Activities

  • Benefits of Volunteering at Your Kid’s School

    Stay-at-home Mom, work-from-home Mom, work full-time, work part-time, running a business, starting a business, full-time student or any combination of work schedule; we’re all so busy.  How many of us are guilty of finding a week’s worth of old notices from the teacher about upcoming events at the bottom of the child’s backpack days after the event has passed? I’ll raise my hand high for this one.  It seems like the children are having some kind of class event every few weeks. Bake-sales, class trips, pizza parties, and book fairs, oh my! It’s overwhelming and expensive.  

     

    It seems like someone from the school is begging for us to do something for the class, every five minutes, right?  Yes, this is true, but I’ve been on the other side of planning such events and I’ll share some insight about why you’re being contacted so often regarding class events.  Teachers are with our children day-in and day-out. Even if we’re asked to send in the 1,000 boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer at the beginning of the school year, most teachers easily spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket each year.  It adds up quickly too. Most districts provide the basics. Teachers get to know our children’s learning styles and emotional struggles intimately. It’s not unheard of for them to selflessly pick up a game or manipulative that will solidify the concepts that the group has been working on for the past several weeks.  Class parties are likely not calculated into the district’s school budget when discussing finances at board meetings. Here’s where the notices found at the bottom of the backpack asking parents to donate time, money or both come into play.

    I know how busy you are and I understand that it may be nearly impossible to be at all school events.  There are; however, huge benefits for us as parents to volunteer at the kids’ schools. 

     

     A first-hand glimpse of how your child’s teacher engages with students. 

    It still tickles me to think back to when I used to work at schools and would run into a family while shopping in the same community. Students, and oftentimes their parents, would treat me like a local celebrity and be seemingly amazed that I shopped for my own groceries too.  The wide-eyed look, the pregnant pause while they’re deciding whether or not to approach in public. Unless running into the store after work, I’d notoriously be looking my worst as if I were making a quick run to the dumpster to throw out trash, but I digress. After the chance encounter, the dynamic of my relationship with the student would usually experience a slight shift as they realized that I, too, was a human who ran errands in sweatpants and not the usual “teacher clothes”.  

     

    Similarly, volunteering in the classroom enables parents to see the more “human side” of school personnel, the good and the bad.  You’ll learn how compassionate and caring the teacher might be when a student falls or how short-tempered he/she might be when a kindergartener has an accident, how often the other teachers gossip, how much the teacher seems to enjoy or perhaps dislikes their job.  The more regularly the parent comes to volunteer in the classroom, the more comfortable the teacher becomes being themselves. Think the first time a guest comes to your home versus the 50th time. I think it’s important for me to get to know the teacher making a life-long impression upon my children beyond back-to-school night and the last day of school.  I also think it’s equally important for the teacher to know that I will “show up” for my kids and not just when I want to complain. So, when I can, I volunteer. Some years, I was class mom, working side-by-side with their teachers to plan all class events. In other years, I wasn’t able to miss work as much and was only able to volunteer once the school year for an hour or two. Should you feel horrible if your schedule, financial situation or both don’t allow you to volunteer?  Absolutely not! But, I’d encourage you to find another way for you and the teacher to get to know each other as “humans”, as I believe it helps build a foundation for mutual respect between parent and teacher. 

     

     

    A view of how your child socializes with peers.

     

    The elementary and middle school years are so challenging.  I’ll be frank with you. SOME kids can be jerks. I don’t fault them because they are children.  They’re learning and growing. Some developing and maturing faster than others. Also, having been a counselor in schools, I’ve been privy to the confidential information shared with me by my students. While I won’t dare share specifics, I will tell you that you have no idea what some children have been through at a young age.  Regardless of zip code or type of school, dysfunction and mental illness are prevalent in the homes of children and the effects oftentimes manifests itself it the only place the child can feel safe, school. Their class bully has likely learned his/her behavior and is either modeling what has been seen, responding to what has been rewarded at home or is coping with the trauma he/she has experienced thus far.  As a parent of a child who has “the bully” as a classmate, there’s very little you can do. However, what you can do is teach your child how to avoid or respond to the other child’s behavior.  

     

    Our children won’t learn how to deal with difficult personalities unless they are taught.  While it’s inappropriate for us as parents to go into the classroom and make another parent’s child feel bad or scold them, even if they are “a bully”, it is very appropriate for us to engage in a dialogue with our own child at home about how they should have responded to an incident that we may have witnessed while volunteering earlier in the day.  One of the best ways to gain a bird’s eye view of how our child socializes in school is to be present. A quick trick from a veteran parent is to multitask.  Kids act differently when you’re there. Be 95% engaged in helping out while the other 5% is discreetly taking note. Work every time.

     

     

    The opportunity to engage with other class parents.

     

    If your child has never been the bully but has been bullied or harassed by a peer, you’ve likely had the thought, “who raised you?”  Here’s your opportunity to engage with the families whose children are helping shape your child’s daily experiences. I don’t know about you but I like to have some insight into their values and perspectives.  Working with other class parents has revealed why the kids might be so darned pushy, as their parents are the same way. Sheesh! 

     

    Likewise, I’ve formed some relationships that have turned into life-long friendships because I’ve learned exactly how much the family has in common with ours.  There comes a point in time where our teens will wake up and believe that we are not wise, we were never children and we know absolutely nothing. Around the same time, they will come to believe that a kid their own age, possessing the same exact amount of minimal life experience as they’ve acquired thus far, knows everything. Parents- let’s roll our eyes in unison. All the more reason to have a clue about how their peers are being raised because like it or not, “those kids” are making an impression.  

     

     

    The chance to steal a few moments with our child during the school day.

     

     

    If you have more than one child or more than one job, you might feel pulled in several directions.  If you’ve ever had to “choose a kid” because your kids have different events in different places, at the same exact time, I feel your pain. Volunteering at my child’s school allowed me to specifically designate uninterrupted time to one child.  It allowed me to be able to steal moments and create precious memories that we’ll hold forever. It sounds cliche, I know, but it is true. I made fruit shish kebabs for my youngest daughter’s kindergarten class trip about seven years ago and it was a hit with the kids and teachers.  My daughter still mentions that trip occasionally. Every time she brings up the event, I recall that I wasn’t going to go but rearranged my schedule at the last minute to accommodate. In the blur of her early years, this stands out to her. I’ve worked a lot and I’ve missed a lot. So stealing the moments that I’ve been able to “figure out”, means so much to both of my girls and me. 

    Being Parent of the Year doesn’t mean that you have to show up every single time.  It’s unrealistic. Do what you can, when you can. That will be enough for your children.  When you are able to show up, being present and actively engaged makes all the difference.  

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  • 4 Tips: Traveling with Children

    Who doesn’t love a vacation?  Vacationing is literally my favorite pastime. Take me to a warm beach and I’m a different kind of calm. Although I love vacationing, traveling to and from paradise can be overwhelming.  Life as a parent is stressful by nature. Traveling with babies and toddlers can be a disaster…if you don’t have a plan.

     

    The key to successful traveling with your young child lies within anticipating and planning around what might happen while en route. It’s imperative that you consider their typical schedule when booking your flight. Children need naps. Heck, some adults are cranky sans the nap.  It is really asking too much for a tired child to behave while trekking through the airport, standing in line for security checks, waiting for the adults in the party to be scanned, staying still while said adults put back on shoes, belts and collect belongs from the conveyor belt, go through customs, trek through the airport again to find the correct terminal and gate, sit there for an hour with parents who are hoping not to be delayed, stand in line to get on the plane, sit still while the adults maneuver getting their carry on luggage while ushering the kids out of the aisle before being trampled by folks rushing to the back of the plane and patiently wait for the plane to finally take off then sitting for about 4 hours to land, head to baggage claim and take a shuttle to the final destination.

     

    Does sound like a lot? Good, because it is.  Frankly, it’s a lot for everyone involved. This is especially true for a child under the age of 6.  

     

    1. If possible, book the flight around their naptime or bedtime (red-eye flights).

    I don’t care if I was traveling by plane or car, trips were scheduled to minimize bedtime disruption.  When I took my little ones from New York City to the Bahamas for the first time, we took a red-eye. They slept the entire time and my sanity was left intact.  I struggled a little with getting them and those darn rolling backpacks through the airport but considering everything else that could’ve gone wrong, that was a drop in the bucket.  Side note- Why do airports seem 1,000 times bigger when traveling with kids? You really do realize how tiny their little feet are when you’re attempting to rush and they just can’t keep up.   

     

    2. Book a window seat.  Mother nature is entertaining.

    Just trust me on this one.  Throw the shades up on a sunny day and a crying baby will be so amazed by the view that they’ll likely stop in their tracks. I still get mesmerized by the view so I get it.  If the little one isn’t as intrigued as I am, try engaging them by talking to them about what you’re seeing. “Oh Jordan, do you see that cloud? It looks like a doggie. Do you see one that looks like a fishie?”  That game can last for a long while if you’re willing to be creative.

     

     

    3. Book a seat near the front of the plane.

    Location. Location. Location. If the child is facing forward while crying in their seat, the noise will travel forward, disturbing fewer people. Remember life before kids? Looking at “those parents” wondering how on earth can they not control their crying kids at the restaurant or market? Fast forward to now and you not only wish you take back every glare you bestowed upon those poor parents but you will give the stare of death if passengers dare glance at you and your inconsolable child? It’s easy to get frazzled and unfocused if you have an entire plane staring at you.

    If passengers are annoyed, you won’t have to see them constantly looking back or shaking their heads in disbelief that a child is actually crying because his/her routine is thrown while stuck on a plane. Just focus on doing your best to comfort your child. Either they’ll likely join you in the “those parents” club one day too or they’ve forgotten how difficult traveling with small children can be for parents.  At any rate, it’s better to have annoyed passengers throw tantrums literally behind your back where you don’t have to deal with them or feel the need to constantly apologize for something beyond your control.

     

     

    4. Pack distractions.
    I’ve already exhausted you by taking you through a trip through a child’s eye. Pack their carry on bag accordingly.  Keep in mind that you will probably end up holding their carry-ons and yours. You might very well also end up carrying at least one child in addition to all of the bags if things don’t go according to plan. Be intentional about packing. Don’t just throw things into their bag.  

     

    Bring a variety of things to keep them engaged.  Pack the favorite teddy and toys that foster the use of the imagination without relying on technology.  You’ll have lots of time to play with them while in flight. 

     

    Preload your tablet or smartphone with their favorite movies. I never downloaded a movie on my iPad before I traveled with my daughters.  I found 3 very long child-friendly movies that they’ve both enjoyed in the past, 2 just as long movies that they’d never seen and splitter earphones so they could listen simultaneously. That was one of the smartest moves of my entire life! #winning

    Flying is no time to try new foods.  I don’t recall ever feeling satiated upon finishing a meal on an airplane.   Children are very cranky when they’re hungry. Do yourself a favor and pack their favorite foods. Feed them the perishable foods first, keeping in mind temperature and storage requirements.  The absolute last thing you need is a child with an upset stomach 35,000 feet in the air.

     

    The light at the end of the tunnel is that everything will be okay.  You will get through the trip to and from your destination.  You will create memories with your family.  It will be worth it.

    We’ve all been there and we’ve survived.  You will too. Happy travels!

     

     

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  • Back to High School

    September is just two weeks away! Honestly, where did this summer go? The rain just washed it away! Any who – we always hear about “back to school” tips. Usually in the first week of July when the kiddos just got out of those locker-lined halls. Instead of planning barbecues and laying out by the pool, we are bombarded with backpacks, pencils and binders flooding an entire fourth of Target. So, we decided to wait until the appropriate time to talk with you about a lesser discussed subject -“back to high school” tips! Today I am going to be writing about what you can do as a parent to help your child prepare for their first day as a high school freshman.

     

    1.    Familiarity

    Help your child get familiar with their new school. They’ve never been here before and it’s probably much larger and more intimidating then their middle school was. Some schools offer an orientation where all of the kids can come in and get familiar with the building as well as practice their locker combinations. However, if your child’s school district does not offer orientation at the end of summer, make sure to find a time where you and your kid can take a tour of the school. It is particularly helpful if you already have their school schedule, that way you can easily help them locate the classes that they will be attending and do a general run-through of their day! If possible, picking up a school map will help if your child gets confused and can’t remember where a class is located.

    1.    Organization

    Help your child prepare for their first day of high school. While many teachers don’t give out a list of supplies until the first day of school, it is best to come prepared on the first day with a folder, notebook, pen and pencil. Trust me, there are going to be a lot of handouts! When your child gets home from school, go through their lists of supplies with them and make a plan to get everything that they need. If you are looking to cut back on costs (who isn’t?), try to scavenge around the house for supplies that you may already have lying around from previous years. You can also plan a supply swap with friends and family. For example, while you might have an extra notebook you don’t need, a friend might have an extra folder that you do need. You can then swap items! If all else fails, the Dollar Store is always a great option!

    1.    Involvement

    High school offers a wide variety of clubs, sports and other opportunities. Encourage your child take advantage of these! You can help by taking a look at the school’s website and seeing what kind of extracurricular activities they have to offer. Sit down with your child and weed out the ones that they are not interested in and zero in on the ones that fascinate them. Having your child get involved in something like soccer, drama club, or student council will help them attain a sense of belonging. It will also help them expand on their circle of friends and find where they fit in. Multiple small middle schools often merge into one larger high school so there is a good chance that there are a lot of people your child does not know yet. Participating in activities will help them branch out while also discovering their interests!

    1.    Communication

    Always keep the lines of communication open. Your child is going through change and may be anxious about this new transition in their life. The work load changes from middle school to high school and your child may be under more stress than he/she once was. Your child is also experiencing bodily changes as they are now becoming an adult, which can be a very confusing time. You can help your child get through this by keeping an open dialogue about the struggles that they are going through. Monitor their feelings and let them know that you are listening and that you care. If you notice any warning signs of severe anxiety, lower self-esteem or depression, seek help. Talking with the student guidance counselor is a good place to start.

     

    These next four years are going to be exciting for your child. As parents, you’re going to be able to watch them transform from your precious babies into wonderful adults. Always remember that no one is perfect. Allow them to make mistakes, it helps them grow! Just make sure the mistakes aren’t too big. Happy high schooling!

     

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