids to succeed at so much but they really are taking in a lot information daily from many sources and they need time to process. If you made School Year's Eve goals begin to refer back to them to keep on track. If not, just be realistic. Children will find their way, just not always on our timeline.

2. Forgive yourself. I give crappy lunches somedays, I yell at my kids, I rush from place to place, I missed a certain notice that tells me to bring in apples to the class for a special project and show up empty handed, I miss the deadlines for the Scholastic Book orders. Tomorrow is another chance to be the parent you want to be.

1. Read to your children every evening, have your children read independently and have them read to you. Look for patterns and practice math skills in fun and real life ways. Talk about appropriate news stories and share ideas and thoughts that reflect upon our world. Foster a love of learning in your home and allow your children to teach you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Mommy, I don't like my teacher!"

So, my homework problems still remain a week later.  I did not post pictures from my School Year's Eve event.   But, I will.  I promise.  At least I'll try.

School is back in full swing and questions from parents are rolling on in!

This week's question is from Jackie:

"I am not happy with my daughter's teacher this year.  My daughter seems okay but is not ecstatic either.  Should I try to have her class switched?"

It would be nice if that every year our children could have a super teacher that completely meshed with both our child's needs as well as our own.  Alas, no matter what school, what state, what type of child or how calm the parent, there always will be the possibility that your child will end up with a teacher that does not fit your child's style or your own.  It is a basic fact of life.  While it can be hard to deal with a bad fit, there are some important strategies you can use to get through the year:

Look at the root of the problem:

Are you comparing this teacher to that super kindergarten teacher your child had last year? Are you listening to former parents of this teacher and letting them shape your ideas about what this teacher is all about?   School is still fresh and some teachers feel they need to be really strict the first month or so before letting their guard down.  Other teachers are extremely relaxed and others are structured.  Make sure you give your child's new teacher a fair chance to show you what they can do.  Sometimes first impressions can be wrong and other students or parents experiences don't necessarily mean that your child or you will feel the same way they did.

Make Contact
Make sure you introduce yourself to your child's teacher at pick up.  Drop off in the morning tends to be overwhelming even for the teacher.  Teachers tend to be more relaxed at the end of the day and more willing to spend a minute or two talking to parents.  Even if you don't normally pick your child up, leave work early one day, just so you can show your face.  Make sure you only introduce yourself, smile, maybe ask "How are things?" and keep it light.  Many teachers  dislike being put on the spot and forced into an impromptu conference after school.  If your school has a back to school night be sure to attend.   If you feel disconnect or your child is still unhappy in late October, be sure to send a gently worded note asking for a scheduled conference to discuss your questions. Keep a log of discussions, meetings, incidences and a copy of all notes sent by you and the teacher.

Watch What You Say and Do:
Children can pick up on both your verbal and non verbal cues.  When children feel that you don't respect their teacher they can sense that and become conflicted.  Some children want to "defend your feelings" resulting in poor behavior in the classroom, not completing their homework and in some cases refusal to go to school.  If your child seems to like their teacher take up your concerns only with the teacher and as hard as it may be, stay civil about your feelings in front of your child.  If your child is unhappy with the teacher, be empathetic to your child's feelings but use this as an opportunity to set an example of how to deal with authority and to come up with the best strategies to use when we disagree with an adult.   All children need to learn coping skills.

Switching your child:
Most schools will not switch a child because it sets a bad precedent.  Unless there is substantial evidence that your child will not do well with their current teacher or that another class is truly a better fit, principals want children to learn to cope with all situations.  In the rare case that your school does switch your child remember that any transition can be tough and there is no guarantee that easing into a new class after the year has begun will not produce it's own issues.

If your child's situation is clearly not improving after one conference has taken place between with you and the teacher discussing those issues that are of concern to you and your child,  you may inform the principal as to your concerns and discuss appropriate strategies.

Coping Strategies for your child:

Have your child write a note to the teacher using appropriate language.
Ask for some time to speak to the teacher during lunch.
Keep a journal at home so they have an outlet to deal with frustrations.
Assure your child they will get through the year and not to give up.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Dog Ate My Homework...

Okay!  Well the dog did not eat my homework, exactly.  I'm feeling guilty because I did not prepare a real post for this Tuesday.   I took a much needed vacation to the Berkshires with the family and ended the "last" week of summer with some super barbeques and some great friends!

Besides, I am going to do a really nice post later this week highlighting my efforts as the coordinator of  my son's  School Year's Eve party.  I honestly don't know why I do this to myself!

What I do have to offer is some great educational attractions that my kids really enjoyed on our vacation .  

Old Sturbridge Village: It's a dream come true for all you, Little House on the Prairie, fans!  You can see  a real one room school house, an out house, a shoe factory, ride on a stage coach and pick up a cool sun bonnet in the store!  It's a lot of walking but we all had a great time and learned a lot stepping into New England in the 1800's. 

The Mass MoCA: The Museum of Contemporary Art.  Contemporary art can be tough on adults let alone kids, and in this place way too vulgar.  The upside:  Exhibits are clearly marked if it is "inappropriate" for the youngins.  So while there are some exhibits that might be fun, most are just not a good fit.  What they do have, is a unique children's space set up with funky retro interactive items which include a wall of guitars, old phonographs, a toy piano AND they have a working Atari 2600! With Space Invaders, Indiana Jones and a dozen other games, people!  Most importantly they have a creativity space in which children can create pieces of artwork from traditional arts and crafts supplies and recycled materials.   A nice cafe is located on the main floor with seating inside as well as picnic tables outside.  The food is really great and at not so bad prices, no complaints here! 

So stay tuned for a non-traditional post later this week!