SchoolFamily Voices

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

Cool Lowe's Christmas and holiday ideas

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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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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Safety Saturday and Lowe's

Thought I'd highlight this for you folks.  I really like the sound of "Safety Saturday", which is coming up at the end of Saturday.  Think: fire trucks and expert tips and all kinds of demonstrations  -- all in the parking lot down at your local Lowe's.

Here's the link for details on Safety Saturday.   

It feels like a great complement to the free kids' projects workshops that Lowe's runs, which are also very cool.  They're called Build and Grow clinics

Hope they're  a fit for your family.



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Internet Safety: What the kids search for online.

My friend and colleague Marian Merritt of Symantec sent a note about some very interesting research from Symantec.  It comes from 6 months of data (millions of kids’ searches) from the new OnlineFamily.Norton.com service.   I’ve been serving on the Advisory Board for this cool new parent tool for nearly a year now.


CNET covered the story in detail (and Marian makes some excellent points in the article), so we’ll link directly to the CNET story about what kids are searching for online.   The Top10 search terms:


1. YouTube
2. Google
3. Facebook
4. Sex
5. MySpace
6. Porn
7. Yahoo
8. Michael Jackson
9. Fred ( a fictional Youtube character, we’re told)
10. eBay


At least 5 or 6 of those 10 present challenges for us parents that we have to address.


The upshot from my perspective is that as parents – and especially as parents who want our kids to thrive in a digital age – we have a responsibility to help them do their online living safely and smartly.  We don’t send our 5-year-olds to the playground without help; we don’t send our 15-year-olds onto the Interstate without lessons; and we shouldn’t be sending our school kids on the ‘Net without able guidance.   I personally like the OnlineFamily tool, but there are lots of Family Internet Safety tools out there for you. Are you using one on your home computer?  Are you learning enough about this stuff to help your child thrive?  Throwing away the computer or snipping the Internet connection isn’t a realistic option in a day when kids can get online seemingly everywhere and from every device.


My mother-in-law liked to say: “Parenting ain’t for Wimps.”  I suspect that’s even more true for parenting on the Web.  We have to be there and appropriately parent our kids’ web habits, just as we do the rest of their key developmental habits.  What are you doing to be there with your kids, even the young kids?


PS – Are you on Twitter?  I’ve  been starting to get into the whole Twitter thing.  Follow me at www.twitter.com/TimPTO)

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Swine Flu , Parents, and Schools


I’m sensing that schools are going to be the first line of defense this fall and winter when it comes to the Swine Flu and getting our kids vaccinated.  This AP article on parents’ views of school and the flu shows that most parents are comfortable with their kids getting the flu help right at school.  Not surprised, since from what I’m reading, this new flu strain is spreading especially quickly among children.


After the initial deluge of attention, it seems like Swine Flu concern has died down some.  What are you feeling?  Me?  I’m not overly concerned, but I’m definitely interested in getting our kids and our whole family protected as soon as we can. I like the idea of schools leading this effort, as…. well….  where better to get the big swatch of kids in one fell swoop?


If you’re interested in the concept (having the school host the clinic) for your child’s school, then definitely check out the “Teach Flu a Lesson” program over at ptotoday.com. Spread the word to your administration, school nurse or PTO or PTA.  I suspect we’re going to be hearing more and more about this in the next weeks and months.

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An Online Driver's License for Kids and Teens

Thanks to my involvement with Symantec's Online Safety Advisory Council (check out their new www.onlinefamily.norton.com product for a cool web safety solution for your family), I occasionally get to listen in as some very smart techies talk shop. One idea that bubbled up last night really caught my eye: Should kids need a certification or driver's license of sorts to go online? Now, it would obviously be very difficult to enforce this in all homes or on all cell phones or the like, but what if we started with just school computers? Before young Billy can use the school machines, he has to have completed the online safety course. Or he has to pass the online safety quiz that pops up before the login process. Something like that. It's akin to my local YMCA where kids under 16 can't use the weights or exercise equipment without going through a safety intro with a Y staffer. I can't break my toe on the web or tear a muscle, but the web risks are every bit as real. Seems like a good start to me. What do you think? 
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The New Homework, how do we parents keep up?

Spent last week in New York (as part of an Advisory Council for Symantec's new efforts around internet safety) focusing on how technology has become such a central part of our kids' experiences these days. My take: where there used to be two different discussions -- one about internet safety and one about parenting --today it's really just parenting. The web and connectivity (chat, text, social media) are that integrated into our kids lives.

It's also why I was interested in this blog post describing one mom's experience with her daughter and how her studying and web socializing are merging. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Or just reality? How are you keeping up with this stuff?
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Norton Online Family beta is live

I've been playing with this new Internet Safety program from Norton for a while now, and I really like it. I've got a decent techy brain (I can figure things out if I have to), but I prefer simple, and that's where Norton's new product does its best work. I don't have to load a whole bunch of software and then remember to download updates and reconfigure and all that stuff i never do. Instead, after a fairly easy set-up, I can use the system (and tweak preferences) easily and issues (son #1 trying to visit wrong websites or the like) are emailed directly to my wife and me.

As a parent who doesn't want to be a spy or the secret police, I like the spirit of this program. It's an open conversation between your child and you and then a system to keep that conversation going when it needs to be going.
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Back to school time again - Tips for getting your family ready

Starting to think about the kids heading back to school? Tim Sullivan was on Fox TV today talking about how to get your family ready to make the transition from summer fun to school schedules. Good tips about schedules, communicating with the teacher, and how to get involved at school in a way that works for you and your family.
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Talkin' Involvement on Boston TV

Late notice, but I'll be talking about back-to-school habits for parents tomorrow morning on Fox 25 in Boston. Believe we're set to go live at about 8:20 AM. Will try and get the clip on here later this week, provided it's not in HD (face made for radio -- or at least lo-def!).
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Mommy Business Cards

What will they think of next? I love this concept, but I think there's a huge, huge missing ingredient. Have you seen these new mommy business cards? How can you possibly fit all the needed job titles on a single card? I mean, we've got "Mom," of course. But then there's counselor, mediator, taxicab driver, best friend, chief cook (and bottle washer!), teacher, tutor, sounding board, nurse, doctor, pharmacist,and so, so many more.

I bet you have a few additions, too. Would love to hear them.

That said, this concept of having a quick way to "exchange digits" (as the kids say...) is kind of cool. And if you're involved at school or a frequent volunteer, this is a tool that can help in the same way that business cards work at the office by facilitating connections and follow-up. Kind of cool.
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Blame Mr. Rogers

When I was a kid, I'd sprawl out on my parents' bed each morning before kindergarten to watch Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I loved Mr. Rogers. Not so much the show, which creeped me out a bit (particularly the puppet Lady Elaine Fairchild). I loved the man. He was handsome and soft-spoken. He would smile gently and tell me I was special. He wanted to be my neighbor, and that was OK with me.

Now it turns out that Mr. Rogers may have unwittingly contributed to a kid-centric culture that nurtures its children on empty praise and breeds narcissistic adults with an inflated sense of entitlement.

Jeff Zaslow, in his July 5 Wall Street Journal column, quotes a Louisiana State University professor who, puzzling why so many B and C students demand A's, ultimately blamed Mr. Rogers and his unconditional acceptance. "Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they we're special just for being whoever they were....What often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself," Zaslow writes of Mr. Rogers.

Children who are told endlessly how wonderful they are by adults who never demand anything of them grow up to believe the world owes them. Worse "tragic event” are the children who eventually realize that they're not special "just because."

As a parent, I know my children are special. But I'm not naive enough to think they'll believe it without hard and fast proof. And the only way they'll get that proof is to probe the depths of their abilities, to make mistakes, and to live through them. Kids need to earn their rewards and then bask in their own pride.

I still love Mr. Rogers. But I can't help but think I would have been better prepared for the real world if he were just a bit critical and demanding. Maybe while he was asking to be my neighbor, he could have set a condition that I keep up my yard. Wouldn't want property values to slip, you know.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016