Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cookies for a Cause

Many schools in our area now include community service as a requirement for students. At some schools, community service is incorporated into the curriculum and at others, the onus is on the students to find a way to give back. No matter how you slice it, I'm in favor. Participating in and giving back to your community is critically important to both the participant and the community. The earlier you start thinking of community involvement as integral to your identity, the better off we will all be. I am deeply appreciative of the opportunities our children's schools give them to help others and I feel strongly that the modeling and opportunities should come from both the home and the school. The approach to community service taken by Riverdale Country School's Middle School is particularly impressive and should serve as a model for other schools. There are school-wide community service days. The school also mandates attendance at and participation in a middle school-wide community action program. In addition, each grade participates in their own program and each advisory group/homeroom/homebase is responsible for a separate program that they choose, develop and administer. Finally, each student is responsible for individual community service. This program considers the community in which the student is a member at different levels and expects involvement at every level. I love it!!!

Recently at a parent grade meeting, the seventh grade dean at Riverdale Country School described the multiple facets of the community service program in the seventh grade. She explained that at the homebase level, the smaller groups of kids would select and devise their activities and that she was hoping to steer them away from the traditional bake sale. Bake sales and lemonade stands are time-honored, tried-and-true traditions but this year's seventh grade is encouraged to think more broadly and consider programs that require some engagement in the community they are seeking to assist beyond presenting a check or an envelope with cash - like painting a school or community center or reading to younger children or donating books, toys and clothing. So much good work to be done!

Though off limits this year to our seventh-grader, the bake sale remains a favorite way for kids to raise money for a cause. Pick up a copy of Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit to read with your 3rd-5th grader and follow Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch hot on the trail of missing goodies from the bake sale intended to raise money for an all-important field trip! And while you're at it, pick up a copy of Sara Varon's Bake Sale to enjoy with that same child and experience the life and dreams of bakery owner Cupcake who is in a baking slump and wants desperately to meet the famous pastry chef, Turkish Delight. These bake sale selections are both in the form of comic books/graphic novels and each goes well with a generous serving of fresh baked cookies!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You are more than your grades

When I was younger (much), I attended an elementary school where we did not receive report cards. Tests were graded, of course, and every student had a fairly good idea of how they measured up academically but no one was reduced to a grade and no one knew exactly where they ranked. A lot of parents were and are uncomfortable with the prospect of no report cards. I'm not. I think that grades are just one part of the story of "Child as Student" and only a very tiny part of the story of "Child as Person".  It's hard to convince your kids they are not defined by their grades when their grades are staring them in the face. It's challenging to tell them that grades aren't everything when both you and they jump for joy at every A. I worry that I sometimes send a conflicting message because I do not get angry or upset by low grades and may appear laid back about school performance when, in reality, I am well aware of the competition that lies ahead and want to be sure our kids are always doing the very best that they can. That's the key, isn't it - the very best possible. The letters on a report card tell me a story about how well our children understand material they learn or how well they take tests. If someone receives a low grade, we can dig a little deeper to figure out if there is something going on. It should offer some guidance into what the student may need to review or how. I don't want to hear any of my children apologizing if they do not get an A. What I want to hear is the figurative grunt of a good day's work. I want each of our daughters to understand the importance of putting her best foot forward every time she goes out. If that foot steps in a puddle, so be it - dry off and pay closer attention next time.

Since our oldest daughter brought home the masterpiece known as Frindle home several years ago, I have been a huge fan of author Andrew Clements (who, incidentally, has recently agreed to present an award at the 2012 Children's Choice Book Awards and I'm so excited that I'll be meeting him in May). He's one of those awesome young-middle grade authors who has a book for everything and they all extol the power of children to make a difference. Pick up a copy of The Report Card by Andrew Clements, illustrated by the amazing Brian Selznick, and you (and your child, duh!) will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You're on my list!

I recently had a parenting breakthrough and I'm eager to share my genius with you. It emanated from the fact that, at 45, I have a lousy memory. When I complain to my children that they treat me like a slave, a bank or a non-person, they always ask for examples. I am no longer able to back up my claims with evidence on the spot so I've had to get creative. I let the girls know that I am now keeping a list. All behavior that disrespects me, together with the name of the perpetrator and the date of the offense, goes on the list. Here's the amazing thing - for an entire week after I first referenced the list, there were almost no offenses at all. The list was an awesome deterrent. Who knew?! It wasn't until the second week that the existence of the list was even questioned and it wasn't until the third week that anyone thought to ask about the consequences of landing on the list. The list is, in fact, real. It's in a small green notebook that I carry around. Part of the notebook is reserved for sweet and funny things the kids do so I can recall them easily when we play "remember when"; part of the book contains a running list of things I need to pick up and attend to (ranging from buying more hair conditioner to a growing list of bar and bat  mitzvah gifts that we have not yet sent); part of the book just has work notes and thoughts; and part of the book houses my list under the heading "Disrespect Examples". I used to panic if I couldn't find my Blackberry because it contains all my contacts and my calendar but my green notebook has become far more valuable!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bonjour et Bienvenue!

I apologize for the lapse since my last blog post. I apologize mostly to my mother who worries that something is wrong when I haven't posted in a while.  Nothing is wrong. All is good. Like most people I know, though, my life is a spectrum of varying levels of insanity and chaos and when my schedule hits the extreme end of the spectrum, I start dropping balls. Today, I'm picking them up.

A few weeks ago, upon posting my most recent past blog post, I fully expected to post daily from that day on and chronicle our family's 10-day experience hosting a foreign exchange student. The whirlwind of activity that began around 11 pm on Tuesday, October 25th threw me for a loop and resulted in a change of plans. Our student left last Friday, though - just in time for the rest of us to rally behind Jeff who, superhumanly, ran the NYC marathon for the third time on Sunday - and now I'm back to recap. I should start by acknowledging that we won the foreign exchange student jackpot. Our 13-year old young lady from Bordeaux, France was intelligent, interested, interesting, fun, kind and exceptionally polite. It was a pleasure to have her in our home and to see our city through her eyes. I expected the experience to be a positive one for our family and hoped that our children would benefit greatly from the experience. It was and they did. We all did. I will admit, though, that I didn't fully realize how demanding this adventure would be (for me, I mean). It's not easy for anyone to be "on" all the time and, as much as I appreciated the opportunity to practice speaking French, it's is particularly difficult to be "on" in a language other than your mother tongue. Our daughter, with whom the exchange student was paired, was performing in her school play (which was awesome) and mending a badly sprained ankle during the visit, which made things more challenging than they might have otherwise been. In addition, our daughter does not speak a word of French. None of our kids do. And that was a challenge as well. Still, on the first night, when we all sat down to dinner together, somehow teenage girls from different worlds, speaking different languages, were able to communicate the fact that mean girls exist in all of their schools and none of them had any desire to be part of "that" crowd. It was fascinating and fabulous.

The experience really did teach everyone to be a little more sensitive and a little more flexible. It also taught me that, in an effort to make our guest feel comfortable and make my own family look good, I am perfectly capable  of not yelling at my kids for 10 whole days. C'est bon!

Way back when I was in school, we read Antione de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. Actually, we read it in French, Le Petit Prince (not boasting; it's just that I grew up in Montreal), and it has turned out to be one of those classic stories forever etched in my memory. In English or the original French, it's a highly recommended adventure. If you want a slower start at the French language with your younger child, I suggest you pick up a copy of  Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly. by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. That Fancy Nancy - she's always a crowd pleaser!