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Talkin' Involvement on Boston TV

Late notice, but I'll be talking about back-to-school habits for parents tomorrow morning on Fox 25 in Boston. Believe we're set to go live at about 8:20 AM. Will try and get the clip on here later this week, provided it's not in HD (face made for radio -- or at least lo-def!).
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Stretching Back-to-School Supplies

Marketing-wise, back-to-school is the new Christmas. Have you noticedthecirculars in that papers these days? Every store and every brand is trying to get in on the B2S craze. (Of course, some of our very most favorite brands help sponsor our back-toschool efforts here at schoolfamily.com, but that's another story entirely. :-))

Gary Brown, a columnist from upstate New York, does a nice job of pointing out the absurdity of some of the press releases that come around this season. Now, I'm all for marketing during the back-to-school season, but it's not necessary to make these outlandish claims as to why your product is a back-to-school must-have.

Love it, for example, when Gary points out the "computer cable organizer" trying to position themselves asa B2S must-have. C'mon guys! Backpack? Yes. New school shoes?Check. But computer cable organizers? Pretty sure I need those (or not) equally in February and May asI do in August.

Between squeezing in some late beach runs and getting the supplies we do actually need, I think my computer wires may remain a helpless tangle for at least a few more weeks.

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Cell Phone Rules Tightening at Schools

This Mississippi district isn't alone in trying to clamp down on cell phone use at school. Sounds like these guys are taking a common-sense approach to appropriate controls over outright ban. Thinking abouta cell for your dear son or daughter? Here are some kids' cell phone shopping tips from our staff.
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Involvement can be Simple

This article on Conversations to Have with Your Kids in the Car hits just the right note. I think sometimes -- and we can be guilty of this on schoolfamily.com, as well -- there's a tendency to make involvement seem so arduous, and it doesn't have to be.

We've got a great article on the site on "Parents as Teachers" that really hits home, as well.

This general concept covers two distinct battles on the involvement front. One is having actual meaningful conversations with your child, and it's obviously important. But the second is simply making sure your child knows you're interested and interacting. Every conversation doesn't have to be deep and real, but it's important to keep asking the questions and opening the lines. I like to say: even if the answer to "how was your day?" is "fine" 121 days in a row, please be sure to ask it again on the 122nd day.

Love to hear your thoughts on the art of the sometimes-inane conversation...
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Hannah Montana B2S Wake-Up Calls

I'm usually a bit more cynical, but this one cracked me up -- yes, you too can have Hannah Montana wake up your son or daughter on the first day of school. That should get them jumping, eh?

Thankfully, my dear daughter is a bit young to have the Hannah bug, but I do have 9 nieces and have seen the power first-hand. I'm thinking perhaps we should skip the wake-up calls and go right to Hannah "do your homework" and Hannah "brush your teeth and clean your room" calls. Now *those* I'd pay big bucks for.
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Making the Most of Back-to-School Night

Good advice from Missouri on how tomake the most from the annual back-to-school night at school. Especially like the advice to ask specifically how a teacher prefers to be communicated with. Some teachers love email; others only check email sporadically. Some prefer a note from mom or dad; others prefer a message left in the office. Figuring that out early can help avoid delays and frustration later in the school year.
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The... ahem... joys of back-to-school shopping

Good column from Atlanta from a dad who doesn't miss the annual scramble now that his youngest is off to college. It *is* amazing how none of the supply goodies you can get for free (pens from the hotel or conference, backpack from the camp give-away, etc.) are ever actually the right supplies for school. Must be a conspiracy.... Where do all those mechanical pencils disappear to anyway? Must be in that same secret compartment with all the single socks that go missing.
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What the Cool Kindergartener is Wearing

I'm not usually one for giving fashion advice, but i just ran across this site.. and kind of love these shirts for the little ones. (Love them especially after my kids came home from the mall last night with lots and lots of questions about the lets-just-say interesting photos at Abercrombie & Fitch -- ouch). They've got lots of the younger grades covered and a neat, simple feel.Hope you like.
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A Mile of Involvement

Love the thinking in Denver -- getting parents energized about staying connected with their kids' education. Heck -- it's what this site is all about!

For the Denver Public Schools (and the -- love this name! -- Parent Empowerment Council), it's a new program -- the Mile High Parent Campaign -- aimed at getting parents to commit 5,280 minutes per year (get it? one mile for the Mile High city) or about a half hour per day to connecting with their children's education. Education (how to connect), inspiration (why to connect) and even prizes.

I'm sure some will say that parents should do this without incentives or a half hour is not enough -- but we love the spirit and creativity of this approach. So many districts give lip-service only to the importance of involvement.

What do you think?
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Should school volunteers get perks?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a heated debate taking place on whether the extra-involved parents at school should get preferential treatment. The specific debate here is on an involved parent requesting a specific teacher and expecting results because of her volunteer status.

Touch issue. Your thoughts?
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Back-to-School Starts When?

Kind of reminds me of Hallmark inventing new holidays to sell more cards, but... Staples has decided that yesterday was the "official start of the back-to-school shopping season."

What I really love is the idea that some carefully-calculated calculus went into the decision on the date. Kind of cracks me up. It's as good a date as any other, but I could have, you could have (and I'm sure Staples did) pick that date without 20 years of shopping trends data and interviews with parents nationwide.

Either way, it leads to a good question: when does the shopping mind-set start for you? We're still 7 weeks away for my kids (and still away on vacation -- which feels like the end of last school year, not the beginning of new), so I'm not there yet.

Are you?
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Vacation and School

So all 6 of us Sullivans are on vacation this week. We're at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont (America's Family Resort, they call it.) and -- despite rain today -- are having a great time.

After a year of typical parent and family craziness --arranging and re-arranging multiple schedules, school projects, work demands, kids' sports, more homework than ever -- vacation is providing a really unique insight into a year of school progress and growth. It seems that having this more quiet time provides the necessary perspective to assess how all that craziness went. Hard to make that kind of assessment in real-time between Little League games and bedtimes and school projects.

The good news is that things seem solid. We came here last year, too, so it's fun to compare what the kids were comfortable with last year and what they want to do now. A desire for more independence (for the older kids) seems to be the theme this year. And I suppose that's a good thing.

Of course, they also aced the "are you ready" quizzes that we have here on the site. So I guess I can head to the pool guilt-free for the rest of the weekend.

Happy 4th all.
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Parent Involvement Your Way

Just found this excellent year-long feature from New Haven, CT. The focus: how several parents made parent involvemnt work for themselves on their own schedules and within their own interests. Great, great stuff. And a lot for all of us to learn from.

The key take-away here (and this is coming from someone very involved in PTO and PTA stuff)is that the traditional entry points (Open House, PTO meetings) don't have to be your entry points. Those traditional structures are fine, and they work well for many.But they don't have to work for you. Find your own way to connect. Make sure your children know (and the school knows) that school is a priority for your family, but do that in a way that works for you. It's the involvement that matters, not the form of that involvement.
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Getting Involved (not *how* you get involved) is What Matters

Took me a couple of reads to actually like this story from England about the joys and perils of connecting with the PTO or PTA at your school.

My first reaction was to criticize the stereotypical portrayal that parent group volunteering means getting caught up in playground politics and cliques. (I actually wrote a column for our sister site -- ptotoday.com -- on how PTOs can avoid cliquedom) Also was disappointed that the representative from the British national PTA seems to say that "all PTAs are cliques and if you don't like it, find something else."
"Of course there's going to be the idea that the PTA is a bit cliquey. It's never intended but it almost always is."

Ugh. It's not inevitable. It's certainly an issue, but in my experience a lot of parents also go in expecting a problem and then use the first negative experience as an excuse to turn away.

But on the whole, I really liked the overall message, which is:
"Whether you're batch-baking cakes or just buying a raffle ticket, the golden rule to stress-free PTA involvement seems to be do what you can and forget the guilt."

That really hits it. If the PTO or PTA volunteering is for you -- great. If not, find another way to connect. The positive results ofgetting involvedare just too great to ignore. We've also got good ideas on how you can get involed on your own terms.
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Sneaking learning into summer fun...

Thought this feature could make for a great brainstorming lead-in. The story focuses on teachers' best ideas for keeping learning alive this summer. Good stuff. Would love to hear your secrets for this every-summer challenge.
For us, summer means quite a few long drives. And long drives are perfect for trivia. The older kids get everything from math facts ("the speed round") to spelling, while the 2 year-old gets cousins (she has 30 of them!) and Disney Princess questions.

What are you best tricks for keeping young brains firing?
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College-style fundraising coming to a school near you?

It's certainly a trend, one this Hartford Courant piece captures well. What is it? Districts (or, more often, supporters of the schools in a district) setting major-league fundraising goals and using much more sophisticated tactics (bye-bye bake sales?) to buoy stressed school budgets. Good trend? Or bad trend? That remains to be seen. From my perspective, it's hard to see any efforts that bring more support to our schools as a bad thing. Your thoughts?
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More research: parent involvement works!

And you thought those dinner conversations and parent-teacher conferences didn't matter :-)....

A pair of University of New Hampshire economists add more proof to what we've known for years -- parent involvement makes a proven difference for your kids and our schools. Read the newest parent involvement research here.

These guys even put a price tag on it, saying that increased involvement is worth the equivalent of $1000 more in spending for the average school district. We probably shouldn't wait for our checks in the mail, but we certainly should stay involved and help others get it, too.
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SchoolFamily.com is Here

Welcome to our newest resource for involved moms and dads -- schoolfamily.com.

Today, you'll find tons of great articles for helping you help your school-aged kids do great and helping you and your family keep school sane. Over the next few weeks and months and years, you're going to find lots and lots more. Think of this site as the central web meeting spot (a portal, if you will) for all things that can help you be a great school parent.

My best advice: 1) Enjoy! We're sure having a great time working on all this stuff. Hopeit'll serve you well. And 2) Relax. There's so much to worry about these days, but it's near impossible to be a good school parent while cowering in the corner. SchoolFamily.com is about getting that balance just right.

Finally, a quick thanks to all the folks who work so hard to make this site go. Our editorial team, the designers, our tech folks and more. The work does seem abit lighterwhen you're workingon such a valuable site. But it's work nonetheless, and no one does it better.

On we go...

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Making the most of parent-teacher conferences

Do you find parent-teacher conferences to be: a) enlightening, b) mutually beneficial, or c) about as fun as going to the dentist? If you answered c, you're not alone. Plenty of parents get nervous about meeting with teachers, but still, you shouldn't feel like you're being called into the principal's office.

If you haven't met your child's teacher yet, this is a great opportunity to share any information that will help her work with your child. It's also a good time to ask the teacher all those questions you've been saving up. Not sure where to start? We've put together a list of Back-to-School Conference Questions just for you.
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Hey Mom, done your homework yet?

A high school English teacher in New Jersey is making waves for requiring parents to read the same assignments as their kids and comment about them on his blog. The teacher explained to The New York Times that because parent involvement in education tends to wane as kids become teenagers, he decided to make it part of the class. Parents complain about never getting to see their kids work, he said. Now they have to.

The article has stirred up debate about just how much schools should expect from parents. (Blogger Uncertain Principles makes a good case for parent homework, while LT Strickland argues that this approach is unrealistic for many families.) What do you think? Is it unfair to ask parents to ponder Kafka after a long day at work, or is it just part of the job of being a parent?
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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