Tag Archives: Education

My Back-to-School Struggles Aren’t What You Think

I have less than a week left of summer with my kids. For some parents, the school bell can’t ring fast enough. For others, creek days, learning to dive, and making papier-mâché crafts still wait to be crossed off summer’s to-do list.

In six days two kids in my house get dragged out of bed by their toes, driven six miles to school, and put into someone else’s hands. I’ll wait 180 days to have my turn with them again. Which parent am I? You do the math.

I’m guest posting today at Triad Moms on Main. Come read about my annual back-to-school struggle. Pretty please?

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under About Mom

A School Supply Rant

When I was a kid, one of the few things that took the sting out of going back to school every fall was getting to pick out new school supplies. Finally getting to use markers in fourth grade was the epitome of excitement until I found out they would only be used to diagram sentences.

And for my kids, this tradition of choosing a special notebook to scrawl their math work in is no different. So when we get the list of supplies, buy them, and fill and label a bag of supplies for each kid every August, I expect my kid to use what I bought.

school supplies

School supplies for my kids. Some were carefully chosen.

Every June I get a little miffed when my kids bring home what they’ve used all year and it wasn’t what I paid for. It wasn’t the special Tinkerbell notebook my daughter picked out. Some other kid got that. And look, that’s not the red folder I bought because scratched out in the tattered bottom corner is some kid’s name from the previous year.

Our school tries to encourage pooling supplies like crayons, glue, markers, and pencils. You buy it and bring it in and the teachers divvy it up for the kids. It’s a system that “works best.”

I can certainly understand that not every family can afford to buy school supplies. I’m OK with buying extras, contributing to a fund, anything. But if I splurge and spend a few extra dollars on a white three-ring binder that won’t fall apart the first month of school and Susie So-and-So gets hers from the dollar store, guess who ends up with the cheap binder and who gets my nicer one? If I put my kids’ supplies in a bag with their name on it, why don’t they end up with it? Do little elves decide who gets what? Do they run around the room and pick an item from Susie’s bag and put it on Johnny’s desk? Would Johnny like a Tinkerbell notebook? It’s like those Christmas swaps. You spend the $10 limit on a gift and end up with the gift someone grabbed from her yard sale bin, where it should have stayed.

As for the pooling, for half of kindergarten my son had only orange, brown, and gold crayons. I’m certain I bought him an entire box with a rainbow of colors. Why could he only draw muddy pictures? I volunteer in the classrooms. Pencils are never sharpened and are strewn across the floor. Glue sticks are always empty. The kids don’t care about those supplies because they aren’t theirs. But their scissors are labeled with their names, and I’ve seen kids panic when they misplace those for more than twenty seconds. So doesn’t keeping up with their own things make them take care of them better?

Kids can’t take ownership and responsibility if they aren’t required to keep up with their own things. When I was in school, we had our own bins filled with our own supplies. We had to keep things neat and in control. We learned organization. A pooling system doesn’t encourage that kind of responsibility. I’m sure it’s supposed to encourage sharing, but kids can share their own supplies. I’ve seen that in action.

Next week we take in our bags of brand-new supplies, ready for someone else’s child to get. I hope they like the notebooks my kids spent an hour picking out.

34 Comments

Filed under About Mom

The Writing’s on the Wall: My Kids May Never Learn Cursive

For most of third grade, my son begged me to teach him cursive writing. It’s no longer part of the state curriculum and I feel it’s a skill that shouldn’t be tossed aside just yet. Even with the advancement of technology, people should still be able to sign their names on documents, unique signatures that no one else in the world has. And cursive writing just looks so much better, so formal. It should never become a lost art that people have to ask their grandparents how to do.

I told my son I’d teach him the loops and curves of cursive this summer when we had time to sit down and practice and enjoy it.

It’s summer. My daughter, who will enter second grade in the fall, wanted to learn to write her name in cursive too. So we began our lesson the other day with much excitement. I have vivid memories of practicing letters daily in my third-grade class to precision. And because I’m a lefty, I had to turn my paper a different way from everyone else. Since I would be teaching, I could forgo the idiotic paper slant and concentrate on the basic script.

cursive writing, mominthemuddle.com

Let’s write H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E.

The kids watched as I formed a cursive a. Both formed theirs with ease. A few letters later I demonstrated how to join letters to form words. I glanced at my son’s paper, shocked to see that he had already moved on to write the rest of the alphabet without me, using our guide as a reference. Some of them weren’t right. I had lost control over one of my students and I’m not sure where I went wrong. I taught my daughter how to write her name. My son wrote his and I pointed out a few errors. Things were getting tense around the table and he tried again.

“Let me show you how to do an r,” I said. “And an n shouldn’t have a straight line.” I tried to demonstrate.

“I just want to learn to write my name!” he yelled as he tried and tried again, determined not to watch any of my examples.

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to show you. You asked me to teach you.”

He said he was right and then he cried because I wouldn’t help him. I was ambushed by homework flashbacks, a killer mood swing, and possible hormones. The lesson needed to end.

When he showed my husband his cursive writing later, my husband bluntly said, “Your n isn’t right. It shouldn’t have that line. It looks like an m.” My son suppressed a grin and tried not to look at me.

Validation. Sort of.

If for no other reason than the sanity of moms, this is why they should still teach cursive writing in school.

40 Comments

Filed under Everyday Life

I Volunteer

For the past four years, I have volunteered weekly in my kids’ classrooms. I usually only spend an hour or two there but I am exhausted when I leave. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a teacher.

This year seems to be my last year of weekly classroom help. Second-grade teachers don’t need parents like I need them. Next year I’ll have to find other classes to help in or other ways. I’ll miss the routine.

When helping in my daughter’s first-grade class this year, groups of kids rotated every fifteen minutes. I got four to six kids at a time. They rolled on a floor covered in chunks of dirt from their shoes. They fought over who was supposed to have what book. They wrestled, took off their shoes, talked, needed pencils sharpened, sucked up strings of snot that hung to their chins, told me they didn’t need a tissue, used pencils as Wolverine claws, sang, did a little work, went to the bathroom for fifteen minutes, ate boogers or scabs, tattled, and argued over how they would pair up to play a game.

I refereed, told the kids what books they were supposed to have, told them wrestling moves were not part of their assignment, pointed out the tissue box, sharpened pencils, told them to do work, helped them read words, told them to stop singing and talking, told them to get out from under my chair, told them that pencils are for writing, listened to stories about their cat, dog, or baby brother, and said “Good job.” Then the next group came and the cycle repeated.

Every class I’ve helped in has been different. Some groups have been more challenging than others, but I did it every year because I simply love it.

English: This is one of the kindergarten rooms...

I’ve enjoyed every minute in the classroom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started volunteering when my son was in kindergarten as a way to adjust to long days without him. My son rarely cracked a smile when he saw me, much less said hello. But I quickly loved helping the other kids read sight words, figure out an addition problem, or just giving them attention.

I worked with kids who had trouble learning their ABCs and sight words. The teacher had me quiz them on sight words. They’d squirm. They’d all but panic. I wasn’t allowed to help them. I knew they hated it. I hated it. But I’d say nice job or find a way to compliment them during class.

Those kids who had the hardest time hardly ever talked to me. I couldn’t blame them. At the end of the year, those were the kids who came up and squeezed me around my waist on my last day. No words. Just a surprise, quick hug. I left with a lump in my throat. I knew it was worth it.

In college, I volunteered in a pre-kindergarten classroom. The teacher told me that some of the kids didn’t get much attention at home. I could tell. They all wanted to show me everything they could do. They fought over who would hold my hand. I learned more in that classroom than I did in many of my college courses, and I’ve never forgotten those lessons.

I volunteer because I know what my kids get at home every day, but I don’t know what another kid’s home life is like. Even though I had loving parents as a kid, it was always nice when someone else took an interest in me. When someone other than your parent takes notice, you take notice in yourself. Sometimes all it takes is a positive comment. “You did a great job reading today.” “Wow, look at you reading those big words.” “I’m proud of you.”

You just never know. So you do it for all of them.

19 Comments

Filed under About Mom

A Mom’s Victory: I Survived “The Talk”

It’s been a long time coming, something I’ve put off, danced around, hemmed and hawed at, and frankly didn’t know how to approach: the talk. You know the one, the birds and the bees. The uncomfortable, sweaty-palmed, God-please-let-this-end talk.

My son has flirted with the topic for probably a year while I’ve done nothing but dodge it. It’s not that I haven’t planned on having that talk. He just always catches me off guard. Driving home from school is not a good time for me to start talking about body parts and what goes where. It didn’t help when his younger sister began asking questions about our pregnant neighbor.

“What I don’t understand is how did the baby get in her tummy?” she’d wonder. It was all I could do to keep our van from veering off the road. Why did they never ask their dad these questions while he was in the midst of trying to have a normal afternoon?

The thing was, I needed to wrap my mind around what I was going to say to my son. I had to mentally prepare. I couldn’t blabber on. I had to breathe. This required rehearsal, thorough thought, simple explanation. I couldn’t get too scientific or explain too much. I had to be prepared for questions because I knew he wouldn’t be afraid to ask. This was a delicate operation. I never felt ready when the topic came up, but I knew I had to approach it. He came to me, not my husband, so I felt I had to be ready to answer him the next time he had uncomfortable questions.

My own experiences around the same age included a boy passing the S encyclopedia around the class and pointing out the passage about sex. After a minute of reading and comprehending, I merely replied, “EW!” Later I overheard more details while I pretended to be asleep at my sister’s sleepover. I pieced things together. My parents never sat me down. They gave me a pamphlet about puberty. My older sister would never answer my questions. When I felt like the only kid who didn’t know things later on, I was embarrassed. I decided not to do that to my kids. But that hasn’t made having the talk any easier.

I knew my son knew the logistics. He gave enough hints. And I planned to bring it up. We talk about a lot of things. But last night he beat me to it. He gave me the talk. He schooled me in what third-grade boys think sex is. I sat, mortified, shocked, disbelieving, and a bit humored at the whole scene—unfortunately there were demonstrations, though certainly nowhere near correct.

But I was proud of myself. I remained calm. I wasn’t nervous. I set him straight about a few things even though he giggled through a lot of it. I used all the correct names like I was supposed to, and I told him the plain and simple truth. It was easy and fairly painless. My preparation had paid off.

Then he asked, “Did you and Daddy do that?”

“Uh…”

I totally wasn’t prepared for that.

47 Comments

Filed under About Mom

Not the Sound of Music

While I initially feared the sound of a dying cat clawing its way up a blackboard, I was relieved at the sound of a more tolerable low, moaning whistle. My son brought home a soprano recorder from school last week. He needs to learn songs as part of a music grade.

Knowing my son, he will diligently practice. Already I’ve heard the choppy notes of “Hot Cross Buns” early in the morning, after school, and before his bedtime stories, but I have to give my son credit for making the effort without any prompting from me.

My son playing a recorder

"Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny..."

I fear the reason is because anytime my kids get a whistle, kazoo, or flutophone, I firmly instruct them not to blow that thing in the house or anywhere within earshot of me. The sound pierces my ears, and it doesn’t take long for a headache to sink in when my kid’s musical attempt sounds like a torture device stuck on repeat. For years I have confiscated these things at any sign of abuse, meaning one shrill note too many, and stored them high atop our refrigerator with other illegal toys. Having a noisemaker with permission from school means my son can basically huff and puff on it whenever he pleases, all in the name of pass or fail. It’s like they’ve given him their blessing to taunt me.

Well thank you, school system. Thank you for bursts of unhinged melody, constant squeaks, and boring repetition. Two more years of this, I might add.

The bright side? It could have been drums.

31 Comments

Filed under Boy Stories

How Our Family Is Saving a Tree

So we don’t know when it will happen or the specific tree and we’re not chaining ourselves to it, but four years ago my family made a decision that will eventually save a tree.

A few years ago, it bothered me that our family of four made a big impact on the environment—in a bad way. We produced a lot of unnecessary trash. I needed to change our habits at home to help the environment, teach our kids responsibility for the Earth and its life, and surprisingly cut costs.

What we did is nothing you haven’t heard of, but the outcome surprised me, the transition was easy, and we’ve never looked back.

1. Switch to cloth napkins. In one day during meals and snacks alone, we were using about 20 paper napkins. That’s 140 napkins a week, 560 a month, and 6,720 a year. Sometimes the napkins were barely used, it’s just that no one could remember who wiped their mouth on the corner.

Instead of sets, I use a mix of napkins I made in different fabrics so each child will remember their napkin for the day. (This was important when the kids were younger.) I used fabric remnants to put them together. I don’t have tons of extra laundry to do. The napkins don’t stain. And I buy maybe two packs of paper napkins a year instead of one a month.

These cloth napkins have held up to lots of gooey hands and messy mouths during four years of use.

The National Resources Defense Council says, “If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins (250 count) with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.” Imagine if more people started using cloth napkins or replaced more than one package.

2. Use cloth towels instead of paper towels. To dry produce or clean up spills and messes, I use bar towels. I probably use eight rolls of paper towels a year, reserving them only for meat juices and really icky stuff. This switch to cloth doesn’t really add to my laundry pile either.

3. Use reusable water bottles. I almost never used bottled water, but I think it’s important to say this. Those plastic water bottles do so much damage to the environment. They harm animals. They fill up landfills. Your great-great-grandchildren will probably be around when those bottles are still sitting in landfills, leaching chemicals. We use reusable stainless steel water bottles and refill them with tap water.

4. Reuse your shopping bags. One of the best purchases I have made is reusable shopping bags. They hold an unbelievable amount of stuff and I can still lift it all. Plastic grocery bags kill marine animals that think they are food, and those bags won’t degrade in your lifetime.

5. Keep recyclables for crafting.I keep a designated bin for recyclables and non-recyclables in my kids’ craft area. Imagination can transform cardboard, caps, lids, mesh produce bags, Styrofoam trays, and greeting cards into a treehouse for toy people, robots, sculpture, or whatever else my kids and I think up. Give trash a new life.

Who says you can't make something cute out of junk?

6. Pack a trash-free lunch. We pack lunches and snacks in reusable BPA-free containers instead of plastic baggies. (I sometimes still use these bags for freezing meat, but I buy and use a lot less than I used to.) Washing dishes is better on the environment than throwing away trash.

I think about how much trash we save in a year and how much we have saved since we started this: more than 26,000 napkins in four years. That doesn’t take into account the plastic baggies we haven’t used, paper towels, or all of the paper we have been recycling.

Though it’s impossible to know just how many napkins can be made from one tree because of the use of wood pulp and recycled content, I know we’re making an impact and we’re going to save that tree. And I know we can make a dent in the landfills however small.

You learn something new every day:

http://www.wireandtwine.com/green/50/

31 Comments

Filed under Everyday Life