Who is asking for the trophies in the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” era? #TeacherMom

In each of the city recreation classes my kids have tried out, they have always ended with a trophy or medal. Why? I never asked for one. My kids never asked for one.

And yet the plastic clutter ensues, while bewildered parents also shoulder the blame for this “everyone gets a trophy culture.”

On a highly scientific poll I conducted on Twitter last week, not a single parent marked that they had ever requested these trinkets.

I’m starting to suspect that this has more to do with Alfie Kohn’s (far more scientific) research demonstrating that blaming young adults and parents is simply tradition:

“With respect to the specific claim that “kids today” are spoiled and their parents permissive, I had fun a few years ago digging up multiple examples of how people were saying exactly the same thing about the previous generation, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that.”

~Alfie Kohn

Certain traditions, like providing a trophy for participants, may perpetuate amid people’s good intentions. But for parents (and teachers) facing criticism for coddling kids, may we find confidence as we continue striving to simply meet developmental needs. May we avoid perpetuating inaccurate generalizations. And may we continue to try to listen to each others’ voices and be responsive to one another.

featured image: Selbe

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The First Time Our Child Was Asked “To Come Out and Play” #TeacherMom

My oldest was 4 years old, and she was happily playing with her toys in our 3rd-story apartment. Suddenly, a knock came on our door: a 7 year old girl who lived a couple blocks away wanted to know if our daughter could come out to play.

My husband and I looked at each other. Could she just go out to play? Where would she even go? Our apartment building was mostly surrounded by parking spaces. And could she just skip away with this little girl without one of us accompanying them?

We asked our daughter what she thought about the idea. Her response was to leap up and run for her shoes. So we told the neighbor that it would be alright if they stayed nearby. Our 4 year-old couldn’t have been prouder to cross our threshold without us.

And we were left peeping through a a chink in the blinds to make sure everything was alright.

And it was! They had a great time running around a little patch of grass for a while, and then the neighbor brought her back upstairs. Pretty tame, as far as first outdoor independent play goes. But powerful. It was the first foot in the door to a world where our child didn’t need us anymore. A scary prospect for all parents, but especially when we’re bombarded daily with headlines and messages that make us all want to keep that door locked tight until the 18th birthday.

But the problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work that way. Growing up to become an autonomous adult is a process that must build throughout childhood. Parents should feel supported as they make decisions on what exactly this will look like for each of their own children. It’s hard enough to do this confidently — even without the internet endlessly supplying worst-case scenarios and vilifying parents for daring to make reasonable decisions about what their kids are capable of.

And if parents aren’t trusted in these judgement calls with their own children, how can we possibly trust our teachers?

That’s why, when I talk about independent play, my first goal is to reassure parents. They need to know they are not bad parents for letting their kids walk 3/4 mile to school (even in the rain!), or for allowing their child run a lemonade stand without continual supervision, or even for leaving him/her in the car on a mild day while you run in for a quick errand, if you, as their parent, have judged them capable of handling these scenarios.

The hardest part about building autonomy in our children is that it is almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable. We can’t predict exactly how it will unfold — will they get along with others? will they remember the path home we’ve walked together many times? will they remember how their bike lock works? — but that unpredictability itself is one of the essential ingredients required for autonomy to unfold.

So let’s think about ways we can support and reassure parents as they strive to build autonomy in their kids:

  • Share accurate statistics on crimes (Pew Research Center is a great source), such as the fact that violent crime has decreased since 1990, or the low chances of random child abductions from strangers (“…if you wanted your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, do you know how long you would have to leave that child outside, unsupervised,  for this to be statistically likely to happen?…You’d have to leave your kid waiting at the bus stop 750,000 hours [or 85 years].” ~Lenore Skenazy)
  • Hesitate before sharing that scary “see-how-easy-it-is-to-snatch-a-child” video or “my-child-was-almost-abducted-from-our-shopping-cart” story. Given the statistical rarity cited above, the sad truth is that such stories tend to be rooted more in racial bias than actual danger.
  • Encourage adventure playgrounds and other environments that promote healthy risky play.
  • Join your school’s Safe Routes to School organization to help make kids’ walk or bike ride to school safer.
  • Share strategies for reasonable precautions parents can take without making them feel like they have control over all possible scenarios.
  • Support legislation like Utah’s free-range parenting bill that protects parents trying to make these judgement calls for their children’s autonomy.

From that first encounter with outdoor unsupervised play to watching a high school grad embark on their new journey, let’s find ways to help parents feel confident in building happy, healthy, and independent children!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Parents, Reject the Fear-Mongering #TeacherMom

Phones are destroying our teens

…except that it turns out the negative connection between tech and teens’ mental health is fairly minor, according to research.

Children are being abducted on their way to school or from distracted parents…

…except that “children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.”

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live

…except that the opposite is true. See below:

Where are his/her parents? a passer-by might wonder…

…except that unsupervised play is critical for children to develop properly.

(sidebar: isn’t it funny how despite essentially every child in human history spent their days getting dirty, it’s only now that showers are ubiquitous that we have grown uncomfortable with the idea?)

Parents are bombarded with worst-case scenarios every day. Even casual Facebook posts from a concerned friend or relative often contain terrifying videos or messages that end with “Keep your babies close.” I shared one such example with my daughter in our conversation about how strange it is that these videos go viral when they really don’t represent the actual dangers kids face today. Far more threatening to our kids are dangers of childhood diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and mental health issues that seem inextricably tied to the modern lack of childhood independence.

For those in the U.S. observing Independence Day tomorrow, celebrate by saying no. Push back against those viral videos. Question the frightening headlines (see this excellent piece on zooming out for context). And above all, allow your children to experience some of the same freedoms you yourself probably had as a child. Perhaps start by asking some of these questions:

  • Does my elementary-aged child know how to navigate our neighborhood independently? Does she know where her friends and family live within a mile radius? Could she get herself home from school?
  • How might learning to ride a bicycle help further my child’s independence?
  • Has my child ever tried to earn money independently? Lemonade stands, bake sales, yard work, etc?
  • Can my child handle something risky by the same age I was permitted to as a child (starting a fire, using a pocket knife, etc)?
  • Does my child know how to go inside a store to handle purchasing something independently? How might allowing my child to help with groceries help foster their sense of competence?

What better ways to celebrate independence are there than fostering it in our children?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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How Teaching Is Like Hiking With a 2 Year-Old #TeacherMom

Make sure he knows my hand is close through this rough part. Good call–he grabbed it. Let go when he indicates he’s ready to try independently again. Stand ready with the invitation next time.

Take note of his self-talk. He’s clearly anxious about approaching the water fall. Encourage those conversations about what to expect and how it might look and feel.

Occasionally grab him when he strays precariously close to the edge of the trail, and discuss what exactly is dangerous about it.

Let him run ahead when he feels confident & I can see the path is manageable (while eagerly announcing to passing hikers, “I very fast!”)

Navigate tricky terrain together, answering his questions about what happened to the trees, helping him try out new words like “avalanche.”

We stand ready for wherever the learning may lead; extending the invitation for support, setting an environment for exploration and thinking, responding to the needs and questions that arise, intervening when serious situations arise.

It seems teacher mode and connection-making simply never turns off, not even especially on a hike with a 2 year-year old. Clearly, watching learning unfold will never stop being a thrill for me!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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5 Things That Might Be Worse Than Summer Slide

Here’s a funny thing about this post: I actually had spent the weekend questioning the idea of “summer slide” (the alleged phenomenon in which students lose 2+ months of learning from the previous school year), only to open my computer on Monday to find this post on Edutopia: “New Research Casts Doubt on the ‘Summer Slide.'”

Here are 5 things that might be worse than that supposed summer slide:

1. Missing out on hose water, muddy hands, and grass stains.

2. Poisoned reading attitudes because of all those mandatory summer reading assignments.

3. Neglecting mixed-age & unstructured play opportunities: building blocks of childhood development that can be difficult to attend to during school months.

4. Underdeveloped balance and motor skills that interfere even with the child’s ability to sit upright once school resumes.

5. Missed opportunities to learn a new skill & develop self-regulation: riding a bike, learning to swim, even entrepreneurship.

Of course reading and math are important, and we all want to see our children grow. But growing, thriving, healthy children involves so much more than this narrow scope. Let’s not let our fear of “falling behind” get in the way of magical summers in which our kids are free to explore world around them, catching fireflies, selling lemonade, working on family projects, and starting clubs with friends. Let’s honor the many ways a child can grow throughout the summer.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Book Club Ideas for Elementary Principals

I don’t know if my principal knew what she was getting herself into when she asked for book recommendations for her Principal’s Book of the Month list she’s launching next year. But I figure that after all the time enthusiastically devoted to this task, I should share here what I sent to her.

I started with author study recommendations. Because she is choosing 3 books each month — one for grades K-2, one for grades 3-4, and one for grades 5-6 — I shared a few authors whose works spans all these ages. Some don’t actually have chapter books out (like Peter Reynolds), but have picture books that I think would be just as suited for older grades as younger!

  • Kate Messner
  • Mo Willems
  • Laurel Snyder
  • Kate DiCamillo
  • Paul Fleischman
  • Peter H. Reynolds
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Peter Brown

Next I gave codes. PB=picture book; GN=graphic novel; CB=chapter book. Obviously, kids (and adults) of all ages need all three of these categories in their lives.

Now, onto the book recommendations! I was sure to note that many of these grade levels are flexible–I would fully endorse “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” just as much for a 6th grader as a kindergartner. I also added video previews of the books wherever possible.

Grades K-2

  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold PB (great back-to-school read) video
  • We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins PB (hilarious back-to-school read that I’d recommend for all ages) video
  • Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett PB (simple, yet interesting story/word play that young readers can actually read themselves)
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld PB (on emotions, self-expression, & empathy) video
  • Because by Mo Willems PB (a story that celebrates music, as well as all the cause & effect of inspiration & effort) video of the story behind this story
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis PB (good nonfiction read that explores water & highlights vocabulary in interesting way–perhaps a good one to pair with other water conservation books for a month)
  • The Earth Gives More by Sue Fliess PB (book in verse that illustrates seasons, nature, and the importance of caring for earth–good April earth day read)
  • Fox & Chick: The Party by Sergio Ruzzier GN (accessible early graphic novel full of word play, inferring, and fun) video review
  • Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder CB (sweet early reader that has an enjoyable plot line of 2 brothers’ doings)

Grades 3-4

  • Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera PB (beautiful for any time of year and any grade: story in free verse of a boy’s immigration experience & adjusting to new language & environment) video
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson PB (another wonderful back-to-school book that I would recommend for all ages; finding belonging amid our differences) video
  • Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell PB (great for cultivating empathy & understanding) video review
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown PB (on cultivating creativity, problem-solving, & gardening) video
  • Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones PB (story in verse on persistence and and invention, with great word choice) video
  • Water Princess by Peter Reynolds PB (story of a girl going to fetch water for her family in an African country) video
  • Gone Camping: A Novel In Verse CB (each “chapter” is a different type of poem told from the different characters’ perspectives as they deal with unexpected setbacks, worries, & adventures of camping)
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo GN/CB (fantasy with messaging that kids will find highly relatable–especially those who deal with divorce & custody issues–with plenty of humor in the mix) book trailer
  • How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher CB (nonfiction how-to that’a s lot of fun to read)
  • Fergus & Zeke by Kate Messner CB (a good easy reader chapter book with lots of illustrations and good friendship themes) 

Grades 5-6

  • The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy PB (story about rule-making, fairness, & voice, with some lovely Spanish phrases thrown in) video of author reading first part
  • The North Star by Peter Reynolds PB (beautiful story about finding your own path) video preview (The Dot & Say Something are others I would recommend)
  • Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm CB (strong & funny protagonist voice; historical fiction story of boy living during the Great Depression; his problem-solving, his fibs, and his sense of community) book trailer
  • Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown GN (engaging nonfiction of the process it took over decades to get humans to the moon)
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl & Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier CB (moving and compelling fantasy/historical fiction of 11 year-old Nan trying to survive as one of Victorian London’s child chimney sweeps) video introduction by the author
  • Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley CB (hilarious realistic fiction as a boy who has trouble feeling sorry for himself accidentally ends up at a camp for “troubled boys;” themes on friendship & belonging) book trailer
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage CB (strong voice in a fabulously written realistic fiction/mystery. Best part is its the first in a series that kids will be dying to read for themselves) book trailer
  • The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson CB (Harry Potter lovers will love this fantasy read)
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly CB (realistic fiction told from the perspectives of the 4 main characters) 
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (lovely and unique story of a pet fox that is returned to the wild; told from both the fox and the boy’s perspective)
  • Seventh Goldfish by Kate Messner CB (I actually wrote a review on this one that I’ll link here)

What book club reads have been popular across your school grade levels?

featured image: Dan Barbus

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In Honor Of Teachers & Mothers

I just had to share this beautiful video in anticipation of Mother’s Day this weekend.

What exactly is the role of the teacher? SO much more than the conveyor of knowledge.

All of these roles are assumed by both parents as well, but it is tender to consider and qualify the many roles of a mother, especially since these efforts are usually upaid and uncounted. Teachers often face similar undervaluation. See Melinda Gates’ excellent recent piece entitled, “The massive, hidden costs of women’s unpaid work.” She writes,

“To care is human — and caring for children or aging parents should be an expression of love. It can offer us some of the most meaningful moments of our lives. But if it’s assumed that women will do all these tasks, then caring that should be joyful becomes a burden, and work that should be shared becomes isolating.”

Melinda Gates

Let us count these roles, these efforts, this love. It is beautiful, powerful work, and becomes more so when we really see one another for what we are providing for the world’s rising generation.

Happy Mothers Day & Teachers Appreciation Week!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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