Author Archive

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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9 Ways You Can Spot a Mom, Mother’s Day edition

Monday, May 12th, 2014

In the New York City neighborhood where I live, the streets are busy on the warm spring days just before the first Sunday in May. All stereotypes about rude New Yorkers to the contrary, it is a friendly place and it is common for people to wish one another happy Mother’s Day here. Even complete strangers say it to me, often when my kids are nowhere around.

I like to think I have recovered fairly well from the physical assaults of pregnancy. We are long past the sleepless nights of babyhood in our house and the tricycle is on its way to being a rusty garden ornament. So what is the giveaway? I look down…maybe it is my abs? I like to think not. Perhaps it is something else. My breasts? No, it’s been years since I nursed my babies, although they certainly were perkier before those midnight feelings.  Hmmm…perhaps it is something more subtle?

In poker they call it a tell–the little unconscious signs that give you away. When it comes to motherhood I bet I have a thousand tells. Like the dark circles that cropped up below my eyes during the first sleep-deprived flush of new motherhood and never entirely left. Or those little lines that radiate from the outer corner of each eye. They’re called age lines but I know mine are a direct result of sun damage from Saturdays on the soccer field and hours spent squinting by the side of my in-laws’ swimming pool, doing duty as the designated water watcher for my sons and their cousins. Maybe it’s the little grey hairs that I’ve sprouted of late…it is just a coincidence that they came about just as our older son started to text and Snapchat and find his way around both the social and physical world with more freedom?  The scruffy nails come from loads (and loads) of laundry–a thousand pairs of pants turned right-side out, pockets emptied.

But it might also be the laugh lines on my cheeks, born of many good times with the kids. Or the soft spots on my cheek, the lucky recipient of literally thousands of goodnight kisses. Or the happiness our boys bring me that radiates however subtle and not just on that rare day when I get breakfast in bed.

I know some women take issue with the rampant tossing about of “Happy Mother’s Day.” It can be a painful holiday, one that is all the more upsetting when a total stranger thinks every passing woman is a parent. So I am careful with my greetings myself, always mindful not to assume. But when another woman–a total stranger–has the sixth sense to read my signals, whatever they may be, I always wish her Happy Mothers Day right back. Anyone who knows how much I relish this little thank you also, I am sure, needs one herself.

Now about those abs…check out this advice about helping get them back in shape post-pregnancy:

Have Your Abs Separated After Pregnancy?
Have Your Abs Separated After Pregnancy?
Have Your Abs Separated After Pregnancy?

What’s your parenting style? Find out here.

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Parents need to get smart about educational media

Monday, January 27th, 2014

More than half of parents feel their children have learned a lot from educational television, apps and games, according to a new national survey of 1,577 parents of kids ages two through ten that is the first to quantify the amount of children’s screen time that is educational. But the time spent with this beneficial content drops sharply as children get older, even as the minutes they spend with TV, tablets, smartphones and gaming systems increases. You don’t need a math degree to know that’s a bad ratio.  (The study defined educational content as material that is good for a child’s learning or growth, or teaches an academic or social skill.)  ”There’s a need for parents to be more mindful when choosing educational media,” says Vicky Rideout, who directed the study for the Joan Ganz Cooney center at Sesame Workshop in New York City. So what can you do?
Turn to TV. For every subject except math, parents were more likely to report that their child learned the most from TV than from platforms like console games, tablets or other mobile devices. This could be in part due to the fact that TV is still the primary way kids spend their screen time. But it may also be because parents have difficulty finding apps that are truly educational, or because kids gravitate to games they perceive as more fun (those Angry birds are stiff competition for Duck Duck Moose and its top-rated learning apps). Of course you have to choose your TV wisely: In the survey, 96 percent of parents rated Sesame Street as very or somewhat educational. SpongeBob SquarePants washed up at 9 percent.
Beware age 5. It’s the time when kids’ tend to turn away from educational media as they spend more time with mobile devices. Among two to four year olds, the study found 79 percent of media used is educational, whereas among five to seven year olds the proportion declines to 39 percent. The researchers describe the drop as “alarming” and due in part to more use of mobile devices (vs television) as kids get older. Fewer parents felt that their kids learned from mobile  than from television. Which leads me to…
Be a digital dragon There will come a time when your mild-mannered kindergartener suddenly starts caring about what games other kids at school are playing. Many of these will be games that are not only devoid of educational value, but downright violent. You’ll have to set your family’s rules and expectations and stick to them against all kinds of pleading.
Choose kids’ media wisely. Get help at Common Sense Media, which has long rated television and movies and now also rates apps, or subscribe to reports from Children’s Technology Review. More parents in the study felt that their child learned reading or math from educational media; good science and arts apps may be harder to come by. At the CSM site you can search the database by subject category and there are some good art apps listed there.
Don’t give up on books. While 62 percent of kids in the study had an e-reading gadget, about half of them don’t use it for reading. They may like reading on paper better, or this finding may be due to the fact that on tablets, there is stiff competition for your child’s attention. So continue to provide books on paper and expose your child to libraries and bookstores even if you also give her a device for digital reading.
Play and explore with your kids. ”A fair amount of research shows parents and kids engaging with media together enhances it’s benefits,” Rideout says. Whether you’re discussing Sesame Street’s themes with a preschooler or researching robots or iguanas on YouTube or Google with a school-age child, ask questions about what your child is seeing and reading. David Kleeman, SVP of insights programs at PlayCollective, a research group that focuses on kids, families and play, points out that as kids get older, they may learn from sources parents wouldn’t necessarily classify as “educational” at first blush. In one previous study, he said last week at a Cooney Center forum focused on the new survey results, half of American boys reported learning valuable lessons about friendship from SpongeBob. As kids get older and the devices they use get smaller and more personal, it’s still important to engage them about what they are seeing. Who knows? Maybe ultimately this 100 percent digitally native generation will teach us a thing or two?
See Elmo and Murray from Sesame Street talk about learning in this video:

Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks

Help foster healthy use of the internet with our family internet contract.
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Downton Abbey and a Tale of Two Georges

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Digging in to the fourth season of my favorite soap opera for fancy folks, PBS’s Downton Abbey, which premiered last night, I was reminded of how very happy I am to be living in 2014 instead of 1922. Seeing the misery in the Grantham/Crawley crew 6 months after baby George’s birth made me think of that other much happier nonfiction family, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their own baby George.

Let’s take a look at some key differences between the two famous Georges, HRH Prince George of Cambridge and the baby George Crawley born to Downton’s Lady Mary and her late husband. (You’d have to be living under a rock not to know what befell poor Matthew but stop reading now if you’re putting off Season-4 viewing for a future binge-watch.)

For one thing, HRH George can look forward to a long, healthy life. A boy born in Downton George’s day had a life expectancy of only 56 years, whereas life expectancy at birth for males in England is now hovering at a robust 80. In Downton’s era thousands were still dying of tuberculosis. So let’s hear it for progress, specifically vaccines and good hygiene practices, which have fought back so many infectious diseases.

Consider the progress that has been made in other areas of parenthood:  The Duke was by Kate’s side when she gave birth; had he been able to get to the hospital in time, poor Matthew undoubtedly would have been banished to an anteroom or sent down to the pub.

Then there’s breastfeeding. The Duchess is reportedly breastfeeding her son. Not so sure about Mary. All the fun and memorable moments of Downton babycare seem to be left to the chilly Nanny West, who tells Mr. Barrow that he isn’t allowed to touch the baby without her permission. (Who can blame her, given that the influenza pandemic was only just winding down.) The Duke and Duchess, on the other hand, have said they want to be hands-on parents, and although they apparently have Will’s childhood nanny helping out, the fact that Will drove his little family home from the hospital himself signals an active role for everyone’s favorite royal father.

But far and away it’s the conditions for women that are most troubling in this comparison.  The Duchess graduated from university, whereas in Downton days, only about a quarter of students of higher education were women. And yes, the Duke and Duchess had a boy, but had their child instead been a daughter, the newly published Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 altered the rules of succession to the throne so that male heirs can no longer kick women out of place in the line for the throne. Poor Lady Mary is out of luck there as well. Baby George inherited two-thirds of the estate while Mary inherited only one-third. The baby and Lord Grantham thus have the controlling interest. Wait ’til little Downton George gets wind of that–imagine how hard it must be to discipline a majority shareholder!  Maybe a lot like disciplining a future king?

George isn’t the only regal name for a baby boy. Check out our baby name finder for more inspiration.

Plus: Nanny West not really your style? Learn how to choose a good nanny in this video:.

Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny
Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny
Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny

Image courtesy of PBS.

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Attention Digital Dragons: You’re Not Alone!

Monday, November 25th, 2013

We’ve had helicopter moms. And tiger mothers. I’d like to propose a third parent type: the digital dragon. You know who you are. Your toddlers still color with crayons in restaurants. Your preschoolers have never logged $249 worth of accidental in-app purchases on your iPhone. Your bigger kids have signed a contract like this to ensure the responsible use of devices. And everyone in the house knows that what you’re screening on movie night needs to be cleared through the Common Sense Media site.

A couple hundred dragon types gathered into a packed room last week to hear Chelsea Clinton moderate a panel hosted by Common Sense Media about how to raise caring kids in a digital world. On the stage: Jim Steyer (founder/CEO of CSM), Dr. Howard Gardner (professor of education at Harvard and the author of the book The App Generation) and Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defending the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. There were many interesting nuggets, including the fact that a recent report by CSM on kids’ mobile use in America finds that the average amount of time they spend has tripled in the last two years. And that California has passed what’s called the “eraser button bill” which requires web sites to allow kids under age 18 to remove their posts if they want to do so.

But for this dragon lady, the joy of the event was being reminded that I am not alone. Because it can sometimes feel as if I am the only parent who is being called a “jerk” by my kid because I refuse to let him explore the digital universe untethered.  I felt so much more comfortable with my own fire-breathing behavior as the mom of two boys, 9 and 12, when Bazelon, mom of two boys ages 10 and 13, explained her caution with the internet by saying, “I would not open my front door in the city where we live and send my children out and say, ‘good luck.’” Right! Or when Steyer, a father of four, said he is “referred to by my kids as the world’s most embarrassing dad.” Hey, I thought that was my husband!

Don’t get me wrong: I said dragon parent, not luddite parent. I am wholly in favor of kids having access to digital tools—with limits and supervision. And we moms and dads can’t delegate this to the school and expect them to deal with it. Just as it is your responsibility to have the sex talk, it’s also your job to have the digital-safety talk. And the appropriateness-of-sharing talk. And the no-posting-photos-from-parties-not-everyone-was-invited-to talk. And many others. Key is to have these chats in a way that encourages your child to put himself in another’s shoes. As the speakers pointed out, as less communication happens face to face, kids miss out on learning to read the facial expressions and vocal cues that can help them feel empathy. It may be harder, then, for them to know what is hurtful to another child. One of the hardest conversations I’ve had with my kids about the power of a text message started with the words “Imagine how you would feel if…”

One fine place to start the process is by taking this new quiz to assess how digitally healthy your family is right now. And then if you want to meet fellow dragons, consider lifting your eyes from your phone (yes, we dragons can be guilty of major “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” behavior) and talking to parents at your child’s playgroup or school to compare notes. If the mood in the room last week is any indication you will find that even in this age of sharing, many other dragons are struggling and feeling like they too are alone.

 

Image: Shutterstock

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Proof that as a parent you can use the powers of digital media for good: Elmo and Murray of Sesame Street visited Parents and we got them on video!  


Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating

Can’t find a movie you can all agree on? Try a board game!

 

 

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