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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.

5 School Volunteering Tips for Busy Parents

Most families are deep into back-to-school preparations (some are already back!). For those getting ready, there’s back-to the mall for school shopping, then back-to the office supply section for glue and crayons, and of course back-to volunteering after the summer break!

Schools are cutting back, teachers and staff are stretched thin, and parent volunteers are needed more than ever.  As a parent, how can you help when maybe you work full time or have a toddler at home? More importantly how can you donate your time, talents (or even money), and still keep your sanity intact? Busy parents are exactly that—BUSY!

Here are 5 tips for volunteering at your child’s school:

 

1. Be realistic with your schedule

  • Can you spare 30 minutes a term? Sign up to organize the reading volunteers! Organizing parent volunteers will make a huge difference for the teacher—and it’s even better than sending in a latte!
  • Can you spare one morning a term? Volunteer to chaperone a field trip or help with a special holiday performance or class celebration. 
  • Can you spare one or more mornings per month? Talk to the teacher about needs in the classroom and sign up as a reading, math, or science-station helper.
  • Can’t be IN the school building? Volunteer your time at home with your child: prepare craft kits for the class party or cutouts for the bulletin board. When your work shows up at school, your child will be proud that, together, you contributed to the class.

 

2. Volunteer your talents

Do you love art, music, gardening, or computers?  Many of these enriching activities are the first to go with school budget cuts. Talk to your child’s teacher about sharing your special skills and interests with the class.

 

3. Save time with VolunteerSpot.com

Skip “Reply-All” email chains and clipboard signups! VolunteerSpot’s free online sign up sheets make coordinating parent volunteers a breeze! The teacher or parent leader sets up the schedule of needs online and invites parents to sign up with a link. Parents click to choose when and how to help—even from their smartphones or iPad through the VolunteerSpot app, and then VolunteerSpot sends them reminders! Organize classroom readers and party volunteers, recess and library helpers, snack schedules, and even fundraisers like carnivals, walkathons and book fairs. (It’s great for teams and Scouts, too!)

 

4. Thinking of becoming the Room Mom?!

If you like organizing events and celebrations and you’re good at delegating, consider becoming the Room Mom. You’ll work with the teacher and make the school year extra memorable for both the kids and their parents!  VolunteerSpot has a free Room Mom Survival Guide, with teacher checklists, parent letters, and party plans to guide you.

 

5. Support the school, too!

Many schools need parents’ help to cover lost staff positions and fund enrichment programs and technology. Consider taking a volunteer shift supervising at recess, in the cafeteria or in the library. Volunteer your sales skills rounding up donations for the auction, or your computer skills helping update the school website. Support fundraisers like school carnivals or volunteer to help at the walkathon, and participate in product sales as your family budget allows.

 

The best advice for a busy mom or dad is simply to choose what you love and be realistic about time commitments! Teachers will appreciate you and kids will think you’re a superstar whether you simply volunteer to be a class reader once a term,  or you choose run the school’s main fundraiser!

 

 

Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot, a free, time and stress-saving online coordination tool that empowers busy parents, teachers and volunteer leaders by making it easier get involved. Bantuveris is passionate about boosting parent participation at school and speaks regularly about using social media to spark action in the real world.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and a ridiculous number of pets. Connect with her online via Facebook: Facebook.com/VolunteerSpot  Twitter: @VolunteerSpot  and @VSpotMom

 

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Mom’s Role in PTO Rummage Sale Changes Rank

Let me set the scene: TIME: Last spring, at the end of the school year. LOCATION: The library at my kid’s school, Roosevelt Elementary. SETTING: The last PTO meeting of the year.

I was tempted to pretend to be sick. I’d spent the previous year acting as vice president of the whole “she”-bang! It was hard work but my youngest child was in school full time and I gave it my all. And anyone who volunteers in their kid’s school knows how rewarding it is.

We raised money for new playground and PE equipment. We planted 4 new trees on the school lawn. We supported teachers and staff during teacher appreciation week and created a new community movie night for the whole “school family.”

And we were exhausted.

I was doing the whining, but my PTO president was finishing up her THIRD year, the first two without a vice president! Bless her.

Still, I showed up to that end of year meeting with a plan. Because, you know, vice presidents often become… (gulp) presidents! And I knew I couldn’t do that. I was working more and more from home and, as a family, we had decided to bring a foster child into our home (back to the world of pre-school, people!). And with my oldest child going into high school, I worried about what sort of new and scary time commitments that would bring. (Drama Club, anyone?)

I knew it was my year to be the soldier. Not the general. A change in rank.

It was a hard-fought battle, and I had to stand my ground.

But in the end, I caved… a little. I didn’t agree to run the whole organization. Instead, I agreed to serve as chairperson for the largest fundraiser of the year: the [dreaded] school rummage sale!

At that time, the sale was a whole year away and I figured I had plenty of time to plan for it. I mean, it’s a massive undertaking and a lot of work, but it’s all over in about 2 weeks.

Fast forward to last weekend…and the big day. Thanks to several moms, friends, and a few dads, it went very well. I’m still massaging my feet from being on them all that day, but a $1,600 check for the PTO is worth a couple of tired dogs.

But, what am I going to say at this year’s final PTO meeting? Can I run the school rummage sale again? (Only if I have a co-chairperson.) Do I have any more time this year to do even more volunteering than I did last year? (No.)

I’m afraid it’s another year of being the soldier. Happily doing what I’m told and jumping in where needed. Maybe I’ll get moved up to the rank of sergeant?

Hey! That has a nice ring to it—“Sergeant of the Rummage Sale”!

Anyway, I thought I’d compile 6 Lessons I Learned From Running the School Rummage Sale:

1. Start early. No matter what date you choose, many people will be busy on the same day, so get your team in place early. I used VolunteerSpot.com to create free online sign-up sheets for each task.

2. Send out fliers and use social media early and often. We had (have) a group Facebook page for the rummage sale. Between that and the fliers, we reminded families to bring in their items for the sale and encouraged folks to volunteer to help with the work.

3. Have yummy treats to sell during the day. We asked someone to serve as chairperson of a bake sale with donated baked items. The funny thing” Visitors to a rummage sale will haggle over prices of used goods, but then happily pay whatever you ask for a doughnut or a cold soda!

4. Make sure you hire a charity or second-hand store to help you remove the leftover items at the end of the day. Be sure to call and remind them the day before the event. Our charity forgot and we were stuck “storing” everything all weekend.

5. Pricing items isn’t nearly as important as sorting the goods. Remember, everything is negotiable in the end, anyway!

6. My top tip: Make sure you have an extra-friendly person on site running the sale early in the morning when people first arrive, who’ll gently remind visitors that “this is a fundraiser for the school.” The best phrase I learned to say was as follows: “Your items come to cost $8; will you round that up to $10 for the school?” I was amazed at how many said “Sure!

My husband worries that this sort of fundraiser isn’t sustainable, that our “school family” won’t be able to fill a whole gymnasium with, um, “stuff” year after year. Well, this is the 4th school rummage sale I’ve been part of in this particular school and I swear donations of “stuff” appear like magic every year! Huge thanks to the Roosevelt “school family.” I’m grateful to be part of this team.

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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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Make Martin Luther King Day a Family Day of Service

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

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Food Allergy Tragedy: Parents, Check Your Child's School Action Plan

In a tragic case of a severe allergic reaction, a 1st grade-student at an elementary school in Virginia, died Monday, Jan. 2, after reportedly being exposed to a peanut product. 

This heartbreaking incident is a reminder to all parents about just how deadly exposure to a food allergen can be for children with food allergies. It’s also a reminder to parents of children with food allergies, to check and double-check that precautions and an emergency action are in place at their children’s’ schools. 

Read SchoolFamily.com's article on Food Allergies and School-Age Kids, which provides thorough tips on how parents should communicate with their child’s school about food allergies. As the article points out, while it’s important to speak with the school principal and the child’s teacher, it’s also critically important for parents to speak directly to the cafeteria staff where food products are prepared, as well as to school volunteers who might come in contact with their children.

 

 

 

 

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10 Resolutions for 2012 This GoodNCrazy Mom’s NOT Making

January is having a staring contest with me.

There’s less than a week left of 2011 and I feel like the past year is making fun of all my goals. It knows what I accomplished, it knows what I failed. It knows the big ‘4-0h’ birthday is waiting to knock the wind out of my 30-something self.

But this coming year I am not going to let New Year’s resolutions get the best of me. Because I’m NOT going to make any. That’s right, Mr. 2012, you can take your ball and go home. Here are 10 GoodNCrazy resolutions I am NOT going to accomplish this year.

  • I am NOT going to get enough sleep. With 3 children, piles of dishes, mountains of laundry, 23 DVR’d “House” episodes, and multiple cell phone alarms, all starting at 6:20 a.m.—each urging me to do this, remember that, and leave the house no less than 10x before noon—who needs sleep?!
  • I am NOT going to listen more. I know I talk too much and I’m too loud. If after nearly 40 years I haven’t been able to change that fault, why should I start now?
  • I am NOT going to spend more “one-on-one time” with my kids… so far they’ve turned out okay, and we have all that car-pool time to have meaningful chats right? I’ll start texting them more instead.
  • I am NOT going to travel more. With a husband constantly traveling to various continents and time zones, this mom will be staying home, sipping hot cocoa, and wearing her new Christmas slippers, thankyouverymuch!  (Besides, for me, one ocean hopping trip per 5 years is plenty!)
  • I am NOT going to be Marge-In-Charge at PTO. Instead this year I will be the soldier. I will volunteer my time at the book fair and the elementary school rummage sale. When they ask for volunteers to fill out the board, I will be out filling up the water pitcher.
  • I am NOT going to find more “me time.” Sometimes I feel like I’m bathing in me, me, me; of course it’s my children’s voices I hear in my head not my own inner sanctum getting a blissful (and badly needed) pedicure. But, oh well…
  • I am NOT going to exercise more. Wait… actually I am. (Shhh, don’t tell the resolution police!)

  • I am NOT going to pay more attention to little details. When there is a friend in need, a sick neighbor, or my husband has sore feet at the end of the day, I’m simply going to begin chanting: I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you.
  • I am NOT going to take a digital photography class. I’ve only wanted to do this for the last 7 years of my life. What’s one more year? (2013, watch out; I plan to digitally re-master you till you cry.)
  • Finally, I am NOT going to make any resolutions this year.

So, if you catch me sleeping-in past 7, baking a casserole for my pregnant friend, sneaking into a digital photography course, or raising my hand to chair a PTO fundraiser…pretend you don’t see me. Just wink and turn around very slowly. 

So, what Un-Resolutions are you going to make this year?

 

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Gratitude vs. Materialism: Holiday Happiness is Simpler Than You Might Think!

SchoolFamily.com’s guest blogger this week is Dr. Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist, award-winning blogger, and author of RAISING HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. Visit Dr. Carter’s website at Raising Happiness.  For information on her online classes, see the bottom of the blog post.

The holidays are a mixed bag, happiness-wise, even for the most Martha Stewart-y among us. They are ripe for deep joy (more on that later), but rampant materialism and excessive busyness fuels stress, anxiety, and the perils of sleep deprivation.

First, the bad news: The holiday season brings with it boundless opportunities for unhappiness.

Cultural messages about the holidays are typically materialistic. Amped-up advertising tempts us, and our children, at every turn. (Yesterday, I found one of my daughters going through the recycling, pulling out catalogs I’d tried to get rid of. She couldn’t believe I’d dare recycle an American Girl catalog—the gall!).

Holiday retail sales reports are taken, quite literally, as a marker of our collective well being and health. These economic numbers aren’t trivial, but they’re definitely not the only important indicator of our well being on which the media can report.

All this materialism doesn’t make us happy. Materialistic folks tend to be dissatisfied with their lives, have low self-esteem, be less integrated into their community, find less meaning in life, and be less concerned about the welfare of others. The list goes on and on: Materialistic people are also less satisfied with their family lives, the amount of fun and enjoyment they experience, and they are more likely to be depressed and envious.

Kids aren’t exempt from this either. Materialistic kids don’t do as well in school, and are at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and unhappiness; and they are less inclined to connect to and help others in their neighborhood and community.

How can the holidays possibly be happy with all the prompts to think materialistic thoughts and the push to buy, buy, buy?

Now here’s the good news: Gratitude can stave off the emotional dangers of the December holidays.

Here’s why: When we consciously practice feeling grateful and expressing our gratitude to others, our perception changes. We start to see the world and our lives differently. We don’t notice little grievances and daily hassles. Our brains simply can’t keep track of all the stimuli coming in, and our conscious focus on the positive simply doesn’t leave much room to ruminate on the negative. Gratitude changes what we see, hear, and feel—and what we don’t.

Ever have that experience where you notice something for the first time—then afterward, you start seeing it everywhere? For example, after I looked up the definition of “itinerate,” I soon started seeing that word everywhere. I’ve since seen and heard it used so frequently I can’t believe I didn’t know what it meant before.

A similar thing happens when we start trying to look for things to appreciate in life: They start popping up everywhere.

Teaching our children to focus on what they are grateful for can change their perception, too, making them at least partly immune to some of the materialistic messages that arrive with the holidays and Santa.

Research suggests that this grateful perception can have a wide effect on kids’ lives, well beyond Thanksgiving dinner. When we get into the habit of looking for things for which we feel grateful—and when we practice expressing gratitude to others—we become more grateful people, year-round.

And grateful children and teens tend to thrive. They get higher grades, are more satisfied with their lives, are more integrated socially (e.g., they feel like they are a significant part of their communities), and they are more likely to experience “flow” in their activities. They show fewer signs of depression. Grateful teens also tend to feel less envy—something to remember the next time your kids get the “gimmies.”

Moreover, grateful kids are more motivated to help other people, perhaps because they feel more connected to others on a macro level. The researchers who conducted one study investigating this among middle school youth believe that gratitude can help “initiate upward spirals toward greater emotional and social well-being”—not just in our kids, but in society as well.

So if the holidays are bringing lots of material gifts into your household, may they also bring great gratitude. Need ideas for holiday traditions that foster gratitude? Check out this podcast on my Greater Good blog.

Dr. Carter offers online classes through her website, Raising Happiness. The 10-week Winter 2012 class begins on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Parents will learn practical skills for increasing happiness; instructions for making routines easy and fun; skills for getting kids to do their chores without whining or nagging; an easy method for helping kids deal with difficult emotions; and more. To register, visit Online Parenting Class sign up.

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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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School's Halloween Carnival Equals Applause For teachers!

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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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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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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A Mile of Involvement

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

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

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

What do you think?
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Should school volunteers get perks?

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

Touch issue. Your thoughts?
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