Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easy Packing Tips for Kids

I struggle to get my kids to do chores and other household tasks; HOWEVER I have truly conquered how to get my kids to pack for trips. Here is how it works:

1. Type in large letters a packing list. With small children I use pictures.
2. I print out a copy for each child and hand them a suitcase.
3. They collect all their belongings and put them in the suitcase.
4. They get me for a last check before we zip up.

I began this with as young as two year olds and at that age I walked through it with them. By three, they felt so empowered to do their own packing. It fostered independence and a great sense of accomplishment.
Sometimes it may seem easier to just do things ourselves, but this is an easy and helpful way to create a wonderful learning experience for our kids. Try it and let us know how it works.

Staying near to your kids while they work and its benefits!

My daughter has had a tough task of sending out thank you cards after her bat mitzvah. How many cards you might ask? Probably 50 or more! We began the task with the idea that she would do 10 a day. She started by writing one sentence only ( she is 14 years old) and then didn't bother to address them and get them in the mail. I ended up having to sit next to her, encourage her to write more with suggestions of what she might write, find the addresses and have her finish each thank you card as she did them. Now, some could say that I was doing too much hand holding. But I consider it modeling. When has she ever sent out 50 cards? So, I modeled for her how to finish her task in an efficient way.

Through the years I have noticed that kids work so much more efficiently if you are in the room or nearby. As they get older the amount of homework mounts and your child can end up spending a lot of time alone with the computer and their books. This can lead to a lack of closeness with your child and a lot of time for your child to explore the web without any parental guidance. I recommend staying close. If my kids are doing homework that doesn't require the computer-I have them do it in the kitchen while I am making dinner or cleaning up. I even find stuff to do-clearing out a cupboard if I have the time. All to keep me near while they are getting their homework done. This way-when they have questions I am nearby and often they will end up telling me about their day or their school work just because I am there. Right now I am working on my taxes while my daughter writes a paper.  It is a win, win situation!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Family Fun (sort of)-Spring Clean Up

Trying to make spring clean up fun for the WHOLE family.
Spring is in the air all over the country. In the suburbs of Chicago the piles of snow finally melted and I asked my four kids to give me one hour of their time. O.K. I begged my kids for the hour, with the usual mom lecture that if we all work together it will be so much easier. I handed out tasks. (Please feel free to use my short list) I have learned that shorter offers more hope for success.

1. Clean up all dog poop that has been hidden UNDER all that snow.
2. Clean up all garbage in the yard.
3. Clean up all the sticks.
4. Sweep the decks.

Well, I of course got job number one. My son, home from spring break, took this opportunity to play Frisbee with his friends. He felt he was above any family obligations because he works "so hard" in college. My three girls did stick with me for about an hour and the yard looked much better. Mother Nature clearly did not appreciate our leap into spring, when she dumped another 5 inches of snow on us the next day. We went from 60 degrees and sunshine to a snow storm. Only in Chicago!

(By the way, my son did not get off the hook, he had to make up the hour later with much complaining.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Trying to implement "Screen Free Sundays"

I am trying desperately to come up with some creative new ways to get my teens to unplug. Last week I tried to implement "Screen Free Sundays". The problem is they have to do homework on Sundays. Typically, hours and hours of homework, and the homework depends on a computer which is a screen. How does one deal with the reality and the mom fantasy? I decided instead to compromise and tweak my idea. How about Screen Free Sunday Dinner and quick family game before everyone has to get back to homework Sunday. It is certainly better than not trying. We had a nice long Sunday dinner with all cell phone put away. (I do demand that on a daily basis anyway), played a nice game of cards and at least I knew I tried. As my 16 year old laughingly said to me when I mentioned my "screen free Sunday" idea was "I do give you credit mom, you do keep trying." Those words are enough to keep me fueled to know she actually sort of likes my constant attempts to keep our family together.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our "Digital Nation" and how we can cope with it as parents

Digital Nation-A Frontline video about distraction by technology

My eighth grader has begun studying in a way that scares me. She has her homework open in MS Word on the computer while she flips back and forth to facebook, all the while listening to music on her Ipod and checking her phone every minute or so. This is what all the kids do now. They want to feel connected to their friends through their phone and facebook while they are doing homework. But I know my child. She has told me that she needs a room to be silent in order to read. She loves to read but finds it hard to read at school because she gets too distracted at her desk. She is strong in her opinions about her learning style. We had to change her Bat Mitzvah tutor because she needed someone who understood that she couldn’t be interrupted in the middle of a thought or a sentence in Hebrew.

Then why is she studying in this way that she knows doesn't work for her?  And why I am worried about it? Frontline has  released a video on an indepth study of this phenomena.   This video, which is an hour and a half long, talks about how media influences our children in the way they study and learn. Studies of college students at MIT and Stanford demonstrate how the brain is not really able to multi-task. Kids these days will tell you that they can successfully multitask better than any generation before them because they have been raised on technology. But when you watch this program you will see that the studies and science tells us that this is false. The brain has not changed. Technology has changed how we work but it still does not change how the brain functions. The brain needs to concentrate in order to create pathways of knowledge.

Watch this show and learn how these top notch students try to multitask with multiple forms of technology at one time and fail. This is the world your little ones will grow up in. And we as parents need to help them to navigate the waters of technology so they can be successful in life with multiple forms of media but still be able to concentrate and turn them all off in order to be good writers and readers.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Journey to Somewhere

I have a few close friends who just screened a new documentary that is sweeping Northern California. It is called "The Race to Nowhere". It is a collaboration of some incredible educators, psychologists, authors, parents and teens about the pressure many teens feel in our fast paced culture. Being in Chicago, I have not been able to see this movie yet, but I viewed the website and watched the trailers. The focus is on an area in Northern California and I have had the privilege to hear many of the speakers and participate in some of the workshops and seminars in the past few years given by this group. My friends were very distraught after viewing the movie as it deeply affected them and had them question if their kids were over-scheduled, felt too much pressure, and had too much on their plate.
I understand the deep concern for today's teens and I woke up at 5:30 AM this morning with this thought in my head. How about the concept of "The Journey to Somewhere"? I guess my frustration with so much of the information is that we keep talking about what we are doing wrong, not how to make it right. I am extremely frustrated by my own children's award winning school district in regards to creativity, homework, science fair ...the list could fill this page. The pressures are being exerted in an unbalanced way. I do think there are some very easy solutions especially at the elementary level to help promote healthy habits for healthy families.
I went to our principal when he first began to discuss homework and his overall philosophy. I came with ideas. If the teachers are making homework logs, have them truly look at the meaning of their homework. If it is reinforcing concepts learned at school make it short and interesting. Have the pen and pencil homework in the elementary grades 15-20 minutes, so there is time for more meaningful learning experiences. If the child plays an instrument have part of the homework be to practice 15 minutes a night (or whatever the family designates). If the child does not play an instrument they should listen to at least 2 songs a night and try to challenge them to listen to jazz, classical, pop, oldies etc... All those kids have to do is write the title of the songs, just a little cultural exposure. Maybe an occasional assignment related to the music could be asking questions such as: How did it make you feel? Did you want to get up and dance? Did you want to close your eyes and relax? Have one night of homework be designated to playing a family game – and I’m not talking about a video game. I actually offered to buy a deck of cards for every family in our school, so no one would have excuses. The game could be simply a game of "Go Fish" or an ongoing game of Monopoly. If everyone is very busy there could have a 10 minute time limit on the game. Just like having dinner together, it will get your kids in the habit of being with their family, their permanent support group. Of course, every child should go to bed reading a book or being read to. Kaiser's 2009 study showed how important it is for kids to be completely unplugged at least one hour before bed in order to have good sleep habits.
I do not think this homework concept has to change that much in middle school. The difference can be that the Spanish teacher's assignment is to read Spot books in Spanish. Bake and write down five ingredients in Spanish. My high school daughter, Karly, had a great assignment in her Spanish class. They are learning commands and they had to pick something to teach the class. She picked making Tollhouse Cookies. She had to write every direction in Spanish; bake and make the cookies; present her directions in front of the class and actually hand out the cookies. This was a fun meaningful way to practice commands and directions. Why can't those be broken into small steps in the younger years.
In regards to all the extracurricular activities, I think each parent has to listen to their child. The verbal and non-verbal cues. Sports and dance clubs do take time, but unfortunately to make teams you have to play sports. Team sports, theatre, music all help you engage more in high school and help teens make better choices. But when do you start the intensity? Is starting your child in an intense travel sports program at 8 years old worth the sacrifice of balanced family time when they could start the same program at 11 years old?
I guess my main point is that I think so many of the books and obviously this movie leaves parents feeling terrible. We have to get back to basics and talk about simple things we can begin TODAY in each of our homes and in our schools that can begin to help.

My frustration as an educator for 25 years, and a mom with four kids in every corner of the education system, is that there are simple changes in parenting, education and community that we can implement right now.
I need to see this movie, but I have heard a lot from this group and I am just scared as the saying goes, "people are going to throw the baby away with the bathwater" Hard work, passion for sports, music whatever can be very healthy. We just have to figure out how to keep it meaningful.
There is so much more to think about and say, but I have to start to drive carpools.