When my daughter started kindergarden, she hated reading. There I said it.
Her teacher always sent her home with books from which she was to read for at least 20 minutes every night. But whenever she sat down with a book, I’d watch her body slump and her mind wander to far away thoughts of magical moving pictures from the glorious TV in her room.
She was no stranger to reading before she started school. She had an entire library in her room that I filled with all of the classics. I’d been reading to her since she was in the womb, and she’s always loved reading hour, which we have every Saturday and Sunday after lunch. But this was different. Being in kindergarden meant that she had to decipher the strange letters on the page on her own, and that was no fun.
She once started to say “I hate rea-” to which I gasped and forbid her from ever having such thoughts. As an English major and a lover of books, this was like a punch in the stomach for me. I felt a sense of loss for all of the amazing stories she might miss out on; all of the lives she wouldn’t live if this feeling continued. Dramatic, I know, but it’s really how I felt.
So of course I did what every wise, all-knowing mother does when she encounters an obstacle: I called my mom.
“Being a mom means being a teacher,” my mom said. “Put your teaching pants on.”
Apparently moms have all kinds of pants in an invisible mom-wardrobe that we just have to whip out and pull on when called for. So I did. I pulled on my teaching pants, and they weren’t comfortable, but they fit.
After watching her read each day, I took to the chalkboard in her room and made lists of word families that I noticed gave her trouble.
Practicing “ou” brought mountains and clouds to life on the page for her. I bought books that were fun, like We Are In a Book, by Mo Willems. She cracked up reading that one and asked for more of his books. One Saturday I encouraged her to write a letter to her favorite author, and a week later she received her first piece of mail – a response from Mo Willems himself. He thanked her and promised to keep writing “Funny jokes to make her laugh.”
It took some time, but soon enough, she was reading books at home that were well beyond the reading level that her teacher was assigning.
Now as a 1st grader, new books have become rewards for completing her chores and finishing other books.
I’d be lying if I said that my daughter loves every book that she picks up. She’ll still swap a book for the TV if the story isn’t funny enough, but she’s come a long way from the days of (almost) hating to read. And I get to put the teaching pants back on the hanger during reading hour.
If you’re a shutterbug and you have a child who’s heading (back) to school, consider picking up a School Days Kit from Hallmark’s Pics ‘n’ Props line. Also featured in the Goodybag section of our September 2013 issue, the kit comes with fun, chalkboard-themed photo props (a chalkboard and inserts for preschool through 12th grade) that your child can hold up for the camera each year on the first day of school. A photo album is also included, along with journal cards for your child to write down his first-day thoughts.
After taking first day photos, don’t forget to post them to Instagram and include #parentsbts. We’re regramming select photos on the Parents Instagram page.
Sometimes giving back feels like a chore, but it doesn’t have to. I recently came across Kellogg’s Family Rewards Giving, which allows you to donate to schools and charities with nothing more than a computer and products you probably already have around the house.
Kellogg’s new loyalty program only requires that you peek inside the box of participating products (like Special K, Mini-Wheats, and Nutrigrain granola bars) and type in the code online. Kellogg’s then sends you a donation code you can use to give donations of $1 or $5 to the school or charity you care about. From a typical grocery order, you may be able to donate a couple of dollars a month.
NCIS: Los Angeles star Chris O’Donnell has joined with The ConAgra Foods Foundation’s Hunger-Free Summer program to raise awareness for kids who depend on free or reduced lunch meals during the school year. Now in its fourth year, the initiative has delivered over 2.5 million meals and snacks to children struggling with hunger over the summer. The goal is to reach at least 25 percent more children in need during the summer than before, over the course of five years.
We spoke with O’Donnell about the program, his career, and what it’s like to raise five children.
How do you manage raising so many kids? Do you ever have peace and quiet? On a normal day, peace and quiet doesn’t begin until the last one goes to sleep, which gets later and later as they get older. My wife Caroline and I do try to find time for just the two of us, run out for a glass of wine or a quick dinner. The noise feels like the new normal at this point. If it gets too quiet, that usually means trouble.
What’s the best part of having a big family?
In terms of our children, we try to encourage each of them to explore their individual interests since they are each so unique. It is fun watching them as they dabble in all types of sports and extracurricular activities.
You took time off from your acting career to focus on your family. Was that a scary decision to make?
I had a couple moments early in my career where it was more about re-examining my life. I started young and had a lot of success out of the gate. I would go movie, to movie, to movie, and would never see the people I worked with again. I was really getting burnt out on a personal, emotional level. And that’s just not who I am. The road I wanted to go down was to be married and have a family.
Did raising kids ever get easier for you? By the time you were on the fifth baby, did you feel like you had a handle on things?
I think going from two to three kids was the most difficult, but it does get easier. The older kids start to behave and help out, and we are more experienced as well. We don’t stress out over small things that may have freaked us out in our first couple years as parents.
What’s your best advice for busy parents out there?
From my perspective, it’s important for parents to set a good example for their kids, and impart on them that they should think about and help others.
Why is the Hunger-Free Summer Program particularly important to you?
I was shocked to learn that one in five children in the U.S. faces food insecurity—and that the situation only becomes more worrisome during the summer months. It can be an invisible issue, so as a father of five, I want to do something to help.
Want to help O’Donnell and the Hunger-Free Summer initiative? Check out www.ChildHungerEndsHere.com and watch O’Donnell’s message below. For every video viewed and shared, ConAgra will donate one meal to Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
Playground made from trash gets children back in the swing
Ruganzu Bruno and his troupe of fellow eco-artists created a playground made of recycled materials to raise awareness about environmental degradation. (via CNN)
Pregnancy Hormone May Predict Postpartum-Depression Risk
Levels of a stress hormone released by the placenta could predict a woman’s risk of developing postpartum depression, new research suggests. (via Yahoo! News)
NYC School Principals Send Letter Refusing To Consider Recent State Test In Fall Admissions
Principals around New York City are fighting back against what they see as flawed state tests. (via Huffington Post)
Report: Nation’s kids need to get more physical
The prestigious Institute of Medicine is recommending that schools provide opportunities for at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for students and that PE become a core subject. (via Yahoo News)
Parents Argue School Is Violating Separation Of Church And State
Does teaching yoga in public schools violate the separation of church and state? That’s what two parents are contending in a lawsuit against Encinitas Union School District in California. (via Huffington Post)
Student Fires Police Officer’s Handgun On Northern Virginia School Bus
A student accidentally shot a police officer’s handgun on a Northern Virginia school bus on Monday. Four students were on the bus at the time, along with the police officer, the bus driver and a bus aide, and no one was hurt. (via Huffington Post)
Bed rest during pregnancy could worsen risk for premature birth, study shows
New research is raising fresh concern that an age-old treatment for troubled pregnancies – bed rest – doesn’t seem to prevent premature birth, and might even worsen that risk. (via Fox News)
Video Game to Help Kids Fight Cancer
Re-Mission 2 is a collection of six free online games–accessible via Web browser or Apple iPad–that share the theme of taking the fight to cancer. They do this by arming patients with a virtual arsenal of chemo, radiation and targeted cancer drug attacks designed to crush advancing malignant forces. (via Yahoo News)
Philadelphia doctor guilty of murdering infants in late-term abortions
A Philadelphia abortion doctor was found guilty on Monday of murdering three babies during late-term abortions at a clinic serving low-income women. (via Yahoo News)
Buena Vista School District Officially Closes For Year, Offers ‘Skills Camp’
For the 400 or so students in Buena Vista, Mich., school is over, even though the academic year isn’t supposed to end until the middle of June. Instead, they will likely attend “skills camp.” (via Huffington Post)
U.S. approves Novartis drug Ilaris to treat childhood arthritis
Novartis said on Friday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved its drug Ilaris to treat a serious form of childhood arthritis. (via Reuters)
Give immigrants healthcare access: U.S. kid doctors
A group representing U.S. pediatricians said this week that its members should pay special attention to the healthcare needs of immigrant children and support health insurance for all – regardless of legal status. (via Reuters)
Pregnancy Interventions Widespread, Not Always Desired, National Survey Shows
Nearly 60 percent of moms said they believe giving birth is a natural process that should not be interfered with unless medically necessary, however the same women reported significant intervention when they were in labor, according to a new national survey. (via Huffington Post)
Texas May Soon Require Cameras In Special Education Classrooms
A bill that would require video cameras in all special education classrooms was passed in the Texas Senate in April and is currently being considered by the state’s House Public Education Committee. (via Huffington Post)
Kids of Tiger Moms Are Worse Off
In her controversial memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Yale law professor Amy Chua defended her draconian parenting methods, explaining how being a controlling “Chinese-style” parent drives Asian-American children to succeed in ways that permissive “Western-style” parenting does not. But a recently released decade-long study of 444 Chinese-American families shows that the effect tiger parents have on their kids is almost exactly the opposite. (via Yahoo)
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a small round table for editors in Washington D.C. Monday, and I was among those in attendance. Duncan invited us to discuss what he and President Obama hope will be their biggest legacy in the area of education: the vast expansion of public preschool availability for America’s children. In particular, the proposed initiative is designed to reach underprivileged kids who have no other quality early-education option. “The average child from a disadvantaged community enters school 12 to 18 months behind,” says Duncan, who adds that the U.S ranks 25 out of 29 industrialized nations in offering quality public preschool. Only 28 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded programs. And, sadly, the trend appears to be headed in the wrong direction. According to a study released yesterday by the National Institute for Early Education Research, state funding for pre-K fell by more than $500 million dollars last year, the largest one-year drop ever. Funding has fallen more than 20 percent during the past decade.
To change that, Duncan is proposing a $75 billion plan over the next decade to support states that expand their preschool offerings, at first to those that live near the poverty line but also, eventually, to middle-income families as well. The Administration has proposed funding the program with a 94-cent tax on tobacco products, in part because he cites projections that the added tariff will prevent nearly 250,000 kids from developing a smoking habit during that time.
At a time when Washington is mired in legislative gridlock, the preschool plan seems ambitious at the least. But Duncan believes it is essential to help our nation make up ground with other countries so that our kids are well-prepared for school and ready to succeed in an ever-more-competitive global economy. Duncan cites surveys showing that for every dollar that goes into preschool and early-childhood education, there’s a 7-to-1 return in the future payoff. “It’s the best bang for an educational buck,” he says. Children who attend quality preschool enter kindergarten with better prereading and social skills, stronger vocabularies and math knowledge, and a greater chance of graduating from high school and becoming productive members of the work force later on. That’s why the Federal government would pay states up to 90 percent of the preschool expansion costs at first (though that figure would diminish over time). In return, the program would require that the pre-K programs be high-quality and, ideally, full-day, taught by certified teachers and with an instructor-to-student ratio of 10 to 1 or less. Can Duncan and the Administration rally Congress to allocate the money and convince states to play ball? Duncan concedes it’s a challenge. But as he and other supporters are quick to point out, this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an American issue.
What do you think—would you support a tobacco tax to be used to expand quality public pre-K programs?