The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: September 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

International Walk to School Day - October 5, 2011

"When I was your age, I walked five miles to school," ...or so said Grandpa or Great Grandpa when describing his school experience in the 1930s.  Today's children have it easy.  The bus picks them up outside of their house or at most, they must walk a block or two to the bus stop. If a district determines that children who live within a certain radius of the school don't need bussed transportation, some parents ignore that and drive their kids to school, especially on rainy or frigid mornings. (But I can't blame them for that logic!) No wonder our kids are overweight!

However, the school bus concept is much safer.  With less time on the road for a rogue driver to bounce onto the pavement or a wild animal to chase a child through the field, children have fewer opportunities to get into serious trouble before school begins and on their way home.

So, why organize a Walk to School Day?  To get the kids out in the fresh air, using their muscles for more than Wii games. 

How would you implement that observance?  Some people are organizing a walking school bus where the kids line up, accompanied by parents, and walk as a group to school.  What a great idea - within reason.  Naturally if you live ten miles from school, even Grandpa wouldn't approve of walking that far.  However, if you are close enough to participate, organize your neighbors and have fun walking with your children during the crisp autumn weather.  Listen for the return of the winter birds.  Look for the leaves changing color and explain why that happens.  Talk about safety on the sidewalk.  Turn the walking school bus ino a fun learning experience.

That's why I posted this early enough so you can begin planning now.  According to the folks at the Kidproof Safety blog, here’s how it works: Start small and invite your kids and a few neighborhood kids to walk to school together. (Explain to parents that it’s like a carpool without the car.) Try walking once or twice a week to start. Figure out a safe route that avoids busy streets, intersections, loose dogs and shifty areas. Devise a schedule for picking up your charges, building in enough time to allow for slower walkers or discoveries (a bird’s nest!) along the way.

Before taking your first step, have a talk with the kids about safety. Teach the kids to walk (not run!) on the sidewalk, to watch for drivers pulling out of driveways, and to obey all traffic signs and signals. The kids should also watch for cars at all times, looking left, right, backwards and forwards before crossing busy intersections.

Once your “bus” is a success, consider inviting other neighborhood families to join in, or share the idea with school leaders. Ideally, you should have one adult walking with every six school-age kids, or one adult for every three preschoolers. Ask the parents to take turns on “bus” duty, and print up a route and schedule for all participants.

By taking to the streets, you’ll be boosting your kids’ health, cutting traffic, helping the environment by reducing automobile emissions, and creating a sense of community.

Happy parenting!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Green" school food

Children need to be more friendly - environmentally friendly, that is!  Green food means more than eating broccoli and string beans.  Here are some ideas you can implement at home for your own children and at school with your students:
  1. As a PTO parent, volunteer to use reusable plates for the next party. Naturally, you will be in total charge of bringing them and picking them up to sanitize in your dishwasher.  Another green party idea is to use cloth napkins that you wash with bleach and store with the plates for the next party.  I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it will save much space in the local landfill!
  2. If you send your child with water for lunch, use a green reusable bottle.  Make sure it is BPA free like this Water Bottle.  During warm weather, fill it the night before and freeze it for a frosty drink at lunch the next day.
  3. The rest of the lunch can be green also: Use reusable containers for sandwiches and snacks.  Avoid using packaged items that have plastic trash associated with them.  My favorite is the Fit & Fresh Fruit and Veggie Bowl.  When I was working, I could take my veggies and dip with me!
  4. Remember that the lunch bag itself can be green.  Here are the directions to make a reusable canvas bag at the top of my recipes page: http://reneeheiss.com/Recipes.html.  If you can't sew, then consider buying a reusable lunch bag: Equinox Organic Cotton Lunch Bag.  The neat thing about both of these options is that your children can personalize them with fabric or permanent markers :-)
By the way, this product has the tote, bottle, and containers: New Wave Enviro Products Lunchopolis Lunch Box.  It gets mixed reviews, so I guess it depends on how hard your kids treat their lunch box!

Happy green parenting and green teaching!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to avoid being "that" kind of parent

As a parent, I always wanted the best for my children.  That meant hoping they'd get the "best" teacher in the grade level during the lottery that occured in August.  If they didn't get what everyone in the PTA considered the "best" teacher, I didn't reveal this information to my girls.  We simply went with the flow.  And you know what?  Because of their personalities, we seldom had a problem. 

However, there are those parents who tthink it is their patriotic duty to confront teachers when they feel that their little Elroy has been wronged somehow.  The review sheet did not include something that appeared on the test or in the format in which it was tested?  What?  The teacher gave a pop quiz and he failed it?  Aren't we teachers trying to instill adaptability with our curriculum?  Yes, these scenraios really happened and I won't reveal the source, but some parents can get in their children's education so deeply that they lose sight of the fact that kids need to learn from their mistakes.

When I was teaching, I had a sign on my desk that read Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child. How true!  As parents, our obligation is to help our children understand that life's roads has bumps.  Sometimes those bumps take the form of mountains that need crossing during a blizzard.  Other times, those bumps cave under pressure, making the road smooth again.  If you have prepared your child to anticipate the pop quiz, prepare for unusually worded questions, and understand that life sometime isn't always fair, you'll raise strong, independent children. If however, you pave the way for them by arguing with their teachers, requesting a new teacher, or complaining about that teacher in their presence, you'll raise wimpy children who wait for someone else to solve their problems for them.

So, parents, I encourage you to think twice before confonting a teacher about her methods that she likely learned in college.  He or she knows the best way to present her curriculum material to your child.  It's your job to let your children know that you love them no matter what they do. And if that means hugging your child when she gets a 55 on a test that she studied for, then hug your child.  She knows she disappointed you.  Together, you can figure out how you can bring that grade up for the next test or do extra credit work to bring up the cumulative grade.  However, will you be the one to ask for that extra credit?  What do you think????

Happy parenting!  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spongebob - no; Creative learning activities - YES!

I agree with everything this says, so I'm simply reposting it here on my blog! (From MyFox, Tampa Bay)

'SpongeBob SquarePants' bad for kids' concentration, US study says

Updated: Monday, 12 Sep 2011, 6:18 AM EDT
Published : Monday, 12 Sep 2011, 6:18 AM EDT

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Fast-paced, fantastical television shows such as "SpongeBob SquarePants" may harm children's ability to pay attention, solve problems and moderate behavior, according to a US study published Monday.

Researchers from the University of Virginia found that the learning ability of four-year-olds who watched nine minutes of "SpongeBob SquarePants" was severely compromised compared to four-year-olds who either watched the slower-paced TV show "Caillou" or spent time drawing.

The children in the study, whether they watched TV or drew, were tested immediately afterward to see how well they solved problems and followed rules, remembered what they were told and were able to delay gratification, according to the report published in journal Pediatrics. There was little difference in the way the children who watched "Caillou" or drew performed in the test.

"Parents should know that children who have just watched 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' or shows like it, might become compromised in their ability to learn and behave with self-control," according to psychology professor Angeline Lillard, who led the research. She added, "It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child's ability to concentrate immediately afterward."

Lillard said another possible explanation was that children identified with unfocused and frenetic characters and then adopted their characteristics. She advised parents to consider the findings when making decisions about which television shows to allow their young children to watch -- if they watch TV at all. The study also recommended that parents use creative learning activities -- such as drawing, using building blocks and playing outdoors -- to help their children develop sound behaviors and learning skills.

Happy Parenting!

The Kinetic Classroom

Allow me to blow my own horn here!  I've worked for several years to get this book published so teachers around the world can move children around the classroom rather than sort them in neat  little rows all day long.  Research shows that children's brains need oxygen for stimulation.  The only way to provide that oxygen is to move them around so their little blood vessels carry it to their brains. 

The Kinetic Classroom provides the background research, implementation suggestions, and 34 activities that can be used by teachers of all levels, abilities, and curriculum topics.  This book is also available in kindle edition if you want a more portable, digital copy :-)  

Please comment below if you buy this book and let me know which activities worked best for you and explain how you used them.

Happy Teaching!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What is a digital native?

Today's young generation is the first to have digital media at their fingertips.  Their teachers and parents likely joined the digital age in elementary school.  Their grandparents or great grandparents probably didn't even have a TV until elementary school.  Children today are "digital natives" - they don't know a world without technological devices.

How does this make them different from previous generations?  First, they find fact-gathering easier and probably more fun.  My daughter assigned a research project to her students.  She said they would love it because they would get to use the laptop cart.  Kids loving research? Say what?  In my 7th grade class oh-so-many years ago, the teacher would have extracted a chorus of groans and complaints from this announcement.  Now, they eagerly look forward to the discovery process because a search engine has facilitated the process.

Neela Sakaria, Senior Vice President of Latitude explains that the research is “focused on giving children a real voice in the broader, often very adult, discussion of future technologies and real-world problem solving. We believe that kids are architects of the future – they’re creative, have an intuitive relationship with technology, and have proven that they think in extraordinarily sophisticated ways about how tech can enhance their learning, play, and interactions with the people and things around them.”

I believe that this new digital revolution has brought a generation of very creative children to the future.  Encouraged by their teachers to develop technological solutions to non-technological problems, they see things differently than their predecessors.  For example, when asked what google can do to facilitate research, this was one young problem-solver's reply:


What fun!  What potential!  I love the thought process that developed this concept and I can't wait for google to figure out how to implement it.  I wish I could be around in 50 years to see what the future holds for these children and thier grandchildren!

Happy teaching!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Teen Suicide Prevention

World Suicide Prevention Day is held on September 10th each year. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 14.

Why has the youth suicide rate gone so high in recent years? The American Academy of Pediatrics identified some reasons:
  • It's easier to get the tools for suicide (Boys often use firearms to kill themselves; girls usually use pills);
  • the pressures of modern life are greater;
  • competition for good grades and college admission is stiff; and
  • there's more violence in the newspapers and on television.
If your teen-ager has been depressed, you should look closely for signs that he or she might be thinking of suicide:
  • Has his personality changed dramatically?
  • Is he having trouble with a girlfriend (or, for girls, with a boyfriend)? Or is he having trouble getting along with other friends or with parents? Has he withdrawn from people he used to feel close to?
  • Is the quality of his schoolwork going down? Has he failed to live up to his own or someone else's standards (when it comes to school grades, for example)?
  • Does he always seem bored, and is he having trouble concentrating?
  • Is he acting like a rebel in an unexplained and severe way?
  • Is she pregnant and finding it hard to cope with this major life change?
  • Has he run away from home?
  • Is your teen-ager abusing drugs and/or alcohol?
  • Is she complaining of headaches, stomachaches, etc., that may or may not be real?
  • Have his eating or sleeping habits changed?
  • Has his or her appearance changed for the worse?
  • Is he giving away some of his most prized possessions?
  • Is he writing notes or poems about death?
  • Does he talk about suicide, even jokingly? Has he said things such as, "That's the last straw," "I can't take it anymore," or "Nobody cares about me?" (Threatening to kill oneself precedes four out of five suicidal deaths.)
  • Has he tried to commit suicide before?
  • Does he "cut" (slicing hidden areas of his body)?

If you suspect that your teen-ager might be thinking about suicide, do not remain silent. Suicide is preventable, but you must act quickly.
  • Ask your teen-ager about it. Don't be afraid to say the word "suicide." Getting the word out in the open may help your teen-ager think someone has heard his cries for help.
  • Reassure him that you love him. Remind him that no matter how awful his problems seem, they can be worked out, and you are willing to help.
  • Ask her to talk about her feelings. Listen carefully. Do not dismiss her problems or get angry at her.
  • Remove all lethal weapons from your home, including guns, pills, kitchen utensils, and ropes.
  • Seek professional help. Ask your teen-ager's pediatrician to guide you. A variety of outpatient and hospital-based treatment programs are available.
My friend, Al Borris, wrote an awesome novel about four teens on a suicide mission.  It's called Crash into Me and examines the suicide process in depth without being preachy.  He also includes a touch of humor and four very different personalities. The ending will convince most teens contemplating suicide that it's not the route to go. 

I hope with this post that I have saved at least one family from the pain of suicide.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Observations at a Playground

I was at the Evesham playground with my daughter and three-year-old granddaughter the other day.  They went off to play.  I watched the children's personalities there.  Here's what I saw...

The future CEO organized all her friends to do exactly what she wanted them to do.  When she went to one of the climbing areas, she held her arm out in silent body language that said, "Don't even try to be first.  That's my place!"  She trailed a younger sister around by the hand and exhibited every leadership trait that would make a future boss proud. 

The artist played in the sandbox, sifting, building, rebuilding, and exploring the textures.  He did not budge from his seat in the middle of the sand.  Other children around him giggled, screamed, and ran, but he was oblivious to the mayhem around him.  His powers of concentration on his efforts astounded me!

The athlete challenged his ability at every corner.  He bounced on things that were probably not designed for bouncing.  He balanced across a bridge that required much coordination.  And he climbed every ladder at the playground.  His energy seemed boundless.

The musician found the huge xylophone and would not give it a rest!  She explored the sounds of each tube repeatedly, often searching for different combinations of sequences.  I'm sure she would have loved to have had two sticks instead of the one that was attached at the xylophone to explore harmonic sounds, as well.

Then there was the daydreamer.  She walked around the playground, watching the others play, staring up at the sky when a plane flew overhead, and kicking the wood chips around.  She seemed content to watch and take in her environment rather than participate in the experience.  Interesting behavior for a five-year-old.

Where was my three-year-old granddaughter though all this?  Guardedly exploring the new playground.  She required her mommy to be close by as she explored each new structure for the first time.  I like that attitude - don't jump into something until you're absolutely sure it's safe.  She wasn't fearful, but at three, she needed a backup in case her playground turned sinister for some reason ;-)

So, watch your children at play and see their future lives.  Will they be the leader, the musician, the daydreamer, the artist, the athelete, or a cautious participant?  Children's play can provide parents with much personality information if you take time to watch, rather than text or talk on the phone while they play (which I did see there at the playground!)

Happy parenting!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from a one-room schoolhouse

When you think of the one-room schoolhouse, you probably envision Little House on the Prairie with Laura Ingalls interacting with children of all ages and personalities in the classroom.  You might also envision the teacher being overworked, planning lessons for all different ages and abilities.  This may not be too far from the norm even now.

In the U.S., 237 public schools had only one teacher, according to 2009 federal data, down from 463 in 1999. Most are located in remote areas. These often lack the amenities typically associated with high-quality schooling, such as computer labs, libraries, sports, art, music, nurses and learning resources teams.

However, these schools also have advantages unknown to students in traditional classrooms. Students often build close relationships with their teachers, providing another mature role-model. Pupils in mixed-age groups help each other learn.  (Most teachers know that the easiest way to learn a subject is to teach it!)  Field trips become easier and more diverse as the teacher takes his 30 students to investigate the workings of a restaurant kitchen or post office.

On the other hand, the teacher in the one-room school may need to develop thirty different IEPs for each of his students who don't have special needs, but do have different learning styles and levels.  Many times parents volunteer their time to help the younger readers or those struggling with basic math concepts.  Talented parents also volunteer for sports, music, and art specials while the primary teacher takes a much-needed break.  Everyone helps each other learn - what an awesome concept!

But what about test scores? Enrollment at Cliff Island School, located off the coast of Maine, ranges from four to seven students in grades pre-K through 5. Its one teacher, Josh Holloway, has purchased science equipment by applying for grants. He uses videoconferencing to involve his students in book groups and programs at other schools.The test scores of students on the 85-resident island are "very competitive with the top end" of average scores in the area's 11 elementary schools, says Jim Morse, superintendent of Portland Public Schools. Parents are so involved that "it's almost a throwback to the time when schools were an extension of the family."

There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to having a small school in a small town, but personally, I love the close connection between family and education that this system affords to its residents. 

Happy teaching and Happy parenting! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Another use for a clothes pin

In a previous blog, I showed you how to use clothes pins to indicate movement upward on a sliding behavior scale.  Today, I adapt a hint from my daughter, a 7th grade science teacher.  She wanted to showcase student work on a rotating basis, so she hot glued clothes pins to bulletin board paper that was tacked onto the bulletin board.  Then when she wants to showcase new work, all she has to do is unclip and add a new piece.  So easy! 

Rewarding students with classroom recognition is almost better than giving them a big A on the top of the paper or a smiley sticker.  This recognition gives them positive attention in front of their peers, which multiplies the satisfaction level.  With stickers, only the student and his family or close friends see the achievement.  With the reward wall, everyone gets to see what good work looks like and who did it. 

Happy teaching!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Are Comic Books Legitimate Reading ?

8 Reasons to Let Your Kids Read Comics (excerpted from a post by Capstone Press)

1. Comics are fun to read. Why does reading have to be miserable? It doesn’t. Finding one genre fun means that your child will cross over it findin other genres fun.

2. Comics contain narrative stories with the same story elements and literary devices — characters, conflict, resolution, setting, symbolism, theme, point of view, and so forth.  Teachers, consider using them to illustrate these concepts.

3. Comics provide built-in context clues. Because comics are visual, even if the text is difficult, the visuals give the reader support in comprehending the story.

4. Reading a comic is a different process of reading using a lot of inference. With a comic, readers must rely on the dialogue and the illustrations. The reader must infer what is not written out by a narrator, a complex reading strategy.

5. Readers need variety in their reading diet. 'nuf said!

6. We’re a visual culture and the visual sequence makes sense to kids. Most children are visual learners.

7. Reading comics may lead to drawing and writing comics. Linking reading and writing is important. Comic book creation is particularly enticing for kids who prefer drawing to writing normally but will make exceptions for dialogue bubbles.

8. The selection of graphic novels is bigger, better, and reaches a wider age-range than before. Every month more comic books and graphic novels enter the market for younger readers and provide more good choices from which to pick.

For more info, read http://cutemonster.com/2010/11/comic-book-documentary-film/, which includes a video on comic book literacy.  And look at the article in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41684-2004Jun14.html.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Contests for Kids - Part III

Here is the end of the list I compiled that shows you all the many ways you can motivate children to learn through contests.  Remember to click on the title link for more information.

Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Awards
The Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Awards are sponsored by the Nicholas Green Foundation and administered by the National Association for Gifted Children. One $500 US Savings Bond is awarded to a student from each state. Candidates should be students in grades 3-6 who have distinguished themselves in academics, leadership or the arts. The deadline is June 1.

Olive Garden Pasta Tales Essay Contest
The Olive Garden Pasta Tales essay contest is open to students in grades 1-12 from the US and Canada. Essays are 50 to 250 words on a topic that changes each year. The deadline is in early December.  The new topic has not yet been posted, but the website tells you to return this fall for the information.

Patriot's Pen
Patriot's Pen is an essay writing contest (patriotic theme) sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). It is open to US students in grades 6-8.  Deadline is November 1. Definitely click the link to watch her deliver her essay - what poise and creativity in a 7th grader!

Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards recognize children in grades 5-12 who have engaged in volunteer activities and have demonstrated exceptional community service. Deadline is late October.

Red Vines Drawing Contest
Sponsored by the American Licorice Company, the Red Vines Drawing Contest is open to children in three age groups (as of May 1): kids (ages 6-12), teens (ages 13-18) and adult (ages 19+).  Get ready now for next year's contest - the deadline is in August.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are open to US and Canadian students in grades 7-12. It is sponsored by Scholastic Inc. and administered by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, Inc.  Guidelines will be available at their website soon.

Team America Rocketry Challenge
Team America Rocketry Challenge is a national model rocket competition open to US junior high school and high school students (grades 7-12). It is sponsored by AIA and the National Association of Rocketry.  Deadline for application is Nov. 30, but there are subsequent deadlines for demonstrating the ability to fly the rocket.

ThinkQuest
ThinkQuest is an annual team competition in which students under age 19 create innovative and educational web sites. There are three age divisions: 9-12, 13-15, and 16-19. Teams may have three to six student members. Entry deadline April 25, 2012.

Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Awards
The Toshiba ExploraVision Awards is a competition for teams of 2-4 US and Canadian students in grades K-12. The goal of the competition is to encourage students to explora a vision of a future technology. The teams research a technology or device and project how it might change in the future. They identify necessary breakthroughs to enable the development of the technology and discuss the positive and negative impact of the technology on society.  Deadline is February 1, 2012.

Young Naturalist Awards
The Young Naturalist Awards is a research-based science essay contest open to US and Canadian students in grades 7-12. It is sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and the Chase Manhattan Foundation.

Youth Service America
Youth Service America offers the State Farm Good Neighbor Service-Learning Grants to US children age 5-25 to implement service-learning projects for National Youth Service Day in April.

American History Essay Award and Christopher Columbus Essay sponsored by local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)chapters.  To find your local chapter, visit the website.

Happy Parenting, Happy Teaching, and Happy Home Schooling.  And good luck if you enter any of these worthwhile contests!
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