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SchoolFamily Voices

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

Can Silly Bandz Teach Your Kids to Manage Distractions?

If you have a child between the ages of 3 and 17, chances are you are all too familiar with Silly Banz. Heck, you may even have some on your wrist right now -- a gift of love from your kids perhaps? The wearing and trading of these colorful silicon bracelets has become so popular that many schools have decided to ban them. Yup, as stated in this recent Time.com article, "The Bandz are now contraband." 

And this is where I get up on my soap box. O.K. I have heard of plenty of things being banned from school over the years. Cell phones-- I get it. Beanie babies and Webkinz -- unless they are for show and tell in Kindergarten, stuffed animals don't have place in school. But rubber bracelets? I feel like banning them from school is missing an opportunity to teach kids how to deal with distractions. Have to believe that if two kids lose their bracelets to the black hole, otherwise know as the teacher's desk drawer, the other students are going to catch on quickly that it 's not a good choice to play with the bracelets during class. Or maybe they would decide for themselves to leave them in their backpack. Why not empower kids to manage distractions rather than remove all choices?

One of my family's all-time favorite teachers is woman that manages to raise parents eyebrows at back-to-school night year after year. In her "overview of the classroom" she casually mentions that she lets the kids chose where they want to sit in class. Like many parents, you are probably thinking that is a recipe for disaster, right? Not true. Here's what she says to her students: "I want you to chose a seat where you will do your best learning. If you cannot make a good choice, I will help you make a better one." Kids quickly learn that if they sit next to their chatty buddy, they are not going to be able to concentrate. They can ask to move their seats -- or wait and the teacher will do it for them. I know that we send our kids to school to learn reading, math, science, etc. but don't we also want them to learn self-discipline and how to make good choices? 

Have Silly Bandz been banned at your school? Let's hear your opinion: to ban or not to ban?

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Over Parenting, Helicopter Parent -- Sound Familiar?

Just came across this amusing article titled, "Are you a Helicopter Parent?" Well actually, it was amusing and troubling all at once.  If you spend any time on this site, you know that we are all about parent involvement. But, there comes a point where parent involvement crosses the line to over parenting. This recent article talks about the disconcerting trend of helicopter parenting.

"It’s a parenting pattern whose tentacles reach all income levels, all races and ethnicities, says Patricia Somers of the University of Texas at Austin, who spent more than a year studying parents."

We all want our kids to succeed in school, excel in sports, drama, or some extra-curricular activity, form good friendships and get into a good college, right? When parents do everything in their power to make sure that these things happen they are, in fact, doing their kids a disservice.  Why? It robs kids of the chance to take risks, make mistakes -- just plain figure it out on their own.

"... parents need to understand making mistakes actually can build self-esteem.
“It’s most important for parents to realize it’s OK for kids to fail if that teaches them how to do things better the next time around,” he said.
“That’s one of the common threads for geniuses in the world. They had some major failure in their lives before realizing their geniuses.”

So, are you sitting here reading this post saying, "Hmmm, I wonder if I AM a helicopter parent?" Take our helicopter parent quiz and find out. Think you'll get some really good insight by taking a few minutes to take this quick, online quiz.

Let us know how you did. What are your thoughts on helicopter parenting?

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Before You Do Anything, Call the Teacher First!

Students come home and tell parents the most amazing things.

"Today the teacher called us stupid.” 

Before you rush off to call the principal, take a deep breath and contact your child's teacher and give him or her a chance to explain. Children- especially small children- often misunderstand adults. (I am sure your kids have misunderstood something you’ve said, once or twice, right?) Instead of starting World War III, you might hear something funny.

“Streudel! I said the kids were full of streudel today!” 

Some parents are quick to call the principal or the district to complain about something they think has happened or been said. Teachers should be held accountable for their actions and words. They should treat your child with respect and consideration, and they should follow district rules and regulations. Of course, if there is an on-going problem or issue, and you have spoken to the teacher repeatedly and things aren’t changing, then, by all means, call the principal! And, if you have been working with the principal and things aren’t improving, then call the district office. 

Just talk to the teacher first.

I once substituted in a 3rd grade classroom. A student went home and told her mother that I had assigned 8 hours of homework! Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? It was preposterous on a number of levels, including that as a substitute, I follow the lesson plans left by the regular teacher. Instead of asking for clarification or a simple explanation from me (or using her own common sense), the mother called the principal and ranted and raved for half an hour about the horrible substitute (me) and the impossible work load. She claimed that her daughter was so upset about being assigned so much homework that she couldn’t do any of it. Talk about a sad, powerful family dynamic.

Calling the principal to “get the teacher in trouble” rarely works, anyway. Most principals believe and support their teachers. The principal will speak to that bad, bad teacher, but it’s not what you expect. The principal and the teacher usually stand in the hallway and complain about micromanaging, overreacting and bothersome parents. Ouch.

I've often thought of what my son's kindergarten teacher said to parents at Information Night, "I promise to believe half of what your child tells me about you, but remember to only believe half of what they tell you about me."

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Forgotten Homework Teaches Lessons

Yesterday, my son reminded me to please not forget to fill out his field trip permission slip.

"You know how you hate bringing stuff to school," he said.

He's right; I do hate bringing forgotten items- homework, lunches, projects- to school, and I rarely do it. Years of experience as a teacher and a parent have proven to me that constantly "rescuing" students doesn't pay.

A True Story

When my darling daughter was in the 4th grade, she suddenly began forgetting to bring home the books and materials she needed to complete her homework. Her school was only two blocks away, and I would rush her back there to get her book or whatever it was she had forgotten. Wasn’t I dedicated? Didn’t I do whatever was necessary to help my child succeed in school?

I did it, but I wasn't happy. I told my daughter that she had to be more responsible, she must remember to check her backpack before she left school. Blah, blah, blah. My daughter would promise to check her backpack every day for the rest of her life. And she did- until the next time she forgot. Then we did our song and dance all over again.

One day, my daughter forgot her math book. Again. It was late afternoon, and I wasn't sure if her teacher would still be at school. Frantic, I called the office. What luck! Not only was her teacher there, she would be happy to drop the book off on her way home!

Let's stop here for a minute and imagine this from my daughter's point of view. Every couple of days she gets to postpone doing her homework; she gets escorted back to school; sometimes she even gets to track down her teacher in the teacher's lounge…what fun! And now her teacher was coming to her house! This was definitely more exciting than math homework.

I was just about to tell the teacher that I would come and get the book when I had a revelation-- a vision, really. I saw my daughter in high school, maybe 17 years old, smacking gum, text messaging some ne'er do well on her cell phone and mumbling, "Can’t do my homework. Forgot my book."

I couldn’t let it happen! This foolishness was going to stop.

I thanked the teacher for her extraordinarily kind offer, and told her that the book could stay in my daughter’s desk. This was becoming a problem, and my daughter needed to remember to become more responsible.

My daughter was shocked, then embarrassed, then angry. What would her teacher think? How was she going to do her math homework? Well, she wasn’t going to be able to do her homework, and for one quick second I wavered. Then, I remembered that it is always harder to the right thing (not get the book) than the wrong thing (get the darn book).

Some lessons you have to learn the hard way. Not turning in your homework (especially when you’ve actually done it), shivering on the playground because you can’t find your coat, missing a field trip because you left the permission slip at home all week- these are the kinds of lessons we want our children to learn the hard way so that they won’t have to learn the really hard ones later.

The only way our children will grow into confident, capable and responsible adults is if we treat them like capable and responsible children.

So, once in awhile, bring the forgotten item. Just don't make a habit out of it.

By the way, my daughter is now in high school and remembers her books every day.

Let's not talk about the texting.

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The art of play: Have our kids forgotten?

Child at Play

Or should I say, did they never learn? Either way, it's just plain sad.

Did you know that there are consultants that help teach children how to play? I thought that's what kids naturally did best! Maybe not anymore, laments Boston Globe Columnist Derrick Jackson. His quote says it all:

"My issue is not with the Playworks folks or the schools that hire them. It is the fact that we adults have dumbed down creativity to unprecedented levels. We all conspire in this, from test-score politicians to helicopter parents building up their child’s college resume with rigid, adult-run sports and music programs. Whoever thought we’d need a national crusade for kickball?"

Phew. We all want the best for our children—there is no denying that. But I hope that his article makes parent pause and evaluate how they structure their kid's time. He reminds us how essential it is for busy families to find balance in their lives. Think that his article is a must-read for parents to reinforce the value of letting kids have time to just play.

Love to hear your thoughts on kids and play.

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Top Three Rules for Helping Your Kids with Homework

Parents want to know the best way to help their children with homework. While there are many Homework Helper Dos and Don'ts, three rules top the list. The following rules not only help students do tonight's homework, they help foster future independent learning. Our goal is independent and self-motivated students, isn't it? Right!

  1. Insist that your child- not you- read all directions. Do NOT do this for them. Reading the directions is crucial skill, and you want your child to establish this habit as early as possible. As both a teacher and a parent, I have been amazed at how often a child cries, “I don’t get it!” then reads the directions and says, “Oh! I get it!”
  2. Give your child some space. By this I mean: Do NOT sit right next to your child while he does his homework. “But, what if he needs me!” you’re wailing. Here’s the thing. If your child does not understand something, and you are two inches away, he’ll ask you to explain or solve it. If, however, you are in another room, he might try to figure it out himself. (Remember, we trying to raise independent learners!) While sitting next to your child makes you feel needed, the fact is you won’t always be able to do it. Be accessible, but show your child that you believe that he is capable of completing his own homework and solving most problems.
  3. Establish a routine and then stick to it. Homework right after school? After dinner? In the morning? Figure out what works best for your child’s Homework Personality, set up your schedule to support it, and move on. It’s like brushing teeth. Would you engage in a Big Debate if your daughter woke up and, “I don’t want to brush my teeth this morning. Can I brush them after school?” Of course you wouldn’t! Certain chores and activities take place at certain times of the day. End of story. Save the pleading and negotiating for something worthwhile- like another bowl of ice cream.

Stick to your guns and follow these three homework helper rules. You will be doing yourself and, more importantly, your children, a huge favor.

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New research on middle school parent involvement

I found this middle school involvement piece from the Wall Street Journal.  No surprise, as Sue Shellenbarger's stuff is typically excellent on all kinds of parenting and school-family issues.

The upshot on this piece is likely comforting for many parents of middle schoolers, folks who are often frustrated that they can't be or their kids won't let them be or their schools aren't as open to them being as involved as they were in the elementary school.

That's OK.  The kids are different; the involvement can be different. Seems like a natural progression.

A new research survey on parental involvement in middle school nails down an answer: The best way to promote achievement in middle school isn’t to help student with their homework, or even to volunteer for school fundraisers. Instead, middle-school students posted the best results in school when their parents stepped back a bit and moved into more of a “coaching role,” teaching them to value education, relate it to daily life and set high goals for themselves, says the study, published recently in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Good stuff.

My only fear is that research like this will give parents a green light to disconnect from school. The fact is that staying connected can have quite positive effects even beyond the classroom.  As the kids grow into more serious danger zones, that's the time when our connections with their friends' parents and their teachers and counselors serve as an early defense system and a zone defense system and a safety net. And those connections can be forged best through school involvement.

Understood if you're not hawking gift wrap now that junior is a 7th grader, but not OK to forsake the school involvement piece entirely. We may be there quite differently, but we still need to make those connections that will serve us and our becoming-independent (but not all the way there yet) children well.

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Should we get time off for parent involvement at school?

This Miami Herald brings up some really interesting issues around school involvement and family policies fr our businesses. I'm conflicted.  I'm a huuuuge involvement fan and the love the thought of more parents at school for confeneces and meetings and volunteering. On the other hand -- as a small business owner -- I'm often cautious about more and more specific legislating about how we have to run the business.

 Personally, I think of school volunteering time as personal time.  It all depends on what the employee prioritizes.  I absolutely think that conferences and volunteering should be perfectly OK uses of personal time at work, and I believe that workplaces should be more flexible with personal time (I think it actually adds to the bottom line, frankly).  But one employee's volunteering for the Cancer Walkathon and another's volunteering at the school play are equivalent in my eyes.  In my experience when the government gets involved in legislating these things they balloon well past the intent.

I suppose I would favor a regulation that would allow time for parent-teacher conference attendance.  That's more specific and less flexible time-wise than involvement in general. Maybe twice a year.  And how about a standard form that the teacher would sign saying you were there?  That too much? 

What's your experience with this?  Are you able to get to school when you want to?  How about when you need to? Do we need a law on this?

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Can parents be at school too much?

That's the intriguing question posed by Lisa Belkin over at the NYTimes moterlode page.

From where I sit, the answer is clearly "yes", but I think it's probably the wrong question. Better to ask if parents can be too involved in helping their kids have school success, and then I think the answer is: "Not if that involvement is done right".

Rare is the school that has to turn away parent volunteers and where teachers wished parents would be less connected. And parent involvement done right includes just the kind of balance and systematic loosening of the reins that Lisa is looking for. Moreover, involvement is a lot more than attending meetings and school events (though I love those for their involvement benefits and their community-building elements); involvement also includes appropriate partnering on homework and school progress and making sure your child has the support he or she needs to flourish in his or her own way.

Our feature on the value of getting involvement right is a key part of this site's DNA. We also have a good quiz to determine if you are a classic "Helicopter Parent".
(Note: the comments on the NYTImes site make for an interesting read, too, including a healthy, heated discussion about cultural and ethnic differences around involvement.)
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Are You the Competitive Parent?

Liked this perspective from Ann Handley over at the This Mommy Gig website. Ann's rant starts while shopping for toys and noticing how every toy now needs to be somehow connected to a developmental goal. Her point -- what about just simple "playing"?

So my question here at SchoolFamily.com is -- has this trend moved into your school? As a parent are you part of the trend? Or fighting it? I guess I'd say I'm half-guilty. I certainly love it when my 6-year-old scores a few goals, and I know what reading group my kids are in (even though officially they aren't leveled), but I'm also not dying over every win or loss in peewee soccer or worrying that my 4th grader's essay isn't Pulitzer-quality.

What's your competitive quotient?
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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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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