Listen in to this important roundtable discussion held this past Friday on homeschooling and how different families are meeting their children’s educational needs.
It’s funny I had just posted yesterday about not wanting someone to film me in my day to day life because of the clutter in my home and this article by Anna Bashedly pops into my Facebook news feed. I grew up in a home where children were seen and not heard and we each had chores that had to do with keeping the house clean. As the only girl I spent more hours that I’d like to remember doing dishes for a house of six people, dusting as well as keeping my room clean as my assigned chores. Today I despise doing dishes (unless I’m at someone else’s house) to the extent that I would rather go to the store to purchase dish washer detergent before I’d tackle a sink full of dishes by hand. Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that ten years as the household dishwasher has brought me to this point! The ironic thing about being the “duster” of the family is that twenty years ago I found out that dust and mold are my major allergens and being around a large quantity of either can give me a full blown allergic reaction. I have to wear a contractor’s dust mask to clean my house. I say this all to say that I am not a neat freak, I usually hire someone to clean my home and I was afraid I had passed my disdain for cleaning to my children. I felt guilty until I learned about the connection between gifted and talented minds and what others see as clutter.
I once attended a conference sponsored by S.E.N.G. Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted to get insight into my son who at the age of four figured out how to count to 400 in Mandarin. One of the speakers spoke to us parents about not shaming our children because their rooms appeared to be “messy” all of the time. He told us that creative minds cannot start with a blank canvas and that what seems like clutter to us is inspiration and organization to them. I specifically remember him saying “unless there’s an old moldy slice of pizza under the bed, shut the door and leave his room alone!”. It’s a struggle but I do exactly that. Every few weeks I survey his room when he’s not there for moldy food and so far so good. I don’t invade his room, I ask him to collect his dirty clothes and bring them down to be washed, and I ask that he leave a path to the closet so I can use it for storage. I remember trying to “tidy up” his room and he would get so frustrated because although it looked like piles to me, he had his own method of organization and if I asked him to get something out of his room, he knew exactly where to go to put his fingers on it. I used to worry that I was creating a nightmare for his future wife but now I realize that allowing creative space for him to discover the cure for cancer is a better use of my concerns for his future.
So, my eight year old daughter decided she didn’t want to eat meat. She came into my bedroom one morning and announced it unexpectedly, and I listened and placed it into that small area in my brain to review later. It was by the way, the day before Thanksgiving and I just knew that she would reserve her stance for after the day of gluttony. Or so I thought.
My daughter is such a sensitive and loving child and has a very nurturing and innate connection to all of life’s creatures. She once brought what she thought was a caterpillar into the house to help it’s transformation, and we soon found out that it was a silkworm, not a caterpillar! Nevertheless she wanted to care for it I and found myself going to the local Arboretum to purchase a bug house for the tiny thing. I remember as a toddler the look on my daughter’s face when she realized I was cooking a small chicken in the oven that was once alive. “Mommy, are you cooking a baby chicken?” she asked me. I knew from then we would one day have this conversation. I had to laugh at first at the irony because I had nausea every single day she was in my womb and the only food that I could keep down was red meat, which I had stopped eating years prior to my pregnancy for other reasons.
Nevertheless the day progressed and we traveled to my Aunt Daisy’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. My aunt is a fabulous cook and laid a spread of food that spanned two rooms with every meat and side dish that you could imagine. I watched partly surprised yet proud that with all of the choices in front of her, my daughter packed her plate with salad, macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes. When I saw her plate, forgetting about her proclamation a few days ago, I asked her if she wanted turkey. She was not tempted, and with a smile said “no Mommy” and walked to the table to sit down. I was speechless. I was surprised. I was proud. I was honestly a bit worried about how she could support her growing body without meat. It was then that she told me that she would eat seafood, but no other meat and I told her that I would completely support her. She gave me a big hug, said “you are the best Mommy ever” which she says often unless she’s not getting her way, and went to play with the other children.
I had no clue what to do from there. My son loves any kind of meat, and he’s a growing thirteen year old playing sports so I respect his choices. I eat fish and chicken but both baked and she eats only fish. All I could think about was how challenging it will be to stock the refrigerator and cook meals when both kids eat different things. It has been a learning experience for me and other than one bite of a turkey meatball, she has kept to her pledge since November 25th and I applaud her. I pack salads topped with strawberries, whole grain or protein bars, yogurt, hummus and chips, macaroni and cheese, tuna sandwiches and spinach quiche for lunch. She loves vegetables, hummus, fruit and yogurt so my only concern is getting enough protein in her diet. She loves cheese and scrambled eggs so she’s not willing to omit that at this time but it’s her journey and her choices to make today and change in the future as she would like. I’m thankful for friends who are vegetarians for sending me great ideas and recipes and I love that there are options for Tofurkey and other “meatless” chicken fingers and meatballs with great flavoring that even fool my son! I am learning about more healthy options for dinner and lunch and even snacks for her and she is feeling supported and learning about making good choices as well.
Isn’t it something how we think we are supporting and teaching and one day we realize that our children are truly the teachers?
What are some of your kid’s favorite meatless dishes?
As a child born right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, exactly six months after the assassination of Malcolm X, I have only my parent’s memories of those horrific and powerful moments in American history. When I started seeing the trailers for the Selma Movie I immediately felt the energy of the movement pour into me from the visual presence of powerful African-Americans moving forward in spite of the immense opposition. The pictures are always so powerful, and tell the stories that are starting to fade with the passing of each legendary activist and committed ancestor. As a woman I was both surprised and proud to see that this major motion picture was directed by Ava DuVernay who was also of African descent and extremely accomplished. I was excited and couldn’t wait to take the kids to see this film! I assumed that it, like the few MLK movies made for TV, would be rated PG and I set off immediately to secure tickets for us to see it after we volunteered on Martin Luther King Day. I was proud of myself for being so proactive until I saw that it was rated PG13. My heart dropped. My son was twelve and soon to be thirteen in a few months, but my daughter was seven and a half at most. Did I really have to deny her the opportunity to experience this African-American female director’s opportunity to tell the story of the March to Selma? Did she have to sit and listen to stories like I did as a young child never seeing the beauty and ugliness of those who both fought for and stood ignorantly in the way of universal love and freedom? I was torn between my own strong emotions about the project and being a responsible parent. My daughter, a very sensitive and loving soul was also practically begging me (no, literally) to take her to see the movie. I decided to poll my friends in social media who are teachers, parents, directors, storytellers and activists for their opinions in order for me make the best decision. Surprisingly I didn’t receive a resounding “YES, you should definitely take her” from the majority of those polled, but I took all of the suggestions and comments to heart and eventually decided to take her to see Selma. These are the reasons why I chose to ignore the film rating and take her anyway:
- She is the granddaughter and daughter of storytellers: My father wrote great short essays about his experiences growing up a young black boy in the fifties as well as experiences in the Air Force and the emotions and struggles that followed him into his adult life. Unfortunately he never published any of them. I started writing poetry in third grade and am just starting to tell stories that have been waiting to come out. My daughter is watching and may one day be a great writer too and I think it’s important for her to see stories unfold in front of her eyes. It’s her legacy, her reality and too important of a story to exclude from her growing library.
- She begged me: It was a different plea than the one I get a the toy store. My daughter has learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and other great men and women in American history and she wanted to know more. I thought about one friend’s comment about how she is “my child” and how she has been listening to and enchanted by storytellers since she was an infant. Some things you just do by instinct, but she was right. I even had a storyteller at my son’s 5th birthday while my daughter watched from her baby carrier. After enduring too many “please Mommy”, how could I argue?
- I prepared her ahead of time: A few of my friends warned me that there were a few graphic moments in the film, especially in the beginning that could be too harsh for someone her age but felt that with the right preparation and conversation beforehand she could handle it. My daughter promised me that she wouldn’t be scared and she wasn’t going to have nightmares and that she wanted to see anything that involved “her people and their struggle and Martin Luther King”. So I Googled “Bloody Selma” and sat next to her while she viewed the actual footage from the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge and she didn’t flinch. As I watched I realized that children such as my father and mother birthed in the midst of segregation didn’t have the option of being sheltered from the brutality of their oppressors.
- She would walk out more proud of her ancestors’ strength and perseverance: I did get a few strange looks when I walked into the theater with her in tow and I just knew every parent secretly shamed me. I even started to doubt my decision after the opening scene (which was both powerful, shocking and necessary) but when the movie ended and she turned to me with a big smile on her face and said “that was awesome!” I knew that I had made the best decision for her. Not only did she get to see images of courageous women of color in both strong and supporting roles, she saw them fight for their men, children and communities in a way that is not depicted in history books and definitely not on the Disney channel. The Civil Rights struggle was told from a different angle and with a different voice all guided by the vision of a female director and producer of African descent. Definitely a teachable moment!
Of course you have to take all of these factors into consideration before choosing to take your younger child to see this PG13 movie. I have to admit even with her excitement over seeing Selma I was worried that she would have nightmares, but none came. There was also one moment where my Mom instinct kicked in and I covered her eyes, but she abruptly moved my hand! The sad truth is, our kids are so exposed to brutality, injustice and violence today, that ‘Bloody Selma’ is not as jarring as we would expect. We cannot expect our children to reflect the qualities that we do not mirror back to them. Sometimes we are the mirror, sometimes it appears in the form of a book, a writer or motion picture but I believe it has to be done by any means necessary.
My children started school today, and all around the country there are parents buying school supplies, new clothes, bookbags and countless electronic devices in order to prepare their children for the new school year. We spend so much time and money getting the “things” we need, but what is just as important for me is knowing the teachers, administrators and other support staff who influence the intellect and emotional health of my children for the majority of their day. As fortunate as we are to have access to a noteworthy school district and staff, I am still very aware that my children will be surrounded by children who will not look like them, teachers who will not look like them and more than likely the only people of color they will see are in the cafeteria or cleaning up after them throughout the day. It’s unfortunate that most of those in the schools they attend have never had the experience of being a “minority” or having a close relationship with someone of another ethnicity or religion. These truths concern me more than whether they have the correct number of sharpened pencils. Each year as August comes to a close, I being to make my presence known to those who will hold my children’s hearts and brains captive for six or seven hours each day. I have had enough experiences throughout the years with school systems (both public and private) and have learned the hard way that everyone hired as a teacher/administrator does not necessarily have my child’s best interest at heart. I will share a few tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned that have helped me get the school year off to a great start:
- Take advantage of your access to teachers the week before school starts : Most of your child’s teachers are at school the week prior to the first day of school, preparing their classroom for the kids as well as any open house events happening in the school. Take advantage of this time that they will be able to read email without interruption and send a quick “Hello, I’m XYZ’s parent, nice to meet you” email. This is a great time to quickly mention any emotions your child has about the new year as well as any emotional, intellectual or health issues that may challenge the teacher, good or not so good. The email I send for my middle schooler is much shorter than the one for my second grader, and if it is a new teacher, I also will attach my “This is My Kid” note to the email which I’ll explain below.
- Type up a one or two paragraph note about your child that you can update from year to year: I started it in Preschool because it was requested by one of the teachers, and I’ve kept it up each year. Some people may think it’s too much but I believe that someone who has my child’s time and attention for the majority of their waking hours should know more about them than their name and address. I include a little about their favorite things and subjects, but more importantly, what helps them transition, how they handle change, any allergies or health issues, any extraordinary emotional issues that may distract them as well as what motivates them to learn. I have found that their teachers have really found the information to be extremely helpful.
- Make every open house and/or back to school night: I know, who wants to work all day, fight traffic to get home to get dinner and then go back out at night to the school. Ugh! Not my favorite thing to do, but a great way to show not only the teachers, but your child that you have a vested interest in their happiness and success in school. You’re showing them that you care about where they sit, who they interact with, how long it takes to get from class to class and what books they use. You get to put a face to the teacher’s names, see how their teacher interacts with their students and feel their energy (yes, I said it…but energy transfers to your kid). It’s also a subtle message to those who interact with your student that you care about what’s going on at school and that you are ready and willing to work together as a team to make sure it’s a good experience for your child. I can’t stress how important this is. Your presence is a powerful statement.
- Keep a folder for each child: The beginning of the year causes an influx of paperwork and procedures that make my head spin! When I purchase their school supplies, I also purchase a two-pocket folder for the year that I use to keep track of all of the correspondence from their school. One side has paperwork etc that I need to act on and return to school, and the other side has information I need to keep such as school procedures, daily schedules, calendars, teacher contact information, report cards and any other teacher correspondence that I need to refer to throughout the year. Whew! I get exhausted just thinking about it, so the folder helps, believe me!
- Don’t assume everyone has your child’s best interest at heart: I can’t stress this one enough. I was paying for my son to attend a Montessori school that refused to customize his educational goals even after he achieved a 99 percentile on the IQ test administered by the State. The director wouldn’t even discuss his score with me and that was the last year he attended that school. Don’t assume that your child’s teacher is not biased just because he/she is a teacher; don’t assume your child’s teacher has ever had diversity training, don’t assume the social studies class will teach the truth about American History, don’t assume that your child will be treated fairly or even better because he/she is gifted or “bright”. Don’t assume that your child is being treated fairly. Talk to your children about their day, let them know how they should be treated and teach them to have the same expectations of their teachers. Hold their teachers accountable and make them aware of your expectations, just as they make their expectations clear to the students at the beginning of the year. Stay abreast of your child’s progress and don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send an email if you feel they are not receiving the help/support or enhancement that they need to succeed. Check out the school website, and take the time to get information about any awards, special programs or scholarships for which your son/daughter may be eligible. I have had several situations where their teacher did not nominated them. I must say that I have been fortunate to have had wonderful experiences in our school district, but there have been a few who have been a challenge.
- Help your child look forward to their first day: Both of my children were nervous about their first day, but I try to set up some fun activities the week before school starts as an attempt to lessen the anxiety. If there is an Open House at their school, I attend it with them. If their teacher sends a welcome letter, I share it with them and ask them how it makes them feel. We go to the store and they each get to pick out a “have a great school year” gift or other small token; it serves as a constant reminder of my support of and belief in them. Of course there’s the back to school day outfit that they get to pick out and on the morning of their first day of school, I add something special to their breakfast. The evening of their first day, we go out to a celebratory dinner, whether it be pizza or someplace a more classy, they get to pick and even dress up if they’d like. It gives us a chance to talk about their day and serves as my way of showing them how important their education is to me and that I share their excitement.
After you do all of the above, go to your nearest coffee shop or masseuse (or both!) and celebrate yourself for the amazing job you’ve done to get them and their brains in good hands! I hope these tidbits have helped. Please feel free to comment and add any methods that help your child/ren get off to a positive start. Wishing you a successful school year!
My son recently had the opportunity to attend the summer science institute, a program at The Franklin Institute. He LOVES science and math and thrives in those environments so although it would have meant a 40 minute drive into the city and back each day, I was willing to make the sacrifice for him as an investment in his future. By God’s grace, my youngest brother, who also travels into the city every day for work offered to have him stay with him during the week and he would be responsible for transporting him back and forth to camp. What a relief! If my tween was going to experience being away from home for the first time, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation than for him to be with a family member who just happens to have a houseful of boys for him to hang with. Win. Win.
Well, he had the time of his life visiting waste management plants, meeting kids his age, working with petri dishes and laughing with his Uncle “T”. I missed him but as an independent mom, I am learning to let go and trust the village and accept that there are lessons that I cannot teach him. Sometimes the village is family, and sometimes it comes in the form of an unexpected phone call from a major museum about a subsidized science program that is the perfect fit for my kid. I accept it all and give thanks.
In the meantime, I spent some much-needed quality time with my daughter. We have a special bond, but because of some other issues going on in her life she has a yearning for nurturing that I normally have to divide between the two children. We did the typical girlie things and talked about her beauty, her gifts and how to respond to girls who laugh at her hair when she wears it out in a curly natural style (I’ll tackle that subject in another post!). We took ‘selfies’ and the Black Girls Rock t-shirts that I ordered the previous week came in the mail and she said that she felt like we were sisters. Win. Win.
When my son came home, full of testosterone and erupting with information about his two weeks at science camp and spending time with his uncle, aunt and cousins he was surprisingly clingy. He had a ball but actually missed his nagging mom and his overly dramatic sister! We’ve since spent many an evening with him huddled up next to me on the couch after I tucked his sister into bed, watching anything from Transformers to the Cooking channel. He is really a great kid, and extremely bright but the reality is that too many kids just like him go missing, get lost in foster care or the criminal system, or just expire on the streets. And although we live in the suburbs which lowers his risk somewhat he as a young, gifted black boy is still very much a target. So when I recently came across this website, Save Black Boys.org, and saw the t-shirts, I thought of the matching shirts worn by my daughter and myself the previous week. What better way to show my love and support of my son and to keep our boys in the forefront of the minds of all that meet us, than to get matching t-shirts for my son and I as well. We all need to save our black boys; they too are America’s promise. They too hold the key to making this a great nation. Each time we lose one, we lose ourselves because we all are one. We need to save them from being racially profiled, save their minds, save their souls, save their self-esteem, save their pride, save their brilliance, save their masculinity, save their lives. What will you do to show them that we care? How will we save them? If you don’t have time to write your congressman, mentor, start an non profit or teach, you can show your solidarity. I am not connected to this program in any way, I just love their boldness and the shirt is nice too! 🙂
Get yours here:
Wow..thanks to American Promise for this information!
Well, it’s the second week of July and I can’t believe we’re half way through the summer! It’s difficult to achieve the correct balance between fun and learning during the school year since there is so little time, so I am always searching for ways to incorporate both during the summer months. Rare is the child who actually wants to learn during the summer – they feel that it’s their time “off” from school and the mere suggestion of doing anything, including getting up early for camp results in huffs and puffs and why’s and ‘why can’t we’s. And that’s when I remind them that they have off from school, but mom still has to work! Fortunately, I have some flexibility with my work schedule, so I try to sign them up for mostly afternoon camps and use the morning as time to do other activities. My daughter is artistically talented and my son is academically talented so it’s more than a challenge to find something that they both enjoy at the same time. But I love a challenge, and I pride myself in finding and creating mini-adventures that we can take during the summer, aside from the normal museums, summer festivals, parks and playgrounds. We have some fun times and I always try to end the summer with a vacation at the beach which gives them solace and serves as a huge incentive to complain less and listen more. For the past few years, I’ve found it works best if at the beginning of summer, I lay the ground rules for our summer days and I thought I’d share them with you:
- Reading Comes First – My kids know the #1 house rule is that no electronics are turned on until they’ve completed at least 30 minutes of reading. It’s not a popular rule, but it keeps their brain exercised and gives me at least 30 minutes of peace and quiet in the morning! The way I make this fun is to take them on a trip to the book store at the beginning of the summer, give them a budget and let them pick out anything they’d like. Two books have to be on their school reading list and the other two can be anything from a journal to a comic book or anything inbetween. We also visit the free library several times throughout the summer. My son loves to read so it’s not an issue with him so much; my daughter would rather have her teeth pulled. She didn’t want to feel like she was still in school, so with her I decided to take another angle. I showed her that she could log her reading time on the Media Upper Providence Free Library website and get prizes and she has been excited ever since.
- Exercise – The other rule is that they (we) have to get in at least an hour of exercise, and since we have a large trampoline in our yard it’s usually the first choice. They also have the option of riding their bikes, going to the nearby playground, gardening or playing in our yard. On rainy days I throw a big towel near the back door, put their rain boots and coats on them and let them make mud pies and search for rain puddles. The also have the option of playing Wii Sports or Just Dance, or we head to the Local YMCA to swim. If they resist I remind them that I will be happy to find them other options like washing laundry, vacuuming their room or emptying the dishwasher, which usually gets them out the door quickly!
- LImited Computer/TV Time – My fifth grade teacher used to remind us that the same shows that come on in the school year are shown as repeats during the summer…and she was right! During the school week the television is on maybe for an hour a night, so they tend to overdose during the summer. It is summer, so I will allow more staring at the tube longer than usual, but after the first hour, it’s time to take a break and do something else. The computer can sometimes be a welcome escape, but also an information overload, especially for intense personalities, so I encourage it to be used mostly for playing math games, Free Rice which helps them learn vocabulary as well as help to end world hunger and reading books on Storia or Kindle. They get to spend an hour or so at the beginning of the summer researching the internet for the best kids websites for the subjects that interest them. Hoagie’s Gifted website is a great starting point for such discovery.
- Summer Wish Jar – Last year I started a summer wish jar. I gave the kids about five pieces of paper each and gave them time to think of things that they’d like to do during the summer that we normally don’t have time to do. The wishes can range from spending the day in their PJs to a nature walk in the park, to a day at the beach. I let them know that it cannot be anything extremely expensive and we will most likely not have time for everything but it gives me a good idea of what they’d like to do before September arrives. I am always touched when I see a paper that says “movie with mom” or something similar, and those nights popping popcorn and staying home make some of the most indelible summer memories!
- Summer Journal – Every few weeks, to help them keep up with their writing skills, I encourage them to write about their summer (good or bad) thus far. I give them the choice of whether they want me to read it, or keep it private (although I usually read it anyway), and it’s a pressure-free way to keep them writing during the summer.
- Forget the Rules Days – Yes, I try to buy organic, gluten free, infuse reading, exercise and teachable moments into their summers but every once in a while, I have an impromptu, forget the rules day. They kids never know when it’s coming, but I may take a day off from work and we stay in our pjs, watch way too much television and order take out all day. Or we all put on our rainboots and I drive around the town like a flash mob looking for the largest puddles. The other night, after I came home from work and fixed a healthy, gluten-free dinner, I announced that we were going to take a quick run to the Wawa before the thunderstorm passed through and everyone could pick their favorite dessert. When we got home, I suggested we all climb up on the trampoline to eat our goodies and watch the cloud formations. My kids looked at me in disbelief but were so excited to see me climb up, lay back and gaze at the clouds. They forget that I too was a child. And the best part of being a parent is that if you let them be children, they will always help you remember and guide you back to that special place of childhood wonder.
Everyone carries memories of their childhood with them throughout their life, and although I can’t shield them from the stresses and disappointments in life, my wish is that their good memories outweigh the bad. The challenge is finding the balance between being a responsible adult/parent while allowing them to be perfectly children. And while you are doing that, you are teaching them more than reading, writing and arithmetic, you are also teaching one of life’s most valuable lessons..balance.
How do you plan to make summer learning fun for your children?