What Are They Up to When They Are Quiet?

He's a reader now, but once upon a time he ripped a bunch of books.

He’s a reader now, but once upon a time he ripped a bunch of books.

I’ll never forget the time my son was about 18 months old and I had left him in his room while I was in the kitchen nearby doing something. After some time, I realized it was quiet. Too quiet. I went to check on him and discovered what he had been up to: taking all the tissues out of the box and making a big pile on the floor. I have more stories like that than I have fingers and toes added up. I’m sure if you have children or have been around them then you have a few stories yourself.

A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning I heard a commotion upstairs at 7:30. Based on the sounds, the kids were up and opening drawers, going in and out of their room. I was not worried. I knew I had about 30 minutes to an hour to roll over and get some more sleep before they would need breakfast. Often they wake up early and either read in bed or play. An hour  later I got out of bed. The house was very quiet, too quiet. I prepared myself to find a big mess as a result of creative play. Instead I found them sitting on the floor with clipboards, papers, pencils and colored pencils. They were working on their Young Author projects for school. We had let them play all day Saturday but reminded them that they would not be allowed to play on Sunday until they completed their work. Not only did they both finish before lunch, they did so independently.

It’s strange how you spend time trying to be on top of a problem before it arises based on past experiences. Then your kids grow up and start being responsible right under your nose. I think now I need to shift my thinking about what it might mean when the house is too quiet.

Stand Up Against Standardized Tests

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

A friend and neighbor alerted me to a petition signing she is participating in tomorrow at the school where our children attend. She posted this on Facebook to help spread the word:

” ….to support the brave teachers in Seattle that are boycotting the misuse of the MAP testing of their students. As a way of showing support, myself and many other parents throughout the city will be at our local schools collecting signatures to give to CPS asking them to greatly reduce the amount of testing our kids are experiencing. If you haven’t already signed the online petition, you can do so here.”

Why is this so important that I chose to write a blog post about it? First, I am a parent. My children feel the impact of excess testing. Their teachers cannot teach a lesson when they have to test almost 30 students. Students miss out on instruction time. Not all the tests help a teacher assess what a student knows.

Second, I am a former teacher. One of the biggest things that bothered me about education was the decisions being made by those who were a.) not currently teaching  b.)had never been in a classroom. If you talk to any educator, they will agree that 19 standardized tests a year is too much.

Third, I now work with teachers as a Math Coach. They started the school year with weeks upon weeks of testing and now they have to test their students again. No one wants a coaching cycle because they haven’t had time to implement the practices we discussed in our last coaching cycle due to the demands of testing. The teachers say many of the results are unreliable because the students do not know how to use the computer, or read or read in English. The testing seems to be a district wide one size fits all mandate.

The fourth reason I am writing about this is because this is not just a local problem. All around the country schools are administering more tests, while compromising quality instruction. The educational trajectory our children are on is cause for concern. If your community  is currently not affected by these decisions at the moment, that is great, but that could easily be an issue in the future. All of these children will grow up and make decisions in the world you live in. Do you want them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers? Do you want them to be able to collaborate and be innovative? I do. The question is, do you?

Let your voice be heard, even if you are not a parent. You can sign the petition here:


There are Fairies in My House

There are moments when time seems to drag on in a repetitive circle in my life as a parent. Five days of school with activities, hustle and hurry, two days on the weekend playing catch up. Repeat. Then something happens and the world seems off kilter, leaving me to wonder:  In which new direction are we headed?

I had decided to take my children to the bookstore one afternoon when they had a day off from school. We all went our separate ways in the small store, looking for new favorites to devour. I ordered hot chocolate and a cookie for the children and called them to the table. Neither of them wanted to leave the books. I told them they could each choose a book to buy before we left.

When it came time to pay for the books, the 6-year-old begged for three chapter books from the Rainbow Magic Fairy series. I held firm to only one and wondered where she had seen these books and why the sudden interest in them.

On the way home we had to stop at the library to pick up a book I had on hold. Once again, the children scattered to the children’s section. And the 6-year-old had found yet more Rainbow Magic Fairy books and wanted to check them out.

During the short ride home she called out page numbers and chapter numbers, announcing her reading accomplishments. The rest of the day I watched her walk up and down the stairs with her nose in one of the books. She brought a book to the dinner table. She attempted  reading while brushing her teeth, a task that even I have yet to do.

When it was time to read before bedtime, I asked her which book she wanted me to read to her. She said, “I don’t want you to read to me tonight. I want to finish my book about Mia the Bridesmaid Fairy.” I tried every trick I could think of to change her mind. All of them were unsuccessful.

I felt deflated, like a day old balloon. For the past four months, we had a routine in the evening where we curled up on a mound of pillows and I read her chapter upon chapter of wonderful books, like the Ramona Quimby series. She was attentive. She asked questions. She compared herself to Ramona and other characters. She laughed at all the right parts. It was a special time of the day for just her and I.

It all seemed to vanish in the blink of an eye. But as I reflected later on, I realized that we had built up to that moment over time. She has always been a self-starter. It was she who told me that she wanted to learn how to read when she was in preschool. She practiced and challenged herself with new words and their pronunciations. The former teacher in me encouraged her to read some of the passages out loud from these chapter books geared toward second and third graders, just to see if she was ready for this type of reading material on her own.

In addition to the mountain of books oozing out of every surface possible in our house, I indulged her and bought books that  interested her, like “Fancy Nancy“, “Pinkalicious” and “Angelina Ballerina“. But now, these books that she had been in love with only a short time ago were unacceptable. “They’re baby books,” she told me. I suggested chapter books that her brother had read when he was younger. She turned up her nose to “The Magic Tree House” series and others. I began to realize how important it was for her to have a say in the genre of books that she chose to read.

Now, she is a full-fledged member of our book-loving family. She wakes up early like her brother, turns on her reading lamp and gets a dose of words before breakfast.  She begs me to take her to the bookstore so that I can buy her more books to read (Fairy books of course). I know that when she is ready to read some of the outstanding literature  we have at home, (like Pippi Longstocking) she will dive right in and eat it up, just like she does with everything else.

As for me, I think this summer I will impose a Mama’s choice night where I get to choose the book and read to everyone. I am not quite ready to give up reading with my children. I guess I should start on my list now. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you, readers.

Which books should make it to my “summer reading with my children” list?

I Forgot My Homework

We have an occasional problem in our house. When it is time for the 8-year-old to start his homework, sometimes an exasperated cry rushes out of his mouth, “I forgot my homework!”  he wails, with all the drama of an actor trying out for the Spring Play. Those four words turn our household upside down within a matter of minutes. I remind him to be more responsible. He admonishes himself for being forgetful. Then we all take a breath and try to figure out the next step.

The parents in his class stay connected through Google Groups. At least once a week, a parent posts that their child forgot a worksheet and kindly asks if someone can scan it and e-mail it. While this strategy comes in handy, especially when some children don’t start their homework until after dinner, I know that if my son knew it existed, he would expect me to take care of it for him. I have already helped him established a few bad habits (that I am trying very hard to break him of) and do not need him to start another one, especially when it is related to his education. What to do, what to do?

I decided that he might be less likely to forget his homework if he has to “work” at getting the information that he needs. I provided him with the telephone numbers of students in his class and coached him on telephone etiquette. Then it was his responsibility to call up his peers, explain the nature of the call and kindly ask if they could help him out.

This strategy killed two birds with one stone. He learned a bit about responsibility and how to conduct himself over the phone. Oftentimes, the child’s parent would help out over the phone, but still I wasn’t making the call for him. I did have to give a little explanation later about why he was calling instead of me. He actually enjoyed chatting with his classmates about other topics and later asked if he could call that person again.

Will he never forget his homework again? It’s doubtful. He is human. Now, we need to work on the proper protocol when someone you phone is not at home  and the answering machine picks up instead. Which reminds me, I need to send an e-mail to a classmate he called last night to explain that it was us who did not leave a message after the tone.

Spring Break Boot Camp Highs and Lows

The kids headed back to school after a week of Spring Break and I reflected on the past week. Due to a few unforeseen events, boot camp did not go exactly as planned, but I think they learned a few new things that will go a long way in life.

The week began with the task of rinsing the dishes and getting them into the dishwasher. The 6-year-old girl happily helped out, without complaining, as is her nature. The 8-year-old boy protested and said we were treating him like a slave. Yes, he is quite dramatic at times. I don’t see a future on stage, but with his quick argumentative skills, perhaps a defense lawyer or an activist. After each meal, I gently reminded him to please help out. It got easier for everyone within earshot as the week progressed.

Vacuuming the rugs was by far the easiest task. They argued over who would get to vacuüm first. They did  excellent work. Next time we’ll cover the art of the attachments.

Folding clothes and putting them away was a chance for the 6-year-old to show off her attention to details as well as her sense of neatness and order. She has willingly helped with this task in the past, so it is fair to say that she had an advantage over her brother. It was extremely difficult for him to attempt this chore, but mostly in the sense of mind over matter. I know I would have lacked  the patience  had this been a school day. Once again he began to complain before even attempting to fold one single item. He did not even want to learn step by step. Well, boot camp is not about letting them off easy. It is about working to accomplish the task, no matter how long it takes. Although I did not set the timer, the boy took a looooooooong time just to try to fold a pair of pants. Protests, refusals and finally tears. I offered rest time, calm down time, deep breath time, all the while encouraging him and reminding him I was here to help, even with those tricky European shirt folding techniques (um, I’m not explaining.) Eventually we got through most of his clothes. Eventually it did get easier for him the more he practiced. Eventually he realized that it was not that hard and that I was not such a mean mama.

We did not get the opportunity to work on our sewing skills or food prep skills. I’m not too worried, as my son said he wanted deviled eggs the other day and did not balk when I suggested he help me make them later in the week.  I think that I can try to incorporate these activities on alternating weekends, if I plan ahead. We did work on paper mache for a class project, which involved mixing and measuring ingredients.

As my cousin said over the weekend about his teenage son: “I don’t think he will ever do hard labor in his professional life, but I expect him to learn how to do it at home.” And that is just it. These skills will come in handy and we have to start at home, one task at a time.

This past week made me realize how capable my children are of achieving tasks, if they have the right amount of time, support and patience. I hope they can continue with the new skills they learned and pick up some new ones in the near future before things go topsy-turvy for them during Summer Boot Camp.

Spring Break Boot Camp

Children volunteering

Image via Wikipedia

Scattered clothes, enough stray socks to start a soccer team, books in every possible resting place, resembling the children’s section of the library. And of course complaints, complaints, complaints. “I don’t want to help out!”

Our family is not doing anything for the week of Spring Break. Instead, “Life Skills Boot Camp” will be visiting our house. Each day my children will learn a new skill or two that I hope they can practice and become good at over time. I’ve found that summer intercessions and short breaks during the year are a perfect time to teach my 6 and 8 year olds how to do something new.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, it’s Spring Break, just let  them wake up late, lounge around and be free of responsibilities. While they will have some fun going to the movies, the museum and pursuing other things of their choice, they will also learn new lifelong skills. I could wait until summer, but they have grown a bit lazy of late and could use a jump-start in the right direction. The three main obstacles absent this week are: the routine of getting out the door on time for school, homework and after school activities. These are the three things that sabotage them and the time it takes to learn new skills and chores, or just maintaining the chores they already know how to do.

This matters to me. I have noticed that  parenting is different. Children are not allowed to do many things due to the excuse of safety. Or, it is faster and easier for the parent  to complete a task. While I have always encouraged mine to do things for themselves, other parents undermine my work when they choose to do what  their children are very capable of. I can’t tell you how many children I have seen who do not know how to: carry their own back pack, prepare a simple breakfast or snack, brush their own teeth, dress themselves, put on their own shoes, clear their dishes from the table and GASP! feed themselves. Yes, I know there are exceptions. Every parent makes exceptions for their child at times. Exceptions are not for every day, though.

I want my children to feel confident and be  self-sufficient. I want them to acquire traits that will be useful in life. When it is time for them to attend college and live on their own, I hope that they are well equipped to take care of their basic needs. I don’t want my children to pour bleach on the stains of their white shirts directly from the bottle. Nor do I want them to take their shirt to the dry cleaner to get a button sewn on. I don’t want their garbage overflowing like Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout. I would like them to know how to  prepare more than microwave popcorn, a pizza or instant noodles in the kitchen. Well, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about the last one with my six-year-old. A few weeks ago she made homemade blueberry pancakes and cooked them on a griddle all by herself. I stood next to her and discussed stove safety, then offered pancake flipping tips.

What’s on my agenda, you ask? As of now, I plan to help them with the following:

  • develop the habit of rinsing and putting dishes into the dishwasher
  • finish sewing the small pillows they began a few weeks ago
  • show them how to prepare a fruit or vegetable salad
  • demonstrate how to fold some of their clothes AND show them how to put them away
  • vacuum the rugs
What do you think? Is this a good way for children to spend their time? 

Your Socks Are On Fire

Kings of Leon at FIB (Benicàssim).

Image via Wikipedia

As a parent, I am constantly making split second decisions about my children on a daily basis. Can I have a cookie? No, it is too close to dinner. Do I have to wear my hat today? Yes, it is cold and windy. Can we listen to some kids music? No, it’s my turn to choose the music. For the most part, I am trying to impart healthy habits and teach them common sense. Okay , so the last example sounds a bit selfish. I don’t act that way all the time. I just don’t want my  children  to think that the world  is here to cater to them. I think it is healthy when a parent occasionally puts their priorities and interests first, as long as they are appropriate and will not cause harm. 

So, one day, the radio is on and the kids are in the back seat. A great song comes on and I crank it up, because I’m a car singer. My palm bounces off the steering wheel in syncopation to the drum/bass combination. I get lost in the guitar riff and when the chorus arrives, I panic. It’s split second decision time and I fumble for the volume and the fade knob at the same time. I lower the volume of the song emanating from the speakers and from my mouth.

Why? Well, it’s Kings of Leon singing “Sex on Fire”. We haven’t had the birds and bees discussion yet  and I don’t think the car is the best place for it to happen.  My imagination gets over excited from it’s recent 20 ounce latte and takes over right away with near perfect accuracy about what might happen if we drove down that path…..

Fire engines, ambulances and squad cars engage in dueling horn signals to reach the scene of the five car accident along North Clybourn Avenue first. People stare at me, the shaking thirty-something mother of two children,( one of which is asking questions in rapid machine-gun fire), trying to determine if I am the cause of the accident. Crowds of people gather  as the officer asks how the accident occurred. I fumble over my words , trying to explain my explanation about things that happen behind closed doors between  consenting adults while my  talkative child interrupts me to ask, “You do that?” The look on the officer’s face is a mixture between surprise, choked back laughter and sympathy. Onlookers, gape and gasp. The child continues to connect  the neurons in his brain cells.  I stand frozen, mortified, as a news camera microphone is thrust into my face…..

In a split second, I have avoided embarrassment and potential damage to my car, not to mention my reputation. For now, I will use the avoidance and tiny white lie strategy. Should the children ask what they are saying in the song (which they have been known to do), I’ll lie and tell them, your socks are on fire. But I suppose that if I go down that path, I will have to change the lyrics to many other songs that they might hear. U2 will be singing about socks and boots (“Sexy Boots”), George Michael will be singing about wanting someone elses socks ( “I Want Your Sex”,) Pink Floyd will be singing about a woman who needs to take a bath, (“Dirty Woman”) and Marcy Playground will be singing about the great combination of socks and candy (“Sex and Candy”).

At some point, it will be time to have “the talk” with my kids. And at some point I’ll have to explain what some musicians are really singing about. I would hate for them to grow to adulthood, only to find out that they have been singing the wrong lyrics the entire time. Do you how embarrassing it is to learn that it is NOT “The Sultans of Suede”?

Maybe I should have let them listen to the kids music.