Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sunday Morning Shout Out

Meet the TeacherIt is  “Open House,”  “Get Acquainted Night,”,  “Meet the Teacher,” time, etc.  Have you ever gone to one of these nights and felt like you missed a golden opportunity to get familiar with your child’s teacher and learning environment?   Franklin Planner’s Get Organized blog had an article from a few years back entitled “Five Questions to Ask  Your Child’s New Teacher,” by Stephanie Vozza, that I found helpful.

In summary, they were:

  1. How can we support at home what you are doing in the classroom? This shows the teacher you are on board with them.  Let the partnership begin!
  2. What are your goals, not just academic ones, for your students this year?  Such a question gives you insight into the teacher’s personality and teaching style.
  3. What is the best way to contact you?  If you need to contact the teacher for whatever reason, communication is eased if you know when and how it is best to contact them. This may seem like a no brainer, but a passionate e-mailing mama may be less dismayed when her child’s teacher doesn’t get back to her immediately. They may only check their e-mail once every few days or once per week. They may prefer a written note or a quick phone call.
  4. What would you like to know about my child that would help you as his or her teacher? As the expert on your child, no one is better suited to inform her child’s teacher about her distinct needs, strengths, weaknesses, learning preferences, or situations at home that may be affecting her life at school.
  5. What is your homework policy for your classroom? This can vary by classroom, even with a building of several of the same grades housed together.  It is very useful to find out what type of role you are expected to take in your child’s homework.  Do they expect you to help him find wrong answers and correct them?  Or, do they simply expect you to check that the work is done and return the work as is, so problems can be addressed in class?

A little forethought can make the night more fruitful for everyone involved and not just a walk into the classroom.  Please remember that if you forget you can still contact your child’s teacher(s) and ask these questions.


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Cutting Class: What Parents Should Do When Kids Play Truant

Most parents have to deal with truancy at one time or another. Whether it’s your child saying they are sick to avoid school or if they are pretending to go to school and then going elsewhere, playing truant will result in poor grades and is dangerous as students remain unsupervised while their parents are at work.

Widespread Problem
Skipping school is becoming a part of our culture and is a far more widespread problem than we would like to admit. The Get School Foundation recently investigated the issue and their report is disturbing. Their study showed that 15% of students miss 18 days or more of school a year. Most of these students cited boredom as the main reason why they skipped school.

Take Stock
If you find out that your student has been skipping school or they claim to have fictional health issues that prevent them from going to school, its time to take stock. Find out what the underlying problems are. Many students are genuinely bored at school and can’t see the relevance of algebra or history to real-world applications. Here you need to outline the consequences of a poor education and how it limits choice. You may also try a more challenging course, class or school. Engaging a tutor to help students to find academic challenges is also a great idea.

Stop Gap
If students feel overwhelmed and lost, they may also skip school. When they don’t understand what is going on, they may feel helpless and skip school because they fear that they may fail anyway. If this is the case, then you need to help them to catch up and understand what is going on in class. Get an in-home tutor to work with your student to help them to fill gaps in their understanding.

Many students stay home because they are being bullied by fellow students or perhaps they don’t like a teacher they have been assigned. You can help by teaching coping techniques or changing classes or schools. All schools have anti-bullying policies that help to protect students, so speak with your teachers.

Always include your students in any discussions about their academic futures. You need to include them in the implementation of any strategy if you want them to participate. Try to understand the reasons why they are skipping school so that you can deal with these effectively or the behavior will persist.

Your school Councillors and teachers are a wonderful resource. They may have a better insight into the circumstances which your student faces every day at school and they can help with strategies on how to combat the causes of truancy.

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Environmentally Friendly: Making Your School Greener & Leaner

Greening your school carries a wealth of benefits; not only do you educate your students about the environment, why they should help preserve it and how to do so, but creating a green school makes for a healthier school environment and saves on costs.  Spending less on utility bills and materials will mean more money for cash-strapped schools.

Dealing With Waste
Recycling can help to reduce the amount of waste that your school sends to the landfill.  When you recycle large volumes of paper, glass and cans, you can get paid for your recycling efforts. Adding another source of income to your coffers while reducing your waste is an excellent way to go green.

Compost your vegetable waste and create a valuable resource for your own gardens.  You can also provide parents with compost or donate compost to your local community garden.

Make your school as paper-free as possible and print on both sides when you need to make hard copies.  Switching to electronics like tablets will carry high initial costs, but you will have an excellent return on investment as you will not have to buy books or print out notes.

Turn out lights when you are not using a room.  Use motion-sensitive lights at night rather than leaving lights on for security reasons and try to reduce energy and water consumption wherever possible.

Community Garden
This is a great way to get a source of locally grown, carbon footprint-free food.  If you avoid pesticides and use the compost you create from your vegetable waste, you can grow organic fruits and vegetables too.  Community gardening can really teach students about healthy eating, nutrition and the biology of flora.  They will be more enthusiastic about eating salads and vegetables if they have grown the produce themselves.

Cleaning Products
Use vinegar and water to clean windows and other surfaces.  Vinegar is a great antibacterial and can be used to create great cleaning products (see more here) that are healthier too.  When you use chemical cleaning products, they leave a residue which then releases harmful toxic fumes and makes your school’s indoor air unhealthy for students.

Rainwater Collection
Use rain barrels on downspouts to collect valuable rain water which can then be used for cleaning and in your gardens. Reservoirs on rooftops can be utilized for flushing toilets too.

Get Moving
Ask students to opt for greener ways to get to school like walking or riding bikes.  This will also help you to get your students moving. In inclement weather or for students who live far away, the bus, train or carpooling will help to reduce the carbon footprint of their commute.

Green Your Scene
Plant trees to mitigate carbon footprints, put plants inside classrooms to improve the air quality and create large outdoor gardens.  When making a garden, use indigenous varieties of plants that are accustomed to the local conditions and require little additional care or watering.  Avoid lawns by using lawn alternatives. These lawn alternatives will reduce the carbon footprint of moving and reduce the need for watering while providing lush, green ground covering.  See a list of lawn alternatives here.

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Getting The Most Out of High School & College

It is well accepted in today’s Americana that:

  1. Career success is highly influenced more by who you know than by what you know.  This becoming even more apparent in the digital age with the growth of social media (Facebook, Twitter), professional/social networks like LinkedIn and even social rankings such as Klout
  2. Life is about decisions and as former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them and they have consequences”
  3. One never has enough time to do everything they want to do.  As Apple founder/CEO Steve Jobs said “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”

In yesterdays “Sunday Morning Shout Out” the perspective of a mother on after-school activities was shared.  The advice provided was ”do what’s best for your family’s health and well-being.” Exploring that a bit more based upon items 1-3 above it could be argued that parents should encourage their children to take part in social activities as much as possible at an early age and develop a foundation for them to continue being active in their later high-school, college and adult life.  Sure, GPA counts-but it is also true that the non-academic experience and socialization may actually be more important in their quest for a successful and meaningful life.

That means extracurricular activities are a crucial component of education.  Internships, mentors, job experience and the like while attending school, and extracurricular activities will foster personal and social growth in your chosen field, help you network, improve your interpersonal skills needed in both career and family settings and helps demonstrate a solid work ethic to prospective employers after you graduate.

Sports, clubs and committees will introduce a student to the concepts of networking, teamwork, brainstorming, and creative problem solving while providing a welcome diversion from the daily grind of academics.  Even for individuals who are not particularly a ‘people person’ or a ‘joiner’,  extracurricular programs should still be a part of their academic life. These activities can help push an individuals boundaries and help them discover new passions and personal strengths. These extracurricular activities also reflect well on a resume and provide tangible evidence of exactly the kind of well-roundedness today’s employers desire in employees.

Extracurricular activities provide a student with an outlet that helps them productively cope with academic stress. Activities can also help a student define and refine their go-to qualities.  For example, if a student volunteers their time as a tutor or teacher’s assistant, it highlights their desire to help others.  Getting involved also promotes skills needed for effective time management and leadership.  Sure, it’s not easy to balance a full and diverse schedule while in school, but there are many rewards.  Being able to do many things in time constraints is a valuable skill now required for success in so many careers that it makes good sense for students to get a handle on it now, rather than being overwhelmed by it later in life.

Now is the time for your student to think big- it’s easy to underestimate the benefits of getting involved in as many diverse activities as possible.  If your student takes on more than they can handle they can scale back.  The idea is not to allow grades to suffer, but instead to promote every bit of learning possible from their academic experience.

Life in today’s society calls for individuals to juggle many tasks, desires and commitments in harmony. Practice makes perfect and that practice is easier when an individual is a student.  It is practice a parent can help initiate and even model. It is well to remember a speech by Brian G. Dyson, former President and CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises given at the Georgia Tech 172nd Commencement Address Sept. 6, 1996:

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit … and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for Balance in your life.


Don’t undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others. It is because we are different that each of us is special.

Don’t set your goals by what other people deem important. Only you know what is best for you.

Don’t take for granted the things closest to your heart. Cling to them as you would your life, for without them, life is meaningless.

Don’t let your life slip through your fingers by living in the past or for the future. By living your life one day at a time, you live all the days of your life.

Don’t give up when you still have something to give. Nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you are less than perfect. It is this fragile thread that binds us to each together.

Don’t be afraid to encounter risks. It is by taking chances that we learn how to be pave.

Don’t shut love out of your life by saying it’s impossible to find time. The quickest way to receive love is to give; the fastest way to lose love is to hold it too tightly; and the best way to keep love is to give it wings!

Don’t run through life so fast that you forget not only where you’ve been, but also where you are going.

Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.

Don’t be afraid to learn. Knowledge is weightless, a treasure you can always carry easily.

Don’t use time or words carelessly. Neither can be retrieved. Life is not a race, but a journey to be savoured each step of the way…

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

It is a little fast and furious around here. I am not referring to  a movie of a similar name, but the steady stream of notices that have come home from school this past week to join school and other  community activities. What is a parent to do? To have your child participate or not participate, that is the question.  On the arm of some social media, I have conducted a very unscientific gall up poll and came back with these responses.

Responses were fairly diverse, with common themes.  A parent’s time was one. How much running around do you want to do, as the parent of a child with many interests and activities?  Other responses looked at how family time would be influenced, with one mom suggesting that it would have to be something her child was pretty passionate about for her to disrupt theirs.  Other responses looked at how children fared while involved in activities, balancing the children’s desire to be involved with something versus their stress load and parental stress load, while making that happen.  Still other responses found parents who enthusiastically encouraged their children to get involved with activities, as long as their school work and other responsibilities did not suffer, and they honored their commitments.  One responder aptly put it, this seems to be something every family negotiates a little differently.

While we like to see our children involved in things, they are limited.  The last thing I want to do is be the parental taxi service and have a more hectic household than we already have.  Regular life with three children is busy enough!  I have also tried to keep certain activities limited to Saturday mornings, as more during the week is too disruptive to this house.  Our oldest has been involved in some school activities that meet regularly, once a week, for an hour at a time. This has not been applicable to the younger children yet.

This is something most parents seem to grapple with today. Whatever you decide, do what’s best for your family’s health and well-being.

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Long Term Health Effects of Too Much Sitting

Standing-deskA sedentary lifestyle may not be what you think it is.  If you sit for more than eight hours a day, you qualify as having a sedentary lifestyle.  I probably just described about 95% of the population!  Students and their parents spend most of their day at a desk.  It’s simply the way our modern society is structured.  Whether you are studying, in class or working on your computer, sitting is probably what you do most of the day, followed by a couple of hours sitting in front of the TV before you go to bed.  Researchers now believe that all this sitting could be shaving decades off our lives.  The detrimental effects of sitting on your health are profound and aren’t mitigated by the other activity you do.

Why sitting is bad for your health
This means that if, like me, you get plenty of exercise, you will still suffer the negative health effects that are caused by years of sitting. A BBC report on a study by the Universities of Leicester and Loughborough found that over the 18 studies that they looked at involving 800 000 participants, those who sat for long periods during the day were 54% more likely to get heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Prof Stuart Biddle, of Loughborough University who was part of the study had this to say: “What is clear is that anyone who spends lots of time sitting or lying down would benefit from replacing some of that time by standing or walking. Aside from any direct effect reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down may have, getting more physical activity is a great way of helping maintain a healthy weight, which is the best way of minimising your risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

Prevention is better than cure
While you can take measures to reduce the amount of time you spend in front of the TV and include more physical activity in your daily life, it’s really tough to reduce the amount of time you spend working at your desk. This is true for parents and for students who have to put in the hours in front of their computers.

One of the solutions to this problem is the stand-up desk. These desks can elevate their surfaces so that users can stand while working on the computer or the level of the computer can be lowered so that you can sit and work.

It’s tough to get used to standing for long periods while working. I spend most of my day at a desk so I decided to try out the standing desk concept before I invested in a new desk. I put my laptop on a breakfast tray (the kind with the fold-out legs) so I could raise it or lower it as I liked.

At first, I could only stand for about 15 minutes before I started to feel uncomfortable, but I was surprised at how soon I adjusted. It’s a small price to pay to add a few decades onto my life!

The desks have become a popular seller at most furniture and office supply stores, but you can find more information here.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Figuring out your ideal working circumstances will make choosing your homework spot that much easier! (Image Credit:

Figuring out your ideal working circumstances will make choosing your homework spot that much easier! (Image Credit:

Does having your child get her homework done resemble  Congress trying to get their work done?  Do you feel like it is you in one corner and Rocky Balboa in the other, when it comes to getting your child to do his homework?  Leslie Garisto Pfaff  from  “Parents “ magazine offers five tips to help your child with their homework  habits  in her article “Five Steps to Homework Success.”

Teach consistency: Instill a homework routine with your child. Barring afterschool activities, homework should be done at the same time every day, according to Jeannine Schay Schumm, PhD,  author of How to Help Your Child With Homework.   Otherwise, it is too easy to put off and not get it done.  She says to base this on your child’s temperament and your family’s schedule. Some children need decompression time and some physical activity before they can hit the books again. Other children might need to do it right away, while they are still partially in school mode and perhaps before, gymnastics or karate. After such activities, homework can easily be karate chopped for certain children. With a consistent time, comes a need for a consistent space. Particularly in the younger grades in elementary school, that might be a quiet space at the kitchen table or dining room table as opposed to upstairs in their bedroom. As a parent, you want to be accessible and able to monitor their progress with their work. Also keep supplies close by to ward off the great school supply search and procrastination. Plenty of room to work, with supplies at hand, makes for a comfortable and equipped work space.

Dial down distractions: Make it a rule that the television, cell phones, computers, video games, and other distractions are minimized, even better off, to maximize focus and the quality of work being done. If possible, make a certain time in the house homework time for all, including parents. By this, parents can be quietly present reading, bill-paying, folding laundry, doing paperwork, etc, modeling how to work in a quiet environment and monitoring for disruption. Older siblings can be modeling for younger siblings how to do work in such a fashion and greatly help younger children instill good homework habits.

Aim for Independence:  While it may be tempting to correct your children’s mistakes while doing homework, please remember the point of homework. It is practice and one way in which your child’s teacher gages their progress. While grade school aged children will likely need some assistance with their work, it is helpful to discuss with your child’s teacher how much assistance they are looking for you to give. Having said this, it never hurts to review your child’s work and to encourage them to independently find the three words or math problems that have mistakes. This teaches them to review their work and puts the onus on them to find them. Additionally, you can use these moments to guide them to use a dictionary or an online reference to help them find answers they do not know.

Discourage perfectionism:  While many parents have the child who rushes over homework, others have the child who agonizes over turning in the perfect paper. When this occurs, it is beneficial to remind your child homework  is for practice and that no one, including their teacher, expects them to be perfect. With such a child, a 10 or 20 minute limit might need to be set per assignment. When time is up they must move on to the next item or get up and play.

Investigate any resistance:  If your child resists all efforts and stubbornly refuses to do homework, it may be a sign of a real struggle with subject material and work. If this persists, it is time to sit down with your child and teacher and see if they are struggling with similar work in school. Perhaps it is a methodology issue and homework can be approached differently.  For instance, one assignment may need to be broken down into several smaller tasks for your child. Jed Baker, PhD, author of No More Meltdowns  says to encourage your child to complete at least one task for sitting.  He says that completing one task may give your child momentum to move on and complete them all.

Lastly, parents should, underline should, recognize their child’s sincere efforts. Such recognition goes far and is powerful, powerful incentive in helping your child feel good about their work and their efforts in school.

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