Welcome to my adventure. This blog started out focused on parenting and school but now that Katie's nearly baked, it's way more about me these days. My experiences, more likely my point of view and good times to share.
Welcome! I'm glad to have you aboard.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five Things You Should NOT Ask the Kids This Holiday Season

Yeah, that's a Menorah AND
a Christmas tree. We get around.
Katie was groaning the other day about going to another holiday party. "I don't hate the party mom, I hate all the dumb questions the adults ask me!" she lamented.

I think I am one of those adults! 

It's terrifying when you realize you have crossed over to the other side and are now one of the adults asking kids stupid questions. So I thought I would try and make up for the error of my ways and list the top five questions Katie (and her friends) have said are the most dread questions adults are most likely to ask.

On behalf of my college bound young friends, I have also added a bonus question.

When you look at these questions, they really are horrible. They are kind of "dead ends" that leave the child very little room for answering in an interesting way. And as Katie reminds me, making conversation is hard. So maybe we need make a little more effort to help them chat with us in a more meaningful way.

Here are the five things NOT to ask (read the question and then the response that runs through the head of the young person you are talking to!):

1. How's school?
Um, it's fine. What do you want me to say? Anything I have to say that's interesting would require a half hour of previews just to get you up-to-speed. And then you still wouldn't understand.

2. What do you like to study? or What are you studying?
I am 11 [insert age here]. I am studying what the teachers say to study. I don't have a lot of choice here.

3. What do you want to do when you grow up?
Are you serious? Did you know the answer to this question? Don't you listen to the news? There aren't any jobs out there. Things are a mess. And I just have to get through history!

4. Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
Yes. But I don't want to tell you yes because then you will say something to my parents. Or the flipside: No. Now you know I am a total loser.

5. How is your [insert hobby or sport here] going?
It's fine. I like it, that's why I do it. I get to see my friends and it's the one thing I can do that doesn't involve getting a grade so it's cool. What else can I tell you?

Bonus: Where are you going to college? I don't know; I wish I did. I have lost sleep over this. It's not like I have any control over the situation. I sent in all my apps but don't you know that no one is getting the schools they way anymore and that it's going to cost a fortune and I still have to get through midterms and keep my grades up and do extracurricular activities and not do anything wrong before I can even find out that I didn't get my first choice, my second choice or my safety school?

Now, here are five questions you could ask that may still challenge the young person but might stimulate a bit more conversation:

1. What the best movie/TV show you've seen lately?
And you can follow-up with why. Great ice breaker and will reveal to you what they are interested in. This might require you having a clue about recent movies and television shows.

2. What's something you would change about school this year?
Chances are you'll get a speech about homework, but don't let it end there. Ask why or how they would help kids learn differently.

3. Who is/are your favorite teacher(s)?
Kids have lots of opinions about their teachers and this is likely to lead to a good discussion of who, why and who doesn't make the list.

4. What's the coolest thing you have done with your friends lately?
It's way easier for kids to talk about their friends. As you listen to them talk, you are likely to learn quite a bit about them as well.

5. What are you doing for [insert upcoming holiday here]?
Apparently this question is asked most frequently among the kids so they should be able to come up with an answer for you!

I know there are a million more questions on both the good and bad side. Love to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ahh Facebook: The Strange (Dangerous?) Case of Tweens Online

Last year, Facebook was all the rage among the fifth grade crowd. Why? Farmville. No more no less - sending Mystery Gifts, planting crops and decorating the farm. Over time, Farmville got old (and they pretty much made it so complicated it's no fun anymore anyway) and the kids got older.

Yeah, I know, they aren't supposed to be on Facebook before age 13.

We parents went along with it because with this generation of kids, we are actually closed involved with their Facebook pages. We are "friends" with them, have their passwords and can monitor content. And it all started out so innocently. And it's a great way for them to have relationships with family members who aren't close to home. 

But as the kids have gotten a little older, things have changed. I closely monitor her page to see what her friends are doing.

Many of them are just posting YouTube videos and "fan"ing lame pages like I-Hate-When-My-Mom-Turns-Off-the-TV or Getting-Teachers-To-Tell-Stories-Until-Class-Is-Over.  It all seems harmless enough except they are giving all those pages, and contests, and applications and creepy advertisers their personal information with every click. But that's not what worries me.

What does bother me is the public display of growing pains.

We all know being a tween sucks in many ways. You are bouncing back and forth between childhood and adulthood. Your body is going through insane changes and feelings become intensified. There's a great blog focusing on the challenges of parenting and raising a tween. Now that the tweenage drama is playing out on Facebook and I am pulling back big time on Katie's access.

The first thing I noticed was the language. They are starting to talk like grown-ups in a bar or an episode of The League. Raunchy, bad and even racial slurs (apparently Willow Palin isn't alone - not at all).

The second thing was the sexual innuendo. These kids are 11 years old. Most still have bodies that look like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. They don't know anything but they like to play like they do. What 11 year old needs that in their life?

But the last thing was this post: "Today I seriously thought about ending my life. Seriously."

This was from a girl the kids have talked about before mostly because they can't figure her out. I take suicide very seriously and I hope to goodness her mother or friends are monitoring her Facebook. But I don't need my kid caught up in this stuff. And it will catch her - she's a bleeding heart for helping others. Clearly there's more going on here than 11 year olds can deal with.

So yep; this morning I shut down the tween drama.

I didn't remove friends because I didn't want to make it a big deal. I just created White List and put them all on there. Then I changed her privacy settings to allow posts to be viewed by friends but not friends on the White List. Finally, I hid the friends' posts that Katie simply doesn't need to see.
So why keep Facebook at all?

It's a really good way for her to keep in touch with family from around the country and to follow a few things she really cares about including our local marine lab, a couple colleges, her favorite camp, etc. I like her to keep up with what they are doing and it's appropriate content.

How-to White List Friends

First click on Friends on the left nav bar. Then click Edit Friends at the top of the list in the center of the page. Once there, Create a List (name it) and then start putting people on The List.

After that part is done, go to Account on the upper left and choose Privacy Settings. For a kid I highly recommend they are all set to Friends Only.  In this case, I Customize Settings for all her public information and added The List cannot see information.

How-to Hide Friends

This one is easy. Simply move your mouse over to the left of a Friend's post. A little "x" appears. Click that and you have a choice, Hide This Post, Hide All Posts (From This Person). Choose Hide All. You can always get it back by going to the bottom of the Wall and clicking on Edit Options. Note, this little "x" is also where you can Unlike a page.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Relieving the Pain: When 11-Year Olds Start Cutting

Katie's home room teacher rocks. She not only teaching language arts, but she also brings in lots of life lessons - from drinking to college admissions to cutting. Yep, she brought it up in class and it was the first time Katie had ever heard of it.

Turns out, there's a cutter in her class.

We have known the girl who is cutting for years. We don't know her well, but she's been part of our local community and we used to do swim lessons together when the girls were about five years old. Things were so simple back then.

But roll the clock forward six years and life has become more complex. The kids started noticing scars and some cuts a few weeks ago. Since her teacher pointed out what it might look like, Katie was pretty sure of what she was seeing early on. It really worried her.

In our house we talk a lot about feelings and motivations regarding behavior. So Katie was quick to think about what might be bothering her friend so much that she would need to cut herself as a way to deal with it. We did a little Googling.

We found a great article on a teen site that is written very well for a teen reader. It's called Teens Health and the article goes through the what, why and how to get help. They provide a tidy definition of cutting:

Injuring yourself on purpose by making scratches or cuts on your body with a sharp object — enough to break the skin and make it bleed — is called cutting. Cutting is a type of self-injury, or SI. Most people who cut are girls, but guys self-injure, too. People who cut usually start cutting in their young teens. Some continue to cut into adulthood. (Read more here.)

This week, the cuts on Katie's classmate's arm were much more noticeable. I was encouraged to hear my daughter took action and told her language arts teacher what she saw. And the next day, Katie went right to the source, her friend, and asked her why she was hurting herself. Her friend was angry at Katie for interfering but Katie didn't care. She wanted her to know she was keeping an eye on her.

Apparently yet another student is helping Katie's friend escalate. While the parents scramble to hide sharps and throw away the wart remover (she used to scar herself in the shape of a heart), this other student is showing her how to hide her cuts and use other objects.

The whole thing is really scary.

I am glad to know the kids are coming together around this issue and want to help their classmate. I am so glad Katie's teacher is talking about the hard things so the kids aren't caught off guard and can actually be part of the solution. I am hoping some positive peer pressure (along with her parents' great efforts) will help turn this situation around.

It seems like eleven years old is so young for all this stuff. But then I guess pain knows no age.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Report Cards Came Out Yesterday - Publicly. Do Students Have a Right to Privacy?

Okay, so I need to say a bit more about grades. After my last blog about Katie's addiction - which has been tempered, sorta   - I find I am still stuck on the subject after watching a disaster in the making yesterday!

I arrived at school a little early and decided to wait for Katie in the Quad since we were experiencing a wonderful, Indian Summer day. I noticed the kids in 7th period PE were all being given a slip of white paper and there was a LOT of activity going on. Kids were in clusters all looking at the various sheets of paper.

And then I heard a kid say what it was: his report card.

I was aghast. What! Passed out on a sheet of paper? For the entire world to see? Are you kidding me?

Clearly printed out from the "Parent Portal" (our online grade viewing tool), this single piece of paper reported the grades, included teacher sound bytes (they are so short they don't really constitute a whole comment) and a citizenship rating. There's no key or legend so many of the sixth grade kids had no idea what the citizenship marks indicate. So if you don't know what a mark means, does it have any meaning at all? 

But that missed opportunity aside, what happened to respecting a student's privacy?

I can think of nothing more horrible than having my grades handed to me, in front of everyone else, with little to no opportunity for privacy. It's bad enough to have friends ask, "What did you get?" but usually that's in the halls or on the phone when you can spin it in a way that works for you.

In this scenario, complete strangers were coming over to Katie to see her paper. They don't know her but they know what she got in English! There was absolutely nowhere to hide. I thought grades were something between you, your teacher and your parents. Goodness knows how many parents actually even saw these pieces of paper. The way they were being manhandled on the school grounds, I wonder how many actually made it home.

It all leaves me with a few lingering questions:

If grades are to be valued, shouldn't the entire process be honored? We ask these kids to work hard to achieve and then we minimize it by passing out report cards like a flyer advertising Little League sign-ups.

If parents are in important part of the process, shouldn't we make sure these are mailed home so they can actually see them and discuss them with their child before they are socialized in the school yard?

And don't we want the students to understand what the grades mean; especially the sixth graders who don't have access to the Parent Portal and have no idea how to interpret things like the citizenship marks?

Somewhere we got lost. We have traded away fundamentals. I understand money is an issue and maybe mailing home grades is expensive. But it certainly seems like it should be a priority over other things to preserve some honor and respect for the process.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Daughter Became an Addict in Sixth Grade

I was there the first time she used.

I actually gave her access to her drug without realizing what I was doing. And it took just a few times to get her hooked. I was a complete enabler.

This fall, my daughter became dangerously addicted to grades.

If I hadn't watched Race to Nowhere last week, I may not even have realized how dangerous this addiction could become. The movie tells the stories of many children who are on the fast track to get into college, doing homework for hours, trading away sleep and food, just so they can get the grades they need to get into a "good" school.

And when one student got a "B", she killed herself. She was 13. It was her first "bad" grade.

In addition to grades, they have to have a sport, do community service, embrace extra-curricular activities like drama or art or music all in an insane rush to a finish line that accepts kids with 4.35 GPAs. In case you are wondering how in the heck one gets a 4 point anything, it comes from taking AP classes which pile on the work even higher (read this message board conversation if you want to make yourself a little sick).

Needless to say, this movie captured my attention. Katie really never had letter grades before. We did home school last year and I pulled her from the mess that was fourth grade where they weren't using letter grades yet. Enter Middle School where they have something called the Parent Portal and you can see how you are doing day-by-day. Test by test. Let the addiction begin.

I had been slightly worried she was so obsessed with her grades, but I also shared her excitement as she was able to study more and get better grades. For the last four weeks, she's been getting 100 on everything which, bytheway, they addictively call an A+ - which is simply non-sense, it's an A. But this adds a kick to the high doesn't it?!

So I confronted Katie about her addiction when I got home from the movie. She said it wasn't a problem. She wasn't hooked. So I waited. I wanted to see how long she could go without looking. And then I asked her a harder question: had she ever cheated to make sure she got an A. That was harder to answer.

Finally, I told her she could NOT do extra credit the next morning for a class where she already had an A. She got a little distressed; she was convinced she needed the "safety net". It's sixth grade! The class is an elective! What the hell kind of safety net does she need!?!

"Mom, grades still matter. It's not like I can't care about them," she said. And she's totally right. But boy am I thinking about things differently. First, we are curbing the addiction. Then I am going to start showing her colleges that don't require a 4.35. I am going to make sure my child knows how to think (not just take tests) and revive some of that home school parent involvement I am missing from last year - so the lesson goes beyond the books and papers.

And then I am going to encourage her to put everything down and get silly with me.

I am not going to lose her to this madness.

Have you seen Race to Nowhere? I would love to hear your impressions and thoughts. And ideas you have for coping within the parameters of public education.

About the film:
Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. Here's a list of screenings in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Students Helping Students: They Can Lift Each Other Up (Academically)

The coolest thing happened yesterday. I didn't expect it to be cool. I thought it was going to be a nightmare. But man, it turned out awesome.

Imagine, it's Monday: the day after Halloween (where we somehow picked up two extra kids along the way who ended up back at our house to watch the Giants win Game 4). I am still in recovery from the big night. And we are having company for dinner to watch Game 5.

It's within that context that Katie rushes up to me after school  making the case for why her two girlfriends should come over right now so they could do an "important class assignment" together. I had one of those bi-polar parent moments vacillating between "are you freaking kidding me?" (my goodness, don't we need a little quiet in our lives) and "awesome, that'd be fun!" (because I really needed to be supportive and many hands make light work, right?).

Now a quick parent to parent note: These two friends are not who I would normally choose for my kid. They have a harder time with school. And I worry that Katie might get slowed down or distracted taking the time to help them. It's sounds awful to write it, but I think everyone's been in this spot before. And of course, I kept those feelings to myself.

My daughter, ever the lawyer-in-training, assured me they would stay in her room and stay on track! Yeah, right, I thought. At a minimum I am going to have to feed everyone! Sheesh. But, they piled in the car and off we went.

But then it started to happen. One of those times when you see or hear your child in a way you have never experienced them before.

Katie got them wrangled (and fed) and started them out with brainstorming. They had a white board and went through a series of ideas before they started working. I could hear distractions come up - typically ideas that would derail the plan - and Katie would listen, acknowledge the idea and then explain how they would consider it later in the process where it was more appropriate. Who was this kid?

They all worked industriously on the project; Katie rushing around fetching supplies. At one point she called out, "Just a minute, don't use ink, we need to proofread it!" Holy cow! That's usually my line! Then, they came out of the bedroom (on time) and they had produced a beautiful, collaborative project! (I wish I had taken a picture but the game started and then we won the World Series, so I kind of forgot!).

But the best part happened this morning. Katie took the project in early so it wouldn't get messed up before fifth period. I guess her teacher loved it. And she really loved that Katie worked with her two friends. She felt so good about what they did together.

In these times when kids are struggling at school, I really think we need to look for more opportunities for the kids to lift each other up. No one is an expert at everything (we adults know that) and we need each other to truly succeed.

I can't think of a better way to build future bridges than to get kids working together today - on math, science, English - anything that requires listening, patience and collaboration. My goodness, one day, they could end up in Congress!

There might be hope for America yet!

PS: Yeah Giants!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Restore Sanity to Halloween: The Ultimate Socialist Holiday!

I love Halloween. It’s colorful, creative and usually good fun.

But there are weird conversations going on this year about making rules for how old kids can be who want to trick or treat - like no one over 14 should be allowed to go house to house (can you imagine being the cop who has to make an arrest?). [See also Teens Defend their Right to Trick or Treat.]

That’s crazy. It's time to restore some sanity around here!

When it comes to Halloween, I am the ultimate socialist. If you show up wearing a costume, you get candy. Even adults. I don’t care. All you have to do is show a little creativity and have the wherewithal to go door to door. Okay, you do have to say, “Trick or Treat” but that’s is – everybody gets candy!

I love how much thought and planning goes into Katie’s costume every year. It’s usually her idea and then my scrambling to see what we can assemble. I think she’s had a homemade costume nearly every year!

And this year – and I blame her social studies teacher  - this year she made a homemade map of the route she’s planning to take with her friends with special houses identified (we all know the “good” houses don’t we?) so they don’t forget.

Katie took great care in choosing a good mix of candy based on her assessment of “kids favorites” (and no peanuts since a good friend of hers has a peanut allergy and she’s sensitive to that!).

The nation’s depressed. The economy still sucks. Politicians are fighting. Don’t we deserve a little fun (besides watching the SF Giants play in the World Series!)? And all we do is get mad at tweens and teens for being a nuisance. Well this is a positive, fun, good way to have fun – shouldn’t we all celebrate that together?

Share the wealth. Buy some candy. Make a Trick or Treater happy on Halloween no matter how old they are!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Middle School Dance Comes with Instructions! You Gotta See This!

While I was watching the Giants take game three last night, Katie was focusing on "groking" what she had learned in PE this week in preparation for Friday's big (first) dance!

At the commercial break, she dragged me into the office where she had laid it all out on our white board (they are closet doors and absolutely the coolest thing).  I couldn't resist sharing it with you - it's just too classic. And heck, if you aren't a dancer, maybe it will give you a few ideas!

The PE teachers have assured the students that nearly any movement, if it matches the beat, can be considered a dance move. Shoot basketballs? Do it to the beat. Grab groceries off a shelf? Do it to the beat. And don't forget to choose your favorite dance expression - that helps sell it. 

Now, put on some music and bust a move! 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tween-age Grousing: This Strange Behavior Has Hidden Meaning

Ever since school started this fall, Katie has come home with weird stories about new behaviors she’s experiencing now that she’s in middle school. These are things the kids didn’t do before middle school (well, maybe a little but nothing like what’s happening now). It goes like this:

Katie opens her lunch her friend immediately asks, “Can I have that?” referring to her cookie, chips, pretzels, insert food item here.

Walking across the Quad at lunchtime, an eighth grader who doesn’t know her at all says, “Can I have a dollar?”

In class, a student assistant, a seventh grader says, “You need to give me some money!”

In another class, a friend spies her Silly Bands and begs, “Can I have one paahhhllleeessseee?”

What the heck is going on? Apparently it’s relentless and for some reason, my daughter has the good sense to say no. But I am really not sure why. I mean some of these people are her friends or at least people she’s friendly with. As for the older kids, I can’t believe she has the courage to rebuff them. But she does (thank god) and she feels completely comfortable telling them to take a hike.

But what is really going on here? This was really bugging me. So I asked an expert – my friend, her principal. Since she’s made a career out of middle school-aged kids, I figured she’d be able to clue me in. She did.

So what's behind "the ask"?

Turns out there are two different kinds of motivations behind “the ask.” The first is kind of sweet, not so much because of what the kids are doing, but why they are doing it. When “the ask” is peer-to-peer, it’s really a desperate attempt to form a social connection.

What the child is really saying is, "do you like me? If you do, you'd share with me," which, I admit is a bit clunky. But it makes sense. These are kids who are thrown together, many aren't friends but are friendly, and they have no idea how to approach someone and make a friend. So this awkward social bargaining ensues.

Now the other "ask" is really about power. As you might have noted, the person asking is typically older and inherently has more power in the relationship (bigger graders preying on younger graders). If the child asking succeeds in getting what he or she wants - most often money, but Katie has also been asked for school supplies and food - then they "win" the power struggle. And I have to believe that poor kid who gave in will be an easy ask the next time.

As I talked about this with Katie, she totally got it. It was like a light went on. "Of course," she said, "it's all about power. I am so telling my friends to tell those other kids to bug off." But on the friendship side of things, when I offered a suggestion of how to handle things differently, she told me I am full of it. She says she has it figured out and it will be fine.

No one is getting her stuff.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Sheer Pain of Being a Tween: So Simple but So Awful

I woke up yesterday fired up. Fall - my favorite time of year!

I had scoped out an event at our local crafts store, Beverly Fabrics, and I knew Katie was going to love it. They were offering small craft projects of the fall variety with a hint of Halloween thrown in. This would be great.

Except it wasn't great.

Beverly's was doing a good job. Adults were decorated in costumes and silliness. People were milling around inside and out and the craft tables were set up with lots of little things to do. But Katie froze when she saw them.

Normally, I would have had to let her run ahead to get to all the stuff. Typically I have to find things to keep myself occupied while she managed "just one more." But not this time.

As we approached the store, she started to get slightly agitated.  "Want to do a craft," I asked. "No," she quickly replied. So we went inside. "Look at all this great stuff," I said pointing out several, wonderful fall creations. "Yeah," she countered, barely moving. "Want me to make a scarf for you in school colors," I asked desperately, trying to find some way to connect. "No," she said, "I think we should go."

Hmm. This was totally weird.

We got back in the car and I stalled to think of something else we could do. I wanted to do anything other than go back home and stare at each other. I looked over and Katie was quietly crying. We sat together quietly. I realized this was one of those moments I have read about. A classic tween dilemma.

She really wanted to do the crafts, but she felt too old and horribly self conscious. She was caught in that awful place between being a kid and being a teen.

The rest of our day basically sucked. She was depressed and I eventually caught it. She still doesn't have any girl friends at school and I think not having anyone to talk to adds to the complexity.

So as the day ended, her feelings finally got crystallized in her head and we talked about what happened. She was so sad she missed the chance to do something she loved. But she also realized she didn't really have control over her conflicting feelings when the hit her at the store.

Gratefully, today is a much better day. Being a tween is very exciting, but sometimes, it just plain sucks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: Save Water, Take a Dirt Bath

Katie created this award-winning poster for our local water utility.
We know water is a limited resource. And I have talked to Katie about it for years. We live in a wonderful area but it is regularly impacted by climate shifts that often result in limits on our water consumption.

So today, around the world, bloggers are writing about water. It's called Blog Action Day and if you put that in Google, you will see thousands of folks blogging about water from many perspectives.

Take a moment, sign the petition below and see what others are saying.

Change.org|Start Petition

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Working Hard for Smart Teachers Makes the Whole Difference

We are a month into school and Katie is humming, almost purring, with the challenge. Sure it's been a lot of work but as she said, "Mom, I don't mind working hard for smart teachers!" No truer words have been spoken.

For the first time since third grade, Katie has teachers who are actually "into her." It's making a huge difference. Katie comes home with homework that isn't so bad. The deal is she wants to do so well on it that's she actually taking longer than I think her teachers' expect. She wants to delight them with her efforts and works really hard to go above and beyond.

But she also really wants their feedback. And they are so good about giving it to her. She comes home with letter grades on everything (her first time) and gets so excited when there are comments. The teachers are available to her during non-class hours and she has stopped by to see them to get help or clarification.

When I decided to let Katie go to Shoreline, it was with some reticence - I hadn't heard good things about the school. But now that we are there, I feel like it's a big hidden secret. The school rocks. And the teachers are amazing.

So I am letting her ride the tide of enthusiasm she has suddenly found for learning. She bores dinner guests after the meal as she teaches them about hominids and factoring. Hooray for a good start. Let's hope this doesn't end!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We Enter the World of Queen Bees and Wannabees (and Bullies)

Ahhh, bullies.

We have managed to get through six years of school with very few incidents of bullying. But now Katie's in middle school and the landscape has changed.

Thankfully, we started reading Queen Bees and Wannabees together just before school started. What a great book. We are only about half way through (homework is blowing out our time together) but the first half is awesome. It describes the Girl World and how the rules and roles are changing - especially in junior high.

Katie loved listening to the different descriptions of each kind of girl and the role she plays in the larger group. Because Katie hasn't been in public school, she isn't really part of a group yet. She was also born an arm-chair psychologist so she has an uncanny way of understanding others motivations in a way most kids don't.

Fast forward to right now.

Katie has met her first official Queen Bee and she is a bully. A bona fide, no-holds-barred idiot who has decided my kid needs to be put in her place. It started with "accidental" backpack bumps and mocking. It has escalated to more overt pushing and putting Katie down in class (PE class - perfect isn't it?).

This bully managed to stab another boy in the back with a pencil, sending him to the office nurse because it got so swollen. I have begged Katie to tell the girl to stop. Just stop. But Katie feels she can handle it and her current strategy is to ignore her.

Probably not a bad approach until Frisbee golf late last week, when Katie accidentally hit the Queen Bee in the head with a Frisbee. Of course this lead to a big discussion on Freudian Slips and are accidents really accidents. But the bottom line is now the simple bullying is on the verge of escalating.

So I don't have a tidy conclusion.

I am at an impasse with my daughter on how to handle this. I want her to make some adult aware of what's been going on in case it gets worse. She wants to downplay the whole thing; sure that it will blow over. She has good judgment and maybe that's the hardest part - knowing when to trust her's or mine.

We are at the point in growing up aren't we?

So I ask you your opinion? Do I trust her ability to handle it? Do I slyly get in it? I don't believe she's in danger - at least not yet - so there's time to let things play out. Love to hear from you...

UPDATE: In mid October, Katie hopped in the car after school and said the bully told her she had big feet. Katie said, "yep, I do! I am going to be tall.!" And the bully replied, "no, those big feet are going to get you beat up." I jumped from the car and marched Katie right back into her last period - PE.

The teacher was there and I made Katie explain what had been going on. For me, hearing "beat up" was the line in the sand I was looking for. The teacher handled it wonderfully. Asked Katie how she wanted to proceed and Katie said a face-to-face meeting with the other girl (I was shocked, what a brave choice!). Katie explained later she didn't want the girl weaseling out of anything, she wanted to make sure she owned it. A day later they had a CRT (Conflict Resolution something) and it was discussed.

The upshot, was a week later, said bully came up to Katie in the halls and said, "Hi Katie, how are you?" and was apparently genuine! Katie was floored. There haven't been any more problems. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We're Back! Five Things I Am Loving About Public School

Okay, so I talked about how much I miss home school and already ranted about one of the things that worries me about being back at public school, but to be fair, there are so many things I am truly appreciating about being back I wanted to share my list. So here goes!

My daughter is exhilarated.
For Katie, public school is the bomb. The kids, the rush, the busyness: it was made for her. I think Junior High is the perfect fit. It's so cool to see her so excited about school again. She tolerated me and my home school adventure. But now she's alive with learning in a totally different way.

The consistency is blowing me away.
They are organized and consistent. The school has a few common strategies for teaching (a planner, Cornell Notes, academic language, Promethean Boards) and that consistency is evident when Katie brings home her class work. They are using the same language and the coordination is awesome.

The teachers are amazing.
I have always held public school teachers in high regard. There is no other job that requires people to do more with less on a yearly basis. Yet  somehow they are inspired to be more creative, to identify new ways to teach and to inspire kids to learn. I was actually worried about this school before we got there.  Then they hired an amazing new principal and so I relaxed. But I was an idiot. The teachers there are a hidden, incredible asset.

These men and women are teaching kids during the most difficult years of their life: puberty. Yet they are motivated, inspiring and thoughtful. Katie comes home with stories of (what I consider to be extreme) patience, persistence and insight. She's learning about life from these adults in addition to the actual coursework. They are talking about college and drug abuse and relationships. It's not political or charged, just basic good advice that many of these kids are hearing for the first time.
I am totally impressed.

Katie's demonstrating real initiative.
However things are coming together, whatever the teachers are telling the kids and it's working for Katie. She comes home and does her work. (Maybe a little too intensely but it might ease up.) What I am seeing is real ownership of her homework and a desire to please her teachers. It includes her preparing things for the upcoming day of school and staying organized at home.

I embrace the diversity.
I mean diversity in a few ways - ethnic, gender, socio-economic, aptitude, attitude, all of it. In home school, the group actually tended to be kind of homogenous (in a weird way). But now that we are back in public school, I feel like the mix of students better represents the mix of people you have to deal with in life. All kinds of people with all their quirks and foibles.  

I am glad to have Katie back in a more diverse population so she can learn to navigate through that complexity. If I truly want her to be a contributing member of society, she has to do that by embracing what makes us different, not by being isolated or self-selecting into a group of that are too similar.

I could go on, I am sure things will get better (or worse? - yikes!). But right now, I am choosing to ride the tide of goodness that is coming from being back in public school!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Local County Fair Delivers Food, Fun and Self-Esteem

Where else can you see piggie butts!
We are so very lucky to live in a county that still plays host to an annual county fair. I hear fairs are closing down all over the United States and I think that’s just a shame. There’s nothing better than the sites, sounds and smells of agriculture, junk food and lots of animals!

Katie has participated in the fair since she was four (I have dragged her to the fair since she was two!). Her first entry was a painting of a chicken (yep, long before we had chickens, she was into them!). She got a second place ribbon.
Two years old!
She comes from a long line of fair participants. My brothers and I all entered exhibits, my mom won for her famous watermelon pickles, my grandparents entered in their local fairs and my cousins have won big awards for their animals at the California State Fair.

Today we picked up Katie’s ribbons for this year’s entries: a first place for her photograph of our chicken Lily; first place for her ceramic tile; and first place and a special award for her veggie art. First time she had such a wonderful clean sweep!

Award-winning  photo
The tile got a blue ribbon.
And she is fired up. She feels so good about herself!

I love our fair. They are generous with ribbons. They provide written feedback on the more sophisticated exhibits. We saw some friends picking up their stuff today, their ribbons fluttering in the breeze, huge smiles on their faces. We told them we saw their entries, they said they saw Katie’s entries. The fair helps sustain this wonderful sense of community.

I know it takes a lot of work to run a fair. I have no idea how much it takes to break even. I give a virtual hug to all the volunteers who make ours happen. And I am ever grateful for the big dose of self-esteem it gives our kids.
"Veggie art"  

Good fun. Good neighbors. Good times.

Next year I encourage you to take some time, help the kids find things to enter and go enjoy your local fair!

This just in! My friend Susana just published her blog about the fair with an interesting perspective on kids and winning and losing. Read it here!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I've Got the "Oh Crap We Are Back in Public School" Blues...

The "Study Nest" where it all happens!
I know it's temporary, it will pass, but today I got a kick in the teeth that reminded me of why I pulled Katie out of public school in the first place: she came home defeated. She worked really hard on some homework, I checked it, it was good but she got a poor grade because of interpretation.

Yep. That's what I am calling it.

I have no idea if her teacher understands how hard she works on things at home to do her best work. I don't understand what it's like to look out at a classroom of students - many who could give a crap about being there - and have to not only teach, but motivate them to work hard and learn. But Katie's not one of those kids. At least not yet.

She's into it. She spent two hours on the damn thing.

And yet, when she got to class, the homework was redistributed, kids graded each other's papers and if the answer wasn't what the teacher was looking for, it was marked down. I believe it the teacher had actually seen her answer, she might not have been marked down.

Either way, I have a totally frustrated kid.

I want this to work. I actually have a half-written blog about all the things that are delighting me about her new school. But today sucked. I wish so much that there was "space" in public school for kids to succeed but not have to do it in the same way. I mean sure, in math class, there is a right answer. But in classes like literature where interpretation is essential.

I spend my days working with folks in Silicon Valley and the most dull and useless are those who behave prescriptively. I am blessed to be able to work with bright, creative people who push themselves to look at things in new ways. Or to combine unlike items. Katie does that now. I don't want it beat out of her.

But I will take it day by day. I will hope for the best. It's just the third week of school. It's going to get better, right?

In the meantime, I guess it's time for a quick trip to Baskin-Robbins to try and save the day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

10 Things I Miss About Home School: Part Two

Pat the real Hamster in a Littlest Pet Shop creation.
Oh, a quiet morning - just like the old days - and a few minutes to finish writing. I love it! Here's the top five things I really miss about home school. You can see part one, with the other five things here.

5. No crowds.
Now that I am forced to do things "when school is over", I envy those of you who  can go out with your kid when no one else is there. You know, daytime. No other kids, no lines, no crowds - the world is your oyster and you don't have to wait in line to eat it! It made traveling, museums, shopping all such a breeze. Savor it because after 3pm or on the weekend, it's ugly out there.

4. Having breakfast together.
We did this a lot - I'd pack up her stuff, we'd get a huge booth at one of our local diners and we'd eat, talk and do school work. One of our best lessons was at a Denny's, with Littlest Pet Shop in tow and I talked about cooperatives - using different Pet Shop toys as creatives, manufacturers, distributors and buyers! Now we shove cereal in our mouths as I rush to make lunch and she packs her backpack!

3. Creating "learning".
Okay, so it's kind of an ego boost to come up with a good lesson. And I enjoyed being "clever" - figuring out cool ways to bring ideas to life so Katie could learn things in a new way. I felt so good about it, I even blogged some of the ideas. And I miss that feeling of accomplishment.

Sure I love what I do for work, but this was different. I got to tap my experiences, passions and current events and bring is all together in a way that I hoped would delight and teach my child. Now that she's back at public school, I am seeing the rewards of my labor and I feel pretty darn good about it.

2. Self-reliance.
Katie is an only child. She's also an extrovert. Which means she gets energized when there are people around. In fact, she finally started doing a good job cleaning her room when she could have the noise of Hannah Montana on (via iPad and Netflix streaming because she's not allowed to have a TV in her room). So being home schooled meant she had a lot of time on her own; alone.

At first it was really hard. She was so lonely. But over time, she finally got in a groove and used the quiet time for some amazing creative play (this has always been her strong suit anyway). She created an elaborate cardboard car, including an ignition and a way to wear it around the house. I know it doesn't sound like much but the scale and detail were spot-on!

I feel like she gained really great coping skills being on her own and they made the summer a dream. I can also see her tapping those skills now as a way to give herself a break from the chaos of middle school.

1. Watching her learn.
Many times during home school, I felt like a voyeur. When your child is "at school" you don't get to see those "a ha!" moments. The teacher does. And if you are lucky, the will come home and tell you about it. But with home school, you are right there. Part of the mix. It was delicious.

So many times when we were doing a project or on a field trip, I could see Katie putting things together. She'd ask great questions and many times it was while we were driving or in-between things - clearly while her brain had the interstitial time to process. I worry a little that at middle school, with all the changing classes, books, teachers and more, her brain won't have that kind of time. But I am sure it does, it just will happen later in the day (and I will have to make sure she has a little quiet time for things to actually bake).

I have a half written blog about what I am liking about middle school. There is a lot to like. But this month, I am also going to grieve a little for what we had last year. It was great. Really great. I will treasure it forever.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

10 Things I Miss About Home School: Part One

Last year was great. I really did like home school. 
Sure it pushed me to my limits balancing work and teaching, but we had so many great adventures and experiences. With the start of this new school year, I couldn't help but look back and think about those lovely home school days (top ten, countdown style):

10. Sleep.
Let's face it. Anyone who home schools knows this is an immediate and enduring benefit. I believe home school kids must be taller because they can sleep to their natural clock and I did too! 

Turns out I have a night owl - which is great for doing things and sucks for getting to bed early for a new day a public school (8am is insane). I miss those days of getting up early, having the house to myself and letting Katie wake naturally and in a good mood.

9. Sick is sick; aka no deadlines.
Katie's already missed two days of school. ALREADY! She got the crud from being packed like a sardine next to other germ-laden kids. In home school, she did get sick but she didn't miss class as a result. We just moved things around. So there was no pressure to do make up work and "keep up" with the class. This weekend we are spending the whole "feel better" time catching up on school work.

Which brings me to the deadlines part. I knew life in public school meant deadlines. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I watched Katie learn a ton last year but it didn't include timed tests, piling on the crap and doing everything at some break-neck pace. I have enough deadlines at work - add school to the mix and maybe this is how mom's end up drinking their dinners!

8. Not going it alone.
I had a home school parent buddy. It was great. She kept me motivated, had ideas about things the kids could do together, we could bitch to each other when we had a bad school day. Now I don't have that anymore. Public school doesn't bring parents together (except for insane fundraisers which should not include the "fun" prefix). Family members also got in the act with home school. I loved the village that jumped in to help Katie learn about things I didn't know!

7. Field trips.
My forte. Coming up with cool ways to bring social studies, history, even math to life. I loved looking for real world examples and integrating that into the curriculum. From Columbia State Park to the Big Trees to spending the night on the USS Hornet, it was all good. Sure, I can still do it, but now it has to fit into after 3pm on a Friday and home by bedtime on a Sunday night. And include time for homework just  in case! 

My wanderlust is dust.

6. Total flexibility.
Don't want to do math today? No problem. We'll get to it. Reading the wrong book. Let's change it, I want you to read more than I worry about what you are reading (turns out magazines work great for Katie). Love science? Let's do more of that, and I will throw in some related math and reading and you won't even know I gotcha! And we can do it today (insert any freaking day)! 

As an entrepreneur, you can only imagine how much I love being creative and home school fed me along with Katie. If I could dream it, I could do it - just about all of it! Home school even tapped the spirits of those around us - my mom, my best friend, Katie's donor and more - everyone got inspired and had something to share, add or do. And since there was no timetable, our flexibility allowed it to happen.

Come back to read part two. I should have it done shortly, if we can just get through this pile of "out sick" homework. Anyone know how to draw the term "scientific method"? Seriously. Draw it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day One: School Starts; Hello Sixth Grade!

After plenty of preparation and excitement, we managed to get the child off to school.

Sure she was up at 6am. Of course she was ready and dressed by 7am. We needed to pick up her girlfriend Ashley at 8am (no one goes to school alone on the first day) so we had lots of time to stare at each other. About an hour to be exact.

(Her best line - let's just get in the car and drive around! My retort - where? To Los Gatos!?)

I dropped the girls off in the swirl of kids and cars at 8:05. They bravely jumped out of the car - I say brave because Ashley had had a stomach for the last seven days totally dreading this morning - but Katie sprang from the car with a bound. I made my way home to my first day of interrupted work in ages.

So the first day, she got called to the office. 

She's eating at first period lunch with her friends and over the loud speaker she hears her name and the ultimate command - please come to the office! Turns out the kid was supposed to be in class - she actually had been assigned second lunch. That got her good.

Her day was awesome and she was so excited about being there. I was bombarded with a ton of "parent paperwork" that felt like home work. But the good news is almost all the teachers asked me to tell them about Katie and what she might need to be successful. Katie had some home work too along the same lines.

Also, all the teachers - the whole school in fact - use this great planner in an effort to get the kids to start keeping a calendar of dates and deliverables. It's no Outlook, but it's pretty cool. I really like how the teachers are consistent across all the classes.

Here's her schedule: 
Period 1 & 2: Language arts
Period 3: Video production
Period 4: Math
Period 5: Science
Period 6: Social Studies
Period 7: PE

Not too shabby - got to love the last period PE - kind of ensures good hair days since she doesn't have to change until the end of the day!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A New Adventure Begins: Middle School - Public Middle School

I thought she was going to burst. It was 24 hours before school would actually start and the kid was totally losing it. It turned out to be one of the longest periods of time I have lived through.

I know, I have to come to terms with the fact that Katie did not love home school. She did it, we had a lot of fun and for me, it was incredible. But she was lonely. Really lonely. So sometime last spring, I capitulated and agreed to let her attend our local middle school this fall.

She has been happy ever since.

We took a tour and met the principal and while I remained cautious, okay really I was filled with dread, we proceeded. And then, out of the blue, in an odd twist of fate, my very good friend was hired to be the new principal. The job wasn't even vacant when we toured - it was as if Divine Intervention was at hand! I practically had a nervous breakdown when I got the news and I realized it was fear leaving my body (for like three hours!).

So Katie's head is about to burst. She is ever-so-ready to jump into the fray and do all the things public school kids do - get up early, schlep their crap, go to PE, do homework - the list goes on and on.

We'll see how it goes. Is it bad that I am still a skeptic?

So she's off. The day is finally here. I'll have more on that shortly!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Am I Stretching Things too Far? Home School Lessons from Farmville!?!

If you haven’t played Farmville yet, you've been warned! Don’t start! It’s totally addicting. 

I initially started playing to learn more about how the folks at Zynga (the company behind the franchise) were so good at being “sticky.” That’s what we call it when an online application does a good job of bringing people back over and over again. Farmville is very sticky – from handing out Valentines to gold for St Patrick’s Day to the promise of dogs – they keep users coming back.

And now, they have sucked in the fifth graders in Santa Cruz County.

Since there’s money involved, I am thinking is a great home school opportunity to talk economics. In Farmville, you earn coins based on behaviors and  the choices you make. In fact, it costs money to make money. This was a hard concept for Katie to grasp.

Katie figured planting crops should be free, but that's not the case. It cost money to till the soil and buy the seeds. You earn money if you let your crops grow and you can also earn money by helping your neighbors farm (like fertilizing their crops). And different crops earn more or less money based on the amount of time it takes for them to grow (thereby rewarding a little delayed gratification. Watermelons take forever in kid hours – four days – but boy do they pay!).

Experience points are coveted; they ultimately get you ahead.

You earn experience points by doing things like buying animals, building houses, and decorating your farm (all of which cost coins). Katie is all over this. In fact, she’s a very good shopper but was a little slow to learn the overall strategic value to keeping the farm planted, visiting her friend’s farms to work, or building up her bank account.

There is one kind of "money" available in Farmville it is based on cold hard cash. Farmville Cash is purchased with a parent’s credit card and therefore is VERY hard to get in our household. Sure, the people a Zynga games aren’t stupid; the best stuff needs FV Cash.

This makes my daughter crazy.

I agreed to give her a small allowance. I spent $20 on FV Cash and told her that was it. It had to last. Thankfully she understood the limit but I am still paying for the decision because every time she thinks she wants to spend the FV Cash, I have to listen to her weight the pros and cons, vacillating back and forth as she decides if it’s really, really worth it.

The best thing she’s purchased so far was a limited edition (yeah, another way to be sticky), a limited edition geyser that is actually quite impressive. It’s been a month and she still squeals with delight every time the darn thing erupts.

Unfortunately, she still hasn’t really grasped the idea of saving for the really big things. To expand her farm, which would ultimately make more money for her, she has to save a fairly sizeable amount of money. But so far, she just can’t do it. There are too many new things she has to have and so, her farm stays small. Her earning is limited. And I am left of wonder if she’ll ever get tired of Farmville.

Yet I hold out hope she's learning some lessons...

When I get the chance, we talk about saving. We'll also review the concept of delayed gratification - I can compare it to our saving for Hawaii slated for 2012. In the meantime, it's fun to watch her budget, plant, think, and hopefully...strategize!

Now the Fun Part: Haven’t played yet? It’s easy, just a click away on Facebook.
You really, truly don’t have to spend a dime of real money to play. Also, beware the many Farmville offers that come through promising free stuff. They are all bogus aimed at getting your information to sell to marketers.
Important Tip: when you first start playing, post a Status Update warning your friends who don’t want to see Lonely Bulls posted to their FB wall. Anyone can block FV posts with a simple “Hide Farmville” on a FV post. It’s on the upper right of the post and they don’t have to hide you – just the application.

When you play, you  might gain some insight into your friends! Here are a few classic Farmville Archetypes...

The Grouser: They are playing often and tend to post requests for more stuff on their wall (as opposed to sharing things you might want).

The Socialite: Focused on rapid growth, this player will friend anyone to gain critical mass. One of the ways you get ahead is having a lot of friends and socialites are masters. They move up fast because they access to so many farms and so many posts for free things from those friends.

The Collector: There are a lot of transactions in Farmville and almost all of them revolve around "stuff." Most game players keep some and sell the rest. But there are a few who keep every trinket. Having more stuff requires a large farm and can help you earn money faster.

The Control Freak: This seems to be a trend among the moms who feel relatively unable to control their "real" world so Farmville gives them a chance to act out their hidden desire to have everything in its place. You’ll notice tidy fences around their similarly grouped animals and structure, structure, structure among their crops. Did I mention I have one foot in this camp?

The Designer: The designer is focused on creating an “experience”. This is a farm you would actually want to visit in the real world. My girlfriend has done this so well I think she should charge money to visit her farm. It is a thing of pure beauty. I aspire to design as well as she does!

The Player: Bored quickly with the pace of Farmville, this gamer moves on to other Zynga games (like Yoville!, PetVille and Cafe World) – keeping as many irons in the fire as possible.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Undercover Boss as Home School Curriculum - This is good stuff! (Worksheet Included!)

We started watching Undercover Boss with the very first episode. I was intrigued that the CEO of Waste Management was willing to do a "reality' show and I was interested in learning more about their business. I mean we see their trucks all around us - what made it tick?

Katie went along with me and we watched as he tried on different roles within his company and found both the achievers and the losers (don't we all know who those people are) and had a chance to get back in touch with the many folks that help drive his stock price and generate all that revenue. I found it fascinating.

As usual, I paused the show frequently (to this day I don't think Katie has EVER watched a whole show without me pausing it to add comment - poor kid) and pointed out things Katie might not notice - like salary, time clocks, working conditions, attitude, teamwork, etc. Things a young kid wouldn't know to notice or appreciate. At the end of the damn show, I am in tears (it was so inspiring) and we could hardly wait for the next episode.*

So. How could I make this more of a "learning" opportunity?

And then it hit me. I have a friend who's father stopped her brilliant plan to drop out of school and wait tables by making her do a spreadsheet. One of those "budgets" to see exactly what it takes to live on a waitress' salary. She had been up in a comfortable home - didn't really want for anything - so his plan worked. After learning it wasn't so comfy living on the edge, she backed down and got focused (she's eventually got to work with Clinton and Gore so that tells you his efforts weren't misplaced!).

Let's do a spreadsheet.

So I built an Excel file and we created five "profiles" that were single, 30 year olds who: had not finished high school; had a high school diploma; some college; graduated college;  and completed grad school.
Based on those profiles, Katie got to pick her job, her housing and what she wanted to spend money on. Some expenses were mandatory - groceries, utilities, rent, taxes and a car - but some were choices and we talked those through. Everything from choosing to buy health insurance to getting a pet to contributing to savings and retirement to donating to a charity. I have loaded a copy of the spreadsheet here if you want to play with it.

It was an eye-opening experience. The immediate effect was she no longer leaves the lights on. All my years of telling her to "get PG&E out of my pocket" never made sense until now. She didn't realize we paid for a landline phone (in addition to a cell phone) or that the Internet cost money or that she had to pay for health insurance. She didn't know pets were expensive, that you had to save for a rainy day, that apartment renting required deposits that you might not get back and that taxes were on income, not just sales. Holy cow.

So now, when we watch Undercover Boss, the show takes on an additional meaning. She really understands the opportunities and limitations of jobs. And while she's always been sure she was going to college, now she really understands why. And the opportunity it creates.

Home School POV: to use the spreadsheet, download it and then clear out the cells starting with housing. Then put your kid to work. Katie used Craigslist to shop for a place to live. We used our existing bills to estimate utilities. We also used the web for car payments. A few I helped her guess. We had a good discussion about charity and when it's appropriate to take care of yourself first and when to start sharing. Have fun! Tell us how it goes! (Want more? There's even a blog about the MBA lessons learned from the show.)

Note to TV Producers: Don't be afraid to create curriculum to go with your television shows! There's so much more that could be attached to programs like this that would help kids understand more about working, rules, unions, management, education, etc.

*The next episode was on Hooters and I began to get worried. I don't have a lot of respect for the chain based on their marketing angle. But low and behold, the show actually embraced the controversy and dealt with it. Fascinating and right on!