SchoolFamily Voices

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by Kathryn Lagden

A couple of weeks ago we shared this fun fact on Facebook:

20% of kids learn to play music. 70% of adults wish they had.

It obviously resonated with folks as it generated a lot of “shares” and discussion, myself included. As a mom to a creative 6-year-old who loves to dance and sing, I’ve been thinking about music lessons and if/when we should introduce them. My own experience includes 10 years of violin lessons starting when I was 8. There were definitely times I’d have happily quit, but I’m so thankful I was forced encouraged to persevere. My musical ability is mediocre at best, but it opened the door to many opportunities over the years. And how awesome is it that now, as a parent, I can plunk out the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle” on whatever plastic and tinny instrument is at hand.


But does learning an instrument help learning? I was curious, so I did some googling and found these articles interesting. 


6 Benefits of Music Lessons 

Music Lessons Help Children’s Learning 

Musical Training ‘Can Improve Language and Reading’ 

This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain (I really like this one as it talks about the importance of kids being actively interested and engaged)


This video (just under 5 minutes) from Anita Collins is well worth a watch, as it shows exactly what’s happening in the brain as you listen to music and how that changes when you play music.


I am going to encourage my oldest to think about playing an instrument but won’t push it too hard just yet. At the very least I’m hoping he doesn’t choose the violin as even now, 30 years later, I can recall the months of screeching that must be endured to learn the basics.


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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.

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.


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.


Dear 11-year-old daughter,


You are smart, cute, witty, and have a spirit about you not usually found in a girl your age.


Earlier this year when you ran for student government and easily won the “popular” vote for vice president of your elementary school, I was amazed. Fifth grade class subjects glide into your brain like you were born with them. I realize school isn’t always challenging, but I’m impressed with how you deal with the occasional boredom by getting creative. Do you know that teachers (both school and Sunday school) reach out to tell me, “I love having your daughter in class, she has the best laugh.”?


Your art skills are more advanced than most kids twice your age! You have an eye for color and design that makes me jealous. Your desire is to organize your world and increase the beauty around you, and you make me proud to be your mom. 


You make friends with everyone, and everyone wants to be your friend. You are competent in both a large group of differing personalities and in a one-on-one setting with a socially slower friend. And I’ve stopped being surprised when you shine in a dance class and regularly win the “front and center” recital spot (although being short could have something to do with that, I’ll admit.) In gymnastics you excel, and in the schoolyard monkey bars grow out of your arms!


You are a mother’s dream daughter.


HOWEVER. I’m worried. (I’m a mother after all.)


I’m worried about your beautiful confidence blossoming into an ugly shade of pride.


I want what every mother wants for her daughter: I wish you happiness in your 5th grade world and in junior high, high school, and far into college. I want you to love yourself and find profound pleasure within, never relying on others to determine the best in you, but to discover for yourself where and how you will sparkle.


Please cultivate empathy early. When an algebra concept is easy for your brain to attack and you realize that others might be struggling, I hope you’ll ask if you can help—instead of saying out loud. “Gee, that was easy for me, what’s wrong with you?”


When a friend is struggling because she doesn’t understand why her group of gal pals isn’t talking to her, I hope you can see the bigger picture and help her through the trial.


Because putting yourself in others’ shoes is a talent that will help you the most in your life.


I know boys are imminent in your future. And I want you to meet and fall in love with a spouse who will love you and cherish you, and of course I want grandbabies…but not for about 15 years!


I promise you will meet your husband in college (not high school)! High school is for learning about yourself and for figuring out your personal style and your desires. A 16 year old may think she’s in love, but she’ll also think she’s in love at 17, and again at 18, and again and again. High school is for dating! Remember to have fun!


You know I’m your mother and that I worry about every tiny tidbit. Simply said, this is what I most want for you:


While knowing you are incredible with almost everything you touch,

I want you to be mindful of others first and to always remember

to stuff your pride under your pillow!



Your Mother


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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!)

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!

Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you know Martin Luther King Day has morphed into an official “Day of Service?” If you check the website, MLKDay.gov, you’ll see that they suggest “Making it a Day On, Not a Day Off.”

What a great idea. What an even greater idea to make Monday a day of service with your family!

I thought about the things our family does and about any service projects we organized or attended, and at first I couldn’t think of a single thing. How could that be?

And then I thought harder about it. I discovered that volunteering and serving with your family happens all the time! Here are some of the many tiny wonderful ways:

Neighborhood sneak and treat. We made treats every week in November and part of December, and delivered them to unsuspecting neighbors—doorbell ditching and running!

Cub Scout pop (soda) can drive. As a Cub Scout leader I helped the boys recycle and use the money to purchase a holiday gift to “give back” to a 10 year old foster kid. (My family saved all our cans for a whole month, happily donating them for a good cause.)

Church food drive for pantry. As a family we participated with our church by hand delivering empty grocery sacks with a note about our group’s service project. A week later we collected all the bags, which were filled with donated food items, and also donated a generous cash amount to the local food bank. (Did you know $1 in cash is worth $12 of buying power to your local food bank?)

School PTO service in the form of time. I thought about listing all the various events, fundraisers, and school projects I’ve been involved in over the past 10 years … Instead, I’ll just point out that this year my official PTO role is coordinating the yearly Elementary School Rummage Sale. Does that sound exciting or what!?

Chili dinner holiday party. Recently I volunteered to organize a chili dinner for a holiday party. I used VolunteerSpot.com to organize all the volunteers, and the free online sign up sheets made it easy to get more parents involved! (And don’t tell, but I didn’t have to cook a single bean!)

We are a foster family. For several years now we have hosted multiple children in our home who’ve needed a loving, safe environment while their parents work to put their lives back together. My children have benefited in more ways than I can count, so on a big level we often feel like the recipients of the service!

Donate to the United Way. We donate to our local United Way. Not a lot, but every little bit counts, right? We also donate a tithing to our church—even the children pay attention and pay their tiny share.

I was surprised when I realized all the different ways we help and give back in our community. Not all of these examples are “organized service projects,” but it made me realize how easy it is to serve others. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re doing it!

I will be sitting down with my kids this week and asking them to help me come up with a “Day of Service” plan of attack for next Monday. Should we surprise some neighbors and clean up their yards? Or maybe we’ll take a bunch of paper and card making supplies to a local nursing home and help the residents make birthday cards for their families or for each other! How about creating a basket of gently used items—toys, blankets, coats, and a pretty dress or two—and delivering it to a local women’s shelter?

What will you do with your family on your day off—I mean—your day ON?!

>Martin Luther King Jr. Day worksheets and printables

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.


Sometimes kids learn best when music and fun are part of the equation. One way that’s been accomplished by many school districts is through the use of student-performed videos that are created locally and then uploaded to youtube.com.

Here are a few of our favorite school-related videos from the previous year. What were some or your favorites? Is your school working on an education-related video? Let us know!

Addressing the issue of bullying, four young women from Reynoldsburg, Ohio who call themselves the DHJK Gurls—and include friends Daryn, Joy, Hennessey and Kennedy—produced this video called “Inside Voice,” which became a hit on YouTube.

In this video, students at the Ocoee Middle School in Orange County, Florida sing the praises of reading“Read a book, plant a seed, grow your world”—in their performance called “Read A Book.”

At the Hope School-Fortis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, students used the wildly popular video “Friday,” created by Rebecca Black, and made their own version, which focuses on school and learning and is called “Monday.”

And even though this video is from 2009, it remains one of our favorites. Here, the Scholar Ladies from the Hope School–Prima, also in Milwaukee, sing about homework, studying, and grades in “Scholar Ladies (Get An A On It),” their remake of Beyonce’s hit “Single Ladies.”




On behalf of all of us at SchoolFamily.com, please accept our warmest holiday wishes. We hope that this winter break over the holidays affords you and your children some extra time together, to play, learn, and simply be in one another’s company—with no homework to nag the kids about!

As the New Year begins, you can count on SchoolFamily.com to bring you timely, thorough, and practical ways to help you help your children succeed in school—academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Until then, here’s a terrific read about helping your kids be grateful and find happiness amid the materialism of the holidays. And if you’re among those who are looking to the New Year as a fresh start at school for your kids, this story may be of special interest to you.

Best wishes and happy holidays to all from SchoolFamily.com!





Students who struggle in school need the holiday to rest, relax, and have some fun. When school is in session, they put forth more effort than other students. Additionally, they are spending time doing things they really do not like. Everyone deserves some time away from the stress of their normal work—you, from whatever your routine is, and your children, from their school work.

Imagine what it would be like if your boss asked you to practice filling out your time sheets while you are on vacation, because you normally have difficulty filling them out accurately! That is like asking your child to practice writing academic paragraphs while she is supposed to be having fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in learning at home. I have no problems with playing educational games with your children. But, the games should really be fun and not similar to typical schoolwork.

Please enjoy this holiday season with your children. Have some hot chocolate and cookies. Play outside. Go to the park. Paint some pictures. Watch some movies. Play some video games. School will start again, soon enough!

Happy holidays to you all.

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A few years ago, my husband’s office holiday party was postponed ’till January because they simply couldn’t find a Friday night to host it. However, that party was quite possibly the best (better late than never) holiday party I’ve ever been to! We laughed and snorted just as hard at the white elephant gifts, which were still wrapped in red and gold paper with sparkly bows and candy canes—just as if it’d been December. And we definitely enjoyed the evening together sans kid and without the stress of two other events the same night!


It got me thinking …


What if we could postpone some of the crazy, umpteen, school holiday events? If we did, would I get laughed out of the PTO? Would my Facebook page light up with criticisms and Bah Humbugs? Or would I get extra eggnog at the next parent-teacher conference?!


I’m being serious. Think about it. Would it be so terrible to have a band concert the last week of January? Half the time there are only a few Christmas songs on the playlist, and it’s been renamed the Winter Concert as it is. I don’t know about you, but we get more snow in February than December anyway!


Imagine if the piano and dance recitals, the band and choir concerts, or even the 2nd grade school play were delayed until January? You know what that would do? It would allow my family to concentrate on OUR holiday in a way that focuses on FAMILY TIME.


I’ll volunteer to host the ugly sweater party in February! Cookie exchanges? Oh honey, I’m game for cookies year-round!


Why do we insist on heaping numerous activities and parties into 2 or 3 short weeks in December? Maybe the answer is in picking and choosing and letting the things slide that aren’t high on your family’s priority list, and then making an even bigger deal of the events that mean the most to you and yours.


For my family that holiday priority list would include the occasions where my whole family is involved. Things like church Christmas parties—where the teenager is involved with wrapping little kid gifts, the younger kids sing Christmas carols, and my husband cooks up 14 hams. Another tradition I wouldn’t postpone are our Monday family service nights where we bake up treats and deliver them secretly to neighbors, (they always know it’s us, and we can’t figure out how!). Extended family gatherings will always be high on our list as well as several other community—and yes, school—holiday events.


I’m not suggesting we postpone EVERY holiday event…but there must be way to make the holidays less chaotic, because December in my world is crazy right now!


What usually-held-in-December event would you postpone for a month or two?


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?



My fake Farah Fawcett wig is off to teachers who make a difference … kudos to teacher involvement in schools everywhere!

Three years ago, we experienced our first elementary “Halloween Carnival” at our current school. And I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to attend yet “another” fundraiser. The week of Halloween is crazy-hectic enough with last minute family costume changes, church events, classroom parties, friend's parties, and … Trick or Treating, don’t forget!

Like many events, however, we absolutely enjoyed the carnival once we got there. (As if the kids would let me miss it!) We gathered up our ghosts and goblins and marched in to purchase our tickets. I was prepared with a few dollars so that each kid could buy popcorn, drinks, and whatever snacks were provided.

I wasn’t prepared, however, for the teacher involvement.

The what? You heard me.

It was something I had never experienced before. We’ve lived in 4 different states, attended 6 different schools, and I can tell you it’s a rare occurrence to see teachers in the building after school hours … much less RUNNING the whole school carnival!

After I snatched my jaw up off the cotton-candy crusted floor, I asked around. “Is this normal? Do the teachers usually attend after school events?” And the response was: “Well … this IS their fundraiser after all.”

Really? What a great idea! Turns out the funds raised are divided among the teachers for them to spend as they see fit: mainly on classroom supplies or as a year-end budget for simple field trips (mostly for transportation expenses.)

Our PTO gets involved and helps supply paper goods for the event, but the planning and operation is carried out solely by the teachers and our amazing Principal Krieger. Knowing this benefits the teachers directly—and my kids indirectly—has kept us returning year after year to enjoy the goodncrazy chaos and fun.

Apparently this carnival tradition has been tricking out for many years, because the game booths are substantial (they've obviously been built by hand) and have been improved over the years. Imagine running the popcorn stand or the pie throwing booth?!

Yes. They are ALL teachers.

Possibly the best part of the whole night? Seeing Principal Krieger dressed as a scarecrow!

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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.


"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.



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?

As a parent, it’s inevitable that you have those “I wish I knew then, what I knew now” moments. My oldest child is a senior in high school. Needless to say, there have been a lot of those moments recently. 

Last spring, like other families with high school juniors, we embarked on the college search. It’s very exciting, but also overwhelming. So what do you think the first thing that people ask a junior who is starting the college process?

“What do you want to go to school for?”

This question seems innocent enough. I, too, have asked this question many times in the past. Now that I have a child going into senior year, I realize how much stress this simple question can cause the typical teen. Not many 16 or 17 year old kids know what they want to do for their career!  Heck, l know plenty of adults who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. 

In my daughter’s case, she recently decided that she thinks she wants to be an engineer. What brought her to this conclusion? She likes and does well in math, is creative, and really enjoys problem solving. But unless you have a parent who works in that field, how do you really know? So here’s where the “I wish I knew then, what I know now” comes in. I wish we had found ways to expose her to math and science fields along the way. I am not that kind of parent who wants to have my kids booked with activities and experience everything by the age of 16 to identify their passion, but I do wish that we found a few more simple ways to gain insight into career paths.

Through the course of college search process we have discovered several terrific sites that give girls an opportunity to check out math and science careers in a fun way:






Another great way to expose kids to careers without a huge time and financial commitment is find events in your area that match their interests.  For science, technology and math (STEM) related events we found an amazing site called Connect a Million Minds, that has a wonderful event finder. 

As I said before, it’s unlikely that a 16 or 17 will know what career path they want to pursue. But exposing kids to a range of careers that match their interests and strengths can only make choosing a college a little less overwhelming.  

Do you make it a point to find opportunities for your kids to learn more about various fields of study or career paths? Tell us how you do this without going over the top.

— by Lisa Gundlach, SchoolFamily.com



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

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

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

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



Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?