Monthly Archives: September 2012

Sunday Morning Shout Out


This week marked the one-year anniversary of Jamey Rodemeyer’s death. Last year, this young Williamsville man took his life after being bullied by peers in high school over his sexuality. Since that time, Jamey’s parents have taken their anti bullying campaign across the country, bringing attention to bullying and suicide prevention. From helping to enact local anti-cyber bullying laws to bringing the issue to national audiences on talk shows and working with Lady Gaga  to establish the Born this Way Foundation, Jamey’s parents have made this their life’s work.

In a similar vein, Kirk Smalley from, Perkins Oklahoma, has made it his life’s work to promote anti bullying measures. In May 2010, his eleven year-old son, Ty Field-Smalley, took his life after being bullied by peers.  He was bullied because of his small stature. Krik works with students who created Stand for the Silent, in Ty’s memory. With this organization, he has spoken to over 100,000 about the life and death consequences of bullying.

He will do whatever he can to prevent this from happening to other families. Besides talking to students, he is taking on school administrators and their policies around bullying. He feels they are typically unproductive and revictimize the victim,  potentially leading to tragedies like his son’s. Like many schools, Ty’s school had a no tolerance for bullying policy, which gave the bully and the bullied, a suspension. He feels this sends the wrong message to the victim. Additionally, schools often make the victims sit down with their transgressor. Kirk feels this can terrorize the bullied and make them back down from original statements about what occurred.  He says that bullies are smart and will get administrators to believe them over the bullied. According to Kirk, victims are commonly asked what they did to get picked on by the bully. These common practices are simply ineffective and damaging. Kirk believes that schools need to make a point of telling the bullied they will be protected. Additionally, he feels schools need to make parents accountable for their children’s actions. Kirk believes parents need to be told about their child’s behavior and enforce changed behavior in their child. If they do not, he feels the child and the parents should receive consequences. These should include: suspension and the bully being removal from school and fines and even jail time for the parents. He feels that we all have to get serious and seriously tough on this issue and stop excusing this behavior as acceptable and normal for kids to do to one another.

As our children go through the school system, we can only hope to not experience such a situation. But the sad reality is that many children do get bullied and that it is most probably happening in your children’s schools.  Not only is knowledge power but it could be what saves your child’s life in this case. Help your child recognize what bullying is so they do not bully or become the bullied. Know what your child’s school policy is on this issue. If you agree with Kirk’s point, fight for change; make your case. Don’t accept indifference or bureaucratic inaction. It may just save a life.

(Note: In future posts we’ll explore this subject and NY States’ new laws on bullying and cyber bullying)

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Inexpensive Family Activities


They say that the best things in life are free, but those with families know that outings can cost a fortune. Creating wonderful childhood memories for your kids doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg! All you need is a little imagination and lots of forward planning to ensure that your family has the most fun. Here are five amazing things to do with your family that maybe free or cost little to experience.

Cardboard Box Fun
Grab your glue, glitter, markers, paint and stickers that are laying around the house. Get a couple of large corrugated packing boxes from your local store. Now all you need is a little imagination to turn your boxes into a throne, castle, pirate ship, space ship, racing car, rocket or dolls house. The possibilities are infinite! You and your kids can have fun making your special cardboard box creation, and then playing with it once it’s done. Involving your kids in the creative process can add another dimension to the entertainment. You can get them to draw plans for your creation and discuss designs prior to construction. Remember to recycle when you are done with your box.

Recycling projects
This is a great opportunity to teach your family about the importance of recycling while creating new items for your home. You can scout local garage and thrift stores for furniture and toys that need a little love. Take them home and then clean, paint and repair your new treasures. Let your kids choose their own items for refurbishment. You can donate the spruced up items to charity or use them in your own home.

A Visit to the Museum
Museums always have discount days where you can visit their exhibitions for a vastly reduced rate. Take the whole family down for a really great educational experience. You can save money on food and drinks by packing your own picnic lunch. Plan to enjoy your snacks in the museum grounds or at a park in the area. You can pack a lunch to suit the museum experience. If you go to the dinosaur exhibition, pack barbeque ribs for lunch. A trip to the modern art museum can incorporate sandwiches that are cut into interesting shapes.

Backyard Camping
Camping can be very expensive once you factor in campsite and travelling costs. You can have just as much fun camping in your backyard with the convenience of having your own bed and bathroom nearby incase of heavy rains or cold. If you don’t have a backyard, ask a friend or family member if you can use theirs.  Pitch a tent in the backyard and make a fire if you can. Barbecue, play flashlight tag, stargaze and tell campfire stories. Camping for us always meant slowing down a bit, trying new things, exploring and understanding each other more.

Making amazing memories with your family doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. All you need to have fun is a little imagination and the spirit of adventure.

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Supporting Less Structured Play Time (aka Fun Unplugged)


There have been a lot of studies supporting the idea that playing is essential to healthy childhood development. The generation before mine frequently bemoans the fact that today’s kids are glued to the television rather than romping around outside playing impromptu games of tag and soccer, and this complaint is probably a fair one. However, the reason today’s kids have become dependent on technology (whether it’s a television show or a Playstation) is because their parents don’t encourage unstructured play time.

To be fair, a true unstructured play time may involve no parental intervention. However, if you’re looking for a little less Lord of the Flies and a little more kids playing catch, parental intervention is definitely necessary. So how can you support your child’s play time?

Limit the Tech
I enjoy watching some television to unwind after a long day, and I’m definitely not alone in this sentiment. The problem is that sometimes, technology can get out of control, especially as it becomes increasingly portable. To unplug your kids, then, is going to take some work. Keep all portable technology in a central location, perhaps in a basket in the living room near the television, and you will be able to monitor usage more easily. Set a limit on the amount of television that can be watched or the amount of electronic game playing that can go on.

But I’m BOOOOOORED
Just taking away the technology is probably not going to be enough. While the vast majority of families do have plenty of things available to facilitate a well-rounded play time, the biggest problem is making sure these items are accessible. If the hockey net is buried in the back of the garage under a stack of deck chairs, your kids won’t be able to access it. Make sure, then, that anything your kids might want to access is within easy kid reach, or make yourself available to help dig it out.

Get It Together
Along similar lines, it can be frustrating for kids to decide to play a game of baseball, only to find out that a glove is missing. Try to group all the supplies needed for an activity together. Big plastic bins labeled with markers can be a great tool.

Encourage Creativity
Of course, not all unstructured play has to take place outside or involve sports. Some kids really enjoy building with Legos or playing with a dollhouse. This kind of imaginative play is just as important as playing sports. Rather than buying the latest video game for your child’s next birthday, head to your local hobby and craft mart and pick out something that involves a little more hands-on creativity.

What are some other tips you have for supporting play time?

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Common Core…What Is It?


One of today’s buzz words in education is Common Core. The simple question many parents are asking teachers is ‘what is Common Core?’. The answer they are often receiving is anything but clear and it varies from who you ask. What I’ll try to do here is give you a bit of background information and direct you to some resources that will help you asa parent or student make sense of this new education initiative. We may poke a bit of criticism at the standards, but ultimately believe that they are beneficial to parents and students and are long overdue.

Formally known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one site called the Common Core State Standards Initiative which is devoted to the standards states:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Author Note: To help confuse us parents the standards are also called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). Not sure why they didn’t use CCLS for Common Core Learning Standards or something that has education in it but I guess that is why we pay these education administrators and experts the big bucks.

Currently 45 States of the USA and 3 territories have adopted the standards. The standard started in 2009 when the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the coordinators of the initiative, convened a group of leading experts to develop K-12 standards for math and English language arts which they did in 2010. The main objectives of the CCSS’s are:

  1. Provide consistent standards from State to State. This means if you have to move to another state your child will be learning the same material in a similar way.
  2. Standards will be relevant to the real world. The standards reflect the knowledge and skills that students will need to transition and succeed in college and/or career. Education will focus on problem solving and critical thinking skills, not solely on knowledge of particular facts that generally have little relationship to success later in life (unless you play Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit).
  3. Standards will be clear. Hummm…I think we’ll have to wait and see if this actually occurs because it is pretty muddy right now.
  4. Aims to avoid additional testing. The mission is to ‘replace’ existing tests with more ‘standardized’ and norm based testing.
  5. Clearer standards will benefit parents, teachers and students. The idea for parents here is that with clear objectives for an academic year and/or subject they will be able to help their child more in their education.
  6. Standards will incorporate the best and highest of the current state standards. Basically states with high standards will not be required to ‘lower’ their standards in order to “meet in the middle” with states that seemingly had lower standards. States must enact at least 85% of the standards and do so by 2015.

In my state (New York State) the Board of Regents on January 10th, 2011, approved the recommended additions to the Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy and Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics, plus a new set of Prekindergarten Standards. Information about the P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy is available on the EngageNY website at http://engageny.org/common-core/ but most of this information is for teachers, principles and school administrators so it is not the easiest to follow even for a Masters student like myself. For us ‘non-educators’ the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has put out some easier to understand material focused on parents. These four-page booklets titled “Four-page Parents Guide for Success” are broken it down by grades from Kindergarten to 8th grade and then one each for High School English and Math. I find the guides very informative and useful for me to help my daughter be successful in Kindergarten. The booklets are available at http://www.pta.org/5307.htm.

The Common Core Learning Standards are still evolving and will change as time goes on. There is a direct link of these Common Core Learning Standards to the Federal sponsored Race to the Top competitive grants announced on July 24, 2009. To be eligible for the grant, states had to adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that help to prepare students for success in college and the work place.  This means that in order for a state to be eligible for these grants, the states that applied had to adopt the Common Core State Standards or a similar career and college readiness curriculum. How the continued recession will impact the availability of these federal funds is still in question, but the bottom line is that there has been a substantial change in education and you will see it…like it or not. We think the change will be beneficial for our children. We hope it will be for yours!

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So Much To Do


One of my friends who recently moved to Buffalo is a huge opera fan. When he asked whether or not there was opera in Buffalo, my first response was to laugh. “Maybe at Kleinhans,” I said, finally, but a quick glance at the schedule for the year revealed a lot of great classical music, but no opera. “Sorry, man,” I replied, and we let the matter drop.

A few days later, I was reading The Buffalo News online when I saw a review of Faust produced by Buffalo Opera Unlimited at Buffalo State College. My jaw dropped. Apparently, finding Buffalo Opera Unlimited online is more difficult than you would think, and I haven’t been able to find a schedule for any more performances. The lesson I learned, though, is that you can find almost anything to do if you stay engaged in the community you live in.

I’ve always thought that living in Western New York offers a lot of opportunities that people may initially overlook. We’re in close proximity to two fairly large cities (Buffalo and Rochester) and within driving distance of an international city (Toronto). Syracuse, New York City, Boston, Albany, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and a plethora of other places have weekend trip potential. Our access to an international airport also makes other places within easy reach.

So find out what’s going on around you and take advantage of these things. Even if you’re trying to be budget conscious, there are plenty of free events around town. Some of the sites I use to find events include artvoice.com and thebuffalonews.com.

What are other places you find out about local events?

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Stop…It’s Homework Time!


Back to school also means back to homework. By the end of September, students and families are really starting to get back in the swing of having classes, and teachers are starting to hand out increasing amounts of homework. While many students start the year off with the best of intentions and keep up with their homework, as the workload picks up many students start to see their motivation and organization slide. So how can you help your child stay on the straight and narrow? Here are some tips that have helped some of our students (and our kids!) keep up with homework.

Timing is Everything
Setting up dedicated homework time (even when your child claims he or she doesn’t have any) where your child sits in a designated spot in the house to work on homework makes getting work done part of the routine. Make this time mandatory for a reasonable length of time (that you decide on through discussions with your child), with the clear expectation that your child will work until the work for the next day is completed. If your child starts whining that the work is finished, work on weak areas or getting ahead on big assignments.

Priorities
Make homework a priority in your home by putting it before television, playing outside, talking on the phone, or getting on the computer for recreational purposes. Again, constant communication with your child is important. Many kids need time to unwind after the school day, so spending an additional 45 minutes doing math problems immediately after getting off the bus may not be a recipe for success for most kids. Be open to negotiations. If your child wants to watch one tv program or ride her bike to the corner and back before getting started on homework, be flexible. It’s important to get homework done, obviously, but it’s also important that your child has balance in his life and the ability to unwind.

Supplies
A lot of time doing homework can be wasted trying to find the necessary supplies. Whether it’s coloring in a bar graph or assembling a poster for a science project, your child is going to need quite a few supplies handy. Set aside a homework cupboard or drawer where your child can find everything he or she might need to cut down on frustrating time spent digging through drawers for a red crayon.

Be Available
Sometimes children struggle with homework, and they may struggle silently. By having someone available to help your child with homework, you can catch problems early on. Rather than finding out Sally Sue can’t add when she fails the unit test, you’ll find out one evening before dinner when she gets twenty-five problems wrong on her worksheet. This strategy can cut down on frustration for children, families, and teachers. Just be careful not to do your child’s homework. You’re there to help, not to take over.

What are other tips you’ve found helpful for getting homework done?

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


As the new school year continues to take hold, both parents and students alike must look at the concept of balance. While much seems to get written for parents on this issue, less seems available for students, particularly high school and college students. When it comes to looking at school work, extracurricular activities, part-time work, and having some sort of social life, how does a student find balance?  How do you still sleep? One website I visited recently brought it together well.

University Language’s site “How to Balance School and Work,” provides a good checklist for working high school and college students to keep in mind. It first discusses getting organized. Whether it is through an app or an old-school agenda, it suggests scheduling all activities, due dates, work meetings, and social events in one place. Thus, it is that much easier to schedule or no when not to schedule those things that are just extra in your life. It is that much easier to see the big picture when the big picture is right in front of you.

In a similar vein, it is important to schedule study time. Some students work out of necessity. Others work for extra spending money; while still others work mainly to boost the resume. Whatever the exact reason or reasons, it is important to schedule study time each day. It needs to be treated like an appointment that cannot be broken and for its slated purpose. Doing face book or the like is not a slated purpose!

It is also important not to overbook. Before adding anything new activities to your schedule, it is important to ask yourself if it is essential. While extracurricular activities are great, overdoing them is like overdoing anything else. Also, they fail to impress a prospective school or employer if it is at the expense of your GPA.

With working and going to school, it is important to ask for time off during key times. If you normally give your work due diligence and give your boss fair notice, asking for time off during mid-terms or finals should be very acceptable. It is better than calling in during these weeks at the last minute.

Lastly, make time for sleep. If you schedule your classes, work, extracurricular activities, and social life accordingly, there should be time for adequate shut-eye. (At least most of the time). Sleep is essential for health, true learning, and good job performance. Avoid the pitfalls of all nighters, plan ahead!

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