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School Fashion Police

In the public schools I attended, the dress code was plain and simple: no shorts, no hats, and nothing too skimpy. How times have changed. This week, I read about a girl given in-school suspension for wearing Tigger socks and a boy whose battle over this anti-Bush T-shirt went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The school clothes crackdown is aimed at keeping kids from wearing gang colors or apparel that promotes drugs and alcohol, but with the zero-tolerance policies applied at some schools, common sense has gone out the window.

In the Napa, Calif., school where Tigger was outlawed, the policy bans clothing with stripes, patterns, pictures, or logos. Students there have been disciplined for the vile offenses of displaying a heart sticker on Valentine's Day, carrying a backpack with a Jansport logo, and even wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the anti-drug program DARE.

In both cases, the courts ruled in favor of the students, saying the schools could not restrict free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. But don't expect this to be the last word. Elsewhere the battle continues, with students and administrators butting heads over the color of belts, the placement of pockets, and other such key issues.
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Blame Mr. Rogers

When I was a kid, I'd sprawl out on my parents' bed each morning before kindergarten to watch Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I loved Mr. Rogers. Not so much the show, which creeped me out a bit (particularly the puppet Lady Elaine Fairchild). I loved the man. He was handsome and soft-spoken. He would smile gently and tell me I was special. He wanted to be my neighbor, and that was OK with me.

Now it turns out that Mr. Rogers may have unwittingly contributed to a kid-centric culture that nurtures its children on empty praise and breeds narcissistic adults with an inflated sense of entitlement.

Jeff Zaslow, in his July 5 Wall Street Journal column, quotes a Louisiana State University professor who, puzzling why so many B and C students demand A's, ultimately blamed Mr. Rogers and his unconditional acceptance. "Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they we're special just for being whoever they were....What often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself," Zaslow writes of Mr. Rogers.

Children who are told endlessly how wonderful they are by adults who never demand anything of them grow up to believe the world owes them. Worse "tragic event” are the children who eventually realize that they're not special "just because."

As a parent, I know my children are special. But I'm not naive enough to think they'll believe it without hard and fast proof. And the only way they'll get that proof is to probe the depths of their abilities, to make mistakes, and to live through them. Kids need to earn their rewards and then bask in their own pride.

I still love Mr. Rogers. But I can't help but think I would have been better prepared for the real world if he were just a bit critical and demanding. Maybe while he was asking to be my neighbor, he could have set a condition that I keep up my yard. Wouldn't want property values to slip, you know.
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Plugged In at Summer Camp

I've always loved going to camp, so when I was asked to spend last weekend supervising middle school campers, I jumped at the chance. The last time I'd worked at a camp was in college, when I spent a steaming summer in a platform tent, a hike away from electricity and running water.

It wasn't the first time I'd visited this camp, so I knew that some buildings had air conditioning (gasp!) and that WiFi service had been added for company retreats. Still, I was surprised by how much technology I found in the hands of the campers.

Each of the kids in my charge had an iPod and a cell phone, even though the camp is in a remote area with no service. One boy brought his prized bass guitar and was excited to find (to his counselor's chagrin, I'm sure) that a cabinmate had an amplifier. More than once I heard campers discussing their MySpace friends, and I realized that for them, roughing it is going a week without going online.

Although I couldn't believe all the technological toys the kids had brought to camp, I was in no position to criticize. I had packed my laptop, and whenever I had an opportunity, I was in the cabin checking my email!
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Back-to-School Budget

Who needs tuition? This Cincinnati story on back-to-school price tags makes the case that the average public school parent, too, is shelling out more and more $$ for what once was considered basics. Are we balancing school budgets on the backs of parents (again)? Where's the line between what should be provided as a matter of course in a public school and what is rightfully considered an extra?
"The index projects that to fill the backpacks of their children this year, parents should have $351 available for elementary school pupils, $530 for middle schoolers and $894 for high school students. And those expenses don't recognize the cost of back-to-school clothing.

The expenditures range from standard supplies to fees for extracurricular activities to study materials and fees for standardized college entrance tests."

Ouch.

It certainly seems as if the line between what is considered a standard (covered) expense of providing a public education and what is considered an extra (and therefore fees can be charged) is moving rapidly? Where does it stop? As much as school is about learning and test scores, it's also about a broad education and finding passions and learning to be a well-rounded, well-adjusted adult. Hate to see a day when kids will have to pay a fee to play a role in the school musical or debate club or basketball team. Those "extras" are not extras in my eyes. They're essential parts of the school experience.

Where's the line these days in your school? And is there any way we can stop that line from sliding, sliding, sliding to the point where there is a toll booth at the doorway to each classroom
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Dinnertime Debate

Since my oldest child started on solid food (a little more than 13 years ago), I've been feeling guilty about how rarely our family sits down together for meals. Those first few years I worried that we were missing an opportunity to teach our kids good table manners, putting them at risk of great public humiliation should they someday be invited to dine with the queen.

Then a few years ago I read about a study that found that teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week are more likely to earn A's and B's in school than teens who have dinner with their families fewer than three times a week. Not only that, but the kids who don't eat with their families are more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs.

My husband's schedule keeps him at work long past dinner hour Monday through Friday. Worse, my kids are involved in so many activities that many nights, we eat in the car or while racing for the door. Any wonder I have guilt? Between my husband's job, gymnastics, piano lessons, Cub Scouts, Hebrew school, baby-sitting, and ski club, my kids are on their way to mediocre grades and afternoons spent chugging cheap wine behind the liquor store.

Lisa Belkin addressed the topic of family dinners in the New York Times recently and came away with a more measured assessment. Belkin's family, like mine and so many others, can't get it together at dinnertime. But unlike so much of the reporting about the family dinner study, Belkin offers the nuanced view that, yes, nightly dinners bring families together, but it isn't the only place where that happens. Parents and children connect in the car, while watching television together, at bedtime, and in all of those in-between moments during the day.
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Graduations Gone Wild

In a thought-provoking Newsweek column, Rabbi Marc Gellman weighs the pros and cons of child graduations.

Pros: Graduations celebrate learning and provide motivation to pursue goals. Most important, they show kids that they have the love and support of the adults in their lives

Cons: Kids have so many graduations these days (nursery school, kindergarten, karate class) that the ceremonies lose their meaning. They can also send the message that students are through with learning. True learning, he says, never ends and has no graduation.

Sharron pondered the seriousness adults place on child graduations in her humorous June 11 post, "March of the 8-year-olds." Although her 3rd grade son's graduation didn't merit a famous speaker, it promised something even better: ice cream!

Gellman jokes about his grandson's graduation from nursery school, saying the 5-year-old graduated "with honors in finger painting" and "summa cum laude in knocking down things made with blocks," but he sides firmly in favor of pomp and circumstance.

We are subjected to an endless and proliferating series of awards shows on television," he writes. "Why not, in the face of a culture that gives awards to sitcoms, stand and cheer for our children who are learning things? Are there any members of our society who are more worthy of being honored?"
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Toddler Soccer: Too Much, Too Soon?

I read some shocking news this week. Here in my very own community, kids as young as 18 months are training to become the soccer stars of tomorrow. The toddlers I know are content sticking toys in their mouths and mashing Play-Doh, and as far as I'm aware, none have expressed an interest in learning an organized sport. So who decided it was a good idea to teach toddlers soccer moves before they've even moved into big-kid beds?

You guessed it, it's parents who are behind the popular program. The coach started the classes with preschoolers in mind, but parents kept pressuring him to let in younger and younger kids. As the reporter explains: "After constant pestering, he gave in to parents and expanded his program....Now he's saying no to parents of 14- and 16-month-olds."

It's generally accepted that sports and other extracurricular activities are good for kids. But taking on too many activities can be very stressful for a child, not to mention exhausting for parents. Many parenting experts and psychologists say families would be better off cutting back on activities to have more family time.

These toddlers are a long way from competitive play. They're still learning soccer fundamentals, like kicking the ball as opposed to carrying it. But I can't help but wonder: If a kid is going to soccer practice before he turns 2, how many more activities will he be juggling by the time he starts school?
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Kids and Cell Phones

Each school year, it seems more and more kids head off to school toting cell phones. I imagine the old school pay phone (20 years later, I can still remember the calling card code I used daily!) will soon be going the way of the dinosaur.

So of course, we've covered the trend with this piece on kids' cell phone buying tips. I also found this video from the New York Times technology expert (these guys are always following our lead it's getting tiresome) pretty good. Good to see that the phone companies are coming up with just-for-kids phones so that we parents can benefit from the safety and convenience elements while still guarding against the always-plugged-in temptations that abound these days.
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Goldilocks Parents

Lord, give me balance as a parent. Please. Help me check in but not overwhelm. Help me try to get things just right. Help me make sure that summer is fun, while also keeping those little brain cells firing once in a while.

Help me find a way to connect with my kids' school (I know that parent involvement is important) in a fashion that works for me, the kids, and the school for the long term. It seems all the talk these days about parents focuses on either parents who do too much ("Helicopter Parent") is bound to be one of those new expressions in the dictionary soon) or parents who do too little. Help me find the middle ground.

If we've had a guiding principle in developing the content for this site, it's been that "just right" concept. Guiding your child successfully though 12 years of school isn't easy, but it is doable. Getting and staying involved in the right fashion (not too much, not too little) is the key. No supermoms or superdads required here. Just parents looking forward to that graduation day (from high school, not 2nd grade) and looking down at a well-adjusted, smart, nice, happy, healthy, balanced kid. Hope you're enjoying the site.
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My Reluctant Reader

Students entering 4th grade have to pick two books from the summer reading list. I'm worried. It's my son's reading habits. He has none. He won't pick up a book unless I force him.

Oh, I've tried to make reading fun. We've had charts and we've set goals. I've given him rewards and prizes; I've bought him interesting books. Captain Underpants, for instance. I figured he'd appreciate the cartoonlike drawings and the mildly subversive message. He read the first book, so I bought him two more.

But last night when I handed him Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, he said he's bored with the series. I nearly pulled out my hair. (I really wanted to pull out his.) I mean, come on! Two boys who hypnotize their school principal into stripping down to his skivvies and flapping around like a superhero? Rampaging toilets that eat the lunch lady and assorted other school personnel? What could be funnier? Honestly, I don't know where I went wrong with my boy.

I desperately want him to love to read. I surrender hours at a stretch to good books. My daughter absorbs Newbery Award-winning books and trashy teenage novels indiscriminately. My husband falls asleep with a book on his face every night. My parents read. My brothers not only read, they also listen to books in their cars. This is what we do. We read. It never occurred to me that I would have a child who could open a book and not be hooked.

I hope my son will eventually stumble onto the joy of reading. I guess the only way that'll happen is if I continue forcing him to pull out a book every night. But really, I don't know where to go after Captain Underpants. That was my ace in the hole.
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Hitting the Books

For someone who makes a living with words, it's a little embarrassing to admit that I wasn't always a big reader. As a kid, I spent most of my free time with friends or toys, not books. Still, each summer I looked forward to the children's reading program at the library.

I can't recall a single book I read, but I remember having fun with the other kids and thinking the teenage volunteers were way cool. Looking back now, I realize it was during those afternoons that the library transformed from a grown-up place where I got shushed to a place I still love to go.

If your child is a reluctant reader, too, she may be more motivated to dive into a book if she's around other people who are doing it. In addition to the great summer reading programs offered by public libraries and bookstores, kids' book clubs are sprouting up all over.

If you can't find a kids' book club in your area, consider forming one or joining an online club. Children read "real" books, then go online to talk about the stories. Here are just a few of the online book clubs I found with special activities for kids:

Al's Book Club for Kids

After reading the selected book, children can watch Al Roker chat with book club members on the Today show or play video of the discussion on the website. They can also submit questions to authors and listen to audio excerpts.

In2Books

Parents help kids choose an adult reading mentor, such as a relative or family friend. Children correspond with their mentors about selected books, developing friendships and writing skills.

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More on Choosing Teachers

The term "helicopter parent" came to mind when I read the Hawaii Reporter article that Tim mentioned in his June 6 post about parents lobbying for next year's classroom placements. Helicopter parents are so named because they hover above their children at all times, ready to swoop down and perform heroic rescues should their little dears stub a toe or get a grumpy teacher.

College administrators began using the phrase several years ago after noticing that parents were so used to managing every aspect of their children's lives, they couldn't let go once their kids entered college. (It's time to land the helicopter and get a hobby when you find yourself pulling an all-nighter to write your college sophomore's term paper, then calling the professor to dispute the grade).

OK. So trying to influence which teacher your child gets in elementary school isn't the same as following the kid to college and moving into the dorm. But try to begin the process with the assumption that all of the teachers are equally qualified and the people making the placements have a pretty good idea where your child will best fit in. Then you can weigh in with your thoughts talk with the decision makers about your child's personality and how he learns best. Describe the sort of classroom environment where he's likely to thrive. But that's about as far as I'd go.

Now I must confess that this year I went one tiny step further. I asked that my son be placed with a certain friend. My son has been with the same group of 13 children since kindergarten. This fall when the kids go into 4th grade, they'll be split up and mixed in with other students for the first time. When I think of my child in a large class half-filled with people he doesn't know, I go into mild shock. Placing my son with his friend is for me, anyway a medical necessity.

When I asked his teacher to put the two together, she pulled out a class list in progress and pointed to two names. "I already did," she said. I knew I could trust her judgment.
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Working and School Involvement

Interesting blog thread over at the Career and Kids site. One mom sometimes hides her status as a working mom in order to fit in better with the involved-at-school crowd.

This thread over at the Careers and Kids blog caught my eye. Elizabeth writes:
Sure, there are times that I can't participate at school because I have to work, but, I'll be the judge of that. It's one thing for me to think, "Wow, that's a terrible time for people who work", but, it's another thing for people to say, "We didn't call you for this because, well, you worrrrk."

And her dilemma (Can I  make involvement work when my schedule is not as flexible as some others'?) is quite real for so many moms and dads. The good news: It can work. Elizabeth certainly has the right spirit on the topic. If you share the struggle, perhaps our 25 Ways To Make a Difference could be of service. Love to hear what you're doing to make involvement fit your unique schedule.... (or perhaps even why you can't)
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March of the 8-year-olds

The other night I went to a meeting at my son's school to discuss 3rd grade graduation plans. I was disappointed to learn there wouldn't be a big-name commencement speaker, like Maya Angelou or U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. But there may be an ice cream truck.

Yep, it's true. My son and 120 or so of his classmates will be marching beneath a balloon archway to mark the completion of grades K-3. The PTO makes a big deal of this because the third-graders will be leaving their small, comfortable building and moving on to the larger, district-wide middle school.

It used to be that graduation ceremonies were reserved for those who completed high school. I'm not sure when this rite of passage began to filter down to the lower levels, but it's been going on for years now. In fact, you don't even have to be human to earn a diploma any more. How can I forget our dog Tucker proudly accepting his from puppy kindergarten?

There are those who prefer the old way, when the only ones marching to Pomp and Circumstance had just completed 12th grade. They argue that pre-high school graduations diminish the significance of the real thing that by the time kids reach the end of senior year, they're burned out on graduation ceremonies. I don't agree. When my son and his classmates accept their diplomas nine years from now, I doubt they'll be stifling yawns and fighting off bouts of deja  vu. They'll be reveling in their achievement. Though if their minds do happen to drift back to 3rd grade graduation, I bet they'll be thinking about the ice cream truck.
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School Volunteering: Everyone's Doing It

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you're probably aware that we're in the midst of a Hollywood baby boom. These days, celebrity magazines are almost as likely to show the rich and famous pushing strollers as strolling the red carpet.

Today's celebrity parents are a hands-on group. Angelina Jolie is frequently seen walking her kids to school, and it seems the paparazzi can always find Tom Cruise at his son's baseball games. Even Pamela Anderson, who usually makes headlines for more risque reasons, bragged at the Cannes Film Festival last month about her school volunteer work.

In Cannes to promote her new movie, Blonde and Blonder, Anderson told the London Sun newspaper that despite her public image, her two sons don't think of her as a sex symbol.

"They know I'm at school with the neon vest parking cars and doing safety patrol," she said.

Some may be surprised to hear about Anderson's volunteer role, but it only makes sense that she would take up school safety patrol duty after the years she spent patrolling the beach and saving lives on the TV show Baywatch.

Another celebrity parent, Jane Kaczmarek, is best known for portraying a TV mom Lois on Malcolm in the Middle. She talked with us about how she stays involved in the education of her three children, including being a driver for elementary school field trips and serving hot lunches with other parents.

Since the Hollywood baby boom shows no signs of slowing down, I can only imagine the celebrity gossip items we'll be reading about a few years from now. Perhaps Britney Spears bringing cookies to the PTO bake sale or Brad Pitt making Sno-Kones at field day?
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Politicking for a Teacher

How far should a parent go in trying to get junior into the "right" class for next year?

Just ran across this interesting article from the Hawaii Reporter on getting involved in the classroom-placement process for your son or daughter. The article makes the case for getting real, real involved in the process, and I suppose knowing that there can be such wide differences between teachers—I can understand the motivation. But isn't there a line that goes too far? Do I want to be known as "that parent" with the three-ring binder of how my child learns and explicit instructions on how he or she should be treated? Do I want a formal appeals process for classroom placements? Not me.

Trouble is where does it end? Way I figure it, down the road the kids are going to have to deal with some tough folks, some softies, some folks who just mail it in, some folks who are passionate and talented, and every other type under the rainbow. Learning to deal with all kinds of people is another part of the education process.

A gentle nudge toward one teacher or another? OK. Hoping your child gets that great 5th grade teacher that you had 30 years ago? Understandable. But let's hold off on adding another layer of over officiousness and nannydom to our schools.
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Think or Swim

So, this is my first blog entry ever. I've never done this before and I'm a bit nervous.

Well, here goes. I have two kids. I've been volunteering in their schools since my oldest was in kindergarten, and I've been writing the She Said It column for PTO Today for about four years. My daughter will be a high school freshman in the fall, which just astounds me. Especially since I was a high school freshman, what? Like, two years ago? Maybe three? At least that's what it feels like. My son is 9 and going into 4th grade. Funny, I don't get chest pains when I say I have a 4th grader. Of course when he's old enough for high school, I'll probably need to be medicated.

With the last day of school approaching I've been waking up nights panicking about what to do with the kids this summer. I go through this every year. I want my kids to be happy and engaged in creative and stimulating activities, but they mostly want to sit around and watch TV. I've been collecting flyers and brochures from area day camps. Some of them sound great, like the space camp at the science museum, and the animal behavior camp at the zoo. There's even a crime scene investigation camp within driving distance.

To my son, they're all "boring," and my daughter will have nothing to do with camp at her age. She has, however, already launched her summer campaign for a swimming pool. We live in a state where the average annual temperature is 47 degrees. If you factor in the rain, we could actually use the pool maybe 13 days this year. I'm no financial whiz, but my guess is that a pool wouldn't be a sound investment. Maybe I'll have my daughter work out the numbers—assign a dollar value to a summer without whining, then include that in her calculation. Who knows? Maybe a pool would be worth it, and anyway, she'd be getting some math practice in before school starts.
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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