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A New School Year is Starting. Make Sure YOUR Child Isn’t ‘Left Behind’

Friday, July 17th, 2015

The House and Senate have put forth competing plans to overhaul the No Child Left Behind act and the arguing continues in Washington. But 54 million U.S. kids simply can’t wait for the grownups to sort things out: School is starting soon whether they like it or not. As a parent you may find yourself wondering what you can do right now to make sure your child gets a great education.

Let’s start by what needs to happen at home. A good night’s sleep is no substitute for a top-notch school, but it’s essential to helping your child focus in the classroom. The National Sleep Foundation recently released updated guidelines for the amount of zzz’s kids need, and those ages 6 to 13 should get 9 to 11 hours a night. You’ll also want to investigate any health surprises that might undermine academic success. Up to one in four school age children have a vision problem that could impair learning, according to the American Optometric Association. Other to-dos:

*Turn off the devices during homework time and keep screens out of your child’s bedroom

*Ensure your child eats a good breakfast before school

*Get your kid to school on time

*Help make sure the homework gets done

Next step? Go to school yourself. Talk with teachers and administrators. The U.S. Department of Education just released a checklist to help guide that conversation. Focus not only on academics but also on how your child’s school handles everything from bullying to school lunch. For example, if my school had a zero-tolerance discipline policy that extended to kindergarteners, I’d want to change that. Don’t forget to ask about recess and gym. “The very high-performing schools I visit almost universally understand this and find ways to keep exercise happening,” says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The DOE also recommends asking administrators how they know a teacher is effective. “There is a huge variation in how schools determine teachers’ effectiveness,” Duncan says. “Ask your administrator, How do you help teachers get better every year? Professional development should be part of the fabric of a school.” If your child doesn’t seem excited about and engaged in school, that’s a red flag.

Finally, do some homework of your own. Attend a local school-board meeting to get a sense of what’s going on in your community. “There are 15,000 local school boards and whether it’s recess or discipline, decisions aren’t made in Washington but by local boards,” says Secretary Duncan. “We need more parents stepping up.”

Secretary Duncan, incidentally, isn’t super-optimistic about Congress sorting out the competing education plans this year. “No Child Left Behind has been broken for years. Congress has been broken for years,” he says. So expect education debates to be ongoing during the presidential election cycle. “Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, it doesn’t matter,” he adds. “If we had more parents in the voting booth voting around education I guarantee our nation would be stronger and better.”

Dana Points is Editor in Chief of Parents. Her two boys get most of their homework done.

Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries


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Watching your kid sled takes a year off my life

Friday, January 30th, 2015

It’s snowing right now in New York City, where I live, and I am thankful my children are already at school and that today won’t be a snow day. Because snow days are sledding days and I still haven’t recovered from the last one. We arrived at our local sledding hill a couple days ago to find a blond grade-schooler already splayed out at the base of the ramp, eyes closed, as strangers tried to elicit the child’s name so they could run up the hill to find his mother. He’d flown down the slope, over the small concrete wall at the base, smacking a park bench on the other side. Fortunately, he landed on his back not his head; after 10 terrifying minutes, he walked away from the scene unaided.

But my heart skipped more than a few beats. And I found myself, as I do every time, positioning myself at the bottom of the hill and, like Lucy in the chocolate factory, racing to catch toddlers, grade-schoolers, even the odd grownup as they flew toward the wall. These days it isn’t my own kids I’m worried about. My youngest is 10, and for his entire life he’s worn a helmet while sledding. He’s always the only one in a helmet on our hill.  He also knows not to sled head first (you’d be amazed how many children do this).

My heart pounds as I work the hill. Preschoolers, I can simply catch if necessary. But a bigger kid barreling toward my kneecaps is frightening sight. To those  kids I yell, “Roll off!” or “Dig in your heels!” or, my particular favorite, “Brake with your feet, not your face!” I’m friendly about it, but it’s no laughing matter. In one 2011 study, 30 percent of children hospitalized after a sledding injury suffered significant head injuries, most often because their sled hit a tree. And my area has already seen one heartbreaking sledding-related death this season after a teenager on a snow tube struck a light pole. Over the decade between 1997 and 2007 there were more than 229,000 sledding injuries that required treatment by an emergency department according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. That’s an average of 20,000 per year.

The city government places bales of hay at the bottom of our hill, although never enough to cover the entire wall. At best, you have something to steer toward if you’re a)old enough to understand that concept, and b)in possession of a sled that can actually be steered. I’m glad the city has taken this approach instead of the strategy employed by the city council in Dubuque, Iowa: a sledding ban at all but a couple local hills. I’m not out to ruin all the fun. But no amount of hay can replace the attention of a responsible grownup. So join me on the hill, won’t you? And repeat after me:  Brake with your feet, not your face.

Dana Points is a mom of two and the editor in chief of  Parents and American Baby. She is also a member of the board of Safe Kids Worldwide.

More safety advice from fellow Parents moms:  

It Worked For Me: Safety Solutions
It Worked For Me: Safety Solutions
It Worked For Me: Safety Solutions

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Tags: | Categories: The Parents Perspective

How a Tape Measure and a Scale Could Save Your Kid’s Life

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for children 4 to 10 years old. Buckling a child safely into a car seat or booster seat can dramatically reduce the risk of  serious injury, yet 9 in 10 parents are switching their kids from boosters to seatbelt-only restraints before the children are big enough to be safe sans booster, according to a new survey from Safe Kids Worldwide and the General Motors Foundation. (Disclosure: I sit on the board of Safe Kids Worldwide, so this issue is especially near to my heart.)

Here’s where the tape measure and scale come in:  Seven in 10 parents surveyed didn’t know that a child should be at least 57″ tall (4’9″) to ride in a car without a booster seat. So pull out your measuring device and check your child’s height before you yield to his appeal to ditch the booster. Weigh him too: Your child should also be at least 80 pounds before going boosterless. Lots of children won’t hit these marks until they are 11 or even older according to this info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Check your child’s stats even if you previously reviewed your state’s booster regulations (rules vary from state to state). Many states don’t require boosters after age 7, much less until age 11. These are also among the states with the highest rates of motor vehicle fatalities among kids ages 4 to 8. (I’m talking to you, Montana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kentucky.)

Carpools are particularly worrisome, according to the Safe Kids Worldwide report. Anyone who even occasionally shuttles around extra kids should keep a spare booster in their trunk. I sometimes find that my own child is out of the booster zone but we ferry a friend who is not. Indeed, one in five parents in the survey said they bend the rules when carpooling.

Of course all this is moot if you don’t buckle your kid up in the first place, and an astounding one in three fatalities in 2012 happened when a child was completely unbuckled during a crash. So let’s all resolve to buckle our kids, every time. And if you have younger children who are still in a car seat (as opposed to a booster) it’s a good idea to check to make sure the seat is installed properly. This Saturday is National Seat Check Saturday, so take a moment to review these safety smarts. And visit Safe Kids to find out where you can get guidance from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician on proper installation of your seat.

Keep your kid safe no matter where they are with our Parents’ Home Safety Guidelines.

Car Seat Installation Tips
Car Seat Installation Tips
Car Seat Installation Tips

Photograph: MikhailSh via Shutterstock

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These women take mom humor to a new level

Monday, August 18th, 2014

From left, guest Castiglia with the Pump and Dump moms

Social media has made humor a constant undercurrent in the average mom’s day, but it can be beyond therapeutic to get together with real friends “IRL” as my kids would say and watch something funny happen right before your eyes. That’s the beauty of The Pump and Dump show, which a few of us from Parents caught in New York City not long ago. There is something about seeing other moms (and a few brave dads) laughing uncontrollably at the same crazy stuff that you’ve noticed happening in your own life that is very freeing–and more powerful than getting your laughs watching YouTube.

The PND team, Shayna Ferm, a comedian and mother of two, and MC Doula (aka Tracey Tee), mother of one, host an evening packed with inappropriate lyrics set to live music, games (such as a motherhood-themed version of “Never Have I Ever”) and other audience interaction, and often a local guest comic who is also a mom. In New York it was the hilarious Carolyn Castiglia, whose riff on dating as a single mom was upstaged only by her own freestyle rap to audience members’ anonymously contributed confessions of “The Most F—-d Up Thing My Kid Did This Week.” (See a sample of mom confessions here.)

Ferm and her “coach” MC Doula are on tour now, leaving their kids at home in Denver, so join their audience of “breeders” (their words) if you can. Songs include “Eat Your F—ing Food,” and “When I Die, I Want to Come Back as a Dad.”  Yes, the F word features prominently here. I was counting the number of times it was used but was laughing so hard I lost track. Underlying the irreverent lyrics is a message of acceptance for all our many mommy shortcomings and an embrace of all kinds of mom. “We have placenta-eating moms and moms who’ve never even tried a cloth diaper. We just all have to remember that we are doing the best that we can,” Ferm said at one point. Or, to quote her lyrics: “You’re an awesome mom and you’re not alone. You’re doing fine. Just pour yourself a whiskey during bath time.”

Can’t get to Chicago, Mill Valley, or Denver, where the show is playing  this fall? Download the tunes, gather a few friends, decide on a signature cocktail and have a listening party. Keep the tissues handy—you’ll laugh until you cry.


Here’s a video from another fun mom, Honest Toddler’s Bunmi Laditan: 

You Know You Have A Toddler When...
You Know You Have A Toddler When...
You Know You Have A Toddler When...

What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!


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End-Of-School-Year-Wisdom From Top Teachers

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Most days I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast. The passwords necessary to access my work files and bank accounts often escape me. But I can remember the names my favorite childhood teachers—the really great ones, who helped me along to an educational breakthrough, whether mastery of multiplication (Mrs. Tuttle) or my first long-form essay (Ms. Price). I also saw the impact of great teachers in my home while growing up, as my parents, both teachers, were both loved by many of their students. And now I see it as a parent as well.

I met more greats recently as I helped host the 2014 Blackboard Awards, given annually to New York City teachers by New York Family magazine. As the award recipients spoke, I learned a little about what has helped these educators flourish. They’re things you could look for in your own child’s educational experience and qualities that might make you speak up to say thank you during the final days of the school year:

A great teacher considers herself a student too: Many of the instructors spoke about how they’ve never stopped learning on the job. Fran Vogel, band director at MS 167, the Robert F. Wagner Middle School, has taught for 23 years, yet she says, “I consider myself a student. I am still learning. I’ve learned about patience, and not to get too attached to what I need in the classroom.”

A great teacher works in an environment of trust. Lisa Schalk, who teaches nursery at Chelsea Day School, praised the administrators at her school who, “trust me to run my classroom the way I feel it should be run.” Schalk, who became a teacher in her late 40s after a first career as an advertising copywriter, knew a great deal about how a business runs when she came to her classroom. Having supervisors who respected her knowledge helped her thrive.

A great teacher knows each day is precious. At age 74, Eileen Shostack, a special education teacher at PS 75, has been teaching for 44 years and has seen first-hand how quickly childhood passes many times over. “Education is a race,” she says. “Every day in a child’s life is precious.”

A great teacher knows it’s ok to fail “I have been fortunate to be at a school where teachers are encouraged to try and fail, and I did so—spectacularly,” said Bayard Faithfull, a social-studies teacher at The Beacon School. In order for kids to learn, we have to let them get comfortable with failing—how can they do that if we don’t model the behavior for them?

Check out this Back to School printable to help your child with homework!

Back to School: Advice for Every Grade
Back to School: Advice for Every Grade
Back to School: Advice for Every Grade

Photograph: New York Family Editor Eric Messinger celebrating with honoree Eileen Shostack, who at 74 may well be the oldest active teacher in NYC public school system.  She’s a 5th grade special needs teacher at PS 75.

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