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Jen, Kristen, and Patience

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Posts in School Category


My Baby Is Off to Kindergarten

Posted by Kristen on August 30, 2010 at 7:45 AM in School
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Ok, well, not yet. He will be going in a week, but that's right around the corner. I have been a little stressed out lately, because I'm worried about kindergarten. Ethan did not go to preschool this past year and for the last few months, I slacked off on working with him. I expressed my concern that Ethan's writing was a little shoddy and my mother nearly lost it.

"He is five years old, Kristen. It is kindergarten."

My mother really won't discuss this with me. I made a crack about Ethan's knowledge of physics being below a first grade level, and she nearly hung up on me. Her memories of children going to kindergarten involve kids learning to adjust from being away from home and the institutionalization of snack time at 10 a.m. She doesn't know that red shirting your kindergartener is all the rage.

Before you start looking at me with the wonky "she's one of THOSE parents," let me say that I truly could not care less if Ethan is the best and brightest in his class or if he has any chance at the Kindergarten Top Gun trophy. I am simply worried that he will show up at school and everyone else will already know everything, and he will be mad or frustrated that he is behind. Sick, I know, but it's better than wanting to hold him back a year so he can possibly be the biggest quarterback at high school twelve years from now. Those people are really crazy. I'm just a little crazy.

In the old days (pre-1970s), a child would go to kindergarten if he or she turned 5 years old at some point during the school year. In the 70s, school began implementing birthday cut off dates such as December 1 for admittance to kindergarten. Red shirting your kindergartener, or holding them back a year if they have a birthday on or around the cut off date for admittance to kindergarten, is very popular these days with upper middle class families looking to give their child an edge in school. It's a less common practice for people with less money because kindergarten is free and daycare is not.

Red shirting your kindergartener once meant holding your soon-to-be five year old back a year and starting him in kindergarten as an older five year old. But with school cut offs now rolled back to September or even August in so many places, parents are looking at their "young" five year olds with summer birthdays and wondering if they are ready for the stresses of all day kindergarten.

It is understood, of course, that nearly all of these children have gone to daycare or preschool. What about my friend Jess who couldn't send her son to preschool because it started at the same time her older son got on the bus for school everyday? No preschool, and he missed the August 1 birthday cut off day by two weeks. The school said she could test him in, but he had issues with upper case versus lower case letters on the test. Are you kidding me? She found a private kindergarten that starts AFTER her other son gets on the bus, and the school said she can retest him at the semester break.

Now there is as much as an 18 month age spread in kindergarten. Some kindergartens are still half-day while others are full day. Some have cut off dates of August 1, while others have cut off dates of December 1. Hasn't it gotten a little out of control? Even I should be smacked for worrying about the big ticket items like "will he remember his seasons."

I mean, it's just kindergarten.

It's that time of year. Why don't you join us in a little sidewalk love as our kids start the school year out? Invite your kids to be agents of happiness and hope on the sidewalks nearest you, then upload your pictures to the PBS Parents Supersisters Flickr Pool or tweet us a picture at @pbssupersisters. You can also leave links to your pictures and stories in the comments below.


Finding Merit in Weakness

Posted by Jen on June 16, 2010 at 8:27 AM in School
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I spent a few hours yesterday in a promotion ceremony for Madeleine's fifth grade class. With a dedicated staff, kind administration and diverse group of engaged and enthusiastic kids, Madeleine's school experience in this little third, fourth and fifth grade neighborhood school has been something to remember.

What touched me the most yesterday, however, was the awarding of promotion certificates. Madeleine's teacher, Ms. Lane, took her time to acknowledge each one of her twenty-seven students by calling each one forward by name and saying a few words of appreciation about each child. This kind of situation always makes me nervous in schools, because most of the time you end up learning more about the teacher than you do the child. Case in point: Madeleine's first grade teacher used this opportunity to give one last scolding to the kids who were clearly on her nerves. Ouch.

Madeleine's teacher, however, took a very novel approach. Instead of pointing to each child's obvious strength (which would have sent eyes rolling as the kids registered the reality of that child's unspoken weakness), she highlighted something about each child that might appear on the surface to be a problem.

The troublesome questioner was acknowledged as a divergent thinker that sometimes pushed the class in directions no one wanted to go, but whose intensity often yielded more profitable conversations.

The kid with the penchant for gore and fantasy was celebrated as someone who knew how to appropriately walk the line and develop an active imagination in an appropriate venue--creative writing.

The child who was struggling with mastery of basic skills was heralded as someone who was mastering the art of practice, an invaluable skill for future success--no matter what the endeavor.

What struck me most about this exercise was the way Ms. Lane was able to respectfully acknowledge what was sometimes unwelcome or difficult without excusing or candy coating the truth, and then take that same quality and recognize the hidden gift--the treasure that in the long run benefited the child but also the entire group.

The proof that she mastered this task was in the response of the children--there was a collective ease and comfort in the room as each true observation was shared. The kids concurred with laughter and knowing nods--she got it just right.

I wonder if this isn't primarily our challenge as parents--to see the merit hiding in our children's weaknesses. To find a way to acknowledge that the areas where they can't manage to fit in or conform or even excel, just might be the very arenas where their finest achievements will grow. What do you think?

I don't have the answers on this one, but I'm very thankful for Ms. Lane and this final way she unknowingly challenged me as a parent to reconsider my perspective and grow.


The Spelling Candy

Posted by Patience on February 19, 2010 at 10:48 AM in Kid problemsParenting tipsSchool
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spelling candy.jpg

It was Wednesday again, the homework day that Jack dreads each week. I have to be honest, I do not look forward to it either. It's the day when he must write five sentences using his spelling words. Reading has come very slowly to Jack so forming words is like his worst nightmare.

"It's so hard! I'm so, so frustrated!" he says with his palm on his forehead. We sound out each word slowly, he writes until we get to the third sentence. I suggested a break but he just wanted to be done. There were computer games to be played and outdoor sword battles waiting for him.

"I think I know what you need." I said.
"You do?" he replied somewhat intrigued.
"I think you probably need some spelling candy. It may or may not work, but it's worth a shot. Whaddya think?" I waited to see if my very alternative idea would work.

"Yes! Whatever it is mom, I'll try it. I mean, candy sounds good anyway." he said.

I went into the kitchen to dig through my junk basket. My house is way too small to be provided the luxury of a whole junk drawer, so basket it is. At the bottom I found a very tacky diamond shaped plastic box I got months ago in a gift bag I received from an awards event I attended. It was from a local jeweler hoping I'd come pick out some lovely ring or anklet I'm sure.

I remember thinking how nice the bath salts would be but when I opened the tiny box to smell them, I quickly realized much to my disappointment, it was rock candy. It seemed though the entire repurposing made total sense for this moment.

I handed him three little tiny candy crystals for his last three sentences. He held them like he had just discovered the holy grail and promptly returned to his work.
"Mom, I think this spelling candy is really working. " he said.
"Oh, I'm glad. I thought it might but I was a little worried it wouldn't. I'm just happy you are feeling better about the whole thing."
In just a few more minutes he was finished.

He still asks me every now and then for the spelling candy when he feels a little stuck. Jack carefully rations the candies out as I told him he probably won't even need them by the end of the year. I sometimes wonder if this is a terrible idea on multiple levels but he has seemed to find the balance of not relying on it too much yet finding a tiny bit of power in the jewelry store swag.

I remember the kindergarten days I made power pancakes for Josiah when he was struggling to find his own. What do you think of this alternative parenting idea? Is it misleading or just creative?

What do you do when your kids get stuck? Tell us your ideas and thoughts in the comments.


School Troubles

Posted by Patience on January 22, 2010 at 10:13 AM in Kid problemsSchool
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jack waiting room

I have a confession. I really, really don't like school and I'm afraid even against my best efforts, I am passing this on to my children. I have always loved to learn, but school settings weren't exactly my first choice. Here's the kicker, I am a former teacher.

After a half hour of crying and trying to sort out what our current school troubles are I finally asked Josiah, "Do you like to learn buddy?"
"No! I hate it, I hate it so much!" he replied. I know this isn't exactly true as he is constantly asking me to show him how to do things, but I winced as the words left his mouth. Should he push through or do we have a real issue here?

Once again I found myself trying to reframe things for him so he can continue for the next 6-8 weeks when it happens again. I go over in my mind what the factors might be:

Third grade is a notorious year for things getting more serious and kids starting to struggle.
Our public school is lovely; it's one of the best in the city, still in a city very much struggling with their education system.
His teacher is nice but hard, I get the impression she is just doing her best to prepare them for the state testing.
As parents, we aren't super focused on grades, achievements and the like, not really our style.

I don't really blame the system as I understood what I signed up for. I know the teachers and administrators hands are tied to a certain structure and the standards of learning. I also see their effort to bring some creative and alternative learning into the classroom, but what happens when it just isn't enough? What do you do when your kid is losing his love for learning? I know every kid dislikes school at some point but what do you do when it seems like it is coming up more frequently?

Private education? This is when I become incredibly aware that I have four children. While the option isn't completely out, it is an incredible reach.

Homeschool? It always sounds great in theory to me, but if I'm totally honest, I just don't want the total responsibility for his education. My homeschool friends tell me it is complete crisis of imagination on my part and there are all kinds of ways to get support. I'm realizing the root of my resistance might be deeper as it would also alter my life dramatically (insert selfish feelings here). It is still an option.

Extracurricular activities? Supplemental learning has seemed to help alleviate the drudgery of the everyday. Extra art classes, tree climbing courses, even long park days help. It might be just the dead of winter blues?

So super people, what do you say? Have you ever had this type of education dilemma? Do you have a kid that dislikes school and is struggling to stay engaged? What do you do? Give your advice in the comments.


Life Is Hard

Posted by Patience on September 22, 2009 at 7:12 AM in School
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mada birthday love1.jpg

It started with a sleepover. The brothers returned home after one of the best nights ever to a task they had been dreading. After weeks of avoiding it and one million legos on the floor later, the time had come for them to clean their room.

Maybe it was the exhaustion from so much fun the night before or the magnitude of the job, but Josiah was pacing and looked very overwhelmed. He wandered in the kitchen, buried his face in his hands and started to bawl.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Life is so hard, ya know?" he said through heaving breaths.

"And as I get bigger, it just keeps getting harder." He went on.

I sighed and agreed, it is so true. I asked what was feeling big today.

"School is harder and my room, just everything, I feel so overwhelmed." he said.

The second week of school is always the kicker. It is the time when everything sinks in, revealing what is before you, all you have to learn. In a way, I have felt like I am in my own personal development academy. I can very much relate to feeling overwhelmed by all life is putting before me to teach me.

We sat together for awhile, reminding each other that we only have to do a little at a time and take it moment by moment. I suggested a break so we climbed in bed, he read books, I surfed the internet. Tomorrow is another day and our work will be waiting for us, but today we are just in life together.

Supersister tip of the day: Looks like third grade is a kicker of a year.

Are you hitting the second week wall at your house? What do you do when your kids feel overwhelmed? Or even better, what do you do for yourself?


Really Listen To Me

Posted by Patience on September 15, 2009 at 7:19 AM in School
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he laughs2

He was late again. Getting back into the school routine is hard for everybody but especially Jack. There were so many interesting things to distract him from the living room to the bathroom where he was going to brush his teeth. It might have been the lint on the floor that caught his eye. It's just hard to be focused on the task at hand when your mind takes you so many places.

This was driving me crazy. School was calling, the little box that lists the tardies on the report card has become my own report card of sorts. Truth be told, I failed miserably last year so I'm trying to not let the tardies get in the double digits this year. I sent Jack to get his socks on, it was my third attempt with no success, I was frustrated and went into drill sargeant mode. It was taking awhile so I went up stairs to lay into him, he started to explain but I wasn't having it. I went into a tirade about responsibility and schedules, he started to cry.

"Mom, I was upstairs thinking about how you weren't really listening to me, I really didn't hear you mom, I didn't know..." he cried in a sad whimper.
I stopped, this child has a way of exposing his heart and mine in the most thought provoking and tender way. He will tell me the truth in almost any circumstance, and I hear it, I see it, I will listen, even if I didn't before. We exchanged apologies and I got my first tardy of the year but it was worth it, I think I'm looking at a different report card now.


Off They Go

Posted by Patience on September 8, 2009 at 1:19 PM in School
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first day 09.jpg

We made it through another first morning of the first day of school.
New clothes were laid out ready for this morning, hair brushed, hot breakfast, lunches made the night before, and somehow we were still late. I'm blaming it on the pouring rain and not my perpetual problem of tardiness. Jack did ask if they could NOT be the last kids to be picked up from the car pool this year. I told him I would do my best.

I'm pretty sure this will also be the longest week of my life as preschool does not start until next week. This fact is near impossible for Lucy to understand as she had her snack and tote bag ready by the door this morning. I've never seen her get ready so fast and be so cheery. I've explained, clarified and drawn charts but there is no convincing her. She's sure it is a conspiracy against her.

So here we are, hoping all is well. Holding hope and space even from the house, saying little prayers for lunchtime friends and kind teachers.

If your crew started school today, how was your morning?


Time Is Tickin'

Posted by Patience on August 7, 2009 at 8:00 AM in SchoolSummer Fun
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The school supplies are back in the stores, it feels like the time on summer is winding down. Before long we'll be packing lunches and backpacks, rushing out the door. I try not to mention this too much as we wish it could stay summer forever over here.

Are you ready for summer to be done at your house? Have you started the earlier bedtimes yet? Or do you soak in every last minute?

If school is on your brain, check out this awesome guide to all things about going to school. It's especially great if you have a first timer.


Sometimes you realize that not everyone else has it easy

Posted by Kristen on January 8, 2009 at 6:59 AM in KristenRaising BoysSchool
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Derek called to tell me that he had just gotten back from lunch with our friend Laura. It seems that her nearly two-year-old has been giving them a run for their money, too.

I had been starting to believe that we were the only people with crazy children. I know it's not true, but sometimes it feels this way. In fact, Nathan just got dropped off from school yesterday with a comment that he had bitten another child in the class. There are only eight children in his class. He has bitten three of them. Which means 50% of the class since he clearly can't get in trouble for biting himself. When I asked him why he bit poor victim number 3, he yelled, "it was MINE, Mommy."

Um, no, it wasn't. It wasn't yours. I'm pretty sure of that since we don't take anything to school with us. I'm pretty sure it was the school's. Whatever it was. But back to our friend.

It appears that just before Christmas, Baby Girl hopped over not one but two gates around the Christmas tree and her mother only realized this as she heard her glass ornaments shatter against the wall. It seems that Baby Girl was throwing the ornaments because she liked the sound they made as they hit the wall. And then there were the heirloom fabric ornaments that she attempted to flush down the toilet a few days later after filling the bowl.

K: Tell me you didn't laugh.
D: It was funny.
K: No, it's not funny.
D: Oh, it's funny when it's not your kid who is doing it.

They had discussed failed nap times and nearly snapping and slowing feeling like you are losing your mind. I felt this conversation was wasted on my husband. He usually makes it until 20 minutes into bathtime before bed before he starts freaking out because the boys have started this really awesome game of sliding down the back of the tub at the same time to see how big a splash they can send into the far wall before the wave veers over onto the floor.

And I don't even do bathtime. I guess that's because by 7:15, I'm already rocking in a corner, babbling inconsolably. At least today I'm not the person who is mourning her Christmas ornaments. We may be a small band of parents of ill-behaved, mischievous children but we know how to stick together. Now would be a good time to tell me your best story of "spirited" behavior by your child. I could use the company. Go on.


It's all about the giving

Posted by Kristen on December 11, 2008 at 6:28 AM in KristenSchool
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I'll admit that I am a slacker mom. At least once every other week I get that nice little note from the preschool teacher reminding me yet again that I should be sending a drink AND a washcloth in Nathan's bag. I don't mean to be all non-green but if you end up going to the dollar store and buying an 18-pack of washcloths that you sometimes remember to throw in the wash, it seems like a wet paper towel might not be such a bad alternative.

My latest parental question mark regarding preschool is the fact that the snack calendar gets filled up before I can even add Ethan's name to it. This would be fine if there wasn't a grand ceremony involving snack and the snack giver as supreme distributor of the snack to all his appreciative friends. I already have a kid that wants to serve his friends but now I seem to be thwarted on the official end of giving to friends.

E: Can I bring snack to school? CanIcanIcanIcanI?

I've been trying to beat the calendar. I hover. Then I am scheduled for pick up instead of drop off and in one morning the calendar is full. I apologize to my disheartened son another month. This month I got clever. I just asked the teacher to add his name before she even posted the calendar and tomorrow is our big day.

Or as Ethan told his teachers on Tuesday, tomorrow's tomorrow. The next big hurdle was getting authorization for making chocolate chip cookies. You know, that whole ban on wheat, dairy, gluten, sugar, nut, egg thing. We got the okay and I promptly forgot about snack until last night at 7:15.

Is there anything more heart-warming as a mom than having your child be insanely excited about making and taking cookies to his friends at school? I just love this kid. I can't help it.

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