All posts by Karen Dimick

As a mother of five, a grandmother of fifteen and a teacher for over 40 years I have been interested in writing about topics that relate to children and education for some time. During much of that time I dabbled in writing and did some work as a freelance writer, and then published my first book in 2009, Don’t Get Mad, Get Busy! A Handbook for raising terrific kids!” This blog was born of that endeavor as a way to promote my book and share my thoughts and ideas about topics I felt were important for parents, children and their education. In 2010 I embarked in one of the most challenging teaching experiences I have ever had, short of the full time job of raising my own children; teaching early morning seminary. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church) I am a part of a lay ministry in which we lead and teach one another. Part of our educational program for the youth of our church includes a 4 year seminary program for high school students. Here in OC, CA classes are taught at our local church buildings before school begins, beginning in our area at the unearthly time of 5:45 am. So, for 4 years I spent much of my time studying, preparing, getting up early and catching up on sleep while serving as an early morning seminary teacher. It was a wonderful, difficult, and rewarding experience, but after 4 years I was ready to have a bit of my time back. With my release from that position I had time to resurrect this blog and once again return to writing about topics that I find important to the growth and development of children. My experience and expertise comes not only from my experiences as a parent, teacher and writer. I also hold a degree Early Childhood Education, a BA in Psychology, a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, an Education Specialist Credential and a Master's Degree in Special Education. I currently work as a Resource Specialist and Special Education teacher working with middle school struggling readers, students who have difficulties in math as well as students with organizational and assignment completion difficulties.

What Common Core Math and Your Auto Mechanic Have in Common

What if I were to tell you that we have a new way of training auto mechanics.  It seems that it takes an awful lot of time to train auto mechanics about all those parts of an engine, and how they all work and there are so many kinds of engines.  You see, there are lots of parts on a car, but only a few of them break often.  And, some cars are much more common than others.  So, the plan is we will streamline the training.  We will teach mechanics to do just the most common repairs, how to get in, get out, no need to know how the thing works.

So, how effective would this teaching technique be?  Well, I suspect, for the most part it would be very effective.  These new mechanics would be able to do the large majority of repairs on most cars.  Some of the mechanics would even pick up some knowledge of how the engine worked, just through this process of knowing how to do a few common repairs.

But, what if you have a problem with your car that wasn’t covered in this expedited training course?  What if you had a car that didn’t fit the mold?  What if you had a problem that was hard to locate?  Would your mechanic be able to find it?  Maybe, but then again, maybe not.  If you had a really sharp mechanic he may be able to figure it out.  He may have come up with strategies to solve the unexpected problem.  But with no training on how it all works, you have no guarantee.

Well, that is how we have been training our children in math for a lot of years.  How were most of us taught to do math?  Algorithms.  How do you subtract 38 from 52?  Well you probably line up the digits, subtract the ones place first, borrowing from the 10’s place because you can’t take away 8 from 2, then subtract the 10’s place.  That process you go through is not really subtraction, it is an easy way to figure it out.  For most of us, we understand what is really happening here.  We get a picture in our head of 52 items and removing 38.  The algorithm is a shortcut, a way to figure it out quickly.

But here is the thing, we educators have been moving at such break-neck speed to teach the standards, that we have run out of time to teach kids what is really happening.  The last few years of crazy standards, standardized testing and moving at an astronomical pace to keep up with who knows who (specifically in the state of California), has left no time to teach what it really means.  It is like the mechanic who can only perform one action.  Most kids can do the algorithm, but they may have no idea what it means, how it works, or how it fits all together.

Enter Common Core math.  You’ve seen the examples of what seems to be long, crazy, drawn out ways to compute something.  Testimonials from parents, professionals, smart people saying, I don’t do math like this, why should my kid?

Well, I will tell you why your kid should learn with Common Core math: your kid should learn Common Core math for the same reason your mechanic should learn everything about an engine instead of just how to do a few repairs.  Your kid should learn Common Core math because it teaches kids how math works, not just how to solve algorithms.

I remember learning math as a kid.  The plan was to teach us how it works, but here was the process.  Teach a skill, show exactly how to do it, give an example, have the kids practice, then they practice alone.  Classic teaching, I do, we do, you do.  So, as a kid, I would take my example, my few I practiced in class, and my book home and do my homework.  Everything worked fine, as long as the problems looked exactly like the example.  When it started to diverge, I started to get lost.  And then, here is the part where the plan was for kids to figure out how it worked, we would get an extension problem.  Take what you have learned, apply it to something completely different, and figure it out.  I would look at those, look at my example and have no idea.  No one taught me how to do that, how are we supposed to do it?

Well, I am no one’s dummy, as a matter of fact I was very good at math, and it eventually became my favorite subject.  But, I wasn’t taught, encouraged, or really even given permission to think on my own (except perhaps in those extension activities I was supposed to do at home).  I had the process, the directions the way to do it.  As long as I followed the directions, I could do it.  Any variation, anything that looked different, and I was stuck.  I had no idea where to start or how to solve it.

Move ahead about 40 years, and now instead of learning math, I am teaching math, as well as a few other subjects.  Guess what, up until Common Core, not a lot had changed.  It was still I do, we do, you do.  And, kids still do not understand those extension activities.  Here is what did change between then and now: someone decided that kids should learn more math faster.  Never mind developmental levels, never mind the time in a school day, never mind that kids can only learn so fast, they should learn more, faster.

Did it work?  Did kids learn more math faster?  Well, if you look at the scores they did go up, but only on the specific tests that teachers were teaching to.  Kids did not really understand math, but many were able to perform a lot of algorithms, as long as it didn’t look different than the example.  Yes, just like the mechanics in my original example, for most students it worked fine.  They were able to perform prescribed operations as taught.

But here are the unintended consequences: kids can solve math problems, the math problems that were specifically taught, but how often will they see those exact problems in real life?  Using this method many students, I may even venture to say most, really don’t know math.  Most of us would recognize ¾ as their pieces of a whole cut into 4, or three out of 4 wholes.  I have worked with all sorts of students who may be able to perform some operations on fractions, but ask them to draw a model, and many just can’t do it.  Ask them to take away half of 8 and tell you the answer, and they may say 7 and a half.  They have memorized the rules (if they have a good memory), but they don’t understand the process.  And, the kids who don’t have good procedural memory are really lost.

So what does this have to do with the crazy Common Core examples?  It is teaching kids how it works, how it looks, what it really means.  Does this mean we don’t use algorithms anymore?  Absolutely not.  They go hand in hand.  The algorithms are short cuts, quicker ways to do things.   They should learn both, what it really means, and the quicker way to solve it.

This is not to say that Common Core math is the perfect solution, or the only way to teach math, but from where I sit it is the best alternative I have seen to what we have been doing for a lot of years that does not work all that well.

Want to know more? Stay tuned for my view on why parents are frustrated and why teachers are unhappy.  Or, check out this link from another point of view.

http://www.scarymommy.com/i-dont-hate-new-math/

7 Suggestions to be part of the Solution

Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?  That was the question I asked in my previous blog post, along with a call for those who wanted to be a part of the solution to step forward.  After my open letter to the Westminster School District a few of my friends did indeed step forward to tell me they did want to be part of the solution.  I also received a call from the district superintendent, Dr. Marian Kim Phelps.  Dr. Phelps wanted me, and also everyone else who read my message, to know that she was on board.  She wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and hopes the steps she has been taking are the right ones to do that.  She also explained that she did not want to be a part of that revolving door that has become our district administration in recent years.  Her hope is to lead the district for many years, and to retire from this district.  I found her candor and desire to be a long-term fixture to be refreshing and promising.  Unfortunately, it will take a lot more to turn things around than the efforts of a few of my friends and possibly even more than Dr. Phelps’ concerted effort.  It took many years and many people to drive us into the state where we now find ourselves, and it will take time and many people to improve things.

So, what is the secret?  How can we turn things around?  In my opinion there is one important key, communication.  It may sound trite and simplistic, but in my experience many problems can be solved, and potential problems can be alleviated through full, open, continuing 2-way communication.  Here are 7 ways that we can all be a part of the solution, instead of the problem, through communication.

#1- Administrators, please explain Yourself– Public education has had a theory for many years.  It goes something like this, “We are the experts; we have had years of training and education and we use research to back up our methods so we know how to do this; we know what we are doing, and we know best how to educate the masses; you don’t know anything about how to best educate children, so we won’t bother you with the details; and, if you try to get in our way we will put up all kinds of roadblocks to keep you out of our business.”

I come to public education from a little bit different avenue than the average teacher.  Before I was a teacher in the public system, I was a parent.  And, I was a parent who was involved in different sorts of ways.  I worked as a volunteer.  I was involved with PTA.  And, I had children with special needs who did not fit the mold of what a student in a public school “should look like.”  The journey to help those children, as well as my other parental experiences, gave me many opportunities to interface with administrators, and often see the way they communicate with parents and the community.  Through all of these involvements, as well as subsequent involvements as a teacher and a grandparent, I came across this attitude in multiple ways, at multiple times, at all levels of education and in multiple school districts.

Administrators, if you think you can just go about your business of doing your job and not communicate how and why you are doing it you are sorely mistaken.  The day is far past when the public will just trust that you know what you are doing.  The day is gone when parents put their full trust in your expertise.  The day is gone when teachers just follow along and believe that all of the latest (method, curriculum, program, etc.), is always the greatest.  We have seen the pendulum swing too many times, and too far to believe that this will be the time when the true way to fully educate children comes out.  We need good and strong administrators, but we also need administrators who will let us know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it.

Here is a piece of information about human nature that many people forget.  If you do not communicate with others, they will use their imagination to fill in the gaps.  And guess what, people have great imaginations, so when they fill in the gaps they usually do it in an overly dramatic manner.  And, people will often tell their exaggerated or contrived form of the truth to others, and eventually it becomes the accepted “truth.”  The best way to stop a rumor is to communicate the real truth before rumors have a chance to start in an honest, open and transparent manner.  Most news, usually even bad news, is best conveyed straight from the source.

Let me give you an example: Common Core Standards.  They are all over the news today, and being touted as too hard, too easy, a way for the government to get information on us, etc.  Do you remember when the last standards come into being in the state of California?  Me neither.  I mean, I remember hearing about them, standardizing what we teach kids and all.  But, it was not all over the news, it just happened.  No one voted on them, no one questioned them.  Well, educational administrators made an error this time.  They thought it was business as usual, and that they could just bring in new standards and the public would say, “Oh we have new standards.”  Not so.  Public schools have been under more and more scrutiny of late, so people from all walks of life and with all types of agendas started their own educational campaigns about the new standards.  Instead of educators telling the public, and in some cases teachers, what the standards were, what they contained, and why they were important, people were educated by the media.  Who knows how differently this may have gone if educators themselves would have shared their views first rather than letting the media dictate what Common Core Standards are and are not?

And one more piece of advice to administrators.  Remember, I said real communication is two way so you need to listen also.   While it really helps us to know what is going through your mind, and why you do what you do, if you don’t really listen to our input, you may miss some of the important things you need to know.  Because, while all of those degrees you hold give you a lot of book learning, there is a whole lot of learning going on out there that is not taught in a university.  As the old adage goes, we were all given 2 ears and only 1 mouth, so we should try listening twice as much as we speak.

#2- Teachers, don’t keep it to Yourself– Just as administrators need to communicate what they are doing and why, we teachers also need to explain what we are doing and why.  Part of my job as a Resource Specialist requires me to meet with many parents, and often these parents are unhappy because their children are struggling educationally or behaviorally.  It is not uncommon for me to go into a meeting with a parent who is very unhappy, even angry, and to come out with a parent who is satisfied.  This does not always occur because sometimes people’s views are so far apart that they cannot be reconciled or, just face it, some people are just difficult to please.  However, I have found that, more often than not, when I fully communicate, and I mean listen, not just speak, we can come to a consensus.  You see, some of us have forgotten the goal.  The goal of public education is to educate children.  And, when I communicate that this is my desire to parents, and when I listen to their concerns, I can share my expertise in a way to help us come up with strategies to bring us all closer to the goal.  In turn the parents, as the expert on their own child, often can give me insights I could not have gained without the parents’ input.

However, teachers are in a sticky situation.  Not only must they communicate with parents, they are also the middle men and must communicate with administration.  Teachers need to let administrators know what is going on in the trenches.  They need to pass on their difficulties, as well as their successes.  Of course all of this is easier when districts have administrators who have instilled a policy of open communication.  However, teachers need to continue to share upwards, even if it seems futile, difficult or even scary.  Sometimes it can feel as if sharing things can put your job at risk or make it more difficult.  However, when we only share and complain with our colleagues and friends, we become part of the problem and not part of the solution.

#3- The School Board should be the Ultimate Listener- I would like to speak for a moment to our school board members, our elected officials who represent our community.  Yes, that is what we elected you for, to represent us.  The school board member should be the voice of the community.  As much as the community would love to be involved in what makes our school system tick, face it, we just don’t have time.  Life is busy, and we have a lot going on.  What the community really wants is to elect people they trust to be a watchdog over the district, and then trust that you do a good job.  Are you doing that?  Are you really doing things based on the best interest of the community’s children?  If you think you are, how do you know this?

I submit that if you don’t really listen then you don’t know.  The temptation for school board members is to gravitate toward communication with administrators in the district.  It is good for school boards and administrators to have good working relationships with each other, but I submit that if you spend the majority of your time interfacing with administration you don’t really know what is going on.  If you don’t talk to teachers, parents and community members you have a very narrow view.  If you don’t really listen, and make sure you fully understand, you are just a rubber stamp.

In addition, I think it is important to let the public know what you really believe, what your goals are and what you stand for.  In preparation for the upcoming elections I did some research to find out what the candidates for the school board stood for, believed and wanted to work for.  Information was greatly lacking, and some candidates had no information at all listed.  How can the voters make an informed decision without information out there?

#4- Parents, know your Audience– Parents, here is some advice.  Your local public school really does employ teachers and administrators who are highly trained and often very experienced.  Before you throw out your opinion you may want to listen first.  I know your kid is the best and brightest in your world, but schools have hundreds of students who look a lot like your kid and while it is true no two are exactly alike, there are some typical developmental stages that they all go through.  There is not a lot that educators have not heard before, and they may even be able to share some insights with you.  That being said, everyone needs to realize that all of that expertise can only go so far.  It is not that uncommon for educators to be a bit off the mark, and many times they are just plain wrong.  But, here is the thing, if you treat those educators with respect and really listen to their point of view they are not normally unreasonable.  There are exceptions, and I have seen examples of that myself, but if you go in with an idea of facilitating open communication, more times than not the outcome can be positive.

The other important thing that parents must remember is that really, they wield all of the power.  It is not uncommon in our society today for public schools and teachers to be depicted as the ones totally responsible for educating children.  But really, this is not true at all.  Parents are children’s first teachers.  In addition, much goes on in the home and family that has so much effect on student learning.  In addition, while school attendance is compulsory in our society for children, it is up to parents to choose the local public school or an alternate place to educate their child.  Ultimately, parents not only have the most power in their child’s education, they also have the most responsibility.  Be careful how you wield that power, and how you take on that responsibility.

#5- Share, and listen, Open Mindedly– Many of us love to share.  We share our thoughts with our friends, we share out status with our Facebook friends, and we share our opinions with whoever will listen.  One thing many of us are not as good at is listening.  According to Stephan Covey, most of us spend most of conversational time preparing our answer, not really listening to our counterpart.  What a different world this would be if we all learned, and actually practiced, communication as a 2 way process: listening with real intent, and sharing your views only after you fully understand.  Covey calls this process, Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  If educators at all levels, parents and the public really took the time to do this I think all would be better edified and many typical problems could be alleviated.

In recent years I tried an experiment and started to really listen to others point of view.  Of course today’s social media makes that a little easier, as so many want to tell everyone exactly what they think.  Often we want to gravitate to those who share our opinions, but I made an effort to really read and try to understand the opinion of those who did not agree with me.  While I still enjoy hearing the opinions of those who agree with me, I have found the process of really studying the views of those who disagreed to be highly informative and interesting.  I have come to feel more respect for the opinions of those with whom I disagree, and having a better understanding of where those points of view come from.  At the same time, I have strengthened my own opinions and developed good arguments as to why I believe the way I do on many issues.

I submit that this process of really listening, studying and trying to understand could lead all of us to better understanding and more collaborative efforts at all levels.

#6- Understand Bias- When I talk about bias I don’t mean prejudice against certain groups of people, and I am not talking about the fact that you think your kid is the best kid in the world.  I am talking about the bias that we all have due to certain life experiences we have had.

Let me give you an example.  Because I have 2 children of my own with special needs and because I work with many students who struggle academically I have a real bias for the underdog, the underperforming and the under achieving.  Put me in a group of kids and I tend to be unimpressed by the best and the brightest, I look for the poor little guy hanging out in the corner.  I gravitate toward the awkward, the misunderstood and the struggling.

So what does this have to do with communication in a public school setting?  We all have biases.  We all have our own little piece of the world where we believe more is needed.  We all have our own friends, family members and co-workers who we are more willing to give attention to.  The problem is not bias, as much as not paying attention to bias.  First, we need to know and understand our own bias.  What motivates me to do the things I do?  I am only willing to help those I am drawn to, or do I take steps to give equal attention to all?  Second, we need to be aware of, and pay attention to other’s biases.  People involved in public education at all levels should be watching for unchecked biases.  Unchecked biases, I believe, are one of the biggest downfalls to all sorts of organizations, and especially to public education.  We all need to be vigilant to keep the focus on educating all students, not personal biases based on a personal agenda, furthering someone’s career or someone’s pet project.

And here is one interesting thing about bias and communication; it colors not only our actions but our perception.  When we listen, we listen with our biases fully intact and operating.  That means when someone speaks, what they say is filtered through our understanding, our experiences, our own ideas on how the world is and should be.  Do you take the time to really understand what others are saying?  Sometimes that means extra questioning, and takes way longer than most conversations.  However, if we don’t take the time to do this, especially when people don’t agree, when stakes are high, or when tempers are really charged, miscommunication will ensue.

#7- Be a good Citizen– Elections are coming up.  Will you be voting?  I know will be.  But just voting isn’t enough.  Do your homework.  Read all you can about the candidates.  Here is a website that lists information about the candidates running for the Westminster School Board.  http://ballotpedia.org/Westminster_Elementary_School_District_elections_(2014)

While it can be hard to get valid and detailed information about candidates, especially local ones, voting based just on what you glean from ads and hearsay does not constitute really being a part of the solution.  Do your homework, talk to people who know and have worked with the candidates, look for those with promising backgrounds and good values.  Then, use your best judgment to make your best choice.

What I am recommending is not easy.  It takes a lot of work to fully communicate with others, to really listen, to monitor the biases of yourself and others and to do your research and vote responsibly.  However, those who sit by and do nothing are part of the problem.  As the old adage goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Step up and be part of the solution.

Things have gotten out of hand!

An Open Letter to the Westminster School District

Dear Westminster School District Board members, employees, parents, community members and other interested parties,

I am writing this letter because I think it is time to take back our district.  You see, things have gotten out of hand.  It seems we have lost our focus.  Our entire purpose, the reason we exist at all, is to educate our community’s children.  We exist as a means to teach and help guide the youngsters of our local area so that they can have the skills necessary to be moral, functioning members of our society.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me tell you a bit about myself so you know where I am coming from.

I first moved to this community in 1988 with 3 small children and a love of learning, teaching and a belief in the power of our public school system.  As my children grew, and I became more enlightened about this community and school district, the more impressed I became.  You see, this was a place where socio-economic, racial and ethnic groups readily mixed.  This was a community that placed high value on educating all children while upholding traditional values.  This was a place where my children could grow up getting to know all types of people from all walks of life while being taught the skills they needed for life.  And grow up they did.  My husband and I eventually added 2 additional children to our family and as our children grew through their early years and  into adulthood I became more involved with the Westminster School District first as a parent volunteer, then as a classified employee, and finally as a teacher.

As my association with the district increased so did my pleasure and pride at what I discovered.  I discovered a feeling of community and family within the district.  I discovered a pride of traditional values, even when it was unpopular.  I discovered a place where people lived, worked and raised their children within the community.  I discovered a place where it was not uncommon for a former district student to eventually become a district parent, a classified employee, teacher or administrator.  I discovered a place where it seemed reasonable to have a superintendent who not only knew everyone’s name, but when and by whom they had been hired.  I discovered a place where respect for one another was expected and given freely, at all levels.  This is not to say things were perfect.  No one, no place and certainly no institution has ever been perfect.  But, that was part of the appeal.  Everyone seemed to realize this fact, and they understand that errors would be made.  However, when the errors were made the problems would be handled in a professional and respectful manner.  And, when serious errors were made, they were handled swiftly and appropriately.

Maybe my view of the district at that time was narrow and naïve and things were not quite as ideal as they seemed, however without a doubt things have changed.  Schools and offices that once were well populated with those with a long history in this district now seem to have been replaced with a revolving door of new administrators and assistants.   Important policy decisions in the past seemed to be based on what is best for the education of our children and upholding the highest moral values.  More recent decisions appear to have been made more on a basis of current financial situations, personal agendas, who cries the loudest, political correctness, opinions of lawyers or a fear of “dirty laundry” being exposed to the public.  Where once it seemed that most teachers felt like proud and invested members of this district, I now hear many who wish it were easier to transfer their years of service to other districts.  Yes, things have changed, and not for the best.

So, this takes us back to where we began.  It is time to take our district back.  But, who are “we”, and what do we do?  I would suggest that for all of us, parents, classified employees, teachers, administrators and school board member to ask ourselves, are we part of the solution?  If not, we are part of the problem.  If we stand by while decisions are made that are not in the best interest of our children, shame on us.  True, there are times that financial concerns have to pre-empt what may otherwise be a good decision.  There are times when the one who yells the loudest or has a personal agenda may have a valid concern or point of view that was previously ignored.  There are times when political correctness aligns well with high moral values.  There are times that lawyers must be consulted to protect our interests, and there are times that airing dirty laundry may be a risk.  However, if these concerns take precedence over what is in the best interests of our children or what is morally correct it is problematic.

So, I would like to ask anyone who is reading this letter, “Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem?”  I would like to call for all of those who want to be a part of the solution to step forward and say, “Enough!”

Back to Blogging

This blog was born of my endeavor as an author of a book, Don’t Get Mad, Get Busy! A Handbook for raising terrific kids!” , as a way to promote my book and share my thoughts and ideas about topics I felt were important for parents, children and their education.

In 2010 I embarked in one of the most challenging teaching experiences I have ever had, short of the full time job of raising my own children; teaching early morning seminary.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church) I am a part of a lay ministry in which we lead and teach one another.  Part of our educational program for the youth of our church includes a 4 year seminary program for high school students.  Here in OC, CA classes are taught at our local church buildings before school begins, beginning in our area at the unearthly time of 5:45 am.  So, for the last 4 years I have spent much of my time studying, preparing, getting up early and catching up on sleep while serving as an early morning seminary teacher.  It was a wonderful, difficult, and rewarding experience, but after 4 years I was ready to have a bit of my time back.  With my release from that position this year I now have time to resurrect this blog and once again return to writing about topics that I find important to the growth and development of children.

I hope you can join me, or rejoin me, and read what I have to say.  I would also love your comments.

Still Hating Car Seat Laws?

Shortly after my post expressing arguments against car seat laws four of my grandchildren were in a potentially serious car accident.  They were taken to two different hospitals, and one of my granddaughters had to have surgery for a head injury.

So, one may wonder, has my view of car seat laws changed?  The answer is, absolutely not!  I still hate car seat laws.

First, let me make one thing clear, I am not opposed to the use of car seats.  Car seats have made automobile travel much safer for young children, and every young child should travel strapped into one.  What I am opposed to are car seat laws.  The mothers of my grandchildren are all extremely vigilant about car seat use.  But, they are not vigilant because of the law; they are vigilant because they want their children to be safe.  Laws do not engender vigilance.  Laws encourage compliance, but for car seats to be used with the maximum amount of safety and effectiveness one must be vigilant about their use, not just compliant.  Vigilant parents are informed parents.  A good educational campaign is much more likely to inform parents about the necessity of proper car seat laws than increasingly restrictive laws.

Second, car seats make automobile travel safer, but do not guarantee a lack of injuries.  My grandchildren who were in the accident were all properly belted into their car seats.  The two younger children were in full car seats, and the older children were in booster seats.  My injured granddaughter was hit by a flying object, it appears it was a cover from the front passenger seat air bag (she was in the back), and incurred a large cut on her head and a concussion.  We live in a world where more and more people want a guarantee of safety, and law makers want to protect us from ourselves.  Guess what, even when you do the right thing bad things happen.

Third, the accident brought me face to face with one of the original problems that car seat laws pose, no contingencies for justifiable exceptions.  After the accident my 4 grandchildren were taken to two different hospitals, and their car, with car seats still strapped in, was taken to a towing yard.  My granddaughter who needed surgery and her mother were taken to one hospital, and the other three to another.  I went to meet these three children, and fortunately, a friend was able to travel from the scene of the accident and stay with those children until I got there.  Within a short period of time of when I arrived they determined these children were fine, despite the seatbelt bruise that the 4-year-old had sustained.  One thing kept going through my mind as I was driving to the hospital and as I waited for discharge papers, “How am I going to get these children home?”  They had arrived at the hospital via ambulance, and now their car seats were towed off to who knows where.

I was fortunate that the friend that was with the children was able to get her husband to come and bring car seats for the kids, but the question kept going through my mind of what would people do who did not have such friends?  Would they have to run to the store and buy new car seats?  Would the hospital keep the kids until seats could be found, what if I could not afford such a purchase?  True, transporting them home strapped into a regular belt would not have been as safe as a car or booster seat, but there are times when we have to do the best with what we have.  And so, this experience made me hate car seat laws all the more.

No R-Rated Movies in our Home!

Several years ago my family was advised to not watch R-Rated movies. Aside from the obvious mind pollution we have discovered some real wisdom behind this advice. This ‘rule’ applies to our children as well as to us as adults and parents.

One of the dangers of our children watching these movies, or being exposed to inappropriate behavior, is that as they see this behavior they accept it as normal. This applies to smoking, underage drinking, inappropriate relationships, disrespect, etc What they see are not movies but rather images of possible role-models.

Recently there was an incident at school where a student demonstrated that he/she possessed knowledge that was well beyond their years – and not in a positive manner. This has resulted in me thinking about the outside influences that may impact our families, and in particular children. When we hold ourselves to the same standards of behavior that we expect of our children we are much more familiar with acceptable, or normal behavior, based upon the influences around our kids. We can more easily recognize when their behavior has been influenced by outside forces that go beyond our limits. This can result in more easily identifying destructive behavior because it is behavior that we are not used to seeing in movies, etc.

When we subject ourselves to outside  depictions of destructive behavior it joins our sub-conscience and disguises itself as acceptable. When we allow our children to see these outside depictions we are tacitly endorsing these behaviors.

While we sometimes feel that we are missing out on an exciting movie the benefits of being on the same page as our children far out weigh any loss we may feel. And what have we really lost? Nothing. Unless you have experienced something you can’t feel a sense of loss.

Race to the Top of what?

President Obama’s new program for school reform has been announced and it is being called, “Race to the Top.” It provides billions of dollars to prospective schools that are willing to jump through the hoops that the federal government is establishing.  It is touted as a way to reform schools that “can transform our schools for decades to come.”

This started me thinking, what are we racing to the top of? Is the top that is sought really something that will benefit our nation’s children?  And, if so, why are we in such a hurry to get there?

As a teacher with a background in early childhood development I have had many years of studying how kids learn best.  No matter what expert you listen to, or the age of the child you are studying it boils down to one thing, kids learn best by doing.  And, kids are most likely to learn the most, and retain the most, when they are taught things appropriate for their developmental stage.  No one in their right mind would try to teach a 3 month old to walk, a 9 month old to write their name or a 2 year old calculus.  But, in some ways that is exactly what some of our school systems are trying to do.

Recently my daughter with a degree in early childhood education had a job interview for a position teaching preschool in a public school.  To the typical question, “How do preschoolers learn best,” she answered with the classic answer, “They learn through play.”  Play is the work of a preschool aged child.  They learn about their world through experimenting and manipulating materials, songs, games, stories and imaginative play.  “Well,” replied my daughter’s interviewer, “I used to think that.  Now we teach them to read and write.”  Huh?  Are preschoolers different now than when the interviewer began her career?  Does a preschooler really need to learn to read and write?  Am I a bad parent if I don’t teach my 18 month old to read?  Will my child be terribly behind if he cannot add at age 4?  Well for all you anxious parents out there, and for this misguided preschool professional, I would like to tell you that if your child is a normally developing child it makes no difference if they learn to read at 18 months, 4 or 7.

Traditionally in this country we have taught children to read at about 6 years of age.  When I was teacing kindergarten there was a big push for kindergarten aged children to learn to read.  It seemed that kindergartens, and in turn preschools, had become more academic in response to a push for children to have traditional academics at an early age.  I was intrigued with this trend, and went to a seminar that reported the results on a new study that had been done to find the best age for children to learn to read.  I was stunned by the results.  The study found that although a child could often be taught to read at a very early age, it really made no difference when this teaching began as long as it happened in early childhood for typically developing children, generally by age 7.  In addition, it was found that in third grade (when most children are 8 years) it was impossible to tell which children learned to read at 18 months, 4 or 6 years.  By third grade the child who did not learn to read or write until age 6 or 7 caught up with the others.  So when was this landmark study done?  This study was done in the late seventies and early eighties.  Yes, you are correct, this information was discovered over 30 years ago.  And many more studies have backed up this research in the ensuing years.

This misguided push is not only seen in the early grades, it is also seen in later years.  In the State of California there is a push for every 8th grader in the state to take algebra.  Algebra is an important subject that helps establish higher order thinking skills, however a push for every 13 year old to learn this skill is misguided and ridiculous.  Research has shown that the section of the brain that is responsible for abstract thinking is not fully developed until early in the 20’s.  Performance of algebraic skills requires high development of abstract thinking skills.  Some teens develop advanced skills at an early age and are able to understand the concepts necessary for algebra at an early age, however most have great difficulty with this.  When students are required to master concepts that are beyond their developmental  level  it leads to frustration and feelings of failure.  This is especially true for young teens who often suffer from feelings of inadequacy.

So, why then, are we once again pushing to teach very young children to read and write?  I think there are three major reasonsFirst, there is research that backs up early learning for children with disabilities.  I think that some overzealous educators and parents have decided that if this approach is successful for children with disabilities, it must also be successful for the average developing child.  Which brings us to the second reason for this early push; what parent does not want their child to be the best and the brightest?  If my baby can be the next Einstein by teaching him early, why not try?  Don’t I want my kid to be the first to master algebra?  Parents often push their children because they feel it will lead to their child being the best.  The third reason that I see for this push in early learning is due to politics.  Who hasn’t heard the news that the US is far behind other countries educationally?  Or that larger percentages of students do not graduate from high school?  But, did the news point out that our educational system is so vastly different than that in other countries that there really is no comparison?  Did it point out that in most other countries not every child is guaranteed an education?  And that often the students that our students are compared to are the best and brightest in the country who have passed tests to be allowed to continue on with their education, not every child in the country?  Or did the news tell you that the statistics used to determine what percentage of students graduate from high school is vastly flawed?  Did they report that the numbers they use to determine how many graduated only count those that graduate on the exact date of most students in that class?  And that the statistics do not take into account students who move, graduate even one day late or even those who graduate early?  Of course not.

So, this brings us back to Race to the Top. Politicians often use catchy names and cash awards to prove that they take education seriously.  But catchy names mean nothing, and the cash awards are often so small when distributed over a large number of schools that it is meaningless.  And have we really determined that what is at the top is really worth racing toward?

What I call for does not have a wonderfully catchy name, and it won’t get me elected to anything.  I call for a return to developmentally appropriate standards for children.  What children need is an educationally rich environment and plenty of time to develop at their own pace.  I have very intelligent children, but their intelligences are extremely varied.  I had one that taught himself to read at 4, and one that would not read a book to himself until he got to high school.  I had children who naturally understood high mathematics at a very young age, and I had children who did not really grasp algebraic concepts until college age.  I had children who had no difficulty earning high grades in school, and children who severely struggled to earn passing grades.  I had children who took 4 years of full time enrollment in a junior college to get through, and I had children who commented that college was really easy.  But guess what, none of that really mattered.  My children grew up in a home with a significant amount of daily stimulation to develop their talents, and an emphasis on continuing education.  There was no race to top, just a gradual climb to their personal best.  Now, my three oldest children hold degrees or are well established in careers of their choice and my younger ones are on the path toward their goals.  None of them was ever the top in their class, the first in their age group to master a concept or received a scholarship to a prestigious university.  But they are happy, well adjusted young adults working toward building their own family units.  Shouldn’t that be the goal, instead a race to an indeterminate top?  Slow down people, and give our children an environment in which they can develop naturally, and at the appropriate pace.

How do you set curfews?

One of the challenges with raising kids is that as they turn into teenagers their social life changes and they start to separate their identity from that of being your child to being their own person. It is our job, as parents, to allow and encourage this separation and growth. However, we must also factor in our responsibility to their safety. And safety includes physical as well as emotional protection. Part of the process of ensuring their safety is that we must be comfortable with the company they will keep, the activities they participate in, and when they come home. Each family will have to determine what activities are appropriate.

The issue that always comes up is curfew or when our child needs to be home. Many parents have a rigid approach and have a very inflexible rule. The problem with a strict and rigid rule is that life is composed of different activities and some of them do not fit into a rigid curfew rule.

In our family we NEVER had a set curfew. So what did we do to keep our kids safe? We talked to our kids about the particular activity they were participating in, who they were going to be with, and then we asked them for what they thought was a reasonable time for them to be home. We didn’t always agree with their time but we negotiated a reasonable time. There were even times when they would suggest midnight and we would counter with 11. If they countered with midnight we would often counter with 10:30. 😉 We also discussed the next day’s duties to determine if there was a reason to be home a bit earlier. When our daughters were going out on dates we would have the conversation with their escort so that all parties knew and understood our agreement.

Our children also knew that because this was an agreement with us that they had a responsibility to keep their end of our agreement. They also knew that to avoid negative consequences they had to notify us of any changes in activity, destination, people or the time expected home. In this manner we were able to evaluate their safety, with them, on an ongoing basis.

The final step of this process was that they were to check in with us when they came home. Even if we were asleep.

As our children got older (18+ and living with us) we still asked them to tell us where they were going and when they would be home. As adults they are no longer bound to us as children, but as courteous adults. We often get text messages updating us to their activities.

How will you set your curfews or limits?

Student arrested for writing on desk. Excessive?

Recently Fox News reported about a 12-year old student who was arrested for writing on a desk.  Proponents of strict consequences for students who break school rules believe that if they are tough on early offenses, students are less likely to move on to more heinous crimes.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true.  Research shows that the best punishment is a punishment that fits the crime.  Punishment that is either too lenient or too strict is not effective.  When children are given punishments that are too strict they feel helpless and unsure of their environment.  The world does not seem fair and ordered, it seems arbitrary and unfair.  When children feel there is no fair justice or reasonable consequences they are more likely to act out.

This story reminds me of an incident with one of my own children many years ago.  My child was in high school, and was accused of defacing a textbook.  The book was shown to my husband and me and it had many words written in it, including quite a few offensive words.  As a teacher I know this is not uncommon.  Quite often I have students bring me books that have had inappropriate things written or drawn in them.  As a teacher, I also know it is nearly impossible to catch the actual perpetrator of the act.  Teachers are often in a room with upwards of 30 students (or more), and it is just impossible to monitor what each student is doing and continue to teach.  Our child took some of the responsibility for the defacement, but not all, and the school proposed suspension.  We felt that restoration of the item was a much more fitting consequence.  The school agreed that if the book was paid for by all offending students that this would be sufficient.  We paid the fee, and made arrangements for our child to work off the price.

A child who writes on a desk, or in a book, should be given a consequence that fits the crime.  In my room, that student would stay after school and wash all my desks.  This is a job that might take 10-15 minutes.  Writing on a desk, or on any other item, is not a terribly heinous crime, it is more a momentary lapse in judgment.  At some point in their childhood many of today’s upstanding citizens probably stooped to writing or carving their names into some surface.  If this sort of action is dealt with early, chances are it will never escalate into more heinous activities, such as tagging or seriously defacing public property.

The other element of this story that is problematic is the fact that the girl was arrested.  Some people in our society, including some parents, feel that if children get a taste of what it is like to be arrested early on they will be less likely to commit crimes.  Research shows that the opposite is often true.  Children who get a view of prison or prisoners up-close and personal, often start thinking that it is not really all that bad.  Years ago there was an approach called “Scared Straight” where young people were taken to prisons and told all of the terrors of life in prison, by the prisoners themselves.  It was thought that if prisoners told young people who were on a dangerous path just how terrible it was to be in their shoes they would change their ways.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Even though the program was touted as successful, and anecdotal evidence seemed to show promise, studies show that this was not true.  Studies not only showed that the program failed to deter crime, some showed that it may have escalated the incidence of it.

The best road to help children behave appropriately is to hold them accountable for their actions, teach them correct principles and behavior patterns and require them to make appropriate restitution for damage that they inflict.  This is true not only in school settings, but in family settings as well.

Response to Parenting Style quiz

On January 25th I posted the results of an online quiz that I took on identifying my parenting style. When my husband read the results he thought they were harsh, but clinically accurate. This parenting style is often described as the “no-nonsense workaholic” who is best at “emergency-mode parenting” and providing discipline where it is needed. Too often, however, strong-willed children eventually rebel against this parenting style if the parent doesn’t learn to balance expressive warmth with the authoritative discipline.

This does not sound like an ideal style to raising well-adjusted children. I thought long and hard about why my style is authoritative and yet we have had good results with our children. We have never had to operate in an emergency-mode. Rather the opposite has been our experience. When a strong structure is applied there tends to be less emergency-mode situations. Within our family guidelines we have a lot of flexibility. It is important to recognize the difference between authoritarian and authoritative. I really think the description for authoritative, as used in the quiz, describes authoritarian. I have been looking for a better (more accurate) definition.

Tonight I came across another blog that also discussed parenting styles. The author states: “Basically, there are four styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative (sometimes called egalitarian), permissive, and uninvolved.” I continued to read and found this gem in ther last paragraph: “Authoritative parenting is a balanced parenting style, with both high structure and high responsiveness. The parents are engaged and flexible, but they are still the parents. Structure rules, limits and boundaries is (sic) present, but not rigid.”

This is a much better definition than the one originally presented with the quiz.

For more details on a good article please visit http://motherguides.com/different-styles-of-parenting-which-one-is-best/