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Looking for a special Valentine’s Day activity or craft for your children to make or for you to make together? Look no further—we’ve compiled a variety of gift ideas through images we’ve pinned to our SchoolFamily.com Pinterest page. They’re just right for your child’s classmates, teacher, or that very special someone. Best of all, only a few of them contain sugar!


While many schools have banned the exchange of sugary Valentine’s Day treats, giving out candy-free cards and small gifts is typically acceptable in schools (best to double-check with your child’s school, however). Just be sure there are no hurt feelings by insisting that your child create a Valentine for each child in her class—or, have her plan to exchange Valentines with select friends outside of school.


Gifts For Your Child’s Friends and/or Classmates

Since we’ve already established that Valentine’s gifts for the class must include every student, these crafts, while simple, will take your child a bit longer to create. When I did these types of Valentine’s gifts with my children, I’d plan ahead and have them do a few each night. That way, the kids wouldn’t get tired and bored, yet the gifts would get finished without me making them all at the 11th hour!


How about custom-made Friendship Bracelets for everyone in the class? These are simple to make, differentiated for girls and boys (to compensate for the boys’ potential yuck factor—“Ick, a bracelet?”), and personalized. You and your child can create your own hand-written verse, written or printed on small cut-out cards (how about heart-shaped?), or you can download the blogger’s pdf template with the verse, “Our class would knot be the same without you.” Braid some brightly colored string (or save time by using single strands of colored ribbon), and weave them through the cut-out cards. Have your child sign each one, i.e. “From Jonathan,” and you’re done. These are sure to be a real crowd pleaser.


Valentine’s Day Crayon Cards might be one the most clever crafts I’ve seen in some time. When my kids were little, I always seemed to have broken crayons lying around, and I’d find them in the weirdest places—under the baseboard in my kitchen, under my kids’ beds, under our baseboard-heating units, in planters—you name it. And that’s not counting the mashed up broken crayons pieces at the bottom of our crayon container. Well this craft activity finally finds a good use for them. Read the directions for this simple project: dice up the crayons/pieces; bake them in heart-shaped molds (!); attach them to small decorated cards, and your child has beautiful, colorful, personalized Valentines for the whole class.


Teacher Gifts

If you’re never made (or seen) one of these Candy Bar Poem cards, you’re in for a treat. Depending on your child’s age, he can create most of this gift by himself, writing the words and then gluing the wrapped candy bars in the right places (you might need to watch and be sure he leaves enough room for the size of each candy bar).


Another adorable (and tasty) teacher gift is this wide-mouthed jar filled with homemade cookies. It’s easy to make and carries a personal message when you attach a gift tag created by your child (or save the step and download pretty tags from this template. Use a heart-shaped hole punch to make a hole at the top of the tag, and attach the note to the jar with brightly colored string or ribbon and Voila! you’ve got a lovely gift for your child’s teacher.


If your child’s teacher is known to have a sweet tooth, this easy-to-make gumball or candy-dispensing machine is for you. Created by painting and decorating an inverted small or large clay pot and matching saucer, this little machine will get a workout on the desk of your child’s teacher.


A Gift for the Birds (no, really!)

Anxious to avoid the commercialism of the day? Make this Valentine's Day craft with your child and feed the birds at the same time. This activity takes more time and requires a few days for the finished product to be complete, but once done, you and your child can hang these heart-shaped treats made of birdseed on branches throughout your yard. Perhaps you could obtain permission for your child to bring some to school to hang on branches outside student classrooms? Read the clearly written (and super easy) directions and have fun!


Just the Chocolate, Please

Let’s face it: For many of us it just isn’t Valentine’s Day without receiving—or giving— something chocolate. To satisfy that craving, we have a variety of sweet Valentine’s treats. How about Conversation Hearts on a stick, made of red velvet chocolate cake; Outrageous Chocolate Cookies; Cookie Kisses made with heart-shaped Dove chocolate treats instead of chocolate kisses; and Cake Pops, easy to make using chocolate cake mix, to name a few.


If chocolate’s not your thing, how about some Raspberry Cream Cheese Heart Tarts?


Not into sweets at all? Okay, place your Valentine’s Day order in advance so your kids can make you this Valentine’s Day Egg in a Basket for breakfast!


A Healthy Valentine’s Day Snack

Strawberry Marshmallow Fruit Dip will have your child eating fruits and getting protein and other nutrients from reduced fat cream cheese and fat-free Greek yogurt. (Okay, there’s also marshmallow crème, which isn’t especially nutritious, but it’s for Valentine’s Day, after all).


Go wild with heart-shaped fruits and veggies, served on popsicle sticks, along with fat-free or lowfat dip. Or this healthy Sweetie-Tweetie sandwich. For breakfast, stir things up by making this heart-shaped hard-boiled egg!


What other crafts are you making with your kids for Valentine's Day? Share your Pinteresting activities below in the comments!

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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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Have you and your children decided on what teacher gifts you’ll be giving for the holidays? If you’ve chosen a $25 gift card and you live in Alabama, you’ll want to reconsider—lest your gift sends a teacher to jail.

A new law prohibiting certain gifts to public officials and employees—narrowly defined to include teachers—took effect in the southern state earlier this year and is being put to the test in these next few weeks before the holidays, as children search for the perfect teacher gift.

Kids in Alabama who've fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums (or Hanukkah dreidels) dancing in their heads may be disappointed when it comes to selecting holiday gifts for their teachers.

Outlawed teacher gifts include “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value”—although that specific dollar amount wasn't specified. Homemade gifts—those that aren’t worth much, monetarily speaking—are still okay, so cookies, knitted oven mitts, baskets of fruit, breads, etc. are permissible.

But should a teacher receive a more valuable gift, he or she might be found guilty of breaking the state’s ethics law and could face up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,000.

Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.

According to this report from the Associated Press, Alabama Republican Senator Bryan Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law prevents teachers from favoring one child over another, i.e. theoretically favoring the better gift-giver, and protects families who can’t afford to give big teacher gifts.

 “In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can't afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor told the AP.

However, it seems that Alabama’s teachers are paying the penalty for a handful of Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists who were brought up on corruption charges not long ago. While I’ll bet they weren’t found guilty of giving a Christmas ham to the people they were trying to influence, their criminal actions effectively lowered the boom on teachers. And the state Ethics Commission wouldn’t consider exempting teachers from the law, saying “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”

As anyone with kids knows, it's so convenient to opt for purchasing a book or a book gift certificate or gift cards from stores where teachers can purchase classroom supplies. It’s the rare teacher who receives a fancier gift. But even gift cards are out in Alabama, unless the card is purchased through an organization like the local PTO with individual donations of no more than $5 per child.

So, children of Alabama, you'd better get busy baking or knitting if you want to give your teacher a holiday gift. Bah humbug, indeed.

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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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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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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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A fourth-grade teacher in Florida thinks so.

Jamee Miller, who teaches in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote an essay that was recently posted to Facebook, recounting what her day is like as an elementary school teacher working amid budget cuts, seemingly-unachievable state and federal education mandates, and lengthy hours that extend far beyond her contractually compensated hours.

Miller apparently wrote the essay a year ago and then put it away. This year, when Florida legislators were debating passage of a controversial bill that teachers said was unfair, Miller retrieved her essay and posted it to her Facebook page. Almost overnight parents and teachers everywhere, not just in Florida, applauded her message and re-posted her words. 

Do you think teachers are, as Miller puts it, are "overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most?" Are the teachers in your child's school system valued and appreciated? How do you feel about the issue and Miller's essay?

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Did you know that on average, teachers spend $462 of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom?  

Enter TeacherWishList.com! This new site was launched last week by School Family Media (our parent company), with support from Procter & Gamble’s Bounty brand. TeacherWishList.com takes the old-fashioned printed wish list and makes it a lot more new-fashioned by using the web, email tools and even social media. Teachers can load their lists (or parents or your PTO can load the lists for them) and then share and update the lists and basically get the help they deserve.  Pretty cool. 

Since the launch last week, over 4,000 teachers have already signed up and entered wish lists. Think this speaks to how easy the site is for parents and teachers to use. There’s even a free kit that has a poster and flyers to help you promote the program at your school. 

To celebrate the new site, Teacher Wish List’s sponsor, Bounty, is giving away some amazing prizes: 

A $25,000 Art Room Makeover

Each school that submits five or more wish lists will be entered for a chance to win the grand prize: a $25,000 art room makeover with the help of a designer.

Weekly Giveaways

Ten teachers each week will receive a $462 prize to help fulfill their classroom wish lists. Weekly winners will be posted in the Recent News section on TeacherWishList.com.

So scoot. Go check out TeacherWishList.com to get the full scoop on all the giveaways and to sign up your school! And be sure to tell teachers and your friends who have school-age kids.  This is one of these times that we all win... teachers, schools, parents, and most importantly our kids!


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Teachers have first day of school "jitters" too!

Will I have enough crayons and pencils for everyone? Did I spell everyone’s name correctly? Do my students know how they are getting home...walking, taking the bus, going to day care? How can I help my First Grade "criers?"

Like some students, teachers also have trouble sleeping the night before school opens. We solve problems in our mind and over-plan activities for the first day. We try to anticipate student’s needs.

Even veteran teachers expect the unexpected.

So, as I finished my twenty-third "first day" of a new school year, I’m breathing a big sigh of relief! Hardly any classroom tears, all lunches were served on time, no lost students, and all arrived safely at their after school destinations.

Whew! To all fellow teachers who have completed their "first day," I say rest easy. We’re off to a great start for a new school year!

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If you’re considering some kind of teacher gift, I have a suggestion. Homemade cookies are always thoughtful, but the problem with cookies is that the teacher will eat them. And there's also all the other cookies and cupcakes they are given by the rest of the class.  Then they will like you for giving them cookies, but hate themselves for eating all of them.

Get them a book. Maybe your favorite book. The book you want to share with someone. That will let the teacher know you and your child actually consider the teacher to be a human--something they need to be told. They like being considered human.
Or ask your kid what the teacher is interested in and get them a book about that subject. The teacher will be surprised and delighted that someone was paying attention in class. And it makes sense to return to them some of what they are giving - it shows you take their work seriously. We gave books all the way through our kids’ education. It was a connection that has stayed, far beyond the years our boys had those teachers. They remember our kids by the books they gave, if not by their perfect behavior.

Suggestions for books? I asked my friend Pete Cowdin, who runs Reading Reptile, one of the best children’s books stores in America, in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are his suggestions:

  • A GIFT OF DAYS: The Greatest Words to Live By (by Stephen Alcorn) - perfect teacher gift for nearly any grade level.
  • WHEN YOU REACH ME (by Rebecca Stead) best 9-12 novel of the year - Newbery  Award frontrunner and deservedly so.
  • IT'S A SECRET (by John Burningham) a great picture book by a legendary picture book maker.
  • FUNNY BUSINESS (by Leonard Marcus) - good interviews with funny authors kids like - a nice addition to any intermediate classroom library.

Teachers will remember your kid. I’m not guaranteeing a free pass on the unfinished homework, but it will make a difference. Especially if you also give them some cookies.

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I've worked with Lowe's quite a bit these past few years, most often on our partnership on the very generous Toolbox for Education grant program. Even with all that work, I never really thought of Lowe's as a Christmas brand for school families.

But that's changed this year with two programs that I think are worth a look.

The first is a unique gift card program that works well for teachers. There's certainly plenty at Lowe's that a teacher can use, but the real neat thing here is that you and your kids can customize the cards with a picture (of your child, perhaps?) and a unique message ("thanks for teaching me fractions", "holiday wishes for a great teacher").  Nice concept for something both personal and useful for the teachers on your list. Lowe's customizable cards are here.

The second idea is the chance to buy the cool "build and grow" kits as a gift for your own kids. The kits are classic parent-child projects with all the pieces and step-by-step instructions.  And pretty cheap.  A nice switch from Call of Duty.  Details on the Build and Grow kits are here.

Hope these two ideas help with some of your school or learning holiday challenges.


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I like how Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother's Day are connected this year on the calendar. For me, the son of a long-time grade school teacher, they always have been connected, even when thecalendar says differently. And now I'm married to a teacher, too, cementing the connection further.

It's always been easy for me to make the connection between a good teacher and a good mom. Both bring passion and compassion and a hard-to-define,hard-to-findcombination of techincal know-how (long division and making a birthday cake) and soft skills (what's needed to today, a pat on the back or a kick in the rear-end?)to their charges. And both change the world every day.

I don't recall Teacher Appreciation Week being so formal when I was a kid, thoughI do remember my mom having at least one of every type of apple known to man. Ceramic apples. Real apples. Apple-shaped notecards. Apple ashtrays.... (Sidenote: I feel like Bubba from ForrestGump-- barbecue shrimp, fried shrimp, cajun shrimp...). That memory does bring me to a quick appreciation tip -- No Apples! Just trust me.

Thought I'd use this blog space to say thanks and Happy Mother's Dayto the two special moms and teachers in my life. Gracias Ellen and Louise!

If you're looking to thank a teacher, thought I'd also provide a couple of links that making doing so online pretty easy. There are several sites now that connect donors with teachers. Instead of apple ashtrays (those are a bit politically incorrect nowadays anyway...), you can provide exactly what a teacher has asked for for her or his classroom. Pretty cool. Some choices:

Donor's Choose


I Love Schools

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Here's a good way to get in the right mindset for back-to-school: remember (and thank!) all those great teachers who've inspired you. I've been following the neat TeachersCount site for a while to do just that.

Since we're reminiscing -- OK, I suppose I'm reminiscing -- I hope my kids wind up with great teachers like Ms. Carroll (high school history), Mr. Gazzola (high school English), Mr. Maher (5th grade) and of course my mom, who taught 1st grade for a couple of decades, when she wasn't raising four of her own young ones. We read so much about teachers who don't cut it, but tens of thousands of teachers do. Hope they're enjoying these last days of summer, too.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?