Mothers and Teachers and Teachers and Mothers

To have mother’s day and teacher appreciation week in the same week leads me to thinking of all the people that most influence all of of our lives.  Whether it be our mother or father, our best friends mother, our fifth grade homeroom teacher, third grade math or after school teacher or even our preschool teacher who started us off on the right track.  What do all of these people have in common that make them stand out when we look back on our lives to those who changed who we are or our life’s direction?

That, essentially, is what a great teacher does.  They influence the lives of children to a degree that it makes that child grow, learn or change under their care.  And, of course a mother, is a teacher for the life of the child.

The best teachers care, smile, laugh and share parts of themselves with each of their students.  The best teachers look after the ones that need them the most and after the rest when they are in need.

The best teachers are not our friends, and sometimes force us to work the hardest when we think their is no more work left inside of us.

The best teachers open our eyes to new ideas and make us know we are  the most brilliant yet still have so much to learn.

The best teachers listen to what we have to say, and cut us off when we say too much.

The best teachers can turn a bad day into a learning experience and good day into a fond memory.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the mothers and the teachers that touch my life every day.

The mothers that I chat with when they pick up their child at preschool or after school and laugh at their child’s antics.  The mothers that email me looking for the best place for their child to learn and make new friends and stay safe when they can’t shield them themselves.  I want to thank you for trusting me to take your child into my heart and make them part of my own.  And thank you for letting me watch you kiss them good bye and hug them hello and remind me to be a good mother to my own two boys.

Thank you to my own mother who taught me to think for myself and to my father who taught me to think.  Thank you to my Aunt who is still teaching me how to read.  Thank you to my teachers in small town PA who took me outside that small town and made sure I knew there was more out there.

I thank the teachers I work with, my Kids On 12th team, my partners.  For their dedication to my dream of this special place for kids to grow.

Thank you to the teachers who have touched my children.  Some of the best teachers anywhere can be found right here in Philadelphia public and charter schools.  I know this because my kids are growing up great, even when they fight so hard against me.  And because the kids I see every day come happily from McCall, ICS and Greenfield.  Thank you to the kindergarten and first grade teachers that know these are such tough years, to the second and third grade  teachers that shape little kids into big kids.  Thank you to the fourth and fifth grade teachers who transform those children into young adults and the sixth grade teachers that start us on the road to adolescence.  That’s as far as I’ve gone so far, but I have no doubt in my mind that there are so many more amazing teachers we have yet to meet.

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Starting the Day on the Right Foot

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I get up at 4:45AM, start the coffee, glance at the days weather report, do the little bit of exercise I have the time for before I have to start waking up the kids.  I have to make breakfast, make lunches for all three of us, I put “Happy Radio” on Pandora and turn on all the lights.  I go to my kid’s room and start dancing like a wild woman, tickling them and lifting the cats up to their beds in an effort to wake them up in a good mood.  All of this, and we’re still late to school way too often.

It’s no easy thing to get your kids to school on time, but it is very important to them, and to the school. Close your eyes and think how you feel when you get a late start on your day.  You never mentally quite catch up.  Each task of the day feels like you’re one step behind.

Imagine how frustrating it is to watch the great new tv series everyone is talking about but having missed the first episode.Do you ever read a book but skip the first chapter or come in in the middle of the best office gossip and not even know who it’s about?

Imagine now being a child feeling the same way.  Whether they’re in preschool, elementary school or high school, they need to feel they are an essential part of the group, that they belong there and they are ahead of the game each day, not always two steps behind.   You want what’s best for your child; you pick the “right” school,  go to bat advocating for whatever they may need and checking all of their developmental milestones.  Getting them to school on time helps them achieve success in school by starting each day with confidence in the knowing that they are part of what’s happening in their world and not just a bystander.

The morning meeting, the advisory period or homeroom is where the “to do” list of the day gets written in school.  The kids who arrived on time have already gotten a chance to say hello to their friends, to have their version of their morning coffee (a run, tumble, gossip or joke).  Then the teachers call the morning meeting and it’s time to get focused, pay attention and raise your hand to participate.   This is the part of the day that sets the tone and makes the schedule for the rest of the day.  When kids walk in late to this part of the day, not only is the late comer a step behind, but all the rest of the kids turn around to see who just walked in the door.  They wait to see where that person is going to sit and wait until the teacher regains their thought.

There are lots of tricks to get your kids, and you, out the door in the morning.  1.  Set your clothes out the night before.  2.  Get backpacks and lunches together the night before.  If you don’t like making the sandwich ahead of time, pack the rest and just leave one thing to do instead of five.  3.  Set your clocks 5 or 10 minutes ahead.  Even if you know they’re wrong, it still gives you that little mental encouragement to be ready.  4.  Set up incentives for the whole family!  Give a quarter to each child that’s ready on time each day for their piggy bank or put a sticker on a chart for each day everyone is ready and reward the whole family at the end of the week with a special night out!

It’s hard to be on time everyday.  In my house, it’s hard to be on time any day!  The best way to teach a child is to show them a good example, if you’re on time, they’re more likely to try to follow your lead.  Be honest with them if this is a hard thing for you.  Tell them how hard it is, but why it’s so important.  Let them help you and in turn , you help them and you become a stronger team that’s on time for school and work.

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Mother’s Day: It’s Not The Thought That Counts.

Mother’s Day, like Valentine’s Day and birthdays, comes with high expectations.  Although, unlike those other days that celebrate an individual, Mother’s Day celebrates the fact that mothers tend not to celebrate their individuality, but rather to do for others most of the time.  So, what do you do for a mom who seems to always put others first? What do moms want on Mother’s Day?

Being a newly single mom this year, the planning of my own day was all on me.  I know my boys have some gifts they made in school and my older one made me take him to Walmart at 10:30 Friday night to shop for me (with borrowed money from me of course).  But it’s the thought that counts, right?  A handmade gift and an expression of their love is all I need to feel appreciated.  Right??

Well, not so much.  I have to admit, I was feeling sad this morning when I realized that my boys were fighting over what they wanted to do for this special weekend and it was all about what they like to do!  I hid my tears and felt like a selfish brat when they couldn’t focus on just me or stop the bickering for just one weekend.  So, I took a deep breath and did what I always do. I focused on them. We drove out to King Of Prussia to visit the Lego Store!  And we had a great day!!

I’ve asked around to find out what other mothers are doing on their special day.  One mom I know made a schedule for her husband to follow, “Leave me alone until 9, then the kids can come in my room with coffee and breakfast, then leave me alone again until 1, then we can go out for a late lunch…”  Another mom has some family time in the morning, then leaves them behind to go to the ballet with a friend each year.  It’s ok to plan your own day.  Do what makes you feel good about being a mom.  Sometimes that means being with a crowd, sometimes with just your children and sometimes being alone to reflect. If you have expectations for the perfect mother’s day, then make it happen!  Buy your self flowers, I did and I love them!  It’s the mom way!

I have no big plans for the day.  I bought a roast to put on the grill, vowed not to do too much cleaning around the house, and planned a family project for me and the boys to do together.  We’re doodle painting the wooden banister in our house with bright, fun colors.  Maybe we’ll take a ride out to Fairmount Park to take a walk in the woods if the weather is nice.  I’ll smile and give kisses and hugs when I get my handmade gifts and (I peeked) the Lego set, bright pink towel and lavender fuzzy pillow that cost me too much time and too much money at Walmart the other night.  My kids will still argue and I’ll still get frustrated, I’ll still have to cook and do the dishes and make sure their homework is done for the next day.

But the best part of Mother’s Day tomorrow will be the time I will spend with them and the memories we will have together.  Because it’s not just the thought that counts, it’s the bright colored banister and the muddied shoes from the park after the rain that we’ll remember.  It’s the time together every day that really counts.  And it’s in the knowing that my kids, with all the frustrating, infuriating, exhausting days we often have, are really super great kids!  They only got that way because, with all my faults (and there are plenty), I’m still a really great mom.

Have a Very Happy Mother’s Day, give your kids a hug today and know that as much as you love them, they got great because of you!

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Accepting Your Child For Who They Are

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As a flip side to the coin we flipped last week with our entry about expecting more from your child, I would also like to offer up the scenario of parenting a child who has difficulties functioning in a traditional classroom setting. By traditional I simply mean where there is a large social aspect to the environment and teaching is done to the group. I am very supportive of the many alternatives we are exploring regarding education, such as homeschooling and online studies but I am speaking to parents who have invested the education of their children outside the home.

My son, who is now an adult, has Asperger’s Syndrome and had a very difficult time in school. He was born years before AS even became an official diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) so for quite some time I had no idea what I was dealing with. I just knew that my son was different. Aspies (the collective term some of them refer to themselves as) have a very hard time in social settings,  experience difficulties with organization, personal hygiene and non-verbal language cues (i.e., facial expressions, voice inflections, etc.). My son would often burst into tears when teased by other children and this behavior more times than not would snowball into school-level harassment. He often walked out of the house with his shirt on backwards and inside out. His hair was never brushed except by me. He was a walking target.

By the time he had reached high school the bullying had reached epic proportions. He was being chased home from school, had been beaten up a few times and I had been called into the school more times than I’d like to recall.

I was not expecting this child and I was angry for a long time. I loved my son but I didn’t understand him and didn’t know how to help. It wasn’t until we had sought help from a professional and he was tested that I was able to put a name to what my son had. Asperger’s. We spent a couple years in counseling and it helped quite a bit.

For all of us who have children who don’t fall into what society conveniently calls “normal”, the school years can be excruciatingly hard. You have to let go and hope that they will navigate the impossibly complex waters of school. You worry all day and every time that phone call comes, the one from the school saying something happened again, your stomach drops.

Fortunately there are more supports now and other parents and educators aren’t as likely to squirrel up their face when you say that your child has a learning disability. Still, you have to fight for your child for every right he or she has under the law. You have to be their champion and their ombudsman. Their voice. It may be ADHD, Asperger’s, autism or a host of other diagnosis’ that they may have but a strong support system at home is absolutely critical.

I still find myself challenged by my son. I’ve discovered that I’m as confusing to him as he is to me but we love each other. He has shown me wonderful gifts that he has for writing as well as being a compassionate older brother to his sister. I’ve found that I’ve had to change what I think is a normal expectation to have and what is simply me trying to fit my son into my idea of how he should live his life. It’s not easy.

I recently joined a support group for father’s of children with disabilities. Many of the other father’s are my age but have younger children. I was eighteen when my son was born and was a single father. Our stories are similar as are our frustrations but it helps to have someone to talk to about it.

Your children are going to be who they are and it’s best to just enjoy the ride, if you can.

 

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Expect more! (From your child…)

As parents, it’s our natural inclination to protect our children.  We want the best for them, of course!  The best schools with the best teachers, the best food, the best friends and the best toys.  Who wouldn’t want that for their precious offspring?

The fact is, our children are so much more capable of providing for themselves than we generally give them credit for.  Fast forward to your child’s future.  Think of the adults you know.  Would you rather spend time with the ones who expect everyone around them to do their work for them or the ones who take life by the horns and go for it?

Theo checking in!

Checking in!

Ever hear of the terrible twos?  Well, as a parent, you know it’s not just for two year olds! Most of those tantrums are really not just meant to drive you crazy, they’re mostly about the growing need for independence.   They’re amazing little sponges! They love you taking care of them, but they hate feeling like they can’t do it themselves.  One minute they stick their snack in your face expecting you to feed them, the next minute they want to put their own coat on.  They learn incredibly quickly how to do it themselves if you expect them to to do it and you let them!  They’ll also be so much happier to accept your help when they really need it when given them the chance to do it alone.

The hardest part is taking the time to let them do things by themselves.  How often are you in a hurry and your two-year-old wants to walk instead of ride in the stroller?  Or your four -year-old wants to button every button on their dress when you’re late for work?  Of course there are times when you have to be the boss and the situation calls for you to put your foot down.  Consider first, which will take longer, letting them do it or the tantrum they will have if you insist on doing it?  And chances are, letting them do things on their own most of the time, will help them accept your help at the times when you really need to help them.

With older children, the stakes get higher.  At what age do you let them walk alone to the corner store?  Have a cell phone?  Use the oven or the stove to cook their own meal?  The best answer I’ve come up with is, it depends on the child.  Start small and work your way up to the big things.  Let them walk to the corner store while you watch for the first couple of times, then tell them you’re timing them, then let them go alone.  Let them hold their own house key and open the door for you.  Let them walk home from school while talking to you the whole way on their new cell phone!  Our big kids today have spent their whole lives being watched by adults every minute of every day!  Most of us grew up very differently.  We learned to be independent early in life.  We didn’t have after school programs every day or summer camp for the whole summer.  We rode our bikes to the pool and hung out with our friends and problem solved out own problems and created our own life.  We didn’t have cell phones, and our parents still trusted us to get off the bus, play with our friends after school, get our own snack and wait for them to get home.

Jayla busy with homework!

Kids are expected to be self sufficient in kindergarten and know how to read in first grade, complete their own homework and by the time they get to middle school, take city buses around town by themselves and be without after school programs.  Yet in today’s society, we’re raising children who are more dependent on us then ever before!  We make play dates for them and monitor every minute of their social lives and check every bit of their homework.  So, who’s helping who now?

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Morning Meeting – Don’t Start Your Day Without it!

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Much has been written over the years regarding the importance of a meeting in the morning for classrooms; for the students to join together in a group and share ideas, to talk about what the day’s schedule is going to be and also, to have fun. And as fun as morning meetings are (I can say without reservation that we laugh every meeting), they also serve a very important purpose. For children coming from different experiences and backgrounds, it provides a common ground from which they can explore and learn.

Singing songs together and participating in activities such as coming up with as many words as we can for the letter of the week, counting together and reviewing what we are learning that week, further cement the concept of community which is so vital to a classroom.

To be sure, there are guidelines and that is another bonus to participating: it establishes rules, promotes common courtesy and reinforces all of the skills that the children will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

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For those of you who can’t actually witness one of our Playschool morning meetings at Kids on 12th, here is a rough idea!

We come together after a period of free play, equally important to socially greet our friends after a night with our families.  Everyone is then called to form a circle and hold hands. From there we join together in a song that we all know (we have a list of about 4 that we mix up and they all have to do with introducing ourselves and meeting each other, i.e., “Shake Your Friend’s Hand”). Next we say good morning to all of our teachers but we allow the children to come up with inventive ways to do so. They could suggest we say good morning like a race car, like we’re blowing bubbles, like we’re a snowman…you get the idea!

Next we go over what we are learning for the week (dinosaurs, weather, Dr. Seuss stories, etc.). We follow that with letter of the week and number of the week. For letter of the week we come up with as many new words that we can for that letter. For number of the week we choose one student to lead us in a count to that number.

Next, we let one student count how many children there are in class each day and sometimes we have someone estimate how many children there are. After that it’s on to silly word attendance where a teacher offers a very silly (long) word for the letter of the week and each child has to say that word when their name is called. One time the word was Octonocular!

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We move then to the blue room where we sing our day of the week and month of the year songs and then take a look at our daily weather chart. One student is chosen to be our weather person and looks out the window for our weather report.

…and this all takes place in about 20 minutes. It’s a lot, and we definitely have fun – but it’s so important and it provides the foundation for the rest of the day, the week and the future of their classroom learning habits.

The morning meeting, or some form of morning routine is equally important to older kids as they move through their school years.  As they change classrooms, classmates and teachers each year, their sense of belonging to a classroom community needs to restart with each year.  The morning routine, just like we as adults have our own morning routines (a coffee at the local cafe, a gathering at the water to cooler to discuss the weather, the traffic or the hassle of school drop off that day!) gives students a predictable and consistent way of starting each day that sets the tone for the rest of the day. A great way to start your day!

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