Providing iPads Instead of Textbooks For Classroom Learning Gets My Vote

I don't know about you but my house has more computers than we need. Yes, that's partly due to the fact that my son, who today works in information technology, built two of his own computers during his middle school and high school years. Despite that, my husband and I each have a laptop, issued by our respective companies; my daugher has a MacBook; and we have a netbook and an iPad for our family's use.

Even with all this home-based technology, my daughter leaves for school each morning, running to catch her bus while laden down with a textbook-filled backpack and more books in her  arms. Whenever she wears her backpack, she doesn't stand up straight, and like so many teens, wears it slung over one shoulder instead of the way it is intended to be worn: high up on her back, with the straps snug around both of her shoulders. But that's another whole blog entry ...

Recently, I read about school districts across the country that are getting away from textbooks and in their place, issuing iPads to students. 

Even though I'm a devoted fan of the printed page - especially since I worked for newspapers for many years - I think the iPad vs. textbook choice some schools are making is a excellent one. Like of a lot of mothers, I worry about the physical toll that lugging heavy textbooks may be taking on my daughter's body (I worried about it for my son as well when he was hulking a heavy backpack in school). I mean, I can barely lift my daughter's backpack to move it out of the way when she comes home from school and drops it, with a groan of relief, on the kitchen floor. I'm not alone in thinking that the amount of books she carts back and forth to school and home is excessive; my husband, and a lot of mothers I know, agree that today, kids' backpacks are way too heavy.

Having an iPad to use for schoolwork, instead of textbooks, would break this cycle for my daughter and millions of other children. Apparently schools can get the iPads for $500 each from Apple - that's much less that you and I would pay for one. Most schools are using filters and blocks on the iPads to keep kids away from websites they shouldn't be visiting, and many are having kids turn the iPads back in during school vacations, etc.

That's enough for me. While I love turning the pages of books - and have always wanted the same for my children - I'd rather see them tote a small, thin tablet computer than walk crookedly due to the weight of the textbooks in their backpacks.

 

 

 

 

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Cell Phones For Tweens: Tips On When and Why

Both of my children have cell phones. And both phones, in my mind, were purchased for the sole purpose of keeping in touch. With me. 

Them, not so much. To them, their cell phones serve the purpose of allowing virtually-constant contact with friends. And for my son, his phone also serves as a timepiece; read that blog post here.

When I first got the kids their cell phones - when they were both "tweens" - I learned the hard way about the cost of going over the wireless plan's small monthly allotment for text messaging. My daughter quickly burned through the texting limit (my son wasn't, and still isn't, much of a texter; if I send him a text message, he calls me back).

While I soon set limits for my daughter due to her texting proclivities, I also quietly signed up for unlimited texting through my wireless carrier. But, how great it would have been to have had some objective guidance on the subject at the time.

That guidance is now available. If you're considering a cell phone for your tween, or if he or she already has one, you'll want to read "Tweens and cell phones: What parents need to know during back-to-school season" from the National Consumers League in Washington, D.C.

The guide offers tips about why, when, and how, to purchase a cell phone for your tween. To begin, the guide suggests that parents answer a series of questions ("Why does your child need a cell phone?" and "Will the phone primarily be used for emergency calls, or for entertainment and texting friends?"), and then take the list with them when they shop. The guide also includes "Rules of the Road," with tips for parents on setting limits on cell phone use, and a comprehensive guide to the types of cell phone plans available.

It's a terrific resource, and one I truly wish I'd had.

 

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New iPhone Apps Help Parents Receive School Notices, Deal With Head Lice, and Find the Nearest Restroom

"There's an app for that." Are you familiar with this phrase? Perhaps it's one uttered by your kids on occasion (or on a daily basis). It's a phrase my daughter says frequently right before she sighs and gently gives me one of those "Mom, you're such a dinosaur" looks. Apps are application software programs that address  almost every subject imaginable. First created for the the Apple iPhone, more and more apps are becoming available for the BlackBerry, the Droid, and many other smartphones.

There are a couple of new iPhone apps that caught my eye recently. One is called ParentLink Mobile Parent. It's an app that allows you to receive automated calls from your child's school sent directly to your iPhone. These calls are being made by most schools today, and inform parents of everything from the opening day of school to emergency school closings. This free app is available from ParentLink.net, also allows parents to update their contact information with their school's automated call system directly from their cell phones. 

An app I hope I never have to use is The Facts of Lice by Fairy Tales Hair Care. Yes, this app helps parents whose children have been infected with head lice. Not only are head lice pesky to treat, their presence means kids can't be in school as long as they have "nits" in their hair, these being the eggs laid by active lice (note: You may want to check to see if your child's school has a "No Nits" and/or a "No Lice" policy). Be aware that the company is plugging its own line of lice treatment and prevention products, and includes a salon locator where the products may be purchased locally. That said, the app also includes helpful, general information about lice, as well as a way to track an outbreak and be notified of outbreaks in your area. 

Finally, an iPhone app that no pregnant woman or mother of small children should be without: Where to Wee. My daughter told me about this site (since she complains that I use the ladies room "all the time"), and I'll admit it's come in handy more than once when we've been traveling. The app allows you to find the nearest restrooms - especially critical if you're potty training little ones - and rate bathrooms on cleanliness, and the availability of soap and paper towels. In addition, for some hilarious reading, check out the Where to Wee blog.

 

 

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Why is Mom the Family's Social Calendar-Carrier?

School for my rising high school junior starts in seven days, which means that in seven days, I'll be hit with an avalanche of paperwork and important dates to record. I'm already in the doghouse, however, for forgetting something important today. 

About 20 minutes go, my 16-year-old flew out the door to meet her driver's ed instructor who was waiting in a car in front of our house. Seems I'd forgotten to tell my daughter that the instructor had called me the day before, and scheduled several lessons for her over the coming weeks - including one today. Shame on me for forgetting and for neglecting to advise my daughter. But, wait a minute: How come mothers are expected to be the all-knowing, continually-updated, walking "calendar" for everyone else in the family?

Ever since my kids were toddlers, I've kept some version of a write-on, wipe-off, dry erase calendar taped to a wall in our kitchen(or on the front of our refrigerator). I've always told my husband and kids that "If it isn't on the calendar, it doesn't exist," which means I expect them to fill in any events or dates that they schedule, and to check the calendar frequently to see what's on for any given day.

That's where things tend to fall down in my house. Like most women, I'm the Scheduler of Appointments for the kids, occasionally my husband, our pets, and home repair or service calls we require. And while it might sound like an exalted position, it's one I'd gladly pass on ... if only someone was interested.

My routine is to schedule things for said household, add the information to my smartphone calendar, and then write it on the dry erase calendar in the kitchen. As I see it, the responsibility for the appointments from there rests with each person who lives in my house -- well, except the dog and cat whom I'll excuse for not knowing their upcoming appointments at the vet.

Tell me, fellow mothers: Is that so unreasonable?

I didn't think so.

However, I admit that on rare occasions I forget to record an appointment on the dry erase calendar, and a member of my family -- today, the teenage daughter -- is caught unaware. Geesh ... I'm only human.

Job, anyone?

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The 'Mindset' of college freshmen, for parents

When my son was a college freshman, I remember dropping him off at school amid the chaos of freshmen move-in-day. After we'd helped him haul all his stuff in repeated trips up three flights of stairs in the dusty old dormitory, it was time to say goodbye. Yes, tears ensued ... and as we left I remember being so bothered that he didn't wear (or even own) a watch; how would he get to his classes on time? Instead, he kept time by the digital display on his cellphone - and couldn't imagine it any other way.

Those of you helping your son or daughter get packed and ready for the drop-off at school may want to take a short break from all the planning and fretting, and read this humorous, eye-opening, newly released list about members of the Class of 2015. 

For starters, this group of young people has never known a world without the Internet.

That and several more "cultural touchstones" are part of the Mindset List for the Class of 2015 compiled by Beloit College in Wisconsin.

The list includes everything from politics and political figures - "[To the Class of 2015] Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief" - to changes in child-rearing - "Unlike their older siblings, [the Class of 2015] spent bedtime on their backs until they learned to roll over."

For some of us, present company included, items such as these are startling: “'Dial-up,'” Woolworths, and the Sears 'Big Book' are as antique to them as 'talking machines' might have been to their grandparents."

Read it and laugh. And if your son or daughter doesn't wear a watch, don't worry; their cell phones will serve as a timepiece just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to School Books that Address First-Day Jitters

If I had to pick a favorite book that I’ve read to my children during times when they've been anxious about returning to school, I’d be unable to choose – there are that many excellent choices.

One that topped our list, however, was “David Goes to School” by David Shannon. Full of mischief, little David, who is loosely based on the author, gets into trouble at every turn. Will he be banished to the time-out chair? Or, perhaps he’ll practice appropriate when-at-school behavior and earn a gold star. My kids adored this book, and brought our copy to their classrooms’ on more than one occasion for reading-aloud time.

We recently asked SchoolFamily.com Facebook fans to name their favorite books to help children deal with their going-to-school jitters.

The most popular book by far among our SchoolFamily.com fans was “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. In this book, Chester, a young raccoon, would much rather stay at home with his mother than go to school. His mother, however, kisses his palm and good feelings “rush from his hand, up his arm, and into his heart.” Chester’s mother then tells him that whenever he is lonely he can put his palm to his cheek and “that very kiss will jump to your face and fill you with toasty warm thoughts.”

Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes was another of our readers’ favorites. Henkes is the author of the popular “Lily” series, and has a devoted following of his books, which feature adorable mice as the main characters. “Chrysanthemum” is the name of a little mouse who is bullied and made fun of on her first day at school because of her long and rather unusual name. Eventually, however, the class learns that their music teacher, whose name is Delphinium, plans to name her unborn baby Chrysanthemum, the prettiest name she has ever heard.

First Day Jitters” by Julie Danneberg takes a twist that children will find delightful. Sarah Hartwell does not want to go to her third-grade class at a new school. She hides under her bed covers and generally delays however she can on that first morning. When she finally gets to her new school, however, young readers learn that Sarah - who is their new teacher - has the same back to school jitters that they do, even though she is a grown-up.

Want the names of more back-to-school books? Check out the books listed here.  

 

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Preschooler Parties that are Over the Top

Have you heard about this? It's the latest garish, new, reality television show, wherein parents (mothers mostly), spend absurd amounts of money on parties for their young children. Called  "Outrageous Kid Parties," the show runs on the TLC channel.

One family spent $31,000 on their son's preschool graduation party. Another spent almost $33,000 to celebrate their daughter's sixth-birthday, hosting a "Country Carnival," which featured a $4,000 rotating cake, a guest list of 250, and a $600 limousine ride.

What's wrong with these people? When I first read about these absurd expenditures (and the reality show that delivers them to our television sets and computer screens), I thought about the difference that could have been made in real people's lives by donating this money to local charities. And what a lesson these young children would have learned about giving back and helping others less fortunate.

These kids and their parents still could have enjoyed a fun celebratory party, but toned down for the preschoolers. For that age, a party with games and then some quiet activities, such as coloring, can help to settle the kids before it's time for cake and presents.

 

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Back-to-school means teens behind the wheel

My daughter isn't eligible to get her driver's license until October, but despite the two months and back-to-school period between now and then, she's champing at the bit to know if she'll be able to drive herself to school.

At the regional high school my daughter attends, juniors aren't allowed to drive and park a vehicle at the school until the spring. That's when the seniors leave  to complete their internships, and only then, in April, are juniors allowed to park in the "senior" parking lot.

If you're guessing that every April is a scary time on the road where I live, you'd be right. Inexperienced teens with access to cars, minivans, and trucks, fly out of the high school parking lot each afternoon -- after arriving late and in a hurry each morning -- their inexperience matched only by their  excitement and sense of freedom.

To that end, the statistics cited in this link about teens driving to school are alarming. But since teens will, and must, drive and learn from their experiences, what can we do as parents? Even if juniors weren't allowed to drive to school in communities such as mine, they can do so only a few months later when they become seniors (that's assuming they have access to a vehicle, which is a whole other topic for discussion).

What do you think? Do you have a teen who'll be driving to school this year? Are you the parent of a teen who's already been doing so? According to the article cited above, parental involvement -- including steps such as having teens sign a "driving contract" -- is key.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sex Education Now Mandatory in New York City schools

Teenage students returning to school soon in New York City will find an addition to their academic curriculum: mandatory sex-eduction classes. The New York Times reported this week that all middle and high school students in the city's public schools will take the mandatory sex-education classes this year, and again, one to two years later.

The classes will be taught in either 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade.

Citing research from the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health, the New York Times reported Tuesday, Aug. 9 that "Nationwide, one in four teenagers between 2006 and 2008 learned about abstinence without receiving any instruction in schools about contraceptive methods."

Parents, how do you feel about this? Has your child already had a sex-ed class? If so, what did you think of the teaching methods and curriculum? For those whose children haven't had a sex-education or "health" class yet, how do you feel about what your school offers? Will you send your child to the class or will opt your child out?

Some believe that New York City Public Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which reportedly pushed for the mandate, have jumped headfirst into a sure-to-be controversial area. Others, however, are applauding the city's tough stance on sex-ed. 

Let SchoolFamily.com know where you stand on this important issue! 

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Welcome to SchoolFamily.com!

Greetings! I'm Carol Brooks Ball and I'd like to personally welcome you to SchoolFamily.com!

As the new editor of the website, I'll be adding articles, tips, how-tos, and more to help you help your children do their best in school. And since successful families and schools enjoy a unique partnership, I'll also be adding articles to help you foster positive interactions with your children's teachers, principals, and other school personnel. 

I'd also like to hear from you.! Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and tell me what's most on your mind as you prepare your children for their return to the classroom. Your suggestions for articles, polls, quizzes, you name it, will help shape schoolfamily.com and make it your one-stop site for all things school- and family-related. 

So, grab a cup of coffee or tea, take a few minutes for yourself, and peruse the pages of schoolfamily.com. Check out our sections on academics & studying; how-tos and ideas for home-based activities & tips for learning; our comprehensive grade-by-grade section where we describe, by grade level, what your child will be learning in school in addition to social/emotional milestones; our Healthy SchoolKids pages where we offer tips to keep your kids healthy and in school; and, of course, an entire section dedicated to Back to School

If you have a specific question, who better to answer it for you than others in the SchoolFamily.com community? Pose your question or dilemma using our Ask a Question section. And don't forget to visit our blog, School Family Voices, where postings range from discussions of how kids learn; ways to stay connected to your child's classroom; and memories of summer vacation. 

So again, welcome. And please let me know how we're doing. Best,
Carol Brooks Ball

Carol Brooks Ball is an award-winning web and print journalist with more than 20 years experience. She is the mother of two children, and lives with her family, which also includes her husband and the family's beloved golden retriever, on the North Shore of Boston. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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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