Category Archives: School

Are you ready for school?

I’m certainly not. But it’s coming again whether I like it or not. So with that in mind, I thought I’d post some back-to-school stuff.

First, Julie of the National PTA (Parent Teacher Association–this is what we call the groups of parents in each school that support the school here in the US) sent me this:

“Summer breakis here, but PTA is already preparing to help millions of families head
back-to-school this fall by conducting a special webcast event. They’re
going straight to the source and asking parents across the country how they can
help!  This year the PTA is offering a new swing on how parents can ask
their questions. Parents now have the unique opportunity of submitting video
questions through the PTA You Tube page!

should be kept simple and short.  Remember creativity is a plus!  Questions
can be submitted conventionally via e-mail to
OR can be posted as a video question on the PTA
channel (select “Send a Message” in the “Connect
with nationalpta” box.  You must have a YouTube
to send a video message). When submitting questions on e-mail
or YouTube, the following must be included:

  • Your name,
  • The ages of your children,
  • The name, town, and state of your school and/or
  • Your e-mail address and phone number, and
  • Subject line: “Back-to-School”

By sending an e-mail or posting a video, you’ll be
granting PTA the right to publish your response, which may be edited for
grammar, length, and/or clarity.

PTA wants to know your questions! Deadline for submissions are Friday, August 8, 2008.
Keep in mind, even if you do not submit a
question the PTA still encourages parents to watch the webcast to pick up handy
tips on preparing their children for back-to-school!
The webcast
will be available for viewing starting August

So feel free to submit questions, or just go back and watch other people’s questions.

Second, an idea I think could really have legs. Were any of you as pissed off as I was to have to run all over the globe looking for exactly the specified school supplies on the list that the teacher handed out the first day of school, especially since you were supposed to bring them in two days later? I don’t know how WOH parents were supposed to have the time hunt exactly the right glue sticks down, and I certainly don’t know when SAH parents were supposed to. Especially when you’re already dealing with all the the back-to-school stuff, from kid tension and fear to new routines.

I was more than annoyed about it, and made many statements to the effect of “We sent people to the Moon almost 40 years ago, so why exactly can’t we just order school supplies on the internet??” Well, someone else must have been annoyed by that, too, but they actually did something about it by starting an online store just for school supplies. The idea behind is that schools and teachers can register their supply lists, and then parents can just buy them on the site and have them sent. Plus, the site gives a rebate back to the school in the form of a check or more school supplies. Any public, private, or charter school can participate, as well as any group, organization, or team. (I’m immediately thinking about how this could be used to help underfunded schools in the US or organizations that could give supplies to underfunded groups in other countries..)

As I see it, the only problem with the site is that not enough schools are using it yet. I typed in my zip code, and there are no schools there yet. So I’m going to email the PTA and harass encourage them to use it. If you all can email or call your PTAs to let them know about it, it could end up saving a ton of gas, time, and headaches in school supply shopping, and potentially do some real good for kids. (You can also enter your kid’s favorite teacher into the contest to win $1000 in free school supplies on the site.)

What other school-related things are coming up on the horizon for you?

100th day of school

Brief question below this post for people who’ve used formula.

I apologize for making this all about Kindergarten so far this week, but I really wa nt to talk about this 100th day of school thing. Do the Kindergartens in your area make a big deal out of the 100th day? It never happened when I was a kid, but it’s a big deal at my son’s school and other schools in NYC. The kids had to do a project containing 100 things (not containing food) and bring it in to school on the 100th day.

My son chose his own project, which was drawing 100 pictures. He’s crazy for drawing (explosions, cars, and robots are his favorite subjects) so it wasn’t a huge undertaking for us to put together a portfolio of 100 drawings.

One of the girls in his class did a gorgeous necklace make out of yarn with ten pieces of yarn hanging off the "chain," and ten beads on each hanging piece.

I didn’t get to see most of the rest of the projects.

Did anyone else have to do this? Want to share some ideas, so people can get help if they’re stumped? And how did this get to be a big deal?

School lunch cry for help

Hey, have any of you tried the new Amazon Kindle? They keep sending me emails about it. It’s a wireless device that you can load books onto and read. I have to admit that the idea of eliminating all my stacks and stacks of books (seriously–they’re like wire coathangers in the way they seem to multiply) is tempting. (I wouldn’t get rid of my current library–perish the thought–but would be able to avoid new acquisitions.) The $400 price point seems kind of decent. But then I just can’t imagine how it would be comfortable to read from a screen, any screen. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s tried it. (The review are predictably conflicting: "It will replace the book by next year!" "It’s unconscionable!")

(Also, I don’t know if I’m really supposed to release this little tidbit yet, but is going to start a book club soon. Hooray! An online book club, and I don’t have to do any work on it. I’ll post more info when I get it.)

Now, on to the school lunch outcry. From Lisa:

"How about a starting a discussion on school

Every mum I know has trouble thinking of healthy
tasty food that doesn’t go off in a hot lunch box, that their kid will actually
eat!  Any change from the humble sandwich would be a treat in my

I know we’ve talked about it before back at the beginning of the year, but here we are in the thick of things, when school lunches have gotten to be routine. Some kids like that (mine, although he allowed me to add clementines to the mix this morning), while other kids want variety.

I should report in on the results of the Laptop Lunchbox experiment: My older son decided he didn’t want to use his anymore, because it wasn’t a licensed character lunchbox like his best friend S. has. So much for innovation. The kid’s apparently a victim of peer pressure. His little brother loves the Laptop Lunchbox, though, so he’s been using it for snacks.

We’ll see what happens as they get older.

Every day we need a lunch (doesn’t usually get eaten, because they’re too busy running around) and a snack (usually gets eaten completely). So I’m packing a small lunch (today was a half sandwich and a clementine) and a larger snack (cheese, fruit leather, crackers, cucumber).

Here’s a shot of my RL friend Beth’s bento boxes for her kids. Here’s the Vegan Lunchbox site (want vegetables? talk to the vegetarians). More bento boxes for kids’ lunches ("frozen rice"? Interesting…).

Please post your ideas or links. I’m interested to see if we get any kinds of regional foods, or if parents all over the world are packing the same things.

School lunch concern day, contains book review of Lunch Lessons

Today I’m posting a question and a book review all rolled into one, and the topic is school lunches and our problems with them. (Blossom is "helping" me by chasing the cursor on the screen. Kittens. Whee.)

First, a question from Emily:

"Hello — I’m anxious about getting plastic out of my life but I am completely stumped about what sorts of containers to use for packing lunches. I bought a metal bento-box-esque tin in Chinatown but 1.) it’s impossible for a small child to open 2.) it leaks and 3.) I think it might actually be aluminum, which — I think — isn’t great either. I’ve dorked around on the Internet looking for ideas but haven’t turned up much. Glass seems dangerous and heavy. Do you or your readers have any ideas? (possibly people don’t think it’s that dangerous to pack food in plastic, or certain kinds of plastic…happy to hear good reasons to support that thought too)"

Well, I think plastic is dangerous and scary, too, and am scared at how it’s absolutely everywhere. But it didn’t really seem to be as big an issue in my life until we started Kindergarten a few weeks ago. I’m kind of stuck at this point, because the choices seem to be a) let him eat school lunch every day, which I think may actually be plastic (actual quote from last week on the first day he asked to eat school lunch instead of bringing it: "I don’t know what it was but it was good and I dipped it in ketchup!"), b) keep putting organic "baby" carrots into ziplock plastic baggies, thereby putting lipstick on a pig, or c) spend $30 at on the Laptop Lunchbox set (more about that later).

[I thought I’d maybe solved the problem by considering getting a thermos-type food container to send hot soup or bi-bim-bap or something like that with him every day. But when I asked about that he uttered the cryptic "I only like cold foods at lunch because we only don’t go out to play when it’s raining." Um, OK. No hot bi-bim-bap for lunch. Got it.]

Which segues into my review of the book Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes. The intro of the book was beginning to irk me, because we got a lot of statistics about how school lunches are so horrible for kids, and are contributing to both this huge obesity epidemic and the harmful consumer culture that’s sweeping over us like a tidal wave. And then they talked about how well the kids eat at a private school in the Hamptons (a very wealthy area of Long Island, NY) of which one of the authors is the chef. And I thought, "Fabulous. They’re scaring the crap out of us and then bragging about how their school is so great, but none of this is within reach of normal kids or parents." But then…

…they tell you how other schools and districts changed their crappy lunch programs into nutritious programs the kids are really into. Followed by a chapter on starting to break the cycle of crappy foods and choices that are bad for the environment. And then there’s a chapter about what kids’ actual nutritional requirements are that was helpful and realistic and doesn’t make you feel guilty. They talk a ton about farmers and making sure kids can participate in and understand about how food is grown, and that they really understand the life cycle of the foods they’re eating.

They have a whole bunch of nutritious, mostly-delicious-sounding recipes that you can make for breakfast or pack for your child’s lunch. But the book is really focusing on lunch programs that are nutritious and help teach kids about how food is grown, and how you can try to get some of those principles into the lunch program at your child’s school. It’s simultaneously raising a huge alarm about how important but minimized school lunch is, and giving you the ammunition and morale to start making good changes on small and bigger scales. I love this quote about why they’re working for change and encouraging us to, too:

"It may seem overwhelming to take on something as large as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and it would no doubt be infinitely easier just to use the recipes in this book and cook more healthfully for your own children than it would be to take on the larger system.  But for us, there are two major reasons to fight this fight. First, we have a moral obligation…The second reason is that kids learn habits, both good and bad, around their peers….It’s not about changing the entire National School Lunch Program at once, it’s about changing one school and one district at a time, just as the early proponents of the NSLP did."

If you send your kid’s lunch to school, the authors recommend the Laptop Lunches bento box system.


(The photo on the front of the book is a Laptop Lunches box.) They go through the different kinds of plastic, and which are safest and least safe. The plastic the Laptop Lunches is made of is the safest kind. You pay a little more for that, and because they’re made in California. But I’m getting to the point* that I’d rather spend $30 once on something that I know isn’t leeching chemical into my child’s food, and which is super kid-friendly and might inspire him to actually eat all the stuff I pack, than just keeping on buying ziplock bags (spending way more than $30 a year) that get thrown away and aren’t good for us anyway. (You can buy one at, but I ordered mine from because I also got another Sigg water bottle for my 2-year-old in the same order. The Sigg bottles are expensive, but are virtually indestructible, and are of aluminum with an inert lining so nothing leeches into the liquids in the bottle. Plus the kids think they’re way cooler than sippy cups. And I’ve never lost one, while I’ve lost more than a dozen sippy cups over the years, so financially I’m coming out ahead vs. sippy cups, and far far ahead vs. buying bottles of water on the go.)

Of course it’s easy for me to say that, since my Laptop Lunches set just got here yesterday, so this morning is our first day. He may come home from school not having eaten anything, or having thrown away half the set accidentally, or telling me it’s not cool so he ate the school mystery lunch again. If I’ve learned nothing else from this parenting gig, I’ve learned that we all just do the best we can at every given time, but the kids can screw up our well-intentioned work without even realizing it. (I can’t be the only one who’s had the thought that parenting would be so much easier if it wasn’t for the actual kids.)

And that’s what I liked so much about Lunch Lessons. It doesn’t go into it with the idea that anyone can feed their kids perfectly. It’s just a process of continuing to try to improve the choices we offer (all) our kids within our own personal set of constraints and resources. So Emily, the authors would probably tell you to try the Laptop Lunches set if you can afford it, but otherwise look for containers made of plastic types 2, 4, and 5. Avoid plastics type 1, 3, 6, and 7. Or try the stainless steel bento box set from

I’ll report back in a week or two on how our Laptop Lunches experiment is going.

*This recent round of Thomas recalls is contributing to that feeling.

Some updates

Danielle and I were just laughing because she sent me an email from her client (GoodNites) about a free confidential conference call about bedwetting they’re sponsoring with an expert tomorrow (Thursday in North/South America) and then discovered that yesterday’s post was about bedwetting, and the reader even mentioned GoodNights. Ha. Anyway, here are the details of the call:

"The client is GoodNites, the disposable
sleep boxers and sleep shorts for children who have issues with bedwetting. Our
original plan was to reach out to bloggers who are talking about their struggles
with bedwetting (with advice and free product), but when we did a conversation
audit, we were very surprised to find out that NO ONE is blogging about

This is kind of upsetting, because as we all know, the best source of
information for moms is from other moms. If no mom bloggers are talking about
bedwetting, then the only sources of information are on product websites and on
medical sites like WebMD.

So, what we are offering up is a conference
call this Thursday at 2pm CST. The call will be with Judsen Culbreth (her bio is
below). She will answer any questions that anyone has about bedwetting, and can
offer up both professional and personal experience and advice. The call is
anonymous, we are just asking participants to register via a completely
confidential email to an account we have set up. They can also submit questions
via the email, and we will pass those on to Judsen. Also, we are inviting any
bloggers to the call who aren’t facing the issue, but would like to educate
their readers. Oh, and if you want to pass on questions for readers who might
feel embarrassed to email them, you can invite them to post them in your
comments, if you like.

Again, the call is this Thursday, September 20th
at 2pm CST. To get the dial-in information, just send an email to

Judsen’s Bio:
Judsen Culbreth is a mother, parenting expert and author
with both professional and personal experience on the topic bedwetting. 
Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother
magazine and Executive Editor at Redbook, Judsen’s editorial work has been
honored with many awards, including two Parents’ Choice Silver Honor
Awards.  Culbreth has also appeared on hundreds of TV and radio news programs, including NBC’s Today
show, CBS Evening News, ABC’s Prime Time Live and

2 CST is 3 on the East Coast of the US and Canada, and noon on the West Coast. Check the world clock to find out what time it is where you are. If you don’t want to email in a question you can leave it in the comments here anonymously.

Heather writes:

"Even though I’m only an aunt I read your stuff daily, especially
about PPD which I am scared of.  I’ve bookmarked you series and already
told my husband that when the time comes he is in charge of everything
in those articles.

Imagine my surprise as I was watching Good Eats on the Food
Network tonight and saw him rework rice crispy treats in a way that
made me think of you {it was the flax oil that did it for me}.  I
thought maybe your readers {who aren’t hopelessly addicted to Alton
Brown & Good Eats} might like it."

Recipe for Brown Rice Crispy Bar from Alton Brown at

(For those who don’t want to click, the ingredients are puffed brown rice, flax seed oil, honey, mini marshmallows, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and dried blueberries.)

"Only an aunt," pshaw. Anyone who’s interested in kids is welcome here. As for these bars, though, well, I love flax seed oil more than most, but I don’t think I could go this far. The flax seed oil and dried fruit would be great for postpartum moms (the dried fruit has a lot of great fiber), but this recipe reminds me of the stuff my mom used to try to pass off to us when I was a kid. (I have lots of memories of going to co-op breakdown day to divide the huge bags of carob chips and wheat germ into packets for the individual families. Good times.) Even the lack of raisins doesn’t make me want to try it. I’d eat the dried blueberries by themselves, though.

And now for an anticlimactic update on my Kindergarten situation: I still don’t like the teacher and don’t trust her as far as I can throw her, but she seems to think my son is kind of funny so she’s being nice to him. I worry that if what my son says is true, the teacher is scapegoating another kid in the class (call me crazy but I don’t think a 5-year-old should be sent out of the classroom three times in the first three weeks of school unless the behavior is violent or seriously disruptive). I’m still going to talk to the principal, but it may be more of a general "what’s really going on with her?" session than a "help my kid" session.

He was fine about going to school yesterday, but then freaked out when
it was time for me to leave, and wouldn’t go back into his room for
awhile. But at least he wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably like before.

Things I don’t want to have happen that have happened to different people in my family: Skip a grade and still end up the smart ostracized kid only younger than everyone else to boot, sit in the back of the room bored reading the dictionary until the teacher yells at you and moves the dictionary too high for you to reach (although you end up with a stellar vocabulary up through the letter H), be told by your kindergarten teacher that you’re too "wild" for school (because you have boy energy) so you barely graduate from high school because you believe her, mentally tune out from school from Kindergarten on because there’s nothing for you there, be told you’re so smart so often that you end up afraid to take any risks because everyone’s invested in your success.

That’s what I’m afraid of, not a little boredom. And there are a bunch of reasons we didn’t end up in a GATE program this year. Once of which was that I felt I was going to be able to trust a Kindergarten teacher, because all the K teachers I’ve ever known have been resourceful, smart about little kids, and kind. I’m pretty gobsmacked by my instant mistrust of this teacher (I have to say that everyone else at the school had been great).

Jenni, I didn’t go in telling her he could read because the teacher and former-teacher commenters here told me not to (not me specifically, but parents) a few weeks ago. They said that teachers figure out the kids quickly anyway, and don’t need or want the parents to bring their own prejudgments into it. I was surprised that she hadn’t picked up on the fact that my son’s reading fluently, especially in light of this whole "read at all costs" thing they’ve got going with the forced reading at the beginning of class.

Speaking of that, I’m finally getting my routine down so I’m not as frazzled in the morning. My son is insisting on school lunch ("I don’t know what it was but it tasted good!" Help…me…) and doesn’t eat anything I pack him ("I ate one grape tomato, Mom!"). So I don’t have to pack him anything. My babysitter meets us at school and takes the little one. But still, the whole set-up is basically for the birds. And I’m still pissed about all the school supplies (it’s not like we can all just pile into the car and stop at Target–it required at least two stores for that list).

How are you guys?

I Hate Kindergarten

So this is the beginning of Week 3 for us, and I’m really hating it so far. My frustration is two-fold:

1. Kindergarten (at least the public K we’re at) is absolutely not set up for working parents. The drop-off time is decent, but then I’m supposed to sit in the classroom and read with him for 20 minutes before I leave. So I’m going to be late for work every freaking day of the school year, plus we now have a too-long goodbye ritual that is working him into a frenzy. And he won’t even sit with me to read because he likes to read by himself, and we read so much at home all the time anyway.

Of course, it doesn’t seem to be set up for the SAHMs either, judging by how stressed-out they all look, too.

And that list of school supplies? Not the list his teacher gave us. So we had to go out and buy $30 worth of stuff (not all available at the same store) that didn’t all overlap with what we’d previously bought. Why we couldn’t just all come in with $30 and have the teacher place one big order from or for the classroom is beyond me.

Grr. And that’s not the actual bad part.

2. My older one was in preschool 3 half-days a week for the previous two years, so school is not a new experience for him. But this is just killing him. It’s all about the ritual, with no substance so far that we can see. He’s bored, and is starting to act out. He ended up with the bitchy, princessy K teacher, not one of the sweet exuberant teachers, and he’s totally chafing under her scolding and mean rigidity. The teacher now thinks he’s troublemaker (but by the 6th day pf school she hadn’t figured out that he can read). And he’s freaking out about school and cries and doesn’t want to go. When I finally got to leave (damn that long drawn-out reading time crap) last Wednesday he broke down into sobs (and this is a kid who will not cry in public) and tried to run away out of the classroom.

Everyone keeps saying he needs to adjust to the routine. But what kind of routine turns a kid who was super-excited about school into a kid who says he wants to run away so he never has to go back? And I’m completely torn between trying to get him switched into one of the other sections with a kind and pleasant teacher, or keeping him in this class because there’s another kid who’s reading fluently so there’s a tiny chance that the teacher might come up with something to keep them challenged.

My other plan is to try to make some playdates with the other kids in the class, so at least he can enjoy the other kids, even if the teacher is mean. So far it’s been tough, though, since I’m working, and we had two days off for Rosh Hashanah last week (NYC public school holiday schedule).

I hate this. And I’m not alone. Kel and Dawn are feeling the pain, too. Kel writes:

"My 5 ¾-year-old started public kindergarten last
week.  He has been in day care since he was 6 months old, then was
transitioned into a very good, very expensive Montessori preschool
until this year.  He’s a bright kid and we have been warned about his
becoming bored.  He seems to act out when bored.

I’m biased, but would say he is a good kid.  Polite.  A
leader.  Very social.  We hear all time from other parents what a
pleasure he is to have over or have as their child’s friend because
he’s so good natured and polite.  We work on that, we praise and model
those behaviors.

had a twenty day break between the end of Montessori and the start of
kindergarten.  He was home with his other mom (he has two) and his twin
toddler sisters.  During this vacation his behavior seemed to
deteriorate.  He stopped listening and worse, he became
argumentative.  I’ve heard the phrase "But Mom…" more in the past
month than I have in the past 5 years.  I wasn’t home (she’s the stay
at home Mom for now) so as I only had to put up with it for four or
five hours a day, I just chalked it up to being 5.  It was harder on my
partner, of course, and we finally came to the conclusion
(justification) that perhaps his behavior had to do with starting a
completely unfamiliar situation and meeting brand new children for the
first time since before he can remember.   He  has no control over what
is happening, so he is trying to grab some control in the only ways he

school started.  Or rather the first two days after the holiday were
actually the pre and post school program open house run by the YMCA for
all those kids who will be in that program (my partner hopes to go back
to work as soon as we get the girls settled in preschool).  Despite the
orientation which highlighted the separate room for kindergartners, it
has (so far) been a free-for-all with the 5 year olds running with the
8 and 9 year olds.  He was injured slightly the second day when he fell
off the stairs to the classroom (a real accident from all accounts),
but kid-on-kid violence seems to be ignored for the most part.  We have
been assured the program will get much more structured as everyone gets
homework assigned and routines are established.  Unfortunately this
experience may have escalated our problems.

The actual kindergarten class seems fine.  There are 18
children in the class.  The teacher seems bright and focused.  He is
far beyond the work they are doing, but we expected that and hope the
teacher will create other assignments for him once it all gets
going.  In the four days of actual school, he has been in trouble on
two of those days. His teacher tentatively (diplomatically) told us
this morning that he was having a very hard time listening. Then,
today  he interrupted circle time and then continued to misbehave
(making raspberry noises) after being set in a chair away from the
other students.

Tonight he was wild with his sisters, far beyond the usual
older brother rough housing and it took nearly 30 minutes to get him to
explain to me what he did today in class.  He said he couldn’t describe
the noise he was making because it was an accident.   No TV and no
dessert later, he promised to work harder at listening and being a good
citizen.  He is supposed to start soccer this week, but we have now
offered up losing that as the consequences of further misbehavior.

On the one hand, I feel the need to be very rigid in my
response to what is happening.  I don’t want him labeled as the wild
child.  If he gets away with this, it will escalate.  On the other, I
want to let him get settled and not pounce too hard.  I don’t want him
to dislike the whole school situation.  Other than letting the teacher
know we are on her side and will be supportive of whatever actions she
takes and will also provide additional reinforcement at home we don’t
know what to or how long to wait should his behavior get worse.

are working on the Y program administrators and will pull him out of
that program should it not improve, once we find a nanny who can pick
him up at 1:30.

Any help you or your posse want to suggest will be gratefully accepted."

To me, it sounds like your guy is missing the structure he had at the Montessori preK. The free-for-all is probably wigging him out and may even be scaring him, so he’s reacting really poorly.

I’d like to invite you to switch your son in for mine at school, because my son’s teacher is extremely rules and structure-oriented, to the point of being nasty. Barring that, I’d see if you could figure out how to add more structure until the school shapes up. It sounds like soccer will be excellent for him (combo of structure and physical exertion) and maybe you guys could do some kind of greater structure in the evenings (more dinner-related chores or prep for school from him, for example).

Dawn’s problems are slightly different, but still follow the I Hate Kindergarten theme:

"My six year old
daughter is a very shy girl until you get to know her, and she has gone back
to school after the summer holidays tho she is getting upset about this. She
cries just as the school door opens, not before and not at home . I really don’t
think she is getting bullied or anything like that, but i know if no one has
asked her to play she thinks no one wants to play with her. How can i help? It
is getting me so upset and at the same time angry."

Poor thing. It sounds like making some playdates with the other kids in her class is exactly what will fix this problem. If she has some time to play with another kid one-on-one after school, that kid will probably be more friendly to her during school. I’d try to figure out if there are any one or two of the kids she talks about in a positive way, and try to get them together after school or on the weekends.

Does anyone have suggestions, comments, sympathy, or commiseration for any of us? Anyone else hating Kindergarten? Anyone have an opinion on whether I should stick with the crappy teacher so my son can be with the other kid who’s reading at his same level, or try to get him switched into another class (which I may not even be able to do)?

Making Life Good For Your Kids’ Teachers

You know what really annoys an internet advice columnist? Not being able to connect to the internet to post her column because her internet just didn’t seem to work. Grr.

OTOH, not posting this last night or this morning gave you guys a chance to really work over the toenail polish issue, which I’d thought was just a "let’s not think of anything to stressful on a Wednesday" topic. 45 responses! And I can’t believe I never thought of using blue or green polish.

But now for today’s post, which was supposed to go up this morning:

I want to pull out a comment from frequent commenter Maura, who used to be a classroom teacher. I’m just going to repost her advice, but the whole comment is here.

Back to School Thoughts for Parents from a Former Teacher:

1) If your family can afford to eat out once a week, please consider
doing a good deed and buying an extra set of school supplies for
children who can’t afford them at the same time that you buy your
child’s school supplies. Drop them off to your child’s teacher. There
WILL be a child in your child’s class who can’t afford the supplies.
Your child’s teacher spends hundreds of dollars of her/his own money
every year on class supplies, and anything you can donate discreetly
will be greatly appreciated.

2) Please don’t be upset or feel slighted if you spontaneously stop
by after school and your child’s teacher doesn’t seem to want to talk
for 45 minutes about everything that concerns you about the upcoming
year. The first week of school is impossibly busy for teachers – I’d
take home at least 5 or 6 hours of work every night and still not come
close to finishing. If you want to stop in and introduce yourself, that
is great! If you want to have an extended conversation, please make an
appointment so your child’s teacher can schedule his time and plan

3) Please, please, please thank the teachers who take the time to
meet with you for extended conferences. I usually taught a total of
between 125 and 140 students a year. I only got one 45-minute planning
period per day, and that was for all of my lesson planning, evaluation,
grading, recordkeeping, and parent communication. Just spending one
hour with every parent eats up my entire year of planning time.
Teachers who show that much dedication are volunteering their time for
your child. Please appreciate that.

3) Please do not treat an A- or a B as a crisis. A B is GOOD. A C is
AVERAGE. If your child receives an A- on a paper, that is a great
achievement. Please do not demand a conference and bring your
educational diagnostician to argue that your child deserves an A.

4) If your child has 50 books in his bookcase at home and he only
really loves 5 of them, please consider donating the other 45 to your
local school. Every classroom is enhanced by a classroom library. If
your child is not rereading a book regularly, another child would love
to read it.

5) If your child is assigned a creative, fun, and interesting
project that you think is educationally valuable, it probably took your
child’s teacher many, many hours to create it and prepare it. Teaching
is a lonely profession with few extrinsic rewards. A quick email
saying, "Hey, that was such a cool project! My son really enjoyed
it!!!!" takes 2 minutes to write and will be remembered by your son’s
teacher for years.

6) Teaching your child to be polite, honest, and compassionate is
the greatest gift you can give to a teacher. Forget the cheese balls
and #1 Teacher! mugs at Christmastime. If your child says, "Please",
"Thank you", and "Excuse me" and "I’m sorry" on a regular basis, you’ve
already given us priceless gifts

7) If your child really wants to give a gift to his or her teacher,
that is a wonderful thing. And believe me, we appreciate it. The
greatest gift your child can give is a handwritten letter — something
like, "Ms. Maura, this is my favorite class. I really loved the project
we did on X. I’m always going to remember you because of X. Thank you
for teaching me X." Once I got a phone call from a student a year after
I taught him from across the country where he had moved, just to thank
him for teaching him grammar. That was one of the best phone calls of
my life!

8) If you really want to buy a gift, please please please no cheese
balls and teacher mugs or tchochkes or ornaments. The most appreciated
gifts I ever got were books, office supplies, or gift cards to Borders
and Staples. I spent so much on books and school supplies that those
gift cards were very, very, very, very much appreciated and put to
great use.

8) Again, if you can afford to take your family out to dinner on a
regular basis, and you often purchase books from a bookstore rather
than go to the library, please consider picking up an extra book of the
same type and donating it to your child’s school.

9) A lot of really awesome, incredible, motivated, inspiring
teachers become burned out, dispirited, discouraged, and less
enthusiastic over the years because their effort and hard work is not
noticed or seems to be unappreciated, and the undone work, the
staggering weight of the unmet needs of students and the problems in a
school system become overwhelming. Worse, most parents only call school
to complain, not to praise. If your child has a great teacher, someone
he or she loves, someone who inspires a love of learning in your child,
please help to invest in that person, not just for your child’s sake,
but for the sake of all the children that person might teach in the
future. Go to school board meetings and advocate for better schools for
your child. Support the efforts of teachers to improve learning
conditions in your child’s school. If your child’s teacher takes the
time to call home and talk to you regularly, thank them. If they call
to tell you good news, thank them. Tell your child’s principal when
your child’s teacher does great work.

10) Your child’s teacher is a partner with you in caring about your
child’s learning. Treat them as a partner, not a boss or a servant.

Sharing back-to-school ideas

Because school’s either started or is about to start for lots of us, I thought it would be great to share some ideas.

Amie wrote in to tip me off that Office Depot has a program that gives back 5% of the money you spend on school supplies to your school. When you go, ask the checkout person for your school’s ID number, or sign your school up if they’re not already signed up for it. (Hint: You could also give the number of a poorly-funded school in your area to help those kids out, if you wanted to pull a Robinhood.)

I’m feeling like a supergenius because I figured out that if you, your partner, and your babysitter all have Gmail accounts, you can create a special calendar for your children’s events and share the calendar with all three of you (if you’ve never used Google calendars, click on the "Calendar" link at the top of your Gmail screen). And then you can even set it to send a text message reminder to you or your babysitter before events you need to be reminded of. Dude. I love Google. And a huge thank-you to my youngest coworker for tipping me off to the text reminder feature.

I just started reading Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children, and so far the authors have some great suggestions for healthy lunches, but more interestingly, they have some intriguing ideas about how we could be changing the lunches that kids are fed in school. I’ll do a full review when I finish the book.

Does anyone else have any back-to-school tips they’d like to share, or questions they’d like to ask the chorus?

Q&A: aggressive behavior in babies and toddlers

HS writes:

"I have a  2 year 8 month old boy who is very active. He
also goes to a daycare in our neighborhood and he had been bitten twice in the
back by some other 2 year old. When I asked about it the daycare director told
me that I should not worry because that’s the way 2yr olds defends
themselves.  I really don’t like seen ugly bite marks on my
son.  Can you suggest a way in which I could tell the director to make
sure that won’t happen again?

She also told me that because my son did not say anything
they were not able to catch the accident on time.  I want to make sure
that these ladies who are watching over my kid do their job."

Huh? "That’s the way 2-year-olds defend themselves?" So that means that they just let the biting go on without attempting to stop it? Interesting logic. So they’d think it was appropriate if you punched the mother of the other kid in the face, because that’s how parents defend their kids? Somehow I don’t think so.

There are two truths about emotions in children: 1) There’s nothing wrong with having angry or frustrated or aggressive or other negative feelings. It’s a part of being human, and we should worry about kids who never feel free to express anything negative. The only problem is expressing them in inappropriate ways. 2) One of the most important jobs adults have with regards to children is helping them learn how to manage their emotions, especially the big and scary ones.

It sounds like those daycare providers are taking too much of point #1 to heart, and thinking the kids are magically going to learn to do point #2 on their own, without adult guidance. But how could they? Kids don’t learn to talk without hearing any other people talking. Doing something as complex as managing their emotions is far more difficult, so it requires even more adult guidance.

There are several components to teaching kids to manage their emotions. The first is setting boundaries so the child knows what’s acceptable and what’s not. That should start as early as a child starts to show negative behavior. Some kids are as young as 6 months when they start scratching or hitting, and right around 9 months to a year is a super-common time for that whacking in the face, stealing of the glasses, pulling hair, etc. that many of us have experienced with our kids.

Setting boundaries (especially for kids that age, but really for anyone of any age you’re setting boundaries with) doesn’t mean being mean or punitive. It just means making it abundantly clear what’s acceptable and what’s not. How you do it depensd on your particular child and what motivates him/her. For example, my older one does not respond well to verbal cues (despite the fact that he talks all the livelong day–go figure) and has always needed me to physically intervene to show him the boundaries. So when he was teeny and bit me while nursing, I’d scream (just because it hurt) and then unlatch him and put him out of reach so he couldn’t nurse anymore right then. When he was older and pulling hair, I’d tell him No but also pick him up and put him across the room so he couldn’t touch me. When he was biting other kids at age 2, I’d watch for it and before he bit I’d put my hand between his shark teeth and the other child and guide his head away and off somewhere else to distract him. My second one responds much more to verbal cues (and he’s not anywhere near as verbal himself as his brother was at this age) so I use more of the "you can do this, you cannot do that" kind of talk with him.

While you’re setting the boundaries, it’s important to talk the kid through those boundaries to help the child get that tape in their head. Have you ever heard a little kid looking at a temptation and saying something like "I not touch that" as they look longingly at that thing? That’s exactly what you want to happen, that the kid develops an internal dialogue about what they should and shouldn’t do. So when you’re working on not hitting you, you should be saying something about not hitting people but hitting a pillow instead. When you’re working on not snatching toys out of a younger sibling’s hand, you should be repeating "Find something to trade him!" to get that tape playing in his head. It’s not going to make a change overnight, but it does get the pattern established of positive self-talk and rehearsing actions before you do them.

The other two components that are very important in helping kids manage negative emotions are distraction and giving them healthy subsititutes. Distraction has to be the single most useful discipline tool ever, because it breaks the immediate pattern and stops the negative behavior. It also gives you enough time to think about what’s happening and act instead of react when you figure out what to do next. Sometimes the bad behaviorwas just a fluke, and you don’t ahve to do anything else, because the distraction took care of it.

But for things that are consistnent or show that a kid really can’t manage some emotions (and I’d definitely put biting, hitting, and pushing in that category), you need to give them a healthy subsititute. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry, aggressive, or frustrated. You absolutely want to make sure your child experiences those emotions without feeling like they’re something to be hidden, because in order to be a healthy adult you need to be able to process and accept your own emotions. Be very clear that the problem isn’t feleing angry, it’s biting another person in anger. To that and, you can give the child something productive to do with the negative energy. We gave my older son a braided dog chew toy (a new one I bought just for him) and when he felt like biting, he bit that. Some kids carry around special pillows that they hit when they feel like hitting someone. I’ve seen some parents get their children to run around the room for 10 minutes or hop up and down to release that physical energy.

By giving your kid a substitute to help them expend negative energy, you’re setting up their ability to consciously manage their emotions. The hope is that as teens and adults they’ll be able to think, "I feel really horrible and like I want to punch someone. Let me go out and run 2 miles instead, or scrub out the bathtub, or go down into the basement and hit the punching bag, or go over to the dojo and see if anyone wil spar with me." They’ll know how to channel that energy into something neutral (if not actually helpful) instead of turning to hurting other people or themselves.

OK. HS, if you’re still with me, what I’m getting at is that this is a serious issue, and you are totally right to be concerned about the non-response from your daycare director, both for your own son’s sake and also for the biter’s sake. There are several things here that concern me:

1) Is their ratio of staff to kids so low that they just simply cannot keep on top of what’s going on with the kids?

2) Are they not sensitive enough to the kids to realize that the biter needs a little extra attention and guidance?

3) How can they not realize that allowing your son to get bitten is not acceptable and is a serious liability? You’d think they’d at least be worried about the potential lawsuit, if nothing else.

I think you need to go in and sit down with the director and express to her that this is a huge concern for your son’s safety, and that they need to think seriously about their procedures for ensuring the safety of each child. Emphasize that this is a safety issue, not just a "kids being kids" issue. Then express your concern that the staff doesn’t know how to help the kids manage their emotions and are letting situations get out of hand. You might suggest the idea of having a biting toy for the biter and helping the caregivers manage the flow of the day so things don’t escalate and get the kids so frustrated that they attack each other.

(Oh, and the part about your son not telling them anything happened? You can’t tell me that a 2 1/2-year-old gets bit hard enough to leave a mark and doesn’t yell in pain. Why was there no caregiver there to hear his cry and figure it out? It’s not your son’s responsibility to report incidents in a detailed and calm manner–he’s a toddler.)

It’s entirely possible that the director won’t have any answer for you. If that’s the case, you may have to think seriously about finding another place for your child where he won’t be in physical danger from other kids. Of course that doesn’t help the other kid who’s biting because he doesn’t know how to deal with his frustration, of any of the other kids in the center, but your primary responsiblity is to your own child.

And do NOT let the director try to sell you the idea that the problem is with the kids. The kids are just trying to fumble their way through all the feelings coursing through their little bodies. Adults have the responsibility to help the kids deal with those feelings.

Anyone have an similar experiences with daycare situations that weren’t being handled appropriately? Any words of advice?

Back to school roundup

Since those of us with school-age (preschool or older) kids have had a few weeks to cope settle in, I thought now might be a good time to talk about some of the stuff that crops up at this time of year. There are already some great discussions of kindergarten-related stuff over at Jody’s, and some high school stuff at Lisa V’s. If anyone’s got discussion about middle-school stuff, let me know and I’ll link it.

Let’s talk about a couple of things that seem to come up for a lot of people, and see how everyone is getting through them.

Separation anxiety

Kids going into new school situations (and even sometimes going back to the same classroom and teacher) often feel separation anxiety for the first few days or weeks. Different schools handle separation in different ways. The school my older son goes to asks the parents to stay in the hallway outside the classroom until the child is comfortable in the classroom, while friends’ schools ask parents to leave the first day and make a distinct break.

However your child’s school handles drop-off, there are some things you can do to ease the transition. Be positive about the school and teachers; make it clear that school is for kids and teachers, not grown-ups; tell your child when you’re leaving, don’t ask them if it’s OK; and always, always say goodbye–never sneak away. Remember that your child’s teachers are your partners in parenting now, and they’ll tell you how your child is doing and how the separation is really going. You may be hearing a ton of crying when you leave, but your child might cry for a minute but then go off happily to the sand table soon after you leave.

Some kids seem to have a huge problem with being left while you go away. My cousin had this problem, and for weeks he’d cry and cry when my aunt sropped him off at school, even though he loved school. Finally my aunt realized it was the leaving he couldn’t take, not the school, so she worked out a solution with another mom that worked perfectly for them. The other mother would come to their house and pick up my cousin, so he got to be the one leaving my aunt. They’d say goodbye as he left, and he had no more problems going into school. Then my aunt would do pick-up for both kids.

Other parents have noticed that kids who get really upset when one parent drops them off at school are often not upset at all when the other parent or a grandparent or babysitter drops them off. So if you have a child who’s still having a difficult time at drop-off, it may not be a problem with the fact of drop-off, but with the method of drop-off. See if you can rethink the logistics to see if that helps the situation.

Anyone else have problems or ideas about separation anxiety?

Changing sleep patterns

Lots of kids change sleep patterns when the school year starts, even if they’re getting up at the same time, just because school takes so much energy from them. Kids who don’t nap during the summer might take naps after school, and bedtimes are usually earlier during the school year.

Just when you’ve probably all adjusted to the new amount and pattern of sleep your child is getting, it’s time to change the clocks back to standard time. This year the switch is on October 29. We talked about the time change back in April, and people gave some strategies for adjusting to the new time. Pick a strategy (inching your child to the new bedtime, or just going cold turkey), and be prepared for a couple of days of strangeness.

Applying to schools

This is the time of year parents are busy choosing and applying to schools for the next year. Everyone who’s happy with their local public school, count yourself lucky. All the rest of us are busy applying to magnet public schools or to private schools. It can be quite a crazy-making process that requires a ton of intense research and planning and work, followed by a long period of nailbiting.

I’m strangely fascinated by the whole process, which is why I agreed to review The Kindergarten Wars: The Battle to Get Into America’s Best Private Schools by Alan Eisenstock. Eisenstock follows several families (mothers) as they go through the process of trying to get their children into top private elementary schools. I really liked it, despite not wanting to. I thought it would be overly sensationalized, but it was actually calm and rational and funny. His sections on minority children are hilarious (directors admit frankly that they don’t have any non-white kids in their schools even while touting the value of "diversity" as if "diversity" is a consumer product for their students) and he shares the emotions as well as the actions of the families he follows through the process.

The schools are composites of top privates across the country. Eisenstock agreed to leave the school his children went to in California out of the book, and in exchange he got help accessing heads of school, admissions directors, and parents at schools across the country. And they told him all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t think they’d admit. It had enough insider stuff to be entertaining, but it wasn’t a dirty schadenfreude-laced tell-all.

We’re not planning to go through the process of applying to private school, so I read this book more as entertainment than as an instruction manual. I found it as interesting as any recent books on private school admissions follies, but with better writing and no unnecessary subplots. I’m not sure, however, that if I was a parent in the middle of applying to a private kindergarten I would love this book, since it doesn’t give you any magic bullet to get your kid into the right school. Eisenstock’s revelation is that the best way to get your kid in is to be a normal, loving family that clicks with the admissions director, and to be known by the director of your preschool. I thought it was a breath of fresh air in the middle of an industry that feeds itself by escalating the panic, but that might enrage the very parents who need it most. If there’s one thing my time in New York has taught me, it’s that de-escalation is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Let’s hope the parents who need to step back a little for their own emotional health (and their childrens’ health) can find this book helpful. If you do live in a not-so-crazy area of the world, this book will probably help you keep persepctive on the whole process.