Ahh….Elementary School Art Projects…Love ‘em

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I volunteer at my children’s school and it is so refreshing. Children have a way of putting your life in perspective that you could never do on your own.
I volunteer with reading assessment in my son’s second grade classroom. The kids are doing so well and it is encouraging to watch their progress from week to week. Each of them is becoming a fluent reader. It’s a fantastic experience and I’m so glad to be a part of it.
My daughter’s class is working on a huge project in art class. They are creating animals out of milk jugs, egg cartons, newspaper, and toilet paper rolls. They will add masking tape and paint to complete their projects. The teacher showed us a few projects from last year and they are spectacular. It is so wonderful to walk into controlled chaos and “good” noise going on in class. Each child is engrossed in her project and it shows. Moms are there to help with cutting and placement of eyes and ears and whatever else is necessary to help the kids along.
I am most glad, however, to be engaged in my own children’s educational experience. I am fortunate to be able to be involved in both of their classes. I think it is going to make a big difference–especially in our current situation. The most important thing is that they know that I love them and I am there for them. They know that already, but seeing Mom in class reinforces that knowledge and that is important right now. Plus, I get the added benefit of helping kids and feeling some kind of fulfillment in my life.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend…..

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Who knew the sound of silence could be so loud? It seems to reverberate through the house–especially at night. It’s surreal to try to acclimate to a new normal. Transitions are difficult on everyone–especially children. There are tantrums and outbursts and crying…..and then there’s the kids. Stop–I’m kidding. Transitions are hard. There is much uncertainty about the future. But, it will pass, there will be sunshine again, and the world will seem right again. But, “time” takes time. So, until then, we write, we listen to our music, and we are brave for our children so that they can see stability and strength in a time of crisis. Then, they will grow up to exhibit the same qualities, and hopefully never find themselves in the same situation.

Chain Reaction Of An Action

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Life can and does sometimes change in an instant. We’ve all heard it a thousand times and nodded our heads in obedient agreement. Few of us ever truly experience the phrase. There is no need for details. Anyway, every situation differs. What remains constant is that for every action there is a reaction. A bad action is sure to cause a chain reaction of negative events. Think before you act. There are consequences to be paid and sometimes the innocents are the ones who suffer the most because of your stupidity. That “ever so brief” moment of humanity I wrote about yesterday turned out to be more brief than I imagined.

Who Knew Bowling Could Be So Much Fun?

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Grayson with the "7"

Grayson with the “7″


I went on a date the other night……with my son:) My husband took my daughter to the Father/Daughter dance at the school.
Father/Daughter Dance 2013

Father/Daughter Dance 2013


So, I asked Grayson what he wanted to do while they danced the night away. He told me he wanted to go bowling. We set out to bIowl and play games at around 5:45. When I tell you the next three hours literally flew by, I am not exaggerating! I had more fun with my son last night than I have had in a very long time. It felt good.
When we got to the bowling alley, there was a half hour wait for a lane. We decided to order pizza and nachos while we waited. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the food–it wasn’t bad at all. Our dinner coincided perfectly with the lane times. As soon as we finished eating, the buzzer went off letting us know our lane was ready. After we situated ourselves with the lane and the shoes, we got down to business. We had a lot of laughs on the lane–especially when I was afraid he wasn’t going to let his fingers go after he rolled the ball! Here was my son, my baby, giving me a kiss when I got a strike or spare, and hugging me after every turn. It’s been a long time since Grayson has acted that way because he feels like he’s too big now to kiss Mom or hold my hand in public. I was glad he let go a little.
When we finished bowling, we took a walk into the arcade. We played some old school arcade games, and he played a few new ones. He hit the jackpot for tickets three times so I knew he would get a great prize at the end. And, someone even “paid it forward.” Some guy came up to us and gave us all of his tickets (and there had to have been at least 200) plus his game card. He said there was still some money on it. After my son and I thanked him, we swiped the card–expecting to find a dollar or so–there was $6.00 left! My son enjoyed the rest of his time immensely and he got a really cool prize at the end.
We drove home, took care of Lola, and Grayson got into the shower. Right then, as if on cue, my husband pulled up with Olivia. They had a great time at the Father/Daughter dance. Olivia danced with her friends and her Dad, the guys tried to talk over “too loud” music, and a good time was had by all.
Our family was able to cap off the night relaxing on the couch and eating ice cream. It was one of those EXTREMELY rare nights where everything just falls into place–everything gels–the stars are aligned. All of us needed a night like that. And, at the bowling alley, a little slice of “old school” was contained inside the walls. And, my faith in humanity was restored–if ever so briefly–by a complete stranger.

What’s With The Whole “BFF” Thing?

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So, my daughter is nine…going on nineteen. Seriously, I knew I would have to deal with these types of issues….but I thought I had until at least middle school. I was wrong. She takes forever to pick out an outfit in the morning because everything has to somehow coordinate with everything else she’s wearing for the day. After that half hour debacle, it literally takes another half hour to brush teeth, wash face, do hair, and put on lip gloss. Wait, did I say lip gloss? I’m sorry, I meant my Sephora lipstick….and cover-up….and eyeshadow. She learned that lesson on her own when she wore it and three unrelated adults told her she was too young for make-up. Good, one issue solved. She also has an Instagram account. Hence, I am on Instagram. Sorry, but I need to monitor who she’s talking to and what they are talking about—for her own safety. It’s through Instagram that I have really noticed this silly “BFF” thing. I have seen it around, obviously, but I didn’t realize how seriously these little girls take this stuff. I wonder why they have to have one best friend. I had a best friend growing up, but we never announced it to the world and we had other friends that we played with sometimes and no one got mad or jealous or anything even remotely close—it was just life. Now, girls feel slighted if someone goes out with someone else and they weren’t invited or told about it. It’s kind of nonsensical if you ask me. First of all, why can’t all the girls just be friends? Why do they feel the need to label everything and everyone? Why can’t they be nicer to each other…and themselves, frankly? Looking at the situation as an adult, I see qualities of a “BFF” in many people. My “BFF” when I need to laugh may be completely different from my “BFF” when I need solid advice. There may still be another “BFF” for when I’m depressed and still another for when I feel like going out to have some fun. The notion that one person has to fit all these situations seems dumb to me as an adult. But, again, I remember when I was a kid and we just “were” if that makes sense. We were able to just “be” with each other. Maybe I was just lucky. Maybe I grew up with the kind of friends who didn’t really care who went with whom to the mall on Saturday as long as everyone bought something nice. Maybe I grew up in a time where friends were genuine and experiences were real and compassion was not an anomaly. Or, maybe my daughter and her circle are just kids of today….going through typical tween stuff….and I only notice it because, as a parent of today, I have to monitor everything she does for her own personal safety. Either way, it’s different now and not in a good way :(

Lease Or Buy Space For A Business?

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As you may know, I have been looking for space to open an upscale consignment shop for women in my town. I have dealt with some the most unscrupulous potential landlords you can possibly imagine. The experience has jaded my husband. Now, he insists we buy a piece of property–maybe a home that is zoned commercial. He hates the idea of having to pay anyone rent. He also hates people who play tricks and pull the rug out from under people. Maybe not all landlords are this way, but we have been fortunate to find out vital information before we signed leases on more than a couple of occasions. I am a little concerned about buying a place outright because what if my store fails? My husband’s response is that at least we have something to sell. Any lease hold improvements we make are ours and we don’t have to answer to anyone. He has always owned his own building and he doesn’t want to begin renting at this stage in his life. Even though we would not require a mortgage, I feel like it’s a huge responsibility. However, I understand and respect his opinion. I am posing the question to the business people out there. What do you think? Is it better to lease or buy?

Education Commissioner Needs To Educate Herself

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Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck


I read an interesting article in the Providence Journal the other day. It seems the education commissioner is a tad miffed. I’ll explain for those of you who aren’t from the New England area. Deborah Gist was brought in to fix the problem of failing national test scores we are having in Rhode Island. Many of our students do not meet graduation requirements or do not graduate from high school. When they do graduate, they are not adequately prepared for college and some have to take remedial courses once they get there. Also, many are not prepared for real world jobs.
There are many facets and layers to this story. I would like to concentrate on just one. Ms. Gist decided to overhaul the entire teacher evaluation system as well as the grading and promotion system in Rhode Island. First, she created more stringent and some would argue just plain silly evaluation procedures in order for teachers to keep their jobs. Student progress (on standardized tests) is directly related to a teacher’s ability to retain her job. Obviously, this is a “silly” notion and she should know better than to think all students perform well on standardized tests.
Additionally, she decided to make passing these standardized tests a high school graduation requirement for students. Now, I have seen first hand the way these changes have affected my daughter. She is in fourth grade which is one of the benchmark testing years. Her teacher is hardly ever in the classroom–not because she’s sick–because she is constantly at meetings or seminars etc. regarding the new standards. Also, many class hours are dedicated to “teaching to the test.” I can’t blame the schools–they want high performance. I can’t blame the teachers–they need their jobs. I can place a bit of blame on the “commish”. I just cannot believe she doesn’t get that a one size fits all test does not work for every student since we all learn differently. I agree that something needs to be done, but I don’t agree that this is the avenue in which it should be pursued.
A group of adults, many of whom are current or former educators, decided to take the math NECAP under the time constraints. They reported their results last week. Many said that they felt frustrated with the minutia of the material. Some questioned the notion that “sine, cosine, and tangent” is still relevant. All agreed that the test seemed difficult–even for a bunch of educated adults– and they wondered how high school juniors were expected to master this irrelevant material in time for the test. They wondered how teachers were supposed to teach this in addition to the other math material that is required curriculum. They made some very valid arguments. The commissioner was upset. She called the adults “irresponsible” and said that it sent the wrong message to students. I couldn’t agree less. These educated adults proved that knowledge of this trivial nonsense in no way represents a student’s intelligence level or whether or not the student is fit to graduate high school. Maybe it’s time for us to get back to basics. Maybe Basic Math should be re-instituted instead of the “everybody takes Algebra” motto. No. Not everyone can or should go to college. Not everyone can do Algebra. Not everyone can be a doctor. But, everyone needs to know how to write a check, balance a checkbook, figure out decimals and percentages. Part of me is very glad I got out of Education, but I have two kids going through the system. We need to get it back to the time when people of a certain age went to school. You memorized certain things like multiplication tables and grammar rules. You behaved or you were sent to the principal (and it meant something). Your parents backed the school instead of you. Teachers were there to teach and not entertain you. No one was afraid of the ACLU or a lawsuit because the teacher hurt the student’s feelings. Today’s doctors and lawyers and such are not of the same intellectual caliber of yesteryear’s, that’s for sure. We should stop trying to re-invent the wheel. Kids go to school to learn. Teachers go to school to teach. Standardized tests measure one thing and one thing only: your ability to take a standardized test. Period. Maybe the commissioner should take step back and re-evaluate this new system.

Tales Of A Fourth Grade Math Problem

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Ah….it’s that wonderful time of day after school again. You know, when the kids run into the house like lunatics ….staarrvinng because it’s been so long since they last ate. While inhaling their snacks, they open their backpacks (which weigh as much as they do, I’m convinced) and take out their homework. My son is off and running with little help because he is in second grade. The homework is still manageable and he is able to do it without needing any extra help. My daughter, on the other hand, is caught in an abyss–a black hole filled with division problems and remainders and no answers. To complicate matters, the school has divised (no pun intended) a new “investigative” way to do long division problems. I have an M. Ed. Granted, I taught high school, but I can certainly tutor a fourth grader with math issues. Only I have no idea whatsoever what the hell this “investigative” math is or how to do it! All I can think when I am looking at the examples is how it seems like 20 extra steps to get to the same quotient. I am also thinking that there is no way she would have the time to find the answer if she were taking a timed test such as NECAP. I tell her to wait for Dad and we will try to help her together. She spends the next hour and a half at the counter trying to finish up the homework in her other subjects. Just as an aside, when I taught school, I used homework as a reinforcement of what I taught that day. If it took my students any more than 20 minutes or so to do my assignment or if I had to assign hours of homework then I didn’t do my job that day. I have always felt that way. Kids go to school for six hours a day. Should they have homework? Yes. Should they have hours of homework each night….especially in fourth grade? NO!
Back to division. My husband comes home and rolls up his sleeves ready to tackle the problem . He is a dentist–just to put things into a little perspective. He looks at me with a smirk because he thinks I have forgotten how to do basic math. He looks at the example and then back at me. The smirk is gone. He has no idea what this is. There is now a satisfactional smirk on my face =) We tell our daughter we will be more than happy to help her with math, but we only know one way–the traditional way–to do long division. So, I start to explain it the way I learned it. She gets mad, says I have no idea what I’m talking about and requests her father. He steps in and proceeds to teach her exactly the same way. She is now even more confused. She calls us both stupid and cries. We can’t help her, we have no idea what we are doing, and she can’t believe we got this far in life without knowing this stuff.
The scenario sounds funny and I wrote about it in a light hearted way, but I did take it seriously. I remember all too well the “whole language movement” disaster they tried with Language Arts. There are now a slew of people from about 30-35 or so who can’t spell, who have trouble reading, and who cannot write a paragraph to save their lives. I certainly would hate to see this repeated with these children because of “investigative math”. I think screwing with math would be even worse than Language Arts. I called her teacher and we spoke about the situation. She reassuringly told me that they teach division both ways and whichever method the student feels comfortable with is the method she can use on the tests. That is reassuring to me as a parent and as an educator.
This week, I am reviewing Olivia’s homework nightly and I am noticing that the traditional way of long division is being taught now. She seems to be doing ok–needing a little tutoring but not much. She mostly makes common mistakes like losing track of the place of the dividend when it is three numbers, or forgetting to carry up the remainder. At least I am able to help re-direct her and re-focus her to the correct answer now that they are learning the old way to do division. Now, let’s see what happens as we get further into fractions……..

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