Monday, August 31, 2009

Make Family Experiences a Priority Throughout Your Children's Lives: Our San Antonio Maccabi Experience

There is nothing more special than spending quality time with your family, no matter what those experiences are. You don’t have to take an expensive trip – it can be a visit to the zoo, hike, or tea party with your daughter’s stuffed animals that make a memorable family experience. It’s about giving uninterrupted time to each other and putting in the effort to create shared experiences.

We just enjoyed one phenomenal family vacation. Spending five days with my family watching our youngest son playing soccer in the San Antonio Maccabi games was an incredible experience. I’ve had the great fortune of attending three other Maccabi games, in Montreal, Greater Washington, and Baltimore, to root on each of my three children. I wondered if the experience would get old by the fourth go-round, but I am pleased to report that it was as special as ever.

The Maccabi games are about sports, but the athletic competition is merely the venue that draws these teenaged athletes together. For both the participants and the lucky family members who get to root on the sidelines, the games conjure feelings of great pride. We are proud of our Jewish heritage, proud to live in South Jersey, and proud to become part of this community of spirited teens from all over the world. Sure, these kids competed against each other, and the competition was fierce. But at the end of each game, they chatted with their rivals, and during social events throughout the week, they formed solid friendships. All of the athletes in attendance felt a mutual respect.

Seven of the eleven boys on my son’s team had played together in the Maccabi games held in Baltimore two years ago. While they live in five different towns and attend different schools, the wonderful bond they previously formed remained strong. The new members of the team fit right in, and together these Sexy Jews, as they dubbed themselves, had a blast. The strangest thing about this team was that two of the boys are named Brady….not a very popular name for a teenager. The opponents were confused when the spectators gave Brady a shout-out, because one Brady was a forward the other one was in goal.

All but two of the young men on the team were fortunate to have family members in San Antonio to support them. The parents all shared in the excitement and enthusiasm of the games, and we all became temporary best friends. Even my 21 and 19 year olds enjoyed the camaraderie of the group, although they rolled their eyes more than once during our seemingly continual “Jewish Geography” go-rounds. We also brought Grandma along with us to kvell over her grandson.

Despite temperatures reaching 104 degrees (according to the rental car thermometer,) there were plenty of ways to stay cool. The JCC had a great fitness center and incredible swimming pool, which our family gravitated to each afternoon when the games were complete. We discovered that the residents of San Antonio must be among the nicest people on earth. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and welcoming. The only drawback was the never-ending loops of highways that were confusing to navigate at first. When my son broke his cleats and we needed to get him a new pair, it took an hour to find the Sports Authority which we realized was just 10 minutes away.

The Coles, the family who hosted our son, were incredible. They housed three 15 and 16 year old boys, feeding them, doing their laundry and carting them from venue to venue. The boys formed an instant bond with their temporary family and were sad to say goodbye. Phyllis and Steve went over and above, carting them to favorite restaurants, serving up venison that Steve had hunted, (that was surely a new experience!) and fortifying them with plenty of Gatorade and protein bars.

The boys’ teamwork showed as they handily won game after game. Their coaches, Chuck Lampitt and Ed Eichen were incredible cheerleaders, always positive and supportive of all the boys. The JCC staff, including Rob Kiewe and Emily Lieberman were not only efficient, but managed to keep eleven 15 and 16 year olds on the straight and narrow throughout.

The final medal game was a nail biter. The mid-day heat radiated off the turf field, practically wilting the sweat-soaked athletes. In the end, Los Angeles prevailed 2-1 to win the gold and South Jersey took silver.

The boys were proud of themselves for their success, but the silver medal was really just the icing on the cake. It was the relationships they made and experiences they enjoyed that made these Maccabi games a time they will always remember.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Since When are There Five Oceans, and Other Facts I Should Have Known

I found out today that they added an ocean to the four I learned about in school. Called the Southern Ocean and located near Antarctica, it was officially added to the list of oceans on earth in 2000. First they take away Pluto reducing the number of planets to eight, and now they add a fifth ocean. I am an avid newspaper reader, but somehow news of the fifth ocean escaped my view.

I bring this up because I realize now that my kids are older, I’m missing out on some of the current events we studied together when they were young. When our children are young, we study with them. I learned all of the countries in Africa when they needed help memorizing them. I learned about the metric system and how to do the Macarena.

Now that my youngest is a high school sophomore, I’m clinging to the scraps of studying time he’s willing to share with me. I’ve learned a little Spanish when we study vocabulary although he’s merciless when making fun of my accent. His math skills surpassed my abilities long ago, and apparently I’m too critical when reviewing his writing so he rarely lets me read anything he’s written. My curse for being a writer, I guess.

I miss the time I spent doing homework with my kids when they were young, but I hadn’t realized until today that I’m also missing out on learning. When they declared that Pluto was no longer a planet in 2006, I was shocked. My kids had learned the planets through the saying My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) In fact, my daughter got an answer wrong because wrote the word pizza instead of Pluto!

So, to all you parents out there with young kids who haven’t started homework yet, think of what you have to look forward to. To those of you who wish summer would never end because you dread helping your children with homework, there is a silver lining. Think about all of the things that you are learning. Maybe you knew them at some point in your life, or maybe they are brand new. Who would have imagined that they’d discover another ocean?!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Great Parenting Advice: Follow Through With What You Tell Your Child

Especially when your kids are toddlers, you must set rules and ensure that your kids follow them. Great parents make those rules absolutely clear, and their kids know that if they choose to stray, there will be consequences. Start when they are old enough to understand what you are saying, that’s about two years old. If you set the boundaries when they are young, it will be much easier on all of you when they get older and the consequences for their actions may be much harsher.

Don’t make idle threats and be sure to follow through on what you say to your children. “If you say you’re going to do something as a consequence, make sure you’re capable of doing it and then do it,” insists Marlene McDermott, Marriage and Family Therapist at Serenity Counseling in Palmyra, NJ..

When they are very young, start with something as simple as following through on a time-out if they misbehave. If you threaten your toddler that you will leave a store if she touches things, then when she touches something you must leave the store. As they get older, consequences may get more severe, but whatever you threaten you must follow through. For an older child, it may be that if your child comes home late, he will be grounded for two weeks. If that’s the expectation, make sure that his grounding really is a full two weeks.

“If you can’t do that, then don’t say it,” McDermott points out. “Having that follow through is so important. Parenting takes a lot of time, it’s a job. Come up with a basket of tricks beforehand so you’re not just saying something off the cuff that you can’t follow through with.”

The worst thing a parent can do is make idle threats because your child will figure that out very quickly. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow through. When your child knows you are serious, he will think carefully before disobeying a family rule.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Check out the Newseum in Washington, DC: It’s Well Worth the Price of Admission

Though this space is intended for parenting advice for preschoolers, I have to share a wonderful day I had yesterday at the Newseum in Washington DC, with hopes you’ll have a chance to check it out too. This is not a place to bring your preschoolers, though I think kids in elementary school and above would enjoy it. My college aged kids loved it. There are lots of interactive displays and a couple of fabulous movies, including one in 4D.

The Newseum is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. and my GPS took me down I-95 toward Virginia and then back up C Street. It was a traffic-free, very easy ride. There are two pay parking lots at 6th and C which cost $20 each.

Though most of the museums in Washington are free, this one is well worth the $20 fee ($18 for students.) Plan to spend at least four hours there. There’s a cafeteria, but you can also get your hand stamped so you can leave for lunch and come back.

Start at the bottom floor and work your way up. It’s easy to get lost in what you’re viewing but pace yourself so you don’t miss anything. The Concourse Level leads you to the 4D movie which is about 15 minutes and provides a great history of journalism. The fourth dimension consists of seats that move (they don’t move much) and some surprises that I won’t tell cause I don’t want to spoil it. That floor also contains a cool G-Men and Journalists exhibit, part of the Berlin Wall, a Learning Center and Sports theater. The sports theater is a must. The movie presents a history of sports journalism with some fabulous clips that you will absolutely remember.

Next, walk upstairs to the first floor where the highlight is the incredible wall of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs. I could have spent an hour here alone. Bring a tissue – some of the memories might move you to tears. On this floor you can also find an Annenberg Theater and Great Hall of News.

Level 2 has an Interactive Newsroom and an attendant will help you shoot a clip. There are many interactive tv’s and an Ethics Center.

Level 3 contains two real studios where the ABC show This Week with George Stephanopoulos is produced, and other media experts give talks. There is also a newsroom TV studio and info on Edward R. Murrow, as well as a Journalists Memorial and display of editorial cartoons.

Next up on level 4 is an incredibly moving 9/11 gallery which features probably a hundred newspapers from around the world reporting the World Trade Center attacks. There is also a video of interviews with journalists who describe their experiences reporting that day’s news. Another good place for tissues. There is also a First Dogs exhibit (though I skipped this one) and a First Amendment Gallery. A fascinating picture display of Woodstock includes pictures found in the basement of a kid who was in high school at the time, and covered the event for his school paper.

Walk upstairs to level 5 to see a very cool Woodstock movie from the concert event 40years ago. There is also a huge gallery that includes 500 years of journalistic history as well as a replica of a news satellite.

The top floor has an interesting Lincoln exhibit which focuses on the hunt for James Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s killer. There are also front pages from newspapers from every state, which differ from the ones outside the museum. An interesting pictorial display called Photobama showes photos from the inauguration. Step outside on the terrace for an incredible view of DC, including the Capitol.

I’m sure I’ve left some things out, and some of the exhibits change. In fact, there was already a display about Don Hewitt who passed away only a week or so ago. One display showed four newspapers that are now completely defunct. It saddens me to think that one day I might not be able to eat breakfast with a newspaper in hand. At least the Newseum will be there to chronicle the rich history we've enjoyed in news.

I hope you enjoy your experience there as much as I did!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Want to be a Great Parent? Make Sure that your Child’s Punishment Fits the Crime

Your child has been pushing your buttons, and try as you might, you finally lost your temper - but, does the punishment fit the crime? She didn't do anything really wrong this time, but it was the cumulative effect of all the things she's been doing. Did you send her to her room, take away TV time, cancel a playdate?

When your child does something wrong and you threaten her with a punishment, you need to carry that out. Just make sure the punishment fits the crime. If consequences don’t make sense, they will not resonate with the child. When your child is a toddler, she will understand immediate actions. Appropriate punishments might include going to bed a half hour early, missing a favorite video, or skipping dessert that night. Telling her she can't go to a friend's birthday party in a week isn't a reasonable punishment. It's too far away and by then you may not even remember why you punished her in the first place.

For older kids, say teenagers, there are plenty of electronic devices that can be taken away. But that's not always the best punishment, especially if your child needs her cell phone to arrange rides or let you know she'll be home late. Also, does that punishment fit the crime?

“Nowadays, the first thing parents want to do is take away a cell phone, computer privileges, or Playstation, but if it’s not matching what the kid has done that’s not appropriate, than it doesn’t make any sense and it’s not good for learning,” suggests Marlene McDermott, Marriage and Family Therapist at Serenity Counseling in Palmyra, NJ.

For example, if the child refuses to get out of bed to go to church, the parent needs to find a punishment to fit the crime, and that should be more than merely taking the phone away. McDermott believes that all privileges should be taken away, until the child goes to church. Whether it’s a day or a week, that’s how long their privileges should be withheld.

“This is going to sound very harsh, but in my opinion, privileges are anything besides food, clothing, education, love and affection,” Marlene says. “Nobody is required to give their kids toys or buy them top-of the line shoes or take them out to dinner. Those are all privileges. We’ve gotten away from giving our kids what they have earned and moved into taking things away from them for things they have done, when everything they have is a privilege anyway.”

She believes that the child should only be allowed to go to school, their sport or other responsibility, and come home. “Those things are important for living and are commitments that they’ve made and should follow through on,” she adds. “It is no longer the parent being the bad guy, but the kid making the choice about how long their consequence is going to be.”

Even cell phones are a privilege, not a necessity, she believes, despite safety concerns. There are phones in school, or a friend’s home and anywhere else the child would be if needed. “You lose your cell phone, you’ve got fifteen other friends that have them. They’ve got computers that they can use to talk on-line. It just doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t become a deterrent,” she points out.

Consequences should be discussed before an infraction occurs and they should be based on age. The older the child, the stiffer the punishment. “The kids need to know what their expectations are, that’s only fair to them,” she says. For example, for every minute the child is later than curfew, they are grounded for one day.

For more dangerous behaviors, Marlene thinks parents should choose consequences that educate the child. If the child is drinking, for example, it’s not only a grounding that has to happen, but the child needs to learn about the perils of drinking. The punishment might include having the child visit or volunteer in a drug and alcohol center, or do research about the effects of drinking.

“Be creative and think outside of the box, instead of, well, you lost your cell phone,” she suggests.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tips for Great Parenting: Present a United Front for your Children

We all want to be great parents who help our kids grow into respectable, kind, self-sufficient adults. If only there were a guide to teach us how! I asked leading experts for some parenting advice, and they insist that it’s easier than many parents think. Here's the first step: present a united front in front of your children.

It is essential that both parents, or whoever the caregivers are, are on the same page when dealing with their children about consequences, rules, and expectations. “Kids are manipulative and they’ll take advantage,” says Marlene McDermott, Marriage and Family Therapist at Serenity Counseling in Palmyra.

For example, if one parent gives the child a month-long grounding, but the other parent cuts it to two weeks, the child recognizes that there is “wiggle room,” explains Marlene. “Clearly they’re not on the same page and the kid knows where the loophole is.”

This rule is important always....from the tiniest problems to the largest issues. If you tell your three year old that he cannot have candy at the grocery store, but then your husband buys him a treat, he will learn at a very young age how to manipulate one or the other of you. You must establish the ground rules together so that he doesn't figure out how to "work" the system.

While a disagreement over something as small as a piece of candy seems trivial, it's the pattern of showing a united front that ultimately matters. When he's 16 he sneaks his first beer, he can't think that one parent will let him off the hook while the other has made the rules against drinking clear.

McDermott urges parents to agree on general rules of the house and make every member aware of them. If you don’t agree, work out differences behind closed doors, away from the child and then return with an answer. “Never let the kid see that and always present as a united front,” she says.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to School Planning: How to Prepare Your Preschooler for a Smooth Transition

Your child is about to enter her first year of preschool. You are both excited but you are worried at the same time. What if she cries? What if she holds on to you and begs you not to leave her? What if her teacher is mean?

While all of these are reasonable concerns, remember why you have signed her up for preschool in the first place. You are giving her an opportunity to make friends and learn how to socialize with her peers and teachers; develop her communication skills; learn more about he world around her; and begin feeling independent and responsible. Isn't all that very, very good?

Some tips to make the transition smoother:
1. Take her to school ahead of time to introduce her to her new teacher (who I promise, will not be mean!)
2. Let her visit the classroom to see where she will be spending her time.
3. Allow her to play on the playground and encourage her to find a favorite activity there that she can look forward to visiting when school starts.
4. Let her choose her own backpack that will make her excited to show off to her friends.
5. Let her choose her own back-to-school outfit (that you approve of) to give her a confident feeling as she walks through the door.
6. Be sure to say goodbye to her at the door and allow her to walk into the classroom without you. That physical separation allows her to understand the boundaries. This is her classroom and you will leave to do the things you need to do.
7. Leave her with a smile even if you feel broken up inside watching your little girl starting a new adventure on her own, without you.
8. Promise that you'll be back, and PLEASE, don't be late at pick-up time.

This is a wonderful new adventure for your child and your family. Enjoy the time you have free to hit the gym, run errands unencumbered, or just take a bath and read. A positive attitude will go a long way to making your child's transition successful.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Children Must Exercise to Stay Healthy: Start the Exercise Habit When Kids are Very Young

Last night I went to a killer pilates class, one of those things we all love to hate. The teacher announced she is starting a class for moms and babies up to 25 pounds. Their weight matters because the class involves the moms lifting the babies for an hour and at some point a heavy baby is tough to keep lifting.

It reminded me of the Gymboree classes I used to attend with my kids. They were wonderful for many reasons. First, we got to spend time together doing something really fun. Next, the kids got lots of exercise, jumping, running, bouncing, and constantly moving throughout the hour. They were also exposed to gym equipment they had never seen before, including uneven parallel bars; pullies that flew across the ceiling as they held on to the handle and I held on to their legs; and parachutes, balls and hoops in an array of sizes.

We all now know that to stay healthy we need to exercise every day. If your children are in the habit of getting some activity when they are very young, it will be a routine that will stay with them throughout their lives. Organized sports are great, but not all kids are athletic, and not all parents are bought in to the rigors of their child being on a team. Playing soccer in the backyard, swinging on the swingset, tossing a ball back and forth, are all physical activities that will keep you and your children fit and healthy. And, they are lots of fun!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What if Your Child is Advanced or Gifted Even as a Toddler? Advice for Parents of Remarkable Children

Do you feel like your child is a quick learner, maybe ahead of the curve in relation to her peers? Did she walk sooner, talk earlier, do a cartwheel at 2, or recognize a picture of the President of the United States at 3? What do you do?

First, recognize that every child is remarkable in some way. There is something incredibly special in every little girl and boy. Even when I’ve taught a student who has pushed my buttons and disrupted the class, I have found something wonderful inside that child. Teachers and parents succeed when we are able to draw that goodness out, and help the child further develop those traits.

If your child stands out because she is able to pass regular milestones ahead of her peers, regard this great fortune with caution. In many cases, parents approach their teachers to point out this remarkable ability and ask what the teachers can do to nurture it. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, I know this, because I was that parent. It is with hindsight that I can share a personal story about the importance of perspective when you believe your child is truly gifted.

My youngest son had a very strong math mind at three years old. We discovered this strength when he used to play math games with his grandfather while riding in the car. Grandpa began asking him what one plus one equaled and then gradually made the problems more difficult. It got to the point where at three years old, he could add nine and eight in his head. When he moved on to the four year old program in preschool, my husband and I pointed this skill out to his teachers and asked what they could do to enhance his math abilities.

The teachers were very patient with us. They told us about the graphing and sequencing the class did to help all of the children learn pre-math skills. Then, they suggested that while our son was surely gifted in math, at four years old, their job was to help him succeed in many areas. Academics were important, but so were his speech skills, socialization, and other areas of development. They agreed that we should foster his interest in math, but felt that he might be better served working on that with us at home.

Their advice was right on target. Once he got into elementary school, there were opportunities for him to enhance his math skills. The enrichment teacher spent time with him each week, which kept him excited about the subject and allowed him to grow his skills. Now, in high school, he is still a strong math student, as are many other kids in his class.

The lesson I learned is that we want our children to be well rounded. Certainly, if they demonstrate excellence in a particular subject, we should allow and encourage them to continue to grow in that area. But, at four years old, there are so many other skills they need to learn and develop, that it is short sighted to spend too much time on just one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teaching a Toddler to Put on His own Coat: The Importance of Independence

Yesterday I urged parents to teach their toddlers skills at an early age, even if it is something that the parent can do much more quickly for her child. Here's an example of that....teaching your toddler how to put on his own coat.

This is one of the skills we teach the children fairly early in the year. Believe it or not, there are many steps involved in the process:
1. The child needs to be sure the sleeves aren’t inside out.
2. He must lay it out on the rug so that it’s wide open.
3. He must be sure he is standing at the hood or tag.
4. He needs to bend over so he can put his hands and part of his arms into the sleeves.
5. He now has to flip it over without it falling off his arms.
6. Finally, he pushes his arms completely into the sleeves, and voila!

For many kids, it only takes a couple of times before they have the motion down. The first several times they are successful, they shout “I did it!” with glee. They are so very proud of themselves.

Other kids have more trouble. One boy, Freddy, simply couldn’t remember that his hood needed to be between his legs. Therefore, every time he flipped the jacket over his head, it was upside down, with the hood trailing between his legs. For a few days, we told him that he had done a wonderful job putting his coat on all by himself, but it was upside down. We encouraged him to try it again the right way. Unfortunately, Freddy got really frustrated that he always had to flip his jacket a second time. So, one day, even though his coat was on upside down, we let him leave the classroom as he was. It wasn’t cold outside and his pride in putting on his jacket by himself seemed to outweigh the fact that it was on wrong.

Freddy’s mother, not understanding our motives, was unhappy that we let him leave the classroom with his coat on upside down. She initially believed that we just hadn’t noticed. My teaching partner invited Freddy’s mother to come into the classroom so she could explain why he was dressed that way. She told his mother about his frustration and how important we felt it was to encourage his success.

“Today, when we noticed that he was really struggling, we wanted him to know that we appreciated how hard he was trying and that he was being persistent,” she explained. "We thought it would be better for him to concentrate more on what he did right than what he did wrong. Today, we wanted him to have an opportunity to really feel good and not frustrated by what he had done.”

The teacher suggested that Freddy take his coat off and show his mother how he can put it on all by himself. She reminded him to stand with the hood between his legs. Voila! He put it on the right way. Now, both his mother and his teacher were praising his independence and telling him how proud they were that he put his coat on by himself. Sure, it would have been quicker for Freddy’s mother to put his coat on herself, but without trial and error, he’d never learn to do it on his own.

Give your kids the time and opportunity to try to do things for themselves. You have to be patient, and you have to encourage them to be patient as well. It takes practice to master any new skill, and for a toddler, it may take many tries for success.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Look! I Did it Myself! Teaching Children Independence

There is nothing sweeter than watching a child master a skill and know it. Whether it’s potty training, learning to put on a jacket by himself, tackling cutting skills, or understanding that blue and yellow make green each and every time, that ‘ah-ha’ moment is priceless. Of course, it takes lots of practice for most kids to master something new, and there are usually missteps along the way. Oftentimes, the child gets frustrated when a new task is difficult, yet learning perseverance is also part of the equation.

Sure, as parents we are all busy and there are many times when it is just easier for us to do things for our kids, instead of watching the painstaking process of them learning a new skill by themselves. But, ultimately, they must learn, and it often takes lots of practice to get it right.

According to Jean Thomas, MD, MSW, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at both The Children’s National Medical Center and The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, who is internationally known for early childhood diagnosis and treatment strategies, “Self-confidence grows from feeling your successes, and this is true in young children, older children, and adults. If we’ve done a good job at work, we’ve had a good day and feel proud of ourselves, and we know a little bit more about we’re going to do the next day. We’ve honed our skill. It’s the same thing for the child who has so many things new to learn. Pride motivates all of us to try harder and succeed again.”

With that in mind, give your child the time and patience he needs when figuring something out for the first time. When he gets it right, you will both be proud of his independence.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Parenting Advice: Teaching your Children Respect

My last day of vacation so I've included a post from last month in case you haven't seen it, about the importance of teaching your children respect, even when they are toddlers.

Something happened yesterday with my 15 year old that reminded me how important it is for parents to begin teaching their children respect when they are very young. My son and a couple of his friends, little men already at 5'10" with sprouting facial hair, and deep voices, had an encounter with some neighbors. The boys have cut through these people's property for the three years we've lived here, as a short-cut to the Bagel Shop across the street.

My son has chatted up the man who lives there, as he is usually on his riding mower or working in the yard. Yesterday, his wife came out and, to give my son's version, she started screaming at the boys for cutting through her property. He came home and told me about the encounter, and said that he and his friends just kept on walking.

About an hour later, this couple rang my doorbell. I had never met them before. They felt that the boys were disrespectful while she was trying to talk to them. They weren't upset about the cutting through, just about their view that the boys ignored her while she was speaking.

She was absolutely right. Both my son and I apologized and he explained that it wasn't his intention to ignore her. He was very sorry. Later, I picked up an impatien plant as a peace offering, and all three boys accompanied me to their home. This time, we took the long route instead of cutting through.

We rang the doorbell and this woman looked at the boys and plant and had the hugest smile on her face. The boys apologized again, and she was overwhelmed. She gave each of us a hug and thanked us for the gesture.

When I initially informed the boys that I couldn't make them come with me, but I thought it was the right thing to do, they moaned, groaned and obviously didn't want to come. Yet, on the way home, (this time cutting through the yards,) they thanked me for making them go. It was just really a nice human moment.

As a teacher, I have been disappointed to note the lack of manners so many of my students demonstrate. By three and four years old, they should be saying please and thank you on a regular basis. That is the exception in my experience, not the rule. I don't understand why this is happening. Manners are the basic form of respect.

In my classroom, the children learn very quickly that they must use good manners. Of course, there will be mistakes along the in the story about my 15 year old. Children model their parents' behaviors, so begin by using good manners at home. Trust me, teachers can tell which kids learn it at home and which don't.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Teaching Your Children How to do Basic Chores at Home

I had no idea how many parents don't teach their children the most basic household chores. I'm at my son's soccer tournament, a place where there is so much downtime that his teammates' parents become best temporary friends rather quickly. These are all terrific people....well educated, hard working, loving parents. Yet, when we got into the discussion of our kids doing their own laundry, most admitted that their 15 and 16 year olds were clueless in this area.

That was surprising to me. Kids can and should learn how to do basic chores, including the laundry, making their beds, setting the table, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, and even cooking an occassional meal. Eventually they will go off to college and get their own homes, and this stuff won't just come through osmosis.

How hard is doing laundry? You only need to show them how to separate out clothes the way you like to, find the appropriate settings, turn on the water and pour in the soap. There are many advantages to having your children helping out with the laundry....not only will it be an important lifelong skill, but when they become teenagers who insist that their "perfect" jeans or special new t-shirt mustn't shrink, they can take responsibility for hanging it up instead of throwing it in the dryer.

Parents need to teach their children how to survive on their own. There's enough stress for a kid when he goes away to school for the first time, learning how to care for himself shouldn't be a new experience.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Childhood: Too Much Too Soon? So says the USA Today

Today's USA Today said that nearly 6 in 10 mothers say children are growing up too fast. They attribute the major reasons for this trend to:
Allowing Internet use without supervision - 75%
Dressing kids in age-inappropriate clothing - 74%
Over-scheduling kids' lives - 63%
Giving kids cellphones - 59%

For parents of preschoolers, your kids surely don't have real cell phones yet, and while they may be wizards on the computer, they probably aren't using the Internet. As for age-inappropriate clothing, as toddlers the only thing that may be deemed inappropriate is having them not wearing clothing at all.

So, for your young kids, that leaves over-scheduling kids' lives. While I am a huge proponent of allowing kids to try many activities to see what they enjoy, I am a firm believer in being very careful that you don't get too carried away. From birth to one or two, Mommy and Me classes are a wonderful way to allow your child to interact with other kids their age, while giving you parents an opportunity to socialize with peers going through the same things you're experiencing. One class each week is perfect.

At three or four, your child might show interest in a physical activity, such as a little gym, soccer, dance, or karate. In some cases parents take part in these classes, but there are also options to watch your child as he enjoys these activities without you. Try one and see how your child does. Is he willing to walk in without you? Or, does he seem anxious and cry? Let him determine his comfort level. Assure him that you are on the other side of the window or door watching, and you can't wait to see him having fun with his friends. If you have a friend or neighbor who can join you, that should make him even more comfortable.

I advise parents to allow their children to explore different activities, some physical because exercise is important for every person, but other things too. He will make it clear what he likes, and is good at, and that will help steer the things you sign him up for as he gets older.

Just be careful not to have so many activities at once that he's too tired to appreciate each one individually. Spontaneous moments are often the most special ones for a child and his parent, and if you over-schedule, you won't have the opportunity to enjoy those incredible, unplanned moments.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

How to Communicate with your Child's Teacher

I'm on vacation, so here's an earlier entry about communicating with your child's teacher.

Inevitably, something goes wrong that causes ruffled feathers among a parent or teacher, or in the worst case, both. If left alone, this miscommunication can fester and grow, and affect the relationship between the parent and teacher. There is no reason that this has to happen. Communication, quickly, and honestly, is the key to getting back on a positive track.

Here's a true story that happened to one of my colleagues:

During the summer camp program, tots come to play games, sing songs, cook, and wade in shallow pools. One summer, during the third day of camp in the two year old program, one of my colleagues gathered together her students’ things to go out to the pool. When she pulled one child’s towel out of her backpack, she discovered that it had been written on in indelible red magic marker. To her surprise and dismay, she read a note that said, “Dear teachers, I do not like to leave camp all muddy and wet. Signed, Rachel’s towel.”

Not believing her eyes, the teacher showed the towel to her teaching partner. Was this for real? As they watched their charges paddling around in shallow pools, they discussed how to handle the situation. They noticed the muddy areas that surrounded the wading pools but acknowledged that there really wasn’t an easy solution. The way it worked was that each morning the maintenance staff would fill a couple of kiddie pools with just enough water that the kids could cool off, have some fun splashing, and get used to “swimming.” After about 15 minutes of this wet fun, the kids would leave the pools and sit on the towels they had laid out under a tent. There, they could dry off while singing songs, playing games and socializing with their peers.

For health reasons, the pools had to be dumped after every class and refilled, which happened probably a half dozen times each day. The way the ground was graded, eventually the water formed puddles because the ground could only drain so much. The kids were corralled under a tented area and oftentimes the water found its way to that spot. Hence, Rachel’s muddy, wet towel.

Rachel’s mother didn’t pick her up from camp that day, so the teachers decided to wait until the next day to address the note. When the little girl arrived, there was another note in her backpack, this time on paper. It read, “How can you women who are mothers put up with this mess? Rachel’s towel comes home dirty every day. As teachers, don’t you feel you have the obligation to prevent it from coming home in that condition?”

The teachers did not share this mother’s view about the situation. They responded in a return note which explained that the area does get muddy at times, though they try to avoid those particular spots. Some kids may drop their towels in the mud or flop down in a wet area - they are only two years old! But it’s important for the children to have a chance to dry outdoors in an area safely protected from the sun, even if that area occasionally gets muddy. It’s equally important for them to be able to wrap their towels around their wet bodies when they walk back into the air conditioned building so they don’t freeze.

The teachers reminded this mother that from the beginning they had urged the parents to send in thrift store towels or old ones ready for the rag bag, knowing that they’d get dirty. They pointed out that it was more important that the children get to enjoy swimming and playing outside than have to stay in because their towels may get messy.

Rachel never seemed to mind if her towel got muddy or wet. She was a happy child who loved the water. Ultimately, the teachers suggested that her mother send in a terry cloth robe that they could put on Rachel while she walked back into the building. That would certainly keep her towel drier. As for the mud, they did the best they could. The irony is that mud washes out, permanent marker does not!

In the end, there were bad feelings on both sides, but that didn’t need to happen. The mother could have found a far better way to communicate her feelings. She immediately put the teachers on the defensive by using the towel as her means for communication. She also personally insulted them by suggesting that as mothers they should know better and that the situation was their fault.

The teachers might have nipped the situation in the bud if they had called the mother as soon as they read her note. Though they recognized her concerns and ultimately addressed them to her satisfaction, the experience would have been more positive had it been handled differently. What if Rachel’s mother had called or stopped by at the beginning or end of the day to rationally discuss the problem? She might have asked the teachers what the pool procedure was to understand why the situation was happening. She even could have come into camp to actually see the pool process in action. That would allow her to tell them that she recognized the problem but had a suggestion for how to handle it.

It is essential that parents and teachers form a partnership in order to most effectively meet the children’s needs. The key to that partnership is communication and that is most effective from the person’s mouth. Remember, teachers are people too, and most of us are also parents. We will listen to your concerns and find a satisfactory solution. The bottom line is that we all only want what is best for your child.

Please share with me a communication problem you experienced and how you resolved it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Can't Get Your Child in the Classroom Door? Ways to Make the Back to School Transition Easier

On one hand, summer seems to be dragging on and you are looking forward to school starting again. Yet, your toddler spent the first three weeks of school last year feeling anxious and crying and you can't stomach the thought of going through that again. There are things you can do now to help prepare your little one to make the transition easier.

For starters, go visit school. If there's a summer camp program there, even better. Choose a time when kids will be on the playground and take your child to see how much fun they are having. If possible, ask the Preschool Director if she can tell you who your child's teacher will be, and if that teacher is there in the summer, take your child in to meet her. If not, let him bring cookies or flowers into the secretary or gym teacher or someone else who will be a familiar face come September. It's all about making him feel comfortable.

Then, give him something to be excited about. If you know the classroom he will be in, take him in to see it. Find a specific toy, stuffed animal, poster, or some object that he is attracted to, and give it a special name. Find something about that object that you and he can have a "secret" about, and remind him that you can't wait until he gets to school so he can see it again.

Go shopping and choose a backpack with your child's favorite character on it that he will be proud to show off in school. Let him pick it out (if you are worried about his selection, give him two choices that you approve, but let him decide which one.) Do the same for his back to school outfit. The night before school starts, lay his clothes out (that he has chosen) and encourage him to dress himself in his special new duds.

The more your child feels that he is part of the process, the more comfortable he will feel, and the easier his transition will be.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Toddler Discipline: The Importance of Following Through

I find that, in general, parents are indulging their children more now than ever, and when it comes to disciplining their toddler, they neglect to follow through. For various reasons, they seem to find it difficult to say no to their child, even though they know they should. This behavior sets a bad precedent because it will make discipline even more difficult as the children get older, when he may encounter more dangerous situations.

Children need rules and structure and they must know that there are limits for their own well-being. Parents must teach their children these rules, and then they need to enforce them. As a parent, you are responsible for your children’s safety, and it is your job to teach them how to be able to function cooperatively in society.

Some parents can’t say no because they want to be best friends with their child and don’t want their little one to be angry or disappointed. One such mother recognized that she should put her foot down more often, but worked to avoid these situations instead of addressing them. So, when we were selling pretzels in the school lobby as a fundraiser, this mother felt obligated to buy her son a pretzel every day after school.

“I object to your selling pretzels,” she told the fundraiser coordinator. “My kid comes out every day and wants a pretzel. I say no, but he carries on and I have to buy him one. Then he’s not hungry for lunch.”

Needless to say, her protests fell on deaf ears. It would have been a far greater lesson for her son had she told him that just because the pretzels are there, it doesn’t mean they have to buy one. It is almost lunch time and if he eats a big pretzel now, he won’t be hungry for lunch. As a special treat, she’ll buy him a pretzel on Friday, as a reward for being a good boy all week and not asking for a pretzel every day.

You can say no to your child and still have him love and respect you. You are his parent, not his best friend. Learning to discipline your child when he is very young, and understanding the importance of following through on a punishment, will serve you and your child well throughout his life.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Developing Fine Motor Skills in Art: Process Not Product

Summer is the perfect time to create projects with your kids, all the while helping them develop stronger fine motor skills through toddler art. Though you want them to do you proud when you hang them on the fridge, keep in mind that it's not the finished product that's important. There are three basic goals children should achieve when making any project: 1) be creative, 2) learn about using different mediums, and 3) develop their fine motor skills.

The children in our class create some kind of project every day. Most of the time, we hang their work in the hall for a week or two before sending it home. The students take great pride in their artwork and the parents enjoy seeing what the children have made.

While we offer suggestions regarding how the students might make a particular project, we are not concerned with the finished product. That is secondary to the process of achieving those three goals. My favorite projects are those that encourage so much creativity, that other than using the same medium, no two children’s pictures look anything alike.

Whenever possible, we allow the children to choose the color paper or paint they’d like to use. Of course, there are only so many choices available to them, but this fosters decision making. If we are offering four colors of construction paper, and a particular color runs out, some children must make a second choice. This provides a lesson in not always getting what you want, and forces them to make another decision.

Some children love to make art projects and can spend a full fifteen minutes on their craft. They are meticulous about coloring in the lines, and using colors that make sense to them, such as green trees or a yellow sun. When making the Cat in the Hat’s hat, these students insist that the stripes must be in the correct pattern - red, white, red, white - and they work fastidiously to fill the entire hat.

Other children would much rather be playing than creating. We do our projects individually, with a teacher working with just one or two children at a time. The rest of the kids are enjoying free play throughout the classroom. For some kids, it’s very hard to concentrate on putting stickers on a page, when another child is playing with his favorite truck. So, while every child must make the project of the day, the amount of time he chooses to spend on it is up to him. If a child would much rather be playing, he is likely to scribble all over a picture instead of worrying about coloring in the lines, or he might choose to apply three stickers instead of eight. That’s all fine as long as he completes the task at hand. It is not about the finished product, but the process it took to get there.

So for the remainder of the summer, encourage your child to practice cutting - a very important and difficult skill; coloring - great for fine motor skill development; and being creative. Just don't get hung up on the finished product.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bike Helmet Safety and Bike Helmet Laws for Kids

Yesterday I talked about when to teach your little one to ride a bike. Today I want to talk about helmets. Even though teens don't have to wear helmets by law (check out for the law in your state,)they absolutely should.

My kids were never allowed to ride without a helmet at any age, a family rule that caused much fighting during their formative teenage years. My one son was even pulled over by the police on several occassions, and rewarded with a coupon for a free ice cream cone because he was wearing a helmet. How devestating for a 14 year old! His friends didn't have to wear a helmet and he was mortified to be the only one who did.

Here are a few statistics from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute:
The "typical" bicyclist killed on our roads is a sober male over 16 not wearing a helmet riding on a major road between intersections in an urban area on a summer evening when hit by a car.

About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year. Of those, about 67,000 have head injuries, and 27,000 have injuries serious enough to be hospitalized.

Non-helmeted riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than helmeted riders.

If your child learns to ride a bike and part of that lesson includes the fact that she must wear a helmet, she will recognize that this is part of bike riding forever. Being cool is not nearly enough of a trade-off compared to the risks of not wearing a helmet.

Check these out at the Malvern School of Washington Township:
Tuesday, August 11, 2009- “Spend the Day in Pre-K” and “Sneak a Peek at Preschool” with the Music Man visiting at 10am
Wednesday, August 19, 2009-“Come and Play for a Day with the Toddlers” with Mister Softee visiting at 11am.

The address is:
The Malvern School of Washington Township
329 Greentree Road
Sewell, NJ 08080

Monday, August 3, 2009

When to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike

When is the right time to take off the training wheels and teach your child how to ride her own two-wheeler? It may never be easy, but once your child learns, it's a skill she'll have for her whole life. This weekend we were at the shore with a group of friends and when it came time for the morning bike ride, one of the women, now in her mid-40's, admitted that she never learned how to ride a bike. It was a shame because she missed out on a beautiful, healthy, fun morning activity.

According the American Academy of Pediatrics:

1. Do not push your child to ride a 2-wheeled bike until he or she is ready, at about age 5 or 6. Consider the child's coordination and desire to learn to ride. Stick with coaster brakes until your child is older and more experienced.

2. Take your child with you when you shop for the bike, so that he or she can try it out. The value of a properly fitting bike far outweighs the value of surprising your child with a new bike.

3. Buy a bike that is the right size, not one your child has to "grow into." Oversized bikes are especially dangerous.

4. How to test any style of bike for proper fit:

a. Sitting on the seat with hands on the handlebar, your child must be able to place the balls of both feet on the ground.
b. Straddling the center bar, your child should be able to stand with both feet flat on the ground with about a 1-inch clearance between the crotch and the bar.
c. When buying a bike with hand brakes for an older child, make sure that the child can comfortably grasp the brakes and apply sufficient pressure to stop the bike.

5. A helmet should be standard equipment. Whenever buying a bike, be sure you have a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)-approved helmet for your child.

The process of teaching your child to ride his first two-wheeler likely won't be easy. There will be some frustration on both your parts and maybe a few tears (on both your parts!) but persevere! It will be well worth the effort when he can ride with his friends year after year after year.