SchoolFamily.com Introduces Our Newly Redesigned Site!

Dear readers:

 

We’re proud to introduce our newly redesigned pages on SchoolFamily.com!

 

We’ve streamlined our content and made the site even easier to navigate, all while keeping the core school-based content that parents have come to expect from SchoolFamily.com.

 

Over the course of the next two weeks we'll be moving more pages into the new design and fine-tuning the site, so please bear with us while we’re under construction.  

 

Here are some of the changes we’ve made:

 

  • Our popular and comprehensive Grade Level section is now available in a menu, located on the left side of each webpage.

 

 

  • Our Printables section is also now shown in the left side menu on each page. On the right side, we have a timely poll where you can weigh in on the topic of the day, as well as areas for reading our Top Rated and Most Popular content. The Find and Rate Your School section remains on the right side of each page as well. 

 

  • At the bottom of each page, our new Popular Topics section replaces Shortcuts; peruse this section as a sitemap to quickly find the content you’re looking for.

 

With any growth—such as that of a child in school—there are occasional stumbles along the way, and our redesigned pages will likely be no exception. Please bear with us while more and more of our site is updated and we work out any hiccups along the way.

 

In the meantime, please let us know what you think of the redesigned pages! Email me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or share your thoughts in our Comments section, located at the end of each article. 

 

Happy reading,

 

 


Carol Brooks Ball

Editor, SchoolFamily.com

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Should School Start Later for Teens?

Ever try to wake a sleeping teenager? It’s a time-consuming undertaking that’s frustrating for everyone involved, especially on early morning weekdays before the sun is even up.

 

That’s the reality for many parents and teens Monday through Friday, in order for the teen to get to school on time—and we’re talking school start times between 7-7:30 a.m. For those who must catch a school bus, back up about 20-30 minutes earlier, and we’re talking the wee hours.

 

Take our Poll: Does School Start Too Early for Your Teen

 

There’s been a fair amount of conclusive research and expert opinion that teenagers need more sleep rather than less.  [Listen for the applause and the “I told you so” looks from nearby teens.] But in many school districts across the country, school start time for teens—and even some middle school tweens—is getting earlier and earlier.

 

Since everyone is cost cutting these days, especially local governments and school districts, many schools say they’re starting earlier due to budget-friendly tiered busing schedules. This means that older kids—high school and middle schoolers—are picked up earliest, during the first tier of morning busing runs (they’re also dropped off earliest in the afternoon as well). Next come older elementary school students, and in the last tier are kindergarteners, who often are picked up by their buses as late as 8:30 a.m.

 

Do you struggle with getting your teen up and out the door 5 days a week? (Maybe more if your child has clubs, sports, and/or job commitments on the weekends.) And do you worry that your teen's lack of adequate sleep may be detrimental to his grades?

 

If so, take heart. Two women decided enough is enough and formed a not-for-profit organization to address the issue. StartSchoolLater.net, co-founded by Maribel Ibrahim and Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., is staffed by an 8-member steering board (the women occupy 2 of the 8 seats) and a 12-member advisory board, and advocates exclusively for later school start times.

 

More than simply presenting solid research findings and hosting the conversation, however, this group is seeking nationwide legislation to mandate that no public schools start before 8 a.m. 

 

What do you think? (I know my high-schooler would heartily agree!)

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Parents Face Legal Action for Children's School Tardiness

Should your child’s chronic school tardiness be a crime? 

 

I don’t know about you, but my kids have been late to school many times over the years. Mostly it’s due to overtiredness because they stay up too late—often because they’re completing volumes of homework—despite my admonitions against doing so.

 

Is it disrespectful to the school, the teachers, and the child’s fellow students if he arrives late? If so, how “late” is late? Is being 2 minutes late okay while 15 minutes is not?

 

I’m not certain where I stand on that specific a detail, but I know one thing for sure: If my county government, backed by my children’s school, charged me with a misdemeanor crime for my children’s tardiness, I’d be outraged.

 

Think this is science fiction? Keep reading…

 

A couple in Loudoun, Virginia, was arraigned this past Monday for just that. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office alleges that the couple’s three children—ages 6, 7, and 9—have been tardy too many times since school opened in September, and so they’re taking legal action against the parents. Officials with the Loudoun County Public Schools reportedly argue that they’re not to blame for the law crackdown since they’re simply following school district policy.

 

The husband and wife have each reportedly been charged with three Class 3 misdemeanors, which, according to Virginia law, each carry a maximum penalty of $500. So, this couple is looking at a fine of $3,ooo if found guilty.

 

Guilty of their children’s mostly 3-minutes-or-less tardiness.

 

What do you think? Isn’t this going way too far?

 

 

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Valentine's Day Activities and Crafts To Make With Your Kids

Looking for a special Valentine’s Day activity or craft for your children to make or for you to make together? Look no further—we’ve compiled a variety of gift ideas through images we’ve pinned to our SchoolFamily.com Pinterest page. They’re just right for your child’s classmates, teacher, or that very special someone. Best of all, only a few of them contain sugar!

 

While many schools have banned the exchange of sugary Valentine’s Day treats, giving out candy-free cards and small gifts is typically acceptable in schools (best to double-check with your child’s school, however). Just be sure there are no hurt feelings by insisting that your child create a Valentine for each child in her class—or, have her plan to exchange Valentines with select friends outside of school.

 

Gifts For Your Child’s Friends and/or Classmates

Since we’ve already established that Valentine’s gifts for the class must include every student, these crafts, while simple, will take your child a bit longer to create. When I did these types of Valentine’s gifts with my children, I’d plan ahead and have them do a few each night. That way, the kids wouldn’t get tired and bored, yet the gifts would get finished without me making them all at the 11th hour!

 

How about custom-made Friendship Bracelets for everyone in the class? These are simple to make, differentiated for girls and boys (to compensate for the boys’ potential yuck factor—“Ick, a bracelet?”), and personalized. You and your child can create your own hand-written verse, written or printed on small cut-out cards (how about heart-shaped?), or you can download the blogger’s pdf template with the verse, “Our class would knot be the same without you.” Braid some brightly colored string (or save time by using single strands of colored ribbon), and weave them through the cut-out cards. Have your child sign each one, i.e. “From Jonathan,” and you’re done. These are sure to be a real crowd pleaser.

 

Valentine’s Day Crayon Cards might be one the most clever crafts I’ve seen in some time. When my kids were little, I always seemed to have broken crayons lying around, and I’d find them in the weirdest places—under the baseboard in my kitchen, under my kids’ beds, under our baseboard-heating units, in planters—you name it. And that’s not counting the mashed up broken crayons pieces at the bottom of our crayon container. Well this craft activity finally finds a good use for them. Read the directions for this simple project: dice up the crayons/pieces; bake them in heart-shaped molds (!); attach them to small decorated cards, and your child has beautiful, colorful, personalized Valentines for the whole class.

 

Teacher Gifts

If you’re never made (or seen) one of these Candy Bar Poem cards, you’re in for a treat. Depending on your child’s age, he can create most of this gift by himself, writing the words and then gluing the wrapped candy bars in the right places (you might need to watch and be sure he leaves enough room for the size of each candy bar).

 

Another adorable (and tasty) teacher gift is this wide-mouthed jar filled with homemade cookies. It’s easy to make and carries a personal message when you attach a gift tag created by your child (or save the step and download pretty tags from this template. Use a heart-shaped hole punch to make a hole at the top of the tag, and attach the note to the jar with brightly colored string or ribbon and Voila! you’ve got a lovely gift for your child’s teacher.

 

If your child’s teacher is known to have a sweet tooth, this easy-to-make gumball or candy-dispensing machine is for you. Created by painting and decorating an inverted small or large clay pot and matching saucer, this little machine will get a workout on the desk of your child’s teacher.

 

A Gift for the Birds (no, really!)

Anxious to avoid the commercialism of the day? Make this Valentine's Day craft with your child and feed the birds at the same time. This activity takes more time and requires a few days for the finished product to be complete, but once done, you and your child can hang these heart-shaped treats made of birdseed on branches throughout your yard. Perhaps you could obtain permission for your child to bring some to school to hang on branches outside student classrooms? Read the clearly written (and super easy) directions and have fun!

 

Just the Chocolate, Please

Let’s face it: For many of us it just isn’t Valentine’s Day without receiving—or giving— something chocolate. To satisfy that craving, we have a variety of sweet Valentine’s treats. How about Conversation Hearts on a stick, made of red velvet chocolate cake; Outrageous Chocolate Cookies; Cookie Kisses made with heart-shaped Dove chocolate treats instead of chocolate kisses; and Cake Pops, easy to make using chocolate cake mix, to name a few.

 

If chocolate’s not your thing, how about some Raspberry Cream Cheese Heart Tarts?

 

Not into sweets at all? Okay, place your Valentine’s Day order in advance so your kids can make you this Valentine’s Day Egg in a Basket for breakfast!

 

A Healthy Valentine’s Day Snack

Strawberry Marshmallow Fruit Dip will have your child eating fruits and getting protein and other nutrients from reduced fat cream cheese and fat-free Greek yogurt. (Okay, there’s also marshmallow crème, which isn’t especially nutritious, but it’s for Valentine’s Day, after all).

 

Go wild with heart-shaped fruits and veggies, served on popsicle sticks, along with fat-free or lowfat dip. Or this healthy Sweetie-Tweetie sandwich. For breakfast, stir things up by making this heart-shaped hard-boiled egg!

 

What other crafts are you making with your kids for Valentine's Day? Share your Pinteresting activities below in the comments!

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Are Your Teens Using "SelfControl"?

At SchoolFamily.com, we offer parents lots of information about keeping kids focused on their schoolwork, and staying (or getting) motivated. We also offers ways to help parents set limits on the time their kids spend in front of a screen, be it a computer screen, a video-game screen, or that of a cellphone.

 

Now, it seems, some teens have found a way do some self-limiting all on their own.

 

An app called SelfControl, developed by an artist named Steve Lambert, allows users to completely block online items they don’t want to be distracted by, such as their email accounts, websites, and, in particular, social media sites. The app allows them to block access to these accounts for a specified amount of time—and lots of teens are using it. Best of all, they say, it can’t be hacked and opened.

 

“You cannot unlock it once it’s on,” said a 16-year old girl I recently spoke with. Asked why—and when—she uses the app, she explained, “I put it on for two hours when I’m doing homework, and it blocks my email, Tumblr and some other websites.”

 

How does SelfControl “know” which sites or email accounts to block? “You put things on a ‘blacklist,’” the teen explained, “and those are the programs that are blocked.” 

 

The app’s icon is a black spade with a skull and crossbones in the center. While it’s by far the most popular self-limiting app out there, it’s not the only one. Teens—and adults, for that matter—can use SelfRestraint, Quiet, and StayFocused, to name just a few.

 

While it’s not necessarily a bad thing that teenagers are using these high-tech tools to limit their own online behavior, it’s disconcerting that the need for such software even exists.

 

Oh, and as for that teenage girl I recently spoke with? She’s my daughter. Are any of your kids using these apps?

 

 

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Are You Welcome In Your Child's Classroom?

Have you ever attempted to sit in on one of your children’s classes at school and been turned away? If not, and if you were actually welcomed into the class by school officials, consider yourself lucky. Even though the ability to do so is a central tenet of No Child Left Behind, many schools put up roadblocks when parents want to sit in.

 

According to Jay Mathews, education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, it’s a fairly frequent practice even when it may not be a school’s policy: “The resistance to parent observations,” he writes about schools, “is not so much a policy as an unexamined taboo.”

 

In the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which expanded upon the 1965-enacted Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a section called “Parental Involvement” includes provisions for “shared accountability between schools and parents for high student achievement”—an aspect of which includes having parents be present in their child’s classroom.

 

“Volunteering and observing in their child’s classroom is an important activity for parents’ shared responsibility for high student academic achievement and is also one that helps both the school and parents build and develop a partnership to help children achieve the state’s high standards.” [NCLB, Section 1118(d)(1), ESEA.]

 

Yet many school districts remain virtually cloistered when it comes to allowing parents to step inside. And among the reasons given to parents for being kept out is that their presence would create a distraction.

 

It appears that legislative action might be required to mandate that schools open up. In Virginia, Mathews writes about a father who enjoyed spending an hour at his daughter’s school, observing her during reading practice. Later, after seeing some of Mathews’ columns about parents being denied access to their children's classes, he used his authority as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates to add a provision to pending education legislation. If it passes, which Mathews thinks is unlikely, local school boards would be required to “adopt and implement policies” allowing parents to be observers in their children’s’ classrooms.

 

Are you able to volunteer and/or observe in your child’s classroom without any resistance from school officials? Please share your experiences with us.

 

 

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So, Junk Food in Schools Isn't to Blame for Kids' Obesity?

Wait a minute. Can this be true? Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have released the results of a study in which they found no relationship between children’s obesity levels and the availability of soft drinks, candy bars, and chips at school.

 

Are you as stunned—and perhaps annoyed—as I am? All the angst and hand wringing that’s gone into banning birthday cupcakes from 1st grade classroom celebrations and eradicating junk-food-dispensing vending machines from high schools has now all been for naught?

 

Well, not really. Junk food, after all, is junk: high fat, high-calorie, high salt, low-nutrition and, other than tasty, not good. But it turns out that a child’s propensity toward obesity has much more to do with what he eats at home— and after school, and on the weekends, and at friends’ houses—than the French fries he orders for his school lunch. That and the type of food he’s been eating all along. And let’s not forget portion size. 

 

Perhaps we all should have realized the folly of attacking schools as a source of the childhood obesity scourge. Or, perhaps it’s the only place where we felt we had some control?

 

What foods have been banned at your children’s schools? And after reading the results of this study, how do you feel about such bans?

 

 

 

 

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Should Parents Get a Say in Their Child's Curriculum?

Do you think you should have say in any—and every—aspect of your child’s school curriculum?

 

What about your neighbor? Or how about the crank who shows up at every school committee meeting, complaining about everything in the curriculum?

 

In N.H., that may begin happening soon. The state Legislature recently approved a new law that allows parents to challenge any aspect of a school’s curriculum they disagree with, and request the substitution of lessons they prefer.

 

The substituted material must be approved by the local school district—and the parents in question will have to foot the bill for the materials.

 

What do you think of this N.H. law? Do you agree with it, as did the majority of the state’s legislators who approved it after overriding the governor's veto? Do you think it’s opening a can of worms for teachers, schools … and students? Let us know by speaking out here!

 

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Food Allergy Tragedy: Parents, Check Your Child's School Action Plan

In a tragic case of a severe allergic reaction, a 1st grade-student at an elementary school in Virginia, died Monday, Jan. 2, after reportedly being exposed to a peanut product. 

This heartbreaking incident is a reminder to all parents about just how deadly exposure to a food allergen can be for children with food allergies. It’s also a reminder to parents of children with food allergies, to check and double-check that precautions and an emergency action are in place at their children’s’ schools. 

Read SchoolFamily.com's article on Food Allergies and School-Age Kids, which provides thorough tips on how parents should communicate with their child’s school about food allergies. As the article points out, while it’s important to speak with the school principal and the child’s teacher, it’s also critically important for parents to speak directly to the cafeteria staff where food products are prepared, as well as to school volunteers who might come in contact with their children.

 

 

 

 

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Happy Holidays to Your Family From All of Us at SchoolFamily.com!

On behalf of all of us at SchoolFamily.com, please accept our warmest holiday wishes. We hope that this winter break over the holidays affords you and your children some extra time together, to play, learn, and simply be in one another’s company—with no homework to nag the kids about!

As the New Year begins, you can count on SchoolFamily.com to bring you timely, thorough, and practical ways to help you help your children succeed in school—academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Until then, here’s a terrific read about helping your kids be grateful and find happiness amid the materialism of the holidays. And if you’re among those who are looking to the New Year as a fresh start at school for your kids, this story may be of special interest to you.

Best wishes and happy holidays to all from SchoolFamily.com!

 

 

 

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Federal Study on Bullying Examines States' School Policies

This week, you may have heard about results of a new studying on bullying released by the U.S. Department of Education. The study was commissioned by the feds to gain information about the existence and strength of bullying laws and policies in schools districts in all 50 states.

 

The results of the study are decidedly mixed. While most states and school districts today have some form of anti-bullying measures, some don't go far enough—or carry much weight when it comes to enforcement or punishment. 

 

“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a statement issued Dec. 6 when the study was released. “This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”

 

Called the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, the 200+ page pdf of the report is available here for those who'd like to tackle the government tome. For the rest of us, SchoolFamily.com has done the heavy lifting, culling the most important details and presenting them here for our readers.

 

The defining moment for the beginning of state bullying legislation and school district policy on bullying began right after the horrific shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. In fact, due to the events at Columbine—and in relation to a local bullying-related suicide—the state of Georgia became the first state to pass legislation requiring schools to implement bullying prevention programs. From there, the following breakdown shows how others states have responded with their own policies, according to the study:

  • From 1999 to 2010: More than 120 bills enacted by state legislatures either introduced or amended education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.
  • In 2010: 21 new bills were passed.
  •  In 2011: 8 additional bills were passed as of April 30, 2011.
  •  From 2006 to 2010: 35 states enacted new laws regarding cyber bullying.
  •  Only two states—Montana and South Dakota—remain without bullying laws (Note: At the time of the study, Hawaii and Michigan were both listed as states not having anti-bullying laws; however, Hawaii passed bullying legislation in July 2011, and earlier this month, Michigan did as well). 

It’s also worth noting that as of April 2011, Texas was the only state without any requirement for schools to create bullying or harassment policies. That changed in June 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation requiring Texas public school districts to create and adopt formal bullying policies.  

 

Key Findings of the Study: What's Up With Bullying Laws in States?

  • 46 states have some type of bullying laws—but three of those states prohibit bullying without actually defining the behavior that’s prohibited.
  • 36 states prohibit cyber bullying
  • 13 states specify that schools have jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it creates a hostile school environment.
  • States with the most expansive anti-bullying legislation have school districts with the most expansive anti-bullying policies. However, there were some school districts located in states with less expansive laws that expanded their policies beyond the state’s minimum legal expectations.

 

School Violence and Student Safety

The Department of Education’s study noted that the most recent survey on school violence and student safety is one conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That survey measured the frequency of bullying at schools as reported by school administrators, and came up with these findings:

  • 39 percent of middle school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 20 percent of elementary and high school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 19 percent of middle schools and 18 percent of high schools reported daily or weekly problems with cyber bullying, either at school or away from school.

The NCES survey also measured how often students ages 12-18 were the target of bullying during the past school year:

  • 21 percent of said they had been made fun of by their peers
  • 18 percent said they’d been the subject of rumors
  • 11 percent said they’d been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
  • 6 percent said they had been threatened with harm

 

Cyber Bullying

The NCES survey reported that 4 percent of students age 12-18 reported having been cyber bullied in the year prior to the study. In addition, according to other related studies, up to 20 percent of all students age 11–18 may have been cyber bullied at some time. And in a 2010 study, the same percentage of students—20 percent—reported having been involved in the cyber bullying of other youths.  

 

Being Teased and “Ignored On Purpose”

School surveys of elementary and middle school students indicate that bullying is higher among those in elementary and middle school. Of more than 11,000 elementary and middle school students surveyed, 61 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys reported they’d been “teased in a mean way,” while 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys said they’d been threatened with physical harm. An ostracizing form of bullying—being “ignored on purpose”—was reported by 46 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys.

 

Effects of Bullying

Earlier studies show a correlation between bullying and poor psychosocial adjustment in children, according to the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies. A 2001 study showed that students who were bullied had difficulty making friends, experienced poorer relationships with peers, and felt an increased sense of loneliness.

Other research shows that bullied students have increased anxiety levels, psychosomatic symptoms, and experience higher rates of eating disorders and aggressive-impulsive behavior problems. Youths who are bullied have also been shown to be at greater risk of developing poor self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Studies show that children who are chronically bullied have lower academic achievement and higher rates of truancy and disciplinary problems.

For complete details on the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies study, visit the study at ed.gov.

 

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When School Lunch Is A Cold Cheese Sandwich

It’s happened to all of us. Your child tells you the night before that he’s out of lunch money in his account at school and needs it for the next day—or else.

That “or else” used to mean a stern dressing-down by the even sterner “lunch lady.” It was embarrassing for your child, but she got over it.

This week, a school in Rhode Island opted for a more punitive method that’s becoming the norm for more and more cash-strapped school districts—giving children who are out of school lunch money a cold cheese sandwich for their lunch.

The Rhode Island school’s policy allows for a child to receive three free hot lunches when their lunch money account is at zero before getting the “cold” shoulder, er, sandwich, for their fourth lunch.

Rhode Island isn’t alone in this policy: in 2009, large school systems such as the Albuquerque Public School district instituted the “cold cheese sandwich” policy—often referred to as a “courtesy lunch”—along with hundreds of other districts across the country.

Problem is, kids feel singled out and humiliated when handed their cold cheese sandwich, which comes with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk; that apparently makes the lunch nutritious according to Department of Education guidelines. But most kids and their parents say such a meal is not filling or appealing.

And for kids already stigmatized by receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, getting slapped with a cold cheese sandwich feels like insult added to injury.

But it gets worse. Students in the Edmonds School District in Washington actually have their hot lunch trays taken away from them in the lunch line if they owe money on their lunch account, and are presented with the cold cheese sandwich instead. Talk about humiliating.

The decision to give a cold cheese sandwich for lunch is a local one, according to information in a 2009 study done by the School Nutrition Association. In “The Bottom Line on Charge Policies,” a statement from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service read: “All full price policies for school meals are matters of local discretion. This includes decisions about whether or not to extend credit to children who forget their meal money or whether or not to provide an alternate meal to such children. Therefore, a school could decide not to provide meals to children who must pay the full price for their meals but do not have the money to do so. In some cases, the PTA or other school organization may establish a fund to pay for children who forget or lose their money. Schools should ensure that parents are fully aware of the policy adopted for children who do not have their meal money.”

What’s the policy in your children’s school? Have they ever received a cold cheese sandwich for lunch?

Editor's note: For healthy, nutritious school lunch and lunchbox ideas, visit our new SchoolFamily.com Recipe Share. Do you have a good recipe you'd be willing to share? Send it to us and we'll include it on our site!

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Bah humbug on teacher gifts, say Alabama lawmakers

Have you and your children decided on what teacher gifts you’ll be giving for the holidays? If you’ve chosen a $25 gift card and you live in Alabama, you’ll want to reconsider—lest your gift sends a teacher to jail.

A new law prohibiting certain gifts to public officials and employees—narrowly defined to include teachers—took effect in the southern state earlier this year and is being put to the test in these next few weeks before the holidays, as children search for the perfect teacher gift.

Kids in Alabama who've fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums (or Hanukkah dreidels) dancing in their heads may be disappointed when it comes to selecting holiday gifts for their teachers.

Outlawed teacher gifts include “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value”—although that specific dollar amount wasn't specified. Homemade gifts—those that aren’t worth much, monetarily speaking—are still okay, so cookies, knitted oven mitts, baskets of fruit, breads, etc. are permissible.

But should a teacher receive a more valuable gift, he or she might be found guilty of breaking the state’s ethics law and could face up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,000.

Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.

According to this report from the Associated Press, Alabama Republican Senator Bryan Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law prevents teachers from favoring one child over another, i.e. theoretically favoring the better gift-giver, and protects families who can’t afford to give big teacher gifts.

 “In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can't afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor told the AP.

However, it seems that Alabama’s teachers are paying the penalty for a handful of Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists who were brought up on corruption charges not long ago. While I’ll bet they weren’t found guilty of giving a Christmas ham to the people they were trying to influence, their criminal actions effectively lowered the boom on teachers. And the state Ethics Commission wouldn’t consider exempting teachers from the law, saying “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”

As anyone with kids knows, it's so convenient to opt for purchasing a book or a book gift certificate or gift cards from stores where teachers can purchase classroom supplies. It’s the rare teacher who receives a fancier gift. But even gift cards are out in Alabama, unless the card is purchased through an organization like the local PTO with individual donations of no more than $5 per child.

So, children of Alabama, you'd better get busy baking or knitting if you want to give your teacher a holiday gift. Bah humbug, indeed.

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Helping Kids Develop a Positive Body Image

Does your son complain about his hair? Does your daughter say horrible things about her thighs? Do your other kids make occasional comments about being "fat?"

And do you worry what they'll be feeling and saying about themselves when they hit their teenage years?

Disturbing as that sounds, kids today are dissing themselves—and their bodies—at younger and younger ages, say child development experts like Lyndsay Elliott, a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, Calif. Elliott says that kids even as young as age 8 are creating mental images of their body—ans they aren't necessarily positive.

But there are ways that parents can help. Read SchoolFamily.com's article, 6 Tips to Help Kids Develop a Positive Body Image, which offers specific ways to help your daughter or son develop a self-image that is honest, realistic, and self-affirming.

 

 

 

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Survey says sexting is less prevelant than originally believed

The Internet has been abuzz this week with news that the practice of sexting—kids texting naked photos or videos of themselves or others via cell phone—is nowhere near as rampant as we’d all been led to believe.

The news is the result of a national survey conducted by researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire, and was reported Monday in Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The four authors of the survey, which is called “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study,” concluded that making or sending sexual images is “… far from being a normative behavior” among teens and younger children.

However, the study found that while the rate of sexting is lower than initially believed, children and teens need to be better informed about the “legal consequences of sexting,” and, more immediately, what to do if they receive such an image.

Has your teen received any sexting images? Might be good to ask. It also might be good for you to refresh your Internet safety knowledge by reading SchoolFamily.com's Internet Safety Tips for Parents.

Conducted by phone, the CCRC survey included 1,560 young people, ages 10-17, who use the Internet. Just 2 ½ percent said they’d made nude or nearly nude photos or videos of themselves, and of that figure, only 1 percent said the images were “sexually explicit” (i.e. images of breasts, genitals, or buttocks).

However, far more students—7 percent—reported receiving nude or nearly nude images of other youth, while 5.9 percent said they’d received images that were sexually explicit.

Researchers also found that few students who reported receiving such images had then distributed them.

The study was conducted by Kimberly J. Mitchell, Ph.D., a psychologist at UNH; David Finkelhor, Ph.D., UNH sociology professor and director of the CCCRC; Lisa M. Jones, Ph.D., research assistant and professor of psychology at the CCRC; and Janis Wolak, JD, a senior researcher at the CCRC.

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Calling all cooks: SchoolFamily.com is looking for your recipes!

Calling all cooks!

SchoolFamily.com is launching a complete recipe section, and we’re looking for your favorite recipes to share among our readers! Do you have a weeknight dinner recipe that’s quick and easy? A no-fail school lunch recipe that your kids will actually eat? Perhaps there’s a dessert you make that’s to die for? Or, how about a recipe for something delicious that you and your kids make together?

Using our easy recipe submission form, send us your favorite recipes and we’ll include them in our recipe section when it launches in early 2012—you can even upload a photo of your culinary creation using the recipe submission form! We’ll email you when our new recipe section goes live, and if you have a website or blog that you’d like us to link to your recipe, simply include your url on the recipe submission form.

We have a wide variety of recipe categories so you can choose where your recipes should appear. Some categories include: Power Breakfasts; School Lunches; After-School Snacks; Quick and Easy Weeknight Dinners; Recipes to Make With Kids; Appetizers; Soups and Stews; Desserts; and much, much more.

Best of all, the recipes are free, printable, and can be emailed and shared with others.

Pull out all your favorite recipes, and upload them to SchoolFamily.com here, and you’ll be a part of our new recipe section!

 For any questions, please feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Happy cooking!

Carol Brooks Ball, editor

SchoolFamily.com

 

 

 

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Should A School Limit Parental Access to Teachers? No Way!

File this under the category of: What the heck were they thinking?

Last week, education officials at an elementary school in Seattle, WA, sent a letter home to parents of children at the school, advising them of a new limit imposed on emails sent to teachers.

Educators at Brookside Elementary School, located in the Shoreline School District, which is north of Seattle, informed parents that effective immediately they could send one email per week to their child’s teacher. In addition, the email was to contain “one paragraph,” and the topic was limited to “important issues,” according to a report published on nwcn.com, the website of KING 5 TV, Northwest Cable News in Seattle.

As you might imagine, the reaction from parents was angry and swift, with many contacting the TV station to vent their fury.

In their defense, school officials explained that with full classrooms, teachers were apparently feeling overwhelmed by the numerous emails they were receiving each week from parents—sometimes the same parents, over and over.

Regardless, wouldn’t you be outraged if you received a similar letter from education officials at your child’s school?

Last week, I emailed one of my children’s teachers to discuss my child’s progress in a particular class. The teacher emailed me back, and offered time for a phone conference. It took a few more days before it happened—the Thanksgiving break and all—but we finally connected. He answered my questions, offered some guidance, and together we developed a home-school action plan to get my child back on track in the class.

Imagine, however, if that was my one allotted email—or phone call—to that teacher last week? I’d be as outraged as the parents at the Brookside School. Why is it that education officials often seem as though teachers should have more rights than parents? And act as though they’re exempted from the basic rules of business etiquette? Imagine if I told SchoolFamily.com readers that they were only allowed to email the editor (that’s me) once a week because I’m so busy. It’d be an outrageous move and I’d deserve—and expect—a backlash.

If there were parents—or a parent—in that or any other school district who were inundating a specific teacher with numerous emails per day, then school officials should have facilitated a face-to-face meeting between the parent(s) and the teacher. At that time, the educators could have politely but firmly advised the parent that the teacher could not be expected to respond to numerous emails per day from the same parent.

But to set a Draconian policy that restricts all parents wanting to email their child’s teacher? That’s outrageous in my book.

Do you agree? Let me know by commenting here.

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9th Grade Sex Ed Survey: What Would You Do?

What would you do as a parent in this situation?

A teacher at Rio Rancho High School in New Mexico who passed out a voluntary, anonymous sex survey to students in a 9th grade biology class, has been placed on leave until the school system conducts an investigation, according to a recent report on the Huff Post Education site.

The survey, which was reportedly passed out as a way to teach students about sexually transmitted diseases, asked students to report anonymously if they were sexually active and to list the people they’d recently kissed. Parents were not informed about the survey before it was administered to students.

A follow-up story posted on KOAT.com, the website of an Albuquerque television station, included comments from current and former students at the school who say that the survey has been around for years, and that numerous other 9th grade classes have completed the survey over the years.

 Regardless of the eventual outcome in this situation, how would you react if such a survey—voluntary and anonymous— was given to your child by a biology teacher?

Seems that few subjects get parents as riled up as sex ed. Remember when we brought you the story about the new sex education mandate in New York City public middle and high schools?

Turns out it’s become more controversial than expected, especially concerning content for students in middle school. Flash cards depicting anal sex, oral sex, and masturbation have been removed from the middle school sex ed curriculum, according to a New York media outlet.

Problem is the schools have a high teenage pregnancy rate, which education officials are hoping to reduce through the mandated sex education curriculum. New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott recently said, "A significant percentage of our teenagers have had multiple sexual partners, so we can't stick our heads in the sand about this”

Many parents feel it's their job to discuss sexuality and teen pregnancy with their children, but what happens to those teens whose parents are too uncomfortable to broach the subject of sex? Education officials, in New York anyway, say that's where classroom-based sex ed comes in.

 Parents and guardians, what do you think? Please let us know by commenting below.

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Article Shows How My Daughter Will Study From Now On

The other day, an email arrived from my friend Cindy, with a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal. No, it wasn't about finding the best hedge fund manager or advice on what to do when the stock market takes another nosedive.

Instead, it was an article about new research findings for the most productive ways students can and should prepare for exams. And if I have any say about it, it's going to change the way my daughter studies for the exams she'll face in her 1 1/2 years left of high school, not to mention her upcoming SATs and the ACT. For her sake, I only wish I'd read it before the math exam she's facing today.

The article, which can be found here, covers everything from how to study effectively, to the type of sleep a student should get the night before an exam, and even the type of breakfast she should eat. 

Turns out that those of us (present company included) who pulled all-nighters in college shouldn't have bothered. According to the article, a 2008 study of 120 students showed that those who crammed the night before an exam scored lower than those who prepared  ahead of time. Further, it showed that an all-nighter "impairs reasoning and memory for as long as four days." Wow. Talk about a studying hangover.

As for how to successfully prep for an exam, the article confirmed what we' at SchoolFamily.com are hearing more and more—repetition and practice, practice, practice are the best ways to learn and retain information. A student preparing for an exam should test himself repeatedly to teach his brain to retrieve and apply knowledge, according to the WSJ article. This is the method also recommended by SchoolFamily.com blogger and full-time educator Livia McCoy. Read McCoy's blog post on the topic from earlier this week here

So we now know that repetition practice and self-testing are the ways to study, but how about the best time to study—or does it even matter? It definitely matters, according to the director of a sleep and research lab who is quoted in the article. He says students should study the most difficult material immediately before going to be the night before the exam, which apparently "makes it easier to recall the material later." He cautions against waking up earlier than usual to study, saying this compromises needed rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.

Okay, so what about breakfast? A hearty morning meal of sausage, eggs, and bacon? Or perhaps a quick granola bar or a bowl of cereal grabbed on the run? WRONG. Students facing an exam should enjoy a breakfast full of carbohydrates and fiber. This combination, found in the form of, say, oatmeal, offers slow digestion and therefore a longer feeling of fullness. But the article also reports that what a student eats in the week before the exam also matters. In one study, students who ate a "high fat, low-carb diet heavy on meat, eggs, cream, and cheese" for five days before a test, performed poorly as as compared to the scores they received on the same exam after eating the recommended high-carb, high-fiber breakfast.

So long, Frosted Flakes. Hello Quaker Instant Oatmeal. 

Finally, in a recommendation that I found especially helpful (and that I appreciated as a nod to the significance of a student's emotional state before an exam), experts in the WSJ article offered an easily learned "calming tactic" for students to use before a test. Students are asked to imagine themselves in a pleasant yet "challenging and invigorating" situation, giving the example of kicking the winning goal in a soccer game. Once students have their image in mind, they are told to immediately switch that image to the room where the exam will take place, such as their math classroom. With practice, the experts say, students will be able to do this successfully on the day of the test.  

An even easier method (which speaks to me as a writer, and validates my propensity for making PRO/CON lists when faced with something I'm anxious about), is to have an anxious student use the 10 minutes before her test to write down her worries. In a study of college students, those who did this exercise scored the same on the test as the students who weren't feeling anxious about the test. In other words, confront your biggest fears and put them down on paper. Come to think of it, this exercise might work for any anxiety-inducing situation students, or adults, might face in life.

So, tonight I'll hear from my daughter about how her dreaded math test went today. And for  future exams, I'll encourage her to follow these guidelines and studying smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

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"Chore Charts" Help Curb the Nagging

Do your children do chores in your household?

Do they do them willingly and without being asked and reminded repeatedly?

Take heart; mine don't either.

To that end, I wish I'd had "chore charts" to use with my son and daughter when they were younger. At SchoolFamily.com, we've created some terrific chore charts that can be printed out and used with children as young as 3 and as old as 17. Each of our six charts is tailored to a specific age group: 3-4 year olds; those ages 5-6; 7-9; 10-12; 13-14; and 15-17. Best of all, they're customizable with your own chores in addition to the ones we've listed.

 

Over the years, I tried using "job" charts with my kids, but they were never as clear and specific as these charts. Mine were rudimentary. I taped them to a wall or pinned them to a bulletin board, amid great fanfare with my kids, and they were quickly forgotten after a week or so (sometimes less).

 

I've heard child development experts—and my husband—insist that having kids be responsible for chores makes them more responsible in general. It also shows them that taking care of a household and having it run smoothly (well, as smoothly as it can) only works if everyone does their part.

 

Without the use of chore charts, the routine in my household occasionally runs like a well-staged, highly emotional melodrama, with performances several night a week:

 

SCENE I

It's late afternoon on a weekday:

ME [To my high school daughter, age 16]: "Sweetie, would you please unload the dishwasher and clean the kitty litter after you finish your homework?"

HER: [Initial silence]

ME: [Voice rising slightly] "Did you hear me?"

HER: [Voice rising significantly] "I know. I HEARD you and I said I WOULD."

ME: "Well, okay. I didn't hear you respond."

HER: "I'll do it in a MINUTE."

 

SCENE II

Three to four hours pass and it's now mid-evening:

ME: [Spoken in a sing-songy voice, trying to avoid a meltdown] "Sweetie, the dishwasher and kitty litter still need your attention." 

HER: "Man, why do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?"

ME: [Restraining my urge to suddenly have her become homeless] "We all do our part, and if you'd just done it when I'd asked, you'd ..."

HER: [Interrupting me] "I WAS BUSY." 

ME: [Heavy sigh. Awash with feelings of ineffectiveness as a parent; fury at this child; realization that if I'd just done the chores myself, they'd have been done hours ago; and annoyance at myself for even considering doing them myself. Repeat.]

 

SCENE III

ME: [Note to self: "PRINT OUT chore charts.]

 

Want to end this well-rehearsed melodrama at your own house? Check out our chore charts.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016