Posts Tagged ‘ back-to-school ’

Stop Summer Slide

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

“School’s out for summer.” I used to play that Alice Cooper song for my son on the last day of classes (the Muppets version) as a celebration of his 10-week break from homework (and pencils, books, and teacher’s dirty looks). But as it turns out, I probably shouldn’t have been hailing his educational break. The National Summer Learning Association says that students lose about two months worth of skills in mathematics during the lazy days of summer. And as we reported, kids of all ages score lower on the same standardized reading, spelling, and math tests in September than they do at the end of the previous year in school.

The reason for this “summer slide,” a.k.a. “brain drain” or “summer slump,” is obvious: Kids—and, to an extent, parents—tend to view July and August as a break from learning, a time to enjoy the beach and the pool and recharge. R&R is all fine and good. The real problem is that many children wile away the days watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web. Kids spend three hours in front of a screen for every hour they crack a book during the summer—and more time than they spend outdoors. According to a new survey from the nonprofit kid’s literacy group Reading is Fundamental, only 17 percent of parents say reading is a top summer priority for their kids, and 60 percent don’t worry about their child losing reading skills during this time.

Actually, you really shouldn’t worry, because it’s easy to do something about it. A nonprofit organization called TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) offers lots of screen-free ideas to inspire your family to play and learn together. Try incorporating some of these fun, mind-building activities into your kids’ break. Also consider downloading these educational apps, which at least turn screen time into learning time. And check out ideas here and here, along with a video chat with Soleil Moon Frye (the former star of “Blossom”) about how to stop summer slide.

I don’t pretend to have any magical suggestions for preventing this phenomenon. I worry about my kids and their tendency to gravitate toward watching sports events and Disney shows. To minimize this, we encourage reading and writing for pleasure, try to get them out of the house as much as possible, and look for teachable moments in leisure-time settings, such as digging for hermit crabs at the beach and calculating batting averages and ERAs at baseball games. Granted, these are no substitute for cracking the books, but at least they should leave our children be better prepared when their teachers see them in September.


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


Two little girls with magnifying glass outdoors in the daytime via ShutterStock

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Battling the End-of-Year Blues

Friday, June 6th, 2014

For so many of my friends, summer has already begun. I’ve been positively pea green with envy as I see all those cute last-day-of-school pictures and celebratory ice cream cones. Because here, we’re still drowning in homework and the endless parade of end-of-school events, and we have about 12 days, four hours and 35 minutes left until it’s finally over. (Not that I’m counting.)

Don’t get me wrong—I love school. I ADORE school. And my kids generally do, too. It’s just that the end-of-year hoopla is as relentless and draining as the pre-Christmas/Hanukkah frenzy. And based on the hollow eyes and Walking Dead zombie shuffles I’m seeing at dropoff, it’s clear that my fellow parents are about one to-do away from collapsing on the sidewalk in a slightly soft and sweaty middle-aged heap.

For starters, my youngest daughter’s teacher is a sadist. She sent my daughter home last week (LAST WEEK!) with her very first (and fingers crossed, last) first grade project. It’s a report about an animal, with an accompanying diorama of the animal in its habitat. Her teacher insisted that we couldn’t half-ass it and buy one of those tubes of tiny plastic animals from the craft store (or 1-Clicking it from Amazon, which would have been my M.O.). So instead, we spent two hours modeling a cheetah-like creature out of clay so we could hot-glue it into her shoebox. I had planned to cover the outside of the box with paper to make it look nicer, but my daughter couldn’t care less, and neither can I. (If my daughter’s teacher had wanted a fancy paper covering, she should have scheduled this particular project in April, when we still gave a hoot.)

My schedule this week also includes two recitals (with accompanying dress rehearsals), an awards ceremony of indeterminate length, our regular slate of post-school activities, a Girl Scout moving up ceremony, a “fun Friday” event at the school, and naturally, baking a cake that my oldest daughter could bring in to her class to construct a massive map of New Jersey out of sugar, and then eat it with her classmates. (That’s the culmination of a full year of studying New Jersey history.)

My youngest daughter’s Girl Scout ceremony conflicts with her dress rehearsal, and comes right after “fun Friday,” which includes events like face painting, water balloon throwing and eating a full year’s supply of red food coloring in the form of Italian ice. We have argued every single day this week about why she can’t get her face painted, because we have had situations where even sandpaper doesn’t seem to get the face paint off of her thoroughly, and her dance teacher would probably frown on that accessory. However, I’m fully expecting that my daughter’s going to come home today with a big black owl painted on her cheek, which I’m sure will look lovely with both her rainbow sparkle tutu and her haphazardly adorned Daisy tunic (we lost about 79 percent of the badges before I had enough spare time to try to iron them on).

But that’s nothing compared to what my equally fatigued book club pals have. As we slumped in chairs and tried to resuscitate ourselves with prosecco and peanut butter cookies, we traded war stories. One was convinced her daughter stopped actually learning in March, so her class could squeeze in all the field trips, bonding events, and celebrations that come with graduating sixth grade. Her dance card’s still full with special breakfasts and ceremonies through the end of the year. Another has a second grade graduation to attend next week at 9:30 a.m.—and the note came home saying that “most kids go home afterward with their parents to celebrate for the rest of the day.” (She guesses most parents in her school must not actually work for a living.) Her school, inexplicably, goes one half-day longer than ours, but she’s rebelling and taking her kids to the beach on the last day of school instead.

I’m putting a plea out now, for next year, to all the extracurricular activity runners and the teachers: Go easy on us in June. We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re sick of sending in healthy lunches and signing permission slips and nagging about homework. Move whatever you can to March or May or better yet, October, when we’re still fresh and excited and eager. Right now, all we want to do is sip iced tea in a hammock and let our kids run through the sprinkler. Or maybe sleep in a hammock for an entire day. Either way, I’m officially washing my hands of all cheetah-sculpting and book report reviewing—until at least September 1.

Tell us: What’s on your agenda for the rest of the school year? Or are you—lucky dog—already done?

If you’re looking for fun activities to keep the kids occupied this summer, check out our cool summer craft ideas. And sign up for our Parents Daily newsletter to get fresh ideas delivered to your inbox every day. 

Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes


Image: Blackboard summer message by blackboard1965/

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Back to school…finally!

Monday, September 9th, 2013

My kids, like, oh, a million others in New York City, headed back to school today and let me say, this day couldn’t come soon enough. Elsewhere in the country, schools have been in session for weeks already–in Virginia, say, where I have relatives, or in Kentucky where I grew up. But in New York, thanks in part to a pileup of Labor Day followed by the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, we seem to be starting later this year than any time in memory, even as the debate over whether the school year should be lengthened rages on. For our kids, the normal back-to-school excitement tipped over into the Anxiety Zone about a week ago, around the time the temperature changed from summer to fall(ish). And for me, the last-minute flurry of preparations (clothes shopping, drawer-tidying, pencil-collecting, laundry, laundry, laundry) has lasted a week longer than is typical–which is about a week more than I’d like.

We were all ready to get to it. The kids packed their backpacks and showered last night, anticipating having to to get up almost an hour earlier than they had been rising all summer.  We were striving for a relaxed morning today and I think we achieved it. At least Leo looked relaxed as he headed down the street with my husband to meet the bus. But he may have just been sleepy. His bus comes so early this year he’ll have to work hard to get the right amount of sleep (10 hours per night according to this age-by-age sleep chart), especially with his late-night reading habit.

I love the unhurried days of summer…how my kids lounge in their PJs on some days, and on other days go to camp and try on new personalities, make new friends and experiment with new skills and activities. But that all got tired about three weeks ago. And I didn’t relish having to remind them, endlessly, about the math packet or the reading assignments designed to a)prevent summer slide, b)torture kids, c)make parents feel like nags or d)all of the above. I’m not eager to give up summer vacation altogether, but I would welcome seeing it shortened if it meant that summer could truly be summer again, free of math packets, liberated from abc’s, full of zzz’s. What say you? School all year ’round, vs a full-on summer vacation? Weigh in!

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Reflections for a New Year, at School and Home

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Back to SchoolAs summer draws to a close and our kids start going back to school, we enter a season of reflection and renewal. Labor Day is behind us, and at curriculum nights and school open houses across the country, teachers are giving us parents a glimpse of the amazing things our children will learn this year and a preview of the ways they’ll grow. And for Jews like myself, the waning days of summer and the beginning of fall also herald the start of the High Holiday season. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival, begins tonight, followed almost immediately by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Sept. 14.

So for me–like for many of you, I am sure–it’s a time of introspection and renewed commitments, change and new beginnings. It’s a moment to reset our schedules and priorities alike.

Change, of course, is hard, and personal change can often seem impossible. But I love this time of year for its confluence of back-to-school and the Jewish New Year. Because even as change—self-improvement—seems so daunting, we need only to look to our kids for inspiration and examples.

While we adults consult self-help books or therapists, try ever-new diet plans or promise ourselves that this year we’ll start going to the gym, our children evolve seamlessly and beautifully. That child prone to uncontrollable tantrums is now so calm, polite, and outgoing that it’s hard to remember the more difficult times. The child afraid of so much slowly faces her fears and takes the first tentative steps to overcome them. This year, the first grader will learn to read—in two languages!—while the 2-year-old will start nursery school and learn to share and make friends. The children who seemingly do nothing but fight slowly, slowly start to get along and even play together. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the crib gives way to a bed, the diapers give way to potty training, and the pacifiers will, eventually, make their way to the garbage dump. It’s not always easy, it’s never linear, but it’s always successful.

Yes, it’s harder for us adults. But at this time of the year, the hopes, fears, and expectations of a new year should remind us that change is possible, even necessary. As the teacher talks about teaching a new class to read on their own, will I make the time to read more with my children and to encourage them to make their own stories? For that matter, will I make more time for myself, to read the books I love but have mostly pushed aside in the busy-ness of life? As we pray in synagogue for a year of peace, what will I do it increase peace and reduce conflict, in my family and in our world? Will I model the behavior I hope to see in my children and teach them by example to avoid yelling, and deal with conflicts calmly?

It’s hard work, and I so admire those who commit themselves to it and do it well, such as The Orange Rhino blogger who has documented her now-574 days (as of today) of “loving more and yelling less,” as she puts it. I hope to find the strength and commitment in the new year to follow examples like hers.

My prayers and best wishes are with all of you for a school year full of growth and good things, for our kids and for us.

Image: Young man reflecting via Shutterstock

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Moms Rejoice: The Kids Are Back in School!

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

One of my fellow-mom friends posted a picture on Facebook yesterday that made me LOL (for real). Picture this: 

Five mothers, enormous grins on their faces, jumping mid-air, hands stretched to the sky. With this caption:

The kids are back in school!!!

I’m so glad I’m not the only one with a sudden urge to go airborne when my kids return to their previously scheduled lives. The bazillion likes and comments that followed the post included gems like this one, from a mom whose kids aren’t back just yet:

“I’m jealous I’m not in this pic!”

And this one:

“Only thing missing is the wine bottle!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m done with summer. So are many of my other friends, and I imagine so is the working mom I saw on my commute this morning with a not-so-happy preschooler in tow. (Like summer, camp’s over, too.) The only parents on my friends list lamenting summer’s end are teachers.

Okay, I get that.

But I’m sorry: I can’t apply sunscreen to one more wrinkled nose. I can’t take one more fight in the house between bored siblings. Even the kids seem over summer. I asked them if they wanted to hit the community pool one last time. Their reply? “Nah.”

Now is mom’s moment: when you make all those new school-year resolutions. Going to finally make those photo books. Try out those recipes. Exercise. Blog. Do amazing things at work. Do a happy dance on the table. The kids are back in school!!!

Inspired by my friend’s post, I say we moms start a campaign to add a new shot to all of those cute first-day-of-school pictures that are popping up in our feeds. Let’s capture moms in their various displays of euphoria after the kids have entered the building. Now wouldn’t that be one for the photo book? (Preschool moms who are seeing your little ones off to school for the first time: You get a pass. And tissues.)

Let’s enjoy this moment of freedom while it lasts, before the next chapter of the busy school year inevitably begins.


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