SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

The Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Parents often ask me whether I think it is a good idea to allow their child to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities even though they are struggling in school. They feel the time would be better spent if they worked longer on their lessons. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Sports help children develop physical skills, get exercise, make friends, have fun, learn to play as a member of a team, learn to play fair, and improve self-esteem.” The same can be said of many after-school activities. For these reasons, I always recommend that parents allow their children to play sports or participate in other after-school activities even if they are not doing well in school.

When students work together toward a common goal, they build a spirit of camaraderie and responsibility that are difficult to experience elsewhere. This happens on sports teams as well as other team activities such as being in the school play or on the forensics team. Students also learn how to be good sports even when things do not seem fair. When the referees or judges make a call the team disagrees with, students learn to accept it and to not let it affect their ability to play. If the game does not turn out well, students learn that failure does not have to define who they are as a team. They learn to work harder to become stronger, so they will do better next time.

The most important reason to allow struggling students to participate in extracurricular activities is allow them to find an area where they excel. Everyone needs to feel capable and confident. If they cannot feel this during the school day, perhaps they can experience it playing sports or being on the robotics team. I agree with John Wooden when he said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Your child should spend plenty of time showing you and others how capable he is.

You might enjoy reading School Is Not Life and School Might Be Hard, but Life Doesn’t Have To Be.

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School Family Announces "Recipe Share"!

At SchoolFamily.com, we’ve got some exciting news…

We’re very pleased to announce the launch of Recipe Share, SchoolFamily.com’s new recipe section!

Looking for a great afterschool snack to made for—or with—your kids? Or how about one that older kids can make themselves? We’ve got ‘em.

Need some new ideas for your child’s school lunch box? We’ve got ‘em.

What about recipes for quick and easy weeknight meals for those evenings that seem completely taken up with kids’ afterschool activities? Or recipes for dinners that can be made ahead? We’ve got ‘em.

Crockpot recipes, recipes for those with food allergies, recipes for desserts, salads, pasta dinners and salads, dips, and side dishes? We’ve got ‘em all, plus some. In fact, we have more than 50 recipe categories from which you can choose to find just what you’re looking for!

And all of our recipes are printer-friendly!

Some of our recipes are from food bloggers you may already know, including weelicious.com and freshbaby.com. Others are from fairly new food bloggers—Organic Glory and Mummy’s Busy World.

And in an exclusive partnership, we have recipes from the Meal Makeover Moms. These two moms, who are both registered dietitians, take traditional recipes and make them over for better nutrition, without sacrificing taste! How about Healthier Hamburger Helper? Or Smiley Face Casserole? (See their lasagna makeover—Chock-Full-O-Veggies Lasagna—pictured above.) The Meal Makeover Moms section features dinner, afterschool and lunch box snacks, desserts, stews, and more.

But perhaps best of all, we welcome recipe submissions from you, our readers! Send us your family’s favorite recipes of all types—dinners to dips to desserts and more—and we’ll include them in our Recipe Share. Simply complete this easy online form, attach a photo of your completed dish (if you have one), and send it along to us! We’ll send you a link to your recipe once it’s posted!

Happy eating!

Carol Brooks Ball, editor



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Is it Un-American To Dislike Little League...When It's Cold?

My children love Little League. Me? Not so much. I like watching them play baseball—I do. And I’m pretty sure it’s un-American to dislike Little League. It’s just that I’m a fair-weather sports mom. And I live in a part of the country where spring has a short memory, forgetting that even though daffodils already came up, snow often blankets us in June. (You may think I’m exaggerating, but last year it snowed twice in June! That may have been an anomaly. But old-timers swear it has snowed as late as July before.)

 What I’m saying is that it’s rarely very warm here in April/May during peak Little League season. As a mom it’s already chaotic enough shuttling 3 kids to the other side of town for separate practices, games, and oh don’t forget—“Your turn at the concession stands.” Add to the chaos cold temperatures, possible rain, and often hail or snow, and you get a grumpy M-O-M who’s tired of Little League! 

How do you enjoy a kid game when you’re sitting in a van keeping warm, while they are clearly freezing their chicken legs in the dugout? Do I have Mom Guilt that I’m toasty warm in the van? Yes! But no way am I sitting in the stands when it’s that cold.

 Last Saturday was “Opening Day.” That means I was at the fields for no less than 7 hours. SEVEN.

But instead of bracing ourselves for the freezing spring weather (blankets, hot chocolate, warming up in the Mom-van between games), we experienced a strange phenomenon called A Warm Day. Complete with sunshine and above 80-degree temps!

We needed extra sunscreen, water stations, and I even got an umbrella to shade myself (did no good at all; I still came home completely sunburned where I missed putting on the sunscreen). We hardly knew how to behave. The kids complained of the heat and the sweaty gloves—never heard THAT before! And the concession stand ran out of cold beverages.

I was blissfully happy in my role as fair weather Little League mom. My voice turned hoarse from cheering during the triple-header. I wore flip-flops and now sport a sunglasses’ “raccoon” tan.

I’m sure we’re in for an arctic blast straight from Alaska next week, but until then…bring on the Little League!

Editor's Note: If you have a little ones who aren't yet old enough for Little League, have them use these fun, printable, baseball-themed worksheets. For other sports, including basketball, football, and more, use these sports-themed, printable, coloring worksheets.


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Should Principals Have Control of Students' "Off Campus" activity?

Most schools have rules for how students should behave while on school grounds, and many have a written code of behavior that students—and occasionally parents—are required to sign.


It's also long been the case that the off school-property behavior of students who hold leadership positions, play sports, or participate in extra-curricular clubs or organizations is held to a more rigorous standard. If the captain of the field hockey team is caught at a party where alcohol is present, for example, she is typically disciplined, often in the form of lost practice and game time.


However, many argue that legislators in Indiana have gone too far by voting to give school principals virtual 24/7 oversight of students and their activities.  A bill that received recent approval from the Indiana House of Representatives gives broad power to principals, allowing them to discipline any student for off-campus behavior that reflects badly on the school—in the principal's opinion.


Called the “Restoring School Discipline Act”—but referred to by some critics as the "Principal in Your Bedroom" bill—the legislation removes the “unlawful activity” clause, which is currently state law, thereby allowing principals to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, for behavior or speech that could "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," or when necessary to "restore order or protect persons on school property."


As vague as those conditions sound, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Eric Koch, insists the bill is ultimately about preventing cyber bullying (note that the term does not appear anywhere in the actual bill). “In limiting grounds for suspension and expulsion to only ‘unlawful’ conduct," Koch reportedly told a local newspaper, "current [state] law ties the hands of school officials to effectively deal with dangerous and disruptive behavior, including cyber bullying,”


Those against the bill, which must be approved by the Indiana Senate to become law, say in theory it could be used against students who speak out about something their principal deems detrimental to the school. Likewise, students who participate in an activity their principal feels isn't in keeping with the school's culture—say, a political rally; a particular summer job; even a student’s choice of attire outside of school—could be suspended or expelled.


Do you think this legislation goes too far? Once outside the school setting, do you think students should be beyond the purview of their school principal?


UPDATE: The bill has since been amended.  If it is approved by the Indiana Senate, a 14-member commission will be formed to study the issue further. However, the House must also approve the amended version.


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Attention Stay/Work at Home Moms: Is It Okay To Hire An Assistant?

In my former life I was a molecular biologist. I know. Weird huh?


Except working in a lab is a lot like, well… cooking. Mixing up recipes (only much more precise than a dash of this and pinch of that), and growing vats of various bacteria and other stinky stuff.


But in reality, I haven’t seen the inside of a working lab since the turn of the century. The closest I get is laughing at the folks on CSI with their fancy equipment, pristine labs, and lightning speed with which they “sequence a human genome”...um yeah, NOT something that happens overnight people.


Yet try as I might to prevent it, I still find “science projects” growing in my fridge! Plus often you can find me experimenting on a new cake recipe, tweaking the ingredients just enough to fit my “dessert” hypothesis better. (I’ll be testing out a new banana/chocolate cake theory later tonight!)


I moved into full-time-mom mode when my oldest was about 18 months. Yes, I chose to become a SAHM. (Note: the recognizable abbreviation for "Stay At Home Mom" had not yet been invented.) Two babies later, and then two states later, my youngest was finally old enough to enter kindergarten. In case you’re confused, I am NOT one of the moms you’d catch outside the first day of class with tissues. No. I was more likely headed out the door to my well-deserved first day of school pedicure!



I have been “working from home” for the past 3 years. I’m thinking about having desk plates made that say: WAHM (Work At Home Mom). And my work? Well, I basically fell into this thing called blogging. I write on my own blog, GoodNCrazy.com. I’m also the “Good N Crazy Mom” blogger here at SchoolFamily.com, and I work with a handful of small clients, doing project management for their social media marketing. And I’ll be darned if I’m not having a total blast! Best of both worlds, as the saying goes.


I pay a tidy share of the family mortgage and last year my biggest goal was to buy (with my own money) a fabulous desk! (Check.) I’m enjoying it right now as I sip my morning cocoa and type away.


However, a problem has arisen in that my children’s afterschool needs are heavily eating into my “work at home” time. I’m talking carpooling and piano schlepping and late evening dinner delivery to starving teens at their play rehearsal! And my husband’s recent increase in whirlwind around-the-world travel has created a level of stress in my world that I can only compare to having a newborn again.


Fast forward to my husband’s suggestion: Hire an assistant. A what? Me?


But I’m a WAHM? We don’t need no stinkin’ help. We do it ALL. I create fabulous Valentine family dinners, I volunteer with Cub Scouts, I keep my daughters dressed modestly, and pay attention to their hobbies and talents. Isn’t it against the code of WAHM ethics to hire an assistant?!


Well, I did it.


A month ago, my husband was gone for 3 weeks straight. And it finally pushed this proverbial mom over the edge.


I hired Brooke, a college kid (pictured in the above photo with two of my kids), to help me out in the afternoons for a few hours twice a week. (WOW, who knew what kind of savior that would be?) Let me tell you, I’m a cheapskate; I make those paid hours SING! I get more done in 3 hours than several days combined at times. And knowing dinner is often started, dishes are tidied, and I’m not stressing because my freshman had a change in plans and needs to be picked up—“right NOW! Mom!”—is a huge relief on several levels.


Oh and no one’s complaining when cupcakes magically appear upon return from Scouts!


I’ve officially changed my tune. I now believe a home assistant for a WAHM who “thinks” she can do it all is the sweetest melody I’ve heard in months!


What do you think? Have I crossed over the unwritten stay-at-home-mom-rules?


Am I in danger of losing my WAHM “street cred”?





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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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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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Calm Parenting: 8 Ways to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry

SchoolFamily.com's Guest Blogger this week is Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, expert blogger for EmpoweringParents.com and creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program. Pincus is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Why is it so easy to go from “zero to 60” when our kids make us angry? There are many reasons, but I think it’s mainly because we allow ourselves to go to 60. And in a sense, when we get up to 60—when we react emotionally—we’re allowing the behavior of our kids to determine how we’ll behave rather than the other way around.


We do so many things automatically without even thinking about it. This is often because we believe that we need to get our kids under control, rather than taking a moment to stop and think and say, “Wait, let me get myself under control first before I respond.” The best way to prevent yourself from getting to 60 is to recognize when you’re going there—and what makes you go there. In fact, in my opinion, that is probably one of the most important things you can do as a parent.


Here’s a secret: When you get yourself under control, your kids will also usually calm down. Remember, calm is contagious—and so is anxiety. When we as parents are nervous or anxious, it’s been proven that it creates anxiety in our kids. I would even go so far as to say that being emotionally reactive is probably your greatest concern as a parent. Think of it this way: if you can’t get calm—if you can’t get to zero—then what you’re really doing is inadvertently creating the exact atmosphere you’re trying to avoid.


Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re teaching your child how to ride a bike. Your child is not getting it and is being whiny and cranky and talks back to you. You’re frustrated, annoyed, angry, and disappointed, because inside you somehow feel responsible to teach him to learn how to ride this bike, and he just won’t listen. Now you’re starting to get agitated about it. You yell at your child because you’re up to 60. The end result is that your child will probably fall off the bike. Here’s why: He’s so filled with the anxiety that’s surrounding him that he can’t concentrate. He’s feeling pushed to do something and he reacts to it by failing.


What can you do? Instead of snapping and reacting because you feel like you have to get your child to learn how to ride the bike, try turning it around and ask yourself, “How do I get myself to really be calm and how will that be helpful for my child to get to where he needs to be?” Remind yourself that you’re not responsible to get him to ride the bike; instead, you’re responsible to get yourself to zero. From there, you can think about the most effective way to help him learn.


This is why I say that if we can’t calm down we’ll probably create exactly what we’re trying to avoid—failure. Think about someone you know who is calm and serene; their presence helps center everybody else in the room. When you’re calm, that’s the effect it has on your child and your family. It will help your child de-escalate, learn how to soothe himself when he’s nervous or agitated, and will make him better able to do what he has to do in tense moments. And in that moment, he won’t have to fight against you, because you’ve effectively taken that push-pull (the power struggle) away by being calm when he pushes your buttons.


By the way, I understand that nobody wants to go to 60—no one likes to be upset. I think most parents’ goal is to get to zero, but often they just don’t know how to do it. The truth is, everybody has to find the best way to do that for themselves. (I have some ideas about how to do that that I will explain in a moment.) But ultimately, it’s about understanding how important it is not to lose it—and not giving yourself permission to do so.


And there’s a good reason for this. When we hit the roof in front of our kids, what we’re really communicating is “There are no grown-ups at home.” We’re saying that we can’t manage our anxiety. And when you try to manage your child’s behavior instead of your own anxiety, what you’re saying is, “I’m out of control. I need you to change so that I can feel better.” So the goal is to acknowledge what’s going on, and to understand how important it is to get control—and to ultimately gain control of ourselves.


The question you’re probably asking is, “Easy for you to say. How am I going to get there?” Here are 8 ways I’ve found helpful for parents when I work with them:


1. Make the commitment not to lose it. Remind yourself that you’re going to try to stay in control from now on. Notice what sets you off—is it your child ignoring you? Or does backtalk drive you up the wall? It’s not always easy, and I think it’s hard for anyone to control their temper 100 percent of the time, but still, making that first promise to yourself is the beginning of calm—for your whole family.


2. Expect that your child is going to push your buttons. Usually we get upset when our kids are not doing what we want them to do. They’re not listening or they’re not complying. In our heads, we start worrying that we’re not doing a good job as parents. We worry that we don’t know what to do to get them under our control. Sometimes, we fast-forward to the future and wonder if this is how they’re going to be the rest of their lives. In short, we go through all sorts of faulty thinking. And doing so causes our anxiety to go way up. I think the best solution is to prepare for your child to push your buttons and not take it personally. In a sense, your child is doing his job (being a kid who can’t yet solve his problems)—and your job is to remain calm so you can guide him.


3. Realize what you aren’t responsible for. There’s confusion for many parents as to what we’re really responsible for and what we’re not responsible for. If you feel responsible for things that really don’t belong in your “box”—things like him getting up on time or having his homework completed—it will result in frustration. They don’t belong in your box—they belong in your child’s box. If you always think you’re responsible for how things turn out, then you’re going to be on your child in a way that’s going to create more stress and reactivity. So you can say, “I’m responsible for helping you figure out how to solve the problem. But I’m not responsible for solving the problem for you.” If you feel like you’re responsible for solving your child’s problems, then she’s not going to feel like she has to solve them herself. You’re going to become more and more agitated and try harder and harder.

You’re not responsible for getting your child to listen to you; instead you’re responsible for deciding how to respond to her when she doesn’t listen to you. And think about it: If you feel responsible for getting your child to listen, just how are you supposed to do that? How is anyone supposed to get another person to do something; how are we supposed to control what somebody else really does? Instead, decide to be responsible for how you want to deal with your child if she doesn’t listen. Think about the kind of consequences you want to hand out, based on what you can and can’t live with—your own bottom line. In the long run, standing up for yourself will help you be the leader your kids need.


4. Prepare ahead of time. Notice when the anxiety is high and try to prepare for it. You might observe that every day at 5 p.m., your family’s nerves are on edge. Everyone is home from work or school, they’re hungry, and they’re decompressing. For many families, it’s just a terrible time of day; everybody’s anxiety is up and patience is at low ebb. Ask yourself, “How am I going to handle this when I know my teen is going to come screaming at me? What do I do when she asks to use the car when she knows I’m going to say no?” Prepare yourself. Say, “This time, I’m not getting into an argument with her. Nobody can make me do that. I’m not giving her permission to hit my buttons.” Your stance should be, “No matter how hard you try to pull me into a power struggle, it’s not going to happen.” Let yourself be guided by the way you want to see yourself as a parent versus your feeling of the moment.


5. Ask yourself “What’s helped me in the past?” Start thinking about what’s helped you to manage your anxiety in the past. What’s helped to soothe you through something that makes you uncomfortable? Usually the first thing is to commit yourself to not saying anything when that feeling comes up inside of you. In your head, you can say something like, “I’m not saying anything; I’m going to step back; I’m going to take a deep breath.” Give yourself that moment to be able to do whatever it is you need to do to get calmer. I always have to walk out of the room. Sometimes I go into the bedroom or bathroom, but I leave the situation temporarily. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to react to your child.


6. Take a breath. Take a deep breath when you feel yourself escalating—and take a moment to think things through. There is a big difference between responding and reacting. When you respond, you’re actually taking some time to think about what you want to say. When you react, you’re just on autopilot. As much as possible, you want to respond thoughtfully to what your child is saying or doing. Make sure that you take that deep breath before you respond to your child because that moment will give you a chance to think about what you want to say.

Think of it this way: When we’re upset and trying to get our child to do what we want, we’re going to press harder. We’re going to try to control them more, to shape them up or talk some sense into them, so we yell louder. And we go from 20 to 40 and it keeps escalating. It might be the time of day. Perhaps your child has had a hard day and then you react to his mood. And then he responds in kind and it just escalates. The anxiety feeds on itself.


7. Keep some slogans in your head. Say something to yourself every time you feel your emotions rising. It can be anything from “Stop” or “Breathe” or “Slow down” to “Does it really matter?” or “Is this that important?” Whatever words will help you, take that moment and go through a list of priorities. I personally keep a mental picture handy to calm myself down: I think of a beautiful place in my mind that always calms and relaxes me. Try to come up with that mental picture for yourself. Working on that will increase your ability to be able to go there more automatically.


8. Think about what you want your relationship to look like. How do you want your relationship with your child to be someday? If the way things are now is not how you want your relationship to look in 25 years, start thinking about what you do want. Ask yourself, “Is how I’m responding to my child now going to help? Is that going to help me reach my goal?” This doesn’t mean that you should do what your child wants all the time—far from it. Standing by the rules of the house and giving consequences when your child acts out is all part of being an effective, loving parent.

What it does mean is that you try to treat your child with respect—the way you want her to treat you. Keep that goal in your head. Ask yourself, “Will my response be worth it?” If your goal is to have a solid relationship with your child, will your reaction get you closer to that goal?


When your child is aggravating you, your thinking process at that moment is very important.  The whole goal is really to be as objective as you can with what’s going on with yourself and with your child. Ask, “What’s my kid doing right now? What’s he trying to do? Is he reacting to tension in the house?” You don’t have to get her to listen, but you do have to understand what’s going on—and figure out how you’re going to respond to what’s going on. Then you can stay on track and not be pulled in a thousand different directions.


The thinking process itself actually helps us to calm down. As parents, what we’re really working toward is “What’s within my power to do to get myself calm?” So the less we can react, the better—and the more we think things through, the more positive the outcome will be. Thinking helps us to be calm and breathe; calm helps us to get to better thinking. Observing ourselves helps activate the thinking part of the brain and reduces the kind of “emotionality” that gets in the way of better thinking.


That’s really what we’re talking about here: responding thoughtfully rather than simply reacting. Someone once said, “Response comes from the word ‘responsibility.’” So it’s taking responsibility for how we want to act rather than having that knee-jerk reaction when our buttons are pushed. And if we can get our thinking out in front of our emotions, we’re going to do better as parents. And that’s really the goal.



Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry is reprinted with permission from EmpoweringParents.com. For more than 25 years, Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Pincus is the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.



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Children Need Experience Making Their Own Decisions

It is tempting as a parent to take control of every part of a child’s life. Parents make sure their children do all their homework, get up on time, get ready for school, eat a healthy breakfast, wear appropriate clothing, and catch the school bus on time. Parents essentially decide everything! At some point in a child’s life, however, parents will not be there to make all their decisions for them.

Children need experience making decisions. They will make mistakes along the way, but you will be there to help them understand the mistakes and to do better the next time. Here are 5 ideas for questions you can ask your child, allowing him to make decisions that don’t impact health, safety, or education.

  • “Do you want to eat broccoli or green beans for supper?” They’re both green veggies, so let them choose to eat the one they like the best.
  • “What do you plan to wear to school tomorrow?” As long as they meet the school’s dress code, they should be able to choose their own clothes from a fairly early age.
  • “Why don’t you check the weather channel and decide whether you will need your hat and gloves tomorrow?” Unless you know it might be seriously harmful for them to go without the hat and gloves, why not let them make a bad decision once or twice?
  • “Are you going to start with your math homework or your English?” Children should not decide whether to do their homework, but allowing them to decide which to do first is perfectly appropriate.
  • “You can play video games for 30 minutes tonight. When is the best time for you to do that?” Some kids will choose to play right when you ask; some will choose to wait until later. As long as they are not spending too much time playing the video game, it probably does not matter.

When I’ve written on this topic before, I’ve heard from parents that they’re afraid their child will make bad decisions. To that I ask, “How will they ever learn to make good decisions if you don’t allow them to mess up every once in awhile?” Children—like most adults—are happier when they feel they have some control over their own activities.


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A Gratitude Shout-Out From Our “SchoolFamily” To Yours


Our family’s world revolves around the activities of our three school-age kids.  And as much as it often looks like we don’t know whether we’re coming or going… all those activities we’re involved in are things we choose to do and wouldn’t change.

  • Free guitar lessons on Wednesdays? Great. We’re in.
  • Chess Club starting on Monday? Perfect; where do we sign up?
  • 5th grade Scarecrow Crafting contests! (Please bid on the…um, “creative” creations? Yes, but if I win the auction will it be okay if we don’t bring it home? The wet hay stinks!)

If you think about it, all these activities and extras, whether during or after school, are all thanks in huge part to brave volunteers and already-weary teachers who go the extra mile and take the time to care.

Chess Club, for example, is run by Mr. Young, a 4th grade teacher. He’s been checkmating 2nd through 6th graders long enough to know college-age kids who used to be on his team! That scarecrow bonanza owes its brain to a room mom who spent umpteen hours rounding up multiple parents to help with supplies and valuable time. And the music teacher who spends her Wednesdays teaching young kids to strum a mean Kumbayah? She doesn’t get paid for that; it’s on her own string.

All around us in our extended “SchoolFamily,” there are numerous people that we’re grateful for. I’ve created a list of just a few specific to our family; Who are YOU grateful for in YOUR community’s “SchoolFamily?”

  • All our schoolteachers of course! We totally get that they are a huge influence in our children’s lives. And if there is ever a job that doesn’t get enough thanks it’s that of being a teacher. Our “SchoolFamily” supports and thanks ALL of our teachers!
  • The SMART reading volunteers across our whole town. Hundreds of SMART volunteers (stands for Start Making A Reader Today) read one-on-one in schools to younger grades. Thanks to all those participating in a reading program that really hits the needed mark.
  • After-school activity teachers and leaders. We’re grateful to our piano teacher, art teacher, volleyball volunteer coaches, T-Ball coach—and of course we can’t forget the drama coach! Over the years we’ve had ballet teachers, karate teachers, and multiple other types of teachers—thank you to all.
  • Church/Youth Group volunteers. We are always grateful to Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and Cub Scout leaders who are all volunteers and are not only unpaid, but often under-appreciated!
  • Community and cultural volunteers. Have you thought about all the people-hours that go into the various parades, festivals, and town/city carnivals in your area throughout the year?  Some city positions are paid, however remember that many, many volunteers help support and spend their own time and resources to create memorable events like a Veterans Day parade, a Christmas Carnival, or planning and running a successful 4th of July  Festival! And every time there is a cultural event, be it a play, a choir, or a community children’s performance, there are sure to be volunteers behind the scenes helping your community be a better place to live.

THANK YOU to all of the people who give of their time and talents to my “SchoolFamily.”

Who is your “SchoolFamily” gratitude list?



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Drama vs. Sports: Is There A Difference?

Welcome to our first year of high school. My daughter is a freshman and has all honors classes, with promises of double homework. She also has piano, marching band (marching during home football games), and all the friends and Facebook time she can fit into her schedule! (Let’s just say we don’t get a lot of babysitting privileges anymore.)

Imagine my surprise when she announced she was trying out for the school play!

 Okay, I thought, IF she makes it we’ll deal with the time issues. I made it clear her grades always come first, and she adamantly maintained she could handle it all.

The thing is I don’t think her Drama Coach got the memo.

For seven weeks, every day after school, she was expected to be there, be on time, be prepared, and never miss a single practice. All this? To be a “Townsperson.” That’s right. She has a small part. But if she misses a single practice she’s been warned she could be kicked out of the play. (Or so she tells me when I complain that it’s all too much!)

We’ve had to reschedule orthodontist appointments. I cartwheel around her schedule to get younger kids to various activities while at a moment’s notice find out I have to drop everything and go pick her up (at 5 0r 6 p.m. or later!). There is no real schedule. Oh, and sometimes Saturdays are thrown in just for fun!?

Do I sound like an unhappy theater Mom? I am.

And I finally lost it, and let her know this is not acceptable.

The crazy schedule, the inflexible rules—it’s all crazy unrealistic.

This was her response and it really threw me for a loop.

“Mom, I’m not into sports. THIS is my thing. If I were on the volleyball team you wouldn’t have any problem with me staying after every day, practicing late, dealing with a neurotic coach. And you know there are times kids don’t get to ‘start’ if they miss a practice. It’s really the same for me.”

Wake-up call to Mom! 

I was the kid who WAS into sports. I played team sports all through junior high and high school. I had not compared her insane play practice to a kid on a sports team at all. And believe me, she cares about this every bit as much as I cared about basketball!

Her first performance was this weekend. And we were so proud of her.

Think about what she learned from all this? Perseverance, memorization, stage presence, courage to stand on stage, and a mean new set of negotiating skills to debate an irate mom and a neurotic Drama Coach!

Now guess what? Tryouts for the school musical are in two weeks.

Welcome to Season II, Mom.

L-R, Carissa Roger's daughter, a high school freshman, and a friend, both in character as "A Townsperson" for their high school play.

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When You Give A Mom A Trip to Spain…

Every once in a blue moon, a rare thing happens. The stars align and a mom of 3 children is allowed to travel away from her kids, the chaos, and the never-ending car pools.

In fact it’s a delicate recipe of multiple ingredients, stirred, and carefully combined in just the right amounts and with perfect timing.

Here's a copy of the recipe:

  1. A husband who is traveling to Spain for work three times in a short period. (And, how exciting—you get to tag along with him for the second trip!)
  2. Frequent flyer miles; enough to fly grandma (my mom) IN to care for the kids while you’re gone! (Or if you’re luckier than us, grandma lives nearby in the first place!) And she conveniently heeds the mayday call and comes right away.
  3. Children who aren’t so little that you worry about leaving them home, and yet who are old enough to make their own school lunches and walk to and from school, so you don’t stress about making grandma do too much.
  4. A GPS device. (This literally saved my mom’s life!)
  5. Writing down the dreaded family schedule:

               * If your family is anything like mine it will take you several hours and you’ll still forget to list the early morning, student government meeting the 5th grader has on Fridays and the Tuesday Cub Scout meeting for the 2nd grader (don’t forget his book!).

               * You will make a resolution to get back in the meal planning game when after three nights in a row you suggest grandma go pick up pizza (since it’s what you’d do those nights).

               *And it will make you sad when you realize that you take the oldest to school at 7:40 a.m. and don’t see her again before 6 or 7 p.m.

               *But once ‘The List’ is complete you’ll realize it’s not so scary after all. And grandma has a lot of daytime downtime while the kids are in school, right? (So why does MY daily life seem so crazy all the time!?)

        6. Finally you will definitely, absolutely need to figure out Skype. With a 9-hour time difference it will be hard to connect at all, much less really SEE each other. And you can tell yourself it’s only 7 nights away, but after the 2nd night you will miss your kids something fierce—you’ll miss all the Good and the Crazy—and video chatting at 6 a.m. Spain time will totally be worth it!

So is it true?

Mom is never allowed to leave the country? Just like there’s no crying in baseball? Especially if the dad is also gone?! Not always. Sometimes all the ingredients meld together to create the perfect paella and even the hectic family schedule can be tamed…for a week.

I’m happy to report my mom my pulled it off! (Note: See the photo of Carissa's mom and her grandchildren, below). And I’m also beyond impressed with my kiddos. Things that, as a mom, you take for granted, become a thing of beauty when viewed through grandma’s eyes. My kids (even the 7 year old) wake themselves with their own alarms. When the high schooler is home, she’s a huge help, doing dinner prep work the dishes, and even helping with the younger siblings if needed. And with enough reminders, homework basically completes itself.

Other than the massive piles of papers needing to be signed, my kids are on their own for afterschool work 90 percent of the time. 

And when grandma is around, who needs to be entertained? I think they enjoyed her as much as she enjoyed them!

So, when do I get to travel again!?!

How do you manage the entire school schedule, activities, and chaos when you have to (or get to) travel?


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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:



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."



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.]



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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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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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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How do you Motivate Your Kids to Persevere?

One of my all-time favorite quotes that I have passed along to my kids is: 

"I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." ~Thomas Edison

 I think it's important for our kids to know that in school and in life set backs don't always mean the end. Does a bad grade in a child's favorite subject mean they are not good at it? Does being cut from a sports team mean you stop playing a sport? Does not getting the lead in the school play mean you quit that production? Gosh, I hope not. It really bugs me when parents let their kids quit because they didn't get a lead in the school play or didn't make varsity. What kind of message is this sending? Instead, let's send the message from this video: take risks and persevere

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6747 Hits

The Impact of Too Little Unstructured Playtime

This past Monday night I chose to be the voice of my young students.

In front of school committee members, the superintendent, and 300 or so parents of my school community, I spoke on behalf of all East Providence elementary school children. I asked administrators to reverse their decision to change recess, and to keep our recess exactly as it has been. After a three and a half hour meeting…I am still unsure of the outcome!

It appears now that recess will be a structured event, orchestrated by the classroom teacher. Yet, another piece of the day that someone is telling children what to do.

This is not just happening in my school community. It’s happening everywhere in a child’s life, in every town across America. Between sports, music or dance lessons, crafts, etc. children are programmed and over scheduled.

Creativity and spontaneity are fast becoming extinct. The satisfaction of a child’s enthusiastic “I did it!” has been replaced by the often asked, “What do I do now?” No wonder some children lack self-esteem. Confidence comes from solving problems, and taking pride in a job well done. It is not something that can be taught. It must be experienced!

Let’s reverse this current trend and give an important part of childhood, free unstructured play, back to our children!

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5302 Hits

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