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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10 Signs That Your Child Is More Ready for Kindergarten Than You Might Think

Ah, summer. A time for relaxation and rejuvenation. But for one group, those balmy days might be overshadowed with panic: first-time parents of kindergartners.

After all, parents today receive a steady stream of messaging that the quality of kindergarten experience can define a child’s success for the rest of forever (though I’ve argued before that this is likely more the correlative nature of having involved parents than the particulars of kindergarten).

Throw in a child who seems uninterested in identifying letters yet (much less reading), and you might get some parents on the verge of a nervous break-down.

Having waded through this quagmire with our oldest, now about to start 4th grade (and who thriving as a reader, despite initial reluctance), I’m writing today to help reassure as many stressed kinder parents as possible: you are probably doing better than you think. Here are signs that, even if your child is not yet writing their memoirs or reading Tolstoy, they are probably more prepared for kindergarten than you think:

#1: Their brains are being regularly strengthened by unstructured play. This is even more valuable when the group of children is mixed-age, which gives older children opportunities to teach younger, and younger children the chance to explore new possibilities. As cited by researchers, “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”

#2: They enjoy stories (even if they aren’t sitting perfectly still for every story-time yet). This enjoyment also leads them to possess print awareness — a general feel for books turning from left to right, how to hold a book in their laps, and the presence of words on the page. Children at this age tend to make leaps forward in their development, so even if they don’t have all 52 upper- and lower-case letters down yet, if the basic pre-literacy support is there, they will get there!

#3: They are able to relate socially and emotionally to other people. When they have hurt someone, they are willing to listen and learn to consider that person’s feelings. They don’t immediately resort to biting or hitting for every offense, though this will definitely be a work in progress more for some kids more than others!

#4: They make up songs and stories with you or in make-believe play. Not only does this strengthen a child’s narrative skills (important for early literacy), but it helps them build skills for healthy social interaction.

#5: They are given as much book access as possible. Even if you do not own a lot of books, regular trips to the library can foster a love of reading that is worth its weight in gold. As the reading skills grow, it’s important for kids to have choices to find the books that will delight them.

#6: They are showing signs of building problem-solving skills. They may pull out a stool to reach something for themselves, or they may help soothe a sibling. Whatever it may be, these small signs of problem-solving are indicative of the kinds of independence that will serve them well throughout school and life!

#7: They are given opportunities to explore motor skills and balance. Tree-climbing, playdoh-smashing, curb-walking — the basics will be sufficient. Giving kids plenty of time to explore their motor skills and balance will lay a foundation for holding a pencil, for sitting up in a chair, and generally feeling comfortable in their own skins. 

#8: They are potty trained! Yes, this counts and should be celebrated as a kindergarten readiness milestone. There may still be the occasional accident, but general independence in using the toilet, as well as in dressing and eating, are good signs for readiness at school.

#9: They help out around the house. Maybe they have their small chore, or they are in charge of making their bed. Helping them gain a sense of responsibility and contribution to the group will be so valuable when they gain a new community at school!

#10: You help them see what they are capable of, and they believe it! This kind of mindset is easy to take for granted if it’s present in your home, but it’s essential for kids about to embark on school. They will be discovering all sorts of tasks and ideas, and it will serve them well if they believe they can handle new things with confidence.

The nervousness in sending your oldest child to school may not go away. But I hope parents can feel a little more at ease at the prospect of kindergarten readiness and enjoy the summer together!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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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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Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Canceling Extracurriculars #TeacherMom

A bouldering class sounded like the perfect idea. As a former rock climber myself, what could be better than getting my adventure-loving daughter started early?

But then the class got pushed back into a more hectic territory for our schedule. As we tried to rearrange schedules and manage dinner and arrange transportation, I suddenly realized: it was more than ok for us to just drop it.

Here’s my highly scientific equation for why:

Stress of making activity happen > benefit of activity = CANCEL regret-free!

There’s already enough hustle in our lives just to keep things running smoothly.

Which is why extracurriculars are having to meet an increasingly stringent set of requirements at my house:

  • kids must be able to walk or bike there (which means I don’t have to play my least favorite role of taxi, we get exercise, and we help our air quality. Win-win-win.)
  • cannot compete with meal times (I’ve found that it’s way too slippery a slope for me to be like, yeah, fast food is fine just for now…)
  • must have a compelling reason to take kids away from free play time (which is at least as valuable as the vast majority of extracurricular activities). See #BeTime video below:

Yes, the bouldering class would have been fun. Yes, we probably could have made the schedule conflicts work for a while.

But life is made of all our decisions for today. I’d rather stop putting off when we’ll live exactly the way we want to, and start doing that right now. And that starts with eliminating any activity that doesn’t carry its weight. No regrets.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Creating Flexible Yet Significant Parent Volunteer Opportunities

Here’s the catch 22 of parent volunteers: you want them in your classroom, so you provide meaningful opportunities. They want to volunteer, but with other children, sicknesses, and other commitments, they don’t necessarily show up as planned. So teachers make their volunteer opportunities a bit less consequential — or even give up on providing opportunities altogether — so that no-shows won’t cause too much trouble.  And then when parents do come, they feel disappointed at the lackluster opportunity.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some suggestions:

1) First, stick with meaningful opportunities. Keep those one-on-one reading slots, small group math work, and science stations. Focus instead on finding a system featuring built-in reminders for parents — with everything else going on, most teachers really don’t have time to send reminders, let alone coordinate cancellations! Keep reading to find an option that might work for you!

2) Rely on room parents. If you have a room parent, leave it up to him or her to coordinate opportunities with volunteers. This might include sending text reminders to parents who have signed up or helping to arrange subs.

3) Leverage Google appointments. Google appointments only work with school or business accounts, and they are wonderfully simple to use! You can add a single slot, or multiple slots with the duration you’ve set. You can also add a description so parents know exactly what they are signing up for! Then, simply give parents the link to your school’s “calendar appointment page” (which will be built in with your school account), and let them sign up. There are even instructions for cancellation. Full details here.

Bonus: use a URL shortener to get a short-link for your calendar appointment page and print it out on a handout to go home to reach parents that don’t check email. Do this throughout the year to remind them of opportunities you’ve added!

4) Use the Remind app. Send texts to all your students’ parents to let them know about volunteer opportunities, whatever your platform.

5) Pick a volunteer sign-up platform. I’ve seen SignUp.com and VolunteerSignUp.org. I’m especially impressed with the simplicity of VolunteerSignUp.org — it is very quick to add opportunities, and it automatically generates an email and a shortened URL to share with parents on social media or on flyers.

6) Work with your working parents. A post in Edutopia gave some great ideas here, including:

  • Scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so that parents can help before work
  • Using telecommunication platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts so that parents can read to the class or help with pre-scheduled assignments without being physically present in the classroom
  • Inviting parents to update the class website and social media
  • Preparing learning center materials from home
  • Helping in the school garden on the weekends

7) Solicit for special skills. Perhaps you have a graphics-savvy parent that might be willing to help with logos and posters. Maybe some even have connections with community members that might enhance your students’ unit of study.

8) Focus on cultivating genuine relationships with families. This goes beyond just sending an email when we need volunteers or when a child is struggling with behavior. As eloquently summarized by Larry Ferlazzo on ASCD:

“A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.”

The above article describes possibilities like home visits and doing more listening than talking. I also wrote a few months ago about 10 ways we can partner with parents.

Above all else, we need to remember that we exist to support families, not the other way around. Volunteer work and all other aspects of the home-school relationship will be enhanced when we bear this in mind.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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I Was Right To Fear Lack of Routine #TeacherMom

When I became a stay-at-home mom 4 years ago, it was the first time I didn’t have bells telling me where to be for the first time since I was 5. And I was terrified.

How was I supposed to structure my time wisely without anyone checking off my attendance?

How was I supposed to feel productive without someone to report my work to?

How was I supposed to find routines that worked my (then) 2 very small students as well as myself?

I can now say with confidence that I was right to have all these fears. They are exactly what makes being an at-home parent so difficult. They are some of the things I miss about being in the classroom even now.

But having navigated them for the last 4 years, I can say that I am grateful to have experienced them. They give me more insight on why it’s so important to honor student agency and teach them to be masters of their own time and learning before they leave the structure of the bells.

They have also given me a lens to how messy real life is — and to accept and even celebrate it. Reality is…

….some days, we feel like we’re on our A-game, and other days, we just don’t.

…some days, we feel inspired and energized, and other days, we have trouble even remembering that we were once capable of energy.

…some days, the very small students in our lives are agreeable and engaged, and other days, they are cranky and irrational (this one tends to change by the hour or even minute at times).

All of this is not only ok, it’s what makes life rich.

I continue to take my current role as an at-home parent one day at a time. I still look forward to classroom teaching again in a few years. But I now know that each day of this messy, bell-less life is a blessing for me now, and will be for years to come.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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