Education is not a preparation for life but is life itself. - John Dewey

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Invisible String

This is one of my all-time favorite books to read with children!  Patrice Karst's picture book is simple and helps when we need to feel connected to someone who is not right here, right now in a physical way.  Twins, awakened at night by a thunderstorm, run into see their mom who explains to them that she is always with them, no matter what.  People who love each other are connected by invisible strings of love - such a powerful concept that children, big and small, get in a very deep way.  (I use it with children Pre-K through 5th grade but have given it to older children to read and discuss as well as adults.)

I like to ask kids where their strings go - who are the people connected to them by love?  It's a great way for them to identify their support system.  They often start with family (and pets, of course!) but will also include friends, neighbors, teachers.  We explore questions such as "Can you be connected by love to the earth?" or "What happens when someone tries to cut a string by being mean?"

I have read this with children who miss mom or dad during the school day.  I have also shared this with students who could no longer see a parent or family member due to death or incarceration.  It is such a lovely and reassuring book for us all - who hasn't felt alone and scared at some point?  As Karst writes:

"... they started dreaming of all the Invisible Strings they have, and all the Strings their friends have, and their friends have, and their friends have, until everyone in the world was connected by Invisible Strings.  And from deep inside, they now could clearly see ... no one is ever alone."

Friday, August 24, 2012

More First Day Prep ...

Here is some advice from Diane Peters Mayer (via Tracy Grant's Momspeak) specifically about transitioning to a new school.  And yet with advice like "Don't dismiss the child's worry" and "Believe in your child," her suggestions are great for those of us returning our kids to a familiar school as well!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Day Prep

I know that it's coming.  There it is on my calendar:  The First Day of School.  Yet I never feel ready.  It always sneaks up on me, hiding behind family trips or last minute pool parties, until ... Gotcha!  I'm scrambling to buy lunch bags and binders, everyone is up way too late, and no one is ready in the morning.

Does this sound familiar?  Here are some tips for easing the transition from summer days to school days.  Many are for all age groups, a few are more geared towards older or younger children.  Please add your own suggestions in the comments!

Before School Starts:
  • Resist overdoing the back-to-school shopping.  Children usually have sufficient clothing for the first weeks of school.  Focus on obtaining the necessary school supplies and reviewing dress code policy.  
  • Call the school to confirm that you have all the necessary paperwork completed and signed.
  • Reset bedtimes and mealtimes so that everyone is on the right schedule by the first day of school.
  • Arrange playdates with classmates if possible to easy those first day jitters.
  • Turn off the TV especially in the morning to re-establish a morning learning routine - encourage reading, library or museum trips, board games, or family exploratory walks.
  • Establish a homework spot for your child.  Pay attention to noise, distractions, and lighting.
  • Establish a "launch pad" - a place for kids to place backpacks, sports bags, and lunches in the evening to be ready in the morning on the way out the door.
  • Set alarms for the morning wake up!  Third or fourth graders and older can have their own alarm clock.  Practice!
  • If tardiness is an issue, give your child a stop watch and have him time a trial run.  Analyze the data and plan accordingly (make sure you are running your trial at the right time of day since traffic varies).  How long does breakfast usually take?  How much time should you allot for actually getting out of the door?  How early should you wake up for this all to work?  Kids love this! 
  • Review your after school routine - especially with children who are home alone after school or children who have carpool/childcare/dual household schedules that vary from day to day.  You and your child can create a graphic/visual schedule - electronically for the older children, pictorially for the younger.  This can be laminated and pinned inside a backpack with emergency numbers.
The First Week:
  • Make lunches ahead in the evening, especially if mornings are rushed.  Children third grade and older can usually handle this task on their own with guidelines.  Review those guidelines before school begins.  Conduct a trial run.
  • For the first few weeks, allow for extra time in the mornings.  If you are early, great!
  • Since you will want to spend extra time sharing with your child about the first few days of school, plan for simple, healthy meals or make them ahead of time and freeze them.
If Your Child Seems Anxious:
  • Try not to over-react.  Listen to your child's concerns and worries with a caring, sympathetic ear.  Share any experiences that you have had starting a new school year or beginning a new job.  Name both your feelings and the physical symptoms that often accompany them:  "I felt nervous with butterflies in my stomach and a shaky voice when I had to introduce myself to the class."  Emphasize how you calmed yourself and that it got better over time.
  • Reinforce your child's ability to cope.  Reflect back to him that he is capable and can deal with this challenge.
  • Leave a note or two in her lunch box or backpack.
  • Plan some get-togethers with classmates to encourage friendships and habits of play.
  • Create a "talisman" - a heart-shaped bead, a special temporary tattoo, a small, meaningful object - that you can pack with your child to remind him that you are thinking of him and sending him love and strength.  Discuss this with the teacher in case your child needs to carry it during class or check on it during the day.
  • Email or talk to the classroom teacher or the counselor if your child's nervousness doesn't improve after a few days.
This is my favorite time of year - full of expectation, possibility, and community.  It's a time to meditate on how your child is growing and changing.  A time to fully, deeply appreciate the person they are now while pondering how this person will develop in the coming year.  A time to trust your child's abilities and sovereignty.

Welcome back!  It's going to be a magical year!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Helping Children Cope with Death

One of the topics that sends even the most seasoned of parents into a panic is death.  What do you say?  When do you say it?  What if I don't have all the answers?  Is it okay to cry?  Is it okay not to cry?  Phew!

Tracy Grant gives a brief, basic primer on talking to kids about death in her Momspeak column here. Parents often avoid this difficult conversation in order to protect or shield children from sadness and pain.  However, as Grant states below, having honest and early conversations about illness and death is more helpful.

"Sudden death is particularly hard for anyone to grasp, but often the deaths that children confront - those of older relatives or beloved pets - can be anticipated.  Don't assume that kids will notice Grandpa's declining health and extrapolate that that means he may not live much longer.  A death that seems obvious to you may come out of the blue to your child if you haven't talked about it first."

Here at school, we have so many organic opportunities to discuss death with children.  Children and teachers explore the cycle of life and death in nature. They observe dead bugs, plants, or animals in the forest and garden.  And we often find a dead mouse in the garden that has been dropped by a raptor flying overhead.  In one instance last year, a small group of young children chose to accompany a teacher outside the garden wall for an impromptu burial service for a mouse.  These small yet essential conversations about life and death help prepare children for the larger losses that they will encounter.

I will post more about children, grief, and mourning throughout the year.  Please email me if you have specific concerns or questions.

Talking About Alcoholism

Every Thursday, I flip through The Washington Post to Marguerite Kelly's Family Almanac to see what wisdom she has to offer.   Back in January, she addressed how to talk with children about a grandparent's alcoholism.

"Tell them that nobody ever wants to be an alcoholic; that alcoholism flowers in some people but not in others; and that Grandma just drew the wrong straw.  And then add this reassuring fact:  It won't happen to them, because you're going to teach them how to avoid the problem, no matter what straw they draw."

My only addition to her advice would be to find an Al-Anon group or other support group for family members of alcoholics for on-going support.  Read the entire column here.


The 2012-2013 school year is fast approaching.  I'm thrilled to incorporate this blog into my work.  I hope to bring into sharper focus those meaningful daily interactions, exchanges, and experiences at school and at home.  This will be a forum for sharing what works and what doesn't; a link to resources that support families; and a space to strengthen connections.

Please check in often and do not hesitate to email me about topics of interest!