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Thursday, September 4th, 2014
Your child may have started school or gone back to school already, but here on the east coast (especially in New York City), school is just starting! My Facebook feed is bursting with adorable “First Day of School” photos from family and friends. Seeing all the photos took me back in time, Marty McFly style, to the days when all I had to worry about was what to eat for lunch and who to play with at recess.
Of all the “first day of school” memories, the one I remember the most is my first day of kindergarten at an elementary school in the suburbs of Long Island. I actually didn’t start kindergarten in September like all the other kids — instead, as a late transfer student from Queens, I started school in the middle of winter. What I remember most about that day was showing up to school in a winter coat, without a backpack or any school supplies. I remember the kindness of a curly, red-headed girl named Randi who helped me take off my jacket and hang it up on the wall. Then…I remember bursting into tears. Just sitting on the lap of my grandmotherly teacher (Mrs. Turnwall) as she comforted me while letting me sob big fat tears. Because I was shy. And I felt lost. And alone. And scared.
Eventually, I stopped crying and settled down to listen to Mrs. Turnwall read a story to the entire class. Thankfully, the class only lasted for half a day, so I didn’t have to be at school for very long. Looking back now, I think I felt very, very out of place because of a few reasons: 1) I was a new student; 2) Everyone already had time to get to know each other; 3) I didn’t look like anyone else (I was the only Asian student in class). I think that the shock of starting a new routine and the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces was overwhelming. It was a lot for a 5-year-old to handle!
Starting a new school is definitely one of the biggest childhood changes — and I think it’s definitely important for parents and kids to visit the school beforehand and get a sense of the size and layout. But for transfer families who may not have time to visit the school, there’s still value in emphasizing the positive, fun school things a child will still be able to enjoy (story hour! coloring! snack time!). Some of the biggest worries a child may have will be making new friends and liking the new teacher — so it’s also important to teach kids (especially shy ones) to try and find other kids with similar interests (who can turn into potential playdate pals), and to take time to listen and bond with the teacher.
Every first day of elementary school after that first day of kindergarten must have been easier — because I don’t have a solid memory of any of them! Although I never became BFFs with the red-headed Randi, I will always remember the sweet gesture that she showed me, a new girl who felt lost but who never felt really alone again.
Tell us: Do you have any memories about your own first day of (elementary) school?
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Image: Back to School blackboard and school supplies via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Seems that the answers vary wildly, if my informal digging is any indication. Many parents find out via mail, anywhere from 2-4 weeks before school starts. (One Parents mom is even provided with the class list.) Another colleague has a friend in California whose school posts the class list on the front door of the building the night before. Wow. But most surprising is the friend on Long Island who doesn‘t find out. The kids at this private elementary school all gather on the first morning and the teachers come and collect their students. That’s hardcore! Makes you wonder if there’s a correlation between how much time schools leave for parents to ponder the class placements and how much “feedback” some parents have offered over class placements in past years. In any case, it’s a big shift from my childhood in Connecticut, where our final report card of the school year contained the line “Your child will be in __________’s class next year.”
Where I live now, in northern New Jersey, we find out a handful of days before school. In my town this year, we’ll get the news on Friday after 12pm by checking a web portal, provided we’ve submitted all the requested info about our kids; school starts next Thursday. My younger daughter’s principal sent a letter yesterday outlining this, also mentioning that school will be closed on Friday. I took that to mean “So don’t bother calling us if you’re not happy with the class your child’s in.” And I can’t blame her! I can’t imagine how tricky–actually, how impossible–it is to make class placements that make everyone happy. (Just thinking about it takes me back to the many fully unpleasant hours spent working out my wedding seating chart.)
We all know that teachers’ and administrators’ decisions aren’t arbitrary, but I admit I hadn’t considered the many, many factors that go into determining which student goes into which class. A few schools spell them out online, and they include:
• The child’s intellectual, social, emotional, and behavioral developmental levels & needs
• The preferred learning style(s) of the student
• The child’s physical and social maturity
• The child’s interactions with other students
• The age of the child
• The “social dynamics” factors within the class
• Fair distribution of children with exceptionalities
• The best use of resource teachers & teacher assistants
• The male/female balance in each class
• The balance of leaders in each class (Interesting!)
• Student friendships
One particular school district in Wisconsin must get a lot of commentary on its placement system, because the administration has created an extensive FAQ document to address it. The questions range from the general (“Can I request a particular teacher for my child?”) to the specific (“I have noticed that a small group of my child’s friends have been together in classes for a few years in a row, but my child has been in different classes. Is favoritism going on here? Are other parents making requests, and my child is being placed anywhere because I am not making a request?”).
I’m really curious to hear how your town handles class placements–will you share in the comments? And here’s to a happy and successful school year for everyone!
Photo: Teacher in class showing students a nest via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
Editor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.
Now that Labor Day is approaching, it’s appropriate to review the most recent outbreak of Back-To-School Disorder (BTSD). This is a newly-recognized psychological diagnosis (so new, in fact, that I just named it) characterized by premature dismissal of summer, abrupt embrace of fall, and excessive accumulation of shopping bags on your kids’ bedroom floors. BTSD has quietly reached epidemic proportions, so I am hereby launching an awareness campaign to slow the progression of this growing threat to public sanity.
BTSD has crept up on us slowly. When my own kids were younger, we began noticing Back-to-School sales occurring earlier and earlier each summer. When the trend became undeniable, we took a stand as a family and began consciously ignoring those sales. It took a family meeting, careful censoring of newspaper ads and TV commercials, and pre-screening of all U.S. mail before dropping it on the table in the front hallway. (This was in the days before email and the internet, so censoring objectionable material was a lot easier).
It’s one thing to begin Christmas advertising just after Halloween–Christmas is a wonderful time of year, something to be looked forward to! Similarly, Valentine’s Day promotions beginning just barely after the New Year seem almost tolerable and understandable–there really isn’t that much time between the first week of January and the second week of February, right? And, after all, love and chocolate are timeless.
But it’s another thing entirely to begin threatening kids and their parents with Back-to-School imagery so far ahead of an event which, for most of us, is dreaded. Sure, some kids are excited to go back to friends and teachers, and some parents are relieved to resume adult routines. But for most kids and parents, summer days are precious and fleeting; why should we do anything to hasten their flight? This is my unproven theory, but history will likely bear me out on this: I believe that the recent year-round school movement has its roots in BTSD. All this talk about going back to school occurring so early in the summer probably prompted childless policymakers in windowless rooms in colorless administrative buildings to propose year-round school.
Who’s ready for Back-to-School sales closer to Memorial Day than to Labor Day? Who wants to think about school at the beginning of July? We’re still celebrating the birthday of our country, for goodness sake; let us enjoy our hot dogs! Back-to-School reminders early in the summer are tantamount to taunting kids about their dentist appointments weeks before they have to say “Ahhhh.” Parents know better than giving too much advance warning for upcoming unpleasant events in kids’ lives; going back to school should be no different.
So here’s my plan to combat BTSD, and my advice for enjoying every possible minute of your summer:
- Do not, under any circumstances, begin thinking about shopping for back-to-school until a maximum of 5 days before the first day of the school year. For some of you, that’s mid-to-late August, but for many of you, it’s still not until after Labor Day. No new clothes, backpacks, school supplies, or other paraphernalia until the very last minute. And if last year’s clothes, backpacks, and school supplies are acceptable, all the better.
- Schedule your summer vacation for the week (or two weeks if you’re lucky to get that much vacation) just before school starts, allowing, if you must, a couple days for shopping after your return. This will take you and your kids out of your usual shopping district until the very last minute and leave little time to develop BTSD.
- When you do finally go shopping, tell your kids it’s “fall shopping,” not “back-to-school shopping.” Heck, we use little white lies all the time to shelter our babies from upset–this is a really tiny white lie. By not using the “s” word in your shopping plans, you spare your kids (and yourselves) some of the BTSD anxiety that word conveys. Sure, if they’re old enough to read the signs in stores, they’ll get the message soon enough, but you can distract them with the cool selection of colored pencils and notebooks.
- Impose a quarantine by avoiding playdates and sleepovers at the homes of BTSD victims lest the contagion spreads.
And now relax—there are still 126 days until Christmas!
Plus: Enjoy the last days of summer with this amazing activity finder.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image via Shutterstock.
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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.
Two little girls with magnifying glass outdoors in the daytime via ShutterStock
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back-to-school, brain drain, educational apps, math, mind-building activities, reading, screen time, summer learning, summer learning loss, summer slide | Categories:
Big Kids, Child Development, Education, Health, Must Read, News, The Parents Perspective
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.
Image: Blackboard summer message by blackboard1965/Shutterstock.com
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back-to-school, education, end of school year, extracurricular activities, parenting, school, school activities, school projects, schoolwork, summer vacation | Categories:
Big Kids, Must Read, The Parents Perspective