let them be kids

Yesterday, after a fun day of dancing, singing, and dramatic play with 1st and 2nd graders, I went out for bus duty and my heart sank. So many of the children who had creative ways of thinking (during their Performing Arts class with me or when I saw them playing on the playground) had become entirely new people. Tech Zombies.

While visiting with their friends, parents kept their children quiet with a menagerie of devices. Though they had not all been zombified (read: some were playing or watching with a partner), most were just a figment of the awesome kid I had seen just hours earlier.

What are we doing to our kids? And why are we allowing technology to take away their kid-ness?

Often, when we think about child rearing in the olden days, we think of girls in frilly party dresses and boys in their perfectly pressed dress shirts. Memories (and media) tell us that children would play peacefully in the garden or with friends, but in the house, they were to be seen and not heard.

The children of today are viewed as rambunctious, an aggressive lion evolved from the careful cub. We view child rearing today as an opportunity to teach children from their surrounding and take risks. This means that loud, playful, busy children fill neighborhood parks and local playgrounds.

But is that what’s really going on?

Think about the last restaurant you went to or the last place you shopped. What were the children doing? I bet they were on devices. Whether they had their a child-protected iPad, a parent’s cell phone, or their own small gaming system, it was probably pretty likely the kids were on a device.

“138 – Who’s iPad is it?”by MellieRene4 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Why is that? In an era where we are SO consumed with giving our children every opportunity to learn and explore, why are we taking it from their down time? Is it so they are seen and not heard?

Maybe we can help kids spend their empty moments in more productive ways: balancing things on cutlery (physics) or writing on paper napkins (literacy) in a restaurant while they could be examining the ingredients list (science) or comparing the weight of products in the shopping cart (math).

Let’s be honest parents… sometimes we Just. Need. A. Break! So fine. Give them a device. But let’s also be mindful that kids need to be kids. They need to run. They need to climb. They need to explore. And they need to learn from their surroundings.

And we need to let them and encourage them to be kids.

These pictures were from the yard duty that prompted my musings here. This bunch of kids explored how water moves and how they could use tools of different sizes to get the water to move in new and interesting ways. They also strategized about how to clean their feet before recess was over using communication skills and collaboration to solve problems.

It’s not rocket science parents. And it also took NO effort on my part.

…I just let them be kids!

So here’s my million dollar teacher tip: put away the devices and let them get bored. They’ll figure it out!

a new year

This academic year will bring a lot of change in my life: new country (China), new home (hopefully in the Sanlitun area of Beijing), new school (Western Academy of Beijing a.k.a. WAB), and a new job (full-time elementary substitute teacher).

All of the newness in my life is exciting, but the last one scares the crap out of me. And here’s why…

Nearly three years ago today (August 23, 2016) I wrote a blog post about how and when I knew what my calling was. You see, we had just moved to Oman and I didn’t have a job. Which was fine… until the first day of school. By then, our shipment was unpacked, our house was setup, we had “settled in”, and the house was empty–my family was at school without me! (If you want to relive that angst-filled day in my life, read the post.)

Here I am in a different setting, in a moderately different situation, but the feelings of doubt were creeping in as we began the year and I didn’t have a team to work with. Every beginning of year orientation meeting had me aimlessly roaming as I looked for a group to collaborate with. A group that would accept me as part of their squad.

A substitute is an island of one. And to know me is to know… I don’t do ALONE! I love teamwork and collaboration so this wasn’t working for the inner me. (Side note: This statue (in the 798 Art District where we live, temporarily) encapsulates my feelings about not having a mind-team to meld with.)

But then, as if an angel sent from the heavens, my principal had news for me–the Performing Arts teacher would be out for the first full week of school. I had a task. I had a job. I had a purpose!

Fast forward to the end of my first five days at school.

I’ve taught about 250 students ranging in age from 5-11. Together, we’ve explored music, drama, and dance. I’ve had the joy of explaining my role at WAB: “Today I’m your Performing Arts teacher, but tomorrow I could be your classroom teacher, or your PE teacher. Who knows who I’ll be tomorrow.” One kid said, “You’re like a shapeshifter.” I think he hit the nail on the head.

But what does all of this mean for this village, my thoughts about education, and how we raise kids in this ever-changing global village? I think it means I get to step it up even more. I get to talk about so much more than one age range, one group, one focus. As my “shapeshifting” occurs, my thoughts will too. My ideas will be broad and my examples will range. I will live WAB’s ethos: “Inspiration is everywhere!”

Let’s do this thing!

you can expect more!

Through emails, at collection time, and during many parent conferences, the same wonderings come up again and again. Many of you ask: “Does my child have a split personality?” It seems as if you and I know two different children. The child I know is independent, confident, and can organize their own things. But the child you know uses baby talk, won’t sit through a meal, and can’t tidy up their own toys.

I’ll let you in on a little teacher secret. Though school is a place of wild creativity and inquiry-based learning, teachers spend the first few weeks establishing structure and routines so chaos doesn’t ensue. As busy parents, we can sometimes find excuses to “let things slide” with our kiddos. And I know I’ve been guilty of this too! But I must remind myself– what lesson am I teaching my child when I don’t adhere to set boundaries and expectations? If we want to raise our children to be independent, respectful, and mindful of others’ perspectives… the lessons start young. And as a teacher to 22 young, willful, and energetic young’ns, I just don’t have the luxury to “let things slide.”

So here’s the new mantra I empower you to adopt: I CAN expect more from my child!


For the early childhood student, we expect them to: tidy toys, tip the sand out of their shoes, be self-sufficient at toilet time, wash their hands, open their lunch boxes, hang up their own hat, feed themselves, and carry their own backpack to and from school.

An elementary-aged child is expected to: do all of the above and organize their work, take charge of their stuff (hat, water bottle, library bag, etc.),pack their own lunchbox and school bag, and act appropriately in different settings (be mindful of other learners, share toys on the playground, be accountable for your stuff, etc.).

Do you see a trend?

At school, we don’t do things for children. We wait for them to do the work themselves. We cajole, prompt, cheer, urge, remind, and remind, and remind… but we don’t do it for them!

But once the students cross the threshold from school to home, the expectations often change. Every day, I stop students from handing off their bags and water bottles to parents or helpers. Regularly, I urge parents to stop feeding their child while the child blankly uses a phone or iPad. Who’s doing all the work? Who works for who? And who looks like the fool?

If you raise the bar and expect more from your kid, they will rise to the occasion! If your expectations of your child’s independence match mine, they will be far more successful and the home-school message will be exactly the same.

Believe me, if you expect more from your child, they might not hit the target each and every day, but you’ll get closer to raising a confident, independent, and respectful child!

To get some ideas about how to reinforce independence at home, check out this Parent’s Article.

Angela

honoring their approximations

As I’ve written before, children’s writing doesn’t often look the way we adults expect it to look. But we adults are often the audience our children are writing for, so our reactions to their writing wields great powers! Unfortunately, we adults don’t often use our power correctly and we can often affect a child’s writing confidence when we make comments like, “I don’t understand,” “It doesn’t look nice,” or “Rewrite it!”

I cringe when I think back to my first year of teaching. I can remember the sadness in one particular students’ eyes when I asked her to rewrite her draft before our writing celebration on Friday. No wonder my students were not eager for writing time!

Well… a lot has changed since then. And so today, I’m sharing my new and improved understandings with you parents in hopes that you use your power more appropriately.


After reading books by and receiving training from my writing hero, Matt Glover, I can tell you that my skill as a writing teacher has transformed in my many, many ways. Matt’s catchphrase: “honor their approximations” has become my motto during writing time. I share with you my conference routine as it may help you the next time your child wants to share something they wrote:

Let them share. Whether I can read a child’s writing or not, I ask them to read their work to me. By doing this, I can assess whether they can read their own writing and how organized the story is in their own mind. Then, I conduct my research. I’ll often ask the child where they go their idea, what they’ve been working on as a writer (as it often differs from what I’ve suggested), what they think they need help with, or who has inspired some of the work that they have done (usually an author from my current teaching stack).

Praise. After they’ve read to me…I gush! I give a commendation for a success I see in their writing. “Wow! You have some really fantastic ideas in your story” or “I really like how your pictures helped me understand how the character was feeling” or “I see that you used Mo Willems as your inspiration to add some colored talking bubbles to your story.” Honor the child’s approximations! When children (and adults!) learn something new, it’s important to focus on what they CAN DO rather than their deficits. And this is where we adults often go astray.

Teach. During the next part of my conference, I offer a teaching point. I decide on ONE recommendation I can leave a child with. Using my mentor stack (published books, my own writing, and other student’s writing), I show the child how someone else has done it: “Look at how David Shannon uses capital letters at the start of all of his sentences” or “I made a nonfiction book like you are writing. Let me show you how I labeled my drawings.”

Gentle goodbye. Before I leave my conference with the student, I nudge just a bit. And based on Matt’s coaching, I nudge in three ways:

  • Envision: I ask the child to envision with me: “Here’s what it could sound like in your writing.”
  • Oral Practice: I ask the child what they are thinking about writing: “Tell me what you’re going to write.”
  • Watch them: I ask if I can watch them take their next steps: “Let me see you try that on.”

As parents, our authoring experiences were controlled by teachers who wanted everything to be perfect. Don’t repeat those bad habits! Be a better writing coach for your child by honoring their approximations. In doing that, you may be inspiring the next Dr. Seuss or J.K. Rowling.

For more on this topic, particularly how to support writing in the early years, read: Becoming Authors.

Angela

 

gossip girl

When my son was in preschool he came home with this mantra one day, “Secrets, secrets are not nice… even for little mice.” When he came home with this little gem, I thought about my own secret keeping skills. But the more I thought about this little chant the more I thought, “This is SO wrong!” The leading sentence should be updated to: “Gossip, gossip, is not nice…” It’s not the secret that causes the problem but rather the spreading of secrets that does.

Gossip runs rampant in a school community. Amongst students, gossip is a behavior we try to abolish through education about empathy, open-mindedness, perspectives, and compassion. But gossip amongst the parent community can have detrimental effects on a school community and schools have limited ways to curb the tempers that ensue.

In my years of teaching, I’ve had a number of parents talk to me (as a teacher and parent) about other students in their child’s classroom community: “Can you believe that Ethan* has not been suspended from school after he kicked Janice on the playground?” or “I think Mrs. Smith lets that boy get away with anything he wants to in class” or ” We won’t be inviting her to our daughter’s birthday party because she is such a naughty child.”

The truth of the matter is–we all only know half of the story. And even if you were a participant in the event that has lead to the story that is being spread, you have your own perspective that can skew the story.

So here are my 4 best tips for curbing gossip:

  1. Avoid. Don’t participate in it! It’s as simple as that. If you hear someone start gossiping about a student, parent, or colleague you need to take control of your behavior and say something, change the subject, or walk away.
  2. Pause. Take a minute to reflect on why you are listening to the gossip. If you choose to  listen and/or spread gossip, consider what it say about you and your character.
  3. Empathize. Think back to a time when someone gossiped about you. How did it feel? Were you mad at the gossip creator or the one(s) spreading it? So why are you part of that same cycle?
  4. Speak up. I can tell you, this is the tip I find most challenging (as a parent) but quite easy as a teacher. When parents come to me as an educator, I sort of have the upper hand and can tell them that I need to listen to all sides of the story with an open mind. As a parent, I find that gossip is so pervasive at birthday parties and social events that it’s hard to avoid and even harder to quash. As often as I feel confident, I try to speak up and say something of value about the person they are gossiping about. Defending the person at the crux of the story often stops the gossipers in their tracks as people often gossip when they feel that their audience has a sense of disdain for the person being talked about. A compliment skews their perception of me and gives the person a good quality–and it’s hard to gossip about people who are good.

As a teacher, I would add one additional thought I’d like you to consider: If you are listening to parents talking about how that “Mean girl hits other students” keep in mind, you and your child may be the next target of such gossip.

What will you do differently tomorrow?

*Names have been changed for child protection.

Angela

reading is fun

I enjoy reading in many forms: from a book, a magazine, a blog, or audio book… it doesn’t matter how I’m doing it, but that I’m doing it that’s important.

No matter how many years I’ve taught, what grade I’m teaching, what school I’m at, or what country I’m in, there is always a debate about the reading log. So why are so many teachers/schools/districts pushing “The Reading Log”?

As a parent and teacher, I’ve tried an array of reading logs: monthly minutes, daily reading, parent signature required, comprehension questions, pages read, reading journals, charts, calendars, author/title, weekly recording sheets, rewards, sticker charts… you name it, I’ve probably seen it, tried it, and/or required my students to complete it.

As a teacher, I printed them, sent them home for homework, and marked responses with stickers and smiley faces because that’s what the school required.

As a parent, I loathed the nagging required to get my children to complete the reading tasks set forth by their teacher. Ugh.

But as I sit at my dining room table typing up this blog, I look at the couch where both of my teens are reading and think to myself, “I did all right!” My daughter is nose-deep in the latest of a series of YA fiction suggested to her by the school librarian and my son is on his laptop reading the blog of a YouTuber he admires.

But they are not logging a gosh darn thing!

Without reading logs, my children are more avid, excited, and enthusiastic about reading. So how do you get around the parental torture of a reading log? Here’s my teacher pro-tip: let the kids read what they WANT to read. 

  • If they like to cook, then have them read a recipe while you two make dinner together.
  • A fan of comics and comic books? Grab a magazine or subscribe to an online newspaper and discuss the real-world satire the comic is commenting on.
  • If you live far away from family and friends, get your parents or in-laws to write regular emails to your child which they can respond to. This idea helps kill two birds with one stone as you also get your children to practice writing too!
  • Tap in to their interest by finding a blog they can follow: like LEGOs, outer space, or animal rescue.

If your child’s teacher sends home the dreaded log, I’m sorry to say, you won’t be able to avoid the torture of tracking minutes or signing a sheet to say you saw your kid reading. But you will help build the habit of reading. And that is more important than anything.

Some alternative ways to complete reading log goals:

  • blogs
  • recipes
  • letters/emails
  • newspaper/magazines
  • directions
  • maps
  • audio books
  • home language books

Ultimately, the most important thing we parents and teachers can do is read by example. We can’t expect our kids to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. So, grab a novel, download an audio book, join a Book Club, open a magazine, or cuddle with the kids on the couch–it doesn’t matter how you’re doing it just that you’re doing it.

Angela

new year, new routines

Every December 31st, people around the globe write a list of resolutions that will help them be the best version of themselves in the year ahead. Unfortunately, by the end of January, most people have failed themselves by neglecting their resolutions. But if you have school-aged kids, you’re lucky… you get to reboot every September.

Each school year rings in “newness:” New teachers, new clothes, new school supplies, and new routines. So here are my top 5 routine busters to help you and your child(ren) get (and stay) organized.

calendarize your life: Calendars help people see what’s happening next. This, in turn, helps limit tantrums (from the kids and adults alike)! Depending on the age of your child and the chaos in your life, you’ll need a different type of calendar. For little ones, I always loved Melissa & Doug’s magnetic calendars because they allow kids to begin developing a mathematical understanding of numbers, months, and holidays. For older kids, a fridge calendar may be just what need to see the days’ events at a glance (our family’s calendar is color coded and added to as events come up). For tech-savvy families, create and share a Google Calendar. The events will be visible to all family members and will automatically update when someone makes a change.

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get everyone to pitch in: There is no rule in child-rearing that states that the adults have to do it all. Why do think the word “chores” was invented? That said, everyone has got to pitch in. It doesn’t mean the work load will be equitable, but each family member should pitch in and help in an age-appropriate manner. What is age-appropriate you ask? Well, you know your kids best so you decide. But Your Modern Family has some great ideas to help you get the ball rolling. With our older children, we discussed the chores that need to get done each day and then we divided them accordingly (keeping in mind the kids’ schedules). At our teens’ age, we decided to compensate with money which helps build about financial independence.

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stay connected: During the school year, days quickly turn in to weeks, weeks turn in to months, and, before you know it, we’re back around at summer again. Don’t let the time get away from you. Step away from the hectic reality of life (and the glow of your devices) to make contact with your child(ren), your partner, and your tribe! Go beyond the “How was your day?” gibberish because, really, there is no good answer to that question. Dig a little deeper and ask more meaningful questions. My favorites are:

  • What did you do to make someone smile today?
  • If you could do today all over again, what would you have changed?
  • What is one thing you want to remember about today?

I haven’t cornered the market on great thought-provoking queries as I sometimes find myself asking the banal, “What did you learn today?” question. …And I’m not sure these moms have figured it out much better than I have, but they’ve got some prompts that might help you get started (though I would avoid any “tattle-type” questions myself). [Questions from Motherly and FabulesslyFrugal]

Here’s a bonus idea for staying connected with tweens. This idea directly correlates with the calendarize suggestions mentioned above: keep each other in the loop. Back in “little kid” days, my husband or I would be asked to “Bring the family ’round for dinner.” “Sure, no problem” we’d respond with the assumption that kids would enjoy the night out.  We’d load up the kids, grab a bottle of wine, and be on our way. But that is not the way to do it with tweens and teens. They’ve got their own agendas. So I suggest you start a family chat to help with those “I was just invited…” plans that come up at school and work. We’ve observed that the chat has alleviated a lot of stress because everyone knows what is coming (“We are going out to dinner with the Smith’s on Friday”) and reduces the inevitable parental taxi strain (“Can you drop us off at the movies at 7? Her mom will pick us up!”).

set up a lunch line: With the invention of refrigerators, lunch-making has never been easier. But I’m shocked at how many parents I catch complaining about having to wake up early to put together the day’s lunches. Stop it. There is a better way! Get everyone involved in making their own lunch. We started getting our kids to make their own lunches when they were 3 years-old. My husband would cut up stacks of veggies (and the kids would pick two different kinds) while I helped the kids slop mayo, mustard, and veggies on bread. The kids would fill reusable containers with yogurt, fruit salad, and/or fruit juice and they’d toss in some cutlery. Done! Now that they are teens, it’s even easier. I make the salads (for the adults) while one kid makes sandwiches or portions out leftovers (for the kids). My husband is still on veggie duty, and the other kid helps where needed: fruit duty, extra protein on sport’s days, or a bonus treat from the weekend’s baking extravaganza.

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The main reason my family keeps me around–I’m the only one who can Tetris the fridge so a week’s worth of shopping, pre-cooked dinners, and all of our lunches fit inside.

don’t sweat the small stuff: It’s OK if the laundry doesn’t get done tonight. The memory of cuddling up with your child and reading a favorite book, drawing a picture for grandma, or listening to them play an instrument (no matter how good or bad) is far more important in the grand scheme of things. Choose to live the best life in the moment and let the rest go!

Angela